Cultural Criticism
We need to stop using LGBTQ+ slurs
Imagine walking through the halls of your school, your hands gripped tightly onto the straps of your worn out, heavy backpack. Excitement and happiness flow through your veins as you feel unstoppable. Today is your day. You’re going to accomplish the hardest of tasks. You walk into your homeroom with a prance, a proud one at that, but you stop, your feet glued to the ground as soon as you hear the word linger off of one of your classmate’s mouths.
“Get off of me, f----t!” A boy yells to one of your classmates, forcefully shoving him out the way. The two are just playing around, or so it seems. Your eyes widen with shock, your mouth not able to mutter a single word as it feels as though it’s sewn shut. 
Suddenly, your world feels like it’s crumbling down. All of your hopes of today being a good day clash into the fact that today is ruined. You feel hurt. No, you feel angry. Angry that someone would use such a degrading term. As you finally free your feet from their glued position you walk over to your seat and sit down with a huff. You try to hold back the tears, a lump forming in your throat. Today is ruined and you can’t do anything to fix it.
Some people believe the common, reclaimed “f-slur” is an acceptable word, but it’s not. People who are not in the LGBTQ+ community may think that saying the word will make them popular and cool. Some kids in this society just want to fit in, so they do or say disrespectful things. People in the LGBTQ+ community work on their self-confidence to tell themselves that they’re normal and nothing is wrong with them. If someone who doesn’t identify with the community uses the slur, it can damage LGBTQ+ people’s self-esteem and confidence, putting them into a deeper hole than they were before.
Ethan Smith, a 17-year old student attending TAFE, a vocational school in Australia, identifies as a queer male. “[People using slurs] makes me upset because I don’t think people understand how much it hurts other people or the impact it has,” he said.
These words that people use so freely make people feel excluded, uncomfortable and out of place. “When I was younger I had a friend named Joel,” Smith recalled. “He was kicked out of our friendship group because the kids kept calling him LGBTQ+ slurs.”
People also don’t know what this term means. The dictionary definition of the f-slur is “a bundle of sticks or sticks bound together as fuel,” but over time, it came to mean, “a male homosexual.” In a Huffington Post article, writer Casey Cavanagh explains the atrocious history of the word.
“They used to burn the witches at a stake, but they thought the homosexuals were too low and disgusting to be given a stake to be burnt on, so they used to just throw them in with the kindling, with the other f----ts,” she writes. “So that’s how you get ‘flaming f----t.’” 
The history of this word reflects the horrible events occured in the past. People who don’t know the definition of the word don't know the impact it could have on someone when they use the word freely.
People in the LGBTQ+ community work so hard to accept themselves and their gender or sexuality. Building up their self-confidence to finally come out to their loved ones is hard, and hearing someone say the f-slur in a disrespectful manner is discouraging. 
Many people in the community — or those who are just assumed to be — have been targeted with hate crimes because of their identity. According to the Clarion Ledger, in 28-year-old Trevor Gray was beat by two men who believed he was gay in Wayne County, Mississippi. The men met Gray at a bar and beat him senseless, leaving him with a broken jaw. One of the attackers, Tomos Sion Brown called him a queer, which is another slur, though some have chosen to reclaim it. This shows why people who are in that community might be scared or uncomfortable to come out because of the hate crimes being committed. 
Hannah Kibirige, author of an education guide on tackling homophobic language states, “... the unchallenged use of ‘gay’ to mean bad or rubbish has a profoundly negative effect on gay young people’s self-esteem.” In this generation, since youth are exposed to so much negativity on social media platforms, the words people use affect us more and we take it to heart.
People need to stop using these words because of their horrific history. LGBTQ people are often scared to reveal their true selves because of how others use this term in a joking or disrespectful way. If people knew the actual definition of the word maybe they wouldn’t use it. After knowing the history and telling people how many community members have been physically and emotionally hurt you shouldn’t say it in a joking or disrespectful way. Instead of calling people this term, use their real name, or refer to them the way they identify themselves. 
