What (relatively small) prices have I paid in the name of anti-racism?

NOTE FROM BGIM: While much of the content at BGIM Media is definitely for the education and mobilization of white people to fight racism, I have tended to reserve the space for “feelings” primarily for Black and other people of color. There is a need for safe spaces for white people to “work out their shit” but it is not my ministry to provide such space (nor should that generally fall to any person of color; that’s white people work). That being said, it probably bears reminding to some people that white people striving to be anti-racists do have significant internal struggles and do pay prices for their efforts. And so with that in mind I run this latest post by Heather Denkmire, with the caveat that even more so than most of her posts, this is primarily aimed at the white readers of BGIM Media.


We white people need to have more conversations among ourselves where we process what it’s like to be effectively anti-racist. The costs can be small at first, but they can feel big. I suppose this is a kind of a trigger warning for Black and Indigenous people as well as other people of color: This post will be addressing my white-person feelings. In future posts, I will address some of the larger prices we white people might have to be willing to pay as we practice being anti-racists.

Recognizing that I can benefit from racism and still be a good person was a complicated process that I’ve already written about. It’s ongoing. I have to remind myself regularly that while I’m trying to break free from the whiteness that has been my reality for all of my life I’m also still benefiting from other people’s oppression. There are many resources available to explain what “whiteness” is, but Nell Irvin Painter’s piece in the New York Times is an excellent primer. So, one price I pay is space in my brain for a lot of cognitive dissonance: good person but benefitting from a bad system. Both are true.

At some point in my racial identity development, a bell rang that hasn’t yet stopped ringing. I can’t just watch television, listen to songs, attend social events, hear about my daughters’ days at school, sit in a coffee shop—all of my everyday life is permeated with awareness of how white supremacy has built it up, how whiteness rules most spaces, and how it used to be easy to not know. It’s not the same as when I started to be aware of my own racism, it’s not something that makes me socially uncomfortable most of the time. It makes me angry, frustrated, and it sometimes makes me feel helpless. Again, this is uncomfortable. I have had to do some grieving now that I am keenly aware that almost everything I know is infused with white supremacy.

Grieving the loss of once-pure parts of our lives certainly isn’t a whites-only experience. In great part because of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement, many of us have had to change how we view people we used to hold in high esteem. Would I ever consider watching The Cosby Show again? Not enjoying a television show certainly seems a small price to pay, but when awareness of racism means just about everything is now tainted with the stench of white supremacy, it requires some adjustment. It also requires emotional and intellectual effort to not adjust in the ways white supremacy wants me to: numb it out, minimize it, look away, change the topic, somehow pretend it’s not so bad. Or maybe make a big deal about it, get outraged and furious and tell everyone how awful it is to continue enjoying [insert latest #MeToo disclosure] person’s work. Sometimes excessive outrage can be another way to distance ourselves from the ugliness.

Similarly, a price I pay is the awareness of white supremacy coloring how I experience so much of what I have loved in my life. For example, my daughters’ beautiful childhoods were extraordinary in part because of the ways I benefit from white supremacy. With this new lens, can I still feel sweet nostalgia for the days when I sat with my young children on the edge of a stream (on occupied Wabanaki land) by an old farm home (purchased family wealth passed down for generations, built on white supremacy’s slavery and segregation) breathing in the fresh and clean mountain air? Being an antiracist surely doesn’t have to mean throwing away everything in my life, does it? These kinds of questions are complicated and require a lot of thoughtful consideration, and sometimes lead to changes in my behavior.

Even just writing this out has my mind going in so many directions. Is this self-serving navel-gazing? Does it seem like I think I’m special because I have thoughts and feelings about white supremacy? (The answer to that is no.) Is it centering on whiteness in a way that’s inappropriate for this blog? I mean it to be an example of what I experience as a white person addressing my racism and becoming an antiracist. I know that relative to the daily violence racism forces on people of color, it is a walk in the park. But I feel strongly that if we white people don’t “process” what’s going on inside of us as we try to figure out how to be white without supporting white supremacy, we’ll keep slipping back into the relative comfort of ignorance.

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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Will you support the work?

Dear Readers,

In the past year, I have written a handful of posts explaining the mission of the blog and why financial support from readers is critical to our mission.  

BGIM Media’s goal is twofold. First, to serve as a space for Black people and other POC living in primarily white spaces to have a voice and to know that they are not alone by having a community online. Moving to Maine in 2002 from Chicago fundamentally shifted everything I understood about the world around race, and finding (and providing) community even in online spaces was key to me keeping myself together. Second, our goal is to serve as a place of education for white people and others who are looking to do their own work on race. Having now spent 17 years in Maine and almost six years as the executive director of Community Change Inc., I have spent a lot of time in proximity to white people and working with them on matters of race. BGIM Media often uses personal stories to discuss larger systemic issues; this style of storytelling derives from my childhood idol Studs Terkel.

As I wrote back in December 2018, the site has grown but the financial support has not kept pace. Unfortunately, that remains true today.

Despite almost a year of trying to get the site fully funded, it hasn’t happened and in the past several months, we have lost some support. While seasonal fluctuations are a reality, the fluctuations that I am seeing are not normal.

We continue to gain new subscribers and to see an increase in likes/followers on social media. Despite monthly fluctuations in readership, we are on track to exceed last year’s numbers as far as hits to the site. But the financial support to the site is decreasing at a time when our expenses and needs are increasing.

Earlier this year, I toyed with moving all of our work behind a paywall to Patreon but after hearing from many of you, I decided against it. But the fact is that keeping an open site such as this which serves as a resource to many comes at a cost to me. Daily hacking attempts are our norm and the security and the skill to keep the site secure costs money. I am fortunate to have a dedicated tech person, who on more than one occasion has worked through the night to keep the site safe. But she doesn’t work for free.

There is the cost of the numerous subscriptions that we maintain and share links from and then there actual labor costs. All writers at BGIM Media are paid, and our rates are in line with other similar-sized publications.

So, I am making a special request: If this site is a source of information and a site that you value, please make a gift today. If you aren’t a monthly patron, consider a $5-a-month gift or a one-time gift of $60. If you are already a monthly patron, thank you for support and if you feel moved to make an additional one-time gift, it would be greatly appreciated.

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

In solidarity,

Shay aka BGIM

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.

Moving white people from navel-gazing to anti-racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Guillermo Latorre on Unsplash