Reparations are required; anything less is an insult

Even the people who say they are progressive or liberal often become way less open-minded the second a Black person says anything with the word “reparations” in it. It’s always “how would we know who really deserves reparations?” or “how could we make that work logistically” or “but my family didn’t own slaves” or “slavery was so long ago.” (by the way, that last one isn’t true. It may seem a long time ago but it hasn’t been that many generations—my paternal grandparents suffered under sharecropping, which was right after slavery, and my dad grew up under Jim Crow laws…also, there were Black people still enslaved into the 1960s).

But there is some noise being made about moving reparations forward, as the House of Representatives recently concluded hearings to consider establishing a commission that would study the impact and fallout from slavery and look into ways reparations might be able to happen. That has a lot of white people in their feelings some kind of way—though not mostly in a good way.

But how about you sit down and listen to a story before we talk about reparations? Let’s set the stage.

See, there’s this super-wealthy family, the Andersons, who hate you and your family for no reason you can understand. It’s so bad that Uri Samuel Anderson IV, the rich-ass head of the Anderson clan, hires people to go to your house on the working-class side of town to do things like break your windows, punch holes in your roof, slash the tires of your car and beat you to a pulp every once in a while. So, you can never get ahead financially because you keep having to fix the damage or go to the hospital and you get demoted or fired from jobs for missing work so much.

But this isn’t just about you and Mister Anderson. Your families go way back.

Uri’s great-grandfather, Uri Samuel Anderson, lived next to your great-grandfather. He stole the deed to your great-grandfather’s farm, added the land to his own and tore down your family’s home, forcing them to live in a shack and farm for good ole U.S. Anderson without pay. And he did other very nasty things, but we won’t go into those except to say that he demanded thanks for every one of them.

Later, his son Uri Samuel Anderson II “graciously” allowed your grandfather and his family to earn money from farming (his other business interests left him little interest in doing any farming himself) but demanded most of their crops and charged them a ridiculously high rent that kept them poor and beholden to him and his family. He also did the same other nasty things his father did, but he didn’t make your grandfather and his family thank him for doing them.

Then with the next generation, U.S.A. III, who had really expanded his family’s empire, kicked your father and his family off the land after taking everything they owned and every penny they had. Then, when they started a business in town and started making progress in life, he sent thugs to extract “protection” money from them on a regular basis.

And now his son terrorizes you. In fact, he calls you up one day to insult you for being a loser who can never get ahead and you lose it. You  shout at him about all that he has done to hold you back and all that his ancestors did, back to U.S. Anderson the first, and all he can say is to snap back at you, “What my great-grandfather did was ages ago. Your family has had plenty of time to recover from that.”

I hope my metaphor is heavy handed enough. I want it to be.

The Andersons, or white America, started with using oppression and never stopped when slavery ended. They just changed it up every generation or so. The abuse may have lessened in some ways, but it remained really abusive and—and this is the really important part—the actions made sure to keep Black people from getting ahead. So from slavery to sharecropping to Jim Crow to the burning of Black Wall Street to the mass incarceration of Black people for weed or crack possession to predatory real estate policies to police violence and more. And while Black people were held down and then knocked down when they got up, white Americans profited off their misery. They got ahead through the generations with things like the G.I Bill and more generous interest rates and more opportunities, better educations, inheritances from their family, etc. But worse than that, like the Andersons, white Americans took credit for all their successes but wouldn’t take one bit of responsibility for the things they had done (and things they continued to do) to Black people to stay well ahead of them and keep them not only from getting ahead economically but preventing them from getting any power or influence whenever possible.

America, and most white Americans, have used and abused Black people. And when they haven’t been doing the abusing first-hand, they’ve watched the abuse happen or turned their backs because they didn’t want to rock the boat and they didn’t want to admit the ugliness. Which is complicity. There are extremely few white people in this country who can legitimately claim they haven’t benefited in the past (and usually now, too) in some way from the mistreatment of Black people.

Black people have been stolen from over and over. Time for America to pay us back now, as it should have done generations ago. Just because the country dropped the ball back then doesn’t get it off the hook now, and that’s because there still isn’t a fair playing field for Black people. And the inability for us to prosper enough to pass wealth to our descendants in the way white people have been allowed (and helped with government programs) to do is one of the biggest reasons we are so behind white America in terms of wealth levels.

And yet folks like Mitch McConnell in the Senate speak for much of white America when he says, as he did very recently, “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea. We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president.” For some perspective on just a few of the things wrong with that statement, go here.

