Open relationships are a lot like pineapple on pizza – people either love it or hate it. But as all new and different things, maybe don’t knock it until you try it. First things first – what does an open relationship entail? Continue reading Opening Up About Being Open
“Murderers” and “puppets” are just a few of the insults student veterans at San Francisco State University have received from their fellow students and faculty.
Veteran Services Coordinator, Benjamin Yang said that most of these insults are made out of misconceptions and stereotypes of the military. He stated that although most student veterans are taught to be thick-skinned and ignore criticism, he worries for the veterans that are still struggling to transition to regular civilian life. He believes that not all veterans can cope with the discomfort of being outed in class, especially those with PTSD.
To address this issue, Yang has partnered with Swords to Plowshares, to conduct classes, “Combat to Community”, that teach professors and faculty how to avoid situations that might trigger student veterans past trauma. These classes have been curated twice now and not a single faculty member has taken them, despite the classes being made especially for them.
“Staff members, psych counselors, the register’s office, admissions, and even UPD have all attended but, still no faculty, said Yang. “These classes are important to begin conversations that some veterans are too afraid to talk to their professors about.”
Later Yang explained that there was actually one faculty member, a dean, but still no participation by professors to attend these courses.
Yang believes that these classes are necessary because triggers to PTSD are everywhere.
“It can be anything not just words that trigger these episodes,” explained Yang. “When I was a student here, the weekly tsunami alarm was always off-putting to me, it was hard for me to focus after. We witness and experience events differently than most people and though we veterans are resilient we still have trouble talking about these vulnerabilities.”
On the afternoon of February 28, students protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement banged on classroom doors and yelled “walk out!” to encourage other students to participate. However, student veterans at Burk Hall misheard and thought students were yelling “lock down,” and according student veteran, Gabriel Flesher, this alarmed him to think they should look for the perpetrators that, in his mind, was the cause of all the yelling.
“Yelling and banging on doors is terrifying for anyone,” said Flesher. “I went outside and immediately thought something dangerous was happening. The recent campus shootings didn’t help either. It was like I switched to survival mode and that’s one of the differences between veterans and other students, we’re always scanning our surroundings to be assured of our safety.”
Forty-year-old Flesher, who was in the coast guard for fourteen and a half years, did one tour in Iraq, and thirteen three-month patrols to the Bering Sea, and has served in Africa, South and Central America, as well as Thailand, Singapore, and the Continental US. He believes that student veterans are not typical students.
“As vets, we have had huge responsibilities and tasks that we have completed, some of us have been to war and experience death at a level that people in regular society, simply cannot identify with, especially in a class environment.” said Flesher.
To Flesher, the “Combat to Community” classes have created an opportunity for staff and faculty to hear and ask questions to therapist and psychologist that work with Veteran Affairs and the veterans themselves
Another issue that the classes address is the student veterans’ misconceptions. Many student veterans have come to Yang to complain that certain professors single them out, make them feel uncomfortable, and even criticize them for their involvement with the military.
Jason Chittavong, a thirty-six-year-old history major, says that he’s heard from other veterans that a lot of their classmates, and even professors, have called him a “murderer” when they realize that he is a veteran.
“I refrain from giving my insight when war is a topic in class, even though I might have some in first-hand experience with it,” said Chittavong. “It leaves you kind of open, everyone turns for you for the answers and sometimes it becomes an uncomfortable situation.”
Jerry Cabilatazan, who did four years in the Marine Corp and did two back to back tours in Afghanistan, says that in class some people have asked intrusive questions, like if he has ever killed anyone. There were many times when he was called a murderer and not given the chance to explain the context to his actions.
Cabilatazan said that he was providing security for an all-girl school in South Afghanistan when the Taliban came and started shooting the school.
“Do I let these kids die or stop one individual?” Cabilatazan commented.“It can get really dark and often you get [put] in a situation and get asked ‘how I can make that decision’ and I don’t know. All I know is that, that girl (children) have nothing to do with this, she’s just trying to do the best she can in her age and we know better than her, so it’s our job to protect her.”
Christopher Ramirez, another student veteran, says that these invasive questions get asked a lot in class with faculty supervision present, who often also have their own bias with his involvement with the military. Flesher believes in order to counter these biases, there should be more awareness to everything else that veterans do other than combat.
“So many veteran contributions are lost in translation,” said Flesher. “There are medics, engineers, search and rescue groups that a lot people gloss over and never really given credit, some of our medic veterans actually helped student protestors how to aid themselves during the protest in Berkeley.
Ramirez, now thirty-four-years-old and served for sixteen years as a medic in combat, shares that he helped people protesting because he feels that his primary principles revolve around serving people in need, something he says has been with him even after returning from the military.
The past patterns of protest and school shootings, have inspired Ramirez to want to do trainings and teach other people how to prepare for injuries done in protest or potentially heal other wounds.
“Student veterans are untapped resources, that given the chance can bring so many contributions to this campus,” said Ramirez.
More than anything, student veterans, according to Ramirez, just want to be have the same opportunity to succeed in academia like their peers, but want teachers to be conscious of the other factors that might prevent them from doing so.
Last year Ramirez had to seek military withdrawal because he was summoned and deployed to another state. He got incompletes in most of his classes except for one. The sole professor who gave him a withdrawal unauthorized, accused Ramirez of not being communicative. However, Ramirez said he sent emails to all his professors.
Ramirez says that what really infuriated him was not having to pay back Veteran Affairs for not passing the class, but how unwilling the professor was to even understand his situation meet to have a conversation to fix the problem.
“The thing is I didn’t have a choice, I was literally at Fort Knox Kentucky and then Fort Bragg Carolina,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez says that not doing well in class in not only detrimental to his grades, but it could have affected his assistance from the VA, and at the moment in his life right now, the VA that is the economical and emotional support he has.
Cabilatazan also believes that because his education is so dependent on the VA, that student veterans are held to higher standards.
“We are ten times harder on ourselves than the most of the students,” said Cabilatazan. “This is my life, if I don’t do better than this I don’t know what my future is gonna be like, I sacrificed four years of my life for this opportunity and I’m shitting it away because of this low score, most people don’t think like that.”
Cabilatazan explains that school is his only option and if he fails then his sacrifices in the military would be taken in vain.
“Some people when they fall have a little bit of support left , someone to hold onto just in case you fall,” said Cabilatazan. “But if I fall I fall deeper and I don’t’ have any other choice I have to dig myself that.”
