Psst, hey you! Psst, come on in! Have you taken a look around here lately? Take a look, get comfortable. Black Girl in Maine recently underwent some changes, from a new logo representing the full breadth of what Black Girl in Maine Media is about in ...

 

Black Girl in Maine - 5 new articles



Interrupting the usual flow to say that we need your help! BGIM needs you!!

Psst, hey you! Psst, come on in! Have you taken a look around here lately? Take a look, get comfortable. Black Girl in Maine recently underwent some changes, from a new logo representing the full breadth of what Black Girl in Maine Media is about in this moment to increased functionality, including a site that is now optimized for reading on a handheld device.

Last year, I announced my plans to shift direction: to add contributing writers of color as well as a podcast. I am proud to announce that we have accomplished part of that. We now have six contributing writers, including the internationally renowned bluesman Samuel James. The site has also been redesigned for greater functionality, including the ability to read your favorite BGIM writers’ posts.

My plans for expanding to include a podcast stalled out for a while but we are back on track now that my son aka Milo the Rapper is getting into the act with his own expansion. We hope to launch that aspect of things early in 2018. Exact date depends on his tour schedule and my own day gig.

For years now, Black Girl in Maine has served as a place for learning for white people and a community for people of color living in primarily white spaces. My pieces have been used across the country in educational and faith communities including with the Civil Rights Teams in Maine. The work that I have created has held great value for thousands and it has truly been a labor of love but in moving forward with the recent expansion pans, I have had to face the reality that there is a financial cost to all of this.

All BGIM contributors are paid, and my rates are comparable to local publications such as The Portland Phoenix and The Bangor Daily News. However, unlike those publications, there are no advertisers or investors. This is a one-woman shop that only relies on the generosity of readers making either a monthly commitment via Patreon or a “tip” via PayPal. With over 8000 “likes” on Facebook and 11,000 followers on Twitter, currently less than 3% of readers contribute to this space financially. Given that we post three to five articles a day on the Facebook page and post one to two pieces a week here, long term this is simply not tenable.

Many of my writing/blogging peers are moving to platforms such as Patreon where only paying patrons can read their work. I most certainly have considered going that route but recognizing that some people truly cannot afford a monthly gift of $5 or $10, that doesn’t sit well with me. Access is important. I’m also offering my platform to new and emerging writers, and offering them access to a larger audience is important to me.  So moving to a closed format is not something that I want to do.

However, after taking into consideration the true costs of this site as well as my own time that is often unpaid or greatly underpaid, what I am doing is launching a year-end campaign and asking for your help. If this space has been a part of your learning or community, I am asking you to become either a monthly patron or to make a one time gift. Monthly pledges are preferred because it allows me to set the editorial calendar for my writers knowing exactly what I can afford. However, one time gifts are groovy too.

If you have spent anytime online, you know that most media outfits are struggling. We have created a world where it’s easy to forget that the fabulous pieces you read are written by real people with real expenses. It is one of the reasons that as part of our work here, we have paid subscriptions to numerous publications so that we have access to the latest news and commentary as well as making sure that we live our own values—much of which is shared on the Black Girl in Maine Facebook page.

Given that my day job is running a small non-profit, I know that you are bombarded with almost daily requests for support. Yet if this space has added value to your life, I am asking you to let us know by making a one time gift or monthly pledge. No amount is too small (though, if I am to be honest, because of money that is taken off the top before I ever see your pledges or donations or tips, anything under a few bucks really is too little, as I will only literally get loose change in the end).

Thank you for your support.

Warmly,

Shay aka Black Girl in Maine


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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No, we aren’t the same; change starts with an acceptance of truth

All too often, a white person says to me, “Black people and white people aren’t so different.”

I understand that there can be a positive sentiment somewhere in that statement, but even when that sentiment is there, there is a lack of acceptance of a very real difference.

My usual response to that statement is to open my mouth slightly, take in a breath in order to begin speaking, then remember how these conversations usually go, then close my mouth and shove what I was going to say into a place deep within my soul that, at this point, is so full that my left eye probably won’t ever stop twitching.

But, for right now, I think I’ll take this opportunity to stray from my usual response, left eye be damned, and I’ll start with a story.

Did I ever tell you about the time my father lost everything he owned, except for his car and a bag of groceries?

