Intersectional Feminism

Ep 3: Learning From Failure With RV Mendoza

Honey Bunches of Oats, 

 

The long awaited episode three is here, and we have my Leo twin, queer Filipino pop star by night and software programmer by day and of course, Emotional Intelligence Diva, RV Mendoza! I usually don't like other Leos because they are extra af. But, the first day I met RV, it was love at first sight. He's such a sweetheart, a bad ass performer, and amazing songwriter. 

In this episode, we talk about learning from personal failures and how they can lead to success, imposter syndrome, and deflecting negative voices. 

Listen to the gems being dropped in this episode, and don't forget to give RV some love by following him on Instagram: RVXMENDOZA and listen to some of his jams on his SoundCloud and twerk to his music. HA. And, if you wnat to support him, head over to his Patreon.  

After you've listened, join in on the conversation: what failures have you been through and what have you learned from it? 

 

xoxo,

 

Leah V

Episode 1: Body Confidence with Etta Flyy

On Episode 1 of Respectfully Messy with Leah V, we have the dopest, most coolest, most flyy-est guest to pop this podcast's cherry, Detroit's own, Etta Flyy. She's 1/2 of the creative minds behind Naturally Flyy, Detroit's premiere and largest natural hair expo encouraging women to be who they are naturally starting with their hair. 

Today, we are talking about the highs and lows of body-confidence and what it's like to be a woman in a society that constantly tells you that you ain't enough. 

After you listen, we'd love to hear your thoughts. What's your take on body-confidence? Was there are a time where you just wasn't feeling yourself and fell prey to the pressures of unattainable societal beauty standards? 

Let's keep the conversation going! 

Check Etta Flyy out on Instagram. And, you can find me @Lvernon2000, where the shenanigans continues. 

 

xoxo,

 

Leah V 

Muslim Women Are Trending, but Some of Us Are Still Invisible

Original Post from REWIRE NEWS

Photos courtesy of  Nicole & Daniela Photography
We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only "straight-sized." Or submissive. We are African-American. Woke. Divorced. Fat. And more.

Muslims have become a hot commodity since 9/11—for better and worse. Our rise to “fame” started off rocky when a few bad men committed heinous acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. And some good ol’ Americans tore hijabs from women’s headsbeat and spat on Muslimsvandalized mosques, and left pig heads on porches—all in the name of trying to protect the United States from so-called “foreign invaders.”

Muslim coalitions, bloggers, interfaith organizations, and even celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have banded together to change stereotypical narratives of Muslims: the bearded man with a curved sword, and veiled women who are either strapped with bombs or subordinated by their male relatives.

Turban/Hijab:  HauteHijab

Turban/Hijab: HauteHijab

Their efforts have paid off in some ways and not in others (clearly, as in the Muslim ban and continued targeting of Muslims and our institutions). And Muslims, and specifically Muslim women, are trending; according to a March 2017 HuffPo article, the keyword search for “Muslim” on Getty Images increased by 107 percent from the year before. “Muslim women” was not far behind at 83 percent.

But what—or who—do people see in their minds when they think of Muslim women? There are notable hijab-wearing authors such as Tahereh Mafi, activists like Linda Sarsour, on-air personality Noor Tagouri, and bloggers including Dina Torkia.

These women have literally become the faces of Muslim women in the United States, the United Kingdom, and social media. And that’s a problem.

They are all what I call “straight-sized”—not plus-sized—Muslim women who appear European or Middle Eastern. And celebrating them—and them only—paints a narrow picture of the majority of Muslim-American women, just as media, the beauty industry, and countless other platforms exclude women of color.

Islam has deep roots in Black history as it swept through North and West Africa centuries ago. According to the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of U.S. Muslims are from the Middle East. Forty-two percent were born in this country. Twenty percent of U.S. Muslims are Black, with large communities in many major cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. 

Jacket:  Eloquii

Jacket: Eloquii

One day, I decided to Google “Muslim women.” Since Islam is such a diverse religion, I just knew the search would reflect that. On the first page, out of about 100 photos, there are only three African-American hijabis and one African hijabi among dozens of Middle Eastern or Arab women. I had a similar experience searching for articles on Muslim women, finding the blatant erasure of Muslims of color, too. Photos and quotes were from predominantly white or light-skinned Middle Eastern women. Even when HuffPo noted the growing online interest in Muslim women in one article, another featured seven women talking about faith, modesty, and fashion—and all of them were straight-sized women and most were fair-skinned.

