Hey all, sorry for the delay in posting content! We’ve been working on adding proper subtitles to our first video produced by an undergraduate student in #TheUndercommons! “Welcome To Freedom School (#TheUndercommons)” is an awesome documentary that offers a small glimpse of the mental, emotional, and physical work that into the making of The Undercommons.
Continuing the day’s theme of health on February 9, 2016, Teni Adewumi and Alexis Cooke presented urgent facts regarding public health and racial disparities. They begun by presenting a host of striking statistics: Black people tend to die earlier than white people, people of color tend to be more affected by health problems, two thirds of primary care doctors express bias towards black people – and many more. The central question of these facts then becomes determining the cause: what role does institutional racism play in facilitating this public health crisis?
The discussion turned to parsing the difference between racial disparities and racial differences regarding health. Over 75% of African Americans are said to be lactose intolerant. This is said to be an issue of genetics – cattle were not able to thrive in parts of the African continent due to geographical particularities and many Africans who were enslaved and taken to the Americas never became genetically accustomed to digesting dairy. This type of racial health problem is said to be a difference in this way because it is a genetic predisposition. A disparity, on the other hand, is avoidable and unjust.
Disparities are stimulated due to lack of resources and institutional neglect of people due to race. One horrifyingly prevalent disparity is the de-legitimization of black illness. Perhaps because of stereotypes or implicit bias, there exists a disbelief in black pain that further limits the heath care black people may receive. A story was told of a coworker of one of the facilitators where the coworker had sickle cell anemia and was doubled over in pain, but hospital staff still boldly asserted that the person was “not in pain”.
Just recently in Florida, footage was released of a Black woman being escorted out of a hospital despite complaining of serious chest pain. She died in the hospital parking lot of a pulmonary embolism and received no assistance. Another ramification of this de-legitimization is fewer prescriptions of medication offered to black people. This “racial empathy gap” has further linkage to police brutality where police disbelieve and harm black people with the idea that they do not feel pain.
Smaller discussions delved deeper into other issues of public health and racism. Trauma and health deserts remain a serious impediment for people of color to receive proper health care. A health desert is a region that lacks medical facilities or trauma centers in close proximity. As a result, victims of trauma cannot receive immediate attention and often die in transit to a hospital. These deserts tend to exist predominately in black and brown neighborhoods. Also discussed were increasing costs of health care.
The cost of ambulance fees, co-payments even with insurance, and emergency room fees are often unmanageable for low income families and further de-incentivize people of color from seeking help from these institutions. Medical cannabis usage is trumped as a step to provide health benefits using the plant and to curb the incarceration of black and brown people for possession. We find, however, that even when cannabis is legalized, those in prison for cannabis charges aren’t released, the felony charges are not expunged, and that black and brown people continue to be disproportionately stopped for updated cannabis crimes like DUIs.
This workshop advocated for critical race praxis for those in the health care field to put an end to these disparities. We need to center black people in our study and practice of health. The more we question and expose these disparities, the more progress we can make in furthering both health care and racial equity.
“The Body is Beautiful. Get Used to It.” A UCLA banner with those words serendipitously waved in the background as facilitator and healthy food practitioner Thabisile Griffin stimulated critical discussion about food deserts, colorful plates, and the struggle to be and feel well. The conversation emphasized being mindful of what we eat and how food politics and accessibility are entangled race and class.
Food deserts, or regions without access to grocery stores and healthy food, are a major problem in many USAmerican cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, and Los Angeles. These areas lack access to good foods because there is a lack of groceries stores and produce markets – New Orleans, for example, has only 20 groceries currently in the city. Compare this to Westwood, which has 5 grocery options within a mile radius of each other. Food deserts are often found in spaces with high populations of black and brown people, in both urban and rural regions, and limit food options to fast foods, processed foods, and otherwise unhealthy foods. This lack of access makes these populations more susceptible to illness and makes them even more dependent on pharmaceutical corporations and the exploitation of the health care industry.
The discussion shifted to discuss some of our own struggles with eating healthy and solutions to easily diversify our plates and our relationship with good foods. Thabisile recommended always having ingredients like ginger, lemon, turmeric, cayenne pepper, honey, garlic, and apple cider vinegar in the pantry for spice and taste but also for the health benefits these foods provide. Shifting our diet ideologies to highlight greens and vegetables as the focus of the plates rather than meats is also a strategy to eat more wholesome. Many participants discussed time as a factor that prevented them from making healthier decisions. Some ways to still eat well without much food prep included eating raw foods and juices and discussing easy recipes without grease or sodium.
The conversation never veered into fat phobia or body shaming. Instead health is defined in terms of practices, habits, and feelings: “You’re as healthy as you feel.” Eating well should be seen as a celebration of the self rather than a moral imperative. In consideration of making consumer choices that benefit one’s own body as well as the workers who produce the foods, we were prompted to think about not simply our own bodies but the health of the collective body. Ultimately the workshop advocated thinking critically about what’s on your plate and treating food as celebratory nourishment to give you energy, health, and happiness.
On February 9th, 2016, Shamell Bell and Sa Whitley hosted the launch of #TheUndercommons initiative #LiberateThePlate, a program designed to direct healthy foods and fresh produce to those most vulnerable to food insecurity. The launch was accompanied by presentations on food deserts and the lack of programs, stores, and overall investment in impoverished communities which lends to a systematic lack of nourishment in predominantly “of color” communities.
