During the recent Golden Globes broadcast, Oprah Winfrey was honored with the Cecile B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement and, in accepting the award, she delivered a helluva speech. Given this current horrid moment in history, we needed her words ...

 

Black Girl in Maine - 5 new articles



Let’s not make a supercharged new Mammy trend, ok?

During the recent Golden Globes broadcast, Oprah Winfrey was honored with the Cecile B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement and, in accepting the award, she delivered a helluva speech. Given this current horrid moment in history, we needed her words and her energy—we needed a momentary respite from the fire and fury of the “very stable genius” who on a daily basis continues to lead our nation down a very dark path.

However, that moment of respite that earned the right for loud applause and a collective “thank you” has turned into very vocal calls for Winfrey to make a run for the White House in 2020. While there are murmurings that she may very well be considering such a step, I have to admit that waking up to a nation pinning its hope on Winfrey isn’t quite sitting right with me (and not just because of the risk of elevating someone else to the highest office in the country based on celebrity like we did with Donald Trump, no matter how much more stable the theoretical next celebrity president might be).

Our nation’s relationship to Black women is complicated at best. Since the first African woman was brought to this country against her will, Black women have been expected to produce for others and take care of others before caring for themselves. Often to the detriment not just of themselves but of their own loved ones. One of the first roles that was designed for Black women in this new country was that of “Mammy.” Traditionally Mammy was the caretaker for the white children and household but over time, even after the legal ending of slavery, there is a vision of Black women that looms large in the American psyche and it is that of the Black woman as caretaker: savior, self-sacrificing and all-giving.

In the past year as this nation continues to grapple with the fallout from the 2016 election, and albeit without intentionality but doing it all the same anyway,  we keep tapping into our psyche for comfort and reassurance and too often, we are looking to Black women to save us. Whether it is the calls for Michelle Obama to consider a run for office, “Auntie” Maxine Waters or now Oprah, we look to Black women to save us from ourselves.

Make no mistake, as a Black woman, I can say that the strength and the grit that is embedded in us as the descendants of a people who endured the unspeakable over and over does not make us unqualified; in fact, we are often far more qualified than our white and male counterparts. But the national conscience that demands our service is far too happy to take away our agency. Michelle Obama has explicitly stated that she has no interest in running for office and yet among progressive/liberal whites too often you will hear Michelle’s name bandied around to this day as if they can draft her to the presidency.

Despite the daily challenges we are facing as a nation, this is an exciting moment where we are potentially poised for a true shift where women—women of color and specifically Black women—are positioned to take the reins and potentially make some real systemic change. But rather than exalting Black women who are not asking to be exalted (and perhaps are not much more qualified to hold certain offices than is our current tangerine nightmare-scream), let us look to the Black women who have already entered politics or have been consciously building their resumes to do so and decide how we can support them.

When we try to exalt those who have not asked to be exalted or press them into public service, we need to examine why we are doing so. Yes, Black women have continued to show up and oftentimes as Black women we do hold a mirror to the collective American face to raise awareness or highlight flaws. But we cannot blindly expect Black women to lead us or to save us from the worst in ourselves if they have not explicitly said that they will play that role. And we must stop asking Black women, explicitly or unconsciously, to wear themselves down to save everyone else, whether at the grassroots level or the top offices of the land. Otherwise we risk reducing Black women to tired tropes and continue the dehumanization of them that for too long has been part of the fabric of our nation.

Better that we respect Black women for what they choose to do and embrace them in their work (rather than use them up and spit them out). Better that we provide the same kind of space for Black women as we do white women (and hopefully one day everyone will get the same room as white men) to be encouraged and uplifted to embrace things like political or other public service from early on. Better that we treat Black women as fully human and give them agency rather than cherry-pick from their ranks someone whom we think will magically save us because of celebrity or personality or reputation.


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How does the president get away with all this dumb sh*t?

This question is everywhere. I see it online, I hear it at the grocery store and I feel it in the air every time his name is spoken, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer it, but I’m gonna warn you right now, you ain’t gonna like it.

A long time ago Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and a bunch of other wealthy, white, male inheritors created a system that benefited them and everyone else of that description. This system assures that wealthy, white, male inheritors, born into positions of vast ownership, will see that ownership as well as their very identities afforded full representation and protection under the law.  Anybody not possessing those four traits has varying degrees less representation and protection.