The media and many Muslims love to focus on certain kinds of Muslims. Acceptable Muslimahs, I like to call them. For the media, it’s often the “oppressed Muslim.” She’s the Middle Eastern girl who is forced into an arranged marriage, isn’t allowed to drive, and covers in all-black with gloves. They also adore us the “good” and wholesome hijabi blogger. She’s usually a size small, wears pastels, and has about a million followers online. Her photos are perfect, and her husband makes fashionable cameos on her feed. The activist Muslim is usually draped in an abaya or loose-fitting clothes and always with hijab. She can be found making salat or praying on the grass at a rally for Trump’s latest Muslim ban. And, let’s not forget, she’s a fair-skinned woman with roots in the Middle East.

Prejudice and racism are a problem within Muslim communities. No one likes to talk about that because they don’t want to add to the rising Islamophobia since 9/11 and the Trump era. But it’s a sad truth.

Although it is totally against Islam to judge someone based on the color of their skin, it happens more than you think. I’ve experienced racism from Muslims. One time, I went into a hijab store in Dearborn, Michigan, and the owner completely ignored me; when a woman of Middle Eastern descent came in the store, he immediately greeted and assisted her. I’ve also gone to pray at predominantly Middle Eastern mosques and been stared at as if I didn’t belong. There are also countless stories of Muslims not allowing their children to marry a Black or African-descent Muslim solely based on their heritage.

Dress:  Society +

Dress: Society +

As a Black Muslim woman, I have to fight for accurate representations of Muslim Americans. And I have to fight within my own religious community to hear the stories of Muslims who are African-American, Latina, or African.

The specific bias against African-American Muslims is evident. Since we are treated like second-class citizens in America by racists and “All Lives Matter” folk, others feel as if they can do the same. There’s a superiority complex that a Middle Eastern Muslim is better, more authentic, and that we are “copies.” In my experience, too many Muslims play into the stereotypes of African-Americans: that we are lazy, less educated, promiscuous, and aggressive.  

Zeba Khan said it well: “Many Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims view Arab culture as a proxy for Islamic authenticity, thereby denying the legitimate spiritual expressions of others. Against the racial context in the United States, it’s not difficult then to see how this intrafaith racism and implicit bias against Black Muslims persists. After all, as historian Vijay Prashad explains, ‘Since Blackness is reviled in the United States, why would an immigrant, of whatever skin color, want to associate with those who are racially oppressed?’”

We live in such a Eurocentric society that already tells young girls that they aren’t worthy unless they have light or white skin. Our fatphobic society tells us that we aren’t beautiful if we aren’t a certain weight. That if we decide to wear hijab, we are oppressed. We—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—need truthful representation of Muslim women, especially now as others define or denigrate us.

We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only straight-sized. Or submissive. We are African-American. White. Asian. African. Latina. Some of us are feminists. Tattoo artists. Queer. Woke. Divorced. Fat. Sexual assault survivors. Mentally ill. And we all have a story to tell.

Leading the Resistance: Your Voice Counts

Photos Courtesy of  Eric Puschak  (Detroit)

Photos Courtesy of Eric Puschak (Detroit)

I wrote my first story at six-years-old. It was called ‘King and Queen’ and I was excited to send it to the Reading Rainbow Short Story contest. My love of words, stories, stringing sentences together to form legible thoughts to be conveyed to an audience was innate, I believe. Plus, Mom used to pop me with a thick comb if I hadn’t learned to spell at least ten words a day during homeschool sessions. Words and I became best friends. I read and wrote. And read and wrote some more. It was my outlet away from being daddy-less and watching our single, Black mother work damn hard to keep five kids together, off the streets, and fed. As you could imagine, she was there but then again, she wasn’t. She had too much on her plate to be everything we needed her to be. Stories became my life. And, 24 years later, it still rings true.

