Date of Interview: Aug 21, 2018
Name: Ariel Atkins
How often do you bathe or shower?
I try to shower every day, but a lot of times it ends up every other day. I shower every other day, and then I take baths whenever I need to take a bath. Like, if I’m stressed out or if I just really feel like I need a self-care day. And then in this apartment, I can see the TV from the tub. So [laughter]. But most of the time I like to either read or listen to music. It’s a good place to think. I like the tub a lot. We used to take a lot of baths when I was kid so, whenever I meet people who are like, “Oh, I don’t like baths. They’re weird.” Like, “Y’all are weird.” Baths are the best thing in the world.
How does bathing now compare to when you were a kid?
I think other than when it was required when you were a kid and you didn’t want to take one– Did you ever do the thing where your mom’s like, “Go take a bath,” and then you just run the water for a long time and come out like, “I totally took a bath.” You just sit there. It would have been less work for you to just take the bath [laughter]. But instead, you like sit, and wait, and run water. Oh, it’s the dumbest thing. So, then it was a chore but, sometimes it was play. And that was fun. And now it’s like a moment that I can take to myself. And that’s really important because I don’t think I get a whole lot of those. So it’s really nice to be able to just take a bath and ignore everything else for a bit.
If you were an underwater creature, which one would you be?
Okay. This is really interesting because I read Wild Seed by Octavia Butler recently. I know. It’s so good. The character is Abu– No. That’s not her name. I cannot remember her name at the moment, and I’m so sorry. She becomes a dolphin and lives as a dolphin for a long time and talks about how intelligent they are and how loving they are, and this idea of family. And so I feel like I would probably be a dolphin if I was anything. Like constantly traveling and trying to take care of everybody else. Such is my life.
How does that manifest in your everyday life?
Just constantly checking in on people and being an activist. I think that’s one of the biggest things that brings me to being an activist is I feel like I can’t sit back and watch anything. Anything wrong that’s happening, I feel like, as an able-bodied person, as an intelligent person, that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Which feels really good, but also is very stressful. Very stressful. I’m passionate about Black Lives. I’m passionate about helping people, but mostly, in this moment, helping my people then all people. A lot of my focus is in decriminalizing Black Lives. Decriminalizing poor people. And then, hopefully, getting us to a point where we can fight poverty in stronger ways, clearer ways. So, like right now, the way that we think of poverty, I think, as a whole, as a country, is just like, “Oh, people are poor; people aren’t working hard enough,” as opposed to really looking at it for what it is, which is there would not be poverty if there wasn’t capitalism. And so people have to be poor in order for people to be incredibly wealthy. People have to be poorer in order for there to be these different levels of goals that you’re reaching for. There has to be a bottom, and it shouldn’t be that way, especially in a country and in a world where there’s so much wealth. And, of course, what also goes into that are what keeps capitalism going when you’ve got racist systems, such as policing, and, of course, the prison system, so pretty much the justice system as a whole. Everything that goes into– When you break it all down, it just all goes back to capitalism [laughter]. And so, I guess, in the end, I’m fighting capitalism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. You can’t have capitalism without poverty. You can’t have capitalism without anything that is oppressive to human beings.
When did activism become your way of life? Or has it always been your way of life?
