Today's piece is written by a special contributor. Heather Denkmire doesn't describe herself as an accomplice or an ally, and she's certainly not “woke.” She's just a woman whose spiritual and physical health depends on daily work on racism in ...

 

Black Girl in Maine - 5 new articles



Healing the wounds of racism, or, being a better white person

Today’s piece is written by a special contributor. Heather Denkmire doesn’t describe herself as an accomplice or an ally, and she’s certainly not “woke.” She’s just a woman whose spiritual and physical health depends on daily work on racism in herself and in the wider world. As a writer https://serenebabe.net/writing-credits/ and a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism, she has found that sharing her life experiences can sometimes benefit others; she’s grateful for the opportunity to share some of those experiences here on BGIM.

When my daughter was little, I wanted her to live a life that was more diverse and inclusive than my own childhood had been. But, how could I do that? I knew simple exposure, ideally leading to communication and relationships, to people who came from different backgrounds was essential. But, again, how could I do that?

A major problem I faced, and I know it’s a problem a lot of my white peers face, is that I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t white. I considered joining some parenting groups for families who had children of color. But, joining a group just so my daughter to “experience” difference? That felt gross.

In the end, I didn’t join any groups. I didn’t want to begin relationships with new people based on my own attempts at feeling less racist or making my children less racist; that felt disingenuous and unproductive, perhaps even harmful. Instead, I bought books featuring people of color, selected brown-skinned dolls, and talked with my daughter (and, eventually, her sister) frequently about structural racism whenever learning opportunities presented themselves. I actively sought out “teachable moments.”

I’m sharing this story because I want to draw attention to the fact that addressing racism is always a choice for me. And while I have always thought it was vitally important, dismantling racism has never been a matter of life or death in any overt way like it is for people of color.

As Shay Stewart-Bouley wrote on this blog a few weeks ago, “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.”

While I think I did and do an okay job keeping anti-racism themes present in the lives of my daughters, in the last few years I’ve become more aware of how urgent this work is for me. The truth about racism is that it had been killing me, too, if only on a spiritual level. The urgency (to participate in the work of reinventing our economic and social structures on a basis of justice and equity) came only after I realized how sick I’ve been, how much hurt and pain I was carrying. At that point, I began relating to whiteness as an addiction, a spiritual disease. When I did that, I was able to use spiritual tools to address the psychic damage that I had denied in me for so long.

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about the sincere and genuine sadness we white people can feel as empathetic human beings when we consider the ugliness of racism. I’m not talking about the “white women’s tears” that are so tiresome for people of color. I think there’s a time and a place for expressing those feelings (with other white people), but how we feel about racism isn’t the point (it’s not helpful or even necessary). What matters, I’ve found, is my willingness to see the truth—the real, ugly, horrifying truth—about my own racism.

Of the white people I know (and that’s most people I know), being “not racist” is an important value. As I read Shay’s piece about the response to the article she shared, I was reminded of how many of my white peers believe strongly they are not racist. And, while I’ve known since the ‘80s that I am racist—I’m a white person who benefits from our country’s racist structures, a country that only exists because of the historical and continued decimation of Black and brown bodies—I only recently recognized how deeply my need for whiteness runs. It’s truly an addiction that I must address everyday so I can live an authentic spiritual life. I need to address the wounds inside myself—caused by my dependence on whiteness—before I can be of any real use in the world of anti-racism work.

If you are a white person who wants to be not-racist, whether you think you are racist now or not, in this space and with gratitude, I will share with you my experience understanding my own complicity in racism. I will share with you what I did, and continue doing, to be a better white person; to heal the wounds racism caused in me that I didn’t even know were festering and keeping me sick.

In recovery (from alcoholism), we talk about sharing our “experience, strength, and hope” in an effort to help those who are still suffering. In that light, in future posts I will share my journey with racism in the hopes that my experience might benefit others.

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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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Nurturing the third eye

This past weekend, “Rachel” opened at Portland Stage. Set in the 1920s, the play explores racism, colorism, and the effects of the two on the black psyche. I am blessed to be a part of the production. Rachel has an all-Black, intergenerational cast with several kids aged about 6-10. We call them thelittles,” and they just about burst my heart. A few of them are adoptees, and being one myself, I confess they have a special place in my heart. Working with them is a reminder that children are incredible teachers.

The littles came to rehearsal this week with stories about Martin Luther King Jr. and how he cured racism, having just learned about him in school. This week, of course. The littles want to tell me about his dream, saying “It’s a good thing that we don’t live when this play was set, because then we would have people who hate us and want to hurt us because of how we look.

I take a pause, and then a breath, before telling them gently but firmly that things arent much different today. I watch light fade slowly in their eyes as pieces from family, friends, and bits of news clicks together. Air slips from their previously proud chests. I can see in their eyes that my words have just taken some of their hope.

I want to tell them that yes, MLK was a great man, but he wasn’t the end-all. Crave to explain to them that whiteness propped him up after they murdered him and his dream. That yes, he had a dream, but the nation wasn’t ready, that Martin wasn’t the only one who dreamed of freedom. Wasn’t the only one with fire burning in his chest and wind filling his lungs. I want to tell them about Assata and Stokely and Malcom and Angela.

I want to tell them that we need to devour our history before it is taken from our hands and our mouths; peeled from our lips, as it was done before. As people will try to do again. I want to tell the littles that they can add their names to the history books which we will write and rewrite to include us. Include our truth. Undiluted. Free of whitewashing and white history. I want to tell them it is OK to be mad. To be sad. To be filled with confusion and rage.

I hand one of the littles a comic book I found in a booth at AfroPunk. The story is about a kid who discovers she has psychic and empathetic powers, with an abilities related to chakras and auras. The kid has an older brother who skeptically follows her through the journey. The little wants to know if the brother gets powers too, and I wonder if he is thinking about his younger sister and himself. Wonder if he sees his sister as a superhero. I wonder if he sees himself.

He asks me if I think the third eye is real. I tell him, “Yes, I am trying to activate it.” He nods, then tells me about his friend that he watches Naruto (a Japanese manga series about a young ninja on the quest for belonging). He tells me his friend liked to bring a demon into their third eye then activate it, like on the TV show. Then he told me his friend later realized how foolish that was. They said it didn’t feel good bringing in the demons energy. I said “That’s good. We don’t want to welcome in that negative energy, do we?” He shook his head emphatically “Oh, no!”

Conversations like these show me kids have the basic tools for understanding this world we live in. They don’t need to be spoon-fed stories about Martin and his shiny dream. Kids can be told about the world they live in, in terms they can understand. Living in silos of whiteness, it is easy for us to forget that we are not alone in our blackness. Whiteness creates walls to keep us away from each other and afraid. Whiteness rewrites our history and serves it back to us once per annum, requesting us to be grateful, while shouting “reverse racism” and “Why is there no white history month?!” Kids need to be armed and ready for the world of whiteness that awaits them, gearing up to break them down. Today’s children are going to save the world. In order to do that, they need to be prepared, with spirits intact, and curious. Kids need to believe they are magic and to learn their history. In doing so, they will have acquired the tools to call on their ancestors and love themselves now, so as life rolls on they’ve nowhere to go but up and out, and soar beyond the stars.


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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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.


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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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.


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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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.


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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