This also means that there are two sides of the dollar. One side tells the dollar what to do. The other side gets told what to do by the dollar. Wealthy, white, male inheritors are on one side and the rest of us are on the other. They are free. The rest of us just have permission—and not as much as we think.

Now, just so we’re clear, you should know that when I talk about freedom, I’m not making claims on your feelings. Like everything else, this ain’t about your feelings. I hope you feel free as a muhfuckin bird, but please understand that if the president had to live your life for just one goddamn day, each second would feel as though he was serving a sentence of eternity in a space prison.

This is how free he is: Tomorrow he could get on his plane, fly to every continent and buy property on all of them.

This is how little permission you have: You probably couldn’t do even one part of that. Chances are you can’t afford property on every continent. You probably can’t afford property on just this continent. Chances are you don’t own your own plane. You probably couldn’t afford to be a passenger on a world tour, even in coach. He could do all that tomorrow and chances are you couldn’t even get permission to take the day off tomorrow.

But that’s not where their freedom stops. People on that side of the dollar are also free from our morality. For example, paying your bills. If you and I don’t pay our bills, we feel terrible and irresponsible and eventually we will ending up facing civil legal action or criminal charges (depending on what didn’t get paid and why). You know what happens when the president doesn’t pay his bills? He fuckin doesn’t pay his bills. It’s essentially theft, but the same holds true with actual theft. If you get caught stealing a $1 worth of candy from the corner store, you will go to jail. On the other side of the dollar you can get caught stealing billions and billions and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get to keep it. Back on this side of the dollar you couldn’t even steal millions, let alone billions because you don’t even have permission to know where that amount of money is located.

And it ain’t just morals that only exist on our side of the dollar. Intelligence, work ethic, self-esteem, talent… Every single thing that you think is necessary to reach success only counts on our side. This is because the actual level we are trying to reach is that of the wealthy, white, male inheritors. Those four traits are the standard by which we measure not only our success, but our actual worth as citizens.

So, intelligence, for example. The president is an imbecile. It’s obvious on its face. And on his face. I mean, he paints only most of his face and his “hair” various shades of very unhealthy urine. Somehow, some people look past that and think that he must be intelligent because the randomness of his tweets cause such chaos. Or maybe they think he’s made smart business moves or that he’s been clever with tax loopholes or various other actions that are actually taken by his lawyers. In the end, I guess people believe what they want to believe.

In this country, we want to believe that we can earn our way to the other side of the dollar, but you do not earn what you were born with. And no amount of talent or intelligence or self-esteem or work ethic can change the situation of your birth.

It goes the other way as well. I’ll say it again. If you are a wealthy, white, male inheritor, you are born into a position of vast ownership in which that ownership, as well as your very identity have full representation and protection under the law. You can be the most talentless, stupid, self-loathing, lazy, urine-colored muhfucka in the world, and none of that will change the situation of your birth either. Also, it’s not just money we’re talking about here. Family, community, connections, these things are all inherited as well. You can be broke as a joke, but if you’ve got family, community and connections it won’t even matter.

Back before he was the president, he bankrupted a casino, because he’s a stupid person. His dad tried to help bail him out by buying more than $3 million in chips. It turns out that that is illegal, so his dad got a fine of $65,000. I mean, they can call that a fine all they want, but really, that’s a fee.

I could go on and on and on…

So, that’s why he gets away with it. He is a wealthy, white, male inheritor who exists on the other side of the dollar, and don’t think for a second he’s the only one. They are everywhere. Look over to the UK and you’ll see current toast of the town Prince Harry saying all kinds of racist shit and dressing up like a Nazi (and that means something over there. Sure, it’s offensive here, but the UK fought WWII on their own land and it cost them almost 450,000 lives. It’s probably just about the funniest goddamned thing of all time for their own royalty to act like that shit is cute). His stupid-ass uncle was the same way. People on the other side of the dollar get away with it because, while they hold us to account, no one holds them to anything.

“Getting away with it” isn’t even the right phrase because it implies that we hold authority over them, when the opposite is true.

Anyway, the president will never be jailed. You’ll never see his kids jailed. There won’t be trials or charges or anything like that. I know some of you believe in fairness and karma and have faith in a system for which there is no existential evidence. So, if you’re still holding out hope that’s totally fine. In fact, I welcome you to argue your points at the public debates I’ll be holding tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 p.m. right outside the courtroom where all the other criminal, wealthy, white, male inheritors are usually put on trial.


