culture

Al-Jazeera English’s Malika M. Bilal on the importance of the Ibtihaj Muhammad Barbie

In November, United States Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for the U.S., was immortalized as a Barbie. The doll was revealed by Muhammad herself at the Glamour Woman of the Year Summit. The doll is part of Barbie’s ongoing “Shero” collection, which honors women who break through glass ceilings and inspire girls around the world.

The Shero collection already has some heavy hitters in its collection–dolls representing director Ava DuVernay, U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, plus size model Ashley Graham, and Misty Copeland have highlighted Barbie’s renewed focus on uplifting and inspiring girls to reach for their dreams. Muhammad’s doll follows in those footsteps.

“Through playing with Barbie, I was able to imagine and dream about who I could become,” said Ibtihaj Muhammad to Barbie.com. “I love that my relationship with Barbie has come full circle, and now I have my own doll wearing a hijab that the next generation of girls can use to play out their own dreams.”

“Barbie is celebrating Ibtihaj not only for her accolades as an Olympian, but for embracing what makes her stand out,” said Sejal Shah Miller, Vice President of Global Marketing for Barbie. “Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented, and by honoring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything.”

Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive also said how Muhammad has defied stereotypes to become a history-making Olympian.

“Ibtihaj Muhammad has challenged every stereotype—which to me is the definition of a modern American woman,” she said. “Last year, she was the first athlete from the U.S to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, and today we are thrilled to celebrate Ibtihaj as the first hijab-wearing Barbie. She will play a tremendous role in ensuring that girls of the future see themselves represented fully and beautifully in our culture.”

That role isn’t lost on host of Al Jazeera English‘s Emmy-nominated news talk show The Stream, Malika M. Bilal, who wrote on The Undefeated what the meaning of Muhammad in Barbie form means to black Muslim women and girls, including herself and her niece.

“Her announcement comes at a time in which the erasure of African-American Muslims seems particularly pronounced. A time in which a major black women’s lifestyle magazine released a list of ‘100 Woke Women’ and yet couldn’t seem to find one woke African-American Muslim woman to include among them,” she wrote, adding that the erasure “reinforces the idea that Muslim equals Arab, South Asian, immigrant, anyone other than an athletic, Olympic medal-winning black woman from New Jersey — one with a modest clothing line, hundreds of thousands of social media followers and now a Barbie in her likeness.”

“The introduction of this doll lends support to the reality that a black Muslim woman can be both authentically American and authentically Muslim,” she wrote. ” A notion driven home by statistics that estimate a significant percentage of the enslaved Africans brought to this country were Muslim.”

“It’s not just young girls who are representation-starved. Grown women like myself, and the many who’ve retweeted, reposted and reblogged the Barbie announcement, are just as excited, not just for the next generation of girls but also for ourselves,” she wrote. “…[W]hen the Ibtihaj Muhammad Shero Barbie goes on sale in 2018, I’ll be ordering one to add to my niece’s collection. But I’m not ashamed to admit that another one just might find a home in my house as well.”

Are you going to order yourself an Ibtihaj Barbie? Talk about it in the comments!

Loved this article? Follow JUST ADD COLOR at @COLORwebmag and on Facebook!

Want to change federal policies? Here’s how

Protesters carry signs during a march for science Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Denver.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Mary Fisher, University of Washington; Natalie Lowell, University of Washington; Ryan Kelly, University of Washington, and Samuel May, University of Washington

What can those armed with facts – like scientists, professionals and knowledgeable citizens – do to shape policy?

In April, scientists and their supporters took to the streets. The March for Science was a public defense of science as an invaluable part of society and policy. We, as academic scientists, were among them. When everyone returned to their labs and offices, we saw our fellow marchers search for ways to build on the momentum.

One of the most accessible options to do so is the federal public comment process.

What is public comment?

Public comment subjects federal policies to peer review. Scientists and other professionals can use public comment to ensure that policy is based on the best available evidence, vetting the science behind regulations.

When Congress passes a law, it provides a framework for federal agencies on how to implement it. Figuring out the details of implementation is usually up to the agency by making rules and regulations. Since 1946, the Administrative Procedures Act has required that each new rule be subject to public comment, giving citizens the chance to comment on and change the proposed rule before it becomes legally enforceable. Proposed and final rules are all published in the Federal Register, a publicly accessible online government database.

The act also ensures that agencies cannot ignore these comments by requiring the agency to respond to all “material” comments. This qualifier is critical. For an agency to respond to the comment, it must be unique and fact-based, such that it could “require a change in [the] proposed rule.”

