So just recently the Met Gala, also known as the Met Ball, took place. It is an annual for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in New York City. Celebrities, writers, directors, rappers and other people of interest follow ...

 

Black Girl in Maine - 5 new articles



Racial tensions and the Drag community

So just recently the Met Gala, also known as the Met Ball, took place. It is an annual for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City. Celebrities, writers, directors, rappers and other people of interest follow the theme that was set forth when choosing outfits, and this year the theme was ‘Camp’ (everyone got a book on Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’). Some people got it, others didn’t. Lena Waithe, screenwriter, actress and all-around fucking amazing human wore this:

The back of their suit says, “Black Drag Queens Inventend Camp” (yes the misspelling is intentional). The stripes on her suit were lyrics from “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross and Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”

Waithe’s jewelry buttons featured the faces of LGBTQ+ icons RuPaul, Dorian Corey, Freddie Pendavis, Octavia St. Laurent, Paris Dupree, Pepper LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza, and Willi Ninja; all prominent black drag queens. Watch Paris is Burning and you’ll know: Black drag queens did in fact invent camp and it is a “crucial way of capturing and expressing the zeitgeist of any time period in culture.” (Harper’s Bazaar, Fisher, May 2019)

In the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, Drag Queen RuPaul plays a bit part; a character that goes by the name Rachel Tensions, in where she is wearing a dress resembling the confederate flag. This becomes such an iconic moment in this 1990s comedy.

Both of these instances of iconic fashion open up the conversation of race and queerness within the Drag community. I am a HUGE fan of Drag. The history, the glamor, the gossip, the audacity, the tea. Everything about drag, for me is perfect. It is a culmination of camp, the absurd, but also the honest. Drag will tell you the truth before anyone else will. Which is why season 10’s contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race (RDPR), The Vixen, is such an iconic queen. 

Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is a good place to start talking about the racial tensions in the drag community even though they’ve existed since the time of Marsha P. Johnson. It is a good place to start because this is when the political aspects of Drag were brought into the public sphere. I am positive these conversations had been happening in other facets and pockets within the Drag community, but it was the first time that I feel a huge audience was seeing it; after all, a whopping 468,000 people watched season 10 in 2018. RPDR, in my opinion, has always been good about bringing the stories of LGBTQIA+ to a more mainstream audience. It began to foster understanding about the struggles and triumphs of that community.

The reason that season 10 was different is because the conversation of race came to the forefront of drag.

The Vixen, who is a “militant black queen” was unjustly cast as “a villain” in that season because she was always speaking up for what she believe in. She received so much hate that season for her words and actions. During that season, she got into it a number of times with another white queen who is known for her racial remarks (all lives matter and BS like that posted on her Instagram).

During her eight-episode arc on RPDR, she always firmly stood her ground and was always the one to speak up to defend herself, which people on and off the show began to refer to as “poking the bear” because she was always at a 10 and was always advocating for herself and for what she believed in. She, in her own words, choose to be “herself despite the repercussions.” but it seemed like anything she said was met with repercussions. She couldn’t get a word in edgewise without someone clapping back and tone-policing her.

At the end of RPDR, before the finale of crowning a new queen, there is always a reunion that invites all the queens back for a sit-down with RuPaul to discuss the season. It was during this segment that the multiple conflicts with other queens and The Vixen was brought up and it sent The Vixen to utter the iconic phrase “Everybody’s telling me how I should react but nobody’s telling her how to act” and promptly storm off the stage. The reason this phrase is so iconic is because it clearly shows the disparity of believing people of color and actually admitting that racism exists! All throughout season 10 and probably The Vixen’s own life, has she been met with hostility. Which is why she protects herself. She advocated and stands up for herself. Because she has too, nobody else will.

