All posts by Kaila Taylor

Runway 2018: Diverge

A Path to Inclusive Fashion

It is understood that in the world of fashion there tends to be a standard whose existence is not a true reflection of all types of bodies and people. This standard earns a living of off excluding and making others who don’t quite ‘fit the bill’ feel like they are lesser and not important. Most have gotten used to not being represented and just accept it as a norm or accepted the inevitable struggle of not finding clothes that are actually made for all types of people. This lack of representation causes society to adopt this sort of implicit bias when it comes to what is normal fashion and San Francisco State’s very own Apparel Design and Merchandising department is breaking that barrier with full force.

Continue reading Runway 2018: Diverge

Should we put Woke to sleep?

The past tense of awake is woke, obviously. “I woke up,” is what someone could utter any given morning. The word has also been adopted as a slang word with a meaning that is ever expanding, but generally entails being in the know when it comes to social and political enlightenment. A word with such subjectivity allows people to feel a sense of “wokeness” when it comes to just about anything.

Has anyone ever told you to #staywoke? The term has existed for a while, and now got a brand-new make over with its existence on social media. Its social media presence is what caused many to refine or narrow down its meaning.

Many people have various interpretations of the word.

San Francisco State University biology student, Rosa Gutierrez, thinks “…it is when someone is enlightened, or trying to learn about something that is going on around them, and not ignoring the issues that are going on around them.”

American-Indian studies major, Shawnee Sample, believes that, “It’s about seeing different perspectives and different sides to everything, just being able to recognize what’s going down whether it’s political, educational, etc.”

“I think it means being aware of situations and problems that people aren’t aware of,” shares computer science major, David Harvey. “I feel like it’s being overused for now, but with time it will be used less.”

The great thing about social media is that it can get information to circulate on a broader scale. People all over the world can get a laugh from the same memes at the same time! And while that is amazing it’s important to realize that not just memes are being rapidly spread, so are these trends of activism.

We live in a time where big social movements involving hashtags can catapult through the likes of social media. Take #BlackLivesMatter for example, the entirety of that movement started on social media and without social media it would not have spread as widely as it did.

With that being said, even though a social movement as such holds much more value than a trend, it is treated the same when it comes to having a shelf life, which brings me to the topic of being or staying “Woke.”

Even though it has taken off on social media, the term has been around for decades in the Black community. Although not the most reputable source, The Urban Dictionary satirically describes it as “a state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.”

A lot of people think that because they were there first they get to delegate what the meaning is and how others should be regarded within that term,” says Ghila Andemeskel, former executive coordinator for the Black Student Union. “In general it does open doors for discussion.”

At the peak of its existence in the world of social media, “woke” seemed to bring a lot of awareness to issues. It also became something that people were striving to be a part of because it was highly looked down upon to be considered not “woke.”

With that popularity arose various problems. On one hand people were beginning to just start calling themselves “woke,” unjustly throwing around the word like Northern Californians throw around the word “hella.” On the other hand, people began to develop this unwarranted sense of intellectual superiority, and additionally it led to a lot of talk of issues, but no action.

“Media is a tool that can be used positively and negatively,” explains Hanna Wodaje, an Africana studies Alumna who currently works at the Black Unity Center. “The word can be like a double-edged sword obviously if it’s used inefficiently.”

The overuse and misuse of the word by people wanting fit in led to a lot of folks misconstruing the meaning. While it is great to care for these issues and give them more attention, the only thing this superiority does is create a divide between people, as opposed to spreading awareness which was the goal from the beginning, which in my opinion is the cause of this dwindling trend.

Often people think that a simple double tap on someone’s “woke” post or a simple retweet is enough and that is as far as their wokeness goes.

“Social media things like hashtags have been an amazing way for people of color and marginalized groups to reclaim their spaces and their platforms,” Wodaje points out.

Even singer and Bay Area native, Kehlani, sported the word as a tattoo in giant letters gracing the back of her hand, which she had covered up at the beginning of this year.

“When I got the ‘Woke’ tattoo at twenty-years-old I thought I was the smartest cookie in the jar,” shared the now twenty-two-year-old in an Instagram post. “I was so ready to declare my intelligence to the world.”

Someone who is truly about that life, lives it everyday. It shows in the company they keep, in them standing up for themselves and others, and it shows in their active activism—not including “Twitter activism”, which is not necessarily bad, but it is not enough to make an actual impact in the community and the lives of others.
We should stop looking at it like it is a finite state of being. There is no end to learning, growing, and becoming better versions of ourselves.