But let me add that when Barack Obama was elected, white America lost its mind and hate crimes against Black people and other people of color went up, people accused Obama for years of being secretly Kenyan despite an actual Hawaiian birth certificate, and he was blocked at almost every conceivable turn by Republicans for trying to improve the country, after he saved us from an economic collapse that was looming because of George W. Bush and gang. So, I don’t think a Black president is much of a sign that America is sorry or that it planned to do better to Black people.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the people who has spoken very clearly (and recently) on why reparations need to be paid and why it’s the right thing to do. And The Root helped clarify just how many people still alive now are liable for reparations since Mitch McConnell and his ilk like to keep saying no one alive today has any responsibility to Black people for slavery and all its effects.

The bottom line though: Black people were robbed and continue to have their pockets picked. Time to pay up.

Reparations won’t fix race relations. They won’t end racism. What they will do, if done honestly and right, is to reimburse Black America for past wrongs and give them a chance to be on the even and fair footing the vast majority of them have been denied since the first stolen and enslaved Africans arrived on America’s shores. And, if the abusive and predatory things like police violence and unfair banking policies and more are reduced or, better yet, eliminated along with the granting of reparations, maybe we can start approaching a place where there is equity and Black people are allowed to live, breathe and maybe even thrive for once.

But I’m telling you true: The longer reparations continue not to be taken seriously, the more it’s gonna cost. Because we Black people have been very patient for too long (you might have noticed the lack of mass revolts and lack of race wars) but we sure haven’t neglected to keep the receipts and tally up the interest.

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.

Image by Olu Famule from Unsplash

The goal is in sight, but the content needs reader support…your support

Dear Readers,

The first five months of 2019 have personally been quite a journey and a testament to the power of how our voices can make a difference. When I created this site back in 2008, I never could have imagined that this space would be a part of taking my work and voice beyond Maine and Northern New England.

Not only has it done that, but it has served as an incubator for new and emerging writers of color in the region as several of our earlier contributors have moved onto other opportunities including one who has a book in the works. Yay, Samara!

I am constantly looking to bring on new contributors with a racial analysis and story that I believe can benefit the larger readership. Which is why, despite our focus on working with writers of color, we have two white contributors: Average White Guy and Heather Denkmire. Two white people who are personally committed to doing better as white people, understanding that they will never be woke enough, because they are white and will forever be works in progress when it comes to their own liberation from whiteness and white supremacy.

As awareness of how white supremacy is embedded into the fabric of this nation continues to grow, our readership grows. Sadly, what has not grown is the revenue to fully sustain this site, along with the podcast which is now on permanent hiatus until we are fully funded. It costs money and time to work with a podcast producer as well as the scheduling of guests, something that with my work schedule (which involves 8-12 days per month of travel) was becoming a logistical nightmare. We currently have contributing writers, an editor, and myself, along with the related costs to run this site and pay for my time which includes covering our subscription costs as well as time spent daily posting resources and articles on social media.

The thing is, as I wrote in February of this year: How exactly does one make money from blogging or really any type of digital writing? In reality, the average writer is making very little as consumers have come to expect a steady stream of content to be available at no cost to them. I say this not just as a blogger but as one who was partnered for 20 years to a journalist. An ole-school J-school grad, who has watched his own fortunes dry up. The days of writing for a buck or two per word have gone the way of the landline telephone.

In today’s world, asking readers to support the work that they value has become the norm. Sites like Patreon are no longer an anomaly but a reality if you are a content creator, otherwise there is simply no way else to have the work covered.

I announced in February that I was moving much of the content that we provide on this site to Patreon but after hearing the feedback from many of you, I decided to shelve that idea for the time being. I grew up poor/working class, I recognize that many people may truly not have a spare $5 or $10 a month but truly wants to be able to access the information. However, to keep the site accessible to not have to put much of my content behind a “paywall” requires that those who can afford to become a patron do so. It’s a form of class solidarity and it’s important.

Right now, we are 134 patrons away from being fully funded. To put that in perspective, I need 134 people to commit to a minimum monthly gift of $5 either via Patreon or Paypal. In February, we were 200 patrons away, so we are making progress. Thank you.

That said, every month, we have fluctuations as people cancel pledges or pledges don’t go through. This month, we had a higher than usual number of pledges that didn’t go through. Which means even if you can’t commit to a monthly pledge, a one-time gift is also helpful as they allow us to make up the difference on a month like this.

Look, my day job is running a small non-profit, I know that you are bombarded with almost daily requests for support. Yet if this space has added value to your life, I am asking you to let us know by making a one-time gift or monthly pledge. Theoretically, no amount is too small, though to be honest, because of money taken off the top before I ever see your pledges or donations or tips, anything under a buck really is too little, as I will only literally get loose change in the end. But in the end, what I am saying is that modest support—especially by enough people—is just as welcome as large donations or pledges. And perhaps more so if enough people step up with modest pledges and tips.