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Why, people, must you misunderstand wypipo?

“People blackfacing with their emojis: What’s up with that?”

That was a Facebook status I had recently posted. At the outset, I knew the post had the potential to spiral out of control, but I was genuinely curious.

Shortly after I posted, people began putting in their two cents on the topic. For the most part, it was an echo chamber as can be expected with most social media these days.

Soon, the conversation turned from emojis to GIFs and whether it was acceptable for white folks to use GIFs depicting Black folks.

Someone said that “wypipo” don’t often comprehend that some GIFs are culturally unique. His point was that white people using GIFs of Black people doing uniquely Black things is a form of “digital cultural appropriation.”

It was an interesting perspective that I thought contributed to the conversation.

But a few moments later, an onslaught of replies came in by white people claiming that the term “wypipo” was politically incorrect, racist, racially insensitive, divisive, and to the detriment of race relations in America.

I was admittedly boggled by these characterizations. I’ve always consider the term “wypipo” to be tongue-in-cheek, maybe a little snarky, but I never saw it as racist.

If you are unfamiliar, “wypipo”—a phonetic version of “white people”—is often used when talking on social media about problematic, insensitive, and rude attitudes displayed by white folks oftentimes as they relate to racism and white supremacy.

Similar terms have emerged recently in the digital lexicon of people of color, terms like “Becky” for example.

Popularized by Beyoncé, “Becky” has emerged as a name for a white woman who, according to this article from The Root, “uses her privilege as a weapon, a ladder or an excuse.”

It’s a term that is generally reserved for those white women who utilize, underappreciate, and remain willfully ignorant of the challenges white supremacy places on Black women and Black people.

“Becky” is someone who weaponizes her privilege. In this way, it’s a defensive term rather than one whose sole purpose is to offend.

Terms like “Becky” and “wypipo” do not perpetuate a racial divide; rather, they highlight an existing one. They are a sarcastic reply to a system that seeks to devalue and undermine people of color. They are defense rather than offense. They are words uttered by people who have been wronged. They are expressions of frustration.

Conversely, words invented by white folks to characterize people of color have had only one purpose: to cause harm and to assert white supremacy.

It’s a common theme that arises when looking at names invented between the oppressed and the oppressor.

OFFENSEDEFENSE
kikegoy
niggerhonky
faggotbreeder

By reading the chart above, you will notice that the words in the left column carry more weight than those in the right. To notice this inequity is to realize the power dynamics at play when assessing the harm certain slurs cause.

Through that lens, any way that “wypipo” might reinforce racial tensions is far outweighed by its more egregious impetus: white supremacy.

To assert that there is some sort of double standard at play is to ignore the power dynamics.

If you are white person who is offended or troubled by the phrase “wypipo,” don’t be mistaken: the perpetrator behind your frustration is not in fact the speaker of the word but rather the system of white supremacy from which it derives.

Instead of jumping down the throat of the Black person who says “wypipo,” take a step back and try to appreciate why someone might use such a term. (Hint: it’s not to offend or oppress you.)

Uncomfortable conversations about race are can potentially be the most productive conversations about race. In this new digital age, we are communicating in different ways and with change comes new challenges and learning opportunities. Memes, GIFs, emojis, as well as words like “wypipo” are giving us new ways to discuss race. It’s important we work to understand these new forms of communication, however awkward it may feel.


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Calling all white people, part 23: No hostage-taking please

Calling All White People, Part 23

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Don’t hold people of color hostage to your oversensitivity  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Has it long been your dream to hold a gun to someone’s head or a knife to their throat and force them to do something?

Have you longed to kidnap someone and then demand a ransom for their safe release?

Do you have a deep and burning desire to extort someone who has done you absolutely no harm?

If the answers to any of these questions is “yes” I cannot imagine you’ve cared what I’ve had to say in 22 previous “Calling all white people” columns here but hey, rhetorical questions for the snappy intro, right?