No. Not always. It’s weird because most people say I’m old for an activist. Once you get to like 20, then everybody’s like, “You’re old for an activist,” because you start at like 15. But I did not have that experience, especially growing up, like I was not comfortable being black at all. I went to high school and middle school at a very white school. And then, just being black growing up, it’s very difficult because you’re constantly being told that you can’t be black, but you are black, and that your life is going to be harder because you are black, and then, you have to work 20 times harder, which was something that my parents hounded into us. Like, “You can’t just get good grades. You have to get great grades. You can’t just speak well. You have to speak eloquently. You have to be better because everyone is going to automatically look at you and see less.” And so it was very frustrating. So I was very uncomfortable being black. And, oh, this is going to be sappy. But it wasn’t until like three years ago, I was– like it had been leading up to this moment because watching the death of Trayvon Martin, Kalief Browder, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, just all these people just being murdered one after the other. And just feeling this increasing discomfort, and while at the same time while all of this is happening, I’m coming to terms with my blackness. And I’m able to say out loud that I’m not comfortable being black, and working through that and becoming very intentional about falling in love with myself and who I am and who I’m supposed to be. And then, one night I was watching the PBS documentary – it had just come out – Vanguard of the Revolution, which is the history of The Black Panther Party. And by the end I was just like– It was kind of like a spiritual experience. I don’t always like to say that, but it was because I just couldn’t stop crying; like my whole body was just crying. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Such a weird thing to say out loud. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And I was like, “This is why. This is it.” I’m moved by the story of Fred Hampton, somebody who had this idea of how you can bring everyone together, and how you can really build a movement, and this strong belief in everything you do should be for the people. And it’s like, “If you’re not doing it for the people, then why are you here? And if you can’t do it right now, there is no later.” Like, “Someday I’m going to do this, or someday I’m going to be involved.” And it’s like, right now, in this moment, I am able-bodied. I have a clear head. I have all this energy. This is what I should be doing and dedicating my life to. And so I was like, “Well, that’s it.” So I spent a year reading as many books as I could and researching. And then, suddenly, you get Trump elected. And I was like, “Well, I guess this year is cut short. I’m just going to have to jump right into it.” And then that was, “Here we are. Here we are.” Oh, God. Yeah.
What do you feel most accomplished with?
I think right now I feel most accomplished with my life. It’s been a very interesting year. So, I deal with depression. This is so much. I deal with depression, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital a few times. That year I decided– The morning after Trump was elected, I was in the emergency room — It was my second stint in a psych ward. So I got out and I was like, “Oh, well, I guess we got to do this now.” But it had been a rough 10 years. And so this last year– I had been on and off of meds for five years because nothing was working. And then I went and saw a new psychiatrist in October. No, November 1st because it was the day after Halloween. No, it was Halloween. I saw her on Halloween. That’s crazy. I saw my psychiatrist for the first time on Halloween. And she was like, “You have bipolar disorder, and we’re going to put you on a mood stabilizer.” And then after a few months, I finally felt the, I guess – what was it? – starting in February or March, I started feeling like a metal plate had been lifted off of my brain, and I had never seen anything so clear. I had never been able to– I started to get up for work again, which I thank God I have a great boss because I could not get to work before 11:00AM for a year. And she still kept me. She’s great. Oh, my God, she’s great. But I couldn’t get to work until like 11:00AM. First, I started getting to work at like 9:30AM. And then I started getting to work at 9:00AM. And then like 8:00AM and 7:00AM. So then I could focus on things. I could do more things at once. I wasn’t having as many breakdowns. And then I realized like, “Oh, I am gay.” I’m not just unhappy. I’m not broken. I am like 100% gay. And then, we should deal with this. And I started, unfortunately, seeing somebody while I was with my partner, my boyfriend at the time. I met someone and started really kind of falling. And I broke up with him, of course, maybe like a week later. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m so sorry.” Because I wasn’t really seeing them. I started talking to them. And I was like, “Okay. This is a big confirmation for me that this is not what I want.” And so I broke up with him, and then, in a month, found an apartment, moved out of that apartment, got into this apartment [laughter], and I’m living my best gay life [laughter], my best very gay life. So this, right now, my life feels like my biggest accomplishment, like being able to get to this point of being able to live alone, which is huge because I wasn’t allowed to do that for a long time. And then being able to be happy in a relationship, which was something that I haven’t been able to do for a long time, and be open about my sexuality. Also, to just be involved in activism and really realizing where my life is supposed to go for the first time. So, it’s been kind of big deal.
What are your thoughts on relationships? Platonic, familial, sexual and otherwise.
I think as long as they’re healthy [laughter], relationships can be really good, I mean are really good. I think that they are– I think it’s for, depending on the person– Like I’m non-monogamous, which is– because I couldn’t be that before. And now I get to be in a relationship where we are in agreement that we are ethically non-monogamous, which is great. And I feel like that works for me because of how I see people and can get to know people. And then, I feel like platonic relationships are really big because my best friends, my friends– I’ve had the same friends since college, and we’re all super close. And I don’t think I would be here without them. I feel like those are super important. I think those might be more important than romantic relationships, honestly, because your friends are always going to be there. The other people come and go. But I’ve had the same friends for almost 10 years now. So it’s like, they’re not going anywhere. They’re going to be here. Even if they piss me off, they’ll be here [laughter]. I guess, overall, I think relationships are super important.