As always, thank you for your support and keep fighting! Fight as if your lives depend on it. Because, for many of us, they really do.

In solidarity,

Shay aka Black Girl in Maine

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Raising kids of color in very white places

For the last several years of my marriage, while we never doubted  that there was love between us, we were uncomfortably aware that there was something deeply amiss in our relationship. We spent our last few years together doing everything in our power to keep the relationship going until it became painfully obvious that love was not enough and that, on many levels, we were deeply mismatched as a romantic unit. That revelation, while painful, allowed us to end our romantic coupling and transition into our coparenting relationship with little of the anger and animosity that is often present when couples split up. Despite our differences, my former life partner and coparent remains one of my favorite people.

I find myself thinking about the end of that relationship and the clarity and strength it took for us to make that decision as I ponder the realities of raising a Black girl—now 13 years old—in a very white state. I must admit that I am wondering if raising Black children in such spaces is not borderline abusive. Is living in these spaces, even as an adult, a form of self-harm?

By the time I was 13, I had already had Black teachers; it’s almost 40 years later and I still remember my second grade teacher—the first teacher I knew who shared my race. By the time I was 13, several of my best friends were, like me, also Black girls with Southern roots and  working-class backgrounds. While I attended racially integrated schools, our home and family spaces were Black. I never had to struggle to see myself represented in my immediate life.

My weekends were rich experiences that involved shopping, living and loving with people who looked like me. I did not have to explain my family’s ways of being and have my friends inquire about why my parents were so strict.  While I had to code switch, and most certainly had awkward moments especially in my teen years, my existence and reality was so much more than being Black because I did not have to fight to exist. I simply existed.

In my 17 years here in Maine, I have seen Black folks and other people of color come and go. In many cases, the realities of always having to think about race and the energy of living that reality takes its toll.

My daughter will be wrapping up her middle school career in one of Maine’s most diverse schools, never having had Black friends or any non-white teachers. Despite me being her mother and my work around race, her external experiences are shaped by whiteness. We live in a state where our numbers are so few that we are reduced to simply being People of Color. No, we are not just people of color, we are  Black people and specifically, we are the descendants of enslaved Africans.

My Facebook feed is filled with the painful struggles that so many  twenty-something Black Mainers endure in their day-to-day lives, from racial slurs at work to the realities of dating while Black in a white state. I fear that our entire lives in this space are shaped by race.

In a country built on white supremacy, race will always matter but true wellness requires a more expansive view of ourselves beyond our race. Yet if leaving the house becomes an act of war that requires donning our mental shields and armor, what are the long-term implications? It’s not healthy to be in battle mode every time we leave the house and yet it is the reality for many.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being a keynote panelist at the New England Grassroots Environment Fund Root Skill conference which was held in Brattleboro, Vermont. The panel was racially diverse, so I was not the only non-white panelist. We were asked what we love about our communities—we all shared that we loved the natural beauty of New England and the overall feeling but for the panelists of color, the realities of being non-white  in these white spaces is never far away.

The thing is, after 17 years, I can say that there are some real changes happening. When I started writing about race in 2003 for the now defunct Portland Phoenix, I had to tread lightly and often my pieces were watered down and yet, I still received death threats for daring to name race.

In recent weeks, Maine has done away with Columbus Day and become one of fewer than 10 states in the nation to do so and replace it with Indigenous People Day. Maine’s governor just signed a bill banning Indigenous mascots within public schools. Conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming more commonplace across sectors and with individuals. And yet the day-to-day realities of living here as a non-white person, for all the progress, remains fraught, tense and downright uncomfortable at times.

It’s a place where microaggressions are as common as the morning coffee even with allies, and where I fear that for too many allies, anti-racism work is an academic activity that resides in the head and not the heart. A place where few white people are interested in giving up any privilege but are happy to show up at the rally and be a fierce online advocate. But in real life? Disrupt the status quo? Less so.

So for each step forward, it is still a half step back, meaning that the process of change will take a very long time. In the meantime, what becomes of the Black people and other people of color living here? Do we pack up and leave because it’s too much or do we stay? Do we raise our children here or do we take them away from the beauty of the state and all the joys of Maine because whiteness is toxic and—while we can never escape the toxicity of whiteness in this culture—at least being in spaces where we exist in greater numbers can provide some protection from the more virulent forms of white toxicity?

If only I had the answer…

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 Meghan Schiereck from Unsplash