There are few things that white people in general seem to like as much as policing the actions, behaviors and speech of Black people. Be Black and have a BBQ in the park…or take a nap in the common area of the university you attend…or try to enter ...

 

Black Girl in Maine - 5 new articles



We Black people shall use the N-word as we please, thank you very much

There are few things that white people in general seem to like as much as policing the actions, behaviors and speech of Black people. Be Black and have a BBQ in the park…or take a nap in the common area of the university you attend…or try to enter your own apartment complex…or swim in a pool…or whatever—well, there will be a white person to call the police on you or threaten you or block you or harass you.

It’s a trip, really. A power trip. And it’s long past time it ended.

And now we have famous and renowned Black author Walter Mosley getting a call from the human resources folks at a studio telling him he shouldn’t use the N-word.

Yup. The man who has written countless novels about Black people; many of them in the crime fiction genre. And in case you didn’t catch it before and aren’t familiar with him: he is Black.

So, what happened? Well, he left a show (“Star Trek: Discovery” at CBS Studios) after using the N-word in the writer’s room and then later getting a call from human resources that such language was unacceptable to the studio and made the other writers uncomfortable.

Mosley’s response in an op-ed piece recently: “I have to stop with the forward thrust of this story to say that I had indeed said the word in the room. I hadn’t called anyone it. I just told a story about a cop who explained to me, on the streets of Los Angeles, that he stopped all n*****s in paddy neighborhoods and all paddies in n***** neighborhoods, because they were usually up to no good. I was telling a true story as I remembered it.”

I’ve said it before and let me say it again. Black people can choose to use (or not) the N-word how we decide to. White people cannot. It’s that simple. And I’m sick and tired of white people who say “No one should be able to say the word if we can’t” or any variation of that. It’s a word that out of the mouth of just about anyone other than a Black person (but especially from the mouth of a white person) is violence, pure and simple. For Black people, many of us have our reasons for claiming the word and repurposing it and that’s for us to decide.

We Black folks tell white people that they cannot use the N-word, and so many of them try to find loopholes or excuses as to when they might be all right to say the whole damn word. They are itching to find a way to say it in so many cases even when they aren’t conservative assholes or rabid racists. Black people make it clear that certain words for them aren’t cool (from colored to pickaninny to coon to mulatto) and for the most part white people, even the nasty ones, will steer clear of them. But the N-word, which is the nuclear option that Black people keep saying white people should steer clear of? For some reason that’s the one white people have to be able to use…at least sometimes.

And when they can’t, apparently it’s time to police Black people’s use of the word.

Sorry, we’ve taken it back. It’s ours. Get used to it. Get over yourselves if you think you have any ownership of it or right to tell Black people how, when or if to use it.

I have grown up knowing that there are certain words that aren’t mine to use. Slurs for Italian people or for gay people or any number of other groups. They are words I should not use, and so I don’t use them. But I don’t tell people in those groups how to use them or whether they should. And the fact is that none of those words carries as much baggage and dark history as the N-word. So, if I know not to use words I shouldn’t use that are bad but aren’t as bad as the N-word, how hard is it for non-Black people to realize the same about n*****? Why is this so hard?

I mean, I know why. Because Black people are, along with Indigenous People, the most reviled, least respected people in the United States. The ones who “need” to be told what to do. Who aren’t allowed to have anything that isn’t either shut down or co-opted or otherwise stolen from us.

I’m tired of it.

Walter Mosley is a Black man who has seen some shit in life and written about some shit and if he drops an N-bomb or two, that’s his choice.

If white people so often can try to find ways to justify how they should be able to say the N-word or write it right now or in some future context, then I’m pretty damn sure they can hear the word from a Black person’s mouth without melting on the spot, deal with it, and avoid calling HR to drag him for doing it.

To quote Mosley again as he recounted the HR call: “A pleasant-sounding young man said, ‘Mr. Mosley, it has been reported that you used the N-word in the writers’ room.’ I replied, ‘I am the N-word in the writers’ room.’”


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.

(Photo of Walter Mosley from his official website, www.waltermosley.com, regarding his receipt of the 2016 Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America)

 

Moving white people from navel-gazing to anti-racism

“I will suggest that declaring whiteness, or even ‘admitting’ to one’s own racism, when the declaration is assumed to be ‘evidence’ of an anti-racist commitment, does not do what it says. In other words, putting whiteness into speech, as an object to be spoken about, however critically, is not an anti-racist action, and nor does it necessarily commit a state, institution or person to a form of action that we could describe as anti-racist. To put this more strongly, I will show how declaring one’s whiteness, even as part of a project of social critique, can reproduce white privilege in ways that are ‘unforeseen.’ – Sara Ahmed 

As we all struggle to survive another year of the Trump regime, it’s no wonder that Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, remains a bestseller. After all, Trump, his language and his policies have given rise to a level of overt racism that many white people had assumed ended with the election of our first Black president.

