The Gazette is Iowa’s independent, employee-owned source for local, state, and national news coverage.
Nichole Shaw is a 2021-2022 editorial fellow for The Gazette. She writes two columns a month, facilitating her keen interest in issues of social and racial justice, particularly as it concerns diversity, equity and inclusion in the state of Iowa.
Discover select highlights from her contributions to the paper below or find the all of her columns here.
What are you?
The question, “What are you?” has haunted me for much of my life. So, I decided to pick it apart and try to understand why that’s a question a stranger would feel compelled to ask me, without regard for how the phrasing might come across as dehumanizing and exclusionary. As a queer woman, the question immediately rescinds any notion of intersectionality, a concept that gives an awareness to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Intersectionality is an important concept to perceive and understand, as no one person is just one thing. People are inherently complex and cannot be regarded as a single label, because it takes away from the depth and character that shapes them into the very person they are. Thus, getting asked that question of what you are comes across as labeling, an act that discriminately shapes the subject as other, removing them from the self and applying abridged stereotypes to a person.
Human beings are inherently complex creatures with unique personalities and it’s a part of our nature to want to identify with a group, as we are not solitary creatures in our behavior. However, the way that one identifies with a particular group or social categorizations is not, nor is it ever, limited to one single marker. We are not that simplistic, and it’s terribly damaging to dumb down a person to one label.
With that, I urge people to stop boxing others in — to stop making assumptions based on stereotypes and instead make an effort to recognize other humans as individuals, ones people can foster resilient connections with as we endure these chaotic, volatile time in our history.
Bridging the polarization gap
There are big changes happening in our country right now and the future looks pretty bleak as it concerns the stability of our nation and the dismantling of our democracy, according to experts on democracy and a recent National Urban League report. Polarization has been getting worse in the United States, culminating in the Jan. 6 insurrection. A Recent New York Times poll found 58 percent of voters believe the United States system of government does not work and needs major reforms or a complete overhaul. And 53 percent of voters believe the American political system is too divided to solve the nation’s problems.
But there is hope to still affect change — not just from lawmakers, but from everyday people, according to the studies of sociologist and social psychologist Robb Willer. He compares the current political sphere to that of a zombie apocalypse movie, with people mindlessly following pack leaders. The echo chambers people create on social media by only following people who align with their preconceived notions doesn’t create a space where much exchanging of ideas can occur and people will just become more cemented in their perspective instead of considering other solutions or stances on an issue.
“You can’t get anyone to agree with you if they don’t even listen to you first,” political pundit Sally Kohn said. “We spend so much time talking past each other and not enough time talking through our disagreements. And if we can start to find compassion for one another, then we have a shot at building common ground.”
American individualism muddies the path forward
There’s this idea of American exceptionalism, which posits America above all other nations, morally, politically and socially. It’s an idea we constructed to make ourselves feel better about our actions, while also blinding us from the true reality of our behavior and actions, which make us no different than any other well-developed country, except for the fact that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world and we spend the most on our military defense.
With that, this tweet from prolific writer Boze Herrington describes the current conundrum we as a nation seem to be facing (with Iowa as no exception, considering the bill that passed last year, prohibiting the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts,” including pretty much anything that puts white people at risk of feeling uncomfortable, such as discussion of racism and injustice):
“This compulsion to sanitize the past, to sanitize the world, is one of the overlooked roots of white nationalism. We want to seal ourselves away from the experiences of others because we fear what they might say to us. We want reality to be pastel-hued and instagram-filtered,” Herrington tweeted.
So, I leave you with this question: What do you truly value as a human being in this world?
Seeing myself, my mother and grandmother in Judge Jackson
In many ways, the confirmation proceedings for Jackson put a spotlight on how Black women in the United States are treated in the workplace, with double standards put in place to push the glass ceiling even further out of reach. An example? The consistent questioning of Jackson’s ability to do exemplary work despite her exceeding the experience and qualifications of many judges currently serving on the Supreme Court.
As a Black woman, I saw myself, my mother and my grandmother in many of Judge Jackson’s responses and facial expressions to placate white fears, doubts and more. Jackson remained the picture-perfect image of pleasant, nodding and plastering a smile on in response to vicious attacks of her character, mispronunciations or mockings of her name (which honors her ancestral roots), repeated questioning on her LSAT score and more. This is emblematic of the double standards Black women face in their workplaces, forcing themselves to nod and smile even when they are being disrespected, in fear that they will be accused of being “unprofessional” or embodying the “angry Black woman,” among other stereotypes.
As a Black woman, I saw myself, my mother and my grandmother in many of Judge Jackson’s responses and facial expressions to placate white fears, doubts and more.
The media’s sinister agenda in Iowa: Telling the truth
The things that are a part of this “sinister agenda” some Iowa lawmakers and leaders would rather have remain hidden: the discussion of race as a historical and contemporary issue; the discussion of sex and gender as they pertain to social issues today like transgender rights and women’s rights, to name a few; the Jan. 6 insurrection and all who enabled the bloody attempt to plunge this country into darkness; the real public health crisis that is the novel coronavirus and its permeation throughout this society.
