Ingredients: Activism, Anxiety, and a Dash of Privilege by Courtney Rose

I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and clinical depression in 2014, and while I have it mostly under control, there are still days where I’m paralyzed by irrational fear (I recall a particular evening where I found myself in fetal position on the floor because I couldn’t figure out how to use my friend’s washing machine). I even had a good cry over what to write for this blog post.

So how does an individual with anxiety live an activist lifestyle?

Life with anxiety does mean that we are weary of many things in this world, but often the only thing of which we are more weary is doing something about it.

The thought of marching in a rally (particularly one that could become violent), making a poster, or even writing a post on Facebook can be enough to shut me off from the world.

There’s a lot of evil in the world, but what if someone hears me? Worse, what if they disagree? What if I go viral and now I’m receiving death threats?

Now, here is where I’ll digress for a bit.

I recognize that this line of thinking is partially a result of my privilege.

I walk this world as a white woman, which I realize affords me the ability to successfully avoid activism. I could live out my entire life without “getting political,” and still feel safe, happy, and fulfilled. My life does not depend on me fighting for my basic rights. I am capable of sitting at home, feeling scared to post my beliefs on Facebook, ultimately deciding not to, and carrying on my day without a hitch.

I know there are those who are not clinically diagnosed with anxiety, but live with the very real fear that they will not survive to see the next day. Afraid to wear a sweatshirt, walk on a particular street, or simply be alone. Being silent could turn to being dead.

So in one of my less anxiety-ridden moments, I pondered my thought process: what if someone does indeed hear me, but what if, instead of my slightly irrational fear of death threats, they actually agree with me? What if they, too, have been afraid to speak up because they thought they were the only one who felt that way? What if now they feel empowered to speak or act because they are certain that they are not alone in their thoughts?

And that is my challenge to anyone like me who struggles with anxiety, but desires a life of activism. Refocus: away from those who might stand against you, and towards those who might stand behind you.

It’s not a change that happens overnight. I’ve been working on myself for years to be more intentional about leading an activist lifestyle. And I’m nowhere near “cured.” Rallies still terrify me, and I still hesitate sometimes to make comments on Facebook or broach certain subjects.

I have found the most growth in starting conversations with those I trust-- a kind of activism practice. I identified those people in my life who will react respectfully to differing opinions, and topics that make me cringe transformed into easy, open dialogues. In this safe space of trusting dialogue, you can more easily identify what you believe, and become more comfortable with vocalizing it.

For some (and I include myself in this category), standing up for what you believe will always be scary, especially with realities of division, injury, and death looming in the back of our minds.

As an individual with anxiety disorder, I discounted myself from an activist life, but even those of us living with anxiety can create methods of overcoming paralysis towards activism.

________________________________

Courtney Rose studied English & Creative Writing at Longwood University, and her fiction has appeared in Sante Fe Review. She is an aspiring wedding planner, currently pursuing that dream as an intern, and member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace.

 

Courtney.jpg

Conversation vs. Retaliation: Passion, Advocacy, and ‘Fairness’ by Joel Worford

We live in an age where it’s difficult to lobby for restraint, and in many respects, this is a good thing.

Last weekend’s March For Our Lives serves as an excellent example of the beautiful showing of humanity that can come as a result of some groups’ (in this case, young students’), uninhibited exhibition of passion in working towards a goal. It was the students’ and marchers’ uncompromising position towards what they believed in that made last weekend’s event so powerful.

The March For Our Lives campaign shows one of the many positives that strong, peaceful resistance to compromise can result in.

In other words, passion is not the enemy. One can be passionate and have a respectful conversation with someone who holds an opposing view. Passion is necessary for change—without passion, nobody would show up to get things done.

Passion is the difference between one and one million.

There is no change without the presence of strong-willed, bold individuals who refuse to compromise, and so—join together in lobbying for their beliefs. Passion, advocacy, and outspokenness are qualities we should celebrate in this time where listening to and learning about the opinions of others is essential in building a better society. Passion is not to be stifled.

