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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A little ego, a little internet and a season of change

“We all need a break from people who ‘follow’ us online to ensure the appreciation of our full humanity.” – Dr. Crystal Fleming

“It was a metamorphosis. We all change. But we also have some control over the path. We choose our surroundings; we choose where we put our energy.” – Tony Sanchez


There is nothing like a good old-fashioned personal crisis to make one take stock of one’s life and ask, “How the hell did I get here?  Where were my people to tell me I was fucking up? Where were the people who love and care about me to help me navigate this maze of human misery and pain? How come in books and movies, 40-something-year-old women always have a gaggle of close friends who come together to support one another in good and bad times?”

So many questions, so few answers and the ones that did become clear made me ashamed of myself.

I am going through some major life shifts and I have been for quite some time. I have occasionally alluded to such shifts in this space but because this is a public space, it isn’t the place for sharing the details of one’s personal life. Especially after I learned recently that older blog posts have found their way into an upcoming book: New Media in Black Women’s Autobiography: Intrepid Embodiment and Narrative by Tracy Curtis. The older posts that landed in this book are about my family and initially upon discovering that my personal posts served as analysis for another, I admit to feeling a bit pissed off and even violated. Yet the reality of putting oneself out for public consumption is that people will do just that…consume you.

For those who follow me on Twitter, last week I tweeted a bit about what I was facing and while I appreciate all who took the time to reach out to offer support, it was also my “come to Jesus” moment about the state of my life and my people. The sad reality is that increasingly over the years, there are few people in my offline life who are not the result of my online life. Blog readers who I end up meeting with and fellow Twitter users whom I meet. While almost all of these meetings have been fruitful, it rarely allows for an authentic connection. How can we connect authentically when I exist in one dimension for most people? How can we ever become “friends” when it seems that for most I am their go-to person on racism; an expert on otherness? How can I let myself be vulnerable and real when most people whom I meet are eager to show me how un-racist they are?

The reality is that I can’t be real with most people when I have, in essence, become something other than the deeply flawed and raggedy human that I really am. The ego is a strange bedfellow, living inside jockeying for position…and the very nature of today’s world via social media, which increasingly is our world, allows for fertile soil for the ego to play and replicate itself.

After eight years of blogging and years in social media spaces, I have seen far too many people become caricatures of themselves because the need to stay relevant and feed the machine starts to take hold, and I fear that I am on that cusp myself. A place where the near-constant validation of people who really don’t know me allows me to bask in the goodness of a false self. Those are the moments in which you need your people—the people who don’t hesitate to check you with love and gentleness and offer correction and support to keep you from falling into that abyss of the ego machine. People who without hesitation will tell you to mind the gap. I need those people; I need to find them because I don’t want to lose the essence of myself in a quest to become some false version of myself.

To paraphrase Dr. Fleming, better known on Twitter as Alwaystheself, sometimes you really do need a break from the folks who follow you and “like” you to find your humanity alongside the folks who actually know you. We live in strange times, a place where the actions of people we may never break bread with can make us, aid us, break us and even destroy us. Strange times indeed. As for me, I give thanks to my teachers and spiritual guides and the memory of lessons learned that are helping me heal and also allowing me to acknowledge my own limitations. That in this season of my life, it is time to sit in my physical space and lessen my time in digital spaces. My road ahead is rocky as I embark upon a journey with no clear destination and in order to navigate these choppy seas, I need to be fully present in my own life. I have to be intentional about where I put my energy in this season of change.

Real life or not and why I am tired of hearing that we need to unplug!

Several weeks ago, I was on a local panel discussing selfies and the self portrait when one of the panelists stated that they thought social media and online time in general seemed one dimensional. After all, how could connecting with people online possibly compare to the “real” life experience of spending time with people? It isn’t the first time that I have heard such sentiments but it seems that as social media use has become a staple in modern day life, not a month goes by without an article or think piece lamenting the demise of our society and the concerns that people should spend less time online and more time connecting with their “real” life.  In fact, it was this piece a few days ago, that pushed me over the edge!

As someone who fully admits to being a heavy user of social media, I admit that over the years, I have had the occasional moments when I wonder am I online too much? Of course there were the years before social media became ubiquitous where I often had the darndest time explaining my online activities to my non social media using pals in my real life. I even made a joke of it, explaining my online world as my imaginary life complete with my imaginary pals!

Yet the reality is that whether I am online or offline, it’s all part of my very real life. In recent years, my online life and the connections made in online spaces helped fuel not one but two books that I contributed to; had it not been for this very space, it’s highly doubtful I would have ended up as a guest on the Melissa Harris-Perry show some years ago. My online presence and my ability to amplify messages played a factor albeit a small factor in landing my current job.  It is doubtful that considering how small the state of Maine is that I could have shifted my career without social media.

Outside of the professional, there is the personal side of social media as well. I live in a small, insular town where making connections beyond the surface has proven damn near impossible for me. At this point I have accepted the fact that I will always be an outsider here but it is the rich and deep conversations that I have online that keep me going when the very “real” people near me treat me with disdain or keep me at arms length.

My plight is not that unusual, many people are unable to connect in their so-called real lives and yet they can find community online that sustains them. For today’s LGBTQ teens and young adults the internet is shaping their generation and letting them know early on that they are not alone. For many marginalized and disenfranchised folks the internet is a tool of empowerment, especially when mainstream gatekeepers keep certain voices from ever being heard. For all the complaints that so called hashtag activism is empty, there are many activists and organizers who use the internet as yet another tool in their arsenal to work towards change. Hell, sites like Twitter can now break news faster than most mainstream news channels. By the time a story shows up on CNN and MSNBC, chances are that it broke on Twitter first!

It’s only speculation but my unofficial guess is that the vast majority of folks extolling the need to unplug and plug back into our real lives are not marginalized or disenfranchised individuals, in other words they are coming from a place of privilege. It’s a bit easier to unplug when you have a robust network that you didn’t have to build from scratch relying on people who never met you yet trust you and your work. When one lives near family and friends and the relationships are warm and supportive, taking the summer off is a lot easier to do than if a big chunk of your support system can be found on a discussion board, Twitter, Tumblr or some other online community. There are numerous reasons why people look for support online and they are all valid!

Change has always been a part of our world and social media is not the big bad wolf destroying our society that some would have us to believe. Instead we would do better to look at growing economic inequality and a world of work that keeps so many of us plugged into jobs that don’t meet our needs or give us enough time off to renew our spirits. Too many are dependent on jobs where schedules are not set in stone and change weekly never allowing us enough time to get off and connect in our so called real lives.

As for me, whether I am online or offline, I am the same person no matter where you find me. My only rule around my use of social media is to allow myself some time every day to be fully present and alone with myself, that generally takes the form of taking 10-12 hours a day where I am unplugged. Otherwise catch me online!!