It is wonderful to spread awareness about social issues, the feeling that comes from doing such feels amazing, but anger or bashing should not stem from a difference in thoughts of opinions regarding various topics. I couldn’t decide whether something like this needed a different title like ‘socially conscious’ or maybe we should eradicate titles all together and let our actions speak louder than or words.

Let’s put the focus we have on the term to sleep and wake up our potential to be the catalyst for positive change in our communities. At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.

Sia Amma: A One Woman Show

The streets were a perfect balance of calm and chaotic, the air was cold, and the sound of a new apartment complex being built echoed throughout the shaded street. Sia Amma’s hair salon, Best Hair Braiding Salon, is in the middle of it all.

Amma was a feminist to say the least; in every sense of the word and in every facet of her passions.

“You are questioned for everything as a Black woman for everything we’re fighting to survive, fighting to claim ourselves,” Amma explains.  “I’ve learned a lot, women of color are born feminist, the stigma on those feminine issues has always been there but it is much more difficult for women of color.”


White feminism and Black feminism are two different realities that can be explained by intersectionality, but on the other hand Women Gender Studies professor Brooke Lober states, “Not all women are born feminists, feminism is a set of theories and politics –not a condition of birth.”

To say that she does it all would be an understatement. Amma acts, is a playwright, writes books, and is a comedian, just to name a few of her passions. But braiding hair has always been a constant in her life, and her main source of income.

In response to what kind of comedy she does, she says a lot of her jokes are racially based. “People always say things like ‘go back to Africa!’ I am like, ‘Do you know how much the tickets cost?!’” she shares as an example of one of her popular jokes.

“I just try to balance with trying to make a living and trying to survive,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Outsiders cannot walk into the shop with ease, a protective gate served as a barrier in front of the door. It is a quaint salon with three chairs and two washing stations. The wall directly to the right had a plethora of rows full of braiding hair packs hanging on the wall, ranging from straight hair to kinky hair, and black and brown colors to green and blue. The brown walls gave it a warm feel that one gets from being in a living room at home.

She talks over the score of a PBS podcast playing the background. Her hands move vigorously as she and an associate micro braid a client, occasionally speaking in her native tongue to her braiding counterpart to comment on the podcast, which happened to be discussing the topic of gun control in America. She would take a little pause when resting her hands or to shake her head with disapproval.

A hairstyle of micro-braids can have a person in the salon for hours, nothing that Black women are not used to already, so two hands are definitely necessary. Amma does all sorts of braiding styles at her Tenderloin salon and has been for decades while in and out of school.

Amma left her home on the coast of Liberia during the civil war that took place in the 1990s and came straight to San Francisco with her family.

According to Peace Building Data, the civil war in Liberia, which was from 1989-2003, left hundreds of thousands of people dead, included an ethnic divide, elites who abused power, a corrupt political system, and economic disparity. All of that violence caused many to flee to the States.

In San Francisco she eventually went to community college before transferring from City College of San Francisco to San Francisco State University in 2008. At the university she double majored in communications and drama. But her true passion lay with performing.

No relationships are stirring for Amma at the moment. “I think I’m much more married to my performances, nothing makes me happier than making people laugh or performing, I think that my biggest fear is losing myself,” she elaborates.

She even has a space for a theater around the corner from the salon, literally. She has had the space since 2003, but she put that theater dream on hold as the area was getting heckled by people who had intent to gentrify. “I braided all day then I would go over there and perform,” she recounts the past.


She still has it, but instead uses it as a storage space for the products that she sells at her salon.

“With gentrification comes a lot of stalking and harassment,” Amma continues. “I was getting stalked and followed so I shut it down for my safety.”

She explains how San Francisco was very different when she first came here. “I remember there was more black people and more black neighborhoods,” Amma explains.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, Black people made up 7.5 percent of San Francisco’s population, by 2016 that number went down to 6.5 percent.  

“The first African braiding shop in the Bay Area was in the Fillmore!” Amma exclaims excitedly. That is where she met Satta, her fellow braider and colleague at the salon.

“I known her for over 20 years, we met at the first braiding salon in the Bay Area ever called African Safari, everyone that came from Africa worked there. I worked at this shop with her for 5 years,” says Satta.

In her most recent one woman show—titled Uncle Sam’s Children in Africa—she tells of her life in Liberia and what brought her to America, accompanied by a crash course on Liberian history.