Snapshot of the number of federal documents open for public comment on Oct. 7, 2017. Only a subset of federal agencies are shown. Data taken from Federal Register API v2.0.
Public Comments Project

You may have already encountered a public comment if anyone has asked you to submit a prewritten letter regarding a proposed rule. These “form letters” are written by organizations – often nonprofits – and then a copy is signed and submitted by a large number of people. While agencies may note the impressive response a proposed regulation triggers, these form letters are legally considered a single material comment.

Yet form letters often make up a large percentage of comments received. For example, in 2004, the EPA was in the process of making a rule that would reduce emissions of mercury from coal-fired utility units. The majority of comments on this proposed rule submitted through MoveOn.org were duplicates of the same two-sentence form letter or slight variants of a broad claim about the inadequacy of the proposed rule. This meant that the EPA received little real information to which it had to respond.

Form letters are popular because they are easier than writing a unique, fact-based comment. But scientists and other professionals often have the knowledge required to do so. They are trained to read and summarize evidence from a variety of sources. They are also familiar with the general principles of subject fields like ecology, economics or nutrition, which are recurring themes across many regulations.

Federal agencies need the expert information that scientists and professionals can provide. An analysis by the U.S. Forest Service found that the majority of public input was value-based. While these comments provided agency employees with critical information on public opinion, value-based comments were not as helpful to the planning staff as detailed comments that provided technical feedback. Only 9 percent of the comments sampled were classified as having a high level of detail.

Why should scientists engage?

Public comment allows for flexibility. With an online submission portal, it doesn’t require participants to be in a certain place to have input. Its consistency across federal agencies avoids the need to reacquaint oneself with agency-specific processes. Perhaps most importantly, it allows for public participation, opening the process to scientists and professionals across sectors and career stages without a personal contact or advisory position at the agency.

This isn’t to say that there are no barriers. For example, proposed regulations are often filled with jargon and organized in unclear ways. But there are sources designed to coach you through the process, including Regulations.gov. Material specifically oriented toward helping scientists and other professionals is available through the Public Comment Project, a website that we created with other colleagues and maintain. It includes how-to guides and helps you find rules of interest that are open for comment.

Has it made a difference?

Changes to rules as a result of public comment happen often. For example, in a 2016 proposed rule by the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services, the agencies expanded the definition of “patient” in the final rule. The expansion was in response to comments by the Midwest Health Initiative and the American Hospital Association, among others. This effectively changed the scope of data that could be extracted for providers, suppliers, hospital associations and medical societies.

Or, take a National Marine Fisheries Service proposed rule to designate critical habitat for a marine snail, the black abalone. A comment written by one of us expanded the critical habitat designation so that all life stages of the species would be covered.

A formal analysis on a 1992 Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule on certain cancer-causing pesticides found that the agency was was more likely to bar the use of a particular cancer-causing pesticide when faced with evidence of high risk to human health or the environment. Public comment by environmental advocacy groups increased the probability of cancellation.

Why comment now?

Experts, from scientists to professionals, have an increasingly important role to quality-check the research that makes its way into policy – see, for example, this statement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s largest scientific societies. Although the devaluation of science in public policy is a long-term issue, it has recently escalated rapidly. A few of the most recent examples include the removal of climate change-related data and research from government websites, proposed reduction in federal budgets for science including the complete removal of certain programs like NOAA’s Sea Grant, and the request of agencies for scientists to censor their language.

The ConversationResponding to a call for public comment is one way to check the facts that make up public policy. We call all scientists, professionals and knowledgeable members of the public to apply their specific expertise to this process.

Mary Fisher, M.S. Student, Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington; Natalie Lowell, Ph.D. Candidate in Fisheries Science, University of Washington; Ryan Kelly, Assistant Professor, Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, and Samuel May, Graduate Student in Fisheries Science, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meet Shukri Lawrence, queer Palestinian clothing designer who’s challenging Middle Eastern stereotypes

Shukri Lawrence’s story should inspire all of us to live our truths to the fullest. The 18-year-old queer Palestinian artist and designer is expressing his full self amid conservative mindsets and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just a fraction of that kind of adversity would be enough to break some. But Lawrence has perservered and has created a clothing brand, tRASHY CLOTHING, that seems like it would be right up M.I.A.’s street. If you look at how he’s presented his clothing on his site–which features photography with a collage aesthetic–plus the critiques of excess and material wealth woven into his designs, you’d wonder how long it will take before someone like M.I.A.–who is always about post-post-modern kitsch and art school sensibilities–wears some of his pieces.