In light of all of the tensions that season 10 brought, there was amazing things to come out of it. Since 2016, The Vixen has had a successful show in Chicago called Black Girl Magic, which features other Black queens, that still runs today. It also showed the disparity and vitriol that is spewed at the Black queens from the RPDR fandom and how other Queens (white, Latina, Asian) are stepping up against it. It is bringing this Drag community together and realizing that it does have problems that need to be addressed. Even Ru herself has had to be confronted with the issue of race, because of the disparity of Black queens and Black-centric challenges on the show.

The Vixen is an all-around memorable part of RPDR, but she should be remembered for bringing this conversation of race to the forefront of everyone’s minds (and for being an all around beautiful and talented queen). Not for being a “villain” but for being a hero that championed herself and her thoughts and feelings to vulnerably open this conversation on race even further.


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Invisibly disabled at the intersection of marginalized identities

I knew something was wrong long before I was diagnosed. I was gaining weight. I was reasonably active or at least maintaining a certain level of activeness. I was a healthy eater. I didn’t fry anything but an egg and rarely that. I didn’t eat canned foods. I made baked goods with almond meal and smoothies with only soy milk and agave nectar. I sautéed my kale with fresh mango slices. And I was gaining weight. Continually.

Then I noticed I was budgeting energy the same way one figures out how long can their last $5 last them and on what. I don’t even know when it began. Just one day I realized that I was daily mentally negotiating: If I take a shower now, then I won’t have enough strength to get dressed and go to work. Gotta pick one or the other.

I’d go to bed at night. Sleep all night. A full night. Wake up in the morning. And within an hour or two, I was so sleepy, so exhausted, it felt like I had not slept at all. A tiredness deep in my bones that I can only liken to my last-week-of-full-term-pregnancy-with-an-eight-pound-baby-sitting-low-in-my-uterus tired. Every. Frigging. Day.

Something was definitely wrong.

The first folks to teach me that nobody gave a flip about signs of chronic illness in a Black woman’s body were the good doctors I saw at a west suburban Chicago hospital. I went specifically because of the weight gain. That was the red flag, oddly enough, that concerned me the most.

See, I was born with a congenital knee defect. I wore braces on my legs as a baby and walked fine, but somewhere around puberty, my knees started slipping out of place. After my father got me in to a specialist at The Shriner’s Hospital, I was given big shiny blue metal Forrest Gump leg braces and told to stop doing all the cool flexible stuff I could do with my legs because it was making it harder for my ligaments to remain tight enough to hold my knees in place. My teenage self, as can be expected, was not very gung-ho for these recommendations. And unfortunately, my knees never stopped slipping out of place and became even less stable anytime I regularly exercised. Then there was the little problem of not being able to breathe when exerting myself beyond walking due to damage from second-hand smoke as a child. And the thing about breathing is, it’s incredibly essential to being able to exercise.

That’s why the continual weight gain caused me the most alarm. Something was causing me to gain weight that had nothing to do with my actions or inaction, and if it continued, I knew my body literally could not engage in the very activities that could reverse the weight gain; i.e., lots of aerobic exercise.

So back to those good doctors at that hospital in Chicago. I came in. I explained the issue—that I had a job that kept me physically active, I had a healthy diet, never really ate junk food or very large portions, and I was incredibly concerned that I was continually gaining weight for what appeared to be no reason at all.

He processed nothing I said. He looked at my melanin and my Medicaid and decided that I was a poor Black fried chicken- and hog maws-eating caricature of an ignorant Aunt Jemima. To his admonishment that I not eat fried foods and change my diet and get exercise, I responded to the 400-pound White male doctor, “Sir. I can almost guarantee you that I eat healthier than you do. I already eat healthy. That’s why I’m here. I’m gaining weight, and it doesn’t make sense because of my diet and activity.” (And I mention his weight here not as fat shaming, but because: irony. So much hypocritical irony.)

Feeling desperate, I continued to list off my other troubling symptoms. He proceeded to tell me that he was writing me a prescription. He had run no tests. Taken no diagnostics. Done no due diligence. Ignored all patient history. And was writing me a prescription. He saw my melanin and my Medicaid and assumed I had not the education nor exposure to know what he was prescribing. He was wrong. I have a degree from Northwestern University and a career in a field that works closely with other disciplines such as medical physicians, psychiatrists and social workers. I work extensively with individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illness diagnoses. I knew what the prescription was. It was a psychotropic medication. And I knew the potential side effects included severe disruptions in psychological function. I literally would be putting my mind on the line.

