About Talia Whyte

Posts by Talia Whyte:

Support News and Information for Refugees

President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries has been disturbing to many, including myself.  I work with two videographers from Somalia who regularly travel back Mogadishu and Nairobi to see family, and this may now be up in jeopardy.  This also touched me personally because my whole family immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in the 1970s so I could have better opportunities.  Many of them also have green cards.  I worry about how Trump will expand the order in the new future.

I have been lucky to meet with many immigrants and refugees throughout the years through my work at Global Wire Associates, where we provide basic computer literacy and media development training to those who support making communication accessible to all.

Many immigrants and refugees depend on clear and concise news and information to stay abreast of issues directly affecting them.  Internews in South Sudan has developed an innovative recorded audio program to provide life-saving and life-enhancing information to people displaced at four of the UNMISS Protection of Civilians sites across South Sudan following the conflict in that broke out in that country in mid-December 2013. The service utilizes a quad bike that moves around the site playing the programs in dedicated public spaces, at “Listening Stops”, through speakers that are bolted to the bike. A USB flash drive with the twice weekly professionally produced program is plugged into speakers.

Internews is a leader in humanitarian communication.  If you can, please consider making a donation to the organization to help them to continue their good work!

The Importance of Recording Family Life Histories

I recently wrote my mother’s obituary.

No, she is not dead, or terminally ill. She is very healthy and living an exciting life. However, she is in her seventies now, and she is not going to be with me forever. For the last couple of years, I have been hesitant about even bringing up the topic of death and funeral plans with her, as she seemed not to want to talk about it.

However, her sister passed away last September after living with Alzheimer’s for the past ten years. It was painful to watch her wither away in the last 18 months to the point of her having no memory and being in constant physical pain. What made it worse is that I realized that I wished I talked to my aunt more about her life when she was still healthy, namely learning her many great Jamaican recipes. She used to cook for me when I was a kid, and I felt like some of those great memories died with her.

After her death, I think my mother began to think more about her mortality, as her sister was only a couple years older than her. After our Thanksgiving dinner, my mom handed me a two-page biography of her life. She asked me to rewrite as an obituary. This obituary opened up an opportunity for me to not only talk to her more about her life but to also to discuss her funeral plans. I also did a one-hour, wide-ranging audio interview with both of my parents about their lives that I can keep and share with my kids in the future.

I don’t have any problems with discussing death because I used to write obituaries for my local newspaper and I recognize that death is a part of life. I can tell you from my experience that many of the survivors I interviewed for those newspaper obituaries wished they had known more about their deceased loved ones when they were alive. Survivors would tell me “I wished I had asked them this” or “I wished I had known that” about their loved one. But it hit home for me when my aunt died that I need to be more proactive about my family’s memories.

Unfortunately, because we don’t openly discuss death in American society as much as we should, there are a lot of memories that disappear with the deceased. We don’t even discuss funeral plans until someone is terminally ill or already dead.

I think it is an excellent idea to write or record an obituary, or rather a life history. This process is especially important if your loved ones are immigrants, which adds another layer to your family history. My family came to America from Jamaica in the 1970s. Both my parents have memories of life on the island both before and after British colonialism, the Cold War inspired political violence under Michael Manley and what it was like coming to America.

We all have smartphones that we can use today to record their life histories easily. Furthermore, we should be talking to our elders more often anyway. Creating my mother’s life history has brought me closer to her, as I can better recognize and cherish her life, and it makes it easier to deal with her eventual mortality. I am even relearning some of my favorite recipes from her!

It is always a good idea to celebrate life while loved ones are still here before it is too late.

Time to Drain the Democratic Swamp

Last week CNN hosted a town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders. This was not only another example of why I need to cut the cord, but also what is wrong with the Democratic party.

This town hall was presented as if Sanders was the defacto leader of the party. Apparently, a lot of Americans feel this way. According to a Public Policy Polling survey, about a quarter of survey participants said they would vote for Sanders if he ran again for president as a Democrat in 2020. But catch this; 31 percent of participants would like to see Vice President Joe Biden run again for that office and 16 percent wanted to vote for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While I have a lot of respect for Sanders, Biden, and Warren, two old white men who have already run for office along a slightly younger white woman are not the future of the party. If the Democrats claim that they are the party of diversity in a multicultural America, then they need to start looking like it.

It is time for them to start grooming younger, more diverse people with new ideas as the faces of the party. Every once in a while you see Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, and the Castro brothers, but they are never presented by the DNC as official voices for the party. Considering that the first black president is about to leave, it has become starkly evident that the DNC hasn’t done a good job of presenting who could be the next president of color or at least have a higher public profile.

Say what you will about the Republicans, at least they have visible faces of color on their side who are publicly seen as rising stars within the party like Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, Bobby Jindal (albeit a religious nut), and, heck, even Condi Rice (albeit a war criminal). At least the GOP had the most diverse group of candidates running for president during the last presidential cycle, unlike the Democrats that paraded out even more old white people.