She has a voice made for performing, the same booming voice that emerges in between laughs at the hair salon, it finally gets to take the main stage. She paints pictures with her hand gestures, giving the audience a virtual tour of her village in Liberia.

“It was really inspiring, with lots of drama, history, and a beautiful song,” commented a spectator Elizabeth Loyola.

Amma has a book that she says is finished, but she just cannot seem to put down the pen, she explains while continuing to laugh. When she gets to the topic of her love for performing that her eyes light up, and the volume of her voice grows with excitement. With her laugh booming throughout the small salon, she gets into some of the topics that she covers in her book, which is a feminist bible, so to speak, and based entirely on interviews and conversations that she has had with various women.

“One of the things that I learned from those interviews is the tremendous amounts of silence about these kind of topics, these interviews would happen after I performed or just people would tell me things while I did their hair.”

She touches on first dates, to women discovering sexuality, the difference between infatuation and love, vaginas and more.

“I will finish, then I’ll be like ‘okay maybe just one more, how about a first date? Or teenage pregnancy?’”

Her goal is to increase the dialogue for all of these topics that women feel the need to be silent about, through interviews with various women. “For a lot of us the separation between us and our parents comes from discovering ourselves and our sexuality,” she explains.

Her salon, and many like it, become a sanctuary for women, a safe space where your hair in its natural form is not judged and such a comfort then becomes a catalyst for open conversation and if you are lucky… a little gossip.

“It’s getting way too expensive, I wanna go far away from here,” she says, her voice trailing off into silence.

One reason she wants to go back to Liberia eventually is because she finds it harder to be Black here. “I never questioned my Blackness it was just there, but then you come here and everywhere you go, you have to prove yourself,” she admits.

She hopes to go back to teach children or to be an ambassador for women’s health.

life goes on;

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section mentions suicide, which may be triggering to survivors.

Cocktails, laughter, friends and movies. Everything about the night was typical and telling of a girls night in. However, there was something hidden from the light-hearted fun. What the ladies did not know was that one of their friends had been very certain about one thing at that point in time: that she was going to take her own life.

On the topic of suicide most people, who generally have no clue what it is like to have to have a mental illness, believe the easy answer is asking for help. An accusing, “Why didn’t you say anything?” commonly follows, and is often easier said than answered. The truth is that most people do not even know where to begin asking for help.

During the winter break, this is what San Francisco State University student, Farley Moore, experienced after attempting to take her own life.

Let’s just be honest here, college is hard, life is hard…  and sometimes things become too much. It’s nice to get things off your chest and vent to a close friend or family member. That was a normal occurrence for Farley and roommate Ashley Nerland.

“There was definitely talks about wanting to end things, from my point of view and from hers… I didn’t really think ‘she’s more serious than she is putting off’, no one realized that it was that serious,” Ashley explains.

To those who are unfamiliar with mental illness, who have not personally struggled or known a friend or family member who dealt with this daily, often wonder what it takes to get to this point. And truthfully, there is no concrete answer. It depends on the person.

According to National Data on Campus Suicide and Depression, a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among twenty to twenty-four-year-olds. And more than sixty percent of people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. However, that was not Farley’s case.

“It was more like giving up as opposed to depression building up over time,” Farley elaborates, while sitting comfortably on her bed with her legs crossed.

Farley, like many, experiences intense anxiety. Things began to take a turn when an ex-boyfriend reached out to her, saying that he wasn’t going to speak to her again, after making it seem like they were on the road to getting back together at the beginning of December.

“When I have anxiety I don’t eat, I feel like I can’t breathe and my stomach hurts,” Farley explains. “I get panic attacks, my palms are sweaty and I just can’t focus on anything else.”

A study by the American Psychological Association says that anxiety is a top concern among college students with forty-one percent affected, and depression is second in line with thirty-six percent.


“When it comes to anxiety there is more to it than people realize; it stems back to the earliest stages when we’re beginning to make different attachment bonds,” explains Nadine Agosta, a Childhood Development professor.

Her earliest memories of anxiousness began as early as eight-years-old, and involved traveling with her mom, who had a tendency to get upset when things did not go right or if given a wrong direction by mistake.

“…if your caregiver doesn’t make you feel good, it can lead to an insecure attachment, thus leaving a child to question ‘what’s wrong with me?’” Agosta continues.

“From there… it just spiraled,” Farley says looking off into the distance.