“Sir. I know this medication, and the side effects are severe. You’ve not taken any psychological evaluations. You’re prescribing it for an off-label reason. I have no problem considering the medication. But if I’m going to put myself at risk, I just need you to tell me why you’re prescribing it.” He gave me no reason. He grew irate. He left the room and returned with a White woman doctor — his supervising physician — and they proceeded to angrily scold my refusal to do whatever they said like a toddler…and lecture me in the most infantilizing racist tone about not eating fried chicken and junk food. I was neither refusing to take the medication nor did I have a diet that regularly consisted of fried foods. But when all you see is melanin and Medicaid…

I was so traumatized by that experience that I did not attempt to seek medical intervention again for quite some time. It would be another four years before I would be diagnosed with lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome and fibromyalgia. The physician that diagnosed me sat in disbelief when he asked me if the previous doctors had run this test and that test, basic tests—and the answer to them all was “No, Sir. They didn’t.”

Lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome and fibromyalgia are three of many chronic autoimmune diseases referred to as “invisible illnesses” or “invisible disabilities.” Unfortunately, my story is not an unique fluke, but rather representative of the pervasive medical misogynoir that exists in America. Think Progress reported that “patients of color also received fewer recommended treatments for chronic illness, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and heart disease. Differences in practitioner-patient interaction played a part in widening disparities.” And is any of it any wonder when one survey of White doctors revealed that some doctors don’t even believe Black people possess the ability to feel pain as much as White bodies do?

I think, for me, I often avoid outwardly identifying as disabled because frankly, in my experience, either no one cares or it puts me at even greater risk for things like loss of employment than I already am as a Black woman, especially in my field. I’ve already got a target on my back thanks to misogynoir. Adding disabled only sharpens the visibility of the bullseye. I’m a single mom that already feels like I’m running for my life. Publically or verbally identifying as disabled rarely protects me. It usually just makes me more vulnerable.

Someone might suggest that my not typically identifying as “disabled” is a form of internalized ableism. And that may be true for some who, in essence, utilize the societal privilege inherent in having a disability that no one can readily see (or at least not be able to see on a good day; bad days are a different story). But in my life, it boils down to what I can afford to risk. I have to survive. I can’t jeopardize my ability to feed my children. So I work hard to hide it and keep a roof over our heads because jobs have no incentive to believe the alternative: that I have a disability but can still be productive.

Thus, I rarely use the term to self-identify in the world. But every day, every pain, meds, every symptom I push and struggle through or some days don’t quite make it through like I hoped to reminds me in my private thoughts that I am disabled. I want to emphasize that my experience is just that — my experience. Does every Black woman with chronic invisible illness go through these things or deal with them the way that I have? No. Are Black women by and large subjected to and harmed by a medical system and community that is too anti-Black racist to effectively help us the way their Hippocratic oath demands that they should? Yes. And we all wade through that toxic water the best we can, the best we know how, to whatever varying degrees we are individually affected. Chronic illness is hard enough. Employer and medical racism makes everything so much harder.


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White supremacy stays strong thanks to white liberals

Last week I had an exchange on Twitter that gave me a tiny glimpse into the disrespect and dismissal Black people face at every turn in our anti-Black country. It was infuriating and offensive. The white woman with strong ties to the establishment Democrats was rude and close-minded. Without calling her out directly, I’m going to review how she upheld white supremacy in ways I’ve done in the past. More importantly, I’m going to share with you what I try do differently now.

First, when another white person is acting in line with white supremacy, it angers me. I use that anger as a cue to look at myself. I wanted to tell her to “eff” off, but that’s a luxury I don’t afford myself anymore. I don’t shut the door on white liberals who are still stuck in the denial I was in; the denial I can continue to be in if I’m not mindful about my own racism.