What we need to come to distinguish, however, is passion, advocacy and frankness from meanness, superiority, and revenge.

Regardless of how it may seem, there is no universal moral high ground. Believing that one’s opinion is the “right belief” is no justification for telling someone that their view is completely invalid and that they are stupid for believing it. The reality is that oftentimes when we seek change, we don’t know for certain that the result will be better; we just hope it will be. While this may be a bleak view, it is useful in discussing the dialogue on today’s controversial events, which often seem polarizing, antagonistic, and useless.

Social media is a blessing and a curse when it comes to progressive movements. On the one hand, social media provides a voice to those individuals who, otherwise, might go unheard. However, social media also becomes somewhat of an opinion cesspool—a place where everyone and anyone can express themselves anyway they want, and have an audience.

Expression is great, but the way one goes about expressing oneself can sometimes do more harm than good. Starting conversations is the best way to make progress on controversial issues, but it’s difficult to reach a level of understanding with someone when the discourse started with disrespect or condescension.

People often justify inflammatory and instigating social media posts with oppressed group’s past hardships. Lines that go something like, “How could you ask [oppressed group or individual speaking on their behalf] to be calm after all they’ve been through? How is that fair?”

Calmness isn’t so much what we’re asking for, but let’s be honest—when has anything been fair for these groups, and why do we choose to believe that there’s a necessity for fairness now that there’s actually a chance to change things? There is a time for anger, and there is a time for expressing those negative feelings, but taking them out on others is conducive to nothing but more hatred.

This might sound idealistic, and it might be disappointing, but the reality is that showing compassion and patience towards someone different than you is the best way to get them to listen.

Now is not the time for anger and retaliation. With society listening to oppressed groups and asking “How can we change for the better?” now is not the time to spit in the face of those engaging in conversation for the sake of avenging past mistreatment.

Is the anger justified? Perhaps, but regardless, accepting the aggressive, rude, and harmful acts of those who’ve been oppressed because they’ve been oppressed sets a nasty precedent. Granting this kind of invincibility ends up placing individuals in a sort of competition to see who’s been the most oppressed—a sort of battle for superiority and power based on past hardships. We need to treat aggression based on past mistreatment with understanding, but not acceptance.

The idea that oppressed groups need to restrain their anger to move society further away from the hatred that causes their anger is unfair. However, as earlier stated, the situation has never been fair for these groups, and when it comes to making sacrifices, the right to retaliate must be one of them.

___________________________________________

Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia, and a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. He currently studies English at Longwood University with a concentration in Creative Writing. Joel’s short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

Joel.jpg

Getting Ready for the Death Talk: First in a Series from Stuart Nicholson

I visited my alma mater recently and found the most wonderful little poster advertising a Death Café. While I had never heard of such a thing before, I know well the general concept.

The Death Cafe is a worldwide movement dedicated to bringing discussion of death into a relaxed environment. The Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives, or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session. The event seeks to provide a forum for death understanding and death positivity in a less daunting, less facing-your-own-mortality way.

It’s a forum where attendees can ask questions that they may have not only regarding their own death, but the deaths of their parents and perhaps spouses.

It’s no secret that I am fascinated with death. Much of my own writing deals with the subject and how it affects people. In my perpetual search for new information and sources to color and add to my understanding of Death, I happened upon a licensed mortician and funeral director, named Caitlin Doughty, whose mission is to educate everyone about death and funeral practices, but also to answer any questions people have about the process of death and burial.

Caitlin has enlightened me on many areas of the American death culture that I, as I am sure everyone else has, just accepted as part of what happens.

As a delivery driver, I spend a lot of time in my car; and I’ve heard several ads recently encouraging people to sign up for life insurance policies. It occurred to me that the discussion for insurance is a great way to incite the mortality conversation, but there needs to be more going into it than just making sure there is enough money to cover expenses. I am not discrediting the need or importance of life insurance. I just want to present more opportunities for understanding.