In the past several years there has been an almost insatiable hunger in certain white spaces to better understand racism, as evidenced by the surge of books that have been written in that time. However as this piece by Lauren Michele Jackson discusses, while white progressives are changing the way they talk about themselves, little else has changed. 

This piece comes out at a time when I have spent the past several years pondering how we move white people from talk to action in my day job at Community Change Inc. It also comes at a time when the framing around racial justice is shifting toward the language of actively becoming an anti-racist—no doubt in part due to the work of Ibram X. Kendi and his latest book, How to be an Antiracist, and further inspired by his first book, Stamped from the Beginning

I can tell you, as the executive director of one of a handful of organizations nationwide whose mission is explicitly centered around anti-racism work, that getting white people to learn about racism is the easy part. Granted, our work is not targeted toward the rabid racist, but rather the white person who knows something isn’t right and wants to do better. Obviously, the helps the learning curve a lot.

One of the other steps—to get white people to acknowledge their white privilege—isn’t even that hard, especially in the past several years, as our social media news feeds became filled with the one after another extrajudicial killing of an unarmed Black or Brown person. After all, most white folks with any critical thinking and open-mindedness on the issue of race and policing can recognize that their odds of a traffic stop resulting in their death is slim. They know their kids won’t be killed while at the playground for playing in the same way white kids do. They know that BBQ Becky isn’t coming for them and that Pool Patrol Paul won’t ever call the cops on them for doing basic social and entertainment activities in public. 

In part because it is relatively easy for many white people to achieve those two first steps, it becomes easy to navel-gaze—to acknowledge one’s own privilege and perhaps, if one is more advanced, maybe even acknowledge their own white fragility—but to do little else. Folks like DiAngelo and others of her ilk have done a great job of creating awareness and maybe even individually reallocating resources to the occasional non-white person in the interest of moving the needle on race. The problem is, that this current moment with all the workshops, books and conferences isn’t going to create the systemic change that we need. 

Racism exists in multiple dimensions, on the internal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural levels. If all we are doing is addressing racism on the internal and interpersonal levels, nothing changes for the larger society, and that’s where the work must shift. Voting for Black candidates and feeling good about that is “easy,” until racism drives them out of office or death threats become their daily reality, thus negating what little ground might have been gained. Where are the good white people at those time? The truth is that many of them don’t show up when things start to get messy. Truly, how does you simply owning and acknowledging your privilege and fragility serve to better the lives of Black and Brown people? 

A big problem is that much of today’s anti-racism work lacks a key component: organizing. 

The basis of all the civil and human rights gains over the last century have come from folks that understood that organizing is the key component. Rosa Parks didn’t just decide to sit on the bus that day; she was a skilled organizer involved in a large organizing movement. Organizing is a skill and a commitment. 

In recent years, social and traditional media have done a grave disservice of showcasing “activism” and some of the more flashy acts of anti-racism work and protests against racist actitivities. But  most of the work is not visible and the majority of frontline organizers and activists in any community are the unsung (and unseen) heroes. In most cases, it’s not the folks who have become celebrity activists who matter the most. Rather, it’s the ones we never hear about—sometimes not until they end up dead—who do most of the heavy lifting, as was the case with several on-the-ground organizers from Ferguson

In the white spaces of anti-racism work, the unsung heroes are the folks who often after decades of working in community and relationship with Black folks and other people of color, are known but not at the superstar level of many of today’s antiracism brigade. I often ask the question: To be a white person doing anti-racism work, what are you willing to give up? These unsung heroes within white anti-racism work are people who know that every day is a struggle to not fall into the sweet seduction of whiteness—things like basking in public praise or profiting heavily on race-related work at the expense of victims of racism—but instead have built trust with other white anti-racists and anti-racists of color, who serve as each other’s support systems and guides. 

To be an anti-racist is to be intentionally working to not being racist, knowing that racism lies beneath the surface all the time, and being in it, for the long haul. It’s also learning the skills necessary to organize within one’s own community. 

An absence of Black and Brown people in your area does not let you off the hook for anti-racism work, either—there is no community in the United States that is untouched by our nation’s racist foundations. Case in point: In Kennebunk, Maine, a series of racist incidents happened in recent years in the school system. The superintendent at the time did a poor job of handling the racism in her district and ended up resigning. Yet she is now a professor at the University of Southern Maine, in the same program where she earned her doctorate. So, as this letter writer for the local paper pointed out, this is how structural racism perpetuates itself. 