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Photo by Teens in Print
One time there were tears running down my face, and my friend Jayleen saw me crying. I was standing near the front door of the bus about to get on. She asked if I was okay and let me sit next to her on the bus ride home. Her being there made me feel much better. You have to be there for your friend. If your friends don't treat you right, then they don't deserve you. It is okay to let your friends go sometimes. It doesn't mean you are a bad person at all. Some people aren't cut out to be your friend. Think about it, do you have good friends or not? 
Did you know it's good to have friends in preschool? Both girls and boys form strong attachments to others, and both need social and emotional support. Good friends can be anyone: big or small, strong or weak. If they have your back and have a big heart, they’ll be a good friend. They can also make you a better person, and a good friend will challenge you to do new things. If you need advice, friends give good advice. 
A good friend is someone who won't judge you based on your appearance, and won’t want you to change who you are just to be their friend. If they are a good friend they will learn to accept you for who you are. A good friend will be there for you if you need a shoulder to lean on or a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to support you when you are not feeling your best. A good friend will listen to you, and won't push you into something you don't want to do. They will support you and help you reach your full potential. And they will help you be your best self. Even if all else fails and you feel like the world is ending, they won't give up on you or let you down. A really good friend is someone who will come running to see what’s wrong when you shout their name—just like a superhero! My best friend is my own superhero and has always been there for me when I needed her. Even when we get into arguments we always end up making up in the end. I don't know of any BFFs that don't fight—do you? 
If you have a real friend, a true friend, then they won’t get you in trouble. And the real ones keep in touch with you throughout your life. However, the fake friends will leave when they don't need you anymore. They will use you to get what they want from you because they know you’re an easy target or you’re just vulnerable and emotional. Fake friends will try to use your vulnerability to manipulate you to get what they want. Your real friends would never blackmail you. Your real friends are like family and they will fight for you. The point is, fake friends cannot be trusted and are toxic. If you have a fake friend, do me a favor and please get rid of them. They’re a waste of time and you do not need them in your life. Fake friends are like poison. All they do is cause drama and make your life worse.   
I don't think people realize that we have the power as a civilization to make other people feel good. We can make a huge difference if we just ask someone to sit with us if they look lonely. It wouldn't kill you to be nice, and you’d probably make that lonely kid’s day. It will also make you feel good to do something nice for someone else. You can make the world a better place by being nice and making sure that there’s one less kid who doesn't have a friend. Our choices, good or bad, have consequences on other people's lives, and could influence others to make bad choices in the world. Just because you see someone doing something bad doesn't mean you have to do it too. Don't be a follower. Be who you want be—not who someone else wants you to be.
You might think people are not watching, but they are. Kids or adults will start to notice how you treat your friends, and even your friends will start to notice too. If you’re lucky, they will stick around. Friendship is about understanding. You need to understand the other person to have conversations, and you need to understand their feelings, too. A lot of people take other people’s feelings for granted, and that can cause problems in your friendship. Friendship can sometimes be complicated, but once you establish a good friendship, you will figure out how to make it work along the way.
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Afrofuturism: familiar to some, confusing to others. Afrofuturism is a concept used in a lot of books and African American artists’ music videos. It uses magical realism, Afrocentricity and elements of science fiction to emphasize the importance of black excellence.  Some examples of this include Janelle Monae’s visual album “Dirty Computer” and Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade.” 
I took a black history class at school and  participated in a program called Birthright Birmingham, where students go to Alabama and Georgia about black history and go on a civil rights tour. Seeing black-owned places is impactful for me because it speaks to the importance of black excellence in the modern world. Afrofuturism speaks to this same idea only set in the future where this level of black excellence will continue to thrive. 