Ramirez and Cabilatazan both agree that if faculty members and professors take the “Combat to Community” classes they would be more aware of the situations that student veterans face and more understanding to the external hardships they have no control over. But again the problem that the Veterans Affairs Office has is convincing faculty members to participate.
“For me, I’m cellular molecular biology major,” shared Ramirez. “Our STEM professors say they don’t have time, or that’s what the common statement would be, but they have time to have keynote speakers to come in, these seminars and all that is great, don’t get me wrong, but these classes aren’t long either. It’s a little disheartening and frustrating.”
The next combat class will be held in the summer for the next Fall semester. For more information on the Combat to Community classes, please contact Benjamin Yang at his email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Another superhero movie came out this past month. That’s where we are at now. Marvel movies are becoming as essential to American culture as the Super Bowl or the Olympics; we all have to see them.
Except Black Panther was more than just another Marvel film.
Black Panther is a platform for black artists and creators to create a lens into their culture. This was a first for a large demographic of kids. They get to see themselves as the hero; the main event. Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as the titular Black Panther, reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War, with Michael B. Jordan as the debut villain Erik Killmonger.
Michael B. Jordan played a heavy role in the film while also reuniting, for the third time, with writer and director Ryan Coogler—proving to be a match made in cinematic heaven. The two came together in 2013 for Fruitvale Station and again in 2015 for Creed.
I love Marvel films. I always look forward to seeing the Avengers come together and watch the solo films in between. To be fair though, the other day I overheard a group of girls talking in the cafe and one of them mentioned that she didn’t know that the Black Panther was a superhero. Most people didn’t. I am also fairly new to the club.
I am a marvel fanboy. There’s no use in me hiding it. While I don’t read the comics quite as much as I did back in the day, I have done everything I can to stay up to date on the Marvel cinematic universe.
Black Panther was always a superhero I liked, but not a character that I found incredibly enticing on his own. Often when I read his stories he was paired with the X-Men or Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. That being said, I was excited when I heard they were giving Black Panther his own film. I was even more excited when I heard Kendrick Lamar was going to be producing the album.
Once it was announced after Captain America: Civil War that the Black Panther would get a full length film, the most exciting part was seeing updates on the cast. Who would’ve thought we’d being seeing Angela Bassett in a Marvel film? On and off the screen, “blackness” was praised and proved to be something worth watching. The selection for costume designers, the “inspired by” soundtrack, and the director.
I will be honest and say that before Black Panther, I didn’t know who Angela Bassett was. Bassett put forth a stirring performance as the mother of T’challa, the Black Panther. It’s sad how long this movie has taken to get made.
Black Panther is another installment in a long line of Marvel films that pushes the envelope. Rather than serve up standard superheroes, Marvel has attempted to give us something unique. A talking raccoon and a giant tree voiced by Vin Diesel would never have gotten the green light when Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the pioneers.
Black Panther is culturally a more important film than Guardians of the Galaxy though. It is the story of a superhero who is also the king of a sovereign nation. In the comics Black Panther fights with politics almost as much as his claws. The story of Black Panther and his nation of Wakanda also carries a lot of racial and social commentary.
Rather than shy away from the issues, the movie leans into them and allows what made the story unique in the comic books to make it unique on screen. It’s a movie about representation, juggling the identity of a comic book flick with that of a film about black culture. How did it do?
Black Panther was a very different combination of excitement. You have so many new and unusual factors going in one mainstream film. The idea that a blockbuster depicts Africa as beautiful, self-sufficient, and most importantly superior to its surroundings is an anomaly. The excitement that black kids can look up to a superhero that looks like them, play with action figures that have the same features. This film supports an identity that was well overdue.
There’s so much to rave about. You have Kendrick Lamar, an activist through his rap, producing the soundtrack for the film. Ryan Coogler’s $200 million budget for a film he was allowed to make his own. Ruth E. Carter, known for her repeated work with director Spike Lee, and more recently her costume design for Selma.
Names that resonate in the black community are now widely known due the weight that Marvel films hold. The excitement comes from the shift in a community finally being able to show how profitable it truly is.
It comes at a fortuitous time in Hollywood as well. Black Panther as a movie is poignant. Opening on Oakland, California in 1992, the film makes its goals clear while still entertaining us the entire way. Stunning visuals and an incredible soundtrack composed by Swedish visionary Ludwig Goransson never distract from the climax.
Black Panther is about a hero and a villain who both want what is best for their people. They both see the suffering and persecution endured at the hands of the privileged and the powerful. The crux of their characters fall on what the answer is. How do we as people fight against hundreds of years of systematic and institutionalized racism? Black Panther director Coogler answers as best as he can: we get involved, and we point a spotlight at the beautiful.
Seniors of the Women and Gender Studies department at San Francisco State University slowly filtered through the door of room 131 in the Humanities building. Most of the tables and chairs were pushed towards the walls of the room, leaving only two tables in the center. The seniors took their seats around the classroom and chatted with each other. As the room filled with more people, the volume grew and the atmosphere transformed from dull to lively.
The last senior walked into the classroom and Julietta Hua, the W.G.S. department chair and the class’ professor, considered it a que for her to take her position in the center of the class. Her outfit—a blue-knit sweater, a black a-line skirt, and thin-framed glasses—and confident stance displayed her authority over the class.
Starting with the student closest to the door, Professor Hua asked each student how their week went. The class only met once a week on Wednesday afternoons, so she decided it was important to start it by checking-in with each person to see if their physical and mental health improved or diminished from the prior meeting. Her goal is to make sure they felt included, a theme that not only ran the class, but also the entire department.
Although the class is taught around the idea of inclusion, its overall focus is on the creation of a publication that reflects what is taught in the W.G.S. department.
“Early on there is the collective brainstorm of ideas, themes. And then they decide, sort of what they want to contribute, what role they want to play,” shared Professor Hua. She does not contribute anything to the publication, but she acts as the managing editor by making sure students stay on task and create a piece they are proud to publish.
The department chair has taught the class for a couple of years, but the department started the publication long before she was hired in 2006.
Throughout the years the publications became a combination of informative and personal pieces that showed how the students dealt with their own experiences and the experiences of the public, whether it was from a political or social perspective.
“It’s a research based article or its more of a conventional news piece or research piece, but the purpose of the collaboration is to reflect together with a group of your graduating classmates and to think about what-what is a feminist intervention,” explained Hua. “What does it look like and what does it look like when you have to think about it with other people, like collectively.”