The anxiety resulted in four consecutive days of no food, eventually just over thirty pounds lost in two weeks, and a feeling of complete and utter hopelessness.

“I didn’t really know how to ask for help, so this was sort of my cry for help,” Farley takes a deep breath.

Ashley eventually contacted 911 after Farley admitted that she had been continually throwing up all night not from going too hard with the drinking, but from mixing numerous pills, such as hydrocodone and Prozac, with alcohol.

Fast forward and Farley is in the company of many adults who suffer from extreme mental illness that keep them from interacting with society at Mills Peninsula Health Center in Burlingame.

“Farley did not belong there, was my first thought,” Ashley recalls.

Being just one year over the age limit meant that she could not be in the youth area, which she felt would have been more her speed.

Fast forward a couple of days and Farley is out of psychiatric care and is set to have therapy meetings that would determine if she would need long or short-term care.

Following her being able to leave the hospital, both Farley and her friend Ashley got matching tattoos of a semicolon, which represents suicide awareness through a message that conveys life continuing.

Semicolon tattoos began in 2013 with a movement called Project Semicolon, started by a woman named Amy Bleuel. The project offers a platform for people to share their stories and aims to reduce instances of suicide all around the world. The semicolon is a symbol that illustrates where a sentence could have ended, but instead the author chose to have it continue.

Whether by finding people who relate to how you feel, seeking mental refuge in close family and friends, or professional help, the resources to help people create their own theoretical semicolons are out there.

On campus, counseling is offered Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and till 5 p.m. on Fridays. There are also various groups offered that are geared toward more specific topics: Feel Better workshops, and Self-Empowerment to name a few.

“They [social workers, and therapists at the hospital] didn’t seem understand properly and asked a lot of surface level questions,” Farley describes what it was like in the psychiatric center.

After having gone through this experience Farley is considering being an advocate for mental health, or someone who works at a psychiatric hospital instead of going to law school with her eventual Political Science degree.

“I can relate personally so I would be able to ask the right questions, ones that get to the root of the problem, whereas they are just checking for your state of mind right now.”

Some of those surface level questions included ‘rate your anxiety on a scale of one to ten?’

“Well what is a one to you, if you yourself have never experienced anxiety or mental illness?” Farley questions.

As painful as the experience was for not only her, but the people in her life, she believes that it was necessary in order to get the help that she needed.



Photography by Adelyna Tirado/Xpress Magazine

Taking it to the Streets, Part 2

San Francisco is known as a picture perfect city, with its cool neighborhoods, historic streets, bright colored bridge, and tourist spots that attract people from all over the world. However, the city encompasses people from both ends of a very long spectrum: just as there are those who live lavishly in beautiful three-story homes some can only dream of walking into, there are those who dream of resting their head anywhere besides the concrete.


At anytime on any given street coming across someone who is trying to conjure up some warmth under many layers of dirtied clothing is not an uncommon experience shared by many. The familiarity of such a scene for San Francisco natives is the reason most just keep walking past unphased. A strong, unfortunate desensitization, to say the least.


And not much change has occurred over the past couple years, according to a study called “The San Francisco Homeless Count & Survey” completed by Applied Survey Research. This research team conducts homeless counts all over the U.S. in order to provide accurate information to governments so they know how and where to target the issue. The entire survey has breakdowns by age, sexuality, race, and district, in addition to potential causes and what services are available.


For instance in the 2013 count, 41 percent of homeless people were sheltered, leaving 59 percent unsheltered. In both the 2015 and 2017 counts, 42 percent were sheltered and 58 percent were unsheltered.

Surrounding counties are not as rich in services as San Francisco,” Eric Brown a program director for The Catholic Charities of San Francisco expressed.

“That is why many who are homeless come to the city.”


And more specifically the downtown area, according to the study “District 6 of San Francisco” which includes South of Market, the Tenderloin, and Treasure Island. This district has the highest count with a total of 3,680 – that is almost 50 percent of homeless population.


As such a prevalent issue, the problem of homelessness leaves people – the ones who care – with a sense of ‘how can I, as one person, evoque change?’


According to the previously mentioned study, about 70 percent of the total population at some point in time once possessed permanent residence in the city. The rest of the population migrated to the city from other locations, most seeking employment opportunities.


When we look at the bigger picture there is a systemic issue deeply embedded in our society, and in poverty. Looking deeper than a problem of poverty is the concern of who is better treated in society; the answer is definitely not people of color with a history of residential segregation.


