Get to Know: Cherise CharleswellWomen's Issues
Tell us about yourself. What got you into politics and how would you define yourself politically (if at all)?
I'm a Womanist, Biocultural anthropologist, and public health specialist who has the understanding that health is much more than the absence of disease or physical injury. In fact, most health disparities are the result of what are referred to as the social determinants of health; and politics, or policy has a great impact on these determinants. Thus rightfully, I am concerned about and monitor what occurs in national and global politics. However, in all honesty, this concern developed at a very young age. I was an inquisitive child who had (and still has) a great interest in history, so when I would watch the news or read the newspapers, I found myself perplexed and asking so many questions regarding social policy. To this day, I am frustrated by how quickly so many forget history when it comes to decision-making.
How did you come to be involved with the Hampton Institute?
I always say that there are good and bad aspects about social media, and one of the positive things is the ability to network. I have met individuals through social media who I consider life-long friends, and that includes my colleagues here at the Hampton Institute. My involvement began after noticing a post for the Women's Issues Chair position on the Facebook Page - Black Feminist Anthropology. I responded, and the rest is history.
What do you think some of the goals of the Institute should be? What does the term "a working-class think tank" mean to you?
I have many goals for the Institute, with the first being that we focus on increasing our readership (and hopefully our sponsorship), and this can be achieve by continuing to produce thought-provoking and engaging content, being responsive to our readers, and developing and adhering to carefully crafted promotions and outreach campaigns; which will identify the Hampton Institute as a formidable and key resource for alternative news analysis and commentary that leaves our audience better informed. Other goals include: finding other ways to interact with our audience, whether it be through webinars or live chats, as well as a HI symposium or conference. There is also a goal of coordinating HI print publications around a series of socio-political topics.
I think the most critical goal for the Institute should be ensuring that we continue to produce thought-provoking quality work, which exemplifies our commitment to research, analysis, and activism. We must remain a credible resource for those who want to have a better understanding of the social and political issues that we write about, and choose to highlight. It is my hope that our work is able to inform the ignorant, mobilize the informed, and help to spark needed social movements. Of course another important goal would be to expand our readership (and hopefully sponsorship) and reach, and that again ties back to ensuring that we are consistent with our delivery of quality and engaging articles; as well as developing and adhering to carefully crafted promotions and outreach campaigns, which will identify the Hampton Institute as a formidable and key resource for alternative news analysis and commentary.
Still, I believe that our goals should include collaborative efforts where we support other grassroots coalitions and organizations, and that includes conducting interviews and highlighting the work that they do. This type of solidarity and information sharing is imperative.
Last, I think that the Institute should continue to find ways to better connect with our readers and collaborators; whether this means through a Conference, symposiums, webinars, podcasts, or by accepting speaking invitations, or guest passes to attend and report on various events of interest. There is also a goal of coordinating HI print publications around a series of socio-political topics.
My views on "working-class think tank" -- In my view a working-class think tank is a coalition of like minded intellectuals (including the self-taught), practitioners, and activists that carry out research, analysis, and advocacy on topics concerning social policy, health, economics, culture and social issues, that greatly affect the working-class. All while keeping in mind that the working class are all those who are wage laborers, who actually "work" for a living, and that includes small business owners, who may pay themselves a wage, but do have to work just as many hours as the rest of us. They are not living off of dividends, investments, and speculative money.
Many would refer to themselves as middle class, instead of working class, in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the poor, but the truth of the matter is that they are both working class, and most people who self-identify as middle class are not more than a few pay checks away from abject poverty; and that is why solidarity is important. That is why understanding who compromises the 99% and advocating for policy change that benefits this group is imperative. The truth is that the "middle class" is nowhere near the rich or wealthy, in terms of accumulative wealth.
What led you to being in your particular department? What makes you so passionate about that area?
Well, being a woman of color, and having to personally deal with the various intersections of race, class, gender, etc. led me to the Women's Issues Department, and it's what also makes me quite passionate about this area. Whether in countries that are viewed as post-industrial, "developing" or parts of the Global South, as well as those that are conservative and traditional, women and girls continue to deal with inequities in pay, barriers to social mobility, access to healthcare-- even here in the United States, because that again is tied to economics in this country, access to education, and more. Globally, women and girls are still exploited and exposed to high rates of violence. Highly watched sporting events like the World Cup or the Super Bowl also happen to be places where you will find the highest rates of forced child labor in the form of prostitution.
Considering all of this, how could I not be passionate about the status of girls and women? I understand that you can measure how progressive a nation is and gauge how economically developed it is by looking at the status of its women and girls. A nation cannot expect to prosper when slightly more than half of its population remains oppressed.
What are some of your political goals? What does "the revolution" look like to you?
At the moment, my political goals are definitely not to run for or seek any form of public office. I already sit on a number of professional Governing Boards, and I realize that political or bureaucratic process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Thus, my efforts may be more useful through political advocacy and leveraging my other leadership positions in order to influence policy and legislators.