Professor Hua continued asking around the room, finally landing on Shonnon Gutierrez. She perked up, pushed her hair behind her ears and shoulders, and recounted how she felt over the previous seven days. Many of the responses Professor Hua received from her students were short or delved into hardships, but Shonnon was more positive. She explained how happy she was because she had the chance to go dancing the night before, something she could easily be caught doing when she was not commuting or doing homework. With all the adversities that the average American could face, she was glad she woke up to see another day.
At forty-seven-years-old, Shonnon is finishing her last semester at SF State. As she grew up in Los Angeles, she never finished high school and started having children in her early twenties, eventually having a total of two sons and one daughter. When 2014 rolled around, her two older children moved out which left her with less responsibilities and more free time. She knew it was her opportunity to start her academic career again, but she was unsure of how difficult enrolling into a community college could be.
“I didn’t have my GED [General Education Development Tests] and I didn’t qualify for a Pell grant due to that,” shared Shonnon. The fear of being academically held back because of past decisions pushed her to work hard for her GED diploma. She received it in May of 2014 then started community college shortly after that.
Her perseverance did not end with the start of community college. She was able to graduate in the spring of 2016 and was even asked to be a commencement speaker.
When she began attending SF State, she knew majoring in women and gender studies was the right choice for her.
“My parents are from Mexico and my mother had to deal with a lot of machismo from my father. My mother divorced my father and got citizenship on her own,” expressed Shonnon. She continued, saying that her mother’s struggle to be successfully independent and finding her identity guided her to the W.G.S. department and helped her choose a topic for her piece going in the publication.
“On my own, I’m going to do a piece on identity, on claiming identity, and what that means whether it be gender identity, cultural identity. I identify as Chicana and what does that mean by claiming Chicana, what does it mean by claiming an identity,” shared Shonnon. She decided to format her piece as a letter to her daughter that touches on President Trump and America’s current political climate. Shonnon is also collaborating with other students from the class to create a feminist horoscope.
“I feel like my piece is important for the publication because it gives voice to those that are hidden and are denied the claiming of their identities because of the binary systems, because of the gender norms, because of race,” said Shonnon.
Shonnon is not the only student to decide on personal pieces that surround controversial topics. Twenty-two-year-old Ines Diot graduated from SF State in December with a bachelors in women and gender studies. She contributed a piece to the fall 2017 publication that was written as a creative essay.
“I was sitting in my house one day and started reflecting on myself,” explained Diot. She shared that she wanted her piece to be personal by writing about abusive relationships, but it still touched on some heated subjects, such as the monuments of Confederate soldiers being removed. Her essay followed a theme of “out with the old and in with the new.”
Diot not only wrote a piece for the publication, but she also created a video and helped draw the cover while laying out the cover and everyone else’s work. Every publication has followed the idea of being completely student ran. The only part of the process that the students do not work on is the printing—which costs about $200 in total so each student can receive a couple of copies of the final product.
Diot is glad she has a tangible representation of her work at SF State. “I was really, really happy. I loved how it turned out. I keep looking at it because I’m really proud of the work we did,” exclaimed Diot.
As Professor Hua continues teach the class, she pushes her current students to create a piece and publication that is unique to their personal experiences and opinions.
“I think it’s important that at the end of your degree, you’ve had a chance to really take time and reflect on what that degree has meant or the journey you have taken, right? All the different classes, the things you’ve learned and to think about what you’ve taken away from it,” Hua stated.
While the end of Shonnon’s time at SF State draws closer, she plans on going back to school to get a master’s in social work to help survivors of domestic abuse and those that are in need.
She shared some advice for the students taking the senior seminar class next semester. “I would say to really get to enjoy the time with your senior class, seminar class, and make those bonds because I know that a lot of the friendships that I made are going to carry on. But also to take a moment to not only focus on getting work done, but to really enjoy it because this is your last semester and it’s the journey that really counts.”
Previous publications from the class can be found online or in the Women and Gender Studies department. The spring 2018 publication will be available in the fall.
A wide jaw, stocky build, and short thick hair in an array of colors. The defining features of a pit bull aren’t up for debate when it comes to this dog breed. Behavior on the other hand, never seems to stop being a controversy. Extreme efforts go into painting the picture of a vicious beast, rabid and uncontrollable in any situation. The other side reveals a loyal and loving dog, reacting the way any dog would if put in a bad situation raised by unfit owners. But what depiction holds truth in reality?
When approaching any controversy, education is key. First and foremost, what is a pit bull? Ariana Luchsinger, from San Francisco Animal Care & Control, thinks most people identify a pit bull as just a “well-muscled with a blocky head” dog, but that doesn’t always add up to a pit bull-type breed.
“‘Pit bull’ is really an umbrella term for multiple breeds of dog – Staffies [Staffordshire Terriers], American Bulldogs, Pit Bull Terrier – and as a term is overused and in shelters is overidentified,” said Ariana. “Unfortunately, people get a lot of misinformation about dogs in general, and pit bull-type dogs are the biggest victim of these mythologies.”
The generalization of pit bulls is based around decades of bad-breeders and their actions; over-breeding, improper training, or training to specifically make them aggressive.
“The public often views pitties as aggressive killing machines with a higher likelihood of biting,” Ariana declared. “In truth, they are like any dog; a product of their genetics, their socialization, and their environment.”
Jennifer Rosen, founder of the dog rescue Bullies and Buddies in Redondo Beach, California, agrees that it’s all about the breeders and owners, and that these dogs are a product of bad-nurture rather than the nature in their genetics.
“What’s happening is people are using them as guard dogs and chaining them up,” Jennifer preached as she boomed about a breed she’s loved since she first rescued a pit bull in 2004. “You have a working breed that has a lot of energy and they are sitting there tied up or in a backyard, that’s a problem. It’s really on us as the owners; how we raise our dogs. If we exercise them, socialize them, give them some boundaries, there should be no issues.”
A complicated process is implemented at Bullies and Buddies in making sure an owner is the right fit and ready for owning a pit bull including applications, home visits, and visits with their trainer at the rescue. Jennifer understands what can happen if a pit bull is given into the wrong hands, and does everything she can to prevent that.
“When they come to me, you know they fill out an application and I see what their lifestyle is, I’ll tell people this is not the breed for you,” Jennifer said with conviction, and added that her answer sometimes turns people off, but she’d rather turn away an applicant than have a pittie end up in a non ideal situation and continue to perpetuate myths.
Environment and caregiving is everything in this circumstance. Not just for the individual dog itself, but also for the public. Every pit bull that gets treated wrong becomes another statistic for those wishing to ban the breed entirely.