Well, once upon a time in the 1980s in the far away land of Tucson, Arizona, my father left his apartment to go to the grocery store. Upon returning, he found his apartment to be locked from the inside. He banged on the door over and over until someone opened it. What he saw inside was a handful of guys cooking up drugs! They informed him that his apartment was now their apartment and that was the time my father lost everything he owned except for his car and a bag of groceries.

Maybe you were expecting a different ending.

Perhaps you were expecting that he might call the landlord or the police? Ah, well, the landlord never answers and at that particular time, the police did not go to that particular neighborhood. Maybe it was because a politician’s crime stats would be thrown into disarray. Maybe it was because that particular neighborhood was too dangerous for the police to feel safe patrolling. Maybe it was because there were no white people in that particular neighborhood. I don’t know, but the particulars didn’t really matter much to my father.

The police obviously aren’t the only particular problem here. Even if they had come down to his neighborhood and arrested the trespassers, those trespassers would be out in a day, they knew how to get into his apartment and my father had to sleep sometime.

When I tell this story, oftentimes a white person brings up statistics about how we’re all doing so much better now than we were then. In case you’re thinking that very thing right now, a problem with statistics is that there are often specific, intended readers for those statistics. There’s a target audience.  My father was never part of that target audience. And my father’s old neighborhood isn’t part of any statistics. Its economy isn’t part of “The Economy.” Its people aren’t part of any group this country chooses to identify as. For all those reasons, and probably a few others, we have no idea how many places are just like it all over the country. And honestly, I don’t think we really want to know.

Usually now is when white people start talking about class, but before we get into that, let me tell you another story. 

Did I ever tell you about that time when I was a kid that an old, white lady with bad eyesight accused me of a crime that was committed by a totally different Black kid? I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that the whole thing ended with my public defender pleading me out against my will. 

How about that other time when I was a kid and I got jumped? During the process, I got beat up pretty badly and my bike was destroyed. After the responsible parties were found and admitted guilt, the police told me they weren’t going to do anything about it because, “They said you were running your mouth.”

And there was the time in elementary school when Officer Friendly put the cuffs on me to show the class what it looked like, against my will, while he laughed…

There was the time the police falsely accused me of breaking tombstones… Shooting out street lights…

I could go on.

Now, here’s the part that may surprise you. Without even counting any of those incidents, I have been stopped by the police (while driving, walking, standing still and yes—a couple times in the ‘90s—while rollerblading) 38 times, while somehow, only ever getting one ticket.

Two of those 38 times were in front of my own apartment. One was when a cop put his spotlight on me and began hollering because he thought I was about to attack a white girl entering her apartment.

The reality was that my girlfriend and I were just walking into our apartment together

The other was when a plain-clothes cop tried to buy drugs from me as I stood there, shirtless, in my running shorts sweating and breathing heavily…Because I’d just been running, not because I was high…Maybe a runner’s high…Yeah, he didn’t like that joke either.

Those two particular times stick out for me because, like my father, I also live in a neighborhood where the cops don’t go.

But the reasons for absent police are very different. 

For the last seven years, I have lived on a short, quiet street in a residential neighborhood that’s gentrifying so quickly that I might be white by the time I finish writing this.

Seriously, though. I probably see a cop on my street once a year. Maybe.

I’ve already told you about two of those annual sightings, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, it is fair to say that I live in a middle-class neighborhood, and my father did not. Does that class difference make my life easier? Absolutely. Does that class difference erase the racism?

Not at all.

This past weekend, in my beautiful, white, middle-class, gentrifying neighborhood, someone broke into my brand-new truck. They smashed up my console, stole my toll money and a few other things.

My insurance company said I could file a claim without filing a police report, so that’s exactly what I did.

Maybe you were expecting a different ending.

Perhaps you thought I would call the police.

I informed my neighbors, but I’m just not going to call the cops.

See, professionally, I am a musician, so my job requires late nights and loading my gear in and out of a vehicle. If this gentrification has its way and I turn white, maybe a few extra patrols might leave me feeling a little bit safer doing that. But, right now, as the only Black person in a five-block radius, the last thing I want is a cop rolling up on me in the middle of the night, seeing me load things in and out of a brand-new truck.

Maybe you’d still call the police. Maybe color is a difficult thing for you to see here, so let me put it another way.

If you have had vast, personal experience with police and that experience has only ever been 100% negative, it doesn’t matter what opposing statistics say. It doesn’t matter what social class you’re in. It doesn’t even matter what’s written on the side of the police car. You would be a fool to ask for help from someone who has only ever tried to harm you.