I’ve had many of rough patches, and will probably have many more if I live long enough, but one in particular almost took me out the game. Yes, a fucked up relationship stirred in with heavy mental illness and lack of family support and financial issues played a major role, but looking back on it, the major issue was that I felt as if I hadn’t had a voice in the world. I’d tried my hand at creating a blog and putting some fiction on there. It failed. The following year, I tried to start a trendy YouTube page where I talked about myself and celebrities. It was reckless. People bashed me. I embarrassed myself and stopped immediately. I made a public video where I basically had a mental breakdown on camera. Posted it. Again, embarrassing myself. I wrote tons of full-length novels. Four to be exact. Those got shot down by every agent in LA and New York. Started another blog. Failed.

I keep using the words ‘fail’ and ‘embarrass’ because that’s how I genuinely felt at the time. I had so many ideas in my head. Like some cutting-edge shit and no one (or not many) understood them. No one got it like I needed them to, so I was ignored.

Friends (well, not any more) would make fun of me. One time, in particular, I had wrote a quirky feminist poem. I was so scared to get on stage and perform it. I stumbled a bit, but I got up there and did it. After the applause died and I went back to my seat. She kept taunting me and laughing at the words I wrote. I sat there, confused. Wondering why was it so funny to overcome your fears and have the courage to say something, even if it sounded stupid to her. Why had she had to kill my moment? But, people like her, individuals who don’t have courage to fuck up, don’t have the persistence to keep at it, even though you’ve failed a hundred times just don’t get people like me or you.

I thought I valued myself, but I hadn’t. Not at all. I never saw myself as a writer. A creative. A creator. An artist. I deemed myself as someone who wrote words. Why? Everyone could write words. I made myself plain. Regular. I boxed myself in with the ‘normal’ people. The one’s who didn’t have any special abilities. I’d been told so many times that I wasn’t special that I started to believe them. I was the person who hadn’t spoke because it’d make people feel uncomfortable. There were stories I hadn’t wrote because I was afraid to stir the pot, make waves. Because of all the restrictions and limits I placed on myself, I became a drone.

The difference was that the inside hadn’t matched the outside which created turmoil like no other. I was fighting a silent battle that no one saw or heard. One that almost destroyed me. And, I am the only one to blame for that. But no one told me that I could be me. That it was okay to be unapologetic in my very own skin. I was always told to put on a face, be the bigger person, do what you gotta do to survive. And, I never questioned it. I watched the women in my life crumble because of that norm. They’d gone through the same battle as I was and suppressed it. They were stuck. I hadn’t and I don’t want to be stuck like my grandmother. Like my mom. Like my aunts. And my cousins.

I wanted to be free. Free of constraints.

I was told that it wasn’t possible. That I could never model as a Muslim woman. That no one would buy my work, my stories. That I could never write and tell the whole truth. That I could never be me. The real me.

I became resistant. And, man, was it a lonely road. When you truly figure out who you’re supposed to be, it makes others mad, resentful, uncomfortable. I had no friends. A husband that barely wanted to be there. And myself.

I still had myself. That was more than enough. We gotta be okay with just being. Ourselves.

The resistance grew. And grew and grew. I hadn’t cared about money. I stopped caring about success. I’d write. Every day. At one point, I was thinking about just living out of my car but as long as I had a notepad and access to a library then I’d be fine. As long as I could create. Then I’d be so fine.

The question I get asked a lot is how am I so raw with the pieces that I share? When you are good to yourself and stop placing limitations on you and what you put out, then you’ll become what you are meant to become. A lot of these limitations come from ourselves, first and foremost, and our perceptions of what other people will think of us. We are wrapped in holding up these facades that we don’t even know who the fuck we are anymore. We care so much about what someone who isn’t paying our bills or brushing our teeth that we don’t even try to step outside the box and explore ourselves.

It’s funny because I’ve become this sort of beacon for individuals who’ve had no voice. I’ve been deemed as this, I guess, motivational speaker and writer, almost. People actually come to me with their problems and their body image issues and we talk—chat and share stories. They throw words at me like ‘inspirational’ and ‘motivational’ and ‘innovative’. Each time, I’m in awe that they see me in those ways. I write for myself, for the most part. As an artist, if you don’t feel your shit then who will?

A few ladies came up to me after I accepted the Gilda Award last week, and grabbed my hand or my shoulders, and squeezed. Each one said, “You are needed. Your voice is needed. And you belong. Speak for us ladies that don’t have the courage to do so.”

xoxo,

 

Leah V.