The sudden death of a loved one is devastating to the heart and finances. But even with savings and insurance, a family may still be unable to pay the $30,000 funeral costs of a traditional burial. Cremation is a bit cheaper, but not by much; only like $5-10,000.

It is essential that we begin to think about these different topics and decisions regarding death as they may be the solution to the problems that come up around them.

I’m hoping to make a future posting regarding opening the Death Discussion and give further details about modern death practices, such as green burials and death laws that funeral homes may not mention. Perhaps our very own Death Café may pop up here in Richmond…

Read More About Death Cafe Here

_____________________________________________________

Stuart Nicholson, an actor and fiction writer in Richmond, as well as a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing For Peace.

 

death cafe.jpg

Art in the Age of Understanding by Joel Worford

Art shifts with culture while culture shifts with art—making it difficult for us to determine which one needs to change first when we decide something needs to change.

The popular idea that the artistic community holds the progressive mentalities while everybody else lags behind is largely a misconception.

Consider this: the lead single from Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic contains the clearly misogynistic line “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends,” among others, yet that didn’t stop the song from winning Record of the Year or from selling over one million units in less than 12 months. Some would argue that the success of Mars’ music, along with the success of a number of popular Hip-Hop, Country, RnB and Rock artists who play large stadiums and sell millions of records every year, regardless of the antiquated stance their music may take towards women, or the problematic ways they may represent race and/or sexuality comes down to the difference between popular music circles and underground music circles. This idea falls apart, however, when one considers that, even within the independent music scene, artists tend to separate themselves by genre—genres built around cultures whose make-up often reflects the prejudices and racial distinctions of the United States’ socio-economic situation.

As art shifts and shapes with culture, its communities grapple with the cultural climate of the time, just like any other group.

So how are movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo affecting artists? Surely the same musicians who perform at The Women’s March and speak out against bigotry and hate on social media are taking such ideas into account while they’re producing and presenting their art?

I believe the difference is small, yet substantial in the way that it manifests. I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album and enjoy the 90s throwback style quite a bit, yet as a working musician and singer-songwriter myself, I would never cover the song 24K Magic, because that one line about “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends” makes me uncomfortable. The reason it makes me uncomfortable is because I understand that it makes some of my friends who are women uncomfortable. This understanding is crucial, and represents the moment where the conversations brought to the forefront by Black Lives Matter and #MeToo begin to influence culture. As people begin to understand one another differently, culture will shift to accommodate, and so will art. When I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album, I skip that song, because the moments of misogyny take me out of the album’s groovaliciousness and remind me of the stories that my roommate tells about her negative experiences with men—some of whom surely mistreat women because they hold mentalities similar to the ones Mars glorifies in his song.

Skipping that song is my choice, just like it was Bruno Mars’ choice to write that line, record ’24K Magic,’ and include it on his album.

Both choices are valid—to regulate art and creation would be to regulate conversation, and such artistic stifling isn’t conducive to understanding. Our choices are just different, and reflect different ideas. I wouldn’t say that my choice is so much an act of protest as it is an act of necessity. Why should I listen to a song if it makes me uncomfortable? With that, you could ask—why should Bruno Mars change his song if he feels comfortable with it? Plenty of people, both men and women, love the song, and that line.

As society shifts in response to conversations on human rights and morality, the way we interact with each other will change, and the way we interact with art will change. Lyrics deemed bigoted or misogynistic will cause songs to fall out of the mainstream, and at that point, it will be the artist’s choice on whether to change with society, or to try and change it back.

___________________________________________

Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. He currently studies English at Longwood University with a concentration in Creative Writing. Joel’s short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

Joel.jpg

Oh, Empathy: The Language of Exhaustion: Second in a Series by SarahGrace Gomez

It is hard to find a new way to write about a popular topic, and I struggled with piecing together this blog because my research on empathy exhaustion made my work feel like a drop of rain in an ocean of psychological study. A quick “empathy exhaustion” Google search yields 441,000 results. People also ask, what is emotional exhaustion? What are the symptoms of compassion fatigue? Psychology Today, Mental Floss, even the Harvard Business Review, have all taken on the subject. We are all attempting to define the concept and list its effects in the hopes that we can overcome the consequences, where the consequences are our inability to provide care for others, to produce content, to return to work. We’ve all determined that empathy exhaustion, compassion fatigue, burnout, whatever term we use to capture that gut feeling, is a bad thing.