And just in case you think my life is some sort of exception, or that I’m some sort of outlier, that’s my exact point. My story may be practically unheard of for white people, but it is all too common for Black people. Philando Castile had been stopped by the police more than 50 times before a police officer eventually pulled him over and murdered him in front of his family.

Black people and white people live in very different worlds and because of that, we are very different peoples.

To dismiss that difference is to not only dismiss the suffering of a people, but also your own opportunity to help.

So, please, if you’re interested in helping, acceptance is the first step.


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.

 

Reflecting on the year of flames, or Change is possible

As someone who is almost never without words, increasingly I come to this space unsure of what to say and how to say it. So today, I go back to my roots and I write the words to which I simply need to give life to—and hope that they will resonate with others.

This past week marked one year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Like many, a year ago I felt a sense of paralysis when he won. And yet, I can’t say that I was surprised that he won. As someone whose work explores race and its various intersections, I always knew on a gut level that his winning was not so terribly far-fetched as many believed it to be. A large part of that is due to the conversations I often find myself engaged in with people where, in the quiet moments, I heard the angst that many felt and their desire for radical change.  Unfortunately for us, Trump was not the change you could believe in and instead, over the course of this year, we have all borne witness to the dumpster fire that is now our nation.

Yet on a certain level, this country has always been a dumpster fire due to our inability to address how this nation came to be. We are a nation built on treacherous ground. Always the hope has held that something good could grow from the blood-soaked soil, but in metaphorical harvest after metaphorical harvest, while there have been many a fine-looking crop, the product always has a rot at its core. And the harvests are increasingly blighted now.

The reality that many don’t want to face is that we truly never escape our past. We can run but it always catches up with us or we reach a point where we have no choice but to turn our heads and look backward so that we can better gauge our path forward. We are in a moment like that right now.

As we face the almost daily assaults on our sensibilities and watch in horror as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle everything that made any semblance of sense, there is the realization for many that radical change (the kind that might lead to something better rather than the senseless disruption and destruction Trump represents) is actually within our grasp if we find the strength to stay the course and ride out the discomfort.

Over the past year, many whose privilege shielded them from the cold truth of America have been forced to see what previously they could easily hide from. When you have a leader who gives space to racists and other types of domestic terrorists, you see the underbelly and you are forced to rise in that moment lest you be pulled into the undertow of vileness.

Instead, millions who previously have never fancied themselves as activists have started the work of change and conversations that previously were not the norm have gone mainstream. For a time there recently, the makers of posterboards and markers were doing a brisk business and that’s likely to continue. Many more people now have their lawmakers’ phone numbers and emails saved onto their devices and are constantly in contact with their offices. This off-season election nationwide yielded a more diverse group of changemakers than ever before. People in communities across the nation are tackling the once taboo discussions in their own communities.

Radical change rarely happens all at once though; instead, it is a slow and steady process (and often a messy one) and while the din of media would have us to believe that all is lost, I don’t believe that to be true at all. I do believe, however, that we are standing on the crossroad of change and that it is important to choose the right road. Even in the midst of the widening string of sexual assault and harassment stories that are almost a daily occurrence, we are starting to move the discussion beyond the individuals and instead shift it toward the toxic masculinity that is rooted in our patriarchal system—a tradition that creates people with penises who feel entitled to women’s bodies. A system that for too long has destroyed far too many lives and left a legacy of trauma. But we have a better chance than ever now for a future soon where our boys and men won’t be initiated into that system—if we keep the conversation and work moving.

While a controlled burn is always preferable, the flames of change can be uncomfortable and they can at times get out of control. Through the flames  we have the potential to see something better. And, as easy as it would be for me (or you) to sink into a private pit of despair, I believe that this moment in time can eventually lead us to a better place—a place where we can say that all lives matter and truly mean it. We aren’t there yet, though. And the truth is, many (perhaps all) of us alive today may never see that moment. That doesn’t make the necessity for action and commitment any less. If we care about the collective good, we will tend to the smoldering and ashy ground and plant the seeds now that can bloom for later generations.

How are you doing this year? How has the Trump administration motivated you to work for change? I would love to hear your thoughts.


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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Calling all white people, part 22: Trust and believe

Calling All White People, Part 22

(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: When people of color says it’s racist, start with trusting them  

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

Back in June, I wrote a piece for BGIM Media titled “Devil’s advocate deviltry” in which I called out our tendency as white people to often question Black people and other people of color (or people who aren’t part of other marginalized groups questioning people from those groups) when they say that they have been victims of discrimination, oppression and other mistreatment by more dominant groups (like white people).