The impetus for these three stark questions comes from BGIM’s most recent post on this site, “A little bit of this, a little of that” (yes, I know, one of my columns recently was also inspired by one of her posts; I promise this won’t be a regular new trend). Around halfway through that post, she noted:

A few days ago, I shared a piece over on the BGIM Facebook page by a fellow blogger that admittedly had an inflammatory title but which I believed had the ability to stimulate a deeper discussion. Instead, the conversation was derailed by individuals who believed that I was issuing a call to kill old white people despite never saying such a thing. I lost a day to a slew of messages from individuals expressing their disappointment in me and in some cases threatening to pull their support. The most fascinating part of this was that I did not write the piece, It was written by a middle-aged white man who is on his own journey of grappling with white supremacy.

Being aware of the story she shared and its admittedly provocative headline (and the fact that the writer of the story she shared was a white man dealing with his own attempts to confront racism in himself and the world)—plus being both nosy and concerned—I of course asked BGIM if she would be willing to share a bit more about what the hell happened.

One of the most shocking things about BGIM’s response to me was to discover how one particular irritating and pesky complainer had essentially (to paraphrase) said the following:

Not only am I bothered by the headline of the article you shared (ignoring entirely the actual content and intent of the piece) but you have a strong voice and have power in the world to shape opinions, BGIM, and so you should be careful what you say. Because if you make white people uncomfortable, we might not want to be allies and we won’t give you money.

Wow. I hope that most of you can see that’s a form of extortion—a kind of holding hostage of BGIM. And it’s not just against BGIM, of course; it’s the kind of thing said often to many who fight against social inequities or are activists. Don’t be too harsh with those of us who are part of the group primarily oppressing you. Don’t be too blunt. Don’t make us feel bad. Don’t make us consider our own flaws. Don’t do anything that would make this social justice thing feel icky. Make us feel good that we are even listening to you and maybe sort of caring a little or we will abandon you—or maybe even go to the other side to spite you.

First off, folks, is there really any warm and fuzzy way to make people confront racism and other nasty -isms, especially when their friends, family and probably they themselves are doing racist and bigoted things both big and small—probably multiple times a day?

The very subject matter is uncomfortable. We need to feel uncomfortable. Who among us is generally willing to change our bad habits or obnoxious behaviors to which we have become accustomed unless we are made to question those actions and realize others find them alarming or objectionable?

I am deeply offended by the notion of people who think themselves allies of Black people or Native American people or women or LGBTQ people or whomever and then make demands that they be treated with special delicacy or extra affection. They want head-pats, they want “ally cookies,” they want to be told they’re different from the bigots, they want to be given permission to say things like the n-word, etc. etc. etc. That’s not allyship; that’s performance. It’s a sham.

I don’t (usually) treat people with decency so that they will thank me. To do so makes the entire act an illusion—it makes it a narcissistic, self-serving bit of theater. Handing someone a gift I know is made out of something toxic but smiling while I do it.

To tell people of color or any marginalized or abused group of people to make their allies feel good and also to present their wider message to the public more nicely so that they don’t turn off people who are on the fence or anger people who were never going to stand with them anyway is an act of social and personal terrorism. You are basically holding that person hostage with an implied (or not-so-subtle much of the time) threat that you will harm them if they don’t do things in a toned-down, whitewashed way that you prefer. To be honest, that makes you one of the enemies of social justice. You don’t really want equity or change. You want capitulation and assimilation. You want people on the margins to toe the line, know their place and do what you say.

You just don’t want to hurt them quite as badly as the outright evil people.

That doesn’t make you a hero. It doesn’t even make you a decent person.

It makes you a somewhat reluctant but still willing henchman to the big, bad villain.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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A little bit of this, a little of that…Let’s talk racism and next steps

As someone who has written about racism since 2003 and been the head of an anti-racism organization since 2014, my focus on racism as a social ill is rarely personal.  I couldn’t care less what individual white people think of me because, on a personal level, it’s rare that said person has the ability to impact my life. The problem, however, is that for those of us in racial justice and other spaces that intersect with race, we are aware that for the white layperson on the street, racism is perceived as a matter of personal choice. And, in the era of Trump, rather than go deeper in analysis of how ingrained it is and how pervasive it is—and how much of a power imbalance exists between white people and people of color in America—instead it becomes easy to talk about “hate on both sides.”

The problem with this analysis is that hate on both sides is not a real thing in a country built on the foundation of white supremacy. Prejudice on both sides? Bigotry? Absolutely. Learned reaction to systemic oppression and personal bigotry on both sides? Yes. But racism on both sides? Not possible.