“Your dog has to be an exemplary ambassador because the breed itself can’t afford him not to be – and that’s a huge and unfair responsibility,” insisted Ariana as she spoke about a time a woman had to cancel her adoption because her mom threatened to literally disown her if she owned a pit bull.
“In addition to being a baseline good dog-owner, you have to be willing to demystify your dog to everyone from passers-by to your neighbor, to your family. The public will forgive and forget the trespasses of a Goldendoodle, [but] they will never forgive the same behaviors in a pit bull.”
The American Temperament Test Society is a national organization designed to test the various temperaments of dog breeds.
“The test takes about 12 minutes to complete,” according to the organization’s official website. “The dog is on a loose six-foot lead and three ATTS trained evaluators score the dog. Majority rules. Failure on any part of the test is recognized when a dog shows panic, strong avoidance without recovery or unprovoked aggression.”
An average pass rate for a breed is 83.4 percent. For pit bull-type dogs the average pass rates are: Pit Bull Terrier with 87.4 percent, Staffordshire Terrier with 85.2 percent, and American Bulldogs with 86.7 percent. All well above the average.
But their stocky and muscular demeanor is threatening to those in fear of pitties. Before ever even coming into contact with one, most people on this side of the argument have their mind made up that pit bulls are not to be trusted. Ruth Matias, a junior at San Francisco State University, said she isn’t very fearful of the breed. Her mom on the other hand, is terrified.
“My mom is scared of pit bulls because back in Ethiopia, dogs are guard-dogs, not domesticated house pets,” Ruth explained, elaborating that her mother emigrated to America from Ethiopia. “So whenever she sees [pit bulls] they still instill fear in her. They’re not animals she’d want to go up and pet.”
Pit bulls are at the top of the list for dog-bites in California at 29 percent, right above German Shepherds and Chihuahuas according to the California Department of Public Health. These bites are reported and recorded. The breed of the dog is either claimed to be a pit bull by the victim or by a visual identification from veterinarians and staff at a shelter. In 2015, The Veterinary Journal studied the identifications of pit bulls by shelter staff versus DNA testing of the dog confirming the breed.
Staff shelters identified the attack dogs as pit bulls 52 percent of the time whereas the DNA testing confirmed the dogs as pit bulls only 21 percent of the time. Ariana agrees that shelters are huge on misidentification of pit bulls, a huge problem when it comes to statistics. She points out that the San Francisco Animal Care & Control shelter constantly has pit bull-type dogs in house.
“At any given time, SFACC’s dog population is roughly 30 percent pit bull-type dogs, the majority of which are found as unaltered strays,” she said, emphasizing that unaltered means not spayed or neutered, which is the other huge problem that involves the breed.
“Despite a ton of progress in the realms of public awareness and spay / neuter, pitties are a population that is favored for illegitimate backyard breeding,” Ariana declared, revealing the reason why there are so many pit bulls in shelters and rescues: greedy breeders not spaying or neutering pitties in an attempt to make more money. There are many laws throughout the country that specifically require pit bull-type dogs to be neutered or spayed in order to stop this problem.
San Francisco code 43 section 1 states: “no person may own, keep, or harbor any dog within the City and County of San Francisco that the person in possession knew, or should have known, was a pit bull that has not been spayed or neutered.”
Ignorant breeders break the law, which leads to pit bulls without homes, being found on the street, and hopefully being found by a shelter or rescue before it’s too late for them.
“People are breeding them and trying to make a profit,” Jennifer added, agreeing that the biggest issue here is overpopulation. “Now it’s like they’re a dime a dozen. They are getting euthanized left and right in shelters. Spay and neuter. That’s the problem.”
With more pitties starting out with bad breeders or incapable owners and without proper altering, the stigma behind them just continues. Jennifer finds passion in educating the public on the “other-side of the pit bull story,” knowing that the future for these pups will be bright one day if people are willing to learn what is fact and what is fiction.
“The bottom line is, each dog is an individual,” Jennifer stated, still knowing that some people’s minds may never change. “You know, what I’ve learned is that you can’t fix stupid. It is a privilege to own this breed. I am so proud everyday.”
An inbound Muni Metro T train whooshes past the cross-section of 3rd Street and Palou Avenue. A brown paper bag containing an empty Steel Reserve beer can sluggishly drags along the sidewalk like an urban tumbleweed. Three older men sit on a layered red brick square, that houses a palm tree almost as tall as the street light on the corner. They seem to be discussing current events.
There is something to be said about the Bayview District. It may be rough around the edges. It may have a bad reputation. But the sense of community is unmatched.
A beige concrete building with red accents is visible behind the palm tree. The vertical sliding metal door at the entrance is halfway open. Inside, it feels somewhat crowded but not claustrophobic, thanks to a high ceiling. The white epoxy floor illuminates a room with three cars. The oldest is a 1972 blue Ford pickup. Bright yellow automated car lifts suspend the Ford pickup and a 1965 white Mustang convertible. Under the pickup lies the hollow shell of a 1967 grey Mustang Fastback. This is Project Wreckless.
Twelve youth participants ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-one have been given the opportunity to repair old muscle cars, like the 1965 white Mustang convertible, at Project Wreckless. The program is designed to mentor and reinforce positive values for those who are considered “at-risk.” An at-risk youth is defined as a juvenile who finds it difficult to successfully transition to adulthood and the Bayview is a district with demand for such a program.
“About four or five years ago, I had this overwhelming sense of wanting to do more in a positive way,” explains Project Wreckless founder, thirty year old Jordan Langer. “And then one day it kinda hit me like a ton of bricks. Cars… Motorcycles… Things that are loud and go fast have always been a driving force of mine.”
He is particularly upbeat, comfortably sunken into a black couch upstairs in the lounge. “We are doing a very abbreviated version of the full-program because we need to learn ourselves,” he admits. The full program will launch in June. For now, Fridays are reserved for test trials. It is a learning process for both volunteers and participants.
One of the participants, Vince, arrives up the stairs towing a bike by his side. “Do you want any chips?” inquires Tori Freeman, the program manager and mediator, in a motherly tone. She assists participants who are in difficult situations and provides as much support as humanly possible.
The same can be said about everyone at Project Wreckless. The program is built upon a strong support system.
“Some of the kids are from foster families, and others are from broken homes,” Tori explains somberly.
A man with salt and pepper hair and stubble on his chin sits on a different couch and pulls out his iPhone 6 Plus. Lud Dawson has been around since the inception of Project Wreckless three years ago. He has been repairing cars for as long as he can remember. He uses his index finger to thumb through the Microsoft OneDrive he has created. He has created a complex, yet user-friendly, business model that can be applied to future non-profit auto body shops like Project Wreckless.