Second, I’m new to confronting or interrupting racism. I don’t always see it when it’s there. When I do see it, I’m never quite sure what the right response is. And, if I see it and I do know how to respond, I decide if I’m in it on a committed level or in passing. Either is okay, but I think about it. I don’t want to get bogged down in white culture’s insistence on perfectionism, but I also don’t want to thoughtlessly cause more harm.

When this woman tweeted using the phrase “women and African Americans” it rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve come to hear that phrasing as erasing Black women. Honestly, I don’t know where I’ve heard it over the years, but I know in my gut that I’ve heard Black women say that phrasing like that is harmful. In my own opinion I think it’s ugly. I think there’s an underlying assumption in our white supremacist culture that Black women don’t count fully as women. Any time we aren’t explicit that we mean “all women” when we say “women” it’s adding to the “white as default” use of the term and that’s harmful.

The woman responded not with openness but with defensiveness. In her defensive response, I recognized my old behaviors. I remember being so afraid of being racist that if someone told me I was doing something racist, I might have found fault in their opinion. Protecting my self-identity as not-racist was more important than anything.

She defended her use of the phrase, saying “All experts in the field use this terminology,” and “we all know that views of subgroups within particular groups can vary.” Yes, of course, “women and African Americans” is used commonly, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. As Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Summarizing the exchange: I told her that I’d heard Black women say the phrasing “women and [racial/ethnic group]” was harmful to them. I’ve come to hear it that way myself. It grates on me to hear it phrased that way. It seems to me a simple adjustment of the phrase would be easy, “women of all races and African Americans of all genders.” See how easy that is? But instead of being interested about what Black women have said, she defended her [mis]use of the phrase and expected evidence or proof from some authoritative source.

That’s the next aspect of white supremacy in this woman’s response: Only institutionally recognized sources will be considered valid. I, too, used to put academic or expert citations on a pedestal. General statements based on feelings, intuition, or word-of-mouth are typically dismissed by white supremacy. Instead of evoking curiosity, my tweet was met with disrespect. I’m not a blue check account with thousands of followers and I have no advanced degrees or obvious popular forms of expertise. It reminded me of when I was dealing with DHS (getting food stamps/SNAP benefits and MaineCare) and was treated with more disrespect than I’d ever experienced before. My knowledge alone didn’t count to this woman; imagine how a solitary Black woman speaking up would be treated? White culture, supporting white supremacy, has a limited view of whose voices are valid.

The exchange went on and there were more displays of white supremacy, but this post here is already getting too long. To dismantle white supremacy, we need to change how we value human experiences and voices. We need to live in love, justice, open-mindedness, and curiosity. We need to listen and break patterns if we want our systems to change.

P.S. I told the woman it wasn’t my job to prove anything to her. I was wrong about that. Part of my “job” as a white person in recovery from whiteness is to share useful information with other white people. So, to the woman on Twitter I present just a couple sources she might consider “valid” enough to pique her curiosity. I am confident if she explores the issue with an open mind, she will find it generally confirmed beyond these two links that the phrasing she defended is harmful: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477987/ and https://upcolorado.com/about-us/blog/item/2843-the-problem-with-the-phrases-women-and-minorities-and-women-and-people-of-color.


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Quiz time! How different are Joe Biden and Donald Trump, really?

Donald Trump and Joe Biden are pretty similar guys, and no, I’m not just talking about their age. Or their hair plugs. They’ve also shared world views. For instance, in 1975, while Trump was being forced into an agreement not to discriminate against renters of color, Biden was also fighting integration by sponsoring anti-busing legislation. In 1990, referencing the famously racist 1988 George HW Bush campaign ad, Biden said, “one of my objectives, quite frankly, is to lock Willie Horton up in jail.” On the other (same?) hand, that same year John O’Donnell was writing a book that quoted Trump as saying, “… laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”

While they’ve both built successful careers by hurting Black people, and yes, they both have the fake hair and teeth and world view… And yes, both Trump and Biden have been accused multiple times of inappropriately touching women… And yes, both Trump and Biden never apologize for anything they do… And yes, somehow both Trump and Biden have even said some pretty inappropriate things in public about children, you’ve gotta ask yourself, well, who hasn’t, right? I mean, you could really say any of that about any random two people, right? They can’t really be that similar, right? Right? No? Well, let’s find out together in a game I call…

Decision 2020: Orange You Glad We’re Biden Our Time?