The most common Afrofuturistic elements in media are strong, powerful black Americans working hard to inspire others to achieve as well as make the world a better place for everyone. “Black Panther” is a great example of afrofuturism because it is about a successful, strong, thriving African civilization which maintained its independence. Even though Black Panther is a great example, there is no uniform understanding of what Afrofuturistic media is. “A Wrinkle In Time doesn’t feature a thriving civilization that is very successful and Lil Nas X is not a fictional character in his music videos, but they both feature very successful people of color who have influenced others and helped make a better world for themselves and everyone else.   
The holiday Kwanzaa is also an example of Afrofuturism because it is rooted in seven different African values. The holiday is seven days long, starting the day after Christmas and ending on New Year’s Day. Kwanzaa speaks to African-American people reclaiming their identity and taking pride in it. It ties into Afrofuturism because it is people using part of their past as a way to influence their future; a plan for them that takes all the good pieces of their culture and identity from the past and makes the future even better.
Afrofuturism can influence minority student groups in schools because it provides students with an opportunity to see and understand the aspects of their culture that are interesting and directly related to themselves. 
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Science & Health
Plastic and water shouldn't mix
You’re shopping at a local convenience store and grab a cold Poland Springs plastic water bottle. You chug the water ‘till your heart's content and casually throw the bottle  into a trash bin. You may not have realized it, but you have likely just contributed to groundwater pollution, which is the contamination of underground water by outside waste. “How?” you may ask. I’ll explain. 
According to PBS NewsHour, humans have created over 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste, as of 2017. Even today, 60% of the plastic we make is still on our planet somewhere. Boston alone produces about 1.2 million tons of waste every year, according to WBUR. The waste production is expected to keep increasing year by year as the population increases, but Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wants to cut that amount to 20% by 2035.
Items like plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups, tea bags and even clothes made from nylon or polyester — all of which contain plastic — are thrown away by the thousands every day in Boston. When plastic waste is thrown in a trash bin, it may get dumped in a landfill, and since plastic takes hundreds of years to break down naturally, the plastic will remain in the landfill. However, as the plastic degrades over years of weathering, elements like carbon, nitrogen and sulfur start to seep into the ground and pollute the natural reservoir of groundwater beneath the landfill. 
Boston, as well as cities like New York and Chicago, use these groundwater sources as drinking water. I don’t think anyone would want to drink trash water, at least not me. Contaminated water can result in serious health problems often causing the spread of diseases such as typhoid. According to a study conducted by The Lancet, contaminated water caused 1.8 million deaths in 2015 alone worldwide. In addition, plastic also harms the environment around us. It is evident that plastic is a leading environmental problem, particularly in the oceans where unimaginable mountains of trash harm marine wildlife such as turtles, fish and local birds like seagulls. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, over 1 million marine animals, including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles and birds, are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean.
Nicolette Pocius, environmental science teacher at the John D. O’Bryant School explained that plastic waste produces microplastics that easily escape through water treatment plants and enter the ocean.
“These microplastics can be ingested by animals that are lower on the food chain and then go through something called biomagnification so that they’re in small amounts in small animals and then larger animals eat the smaller animals and get more,” she said. “So by the time we eat those large animals we’re actually eating a greater amount of the plastic than the small animals.”
Essentially, we are not only drinking trash water, we’re eating trash as well! 
So now that we get why plastic is a problem, what do we do? Jahlisse Bruton and Felix Yanes, seniors at the O’Bryant and co-presidents of the O’Bryant Recycling Club, say there are many things someone can do. “I’ve seen a lot of people with Hydro Flasks or reusable cups and bottles,”  Bruton said.  “Since a lot of students go to Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning, rather than ordering on the go you can ask if you can put this in my cup instead of getting a plastic cup.” Something so small can really help. A standard 18-ounce Hydro Flask sells for around $30 each, so instead of buying non-reusable plastic bottles, invest in a Hydro Flask or other reusable water bottle to be more eco-friendly!