Perhaps instead of attacking institutions of freedom, education and accountability, there should be more focus put toward attacking a public health crisis that has killed more than 8,000 Iowans. Perhaps there should be more focus put on dismantling systemic racism. Perhaps there should be more focus put on educating this state’s people instead of lying to them.
So, I wonder, whose agenda is really sinister?
Complacency will be the key to our demise
The Jan. 6 insurrection haunts me. It haunts this country. And it is crucial that we do not forget what happened that day — and what has been happening in the aftermath of the events that shocked this nation to its core, leaving five dead, over a hundred injured and more than $30 million in property damage.
As the new year begins, I want everyone to really remember what happened that day. Remember the fear that pushed us so far apart until we couldn’t recognize each other anymore.
Today, some of the highest ranking military officers say the greatest threat this country faces is from within its own borders, not from powers abroad. Think about that. Remember that when you go about your life like nothing happened — like we didn’t almost have everything taken from us in a couple of hours. That’s how fragile democracy is. Complacency will be the key to our demise.
A dystopian reality: Living in the United States
Politicizing every issue does nothing but cause division rather than unite people for the common goal of saving human lives and improving people’s general quality of life. All this is to say it’s time to demand accountability from the leaders we elect, from the local level to the federal one. Pay attention to where your money is going and be sure you’re spending it wisely where people are actually putting in work instead of raising the bar for elitism and further marginalizing those already at risk.
The desensitization we endure during these dystopian times is not sustainable — for it will be what destroys us all if no one acts.
Iowa is stuck in its ways
What’s really spooky? From redistricting, voter disenfranchisement, the lack of women’s rights to their own bodies, racial bias and more, there’s quite a list to pick from in Iowa, like many other states. But what stands out is something that goes unsaid, accepted as tradition and seldom fought against with fruition — it is the stagnation of change (an oxymoron, but true).
Change is necessary for society to evolve and the people within it to grow as human beings, to become better. But change comes from real people — not government entities and corporations. Those are merely signals of change that have already occurred.
Iowans with disabilities should receive the same access to inclusivity as other minority groups
Diversity, equity and inclusion have become common buzzwords in job applications over the past year and a half. That mainly has to do with a public outcry for better, more equitable practices and policies from employers to foster accountability. For employers, that looks like not only obtaining, but retaining a workforce which reflects the makeup of their surrounding environment and community. While people often think of race and gender in relation to DEI efforts, the scope of accountability expands much further beyond those demographics. Disability awareness remains a mystery that is seldom approached or acknowledged in these discussions for fair and equal treatment in the workplace.
The history of Greek life — and a viable future at the University of Iowa, if it exists
Greek life is resistant to reform, deeply devoted to archaic and harmful practices because they are “tradition.” However, calls to abolish all of Greek life take away from those institutions that popped up as a result of exclusionary racist, sexist and homophobic practices…
So, when you say “Abolish All Greek life,” think about those institutions that historically provided people who experienced life-threatening discrimination with a safe space for success. Perhaps the way forward is not by abolishing a broken system but reforming it, starting with the upheaval of archaic rules and traditions that put women and people of color at risk.
A Black-white, biracial life is one of immense alienation
Black-white biracial individuals are discriminated against by both whites and “dark-skinned” Blacks. To some, we are Black, and therefore still belong to that group of “lazy coons” that have existed since 1865. To others, we are privileged and don’t understand the true effects of racism, referring to us as “high yellows” or “redbones” (Huffington Post).
COVID-19 deja vu in Iowa — it’s almost like we’re in the year 2020 again
Despite the consistent media coverage and available resources, medicine and technology available to protect Iowans and Americans at large, members of the public — about half of the population in Iowa — have still not gotten vaccinated, refusing to not only protect themselves, but also to protect others from infection and the very real possibility of death.
News media is in a battle to foster diversity, equity and fair storytelling
To succumb to the crippling pressure of white institutions and placate white sensibilities for the comfort of the privileged and the discomfort of the marginalized would be harmful to the entire future of media and would limit the narratives that get told to influence the people of America.
Independence Day in Iowa: Are we really free?
The past year, we’ve been in the thick of an intense culture war rife with identity politics. Perhaps the way that Iowans can honor July 4 this year is by reflecting on what it truly means to be an American, to unpack what independence from tyranny and oppression really is, and apply it to their life and policy moving forward.
LGBTQ Iowans harmed by Legislature’s bad bills
This year has been identified as the worst year in recent history for legislative attacks against LGBTQ+ identifying individuals and groups at the state level, with 17 anti-LGBTQ+ bills enacted into law, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Reports from the ACLU and CNN corroborate this statement, too. And 2021 is not even halfway done.
‘Iowa Nice’ is a myth.
Iowa Nice. It’s the slogan for the state, a marker of the camaraderie and neighborly kindness that supposedly permeates the region…It’s a cultural label of the Hawkeye state based on the perceived stereotypical behaviors of agreeableness and friendliness, similar to that of Southern hospitality…While the sentiment is nice, and there are plenty of people in Iowa that are nice, the label is a superficial one that does not actually reflect the true conditions of the state.