Fortunately there is a multitude of organizations, including “Taking It To the Streets,” in every district that help house, feed, or provide much needed assistance to those affected by this ongoing systemic issue.


The Catholic Charities of San Francisco, which has a location in the Tenderloin, in the Mission district, and even more locations outside of the city, help with the issue of homelessness through their provided shelter, housing subsidies, eviction prevention services, and permanent supportive housing programs.


We’re focused on not criminalizing the homelessness,” one of the Catholic Charities of San Francisco’s program director, of 19-year-years who wished to remain nameless, explains.

“It’s tough with all the businesses that exist here and all of the wealth, but we’re ever hopeful.”


The Catholic Charities of San Francisco continues to expand its efforts as they are planning to open an additional access point.


According to the San Francisco Homeless Count Report, there are about 7,499 homeless individuals in the city. The Tenderloin area having the highest population and the Sunset district having the lowest. As far as race goes, 35 percent are Caucasian, 34 percent are Black, 4 percent are Asian, 3 percent are Native American, 2 percent are Pacific Islander, and 22 percent are described as multiracial.

In the Mission District they have the Dolores Street Community services that provides shelter to a demographic that is primarily recent immigrants, as their goal is help those who have been marginalized by society in that area.


“The police force, the housing crisis, and gentrification all contribute to people being stuck in the cycle that is homelessness,” Yesenia Lacayo, a program manager of the organization points out.

“The older generation of San Francisco natives who have grown up here and have been here for decades get pushed out and become homeless.”


The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation houses 4,100 low-income residents in six different districts around the city. Many are familiar with the Tenderloin being the heart of homelessness in the city. It might lead one to question; why does the problem of homelessness continue to exist with all these organization at their disposal?


“Even with plenty to go around people still need help to find these programs,” Shay Jones from the program proposes as a possible answer.


There are a multitude of organizations that try to help the homeless and those who can’t afford to eat a healthy amount of food per day. One of those is CalFresh, provided by the SF Marin Food Bank. In multiple of their locations they provide weekly free meals and fresh food. The demographic they see the most consists of those in transition out of homelessness, according to their Program Manager Tina Gonzalez, who has been with the organization for the past four years.


“Yeah I would say there has been a rise in the amount of encampments in the past four years, a lot of people depend on programs like these for stability,” said Gonzalez.


Evidently there is an abundance of resources that exist and continue to develop geared toward helping the issue of homelessness. However, if significant change is not taking place, it only reinforces that fact that this issue runs deeper than being able to stretch what money the city dedicates toward the issue. It is embedded in society and San Francisco culture especially. So until action is taken to get to the root of the systemic racism, the cost of living, and the many disparities amongst class and wage the absence of significant change will continue.

We Have the Power

“How do we create that revolution?”

Almost mirror-like, the art is intended to help people of color see themselves in a world that doesn’t thoroughly grasp the concept of equal representation. A world that acts as a broken mirror.

Lenworth Mcintosh, who goes by Joonbug, is an established illustrator, film photographer, and part of an art group called The Black Mail Collective. This 30-year-old with Jamaican roots has found himself in Oakland after living in states Florida and Texas.

Starting with five black males, The Black Mail Collective’s – originally The Black Male Collective – first mission was to depict the Black man’s experience in America through their art. Now, with women as a part of their group, male turned into “mail” and the platform changed to be hyper-focused on people of color’s experience as a whole.

“Everywhere I’ve been has lent itself, enhanced my ability to create what I see,” Joonbug said.

“I’m an accumulation of all the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.”

His wrist goes up and down as he strokes the wall with paint.



In the thick of the busy streets of South of Market,  or SoMa if you’re a native, which is basically downtown San Francisco, but not the downtown with the brief cases and gentrification. He paints in the downtown that is the home to the homeless, or sans-abri if you’re French, the downtown where sidewalks double as a place where many come to rest their heads at night.

“You got skills bro,” and “maybe you should add some stars right there or the Golden Gate Bridge in that corner there,” are some of the many things heard by Joonbug on a daily basis.

Passerbys seem incapable of passing by without smiling, commenting, or adding suggestions.

“I feel like I’m the first artist to paint out here,” Joonbug utters.

“…or at least to paint black faces.”

A lucky wall at Howard & 6th st. gets to be the home for the mural he is working on, until it is eventually painted over.

A friend, and fellow artist, Colt Platt expresses his appreciation for Joonbug’s work.