Matthew Whitehouse interviewed Lawrence for I-D. Here are three big moments from the interview.

On growing up in Israeli-occupied Palestine, including his family telling him to tell strangers they were Jordanian for safety:

“I only understood the significance of all of tthat when I grew older, experiencing the conflict daily. You can feel the tension fear, and pain in the air of Jerusalem. I try every day to stay away from trouble because I know I will regret the outcome.”

On how he keeps the willpower to keep creating and being himself amid danger::

“As long as you surround yourself with people that inspire you to keep going then you’re safe. In terms of societal expectations within my community, it’s hard to express myself freely in public because I live in a conservative place. This is where the internet comes in as a safe place for me to express myself with no censorship.”

His life goal::

“I’m trying to showcase the hidden, the misrepresented and the creatives of the Middle East. We aren’t all war and terror, we have a lot to say, we have experiences and stories to share, cultures to celebrate and most importantly an ambition for life.

⚡️ SIKE SIKE BABY ⚡️ @taniageorgedesigns ⚡️

A post shared by SHUKRI LAWRENCE (@wifirider) on

Read the full interview at I-D.

2018 is a whole lot hotter with the new Haikus with Hotties calendar

In what’s become an annual tradition, Haikus with Hotties has released its 2018 calendar full of–you guessed it–hotties.

The calendar, created by writer Ada Tseng and features good-looking Asian dudes from all sectors of the media industry, is meant both as a play on the “beefcake” calendar as well as an important socio-political statement.

“Haikus With Hotties is a calendar series that highlights the attractive and talented Asian men in media that often don’t get as much attention as they deserve,” states the Haikus with Hotties website.

The lack of attention stems from stereotypes Asian men are still dogged by, such as being nerdy, feminine, and goofy, much like Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. (The “Long Duk Dong effect” was also tackled in a 2016 episode of Fresh off the Boat, in which Randall Park’s Louis Huang is afraid that he’s doing the Chinese equivalent of “cooning” as the recurring guest of a local news show.) But the stereotypes inherent in Long Duk Dong stem from decades of racist propaganda created by the U.S. from the 1800s onwards to create fear about Asian immigrants. The same stereotypes were used in World War II propaganda to keep America focused on defeating the Axis Powers, which included Japan. Between the 1800s to the 1940s, and certainly in the years after the war ended, these stereotypes have become part of the problem that keeps America from reaching its full potential as a democracy.

Those stereotypes once again became the subject of current events in January 2017, when Steve Harvey made a series of offensive jokes about Asian men and their supposed unattractiveness. To combat the stereotypes, Haikus with Hotties gifted Harvey a calendar.

If you still don’t get what’s being written here, just take a look at the Breakfast at Tiffany‘s character Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney), an older version of the same stereotypes Long Duk Dong represents (and yellowface on top of it), in comparison to actor/model Godfrey Gao in the summer 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar Men Thailand.

See how ridiculous these stereotypes are?

South Asian men also suffer from the same stereotypes, but now those stereotypes are also laced with Islamophobia. Still, the reality outweighs the stereotypes once you open your eyes to the truth. Take for instance another ’80s character, Short Circuit’s Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens), yet another role in which a white man is portraying an ethnic character, coupled with an extreme accent and gestures, and Dev Patel–who should be starring in tons of romantic comedies right now–from InStyle Magazine’s 2016 Oscar coverage for Lion.

Again, the reality outweighs the stereotype.

With that said, check out some of the images from the new 2018 calendar. This year, Iron Fist fan favorite and new Into the Badlands cast member Lewis Tan is featured, as well as Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu, queer/trans comedian, actor and writer and D’Lo, and Pretty Dudes star Yoshi Sudarso (pictured below with his brother, Power Rangers Hyperforce actor Peter Sudarso), among many more.

Want to see the rest? Check out Haikus with Hotties’ website and order your 2018 calendar!

Relive the awesome early ’90s with these 3 Puerto Rican made pieces (via Shop + Hire PR)

Need some Christmas present ideas? Thanks to Shop + Hire PR, you can get some gift-giving out of the way while helping Puerto Rico continue to heal from the effects of Hurricane Maria.

Shop + Hire PR is an initiative created by nonprofit Colmena66 to help the businesses of Puerto Rico get back on their feet. Colmena66 head Denise Rodríguez told NBC News that the diaspora–Puerto Ricans who live off the island and on the mainland–were calling and texting to know how they could help.

