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.


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You’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold dead hands

Today’s post is a guest contribution from BGIM friend and fellow writer Liz Henry.
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First they came for my cigarettes and I said, alright, makes sense. Then, they came for my smoking outside and I said, you know, this seems like a little much but I rolled with the inconvenience of other people policing the freaking air. And then they came for my Diet Coke with a tax on sugary drinks in Philadelphia even though Diet Coke is full of not even sugar but aspartame so fine, whatever, the chilwran diabeetus. Then, they came for the straws and I knew all bets were off, the turtles were just gonna have to die.

I like beverages and I love them with straws and if that means turtles have to eat it, well then the turtles need to eat it. Even if those turtles are Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo.

Look, maybe this is making you uncomfortable. There are many moments I’ve been uncomfortable in the past few weeks when straw-banning went from low-key, under-the-radar cause to full-blown self-righteous plague. Like, for instance, the moment I came across a growing list of companies in the process of banning straws and I saw McDonald’s on that list.

I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE—the turtles had come for me and won. My eyes couldn’t move fast enough through the sentence and by the time I got there and it said, “shareholders struck down a ban” I’ve never been more proud of capitalism in my life.

I raised my Diet Coke and I toasted the motherfucking shit outta those rich white men for holding it down for straws.

So, yeah, it’s been an uncomfortable few weeks for me, too.

I’ve had conversations where we whisper to each other “team straw” because we’re in a group and unsure of the company we keep and once the whispers go around and the eyes have darted and the nods have been reciprocated we let it out that paper straws ain’t shit.

I’ve had people tell me I’m “sad” like I need saving and I want to tell them they can come to my door with that kind of attitude and ring my doorbell so I can ignore them.

I’ve gone the Jurassic Park route and doubled down on evolution: “If turtles beat out dinosaurs, I’m pretty sure they can beat straws.” And, if they can’t, well who sold us “slow and steady.” Maybe turtles shouldn’t been liars.

I’ve also thought FINE, BAN THE STRAWS. I’ll create straw speakeasies and I’ll be rich and you’ll be stuck with adult sippy cups at Starbucks with no whip but Crush from Finding Nemo as your overlord just like you wanted. COOL DUDE.

I need you to know that I stared down the totalitarian talk points of crusading do-gooders, looked them in their profile photos and said, I LOVE STRAWS, and lived to see another day.

I want you to know that when I get a fountain beverage, and put that single-serving plastic straw into my cup, I look at the person next to me and say, “I’m making a political choice and the hate makes it taste better.”

Honestly, I’m having an Allen Iverson “TALKIN ‘BOUT PRACTICE, flashback but with straws, people. STRAWS.

The strawsistence will not be played by fake news. The 500 million plastic straws Americans allegedly consume per day? That number was arrived at by a then nine-year-old conducting phone surveys of straw manufacturers in 2011. How he arrived at that number? I dunno, go pound a calculator.

According to Bloomberg, if all the alleged 8.3 billion tons of plastic straws found on global coastlines washed into the sea, they’d “account for .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastic estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.”

The greatest threat to marine life and our oceans isn’t plastic straws, Bloomberg reports, but fishing nets and other abandoned fishing gear.

Which leaves me so freaking pumped right now that we’re making the lives of people with disabilities that much harder because Johnny Jackoff filmed a video of one turtle with a straw booger and then everyone else was like BAN STRAWS!!!

So how many straw boogers would it take for women to get some rights up in this bitch? Just spitballing here.

And that’s why, you’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold, dead hands. Which, if that even happens, I will haunt you with a glitter plague on your home and paper cuts on your person with Melania pumped through some Bose giving Michelle’s speech ad infinitum.

WE’RE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT STRAWS, MAYNE.

BIO:
Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and the anthology, The Good Mother Myth. She lives in Philadelphia and marks her territory in Diet Coke.


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 David McEachan from Pexels

On race and dreams, and an update on BGIM Media

Once upon a time, I believed that if I could just work hard enough, I would get ahead. Yes, I foolishly believed at one point that hard work and moxie alone would get me ahead.

And, for years, I believed that because I had a few more of the success trappings than my parents had ever had in their 33 years together that this was as good as life could get. Throughout my childhood, I had heard that “As a Black person you have to work harder than the most average white person to get half of what they have.” For the longest time, I didn’t want to believe that was true, but it is one of the few absolute truths when it comes to race in America and how it is lived.