We have all come to the same conclusion, using different terminology to do so. These words are different, but they mean the same thing. Counseling Today defines empathy fatigue as “a state of psychological, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and occupational exhaustion that occurs as [a] counselors’ own wounds are continually revisited by their clients’ life stories of chronic illness, disability, trauma, grief and loss.” The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project says the symptoms of this fatigue “are normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care giving work we choose to do.”

The discourse on empathy and compassion is expansive, but it is not varied. It seems that empathy exhaustion is such a popular topic, we’ve managed to conform all discussions on it. The “solution” to the problem is the same on every single website I visited: self-care, awareness, and education.

I am probably not alone in this response, but:

I KNOW that.

I know because I’ve read the blogs. I know because I’ve done this research, scouring The Compassion Fatigue Project’s website, taking their Stress Self-Test that puts my life somewhere in the 500 score area. My self-care falls short in a post-graduate world where loans must be repaid every month, and the literary field is both small and competitive. My awareness only takes me so far when my self-care is suspect. And my education? How many times can I read the same advice, done up in such objective, emotionally distant language before the void starts to fill? Whoever decided that was the language we needed to communicate our emotional landscapes never took a creative writing course, because they’ve let our words fail us.

Now is not the time for objectivity and clinical dialogue. That is not the direct action we should take when it is time for activists to advocate for themselves. “Take positive action to change your environment” is a hollow suggestion for folks who organize to get clean water to inmates living in unsanitary conditions. “Be kind to yourself” is a silly thing to say to workers uniting for equitable pay and proper healthcare. “Accept where you are on your path at all times” feels vapid for teenagers marching forward to D.C to save their own lives.

The language of exhaustion should not be timid, because our empathy is full of sound and fury, and it is dying to speak. We should take care to let it.

empathy.jpg

Compassion for the Four-Legged: A Survey of Virginia No-Kill Shelters from Semein Washington

Our human community is in need of compassion or assistance but, as those who have pets and care for other animals know, we are not the only ones who require attention. Animals who have been placed under human care, largely dogs and cats, often need new homes and the chance to live fulfilled lives. Many shelters do not have the resources or time to care for animals who haven’t found homes and subsequently have to put them to sleep.

One way to counter this cruelty is to do whatever we can to support no-kill shelters.. These institutions are committed to animals living long fulfilled lives and finding a loving home.

The following entries are highly rated by No-Kill Network.org.

AARF of Richmond, Virginia - “AARF is an acronym thatstands for Animal Adoption and Rescue Foundation. We are a Richmond, Virginia based, non-profit, all volunteer, non-euthanizing organization founded in June of 1993. Our goal is to rescue orphaned animals and place them in loving homes.”

To volunteer, donate or adopt with Richmond’s AARF: http://www.aarf.org/

_______________________________________

Humane Society/SPCA of Nelson County - “The Humane Society/SPCA of Nelson County (HS/SPCA) strives to improve animal welfare by providing care and adoption of ‘unwanted’ companion animals through: our ‘no-kill’ adoption center, foster care networks, satellite adoption venues, and Kitten & Puppy Rescue/Transport Programs; by funding veterinary services and education programs; and, by controlling over-population through low-cost Spay-Neuter-Vaccinate and Feral Cat Trap/Neuter/Release programs.”