“We want to show what the expenses are like, so they don’t overspend or underspend,” explains Lud with controlled excitement. He even has vehicle sub-categories depending on the continent. And as he begins to dig even deeper, he displays a step-by-step tutorial for a 2009 Jeep Wrangler manual transmission. That is his expertise.
“The only thing missing is the curriculum. That isn’t my department,” he adds with a chuckle.
Joe Toomey has been part of Project Wreckless for almost a year. He has a Master of Arts focused in Counseling Psychology from the University of San Francisco. He was also born and raised in the City.
“I’ve always worked with kids, and I’ve always had a passion for helping other people. Therapy is kinda awkward. It can be really stale sometimes, and a lot of kids don’t like it or get it. There is a lot of stigma around therapy. Culturally, there is the idea that if you need therapy there is something wrong with you. I see [Project Wreckless] as a therapeutic tool. When I’m here I’m not acting as a therapist, per se. I’m acting as more of a mentor and a coach,” shared Joe.
His therapeutic skills are applicable to the Project Wreckless setting. It is a more hands-on approach that resonates with participants enrolled in the program. The cars are used as a platform to bond and connect. “Sometimes just working on the car itself can be therapeutic. I wanted to figure out how can I do therapy and work on cars with kids.”
The goal is to become a safe space within the community and for participants to eventually transition to mentors. Bayview residents have expressed gratitude for a program like Project Wreckless. The reception has been tremendously positive.
“We have a lot of kids right now that are either currently or have been in the criminal justice system,” Joe adds halfheartedly. “All of our kids are at-risk of substance abuse and getting involved in the criminal justice system. The kids that are still in school are at-risk of dropping out – not necessarily because they’re not capable, but because of the external factors that are getting in the way of them going to school every day.”
Helping a parent complete a job is an external factor. Mental health issues coupled with a lack of health insurance is another. Many qualify for Medi-Cal, but parents and legal guardians may be unaware. Others become involved in gangs and criminal activity.
The rest of the participants trickle in. There are five today. Every Friday at 4 p.m. their time at Project Wreckless begins with reflection. They head up another flight of stairs into a room about the size of a large walk-in closet. This is the War Room, as Jordan symbolically named it. Before class begins, it is encouraged to share thoughts, feelings, doubts, and everything in-between. A faint scent of fresh paint lingers in the room. Which stands to reason, given that the walls are literally wet with fresh white paint. The room is narrow, but perhaps that is the point. Everyone in the room is in close proximity, creating the sense of a safe and intimate environment. The table appears to be comprised of two retrofitted brown doors with chicken-wire glass in each of the centers. They are being held together by blue duct tape.
Everyone goes around the room to discuss a variety of topics, many of which come from a vulnerable place. Many are too personal to repeat. It is reflection without judgment. Trust is paramount. This is a family.
Vince mentions that his phone is broken. He can make calls, but texting is impossible due to a shattered screen. Jordan addresses the issue and asks to speak with him after to further remedy the problem. He’s made it clear he’s available long after the shop closes. The positive influence of Project Wreckless extends far beyond the confines of the building.
The discussion ends. It’s class time.
Everyone slowly makes their way to the ground floor to begin instruction. Participants and volunteers alike are decked-out in grey Dickies mechanic coveralls. The back reads “Project Wreckless.” The word “Wreckless” is in a much larger font, stylized with a wrench in the “k.”
Edwin, thirteen, grabs a wrench from the tool bench and shuffles toward the white convertible Mustang. He’s clenching a salmon-colored rag in his left hand. He also happens to be the youngest in the program.
He is accompanied by his friend and teammate Christian, who is fourteen. Thick black grease begins to form at Edwin’s fingertips as he turns the wrench near the rear left wheel.
“My passion for working on cars and finding out more about them. And being able to fix them… just having a hands-on experience,” Edwin expresses, explaining his interest in joining Project Wreckless.
He transitions to the front of the car and slides under. He’s removing the front bumper. His black Air Force Ones squeak against the white epoxy floor as he rearranges himself. He seems unsure about something. Trent, one of the volunteers, is there to provide valuable information about the next step.
Across the room, Lud is giving Vince, Joseph, and Sheldon a transmission lesson. They are working with a Ford C4 automatic. They are in the disassembling stages. Vince appears to have broken a segment of the transmission. It’s their first time doing this.
“That’s okay,” says Lud. “It’s part of the learning process.”
A light draft blows through a window reinforced by a metal barrier. Fragments of cracked concrete line the window shelf.
“[Project Wreckless] has definitely helped me stay out of trouble because we can’t be on anything. They’re not kicking us out, we’re the ones kicking ourselves out. We’re the ones making the choices, not them,” Edwin asserts as he reflects on the program. “I had a smoking habit, bad grades, and I had bad anger control. That’s what I’m working on… anger management.”
The day ends with dinner around 6 p.m. It includes pasta in a tomato sauce, meatballs, bread and a salad.
When the full-program launches in June, Jordan expects the shop to be open on a car-to-car basis. Time spent will largely be dependent on the car’s level of difficulty. Sessions will also rotate every seven months, with a new group overlapping into the last month of instruction.
“Most of the cars are from Craig’s List, some of them are donated, but the white one is a personal one of my cars,” Jordan explains.
All cars will be auctioned upon completion with one-hundred percent of the proceeds funneling back into the program.
“That’s what kinda sets Project Wreckless apart from a lot of other non-profits and NGO organizations,” expresses Jordan. “They don’t have avenues to generate revenue. They just count on fundraising dinners and individual donors and grants and all that kind of stuff. And Project Wreckless has the ability to actually sell a good, which is the car the youth work on for seven months, and the proceeds from that car go right back into the program. I think this is the first of its kind anywhere. You can write that down.”
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.
It was the coldest day of the year in San Francisco. A low pressure system off the coast sent frigid winds and dismal surfing conditions to the shores of Linda Mar beach in Pacifica, California.
In the parking lot, older surfers declare victory-at-sea from the confines of their cars. Many will retreat home with the heater dial turned all the way up. The waves whimper in the stiff northwest breeze. “Hardly worth a paddle,” a local mutters to his friend.
A van pulls into the lot with surfboards stacked towards the heavens. It is the City Surf Project, a non-profit organization that teaches inner-city kids to surf, and they are paddling out regardless of the wild weather.
Today’s charges are from Mission High school and despite the cold, rough seas, they clamber into wetsuits. It is the day they have been waiting for. Offered as a 7th period P.E elective, the City Surf Project meets with the kids three times a week.
