Are you an anti-racist? If not, let’s talk about it

After writing on race for over a decade as well as spending the last five years as executive director of an anti-racism organization, I have a few thoughts on how we could be tackling our race problem. The problem, though, is that dismantling the system of racism requires action—because change is a verb…and most white people aren’t ready for that level of engagement. To actively create change is to walk into the unknown and human nature—being what it is—well, people fear change. Especially the type of change that requires giving up something. Or creating seismic and uncomfortable shifts. 

Despite millions of white folks waking up since 2016, it’s become clear that the change that many white people want is a return to the status quo. Where racism hides in the shadows and was well known to Black and Brown folks but mostly hidden from white people with some exceptions.

People want to return to the niceness and politeness that hide our true intentions and keeps people in their places, as the system designed it. The “niceness” of whiteness is the backbone of inequity and participating in that system is to be complicit. 

Which is why, as we head into the 2020 election season, we need to sit down and be honest with ourselves. It’s easy enough to stick to the “anyone but Trump” line, but is anyone but Trump really progress? 

Given that we here in the United States are living with an illiterate, ignorant, and hateful leader, the desire for a quick fix is understandable. I mean, it would be nice to have a leader who isn’t an international embarrassment and who doesn’t regularly practice cruelty beyond words. The truth though is that as we enter this 2020 cycle, we are also standing on the cusp of real change. 

While the last several years have unearthed the truth of how deeply embedded racism is in our country, that unearthing has opened the doors for knowledge as many have tried to get a better understanding of how this moment came to be. In 2020, we can take this newfound knowledge and look at candidates with a deeper and broader understanding of the system and decide on a new type of leadership, a leadership that brings in the voices of the marginalized and ushers in candidates who don’t shy away from naming the long-ignored ills that plague this country.

As Ibram X. Kendi states in his latest book, “How To Be An Antiracist,” one is either a racist or an anti-racist; it is not enough to be against racism. To simply be against racism and to love and accept all people is simply passive racism. An anti-racist supports anti-racist policy through their actions. Which begs the question, what are your anti-racist actions? 

Over the years, I have asked that question and the most common response is that people are reading, learning and perhaps engaging in online spaces and—during the heyday of Black Lives Matter protests—perhaps attending a protest. 

Those are great things and honestly, they are necessary steps to move toward becoming an anti-racist. But you have to do more, because how are any of those actions creating change for Black, Brown and Indigenous people? How does your reading about systemic oppression create material change in Black, Brown and Indigenous spaces? How does your reading lead to policies that benefit Black, Brown and Indigenous people? Reading and talking online are gateways to newer ways of being but they are merely the first step, not the final destination. 

Furthermore, because of the intentional design of our communities in the United States, most of us live in racially segregated spaces which creates racial silos, or for white folks (and especially problematic), silos of whiteness. Thus, unless one is intentionally being an anti-racist through action, it means that even with the least racist of thoughts in your head, you have created a racial silo that benefits no one other than yourself—and means that you are centering whiteness. This is not anti-racism work, though it may seem like it. 

No, moving into 2020 requires shifting to examine our actions and thoughts and hold them up against an anti-racist framework. It means moving beyond simple binaries, and asking ourselves: Are we upholding white supremacy or are we dismantling it? If you find yourself drawn to the nice, articulate candidates, examine it. Assuming you have some level of class privilege and resources to spare, are you supporting the work of Black, Brown and Indigenous people? While the national reparations discussion is ongoing, in many communities across the country, people are starting their own community-based reparations work. Projects such as the Boston Ujima Project. Are you supporting online fundraisers for Black, Brown and Indigenous people. Frankly, if you are a regular reader of this space are you a monthly patron or have you ever given? While there are very real costs to running this site and paying our writers and back-end help, we also use our funds to support women of color in Maine as needed. 

There are a plethora of ways to offer support and to actively be an anti-racist in 2020. I would encourage you to think about what you can do and what you will commit to as we move forward. We need all hands on deck and it is simply not enough to be against racism anymore (and honestly, it never was). 

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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Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

This is a business and a mission, not a performance

I am a professional. I am a small business owner. And I am a human being.

Why do I feel like I need to say these things?

Because of a comment sent to the previous post here at the BGIM Media site, which literally had nothing to do with the actual piece written by Samuel James. A comment that I commented on over at Twitter and Facebook because it offended me and creeped me out. I don’t feel a desire to go into the full details here in this post because the person has already gotten too much of the attention they sought, but it got me fired up about some things that this person represents when it comes to my work and my life. So, if you’re confused, hit the links above, then come on back.