Learn more, volunteer, donate or adopt here: http://www.nelsonspca.org/

_______________________________________

The Animal Aid Society - Hampton, Va. - “The Animal Aid Society is a "No-Kill" dog shelter. The mission of the Society is to provide to and/or for animals, other than Man, shelter, medical aid, care and protection, to act as a placement agency for dogs in good health, and to provide education for the humane care and treatment of dogs, and to attempt to prevent cruelty to dogs. It is a nonprofit organization which receives no funding from state or federal agencies. All of the funds required to maintain the shelter and care for the dogs come from donations and special fund-raising events. Donations to the shelter are tax deductible.

Our dogs are not euthanized. Dogs are kept at the shelter until placed in a home; however, this means that new dogs can only be accepted by the shelter after previous ones have been adopted or permanently placed in foster care. All our dogs are:

  • Examined by a veterinarian.

  • Receive medical care as needed.

  • Current on vaccinations.

  • Spayed or neutered.

  • Regularly walked and exercised.

  • Socialized and Loved.

  • Temperament tested.

  • Microchipped

The Animal Aid Society can be contacted here: http://www.animalaid-va.org/

______________________________

Humane Society of Loudoun County (Leesburg) - “The Humane Society of Loudoun County, VA (HSLC) is a no kill, animal welfare organization founded in 1966 to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned, feral, and neglected animals from Loudoun County, VA.. Our mission is to provide a second chance for our needy four-legged friends and to work toward a time when all animals have loving homes. By visiting schools, retirement homes, and other public venues, we try to enrich people´s lives with the magic of animals´ unconditional love, and to teach humans the value of proper care and responsibility of beloved pets.

As an organization, we work to influence legislation to protect animal rights. Our efforts helped local officials identify the need for and pass both anti-rodeo and hot car ordinances. Currently we´re communicating with VA state representatives on a bill to provide officials with training on recognizing the link between animal cruelty and child abuse, then breaking that link through education.”

Humane Society of Loudoun County can be contacted here: https://humaneloudoun.org/

_____________________________________

Additional resources and locations for no-kill shelters can be found here

dog.jpg

Creating Peace in Your Classroom- Three Things You Can Do Tonight by Amanda Baker

“Establishing peace is the work of education.”-Maria Montessori

We teachers love teacher movies. You know the ones I’m talking about- bad kids, low-performing schools, difficult administration, absent parents, and the rising star teacher who inspires the kids to “come together to learn and be their best selves.” And it works out every. single. time. “How do I DO THAT???” we ask from our post on the couch, covered in ungraded papers and potato chip dust. They make it look so good and so easy!

We want to create that sense of belonging in our own classrooms. We want to give our students that sense of peace that passes all understanding when they step through our doors. We want to be inspirational too! And so, we pack up our papers, adjust our ties and our attitudes, and head out in the morning ready to HAVE A GOOD DAY IN OUR CLASSROOMS AND CREATE OUR OWN PEACEFUL LITTLE COMMUNITY, DAMMIT.

And the same student that you normally have trouble with doesn’t respond to your smile and chirpy greeting of “Good morning! Welcome! It’s a great day to learn!” And the same skippers skip. And the same kid who is sullen is still sullen. That kid still got into a fight in the hallway. This kid still cussed out a fellow classmate. Your greeting didn’t matter. Your new lesson plan with an article about achieving inner peace, written by the Dalai Lama no less, and your carefully-crafted guided reading worksheet and thoughtful journal response flopped. Most of the kids refused to write the journal, and the worksheets had one or two-word answers that didn’t really make sense. You think, “If only this kid wasn’t in my room,” or “Uuuggghhhh… if those two kids were just different,” or instead of the awful “he’s/she’s a bad kid,’ we say the equally damning but more polite, “Well, she’s/he’s a ring leader, you know.” Insert extreme teacher eyeball roll here, add resigned slow head shake for full effect.

THOSE kids just RUINED it.

Relax. Take a deep breath.

One worksheet is not going to “fix” a decade or more of a chaotic home life, undiagnosed learning difficulties, substance abuse, physical abuse, neglect, or even a rumbly tummy from no breakfast and lunch.