For me, "the revolution" is really the "awakening," and for this reason it is truly not going to be televised, as so eloquently stated by Gil Scott Heron. That is mainly due to the fact that television programming is controlled by corporations who benefit from people remaining plugged into the Matrix, remaining uninformed, and thus unwilling to change their plight and better their lives. In other words, it helps to keep them ignorant and complacent. So, the revolution is going to have to be brought about by other means, through resources like The Hampton Institute, which bring valuable information directly to the reader and provide them a great deal of insight on various topics that impact their lives.
When revolution is brought about, the well-informed masses will proceed with holding their politicians accountable, or doing away with them. They would know their elected officials voting records and the policies and legislation that they supported, which did not benefit the country -- such as the Republican House that voted over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act; and of course offered no alternative solution. The revolution will require societal re-structuring, ending monopolies, and implementing wealth distribution that will change our current global system of economic inequality, which is creating a system of modern feudalism. Eventually the masses will grow tired of eating the crumbs of cake that are tossed to them, and that awakening will likely be explosive. That is revolution.
What books and/or authors would you suggest to others?
Being asked to compile a list of book and/or author suggestions is a form of torture for me. So, I am going to provide this brief list of the first few that comes to mind, at this very moment (In no particular order) :
Michelle Alexander - The New Jim Crow, Alex Haley - Roots, Angela Davis- Women, Race, & Class, Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn - Voices of a People's History of the United States, Jared Diamond - Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond -Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Arundhati Roy - An Ordinary Persons Guide To Empire, Arundhati Roy - The Cost of Living, Arundhati Roy - Capitalism: A Ghost Story, Robert Reich - Aftershock: Inequality for all, Chancellor Williams - Destruction of Black Civilizations: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 BC to 2000 AD, Ayaan Hirshi Ali- Infidel: My Life, Daisy Daisy Hernandez & Bushra Rehman - Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, bell hooks - Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, Charisse Jones - Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America, Marta Moreno Vega & Marinieves Alba -- Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora, James Baldwin - Notes of a Native Son, Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man, Adam Hochschild - King Leopold's Ghost, Maylei Blackwell - Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios, Noam Chomsky - Understanding Power,
What media sources do you use to keep up on current events?
I come across new sources often. The few that I will mention are: (In no particular order) The Nation Magazine, TruthOut.org, Aljazeera, kpfk.org public-funded, corporate free radio, (90.7FM in the Los Angeles area & surrounding communities), BBC World News, Common Dreams, For Harriet. Crunk Feminist Collective, The Feminist Wire, Rhandi Rhodes.com, RH Reality Check, The Huffington Post, Huff Post Black Voices, The Progressive Radio Network, Counter Current News, American Public Health Association's The Nation's Health and Public Health Newswire, Mother Jones, New Politics Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Bitch Magazine, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Women of Color Network, Bluestockings Magazine, On The Issues Magazine, Black Agenda Report, The Raw Story, Cultures of Resistance, Reader Supported News, Daily Kos, PBS News Wire, Reuters, The Independent, The Guardian.
Other websites, think tanks, and social media sites of these organizations, which are updated often: Health Equity Institute, AWID women's rights, National Partnership For Women, Institute for New Economic Thinking, Socialist Alliance, Guerilla Feminism, SOLIDARITY: a socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization, Economic Policy Institute, Institute for Latin American Studies, CODE RED for gender justice, 1804 Caribbean Voices,
My tip: Subscribe to as many alternative sources as possible and follow these sites on social media. The amount of information is astounding, and you will never hear about the topics during the mainstream media news cycle.
What kind of music do you listen to? What are some of your favorite foods?
I'm of Caribbean heritage and my step family is West African, which means that I was exposed to a wide variety of music all of my life. I have a genuine love for music, and often be the first person that you will spot on the dance floor. I listen to soca, calypso, reggae, reggae-ton, dancehall, zouk, merengue, soul, r&B. funk, afrobeat, highlife, rock/alternative rock, and some hip hop (when one can find artists or songs void of misogynist lyrics). Either way, I have quite eclectic ears.
I am a Vegetarian, and some of my favorite foods are those from Caribbean cuisine: Johnny cakes, curry dishes, jerk dishes, and tarts (coconut, pineapple, and guava) which are popular deserts in the Virgin Islands. I am also quite partial to Italian pasta dishes, Greek salads, and many other cuisines. Now, when it comes to food addictions, I am addicted to avocados (Pears to all my Caribbean folks!), cashews, bananas, and Nori seaweed.
What (apolitical thing) makes you happy? What are your hobbies or interests?
I'm the quintessential nerd, so finding a quiet space and the time to read at my leisure makes me very happy. Also, while in a quiet space, I like to write poetry or journal entries. Perhaps one day I will publish my memoirs. My other hobbies include cooking and trying out new recipes, listening to music and dancing like nobody is watching --- even if I'm in a room filled with people, relaxing on the beach, going hiking, traveling -- especially to international destinations!, and crafting-- which includes making jewelry and accessories.