In case that is confusing to you, look no further than the 44th president of the United States…also known as Barack Obama, or the first Black president. Whether you loved him or found his policies questionable, there is no denying that the bar that was set for him and his family was set so high that only an extraordinary man who might be fifth in place behind Jesus Christ himself could meet the standard. He was beyond reproach with the most impeccable of credentials; even his wife was no slouch…no, not in the slightest. Given that Michelle Obama, whose humble start on the South Side of Chicago is the type of bootstrap, Horatio Alger story that white America loves, this nation should have been damn glad these two would have us. Instead, rather than do them a solid and respect what they did and build upon it, well…instead, through angst and disillusionment, this nation elected perhaps the most mediocre and unqualified man possible to succeed Obama. Talk about about a big “fuck you” to Black excellence.

Now we live in a nation governed by an old man whose mental stability is questionable and who loves to talk tough and is itching to play with his shiny new toys, aka nuclear weapons. From Black excellence (and dignity/upstanding behavior) to white mediocrity (and anger/misbehavior).

Too many times in my personal life, I have seen average white people who, due to luck, access to resources and frankly whiteness, soar when average Black and other POC are relegated to letting their dreams die on the vine. Truthfully, our society makes it damn hard for Black folks to make a dream come true, especially if that dream requires resources or money to get off the ground. Up until a few days ago, I was feeling pretty hopeless about my own dreams.

I started this blog in 2008 for a variety of reasons, but several things quickly became clear: this blog is a resource for other Black and non-white folks navigating life in very white spaces and it also became a space for white people to learn to see firsthand how racism operates and to start their own journey to dismantling whiteness. Since 2008, I have been published in anthologies, had my blog posts sited in academic spaces, been plagiarized, received accolades, did a TEDx talk and a few other things. My work profile grew but the one thing that did not keep pace was the financial compensation part of things. Partially due to my own lack of resources, I have never attended a single blog/social media conference, which has meant that my networking and ability to take this space to the next level has always been limited. This space is essentially one big do-it-yourself experience and while I am humbled by the success that I have had, my vision for this space is greater than being a one-woman shop.

After living in Maine for 15 years, I see a critical need for a POC-owned media space; a place that elevates our voice and a place that, frankly, can be a training ground for POC-led media in the region. It was almost a year ago that I announced that Black Girl in Maine would be shifting to BGIM Media. It’s been a long year but I have been able to bring in more voices: Teddy Burrage, Veronica Perez, Samara Doyon and An Average White Guy. I have stacks of resumes from writers whom I would love to give a shot, but given that everyone who writes here is paid, I can’t afford to add anyone else at the time.

What I have also not been able to do is update and redesign this site, which is dated and clunky, nor have I been able to add podcasts. Why? Lack of resources. Recently a reader donated a used MacBook so that I could start teaching myself how to podcast, since my Chromebook was not cutting the mustard. I am making significant headway, barring a few more pieces of equipment (good microphones are a must; it only took buying a bargain one to understand that cheap is not always best) and my son’s availability since, with his own work blowing up, his time is limited…but the upside of asking your kid who’s a musician for help is that the odds are high that you will get it.

There have been back-end and security issues that I can no longer afford to ignore, but they are increasingly testing the limits of my tech knowledge. In fact, my tech issues on the site are what almost pushed me to the breaking point of saying the hell with the dream. Since, after getting the final diagnosis on what was ailing this site, it became clear that either I needed to dream big or consider this a long, slow goodbye.

I average 20-25 hours a week working on blog-related stuff, that is in addition to my full-time day job that often takes more than typical full-time hours. There is also mothering, living and occasionally even loving. I have invested a significant amount of time into this space and the related social media and it is truly a labor of love. I have asked readers to invest and while many have, many more have not. To date, monthly giving only covers half of the true cost of running this site, which has meant that my plans for expansion have been slow. However I have a dream and after much prayer and thought, I have decided that I am tired of playing it small and safe. I am ready for my dream to come to fruition. I have taken out a small business loan to address the immediate issues, including updating and redesigning the site. I have started talks with two local designers and am waiting for estimates, confident that I can move ahead because for once, I have the ability to pay.

I won’t lie, in this 24/7 fickle media world, I am nervous. After all, the loan, while small, is still enough that if this site doesn’t progress according to my projections, I am shit out of luck. In an ideal world, I imagine friends and family admiring my drive and determination and offering to invest in my dreams. But for many Black Americans, that is a pipe dream. As someone who has been feverishly working to pay off debt, this is a big but scary step for me. However, as a Black woman navigating in a world that was not meant for me, I understand that my realizing my dreams requires going above and beyond.

On a practical note, the new changes should be apparent by late September/early October. As always, thank you for your support and keep passing the open windows.
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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.

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