It’s a terrible habit, and this post is a bit of a follow-on to that one.

So, I pose a question to you, my fellow white people: Do you find yourself questioning the experiences of people of color when they say they’ve been mistreated? Even something you might see as “innocent” like saying to them, “Are you sure that was a racist act?”

Because let’s face it: When you do that, you are literally questioning someone else’s reality based almost always on you having no personal context and no personal experience with that reality.

If a friend or family member says they are being undermined or overworked by a boss or supervisor or if a woman you know says she’s been sexually harassed, do you immediately challenge them, even mildly? Probably not. You start with trust. You believe what they say is either true or that they have good reason to believe they are being mistreated in a way that others are not in the environment or situation in question. As you get more information, you might have reason to pose questions or say, “But are you reading that situation right?” but you don’t start off questioning them.

Trust.

That’s the key. If you like or love or respect a person, you begin with trust, listening and a willingness to see their side.

But too often even the “well meaning” white people ask: Was that really racist? We shouldn’t do that. When we are not in another person’s shoes and do not have their lifelong experiences, we ought not to be questioning their perceptions and insights out of hand.

Does this mean that people of color and people in other marginalized groups are always right about their negative experiences and their belief that their treatment stems from racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism and other such things? Of course not. But the vast, vast majority of the time they are right, because they have been through it time and time again.

Let me give you an example, though, to illustrate I’m fair about this and not simply beating on my fellow white people. Imagine the following scenario:

You drive a Black friend to a big-box chain store because they need to pop in quickly and buy something; you wait in the car. The person comes out of the store, visibly upset and empty-handed.

Them: I’m never shopping at this store or any of their other stores again. The cashier ignored me like I wasn’t there and treated my with total disrespect.

You: Oh my god. And the manager backed them up?

Them: I didn’t go to the manager; I was so angry and humiliated.

You: Then why are you going to boycott this store, much less the whole chain?

Imagine the conversation getting uncomfortable at that point. Your Black friend is angry at their mistreatment, and now angry at you for questioning them at all on their actions. However, an hour or two later when they’ve calmed down they realize they overreacted—not about the mistreatment, mind you, but about their larger response to it.

If this seems a very specific scenario, it’s because it happened to me several years ago. It is an example of a Black person overreacting, but there are some important caveats here to point out, because it’s not meant to be an excuse for you to question people or color about their encounters with racism without awfully good reason.

  • I never questioned that the worker had been racist in their actions; only that the lack of going to a manager and the jump to a chain-wide boycott made no sense based on one worker or even one store.
  • I didn’t even question the decision not to seek out a manager; I could tell my friend was rattled and upset. When you finally have an experience that is the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back that break the spine, you might not want to cause a scene or rehash the experience with another person either.
  • This is the only time I can recall in my life in which I actually had a reason to question a person of color legitimately on how they responded (again, not about whether they were right, because I didn’t witness the interaction and I trusted my friend on their assessment that it was racially motivated).

Let that sink in; re-read it if you need to.

Black people and other people of color experience bigoted behaviors all the time, and because they are outnumbered, often out-powered and typically given less benefit of the doubt by the white people around them compared to white people—well, they know the signs.

Absent any clear reason why they are misreading a situation, we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions based on our white experiences (and even with clear reasons, we must proceed carefully if at all), because we are given more latitude and more benefit of the doubt and overall better treatment. For the overwhelming majority of us white people, our skin color never automatically puts us in an under-privileged and vulnerable position.

And frankly, even when you are in a position to see a situation with a person of color play out and they say it’s racism and you saw the interaction in a whole other way, that still isn’t the time to question whether it was racist.

The first thing again: Trust.

Trust that they, with their lifetime of experience, know more than you do about racism. It makes sense, because you as a white person don’t experience racism. You might every once in a while get some bigotry from non-white people, but even that is exceedingly rare and not nearly as serious in 99% of cases I would estimate as is racism.

You are not the expert.

And even if you still don’t see the racism in the encounter you witnessed, rather than questioning it and saying, “I don’t think they meant to be racist” or “I don’t see the racism there” instead consider saying (if you say anything at all other than “I’m sorry that happened to you”) something like: “I totally missed the racism; what did I not see that you did?”

And then do the thing that follows trust: Listen.