Each question is either referring to Trump or Biden—but can you guess which one?

Click on all the links for all the answers and good luck!

———-

Who started his 2020 campaign with a fundraiser filled with corporate lobbyists and GOP donors?

Trump

or

Biden

During a presidential primary, when asked about his college grades, guess who lost his temper, interrupted with, “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect!” and proceeded to brazenly lie about his grades only to get caught and then lie about lying about his grades?

Trump

or

Biden

W ho once said about his state, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” then, in case you thought this was only a terrible racist joke, added, “I’m not joking.”?

Trump

or

Biden

During a Fox News interview, when asked about his viability as a candidate in the South, as he could be seen as a “Northeastern liberal”, guess who defended himself by bragging that he lived in a “slave state”?

Trump

or

Biden

Who consistently spoke affectionately, admiringly, effusively and eventually even eulogized one of America’s most disgusting and cowardly racists?

Trump

or

Biden

Who bragged about strong-arming the Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor while also neglecting to mention that that prosecutor was also investigating this braggart’s son?

Trump

or

Biden

Civil Asset Forfeiture is the process by which the government is allowed to take possession of everything you own if you are arrested—not convicted— just arrested. Guess who bragged about creating policy that extended Civil Asset Forfeiture as well as limited judges’ discretion during sentencing and added sixty new death penalties.

Trump

or

Biden

————

How’d you do? Lemme know in the comments and remember, even though polling has Joe Biden in the lead right now, at this same point in 2007 Hilary Clinton held the lead and in 2003 it was Joe Lieberman, whoever the hell that is.

Thanks for playing!


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Anti-racism work is messy: Observations from the road

The past week has been a whirlwind as I found myself juggling back-to-back speaking engagements in Seattle and then speaking again in Maine. Over the past several years, I have done numerous speaking engagements with my friend and collaborator, author Debby Irving, as well as solo engagements. However, these most recent engagements have had a profound impact on me as I ponder the state of anti-racism work, both as a writer/speaker and as the head of an anti-racism organization.

Too often, we conflate anti-racism, racial equity and racial justice work as being one and the same. In reality, while they are very much related, I don’t believe them to be the same. One can engage in racial equity, implicit bias or racial justice work while still dancing around the core issue of dismantling white supremacy. In fact, as we discussed at a recent board-staff retreat at my organization, equity is rapidly becoming the newest buzzword, much like “diversity” in the early 1990s. Increasingly when I hear people using it, I ask them to explain what they mean. People theoretically want equity, but without the larger framework, they are not committed to the type of systemic change that will require white people to actually give up something. And the fact is that active reallocation of resources is essential to equity.

On the other hand, to be actively anti-racist requires a level of constant intentionality; it’s the personal and the systemic. It encompasses equity, implicit bias and racial justice and for most people, specifically white people, it is the hardest to achieve. It’s a lot easier to discuss our biases and how they affect our decision-making than it is to look at the whole framework of our society and look at how one can be complicit in upholding white supremacy. Anti-racism work demands more of us—it involves that we bring our whole selves to the work. And it also indicts good white people.

As I learned in my recent talks with Debby, even a white person with a solid grounding in anti-racism work can still have an unintentional and thoughtless moment and cause harm to a Black person or other person of color. Because despite our knowledge and our intentions, to be human—regardless of race—is to make mistakes. Nasty, almost potentially friendship-ending mistakes.

