I don’t consider myself to be an activist or an organizer but, having trained another lifetime ago with the Midwest Training Academy via the Americorps Vista program in the mid 1990s and having spent the past 23 years working in communities for social ...

 

Black Girl in Maine - 5 new articles



Adding grace and community to activism, accountability and equity

I don’t consider myself to be an activist or an organizer but, having trained another lifetime ago with the Midwest Training Academy via the Americorps Vista program in the mid 1990s and having spent the past 23 years working in communities for social change, I realize that there are some who do see me as an activist or an organizer—or both.

In recent years, I have lived, breathed and slept anti-racism work. I came to this work as a frustrated Black woman who had relocated to Maine for family reasons. The racism that I saw early on in this state was downright shocking. Whether it was having my son brought home in the back of a cop car because he dared to go buy a sandwich and was deemed suspicious or me being called colored on a good day to nigger on a bad day. To be clear, racism in Chicago was real and quite present as a constant fog around me, but in a predominantly (and overwhelmingly…more than 90% of the population) white state like Maine, it was more blatant to me and thus more soul-crushing

After five years of running a community-based center for families in Biddeford, Maine, I stepped down from that position in 2013 to become the first Black woman to head Community Change Inc. (CCI), a Boston-based anti-racism organization with a holistic approach to tackling systemic racism. I took the job because I wanted to do more than write about racism; I wanted to actually be a part of the larger movement for change.

When I started at CCI in 2014, I had already built a small but loyal following on social media, as I had started blogging in 2008. And while the initial focus of my blog was parenting and living in Maine while Black, my writing shifted to writing more in-depth essay style pieces on racism and systemic oppression, using personal stories as a vehicle to make people think critically about race. The other purpose of my writing was (and continues to be) to connect with other Black people and other POC who live in overwhelmingly white spaces. Having spent almost the first 30 years of my life in Chicago, my own analysis on blackness shifted as I met Black and brown people who lived in Maine and other parts of Northern New England. It allowed me to process the richness of the Black experience outside of living in areas where people expect to find us.

As I settled into my role at CCI, I had no idea that anti-racism/racial justice work would go mainstream and move beyond academic and activist spaces. Thanks to technology and  the ability to capture extrajudicial violence against Black and brown bodies would shift the narratives and lead to long overdue conversations.

The election of our first Black president was a smokescreen that allowed many white Americans to deem racism a thing of the past. Yet it was under our first Black president that police violence towards Black people escalated. Barack Obama was tentative at best when it came to racial matters, having to walk the type of fine line that the system of white supremacy and capitalism demands of its chosen tokens. I say this with great fondness for Obama the man while recognizing that in many ways, Obama the president was the worse thing to happen to Black America.

The atmosphere and technology that allowed trauma porn against Black bodies to be viewed from the comforts of our homes also gave rise to a new type of activism. One that led directly to the creation of groups and movements such as Black Lives Matter.

There is no doubt that these newer, more inclusive and often young people led movements that were in large part what we needed to shift the narrative. They are still part of what we need and yet, as an older head, I worry about the personal impact on those in the trenches. I worry that in this race to save ourselves, the very human parts of working for change are being lost and that in our quest to create an equitable world, we are losing parts of ourselves and others.

The same technology that is moving the needle threatens to destroy our very humanity as we can now package and sell parts of ourselves and take the difficult and clumsy work of dismantling white supremacy and offer it in a package complete with a to-do list.

Anti-racism work is hard. It’s taxing for Black folks and other POC because this work is about us getting free and it’s hard for white people because few white folks want to willingly give up their privilege. While you can learn about the system of oppression and want to end it, most people will stumble; to be frank, people will fuck it up. It’s messy, it’s emotional and what keeps people in the work is their community.

We talk a great deal about accountability, which is absolutely essential to anti-racism work but we leave out the piece that accountability requires being in community with people. With accountability comes grace, the type of grace that we rarely will offer up to people with whom we don’t have an emotional attachment.

Without community and grace, people in movement spaces often become disposable at that inevitable point when they make mistakes or we realize that we are susceptible to the type of personalities looking to gain access to power and privilege.

In the past several years I have watched a number of people and programs come and go in anti-racism spaces. I have watched as people have become stars only to be deemed trash a few years later. And it’s true that some of those people whose stars dimmed were problematic and perhaps toxic but others were simply humans who stumbled for a moment in time.

There are always a few folks who are not operating in good faith; these people are everywhere. Bad actors are an unfortunate part of the human experience. From where I sit, I am not sure if we will ever weed these people out but what I do know is that the current anti-racism climate is ripe for hucksters and those who are looking for a payday and not liberation.