Educating yourself is a critical first step toward becoming an anti-racist, as is acknowledging both your own white privilege and white fragility. It is also important to support the work of Black and Brown people whenever possible. But the real work starts when you are ready to look at the systems in your own communities and start organizing and working where you are for racial justice by trying to change those systems. Examining your local systems (criminal justice, education, healthcare, etc.) and looking at what you can do.  And being ready to receive pushback but to push on anyway.

Too often, I hear from people that they just don’t know what to do or where to start beyond the education piece. Shift your mindset and how you view the work. The deeper dive of dismantling whiteness has to include decolonizing your mind. Once that process starts, your path should become much more clear. You cannot be an anti-racist while sitting comfortably in your whiteness. 


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.

Photo by Guillermo Latorre on Unsplash

 

Distractions, eh? Really, now

One more word about distractions…

Trump will do something racist and then push through some kind of backdoor policy. The standard reaction to this is, “Don’t pay attention to the stuff he says!”

Fuck. That.

First of all, the idea that the best thing to do would be to ignore the most powerful man in the world (who also happens to be more stupid than literally anyone I’ve ever met) is maybe the most dangerous thing I can imagine.

But second of all, if someone socks you in the mouth, knocking your teeth out and then immediately knees you in the groin, were your teeth just a bunch of little distractions? Or are both actions bad and things necessary to defend against?

If that’s too abstract, ask yourself this: Do you think the president wouldn’t be pushing through those bullshit policies anyway? Do you think that he would somehow be totally flummoxed and completely inert if we ignored his racism? Well, guess what-the-fuck what. Presidents have been pushing a whole lot of bullshit policies through back doors without “distracting” us with blatant racism for a long fucking time. Also, let me give you a gentle reminder that he himself put a probable rapist/definite tantrum-y milksop on the Supreme Goddamn Court on live TV in front of God and everybody. He didn’t need any distractions to throw that shit in the country’s face.

And another thing, as far as action goes, we are ignoring his racism. Lawmakers haven’t done a thing about it. No, it’s not illegal for the president to be racist or even misogynist for that matter, but it definitely should be because how are you going to lead a country full of people if you hate most of them?

You know what is illegal? Accusing the president of racism on the floor of the Senate. That’s right. There are rules prohibiting the people whose job it is to keep the president in check from doing that very thing—when it comes to race. They can’t even bring it up. So, they are left to ignore his white supremacy. But ignoring his white supremacy will only normalize it and you know what else? Normalizing white supremacy isn’t just bad for people of color. It’s bad for white people, too.

Even on the most basic level, when white supremacists decide to start killing people, they don’t just target people of color. Please see the Manson killings, Columbine massacre and Oklahoma City bombing for more information on what you might not have even realized was avowed white supremacy in action.

The truth is that his policies are going to be trash, he’s going to say some racist and misogynist shit and those things are all bound to occasionally happen at the same time. They are not distractions from one another anymore than the March on Washington, Women’s Strike for Equality or Stonewall Riots were a distraction from the Vietnam War. Multiple bad things happen at the same time all the time. Failing to understand that is the true distraction.


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.

 

Bringing my ‘day job’ work to Northern New England: Join us!

In the five-plus years, since I became executive director of Community Change Inc. (CCI), I have had readers ask if I would consider bringing some of our programming north of Boston. Because, while our training and development work is nationally relevant, most of our programming ends up local to the Boston area as our staff and most of our constituents are Boston-based. 

However, in the last five years, the racial climate has changed and I have seen an increase in people in Maine and Northern New England looking to organize locally within their own communities—but often being unsure of how to move beyond reading and engaging online.

At the same time, in the Boston area, we were seeing an increase in suburban white people looking to engage in anti-racism movement work but wanting to do the work within their own communities. As a result, CCI partnered with the Winchester Multicultural Network in Winchester, Mass., and thus the Anti- Racism Organizing in the Suburbs (AROS) project was born. 

In the spring of 2018, over a hundred people from predominantly white suburban communities north of Boston participated in the first convening of AROS at Melrose First United Methodist Church. The goals of the gathering were to create greater capacity for movement building, improve alignment for joint campaigns, and strengthen shared resources for effecting systemic change in suburban communities.

Since that first convening, AROS has grown. Last fall, we offered a second symposium at Regis College in Weston, Mass., and have been inundated with requests to bring AROS to other communities. We are also in talks to develop an AROS training institute for white suburban organizers and others interested in anti-racism work in predominantly white spaces. 

After much thought, we decided to bring AROS to Northern New England this fall (Sept. 14). We have partnered with the Granite State Organizing Project and anti-racism activists from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to create an event designed to connect those interested in anti-racism organizing to others in the region. While the goals of AROS remains unchanged, AROS Northern New England (AROS-NNE) is also committed to lifting up the voices of people of color in the region and will feature a panel of Black people and other People of Color for a moderated discussion on the challenges that are unique to the region.