However, in order to understand such a framework requires understanding what exactly racism is and why it is embedded in the DNA of our culture.

In short, racism involves power plus privilege and it operates on four levels: internal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural. Most of the work that has been done in righting racial wrongs has occurred at the internal and interpersonal levels, with barely a glance at the institutional and cultural.

Our national inability to shift the institutional and cultural lens on racism is in large part due to our scattered and surface approach to racism, which centers white ways of being as the cultural norm and assumes that if everyone else assimilates and thus becomes palatable to the white gaze, then our race problems will dissipate. The problem with this approach is that after the Civil Rights work of the 1950s and 1960s, combined with the diversity work of the late 1980s through 1990s, very little has changed at the structural level. The vast majority of power, privilege and money is situated in the hands of white people who have had a multi-generational head start in accruing wealth.

Even in looking at the election of our first Black president, white people personally chose to vote for Obama but little was done to shift the racial infrastructure; hence, under our country’s first Black president, Black people saw little in the way of societal gains. Black wealth did not accrue, we saw an increase in extrajudicial killings of Black people and by all indicators, the racial scales were not balanced. In fact, a Black president in the White House seemed instead to intensify racism among white people. Obama’s win was a psychic but ultimately hollow victory for Black people—made worse by the election of Donald J. Trump whose “Make America Great Again” was the ultimate dog whistle to take America back to a time where white people were in charge and non-white, Christian, non heterosexual people would know their place.

Despite a year filled with overt racism that is openly espoused by our commander-in-chief, we are no closer to unity in large part because working towards solutions requires a level of  honest dialogue that, frankly, many white people are not ready to have at this time.

A few days ago, I shared a piece over on the BGIM Facebook page by a fellow blogger that admittedly had an inflammatory title but which I believed had the ability to stimulate a deeper discussion. Instead, the conversation was derailed by individuals who believed that I was issuing a call to kill old white people despite never saying such a thing. I lost a day to a slew of messages from individuals expressing their disappointment in me and in some cases threatening to pull their support. The most fascinating part of this was that I did not write the piece, It was written by a middle-aged white man who is on his own journey of grappling with white supremacy.

I don’t believe that I erred in sharing the piece, but what surprised me was the chorus of white people who were emphatic in their declaration that neither they nor their loved ones are racist. That’s great, if that’s actually the case, but this is not about individual white people. This is not about your one family. This is about a nation that centers whiteness. This is about a country that has privileged white skin at every conceivable turn while systematically denying the humanity of black and brown bodies, This is about finding the courage to say that without shame or guilt as a white person but understanding that the only path forward to breaking this cycle is by not getting defensive but instead actively working to dismantle the systems that we all live within and operate under. It’s about being intentional. It’s about looking around in our communities and asking: How can we change things? How can we break the hold of toxic whiteness that holds us all back? It’s about asking why are white women voting against their own interests as women but instead upholding white supremacy when they vote for the Trumps and the Moores of the world. It’s about breaking through the white fragility that lashes out at people like me who ask these questions—and asking yourself: How do I move beyond my white  fragility?

One of the criticisms that I hear often is that I don’t provide solutions to the problem. I would counter that I do but that we as a collective haven’t done the work to move forward. Instead we are trapped in a cycle that for many white people is hard to escape. In part because of the seductive allure of whiteness that makes conversations about race and difference an option and not the matter of survival that it is for many people of color, especially Black people. Until these conversations become urgent for all of us, nothing changes because we will continue our scattered and surface approach rather than a strategic overhauling of all that harms us. 

At the end of the day, that’s the solution. Changing the entire framework of our country and all of its systems of operation to embrace difference and make a truly level playing field. The problem isn’t that me and others don’t have solutions. The problem is that most white Americans don’t really want that level of change. And so that is the first thing we have to do: Convince them it’s worth doing. Telling me that you and your family going back a couple generations aren’t racist or overreacting to the headline of someone else’s piece of writing that I share doesn’t do that. It just centers you and your whiteness and ignores the larger picture.  If you and your family aren’t racist, that’s a good but small start. Now start convincing the white people around you to reject their racism (Oh, and before you pat yourself on the back too much, dig a litter deeper to see what kind of prejudices you still might actually carry toward some or all non-white people and the ways you may subtly undermine them or hold them back.)


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

 

 
 
   
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