I worry that as social media allows us to talk openly about our work that we are creating anti-racism superstars and that type of celebrity, while it can help inform, can also hinder if one is not self-aware and does not have a community to which they are accountable.

As I think about my personal and organizational goals for 2019, I feel a sense of urgency to be grounded and connected to my own communities both in Maine where I live and in Boston where I work.

There are many schools of thoughts about racial justice and anti-racism work. For some, it is never about the heart and mind connection to shift things but instead the focus is strictly on dismantling the system of white supremacy. Yet I believe that both parts are critical to making the shifts we need. When I look at our current systems and racial disparities, I see the people working in those systems. I see a nation that shifted laws to create parity and yet very little has changed. My own personal view is that eradicating the disease of white supremacy will require a heart, mind and systemic approach. Which will also require a reallocation of material resources to create parity.

This isn’t going to be easy—especially in the era of white nationalism and Trump—which is why those in the trenches and those supporting those in the trenches need to be grounded in not just sound organizing principles but within a community which will hold them in grace and hold them accountable when necessary.


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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In the fear of being racist, failing to be an ally

Trigger warning: this essay discusses sexual abuse and assault.

When I saw Dave Chappelle’s skit in 2003 of a music video parodying someone named R. Kelly, I’m ashamed to admit I thought it kinda gross but also kinda funny. (My shame today wants me to not tell you this, but I won’t let it stop me.) At the time, I didn’t know why he created the video. I also didn’t try to find out. So I didn’t know it had anything to do with sexual assault victims of R. Kelly. I just cringed, hummed along to the song, and laughed. A lot. I’m now horrified I was so dismissive of Kelly’s victims, but this isn’t about me and my feelings.

If you don’t already know about it, a documentary called “Surviving R. Kelly” recently aired on Lifetime television last week. The documentary exposes Kelly as a serial and sadistic abuser of young girls and women. Highlighting interviews with women who survived his abuse, it shows how his career has been “riddled with rumors of abuse, predatory behavior, and pedophilia.” And, “[d]espite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, to date, none of these accusations have seemingly affected him.”

It’s only because I follow many Blackwomen on social media that I became aware of this documentary. In addition tothe palpable pain and outrage the women expressed, I saw anger at whitepeople’s silence. Anger at how we didn’t listen, didn’t see, didn’t hear whenBlack girls and women told us about the abuse.

For example:

Or this powerful tweet thread (several tweets connected together) by @DrSamiSchalk:

I tried to answer her questions (in my mind). Because I’m a sexual abuse and assault survivor myself, I certainly had thoughts about his predatory behavior, but it didn’t feel right to tweet about it. Why? Because he’s Black. I’m not saying I think it’s racist to bring awareness to his crimes, but I am saying part of me preferred speaking up about white perpetrators instead of a Black one. I am sure, too, that I was afraid it would seem racist to “pick on” this particular criminal. Tweeting about Jeffrey Epstein? Sure, but a Black man? Should I really do that?

Back to Dr. Sami Schalk:

Yes, I think my fear of being racist—and in this case, I mean causing harm to people of color as an individual rather than racism as the structure on which our country is founded—my fear is sometimes stronger than my solidarity with Black women and girls. (I recommend reading the whole thread, here.).

The solution for me is not to criticizethe abuser himself—though I certainly wouldn’t defend him—but to talk about thesystem that allowed him to continue harming Black girls. A society that doesn’tvalue Black girls, doesn’t hear Black girls or women when they speak, or tellsthem to shut up when they raise their voices loud enough that they’re harder toignore.

So many people were just like me, laughing along with Dave Chappelle. (Chappelle even went as far as saying 15-year-olds are old enough to offer informed consent to sexual acts with an adult.) Again, I won’t let my shame about the truth silence me: It must be that I didn’t care enough about Black girls and women to notice what they were saying.

It’s because of this that I will be talking with people about the systems that allowed Kelly to abuse these girls and young women. Twitter white woman Erynn Brook has some good thoughts on how to be white and against R. Kelly. The #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, is a movement that stands against all abusers. But the truth is, not all survivors are treated equally. I will actively make sure my fellow white people know about “Surviving R. Kelly,” bringing to their awareness how our society has especially let down Black girls and women. Yes, all abuse is bad. But we’ve got to start recognizing that all survivors are equally deserving of our response; that thus far we haven’t acted like that is true. We need to care about Black girls and women more. We need to do more for and with Black girls and women so we can, together, destroy misogynoir.