“It’s refreshing to see someone do something different, something that most would be afraid to do.”

He acknowledges everyone that acknowledges him, and speaks to everyone with such strong familiarity you would think he already knew them.

“There’s a beauty in building that bridge between like the super poor and well off and showing that we have all these layers to us, but historically we’ve only been shown two sides,” Joonbug sighs.

People typically become professionals at turning a blind eye when it comes to encountering people on the street, not him. He kindly accepts every comment and advice from those passing by with grace, knowing full well he is going to stick with his own ideas and do things the way he has always known how.

Occasionally he gets dangerously close to the busy traffic street to get a wide view of the progress he has made on his work, establishing what needs more work, and then walks back over paintbrush in hand.

Done for the day, he heads out at around 6 p.m.

It’s about five blocks to get to the bart station, and he stops almost every 30 seconds to snap pictures of his environment and the people around him. He is a man of the people to say the least.

Back at his Oakland studio he is in his element, like two puzzle pieces fitting together – but almost better, contributing to an aesthetic not even a Tumblr account could dream of emulating.

He sinks into the small loveseat growing more comfortable by the second soaking up every question like a sponge, dwelling on them.  

“I feel relaxed right now. It’s been a long day,” Joonbug laughs.

‘Power to the People’ are the words that he wants to accompany the mural.

His work has no political intent but he does include messages within his work that are up to the viewer to decipher.

“So much of our lives are governed by people telling us what to do or whatever. Even like when your parents tell you what to do, there’s a certain level of respect but after a while, especially when you’re a teenager you start to rebel because you kind of have a problem with it,” Joonbug says.

He explains that if people really want to dig deeper they are at liberty to.


In protest you have a lot of room for error and a lot of complexity and a lot of fake shit because humans just love being seen.

He tells of a character he created of a tall man wearing a hat, a very simple hat one would assume, but like his other works this goes deeper.

The deeper you go into this character the more complexities you find. The hat can represent so many things-it can be protection, it can be warmth, it can be just style, it can be anything,

protection…. can lead to different things,” Joonbug added gesturing delicately with his hands.

“But they’re all tied to the constraints of the black man’s plight or the person of color’s plight

here in America or throughout history,throughout time. There are all these things but it just boils down to a man wearing a hat,” Joonbug continued.

Political messages have snuck their way into art since the dawn of time, art has always served as a visual relief from the real world issues while reminding us that they still exist. It has served as an escape and an answer.

“I’ve seen more decorative creators,” mentioned Joonbug.

“That’s why I hate pop art sometimes because there’s a very thin line between decoration and substance.”

Now more than ever our generation is seeing heightened racial tension. In response to whether that has created a turning point in the messages included into his art, he explains how everything that people do after these grave incidents, which show our country’s true colors, is just “reaction shit.”

He stresses the importance of attaching his messages on a level where the viewer will not forget, where it’s an after thought as opposed to an initial.

“In protest you have a lot of room for error and a lot of complexity and a lot of fake shit because humans just love being seen,” Joonbug explains.

“You have people that are definitely in it for the greater good then you have people that are mixing in that aren’t there for anything but being able to say “I was there” then they go home and live their regular lives.”

Desensitization is the common cold of our generation. Fortunately, we have social media to visually see all of the disgracefulness of systemic racism, but because it is online people become occupied with new posts and forget about the old ones.  

What seems the most important to Joonbug is affecting people long term and causing real change with each stroke of his brush and each snap of a moment.

With growing comfort Joonbug becomes one with the small couch.

“I feel like… real change takes place within yourself.”


Featured Art by: Joonbug 

Photography by: Richard Lomibao


Not Your N***a

Featured Illustration by: Kevin Catalan


Hip hop; it’s more than just a genre of music, it’s a culture, it’s a way of life, it’s what some people see when they look out of their window every morning, or when they are walking down their streets.


We scream the lyrics along with Kendrick as though we have lived life through his eyes, but we haven’t. We enjoy his art, what he is doing with the experience he has had, and his story-telling capabilities, but most hip-hop consumers haven’t lived it. When people who aren’t Black use the hip hop genre as the glue between them and an experience they could never understand that’s when problems begin to arise – a problem that involves the controversial usage of a particular word.

Let’s play a game: what widely used word can mean friend and homie, but can simultaneously be grossly offensive if used in a certain way against a certain group of people?