Whether or not you end up agreeing, you will likely learn something about racism and how it plays out subtly as well as obviously. You will likely learn something about what people of color face every day when they walk the minefield of white people and their assumptions and prejudices.

And also, as a side note, it doesn’t always matter whether the person “intended” to be racist. We as white people need to start learning not to treat people of color in ways that mistreat them and/or put us in positions of power or judgment over them that we aren’t entitled to. Intentions don’t matter if we do things that cause actual harm because of our preconceptions and/or ignorance. (Example: If I run someone over accidentally, my intentions mean very little compared to the harm I have done.)

Trust first.

Trust and believe.

And learn something about how prevalent and pervasive racism is in the world so that you can better identify it in yourself and others. And challenge it, head it off or avoid committing it yourself.


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.

 

It’s all about race

Football player Colin Kaepernick began silently kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in August of 2016. Since then, other football players have joined him in peaceful demonstration as an act of solidarity. Despite their efforts to shine a light on one of America’s most glaring humanitarian crises, people—particularly white people and the media—have chosen to instead discuss the First Amendment, as well as the national anthem, the American flag, and the patriotic ceremonies which surround them. But this should not come as a surprise. Flipping the script on discussions about racial injustice is an American tradition that has been carried on throughout the decades. People—particularly white people—cannot bear shining a light on the nation’s racial wounds, so they change the topic as a way to silence dissent and escape the discomfort associated discussions of race.

For example, when a few among thousands of peaceful protesters vandalized a Baltimore CVS in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death, a discussion about police brutality was seized away in favor of a conversation about the integrity of personal property and the importance of brick and mortar. No one wanted to talk about the fact that Gray’s spinal cord was 80% severed or that he had crush injuries to his larynx. No one wanted to talk about the fact that he was so forcefully apprehended after willingly surrendering to the police. (Unsurprisingly, charges were dropped against the police implicated in Gray’s death.)

When Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot and killed by Cleveland Police, calls for justice and sympathy were drowned out by claims that the shooting was “tragic” but “reasonable.” No one wanted want to talk about the fact that Tamir was a child in middle school. No one wanted to talk about the fact that the police officer who killed Rice was later terminated after lies were found on his job application. According to the Los Angeles Times, Officer Timothy Loehmann was sacked for “not disclosing that he had resigned from his previous position as a police officer in Independence, Mo., to avoid being fired for insubordination, emotional immaturity, dishonesty and mishandling his gun.” (Unsurprisingly, charges were dropped against Timothy Loehmann.)

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” – Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers.

These are just two examples of hundreds cases where the police shot and killed unarmed Black people and got away with it—add to that the number of cases where some punishment was applied, and add to that the number of civil cases settled outside of criminal law. The sum total of these incidents represent a human rights atrocity. According to a study by American Journal of Public Health, Black men are nearly three times as likely to be killed by legal intervention than white men. It is because of these injustices that football players have taken a knee during the national anthem.

“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”- Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers.

Many people—particularly white people, especially white people on the political right—will say that there are other ways to protest. They will say that the sanctity of the American flag and the national anthem is directly tied to the value of the lives of the people who have fought and died for the country. It’s a drum beat that has been carried on by the president of the United States who encourages all citizens to respect the flag and “the men and women of the United States Armed Services.”

But it’s hard not to notice that a large number of people who recite the aforementioned rhetoric were noticeably silent when then-candidate Trump disrespected a Gold Star family, or when he disrespected the service of Senator John McCain who was imprisoned in a Korean military camp for five years, or when he most recently disrespected yet another Gold Star family. These incidents were quickly explained away as politics as usual, fake news, and fabrications from people who just want to hate on 45. But the disproportionate scrutiny applied to football players verse the person who leads the country seems a little suspicious.

It seems suspicious that it wasn’t neo-Nazis or the KKK, nor the death of children like Tamir Rice, nor the extrajudicial murder of unarmed citizens which mobilized millions to speak out but rather it was kneeling football players that really angered people. It’s seems suspicious that the anemic hearts of those who actively ignore issues of injustice and inequality are now hemorrhaging over symbols, ceremony, and respect.

Instances of hypocrisy are rife on both sides of the aisle and all walks of life, there is no doubt about that, but none more glaring than that which comes from those who speak out against Kaepernick under the guise of patriotism, liberty, and justice.

These protests are not about the military, those who serve in it, the American flag, or the national anthem. Anyone who says otherwise is either actively or ignorantly evading their own discomfort with racial topics. These protest are about racial injustice and they always have been and they always will be.


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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