Mondays are for the classroom where they’ll learn more about the sport, culture, and etiquette.
Wednesday, they swim for conditioning and to get more comfortable in the water. Friday, they hit the beach with volunteer surf coaches who will help push them into waves so that they can learn the ancient Hawaiian past time.
For most of the students, this is the only opportunity they’ll have to access the beach. Before the City Surf Project, some had never seen the ocean before.
Surfing is a giant metaphor for life. It teaches perseverance and patience, as well as respect for nature and oneself. The lessons learned from the ocean are instilled into the City Surf Project by its founder, Johnny Irwin.
“The three pillars to the City Surf Projects Philosophy,” Irwin says to a circle of a diverse group of smiling faces, “are to respect nature and our fellow surfers, health, and personal growth.”
Irwin was inspired to start the City Surf Project by his father, late SF State Sociology Professor, John Keith Irwin.
Each beach outing begins the same. First, the students circle up in donated wetsuits and begin a series of stretches and exercises. Then, they go over safety precaution, with the more experienced students pointing out the rip currents and how to avoid them. Next, they talk about their goals, each student desires to progress.
Each student goes around and explains one example of each. Kevin Campos, a Mission High student who commutes from Oakland, California, suggests not eating McDonald’s and playing soccer, when asked how he was going to maintain a healthy life. In the parking lot, he goes over his soccer drills to warm himself before the plunge.
Irwin’s goal is to spread the gospel of surf to those who otherwise would never have the opportunity. His father surfed without the luxuries of wetsuits and leashes in what was called the Bonfire Era of Ocean Beach because surfers had to stoke a blaze on shore to fight off hypothermia. The City Surf Project is Irwin’s way of thanking his father for passing the love of surf onto him.
Many of the students say they joined the City Surf Project because their friends were enrolled and it sounded fun. The program is offered at Mission, Leadership, Independent, and Lowell High school. By the end of the semester, the students have the knowledge and experience to begin surfing on their own.
Not all of the volunteers are experienced surfers at the City Surf Project. SF State Brenda Gonzalez had never surfed a day in her life before signing up to intern.
“As an environmental science and sociology major, I wanted an internship that would encompass both,” Gonzalez said.
In the shorebreak, Gonzalez clutches onto a Gopro camera tightly. Today, her job is to get photos for the City Surf Projects Instagram. Hailing from Monterey Park in Los Angeles, Gonzalez has never been in water this cold before.
“Just like the kids, my parents didn’t go to the beach so I’d bus it to Venice and spend the day there,” says Gonzalez.
After her job is done, she gets a surf lesson of her own. With a bit of instruction, she’s surfing in no time. And just like the kids, she’s hooked on the free thrill of riding waves.
According to a well known saying, “______ is the new black.” Black is the standard of fashion. Clothing trends come and go, but recently pressure is being put on the fashion industry to let more go then just last season’s wardrobe go.
The lack of diversity in the fashion world goes far beyond the runway. Without cultural representation in major studios there are a great number of problems looming.
For too long designers have not had someone push back on styles and looks that disrespect various cultures. The fight for plus size models, for example, is a story within itself.
Skin, body type, sexuality, and culture are all being put into a senior fashion line produced by Chrysalyn Morehead-Tucker. Chrysalyn is a 24-year-old fashion student at San Francisco State University. It was her plan to study fashion at SF State.
“If I was gonna progress in the idea of bringing communities that aren’t represented in the fashion industry to the forefront, it would make more sense to come to a school that has those same views,” she shared.
Chrysalyn’s goal in the fashion industry is to change “the norm.” She explained that giving credit where it is due is the first priority on her list.
“Understanding some of the things that black culture has brought to the fashion industry but has not been given credit. I would love to say that this is something a black person did, this came from the black community,” Chrysalyn shared.
Changing how fashion is interpreted is an important aspect for designers like Chrysalyn, who use their talents to create a dialogue that shifts thinking. She explains that “being a fashion student at SF State kind of opened my eyes to more of what the fashion industry needs rather than what the fashion industry is asking for. I think the program here definitely emphasizes more on being able to change the industry for what it is.”
Chrysalyn is working on various projects that reflect her goals of including communities often overlooked by the fashion industry, such as her senior line that focuses on Afrofuturism. Chrysalyn describes Afrofuturism as “the idea of having black bodies in a futuristic setting and futuristic places.”
Inspired by Star Trek at a young age, Chrysalyn explains, “I’ve always been fascinated with the art form of Afrofuturism… ”
Chrysalyn’s idea is to concoct a combination of sustainability, futuristic settings, and Afrocentricity. She walks through the process and explains that she is “taking traditional African garments like Dashiki and repurposing them for my fashion show.”
She explains why sustainability is an important portion of her work by adding, “consumers are understanding that we need to be more mindful and conscious of what not only our clothes are made out of but what we do with our clothing once we feel like they reached the end of their cycle.”
Chrysalyn explained that sustainability was a process in Africa that was almost second nature to textile producers.
“There’s so much spiritual connection between African weaving, and African dying, and African printing, that means more than just aesthetics. There’s spiritual connections to it and I want to do it justice by showing the prints and the colors that makes Africa stand out from everyone else,” she expresses.
The fashion show put on at the end of year by fashion students is no small project because it pushes students to take everything they have learned and incorporate it into three to six pieces to display in front of their immediate community.
Dr. Dorie, the instructor and an alumna of the program, gave insight on what designers face for the fashion show.
Dr. Dorie explained, “We’re really trying to prepare them to go into the fashion industry and have a strong design aesthetic, so they leave understanding the elements of design and how to execute them,” Dr. Dorie explained
She jokingly added, “[The designers] won’t sleep all semester.”
She gave the timeline of the tireless semester and narrowed it down.
“If you think about a look for one model, that’s about three garments for one model it’s a lot of work.”
Even though the sleepless nights and the ever-changing fashion world, Chrysalyn sets her sights on creating a space in fashion for all people who do not feel like fashion is for them.
What filter will it be this time around? What is trying to be “corrected” today? Skin texture? Skin tone complexion? Eyes? Nose? Jawline? Face structure? Double chin?
Today, anyone has the power to alter what they look like on social media. Some use apps and filters for fun without thinking twice about why they use or post them. Others, however, overthink how they look and need apps and filters to enhance their appearance because of deep-rooted insecurities. Many of these insecurities stem from the unrealistic Eurocentric beauty standards that are portrayed in the media, but also through apps and filters.