Too often, people seem to feel entitled to come at me about my life and my money just because I have a little name recognition and a little notoriety. And yes, the “little” is accurate. I am a professional who serves as executive director of a roughly half-century-old anti-racism organization, but much of that organization’s work has traditionally been centered in the Boston metro area. Yes, I have this website which is both my small business and my mission/passion and people sometimes recognize me on the street and sometimes I’m interviewed by media, but there are many bigger movers and shakers in social justice circles. Yes, I do speaking engagements but I don’t get paid nearly as much or get nearly as many opportunities as multiple other racial-related experts—and the book deal dream still eludes me.

The fact is that I have visibility, but I am not a celebrity. Even if I was a celebrity, people wouldn’t have the right to expect that I will put my whole life on display, no matter how much they demand to dig into such people’s lives. But in the end, I’m not. I have some fans and I get recognized sometimes, but my work is my work and my life is my life. The BGIM site may have started long ago with some aspects of a “mommy blog” but it was never really a mommy blog and it hasn’t had any overtones like that in ages so my family and personal life are not the focus here.

My family is not on display here or anywhere for people’s entertainment, and I sure don’t roll them out as a cash-grab. Twitter may be a space where I promote this site and other aspects of my work, but it is also a personal space where I sometimes vent. That’s the nature of Twitter. On Facebook, I have separate accounts for Black Girl in Maine and Shay Stewart-Bouley. I’m not saying I never vent on the former or post work-related stuff on the latter, but there is substantial separation.

Even when my family had the N-word hurled at us in Portland one fine sunny day on a stroll, I didn’t bring that out to get attention. I talked about it because a journalist who saw what happened turned it into a story without my consent and without talking to me like a journalist would. When things happen to my family, racially or otherwise, they rarely make it into this site because my family members are not props.

When I talk about a major family health problem on social media, it is simply to vent and, yes, to hopefully get a little emotional support. But I didn’t ask for money any time I’ve talked about this family health crisis. I’m not crowdfunding. Why would I share details of who is facing the health challenge and what that health crisis is?

More than that: Why would anyone imply that I “must” do so to deserve money?

The only real money I ask here and in social media with any prominence or regularity is to support this BGIM Media site. This is a business, with hosting costs, writers to pay, taxes to pay to Uncle Sam, a technical person to pay and multiple upgrades to security protocols because this site is literally attacked multiple times per day—and more expenses as well.

Was this “CK” who posted here stalking me about my family’s health and speculating about my financials referring to the little blurb at the end of Sam’s post asking people to contribute to the site (which is still 100 patrons away from being fully funded, so I’m hardly rolling in money) or to hire me to speak? Every post has that blurb.

Was it because I sometimes mention on social media that if someone really wants to do something nice for me perhaps think of a nice spa gift certificate or something like that? That’s because I don’t make the gobs of money “CK” seems to imply that I do (and the amount they are guessing at isn’t a high standard of living in a today’s world, honestly), and sometimes I want a little relief and, for some people, it’s easier to gift something than to commit to becoming a patron of the site or whatever. Plus, it never hurts to ask for something nice when you’re doing work that gets you stalkers and death threats and MAGA trolls.

Bottom line is that I work hard and I’m still struggling in a lot of ways, even if I’m not poverty-stricken. There’s a lot people don’t know (and don’t have a right to know) about what I own (or don’t) and where I live (or don’t anymore) and what my family suffers (or doesn’t) and people don’t have a right to have open access to my life.

They sure as hell don’t have a right to question whether I, as a professional Black woman who works hard in a country built on racism, make too much money (or already make “enough” money in their eyes) or has the right to seek additional work like speaking engagements. And they doubly don’t have the right to call upon me to lay open the personal health issues of any of my family—or to share where I live or where I might have property when even the biggest city in Maine is so small.

Yes, I’m going through a crisis, and part of the reason I’ve mentioned it in passing here on the site is to let you know I’m stretched thin and stressed out but still working as hard as I am able to keep fresh content here. Because this is not just a site with a mission to teach people, open eyes and hearts, and fight racism and other oppressions—it is also a business that some of you support and I hope more of you will in the future. And a business without product isn’t much of a business. I will keep working to provide for you, even as I ask for your support.

But kindly don’t make demands of my time or ask me to shuck and jive for the money. I’m a professional, not a hustler or performer.

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.

Appealing to the middle hurts almost everyone but the right

I’m certainly the kind of person who will point to the presidency of Barack Obama with some amount of pride, if only because he got as much done as he did with a GOP-controlled Congress for much of his time in office and their reluctance to let a Black man achieve anything in the Oval Office. Also the fact that two terms yielded no real scandals related to the Obamas—and certainly no crimes—except for things like the horrific “taking off his tie during the workday” and “putting his feet on the desk” and “the infamous tan suit” situations. A lot of white people really needed fainting couches for those terrible faux pas that were so much worse than shady deals with the Contras or starting wars in the Middle East that weren’t necessary except to help U.S. businesses or gutting environmental, educational and civil rights regulations and laws or anything else that past presidents, especially Republican ones, have done.

