Jennifer Abcug, 45, New York, NY, USA. Whose chosen submission for Issue 4 of ASLI Magazines campaign “Discrimination, Privilege and Stigmatisation” is a poem describing the anxiety felt on November 9th, 2016 – after waking up to the news that Donald Trump had been elected as president of the USA.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a mom, partner, daughter, bereaved sister, psychotherapist, aspiring writer, seeker of authenticity, and a humanitarian.
What is your artistic/creative background?
Since I was very young, I’ve written. Poetry has always felt the most organic for me, though I also love personal narrative and existential “musing”. I majored in English and American Literature in college at which time I became smitten with Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, and Anne Sexton.
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
The recent US presidential election was rather traumatic for me and tapped into my already existing anxiety and grief. I literally couldn’t breathe when I woke up November 9.
That moment in the early morning
When my eyes flutter
My head still in a delicious cocoon
Of warm blanket
And I start to
My first breath of the day.
It gets stuck
Because it hits that wall
In the middle of my chest
There’s no more space to inhale.
And try to let the breath back out
But I can’t do that
Because that wall in my chest
Is sticky And won’t let go Of that breath.
I’m frozen and suspended
In this no-place where
I can’t breathe in
I can’t breathe out
And the feelings
All the feelings
All over my insides And my skin on my outside.
In my bed
In my body
In my thoughts
A sea of sad
I’m barely breathing
Trying to turn back around
To escape into a sleepy darkness
That won’t let me in
Another sticky wall
I beg it to
Let me Try to begin again.
What is your process when creating?
Certain mornings I awaken with something that needs to come out. I stay under my blanket and manically write until I pen the exactness of my feeling. It’s a catharsis for me. I also am flooded with thoughts and feelings while running so, oftentimes, I’ll stop after a run and bang something out. It’s rarely planned.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
The poets Mary Oliver, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich always move me. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, and Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky are inspirational books.
Who inspires you in general?
My grandfather, who was a WWII combat veteran, is a huge inspiration for me. He stormed Utah beach and, along with his comrades, liberated Cherbourg, France. I’m also inspired by folks who channel adversity via creativity and parents who survive the loss of a child.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
Women’s rights are huge for me right now, as are human rights in general. Climate change and the environment are also up there. The current US administration makes it hard to focus on one issue because everything seems to be at stake.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
My impulse is to say “everything”. I remember being moved beyond organised thought when I studied the German Expressionists and “Degenerate Art“. They captured the indescribable essence of the evil unfolding in the world leading up to WWII. I would sit in front of Otto Dix paintings for hours imagining what led him to create such ugly beauty. Sadly, it resonates today.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in any way and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
Writing opens up space for me to breathe so, in that sense, yes it saves my life. If something I write speaks to, or moves, one person then I consider myself a small change creator.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
This is a hard question to answer since I write for catharsis. As such, it’s unscheduled, haphazard, and hardly goal-oriented.
Have you experienced any form of discrimination; and if so what was it based on and how did you deal with this?
Fortunately, I can say I’ve never felt discriminated against on a personal level .
What are your opinions on what causes discrimination?
It seems to me that fear coated in ignorance is the main catalyst for discriminatory behaviour. People reject what they perceive as a threat to their space in the world. It’s very primitive.
What do you do to actively stand against discrimination and have you ever had to intervene as a witness to it?
For many years I have sponsored women through the program “Women For Women International“. Each year, my sponsorship provides life-skills training to women in countries where they’ve historically been abused and unable to support themselves. For me, it’s a small way of making a global impact.
What are your opinions on labels and stereotypes?
I’m a psychotherapist and have no use for them. They are arbitrary, subjective, stigmatising, damaging to one’s ego, and unnecessary. All they serve to do is create interpersonal feelings of isolation and low self-worth. Like discrimination, I find them to be primitive ways of dealing with fear.
What are your opinions on national identity and in your opinion does nationalism create or deter discrimination?
National identity and nationalism frighten me. When too many people band together under some subjective sense of sameness it’s inevitable that others will be left out.
What social privileges do you have? For example: are you white, able bodied/minded, a man, rich, heterosexual, thin… etc.
I’m very mindful of my privilege as a middle-class, white, able-bodied American. I am someone lucky enough to have “first-world” problems. With that said, I’m a woman and I’m Jewish. Until this recent election I never felt fearful. In 2017 I’ve become less privileged.
What social privileges of others around you have you experienced and how did this privilege of others affect you?
Again, much of my experience of social privilege is extremely first-world. I attended private universities where folks were white and had great wealth. My grandparents, however, lived in the projects in Brooklyn, as did my parents, so I’m the first generation of true “privilege” in my family. I’ve always been mindful of my privilege and, consequently, very attuned to those without it. It’s not a coincidence that I’m a psychotherapist by way of a masters in social work.
How does social privilege affect our world in your opinion?
At the moment we don’t need to look farther than the US current administration to answer that question. Why should we give a shit about the world when we have all we need right here? I like to think that social privilege can be spread and shared. It won’t be through isolationism or nationalism.
Have you ever denied your own privilege due to feelings of guilt or misunderstanding?
Perhaps when I was younger and still learning about what privilege even meant. But I try to “own” my reality.
Do you feel social privilege should be taught at school and if so why and how young?
Yes it should be taught at school and it should start as early as pre-school. For example, I was raised to always give “tzedakah” (I looked this up to get it right), which in Hebrew literally means justice or righteousness. It’s often thought of as “charity” but, as a Jew, I was taught that it was a moral obligation. This was a good springboard into generating a life-long consciousness of social privilege.
Have you ever experienced social stigmatisation and if so what was it based on and how did you deal with this?
When I was younger I dealt with some stigmatisation around being Jewish. We were one of a few Jewish families in the town in which I lived (the Jewish population eventually exploded). But, back then, I was referred to as a “princess” by certain friends and it was uncomfortable.
Have you ever contributed to the stigmatisation of any individual or group, and if so were you aware you did this and how did you deal with this aftermath?
No. Being a Jew always kept that in perspective for me.
What are your opinions on political powers and world leaders using stigmatisation against certain groups to further their own agendas, such as with Muslims, Black people, LGBTQ individuals, mentally ill and disabled people?
This is a tough question to answer in a succinct way. In a nutshell, I find it abhorrent. As a social worker/psychotherapist I tend to view the world through a psycho-social lens. I generally see politicians and world leaders who engage in stigmatising behaviour as weak-egoed, insecure and fearful.
Do you support or take part in any anti-stigma organisations or charities and if so which ones and why?
I mentioned earlier that I have been a supporter of the organisation “Women for Women” for many years. In so many parts of the world, women have no voice and it’s always been important to me to be a part of fixing this “wrong”.
In your own words please tell us how you feel the arts and creativity can further help to empower, communicate and educate people with regards to discrimination, privilege and stigmatisation?.
The arts tap into our sensory selves more than our cognitive selves. I believe our defences tend to be less rigid when we are feeling more and thinking less. When defences are down, and cognition is less engaged, people tend to be more receptive to the artistic message being conveyed.
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