San Francisco State University ethnic studies professor Wei Ming Dariotis, who is also the Associate Professor for Asian American Studies, is not surprised that filters and apps are geared towards Eurocentric beauty standards. In fact, Dariotis is disappointed.
“We might say it’s not overtly racist because they weren’t necessarily trying to exclude people of color,” Dariotis expressed. “But it ends up being racist because it’s so Eurocentrically focused that people of color are excluded by default.”
Filters are notorious for lightening people’s skin tones and smoothing the skin. Many filters tend to lighten skin, slim the face, enlarge the eyes, and even create a bridged nose. But are those who claim that filters are pushing Eurocentric beauty standards looking too deep into it?
Dariotis brings up the start of beauty pageants for Japanese-American women. Growing up, she considered herself a feminist and would think of beauty pageants as sexist, oppressive, and overall a waste of time. But with time, she realized that it was a way for ethnic communities to express and showcase their own beauty standards and values. She thinks it’s a beautiful thing to have a group of people embrace their culture, after being told by society that they are not good enough and “ugly.”
The ethnic studies professor does not think Eurocentric beauty standards just stop at filters and apps. She points out that surgeries are also done to live up to these unrealistic standards. From eyelid surgery, to nose jobs, breast implants, the list continues. Dariotis believes it is deeply damaging to not only an individual’s psyche, but also for everyone collectively. In a way, she believes people’s minds are “colonized.”
“Colonial mentality is: you’ve been colonized, and instead of fighting back, you kind of believe what your colonizer believes,” Dariotis explained. “As other ethnic groups in the U.S., there’s a strong tendency to succumb to that mindset, and that allows us to look at ourselves as ugly when we’re really not.”
SF State student Trysha Luu admits she uses filters often. She thinks they are fun and she feels generally positive about them. However, she does see the deep-rooted issues in their features and the impact it can have on the youth.
“I don’t think that filters themselves are racist, but they do strengthen the negative stigma around dark skin and people of color in general,” Luu said. “It simultaneously reinforces a Eurocentric vision of beauty already instilled in adults and teaches this vision to younger generations.”
But what if this idea of “white” beauty standards in photos and media never crossed your mind? This is true for Mimi Sheiner, an SF State design professor. She admits that her being Caucasian is probably why it has never been in her consciousness, and she says that in itself is an issue.
Sheiner edits photos to make meaning clearer. She has never altered anyone’s skin tone, body type, or facial features. She enhances photos and only removes blemishes when they are distracting to the point she is trying to get across. For example, she may remove dust or a crease on an old photo, or add some trees to the background of a photo where the main focus is the person.
But other than that, Sheiner thinks its “creepy” to alter images to the point where they are unnatural. She believes that it damages people’s minds.
“The whole super manipulated beauty thing is damaging,” Sheiner explained while cooking her dinner. “People have terrible self-image because no one can live up to it. Not even those models live up to it. It’s so manipulated. It poses a standard of beauty that makes everyone feel bad about themselves and makes everyone envious. And I think that in a way it’s the theme of our culture.”
Even though Sheiner never really thought of Eurocentric beauty standards being pushed on people through filters and apps, she does believe that people need to look deeper. She thinks users should not think it’s “all fun and games,” because it is not, and altering skin tones is a serious issue.
Skyline College graduate Armani Fuller has noticed how filters lighten the skin, but he never thought about it from a racial aspect. In fact, Fuller thinks it’s a long shot to say that filters and apps are being “racist.” He is confident that it has more to do with people being insecure, which is why they turn to filters and apps to “fix” what they want.
“Filters are like a temporary high to make someone feel good about themselves,” Fuller explained.
He knows that filters can be fun, but if someone is relying on them to feel and look better, the real issue is that they don’t accept themselves for who they are. Fuller stresses that there were “filters” even before the filters. He uses the example of people saying “get my good side” when taking a photo.
Even though our technology is advancing, there has always been a standard and look that people try to achieve.
Of course everyone wants to look their best when they are in control of what images get uploaded. Most people will not upload a photo of themselves where they believe it makes them look unflattering. Social media sites are just a curation of one’s life, and just because someone posts photos of themselves all dolled up and snazzy, doesn’t mean they look like that every day.
Alaysia “Frankie” Brown, a student at SF State, admits that filters give her confidence. She sees nothing wrong with using filters, editing, or adding things to give her photo the look she wants.
“I guess it’s just a way of seeing myself in a different way,” Brown said casually. “I’m okay with it. I like editing photos, putting cool stuff on my photos, so it’s fun for me.”
Brown does not think it is an issue of her being insecure, but does see an issue with the people who have comments about her usage. Brown questions why people are so judgmental towards her when they find out that she looks different in person than what her social media pictures show. To her, “a picture is a picture,” and should not be taken so seriously.
It has gotten to the point where Brown had to disable her comments on Instagram because people would comment about her appearance. She has people leave comments like, “But you don’t look like that in real life,” and the only fix is to restrict the option to comment on her picture all together.
Brown says it’s very common for people to get rejected in real life when they finally meet someone they met online. She explains how a friend of hers recently went out with a guy she met online. When they met in person, the guy told her friend that she did not look the same as she did in her pictures and he did not like the way she really looked. So he left.
Brown is convinced that people who regularly use filters and apps get cyberbullied more. She is disappointed that something that originally came from a positive fun place, turned into something negative.
“If you decide to post what you post, and if you feel beautiful with what you post, then it shouldn’t matter what anyone says,” Brown said.
However, she knows it is easier said than done. It has crossed Brown’s mind on why she uses filters. And she confesses that she has seen it from the race and insecurity point of view, but chooses to embrace filters and apps because they make her feel beautiful.
The “white beauty standard” is part of our history of colonialism. It tells us that white is the default, and what everyone should strive to be. Dariotis suggests that we do not wait for Hollywood to make these more diverse images, and that we make them ourselves. Whether that be making custom filters, or embracing one’s own culture and beauty.
“Filters are not in and of themselves evil or racist,” Dariotis said. “But the way the technology is focused right now, and the people that are making it, they need to be conscious of the fact that it can be used in a way that is harmful.”
“Humans! Listen to my face hole!”
Tony Sparks has been on stage long enough to know how to capture attention. He stands behind the mic at a sparsely occupied bar on a Monday night. He is two acts into an open mic show.
“Hey, humans!” Sparks shouts from inside the spotlight. “Even y’all in the back at the bar, ignoring the shit outta me. I need for everybody to give this next guy the big love.”
