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The silohuette of a bird midflight appears against the backdrop of clouds colored by the light of the setting sun. (Photo by Bianca Ackermann on Unsplash)

The art of braiding, as engaged with in both theory and practice, ties me to my roots.

As reported by Essence magazine in 2018, “Braids are more than mere aesthetics. They bind us together. They are an integral part of Black culture — past, present and future.”¹ Consequently, the politics, ethics, culture, and aesthetics of Black hair have been examined by artists, theorists, and writers for centuries. From imagery depicting braided hairstyles in ancient African art to oral histories depicting the navigation-based role of patterned plaits in manumission movements, braids’ importance in transnational Black history is not new.

While contemporary conversations and debates about Black hair, particularly with respect to braids, are often centered around racist policies and the complex nature of misogynoir, kinship and identity are the primary social phenomena to which braids are related. Rooted in a deep and expansive diasporic history, braids illuminate a meaningful fact of being. A meaningful fact one can weave into narratives about Black culture and Jewish ritual. For, like braids in Black culture, Shabbat challah is tied to diasporic tradition and practice. Be that as it may, the present inquiry won’t examine this particular comparison any further given the scope of the paper though I intend to expand on this topic further elsewhere in the future given the fact that this particular train of thought crosses my mind often when I braid my hair or my challah dough. …

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Photo by Carlos Kenobi on Unsplash

Colloquial phrases fail to capture the magnitude of the loss and the depth of the chasm left in the place of tender, playful love that was — always more warm than chaotic, more soft than burning — left to spend its final moments gasping for air. Especially when it’s too strong to die. Too deeply rooted in the most fertile parts of your soul. Destined or doomed to ebb and flow with the rising seas of Lethe. Anchored to bittersweet memories that take on a life of their own.

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Two candle flames atop a menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Courtesy of Jesi Taylor Cruz.

On Thursday, December 10, 1942 Anne Frank wrote about the “comical sight” of sausages — that she watched be ground, seasoned, and squeezed into casings by Mr. Van Dann — dangling from the ceiling that made everyone who saw them burst into laughter. She also wrote about the dirty state of their kitchen and how Dussel had an eye infection he was dabbing with a chamomile tea bag. She then went on to describe what it was like to watch Dussel work on his first dental patient’s mouth at his practice. “The whole scene resembled one of those engravings from the Middle Ages entitled Quack at Work,” she explained. …

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Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

My experiences as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow (MMUF) helped inform my beliefs about academia. Prior to becoming a Fellow, I didn’t even use the word “academia” nor did I have any idea that programs like MMUF existed. When I applied to the fellowship as a “continuing education” student in my mid-twenties I was certain I’d be rejected. Sure, I always loved learning and was a lifelong bibliophile but I wasn’t a great student by any means. Just a curious one. After a five year period of 60 hour work weeks and random internships I returned to college to finish my BA for the sole purpose of getting a degree. To say I’d done it. To check that milestone off of a to-do list, that I didn’t even write myself, so that I could have more job prospects. …

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A baby gazes happily. (Photo by Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash)

There are so many baby products we use that can be repurposed once they are no longer needed for caregiving duties like changing diapers or storing pumped milk. Before you consider repurposing some items, you should always opt to donate the items to a local daycare first or give them to a friend who could use them for their own children. But if donating the items isn’t an option for you, there are countless ways to make use of them to prevent them from ending up in landfills.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, nondurable goods — ones that generally last up to three years including, but not limited to, clothing, footwear, paper cups, plastic containers, non-packaging paper waste, and linens — comprise about 50 million tons of waste a year. Of course, it’s important to be honest about how consumer culture, industrialization, and inequitable waste management — overarching, global problems perpetuated by capitalist modes of production — exacerbate environmental issues on a scale much larger than our individual actions do. But, our collective individual actions add up! So if we have the opportunity, and the access and the means, to make small lifestyle changes that are sustainable, we should do that! …

The fights for racial, social, and environmental justice are inextricably linked

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Two Black girls carry signs during a PCB landfill protest in Afton, North Carolina, September 1982. (Jerome Friar Photographic Collection and Related Materials (P0090), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

In the ongoing, global project of dismantling oppressive and violent structures it is important to make sense of one’s place in the world and within the myriad systems we all must navigate on a daily basis in order to participate in society.

To clarify, by “place” I mean the physical spaces we occupy — like the areas of colonized land on which we live, the geographical regions we call home, the built environments were travel in-between, and the various other places on Earth we can touch whether man-made or part of the natural world. I also mean the conceptual spaces we personify — like the racial and social categories that we claim and/or have imposed upon us, the identity-based groups we’ve assimilated or been born into, and the other socially-constructed features of the world that attempt to help us make meaning of our lives and experiences — as we navigate interlocking systems of oppression. …

My grandmother taught me the power of sustainable living — even when it’s inconvenient

Illustration of three Black hands reaching towards soil.
Illustration of three Black hands reaching towards soil.
Illustration: Chelsea Charles

My grandmother, Florestine “Flo” Wallace, taught me how to repurpose anything. Even the little things. Those giant Country Crock butter tubs made perfect popcorn bowls. Planters peanut cans became used cooking oil containers and bulk jars that we’d fill, and refill, with treats from the local market. If we knew we couldn’t recycle or repurpose something, we didn’t bring it home. Flo was a conscious spender and consumer who made sure I knew and respected the value of every single thing I came in contact with. …

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I’ll keep this short and simple,

there isn’t much to say,

if my image brings you profit

then it’s me who you must pay.

You profit off our bodies

and you use us for the clout,

and if we try to question it

you quickly push us out.

You sit on countless millions

and I know we could be paid

but you’d rather just exploit us

and call it a fair trade.

We don’t need more exposure,

just open up your wallet,

send us money we are owed

and don’t dare try to stall it.

To you we’re just Black…

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When it comes to health and wellness, in order to act in the best interest of ourselves, and other members of our communities, we must be made aware of all facts and risks related to things that can harm us by reliable, unbiased experts. This is where the importance of risk communication, or different types of programming and messaging disseminated by experts and professionals that inform people about the risks associated with harmful phenomena, comes in.

Our ability to make informed decisions about our health depends on whether or not we have access to the necessary educational resources to learn about what we, as unique individuals, need to thrive. But what happens when the educational resources we need are unreliable or inaccessible? Further, what happens when chronic disenfranchisement, at the individual and community level, prevents people from making informed decisions and acting on them? …

CW: mention of suicide, death, genocide, Nazis, violence

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J.A. Topf & Söhne company ad, 1930s/Stadtverwaltung Erfurt

In his suicide note, Ludwig Topf referred to himself as a “decent person” who was “the opposite of a Nazi.” In case you are not aware, Ludwig Topf ran the family-owned company J.A. Topf & Söhne (or J.A. Topf and Sons), the largest company to design and build ovens and gas chamber exhaust fans for the Nazi’s concentration and extermination camps.

Founded in Erfurt, Germany, in 1878, J.A. Topf & Söhne started as an engineering firm that made heating systems, steam boilers, and equipment for brewing and malting. Eventually, they expanded and diversified their offerings by creating products for chimneys and incinerators designed to burn municipal waste. Then in 1914, in response to rising interest in and acceptability of cremation as a means of post-mortem body disposal in the Weimar Republic, they entered the crematoria industry. …


Jesi Taylor Cruz

NYC-based philosophy graduate student whose work covers Genocide Studies, Repro + Enviro Justice, and Critical Race Theory. @moontwerk

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