Also, this lack of diversity continues to feed into this belief that the Democrats keep blacks on a “plantation,” by just taking our votes and not actually doing anything to improve the lives of black people and not putting enough of us in positions of power within the party. Well, it is a fact that Democrats take people of color for granted.

Some would argue that Barack Obama was elected president as a Democrat. However, if you recall from eight years ago, Hillary Clinton was the establishment DNC choice. Obama wasn’t supposed to win; he wasn’t even expected to survive the primaries. Obama didn’t win because of any help from DNC; he created his upstart operation and strategies with a staff of young idealists with fresh, new ideas. The DNC wanted to stay with the status quo and did everything to take him down, including calling him “house boy.” The DNC only came on board after it became apparent that Obama was going to easily beat John McCain.

And I am not just saying all this for diversity sake; there is seriously a significant problem within the Democratic party. They should have easily won the 2000 election. Al Gore’s campaign, lead by the ever corrupt Donna Brazile, should have won against dimwitted Dubya. So technically 1996 was the last time the Democrats won the White House with the “other” black president Bill Clinton who gave us the crime bill; which is something that has drastically held back black people for over 20 years.

If the Democrats want to survive in the future, it’s high time for them to drain the swamp.

Muse Brothers: Human Rights for the Vulnerable

A couple of years ago I read and enthusiastically reviewed Pamela Newkirk’s Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga. It was not just a story about racial discrimination, but also about the lack of protections for the most vulnerable in our society.

This issue is what attracted me to another great book, Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South. The book is about George and Willie Muse, two black albino boys who were taken from their home in Virginia and became world famous performers for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for the next 30 years.

Like Ota Benga, the circumstances around how the Muse brothers came into the circus world are cloudy. Descendants of the Muse brothers still living in Virginia today hold the position that they were kidnapped from the plantation by a bounty hunter, or “freak” hunter. However, author Beth Macy gives some evidence that puts doubt on the family’s long-held story. It is entirely possible that their mother Harriet knew the hunter intentionally took her sons in exchange for a hefty fee.

Most likely we will never know the truth of how they came to the circus. Harriet Muse was an illiterate, black female sharecropper in the Jim Crow South. She had no rights and no say over most things happening in her life, including her sons. It is highly likely that her children were just snatched up from the plantation by people who took advantage of her weak position. But it is also likely that she sold her kids into the circus to make money and give them a better life, who would have otherwise been limited by their albinism. The author interviews the Muse brothers’ grand-niece Nancy, who holds the strong opinion that they were kidnapped. I don’t know if this woman is lying, in denial or telling the truth. Who would want to admit that a mother essentially sold her sons in child slavery for money? And who are we to judge the mother if she really did sell her children to the circus? Unfortunately, there is very little documentation to prove anything and the Muse brothers were never interviewed about their experiences during their lifetimes, so we just don’t know.

The author interviews the Muse brothers’ grand-niece Nancy, who holds the strong opinion that they were kidnapped. I don’t know if this woman is lying, in denial or telling the truth. Who would want to admit that a mother essentially sold her sons in child slavery for money? And who are we to judge the mother if she really did sell her children to the circus? Unfortunately, there is very little documentation to prove anything and the Muse brothers were never interviewed about their experiences during their lifetimes, so we just don’t know.

The author interviews the Muse brothers’ grand-niece Nancy, who holds the strong opinion that they were kidnapped. I don’t know if this woman is lying, in denial or telling the truth. Who would want to admit that a mother essentially sold her sons in child slavery for money? And who are we to judge the mother if she did in fact sell her children to the circus? Unfortunately, there is very little documentation to prove anything and the Muse brothers were never interviewed about their experiences during their lifetimes, so we just don’t know.

However, we do know that they were not allowed to go back home for many years, as they were told their mother was dead. They were part of a larger group of “freak show” performers who were exhibited because of physical “deformities” and special abilities – the bearded lady, people eating swords or fire, conjoined twins, people with dwarfism, etc. This type of entertainment was quite common at a time long before radio, television, Facebook, and Game of Thrones, and making fun of and gawking at other people’s deformities was politically correct.

The Muse brothers accentuated their albinism by growing their hair out and up into dreadlocks and playing instruments. They were marketed as Eko and Iko and had different names over the years, ranging from “White Ecuadorians” to “Ambassadors from Mars.” Although this book focuses mainly on the harsh realities of being black and poor in the early 1900s, it is also the story of why we still need to protect the rights of children and people with disabilities.

The brothers were briefly reunited in 1927 with their mother, who would later successfully sue the circus for back pay. However, the brothers did go back on the road to help their mother out financially, who would die a few years later.

Luckily for them, they were able to “retire” and live comfortably for the rest of their lives in a house that was purchased from the lawsuit money. Unfortunately, Ota Benga and many others who performed or exhibited in circuses, world’s fairs and human zoos were never adequately compensated and lived sad lives.

Truevine is a fascinating read, as they were many lessons from it that we could use today.