Sparks hands it off to the next comic. Slowly, people are drawn in. The bar fills up. Some people even come to sit around the stage. Two hours later, just before the show ends, the place is hopping.
Sparks is known as the “godfather of comedy” in San Francisco. He has run comedy events throughout the Bay Area for years. He came to San Francisco in the early 1990s, enticed by the city’s reputation as a nucleus of the comedy scene. Instead, he found himself ostracized from the prominent clubs and people of the day.
“This town was a piece of shit,” Sparks says. “It was really cliquey. So I don’t ever want to be that way with people. Hopefully when people hang out with me they get a sense of, ‘okay, I feel accepted and I can do this.’ I don’t want to do to other people what was done to me.”
Sparks set out to develop a more welcoming community of comics. In April of 1999, Sparks started hosting shows at BrainWash cafe and laundromat in South of Market. Calling the place an eclectic venue would not do it justice. The stage was set up against the huge, wall-high windows of the front of the building. The food line cut right through the tables, so most of the audience was separated from the direct vicinity of the stage. People usually talked at the bar, ignoring the show completely. And people were also there to do their laundry.
“It was more of a social hub than a great comedy spot,” comedian Hunter Stoehr says. “It was not a great place to do comedy, but it was a great place to hang out.”
“For people that were just doing open mics, it was the place you could go every single day,” comedian Graham Galway adds. “For people that were more established, it was a place to get an early set in. It was always a pretty large crowd, and it was a good place to meet people.”
Over the years, the strange hybrid establishment became a fixture of Bay Area comedy. BrainWash held open mics five nights a week, most hosted by Sparks.
“It was a great place. It was the foundation for the community,” Sparks explains. “If you needed to know what to do, and to grow, and where to go, you went to the Brainwash. The staff there was wonderful, the people were nice. They really took good care of me. It was like my family. I mean, c’mon, I spent nineteen years with them.”
In December 2017, BrainWash abruptly shut down. The cafe had been struggling to deal with a decline of customers caused by a large construction project next door. It closed with no fanfare, just a note on the locked door. It had been in business for more than thirty years.
The comedy community has been reeling ever since. There are other places that hold open mics in the city, of course, but none of them with the frequency that BrainWash did. Stoehr and other comedians describe the scene as “decentralized.”
“There was a huge gap, a void that opened up once BrainWash shut down,” Billy Catechi, manager of the bar Il Pirata, says. “That was a real shame. The place was one-of-a-kind.”
For the past twelve years, Il Pirata hosted monthly stand up shows. After BrainWash closed, said Catechi, Il Pirata decided to turn their monthly shows into weekly events. They asked Tony Sparks to host. The shows have been running every Thursday since early February.
Il Pirata sits on the corner of 16th Street and Potrero Avenue. Around 5 p.m. on a Thursday evening, Catechi brings a couple rows of chairs into the cleared-out lounge space and assembles a short wooden stage. In the room are several large booths, a spotlight, and a sound station with mixing boards and a big bank of speakers. This is the setup for the evening showcase of more established Bay Area comedians, which starts at 8 p.m.
Until then, there’s open mic out on the patio. The prep work for this event is less elaborate. Catechi pulls one table back a couple feet then plops a mic and speaker in front of the Jack Daniels dartboard. Mere feet away, traffic barrels by on 16th Street.
One-by-one, the comics come in and sign up for their four minutes behind the mic. Everyone who performs that night is a veteran of the process. Many of them know one another from the BrainWash. They mingle out on the patio until Sparks arrives just before six o’clock to kick the night off.
In addition to Il Pirata, Sparks also hosts a regular Monday night show (along with free pizza and videogames) at Milk Bar on Haight Street. The gigs he runs now don’t come close to matching the sense of camaraderie of BrainWash. Still, he continues to host shows, passionate about preserving venues for burgeoning comics to perform.
“What else am I gonna do?” Sparks says. “I’m an old man. I been doing this since I was 16 years old. I don’t know anything else to do.”
An open mic can be a brutal thing. A show is the only place for an aspiring comedian to hone new material. So they go out on a weekday night and try out their budding jokes in front of an audience made up mostly, if not entirely, of fellow comedians.
“There’s a lot of open mics where there’s no audience, there’s just other comics who have already seen most of your jokes,” comedian Travis Thielen shares. “And you only have a couple new things, so it can feel kind of disheartening.”
At Il Pirata, some do better than others. One comic’s tale about hiding pot from his parents as an adult garners some earnest chuckles, while another’s rant about millenials falls flat. Admittedly, the latter scenario is more common.
This is why the geniality of Tony Sparks is such a key to the success of the night. Even when he delves into darker personal topics, there is a buoyancy to him. Sparks has a way of delivering jabs that feel like both a roast and encouragement.
During a recent show at Milk Bar, Sparks addressed a comic who had just performed a set that was met with silence from the audience. The main factor for the icy response, perhaps, was a complete lack of discernible jokes anywhere in the routine.
“That was beautiful, although I didn’t understand shit you was saying,” Sparks said as he took back the mic. “Don’t feel bad. The rest of them,” he gestured toward the audience, “they were ignoring you very openly.” Then he turned on the audience: “You guys are bullies. He poured his heart out and you shit all over him.”
The ribbing is anything but discouraging. Comedian Tammy Clarke works at open mics and with Sparks to hone her craft. In August she will be opening for shows headlined by comedian and actress Mo’Nique.
“Honestly, I’ve gotten nothing, but love and support in this comedy sector,” Clarke says. “It feels good.”
The moment each comedian finishes their set, Sparks belts out an enthusiastic “Yaaaay!” and prods the room to break into another round of applause. When a brand-new comic comes up, Sparks leads the audience in a short chant of “lots of love” to build up the energy in the room.
“Sometimes there’s one thing that you do in life that just makes you so fucking happy,” Sparks explains. “When I host these shows, or when I get on stage, I’m so happy. I’m so incredibly happy. I have so much fun.”
Still, there’s no filling in the hole that the loss of the BrainWash created in Sparks’s life. His discontent about living in San Francisco hasn’t abated in the nearly three decades of his residency.
“I don’t trust the city, I don’t like it,” Sparks admits. “I don’t like the people. I hate everything about it. Everything. The only thing I loved about it is gone; that was the BrainWash.”
Sparks says he has gotten invitations from venues in other cities to go create his own BrainWash-type establishment. Still, there is something that, for now, keeps him in San Francisco.
As the open mic wraps up at Il Pirata, Sparks thanks everyone for coming out and congratulates them on their performances. Then he goes inside, hops up on the stage, and launches into his next comedy showcase.