“They actually asked how we can shop local entrepreneurs online,” she said.

Shop + Hire PR has more than just apparel stores–there are companies that sell food, candles and home goods, jewelry, and there are also freelancers and small businesses that specialize in copywriting, consulting, video production, marketing, photography, web design, industrial design, events, and more.

I took a look at some of the apparel stores and came back with some cool items, most of them centering around a very personal theme for me–the early ’90s, pastel aesthetic that not only defined my childhood and early memories of South Florida (where I was born and lived for the first year of my life before my family moved back to Alabama, as well as the place of many family vacations), but has gone on to define much of the designs I use in my web presence. When I ran my first site, Moniqueblog, during the early-to-mid ’00s, I kept a pastel pink-and-blue theme:

And even now, I have pink and blue as part of JUST ADD COLOR’s scheme, albeit more neon. Those two colors–plus the entire late ’80s art deco aesthetic that’s present throughout Miami–seem to sum up the feeling of South Florida in a nutshell; it’s tropical, it’s beachy, it’s laid back (to an extent–let’s not get me started on how Miami can be too crunk at times), and every day is summer. Even when you’re depressed (like I was when I lived in Miami for three years recently), you’ll still find something uplifting in seeing the sun on a daily basis and having the ocean just a few miles (or, since I lived by Biscayne Bay, mere steps) away.

With that said, let’s get to the finds.

The perfect pastel shirt

apparel brand Luca has many upscale pieces, including this pastel plaid shirt. The “Just Love” shirt has all of my favorite pastel colors in it, and the cut of it looks just right for a shirt that can be dressed up and dressed down.

Just Love Shirt | Luca | $190

Saved by the Bell in earring form

It’s too bad I don’t have pierced ears, or I’d totally buy these earrings without hesitation. These earrings are part of the “Peaches and Cream” collection at Aguja Local, which sells clothing as well as awesome jewelry like these. These polymer clay earrings feature the classic early ’90s squiggles that shows like Saved by the Bell are known for. Coupled with the pastel purples, pinks, peaches and blues, these earrings are tailor made for those of us who love living in that cool, colorful aesthetic.

Peaches & cream collection earrings in purple, peach, blue and pink | Aguja Local | $45

Framed tropics

Artist Allison Holdridge has tons of amazing prints featuring the icons of the tropics, the palm tree. This particular print, “Atomic Palm,” speaks the most to me thanks to its conjuction of bold brights and soft pastels. Combined with the graphic treatment of the palm frond itself, this print makes a declarative statement about paradise on earth.

Atomic Palm print | Allison Holdridge | $25

What cool things have you found thanks to Shop + Hire PR? Let me know in the comments section!

What it’s like to be gay and in a gang

Some gay gang members are open about their sexuality, but others remain in the closet, fearing they could endanger themselves or the status of their gang.
Devin/Pexels, FAL

Vanessa R. Panfil, Old Dominion University

There are many stereotypes of and assumptions about street gangs, just as there are many stereotypes and assumptions about gay men. Pretty much none of those stereotypes overlap.

In movies and television, some of the most recognizable gay characters have been portrayed as effeminate or weak; they’re “fashionistas” or “gay best friends.” Street gang members, on the other hand, are often depicted as hypermasculine, heterosexual and tough.

This obvious contradiction was one of the main reasons I was drawn to the subject of gay gang members.

For my new book “The Gang’s All Queer,” I interviewed and spent time with 48 gay or bisexual male gang members. All were between the ages of 18 and 28; the majority were men of color; and all lived in or near Columbus, Ohio, which has been referred to as a “Midwestern gay mecca.”

The experience, which took place over the course of more than two years, allowed me to explore the tensions they felt between gang life and gay manhood.

Some of the gang members were in gangs made up of primarily gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Others were the only gay man (or one of a few) in an otherwise “straight” gang. Then there were what I call “hybrid” gangs, which featured a mix of straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual members, but with straight people still in the majority. Most of these gangs were primarily male.

Because even the idea of a gay man being in a gang flies in the face of conventional thought, the gang members I spoke with had to constantly resist or subvert a range of stereotypes and expectations.

Getting in by being out

Male spaces can be difficult for women to enter, whether it’s boardrooms, legislative bodies or locker rooms.

How could I – a white, middle-class woman with no prior gang involvement – gain access to these gangs in the first place?

It helped that the initial group of men whom I spoke to knew me from years earlier, when we became friends at a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth. They vouched for me to their friends. I was openly gay – part of the “family,” as some of them put it – and because I was a student conducting research for a book, they were confident that I stood a better chance of accurately representing them than any “straight novelist” or journalist.