Banishing one kid to in-school suspension every chance you get isn’t going to help your classroom climate more than temporarily. Blaming the classroom disruptions on one kid as the “ring leader” and wishing for their family to suddenly move away isn’t going to make your classroom Hollywood perfect either.

There are some things you CAN do, however.

Things that aren’t blinking neon arrows that say “HERE IS THE WAY TO PEACE AND HARMONY!” They are subtle and quiet, they don’t require you to chang e your seating chart (which we all know is a nightmare), or for you to send out “that kid” again.

1. Do some self-care.

Normally we teachers see this at the bottom of lists like these, as an afterthought. But you know that whole “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” cliché? It works for classrooms too. If you, dear teacher, are tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out, your classroom is going to feel that stress, and your stress negatively impacts everything you are trying to do. The University of Groningen in the Netherlands did a research study on the effects of teacher stress on students. They found that teachers “…who showed higher levels of stress at the beginning of the year displayed fewer effective teaching strategies over the rest of the school year, including clear instruction, effective classroom management, and creation of a safe and stimulating classroom climate for their students, than did the teachers with lower initial stress levels” (Sparks).

So, whatever you do to get unstressed, do that. Use the “check plus, check, check minus” grading system for some minor worksheets if it helps you clear that stack off the desk. Ride your bike after class. Force yourself to stop grading by a certain time so you can have time for a bath and a book. And do not feel guilty about it at. all. If you’re less stressed, then you’ll be more at peace, which means that feeling will carry over into your classroom too.

2. Watch your mouth.

Sometimes, we are own worst enemy. I teach high school, and every year I hear stories about “the mean thing that Ms. So-and-so called me when I was in 3rd grade…” or a class reminisces about how they drove Mr. So-and-so to yelling in 5th grade and how red his face gets. Those throw-away words stay with a kid FOREVER. They internalize the “Oh my god, why are you so stupid??” comments. They never forget the “You just need to shut up” snap. The frustrated “What is wrong with you? It’s a simple word!” sinks into the deepest parts of them, and it trickles up to effect that student’s response to every teacher they have after that. It’s hard for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and think, “Ohhhh… I’m the problem here,” but many times, we are. In the article “When The Teacher Is The Bully," one teacher admits that he bullied his students, particularly special education students. He was eventually forced to resign because of parent complaints. It took him three years to come to terms with the damage he had done, and when he returned to the classroom, he said he hasn’t raised his voice even once. Your mouth can wreck a kid for life.

3. Create a space for peace to live in your room.

“Flexible seating” is all the educational rage right now, and I am lucky enough for the first time in fourteen years to have a classroom big enough for a loveseat, a rug, and a pretty floor lamp… and thirty desks. You might not. But a rug under your desk, a glider rocker in the corner, and a nice desk lamp might be do-able. Pinterest is full of ideas for small classrooms spaces. The point is to create a physical place that the kids see, can access if they need it, and offers peace and quiet when needed. That bit of peace in your room might be the only peace they experience all day. And for a kid to know day after day, week after week that that space is there for them to use when they need it gives them something special to look forward to in your room. Montessori schools are experts at creating peaceful, safe spaces for their students. Their entire model is based on the “prepared environment” that makes for peaceful, productive learning. Make time to go check out one someday and see how it’s done.

Dear Teacher, you are the author of your own peace and the peace of your classroom. I’d like to say that my classrooms are always peaceful, but they aren’t. I teach teens, notorious for outrageous language and fights and rebellions, but every grade level is challenging for different reasons. I will say that I have very few arguments even though we discuss tough and controversial social issues. In fourteen years, I’ve had only two scuffles in my room. I do yell sometimes, but it’s mostly “STOP TALKING!!!” five thousand times. Last semester a kid gratefully threw their bookbag on the floor and sank in relief onto the couch and said, “I am so happy this couch is here. I really needed it today.” You and I can’t control what is going on at home. We have very little say in what they do from 3:30pm to 8am, sixteen hours of NOT us. In many schools, teachers aren’t allowed to touch their students at all, never mind give them the hugs they so desperately need.