That’s exactly what happened as we kicked off our first date in Washington, at the Seattle Equity Summit. When a glass of spilled water nearly ended my friendship with Debby and nearly derailed the summit. After several days of sitting with the events of that engagement, I don’t think a full recap is necessary in this space. But I can share that Debby spilled a cup of water, and she didn’t clean it up because she was caught up in listening to a speaker and then we had to get ready to go on stage for our own presentation. The spilled water soaked a woman’s belongings—a Black woman’s belongings. The Black woman had to clean up Debby’s spilled water and she waited until the question-and-answer portion of our presentation to rightfully call Debby out. As her presentation partner, it was horrifying and upsetting. It was also when the work we do became real as the audience members of color took Debby to task for her privileged and racist behavior. And in the end, I too from the stage—sitting next to her—shared my feelings about her behavior.

It was not comfortable. We were flown 2,000 miles to showcase how cross-racial communications look and to model our work. In the end, two Black women had to clean up after Debby and yet the whole experience has been a powerful learning moment as I realize just how much deeper we all have to go in the work.

To break the cultural norms of whiteness that dictate a certain way of being (nice), and to instead to have a cross-racial conversation with an audience where real emotions and pain were shared, is part of anti-racism work. In choosing to call out Debby’s behavior from the audience, the woman whose things were ruined was powerful and brave. It was also because the calling out was not simply a call-out, but turned the venue into a space where Black people and other POC stood firm in their truths.

That spilled water was about more than water; it was every moment when a Black person was dismissed or unseen by a white person. It’s standing in the line and having a white person insert themselves right in front of you, as if you weren’t even there. It’s the collective hurt of 400 years of being erased by white supremacy.

Dismantling white supremacy will not be a tidy to-do list. In fact, for white people, it is going to require a reckoning as they learn to grieve for their own lost humanity. It is no longer enough to feel bad for non-white people; it’s about turning the lens inward to ask: what was taken from me? It’s realizing that we all carry trauma over what was done to us and owning it. Four hundred years of white subjugation lives in the souls of Black people—50-something years of “freedom” doesn’t even begin to touch the ancestral trauma that is part of being Black in America.

All white allies and accomplices will have missteps and slide back into unchecked whiteness and harm Black people or other POC. Despite your intentions, you are not free until we fully dismantle white supremacy. You can read the books, attend the workshops, support Black folks/POC and f*ck it up beautifully. The question is, are you committed enough to face the pain you create and keep trying to do better? For me, the question is can I continue to extend grace to my white comrades knowing that our collective liberation requires that I stay present in this struggle. For Debby, it was sitting in that moment and facing what she had done without running off the stage or crying. Given that white women’s tears can so often be weaponized, it was powerful to witness, even with my anger.

At my last engagement, in Maine, a young Black woman told me that she thought that my work simply absolved white people and that it even coddled them. I have been sitting with her words, looking for truth and asking for wisdom. While that is not my intention, I also see where it is possible to think that. But sitting here with 46 years of lived experience as a Black woman, I know that walking around with anger is toxic. Anger can be freeing as it propels us to the arena of actively fighting for liberation. But living with anger, day in and day out, takes a toll on the body. It also starts to chop away at our own humanity and for me, at this stage in my life, I use my anger sparingly because the most radical act that I can engage in as a Black woman is to live with joy. To rewrite the narrative and live fully in my body. The joy I seek allows me to lessen anger’s grip and extend compassion towards those I see trapped in a silo where they don’t even know what they don’t know.

I have said many times that racism steals from the well of human potential. It isn’t just denied access and opportunity, it’s in how the pain of racism lives in our souls. I am convinced that the racial death rate disparity is absolutely rooted in the cumulative impact of racism on the body over the decades, as well as the ancestral wounds.

In recent years, we have tried moving the needle on race but we are only touching the surface. This work requires that we bring our full selves, knowing that it will be raggedy. It will hurt—and yet what is the alternative? To let white supremacy continue its reign of terror? Or to bring our many hands to the table and collectively chip away at this beast?


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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