But I also suspect that my own masculine presentation allowed them to feel more at ease; I speak directly, have very short hair and usually leave the house in plaid, slacks and Adidas shoes.

While my race and gender did make for some awkward interactions (some folks we encountered assumed I was a police officer or a business owner), with time I gained their trust, started getting introduced to more members and began to learn about how each type of gang presented its own set of challenges.

Pressure to act the part

The gay men in straight gangs I spoke with knew precisely what was expected of them: be willing to fight with rival gangs, demonstrate toughness, date or have sex with women and be financially independent.

Being effeminate was a nonstarter; they were all careful to present a uniformly masculine persona, lest they lose status and respect. Likewise, coming out was a huge risk. Being openly gay could threaten their status as well as their safety. Only a handful of them came out to their traditional gangs, and this sometimes resulted in serious consequences, such as being “bled out” of the gang (forced out through a fight).

Despite the dangers, some wanted to come out. But a number of fears held them back. Would their fellow gang members start to distrust them? What if the other members got preoccupied about being sexually approached? Would the status of the gang be compromised, with other gangs seeing them as “soft” for having openly gay guys in it?

So most stayed in the closet, continuing to project heterosexuality, while discreetly meeting other gay men in underground gay scenes or over the internet.

As one man told me, he was glad cellphones had been invented because he could keep his private sexual life with men just that: private.

One particularly striking story came from a member of a straight gang who made a date for sex over the internet, only to discover that it was two fellow gang members who had arranged the date with him. He hadn’t known the others were gay, and they didn’t know about him, either.

Becoming ‘known’

In “hybrid” gangs (those with a sizable minority of gay, lesbian or bisexual people) or all-gay gangs, the men I interviewed were held to many of the same standards. But they had more flexibility.

In the hybrid gangs, members felt far more comfortable coming out than those in purely straight gangs. In their words, they were able to be “the real me.”

Men in gay gangs were expected to be able to build a public reputation as a gay man – what they called becoming “known.” Being “known” means you’re able to achieve many masculine ideals – making money, being taken seriously, gaining status, looking good – but as an openly gay man.

It was also more acceptable for them to project femininity, whether it was making flamboyant gestures, using effeminate mannerisms, or wearing certain styles of clothing, like skinny jeans.

They were still in a gang. This meant they needed to clash with rival gay crews, so they valued toughness and fighting prowess.

Men in gay gangs especially expressed genuine and heartfelt connections to their fellow gang members. They didn’t just think of them as associates. These were their friends, their chosen families – their pillars of emotional support.

Confronting contradictions

But sometimes these gang members would vacillate about certain expectations.

They questioned if being tough or eager to fight constituted what it should mean to be a man. Although they viewed these norms with a critical eye, across the board they tended to prefer having “masculine” men as sexual partners or friends. Some would also patrol each other’s masculinity, insulting other gay men who were flamboyant or feminine.

Caught between not wanting themselves or others to be pressured to act masculine all the time, but also not wanting to be read as visibly gay or weak (which could invite challenges), resistance to being seen as a “punk” or a pushover was critical.

It all seemed to come from a desire to upend damaging cultural stereotypes of gay men as weak, of black men as “deadbeats” and offenders, and of gang members as violent thugs.

But this created its own tricky terrain. In order to not be financial deadbeats, they resorted to sometimes selling drugs or sex; in order to not be seen as weak, they sometimes fought back, perhaps getting hurt in the process. Their social worlds and definitions of acceptable identity were constantly changing and being challenged.

Fighting back

One of the most compelling findings of my study was what happened when these gay gang members were derisively called “fag” or “faggot” by straight men in bars, on buses, in schools or on the streets. Many responded with their fists.

Some fought back even if they weren’t openly gay. Sure, the slur was explicitly meant to attack their masculinity and sexuality in ways they didn’t appreciate. But it was important to them to be able to construct an identity as a man who wasn’t going to be messed with – a man who also happened to be gay.

Their responses were revealing: “I will fight you like I’m straight”; “I’m gonna show you what this faggot can do.” They were also willing to defend others derided as “fags” in public, even though this could signal that they were gay themselves.

These comebacks challenge many of the assumptions made about gay men – that they lack nerve, that they’re unwilling to physically fight.

The ConversationIt also communicated a belief that was clearly nonnegotiable: a fundamental right to not be bothered simply for being gay.

Vanessa R. Panfil, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.