If you want to learn more, check out Feminista Jones’ “Surviving R. Kelly’ and the Inherent Violence of Being a Black Woman;” this piece by Morgan Jenkins in Teen Vogue, “R. Kelly and Other Powerful Men Have Always Manipulated Their Teen Fans;” or, especially, this piece that includes viewing advice for those of us who haven’t yet seen the documentary: “After Surviving R. Kelly, What Now? How About Trusting Survivors and Dismantling Systemic Misogynoir?


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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Yes, I’m POC, but 95% of the time I’m simply Black

This week, I made a little self-affirming, declaring-my-identitytweet, and it went like this:

Just a reminder, I’m Black. I’m not a Person of Color. It’s cool if you are but I’m not. I’m just Black. If using the term Black makes you feel uncomfortable, you should sit with it and examine why. Signed, A Black Girl in Maine.

It got some support. It got some raised eyebrows. It gotsome negative responses.

So, let’s have some real talk about the term people (orperson) of color, or POC for short, and Black. And understand that while mytweet and this post focus a lot on Black (and blackness) because, well. I am, this is a post that could easily besubstituted with “Indigenous” or “Latinx” or just about anything else besides “Black”(assuming you changed some of the specific historical examples and whatnot).But I’m blackity black Black, so lemme keep it real and personal, OK?

Yes, I am a POC. I live in a white supremacist,white-privilege-focused, white-centered nation in a world that in huge portionsof it is pretty much the same way. POCs as a whole get pushed down and shovedto the side. That’s true. So, yes, I belong to the large group known as POC.

But you’ve heard of white-adjacent, right? Or “proximity towhiteness” maybe? OK, maybe not all of you. But the fact is, certain POC aretreated less badly—sometimes way less badly than a Black person—becausethey aren’t as dark as Black people and because they are perceived differentlyby white people in terms of “threat level.” That’s a fact. And aside from howlight (or not) a POC is, there are all kinds of cultural and historicaldifferences (good and bad) that make us distinct as well from each other.

Black people and Indigenous people here in the United Statesand a whole lot of other places are pretty much the most maligned and abusedPOC groups. Blacks got chattel slavery and being seen as literal property withno agency for centuries, followed by brutal segregation and state-sponsored abuseand lynching that frankly continues to this day in many ways. Indigenous peoplewere subjected to genocide and then their few remaining numbers put onreservations with few resources. And both groups have been subjected to effortsto dismiss their cultural traditions or stamp them out entirely, all at thesame time as white people appropriated what they wanted from those culturaltraditions.

Latinx people have had to deal with a lot of overt racismand cultural appropriation and disproportionate levels of police violence, too,but the history is different and the kind of hatred expressed toward them isdifferent. And with other POC, like various Asian people, there is also adifferent flavor of racism directed toward them. And so on.

It’s true that as POC, we have a lot of shared goals. Butthe problem with casually and regularly referring to me as a person of color(when I identify as Black) or lumping any other non-white person into the POCcategory, is that you are ignoring their central identity. You are erasing thecore of who they are for the most part. Because most people, at least in myexperience, identify within their group primarily, and not primarily as POC.

In other words, when we are talking about issues that really affect all POC in a similar way (or most of them), by all means let’s say “POC.” But if you want to honor who I am and what I deal with day in and day out, you need to call me “Black.” Because my experience with racism, for example, day in and day out, is as a Black person. A Black woman.

And that’s another spot where I see an example of erasure.Being a woman under the umbrella called feminism. Because as has often beennoted by women of color (Black, Latinx, Asian, Arab, Indigenous, etc.), much offeminism is white-centered, and the moment non-white women try to bringattention to particular sexism or misogyny tied to their race (or in the caseof trans women, their sexual identification), they are called divisive andaccused of derailing the movement. They are called upon to just be women and tofollow a white-led party line and to put their specific concerns aside for now(which really means over and over again forever), no matter how horrible theirspecific experiences are compared to white and/or cis women.

I am not rejecting my shared plights with POC when I insiston being called Black. I am not being divisive when I say I am a Black personfirst and a POC secondarily. I am asserting my identity and my experience. I amembracing my racial history and culture and being proud of who and what I am. BeingBlack has a ton to do with how I was raised, the way I speak, the food I holddear, the notions I hold sacred, the music I love and the way I dance—and somuch more. The same is true of so many Latinx or Hispanic people and Asianpeople in all their varied forms, and other POC who are not justpart of some monolithic group called “people of color.”

I am also identifying myself in a specific way because myblackness causes me to be treated in a way that other POC are not, just astheir race or ethnicity or both cause them to be treated in a different waythan me.

We have a shared struggle against white supremacy, butburying our cultural and racial identities under the term POC to me doesn’t feellike it will honor our ancestors, our history or our culture.