Join the AROS-NNE Planning Team for a convening of organizers, activists, leaders, and educators committed to the movement for racial justice in Northern New England. This is a unique opportunity to get to know each other, share strategies, learn about policy issues, and strengthen our efforts.

Keynote : Shay Stewart-Bouley; executive director of CCI and creator/writer of Black Girl in Maine Media

Featured Panelists Include:

  • Eva Castillo, program director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees
  • Jerrianne Boggis, executive director at Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire
  • James McKim Jr., chair of the Episcopal Church Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism & Reconciliation (ECCAR)
  • Asma Elhuni, representing the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic & Social Equity in Schools Coalition
  • Pious Ali, a city council member in Portland, Maine

The moderator will be Samuel James, a Maine-based blues man, storyteller, writer, and anti-racist (and one of the contributors to the BGIM Media website here).

There will also be workshop sessions representing an array of anti-racism topics.

* The $75 fee covers the costs associated with putting on the symposium, including meals, snacks, and a small honorarium to all workshop leaders and panelists. We are also asking those with the means to engage in class solidarity by making an additional donation, above the ticket price to ensure that this symposium is available to all. No one will be turned away due to a lack of funds or be asked to volunteer. Contact Fran Smith at maryfransmith@gmail.com for details on obtaining a comp ticket for the day.

If you cannot join us on September 14 and would like to stay connected to the work of AROS-Northern New England, click here for more details.

You can purchase tickets here. Ticket sales will close September 9 .

I hope that you will consider joining us for what looks to be a lively and informative day. 


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.

        
 

We white liberals need to face our internalized racism

As a white liberal/progressive, my racism is complicated. Everything in my background has always been about being not-racist. I’ve asked former high school classmates if they remember ever hearing the N-word or overtly racist things, and as far as anyone can remember, we didn’t. I certainly never heard such things in my family. Our cultural norms were built on the certainty that racism was bad, racists were bad, and we were not going to be racist.

In hindsight, I suspect I probably did come across overtly racist talk in social settings but I imagine I would’ve felt so uncomfortable that I would’ve wanted to ignore it. My racism was passive and has required intense denial. Mostly, though, I think it’s likely that hearing overtly racist talk among my white peers from my childhood into my adult years was very rare.

Part of that was probably that in my circles (especially my family), we spent time actively trying to assist in social justice work. My father’s church in the 1980s was in Hartford, Conn., in a mostly Black and Latinx neighborhood with devastating poverty and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. He was involved in community organizing, helping to found the Asylum Hill Organizing Project. As a child and as a teen, I participated in community organizing events. We marched and we boycotted. I’m not mentioning this to say we deserve a pat on the back. What I’m saying is that being not-racist was absolutely essential to my identity. Being racist was not who we were, in my mind. That was the other people. The bad white people.

So many white people I know now have similar backgrounds. So many of us spent a lot of energy focusing on how bad being racist is rather than on the impact racism has. In fact, to be “not racist” in our liberal/progressive way, I believe we have had to pretend things weren’t actually as bad as they were or are. As soon as we start seeing that the racism we live with—I’m talking about the systemic and institutionalized racism, not personal bigotry—benefitted us tremendously, it gets really complicated. We needed to look away, or we’d have to see that we aren’t who we thought we were.

Some of the harms we white liberal/progressives cause are so deep because we want to be not racist. It’s ironic, maybe, that because in our hearts we so honestly and desperately want equality and even authentic equity for all people, that we avoid our own part in racism. I can’t be sure that my own experience would be similar for you, my fellow white liberals/progressives, but my gut tells me it might be. I want to tell you there is freedom on the other side of facing what might exist in you as it has existed in me.

I have not shed my own personal racism entirely, and I absolutely still benefit from whiteness and from the many institutions in our society that assume the worst of Black and brown-bodied people. As I practice facing and cleaning away my racism—the personal bigotry I thought I didn’t have when I was focused on being “not racist”—I’ve found the truth of sincerely wanting equality and equity for all people remains.

It takes effort, but I regularly clear out racist garbage. For example, to this day when I hear “arrest rates are higher for Black and brown people” I have flashes of the thought “they must commit more crime” despite knowing that’s a lie. I have to check myself frequently to see if I’m filtering things to make them seem less racist. I use meditation/mindfulness and other spiritual tools to face my internalized racism that I had been denying and, though it regularly tries to sneak back in, I usually catch it and get it out of me. Now, my desire for racial justice is stronger and clearer and includes more actions and is, therefore, more effective. It’s better this way. It’s better for everyone. I’m still a part of the problem, but I’m also actively working to be a part of the solutions.


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.