If everyone in Boston used reusable straws or bottles, we would produce far less plastic waste. The thousands of pounds of plastic that would have been used to make those straws and bottles could instead be used to develop Boston infrastructure or provide more insulation to homes that may not have it. There is so much we can do. However, with modern culture emphasizing luxury and comfort, getting everyone to use reusable straws and bottles is highly unlikely. That doesn't mean people shouldn’t try. Maybe limit your plastic use for a week, or just use a reusable straw on certain days. 
So the next time you’re walking in the market aisle, you may want to consider where that plastic bottle will end up and get a reusable water bottle instead. Get a personalized one if you want, so you’ll be looking stylish and being eco-friendly!
And remember what Ms. Pocius said: “No action is too small!”
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Science & Health
We should expect wildfires until we take our climate more seriously
Photo by Marcus Kauffman of Unsplash
You’re walking down the street and see big chimneys attached to a working factory. You look up to see the beautiful blue sky being rapidly consumed by thick plumes of smoke turning it a midnight black. Your chest tightens up, then you start coughing, violently. As you cough, you suddenly realize how the word has changed. You see dead trees and animals, people wearing face masks while looking down at their phones watching videos on YouTube. Nobody is paying attention to what is happening around them. You didn't notice what was happening around you either, until now. 
The Earth has warned us about our doom many times. This is important to realize this because someday we'll look back and regret not doing something about it. It’s not too late, we can still do something about it now. 
Some recent warnings are the 2018 California wildfire, The Camp Fire, which started in Butte County, California. According to the Washington Post, it lasted two to three weeks destroying over 150,000 acres of land and around 18,800 buildings. It caused $16.5 billion of damage, forcing 52,000 people to evacuate, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless and a total of 85 casualties. 
The Camp Fire was caused by a faulty electric transmission line by company PG&E and lasted weeks because California was facing a drought caused by climate change. Since the fire burnt for so long, a bunch of carbon dioxide was released into the air, which will make climate change and global warming worse. The 150 thousand acres destroyed means that there are fewer trees to help us breathe. This fire felt predictable because electric company PG&E is responsible for 10 fires in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times. 
Then, there were the Australian bushfires which started in September 2019. According to Time Magazine, the fires scorched millions of acres, killed two dozen people, and killed an estimated half a billion animals in the country in only a few months. Again, these fires create a lot of carbon dioxide that is heating up the Earth more and that, on top of all of our bad habits, will lead to the destruction of our planet with us on it.
If you’re unaware, let me tell you, climate change is a real thing and it isn't pretty. Climate change comes in different forms, but it all results in destroying our earth. For example, the global average surface temperature has increased by more than 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to National Geographic. Our daily habits contribute to global warming, such as driving to school or work or just throwing trash on the ground when you can’t find the nearest trash or recycling bin.
According to NASA’s website, the increase in temperature is “a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.” Global warming then leads to extreme weather events and natural disasters. According to NASA, the number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950.
It’s important to discuss these warnings so that action can take place. In the past, we started using more fossil fuels to create things, focusing on how bright and lovely our future will be with a bunch of new technology. But if we keep treating our Earth like this, the only one we have, we won’t be able to replace it like we can replace a broken iPhone. We should work together and help fix it by doing little things like throwing your waste in the trash can, using more reusable items and only driving a car when necessary. It would make our world a much better place to live with cleaner streets that we are proud to walk across, better air to breathe and less trash in the ocean.
When people ask if we understand what's happening to the planet we say yes, but we often don't do anything to help make the world better. Let me be the pair of glasses you need to see the world, because before you know it there won’t be anything else to see. I know this is scary to think about, but it needs to be said before it's too late. And it's almost too late.
Another thing we can do to address fires is advocate for post-fire seeding. According to National Geographic, it helps suppress and put out fires before they become big. It happens often in North America, but is rare in other parts of the world like Australia. Planting forests with non-native, fire-resistant vegetation can help with land management, as those new plants will be much less likely to burn and therefore spread fire.
Let’s make a commitment to actually doing something about the climate. After reading this, reflect on how your own behavior contributes to climate change, and try and dial it down. It’s the only way to help our planet.
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