It seems to me it will only help to erase or obscure them, and that serves whiteness more than it serves us, I think.


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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Racism really only goes one direction mostly

Rememberwhen white people thought that Obama’s election meant we got rid of racism?Remember how cute that was? Well, I hope you’re getting ready for some morecuteness! Whenever 45 leaves office you won’t even be able to count the numberof talking heads and think pieces talking all about how we got rid of racismagain! But you can bet your post-racial ass that that’s not how any of thisworks.

All things are not even. Racially motivated attacks went up when Obama was elected. Then 45 got elected and what do you think happened?

Theywent down.

Just kidding. They went up the next fucking day because it only ever goes in one direction.

—-

Last week, while at work, a young, Black woman was attacked by a white man. The woman, Yasmine James, was employed by McDonald’s and the white man was a customer, demanding a plastic straw. Here’s CNN’s article about it.

Thefirst line is, “Anew plastic straw law had unexpected consequences when a man lashed out at aworker at a fast food chain.”

Now,first of all, you know goddamn well that his lashing out was a very expectedconsequence of a misogynist and racist culture of violence, but CNN doesn’t seethat. Even looking right at it, the most open minds seem to only say, “Good forher! She got her shots!” But that’s a problem, too.

In that statement is the idea that Black women are tougher than the rest. We accept that idea on falsely natural terms, without any type of context. We never ask why that could possibly be. We don’t consider that a system’s neglect and persecution would force some to either die or defend themselves against the terror and abuses unseen by those with systemic protections. No, instead we look on with idiotic admiration as though that’s just the beauty of Mother Nature’s obvious intentions. We don’t protect Black women. We arrogantly and condescendingly applaud from a soothing distance while they, alone are compelled to protect themselves.

By accepting the idea that Black women are naturally (or genetically) tougher, we accept the idea that they do not need the rights and protection guaranteed to them as people. In so doing, we also remove their humanity, implying that they don’t even experience natural human emotions, like fear.

So, sure, she whooped his ass. And, yes, it’s because she’s a badass, but that is beside the point. The point is that it is unacceptable to require that of her or any other Black woman.

—-

Imaginea small, belligerent man. Imagine him yelling in the face of a much bigger man.Imagine the much bigger man being very patient with the small, belligerent man.The much bigger man tells the small, belligerent man to walk away, but herefuses and continues being belligerent. You’ve probably seen something likethis before. You know how it turns out. Usually the much bigger, formallypatient man takes the small, belligerent man, puts him out like a cigarette andyou wonder why the small, belligerent man ever thought it could’ve gone anyother way.

Nowimagine the same scenario from the beginning, except the much bigger man is apolice officer. Now imagine the much bigger police officer is telling thesmall, belligerent man to walk away because he’s obstructing an investigation.But the small, belligerent man refuses, saying something like, “I’m gonna standright here and talk however I want because this is fucking America!” Orsomething like, “Back up offa me, bitch!”?

This one’s a little harder to visualize. Not only could this much bigger cop put the small, belligerent man out like a cigarette, but, you know, the police kill about a thousand people a year because they’re pretty much allowed to. It’s kind of a silly situation to imagine, but that’s me. I’m a Black man. Every run-in I have with the police I do my level best to get through as easily as possible. Even if I was white, though, I still don’t think I could believe that the state-sanctioned power of my skin color would out match the cop’s state-sanctioned license to kill.

But what if I was white and the cop was Black? Could my skin tone allow me to then behave as though I had authority over any Black man despite his station in life? I mean, yeah. Absolutely. I could totally see that. And so can you, right here.

Yup.That happened. A small, belligerent, white man was told by a much bigger, Blackcop at least five times to “keep walking” because he was obstructing aninvestigation. And the small, belligerent, white man refused.

What ifthe possession of the badge been reversed? How many times do you think thatcommand would’ve been given before the gun came out?

The small, belligerent, probably drunk, white man resisted arrest. A lot. Again, reverse possession of the badge and how much resistance happens before the gun comes out? We don’t need to reverse it. We’ve seen it. A disproportionate amount of times. This situation is the reversal.

Whitenessallowed that small, belligerent—probably drunk—white man to obstruct a policeinvestigation, defy police commands, curse out a police officer to his face,resist arrest and survive just the same as it allowed that motherfucker inMcDonalds to assault Yasmine James.

Whiteness allowed that same motherfucker in McDonald’s to later call the cops and falsely claim he had been robbed by a group of Black people just the same as it allowed that small, belligerent, probably drunk, white man to talk on the radio like he’s giving his own arrest a goddamn Yelp review.

And whiteness makes me wonder if Yasmine and the cop will get to keep their jobs because, like I said before: This really only ever goes in one direction.