Thabisile Griffin’s presentation, “That Ain’t Food!: Food Deserts and Eating Healthy While Broke”, as well as the presentation “The Color of Health: disparities, invisibility, and bias” given by Teni Adewumi and Alexis Cooke, helped denote the importance of active-in-the-community initiatives like these which serve as one of many ways to weaponize The Undercommons against systems of oppression (in this case? environmental racism in the form of food inequity).
In the Study Hall hour between these presentations, participants in The Undercommons session were asked to write their own messages highlighting the reasons why food insecurity and hunger are such important issues, especially (though not necessarily) as it manifests as an aspect of the academic-industrial complex.
Because here’s the thing. The affliction that is poverty carries many indicators. Poverty touches upon the whole of one’s health – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. In children it can cause a poorer capacity to socialize, mature properly, and succeed academically. In all peoples, it is correlated with a higher rate of mortality. Poverty means greater vulnerability to both violence within a community and violence at the hands of the state (i.e. the police).
And poverty isn’t just about money. It is about a lack of access to resources which others take for granted, resources – like education – without which the socioeconomic system seems near impossible to succeed in. Resources – like healthy food, clean water, and adequate housing – without which communities are slowly but systematically starved.
The Black Panther Party was well aware of this when they launched their ‘Free Breakfast Program’ to help nourish their community, #LiberateThePlate aims to continue that work. Every week, two boxes filled with $26-worth of fresh produce are given away to a randomly selected student who has signed up to be included on the potential recipient list by emailing us at email@example.com. As the initiative is in its infancy, TheUndercommons has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations in order to sustain #LiberateThePlate for as long as we can. If you are interested in donating, please don’t hesitate to click HERE! More information on the project can be found on our Initiatives page, which will be updated periodically as #LiberateThePlate gets underway.
***Inspired by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s “Free Breakfast Program,” this is a free Raffle for 2 people who could use a lil help with groceries via a delicious box of organic fruit & vegetables! Every day of the undercommons! Ya heard???!!!! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to put your name in, or sign up at the undercommons! Note: Must be in attendance to receive groceries 🙂
Launch event facilitated by Sa Whitley & Shamell Bell
Tuesday, February 9th
12:00-1:00pm: Thabisile Griffin, “That Aint Food!: Food Deserts and Eating Healthy While Broke”
1:00-2:00pm Studyhall: POC LUCK! bring food to share, meet new homies, dance your ass off…
2:00-3:00pm: Teni Adewumi and Alexis Cooke, “The Color of Health: disparities, invisibility and bias”
(AKA Anti-Blackness as a Public Health Crisis)
Wednesday, February 10th
12:00pm: Laura Chow Reeve (Asian American Studies), Creative Writing Workshop, “Writing as a Weapon: Imagining a World Without…”
1:00-2:00pm Studyhall: OPEN MIC! Political Poetry for the Revolution, MCEED by Bozalta Journal Editors, Rose Simons & Alana de Hinojosa! They will speak briefly on their journal & their upcoming issue dedicated to the Movement for Black Lives!*****Bring you poetry of any style, short short fiction, and creative essays to this open mic session! 4 min max per artist! Writers from Laura’s workshop invited to share new work as well!
2:00pm: Catherine Williams, “Self-care when the University Don’t Care: Surviving the Academy while Black, Queer, & Femme”
Under the heat of the bright SoCal sun, #TheUndercommons crew came together to disrupt the space of the Janss Steps, an architectural homage to the racist spatial covenants that historically governed property rights in Westwood, once more.
This Wednesday, The Undercommons facilitated three teach-in sessions: one, a discussion on White Allyship vs. White Accompliceship facilitated by guest speaker Paul Michael from the group “White People for Black Lives”; two, a joint teach-in session with Deonte Harris and Madina Thiam on Black Britain and Black France (respectively), and more broadly on the diverse forms in which Blackness and the Black experience can manifest; and three, a French Lesson with Bianca Beauchemin, where we parsed through the influence that language differences may have in our understanding of the experiences of the marginalized, and in our understanding of oppression, through a translation of the song <<Humain à l’eau>> by Stromae.
In the discussion on White Allyship v. Accompliceship, we broke into two groups to contribute to a public discussion on what it means to be a White Accomplice (read: to the Struggle) and the pitfalls of allyship. One group was formed as a safe space for People of Color to comfortably discuss what they desire from white allies, and another formed as a safe space for White people to discuss their experiences, mistakes, and advice for being an accomplice to the struggle and for the liberation of POCs.
The discussions on both Black Britain and Black France culminated in the takeaway that Blackness cannot – and should not – be defined solely by the U.S. Black culture, and that each of the three states (France, the United States, Britain) would do well to learn from the way race is defined – and the consequences of that definition – in each. It was fascinating to learn that while blackness in the U.S. is often defined simultaneously by a complete break from our ancestral heritage and a complete entrenchment within U.S. history, Blackness in both Britain and France is often rooted elsewhere.
The Caribbean roots of British Blackness and the diverse African connections in France are a keen reminder, in both our personal and in our political lives, that the state of Blackness is not monolithic. Deonte Harris cemented this fact as he concluded the presentation, calling for us to remember the diversity of the African Diaspora in future research, in activism, and for its own sake as a necessary truth.
This final statement segued nicely into the next presentation with Bianca Beauchemin, where she led a public translation and subsequent discussion on the song <<Humain à l’eau>> by Stromae (the title translates to ‘Man Overboard’). We went through two verses and the chorus of this song, going line by line to discuss the definitions, and culturally specific connotations, of the words and idioms Stromae employs. The link for the song (accompanied by a translation and intro from Stromae) is posted for your convenience below!