We have a small window of opportunity to model for them what life CAN be like, what they can create for themselves and their futures, the endless possibilities of peace for all of us. Don’t waste it.

_____________________________________________

References

Kelmon, Jessica. “When The Teacher Is The Bully.” Great Schools, October 2017. https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/when-the-teacher-is-the-bully/

Miller, Alice Lawson. “Cultivating Peace In The Classroom.” Montessori Services, 2011. https://www.montessoriservices.com/ideas-insights/cultivating-peace-in-the-classroom

Sparks, Sarah. “How Teacher Stress Affects Students: A Research Roundup,” Education Week Teacher, June 2017. https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/06/07/how-teachers-stress-affects-students-a-research.html

________________________________________________

Amanda Baker is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. Mother, teacher, daughter, friend, writer, Amanda has been teaching high school English for fourteen years and in two states. Currently living in Southside Virginia, this Yankee transplant has been a waitress, a technical writer, a truck driver, a business owner, a corporate secretary, and an educator. In addition, she volunteers for the Halifax Dog Squad helping to rescue and transport dogs, and in the summers, she helps to sew costumes for The Prizery's Summer Theater Celebration. 

Amanda.jpg

Social Justice Wizard: On Gaming & Accountability from Stephen Ownby

Hobbies are important. We need escape from the stress of what can seem from tweets and headlines to be a spiraling out of control society.

This is to say nothing of the pressures of work, school, friends, and family. Some people watch or play sports. Some read and many of us mainline TV shows from various streaming services. Me? I sit and yell about dragons and elves. I love tabletop card games and my main obsession is Magic: The Gathering. Most weekends I can be found slinging spells in hobby shops and in kitchens over drinks.

If my mentioning the 25-year-old trading card game summons images of entitled man-babies casting cards between misogynistic slurs that’s… not entirely unfair.

Magic, like much of nerd culture, is having to come to terms with its “boys' club” reputation.

While less high-profile than the recent kerfuffle over Star Wars daring to have strong female characters, and then the toxic mess that was “Gamergate,” Magic has had its fair share of scandals.

To their credit, Wizards of the Coast (the game’s publisher) has stepped up their social justice game. The YouTube content creator who was responsible for driving a cosplayer from the game was banned from organized play for life. Wizards have added LGBT and neurodiverse characters in several recent sets. While obviously still evolving and imperfect, it is nice to see this effort on a corporate level.

It’s too easy for me, a white cis straight man, to sit back and ignore the ongoing toxicity in the Magic community at a local level. “Society is progressing,” I might say, “it is only a matter of time before these issues are erased.” After all, I deserve to enjoy my hobby, right?

But the diverse gamers with whom I share tabletops deserve to enjoy it as well, and to enjoy it now.

Contrary to stereotypes, I play with kids and adults of multiple genders, races, orientations, and gender identities. The kids on the spectrum I play with deserve to play without hearing casual ableist slurs. The LGBTQ players deserve to play without hearing that an overpowered card is “gay.” The women that I play with, who are already asked too often which players’ girlfriends they are, as if that is the only reason they have taken an interest in the game, don’t deserve to have to sit next to cards sleeved with pictures of half-naked anime girls.

This where I have to be better.

I have to remind myself that, even it’s uncomfortable, I have to tell the kid at the next table that his racist joke isn’t cool. No matter how bad my work week has been, I have to call out casual utterances of “f*ggot” and “r*tard” when I hear them.

The game does not just belong to me, and as an enfranchised player, I have a voice to make the community better for everybody involved.

I have to do this even if it means having awkward conversations with store owners and tournament organizers. I cannot be perfect, but I have to be better. Now, especially now, hobbies are important for everybody.

________________________________________

Stephen Ownby is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. He graduated from Longwood University in 2010 with a BA in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. He writes, hopefully with increasing frequency, poetry and nonfiction about politics and culture. Stephen lives in Henrico County with his wife Carey and their two spoiled cats.

 

Knight+Exemplar.jpg