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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Year-end recap of BGIM Media and why change requires more

Happy winter holidays!

After an intense 2018, we are taking a few days off from posting. Regular posting will resume Jan. 7, 2019, though if the spirit moves me, I might write a piece sooner.

However, before I go into break mode, I wanted to share some thoughts. 2018 marked 10 years that this blog/site has been around. Black Girl in Maine was birthed in 2008 as part of the then-popular mom blogger era. When I started this blog, I had a 3-year-old and a 16-year-old. I was a few years out of graduate school and had just been laid off from an adjunct teaching position. The economy was in tatters and there was an immense buzz around Barack Obama, who would later go on to be elected as America’s first Black president.

Racially, things seemed to be changing and yet in writing about raising Black kids in Maine, I saw signs that things were not nearly as hopeful as the mainstream media made them out to be. I realized that as I wrote about parenting that race played a pivotal role and that at no point could I divorce myself from the realities of race as a Black woman both in America’s whitest state and America at large. I saw my then teen son grapple with the realities of not being white and over time, I made the decision to shift my writing to racial and social matters.

The past few years have been exciting as we have grown from just my voice to including the voices of other Black and non-Black POC writers and a select few white writers. In 2018, I gave over 20 talks/workshops throughout New England and we launched the long-awaited podcast.  Over the past year, we posted over 100 pieces on this site, additional pieces on the patron-only page, and we posted about thousands of articles and stories on the BGIM Facebook page as well.

While there has been an explosion in books/sites and other venues discussing white supremacy and what white people need to do to shift our racial course, there has been less attention paid to the day-to-day process of what that work will entail; needless to say, it is a long journey. It requires sacrifice and it requires touching your own humanity and that of others. Social media has been a great vehicle for starting the conversations, and yet it has its limitations. We aren’t going to have collective liberation following a to-do list from the comfort of our homes.

One of the things that I have learned in my five years as executive director of a small anti-racism organization is that our work goes beyond slick marketing and the immediate moment. While it is true that Black people and other people of color must be a part of dismantling white supremacy, if we aren’t careful, we can fall into old harmful patterns that will disproportionately affect Black folks and POC. By asking and expecting all Black and other POC to be in charge, it assumes that all Black folks and POC are willing and able to assume that role. Racial trauma is real and for Black folks in particular, we need to do our own healing work. I am concerned in this moment that we aren’t getting the space to do that work. Instead, our trauma is being channeled into sellable moments that can assuage white guilt via the commodification of “wokeness.”

One thing though that I agree with is that racial change will require a reallocation of material resources and that for white people, that means you must financially support movement work whether it is paying the Black and POC who are feeding you knowledge or paying for direct on-the-ground organizing.

Black folks and other POC are living with the extra burden of existing in Trump’s America while some of them are still juggling hundreds of years of racial trauma that is often passed down generationally. And while many white folks are waking up to the reality of what whiteness means, if you can’t put skin in the game, nothing changes.

One of my goals moving forward in 2019 is to shift more of BGIM’s resources to local organizers of color. While the financial support we receive allows us to pay our writers and for the BGIM Media infrastructure, this year I have started giving more to local initiatives such as Maine’s Theater Ensemble of Color and others. I have also been able to provide one-time support to women of color in need. Until recently, I have not felt the need to share this information but as a trusted confidante recently told me, transparency is important. So yes, when you give, you are keeping BGIM Media going but you are also supporting local/regional organizing and organizers in New England. So I leave you with a few requests.

Maria is a Latinx woman based in Portland, Maine, who is providing wellness and recreation opportunities for Latinx immigrant families in the area, but she needs money to do it. Would you consider making a donation? Your money will be used to pay for gas, food, park or museum entrance fees, facility rental, art supplies for the children, yoga/massage and other wellness services, childcare, and outreach to these mostly-hidden families. To support her, you can go here: https://www.gofundme.com/latinx-wellness-and-recreation

Lastly, while I put out the request last month for support for BGIM Media, giving has not met expectations and to be frank, it means that the future of the podcast is in jeopardy. I have recorded three episodes and I am scheduled to record episode 4 next week. However, we are nowhere near what is needed to keep the podcast going. The podcast was added due to repeated requests over the years but it is far more labor-intensive and has it’s own specific costs. If you haven’t heard the episodes, you can check them out here. If you want to become a monthly patron, here is the BGIM Patreon page, or you can give a one-time gift here. When you support BGIM Media, you are keeping an independent, Black woman-owned space going. As well as helping it to become something even better for you and for other readers.

If you are a supporter, thank you. If you are a regular reader, thank you. From the BGIM Family to yours, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!