“I don’t like it, I don’t approve of it,” uttered Zemaye Jacobs, communication major and member of the Black Student Union here at San Francisco State University.

This was a popular reaction to the question ‘how do you feel about people who aren’t Black using the word?’.

If a particular word is coming to mind, ask yourself this: Do you use it, do you stop other people from using it, do you know its history, what in your life has contributed to your desensitization of the word? And yes, it’s that one that starts with an ‘N’.

Do you scream those Drake lyrics at the top of your lungs without a care in the world, or does your social consciousness help you refrain?

N***a, it holds a unique and even confusing duality; it’s safe and it’s not, it’s fun, even hip, yet withholds an immense ignorance if used in the wrong way. There is a less problematic solution, which entails not using it at all. However, there is no magic potion to eradicate the damn thing. Its roots lie in racism, anti-Blackness, and colorism, to name a few, all actively perpetuating systemic issues in this country.

Blair Thomas, an art major and member of BSU at SF State says, “It does not matter if it is a part of pop culture or not. It’s not a word for non-Black people, especially if you cannot respect actual Black people.”

“The attempts over the years to take that word and turn it into something else, have been failed attempts,” explained Professor Davey D. Cook, as he walked to his bus stop.

Cook is a professor in the Africana studies department, who teaches a hip hop course at SF State.

“It’s still a pejorative and people use it as such even when they try to claim that they have somehow sanitized it.”

Let’s talk phonetics.

Most are aware that the original form of the word is Negro, which refers to the color Black, and is used in many languages besides English. To make a VERY long story short, during slavery it became popularly said as n***er, and now it’s popularly said as n***a. Oh how we have progressed.

Connotation aside, this is an example of tense vowels transforming into lax vowels, explained by linguistics Professor Chris Wen-Chao Li. Like ‘player’ being pronounced ‘playa’ to ‘fit in with the cool kids,’ so to speak.

“This is a pretty typical example of phonological reduction as part of grammaticalization,” Wen-Chao Li says.

Phonological reduction, or simplifying how words are said, happens all time and a lot of the time we don’t even realize. Wen-Chao Li provided this example: ‘Jesus’ turned into the expression ‘Jeez’, which then turned into ‘Gee’ as in “Gee, thanks.”

With that being said, the usage of n**** has been normalized immensely. Imagine being a fly on the wall at your favorite rap concert in the Bay Area, at the Oracle Arena, which holds about 19,000 people. Thousands of people are yelling n****s around left and right.

“I don’t give them [non-Blacks] a pass, but what am I gonna do, fight 50,000 people?,” Bryce Page, a local, commented.

It often becomes a matter of picking your battles, because so many people say it.

Many non-Black students feel the same way about the controversial word.

“I have some hispanic friends who use the word and there’s this controversy of whether it’s accepted for any person of color to use because we [hispanics] have suffered too,” said Rosa Gutierrez a biology major at SF State.

“…but I don’t think it’s right for us to use a word that doesn’t belong to us, so I don’t agree with my friends use of the word.”

When political science major, Alex Ayala, was asked what his response is when people around him are using it he said that he always stops it.

“Even if I’m that one person who maybe is ‘overreacting’, it’s just disrespectful,” Ayala states.

But does using it when rapping to your favorite rap lyric change the hundreds of years of history? As Black people gained more rights post-slavery, the word remained and still does. Consumers have allowed the word to have derivative qualities, which as a result gave many reasons to grant themselves access to the word.

“If I hear them say the word in a joking way or like playing around with friends, I won’t confront them about it,” says theater major and African American student, Alissa Harris.

“I don’t like the word period, even when other Black people use it,” marketing major and African American student Donna Tate says.

The Black response to its usage is of the varietal form. Ranging from not minding at all, to being fine with it as long as it’s not of a serious racial attack, to some not wanting to hear the word from anyone. Regardless of confrontation, it tends to make people feel some type of way.

“I think in the face of the type challenges many of us face as Black folks and the type of oppression people are dealing with daily… that’s the ultimate micro-aggression especially in spaces where you are not the majority,” Davey concludes as his bus nears.

I can only wonder that if we as Black people were united in how we feel about ‘n***a’, then would society, or non-Black peoples, also be on the same page when it comes to the usage of the word. OR if racism died with slavery instead of manifesting itself into a systemic form, would the word usage still be as impactful. Black people are about three times more likely to be killed by police force than any other race still today. The original meaning continues to exist and shows its ugly head with every pull of the trigger.