At the same time, I’ve often side-eyed President Obama and Michelle Obama for too often not really hitting home the problems of systemic and institutional racism (yes, Barack Obama gave a couple good speeches about race but he didn’t work very hard to move the needle) and for defending groups like the police far too often when the killings of unarmed Black people were becoming more and more a visible phenomenon in America. You know, as well as other pandering to white people and white-friendly institutions. I get that maybe he was just trying to avoid getting himself and his family killed while he was in office but I also think he did his fair share of selling out.

And Obama has disappointed me again with an appeal for Democrats to not be “too radical” because if they are they won’t win.

“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” he said at the annual meeting of the Democracy Alliance. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

Also: “Voters, including Democrats, are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain left-leaning Twitter feeds, or the activist wing of our party. And that’s not a criticism to the activist wing. Their job is to poke and prod and text and inspire and motivate. But the candidate’s job, whoever that ends up being, is to get elected.”

So, what he is saying is, “tone that left-leaning stuff down if you want to win.”

Win what?

Win more concessions with the GOP, which has gone so far right that to compromise with them and “meet in the middle” is to essentially enact conservative—or at least slightly right of center—policies? How is that even considered progress? The way I see it, that is simply more erosion of liberal ideologies and a big high-five to a corrupt status quo.

You know, those revolutionary ideas were what gave workers weekends and workplace protections and gave women and non-white people the right to vote like any other adult and gave us the Social Security and Medicare programs that conservatives tap into just as much as liberals do even while they pretend they hate the programs…you get the idea; people have said it thousands of times before me and better.

In a time of more and more activism among young people moving a lot of things to the left—not to mention a pretty decent number of older Americans who are sick of seeing women’s bodily rights stripped away and are weary of more videos of police brutality against Indigenous people and Black people and so on—shouldn’t we be revisiting how far from the left the Democrats have strayed?

We don’t have to look any farther back than Bill Clinton to see what making deals with Republicans to “meet in the middle” gives us. It gave us, among other things, a gutting of the social safety net (“welfare”) that made it even harder for people to get out of public aid or rise above it (it just cut them off and threw them away) and led to situations today when Black women have to leave their kids in the car to go to a job interview because welfare ran out or they have to work while on welfare and then they get charged with a crime for doing what they were told they had to when they can’t possibly afford child care to allow them to go to the interview they have to go to—or else.

Sorry for the ramble there. This gets me heated.

President Obama did a lot of good and was (and is) probably a good man with good intentions. But the Overton Window has moved so far to the right in the days since I was in middle school that there is precious little left-friendly representation or action at the legislative/policy levels nationally, in the states or locally.

This false “appeal to the middle” notion (what middle—the middle between Nazis and Reagan stans?) is just pandering and rolling over to expose our bellies to the claws and teeth of our enemies. Apparently Obama forgot to check the memo from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Moderates will not save the Black people and other POC (or women or Muslims or LGBTQ+ people or anyone else on the margins) from the ravages of the right. They will only tone things down when they go a step or two too far (well, sometimes they will) and then later once they settle back into the cozy status quo forget that we never took a step or two back to get to the “bad normal” and also ignored the fact we actually needed to go several steps back to get to actual freedom and justice. Instead, they let the horrible stuff stand for years or generations and then finally move that back a little and then call it “progressive” that they did so.

That’s straight-up BS. Grade-A horse dookie.

Just like that photo of Michelle Obama hugging up on George W. Bush (and more) and people talking about “See, the Dems and the GOP just need to do more of this and things will get better!” No, things will get worse. Just like Ellen DeGeneres buddies up with the same war criminal and inept bastard that got us into years of warfare for no good reason and almost collapsed the U.S. economy and shows herself to be more in league with the position she has with wealth and whiteness than she does with people on the margins—LGBTQ+ people like her among them.

Except that as bad as those two women’s cozy behavior is, Barack Obama’s is worse because as a former community organizer he should know better. The system is not set up to be of help to people who need help—it exists to boost up people who already have so much wealth it’s obscene. The problem is not the left—the problem is that the left has been so effectively gagged. Unions have largely been stripped of their ability to advocate for workers, social safety nets are ripped to shreds and for the most part people can’t even afford healthcare or retirement anymore unless they are among the lucky Baby Boomers (white) who got all those nice government handouts that made them middle class—then they promptly got into power and denied those same chances to Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.

We need more noise from the left, and more action. We need the left to regain support and power, not to have it undermined by people in power who made deals with the Devil and called it progress.

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.