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.

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The dark side of speaking to truth

Back in the Stone Age when I started writing about race in 2003, there was little in the way of social media. Obviously, there were discussion boards and Google but back then, people often looked at you oddly when you talked about your online life. There was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tik Tok. Hell, a lot of people were feeling pretty pumped about the launch of Myspace. 

While there were writers writing on blogs, it was still a fairly brave new world. The average person had no idea what the heck a blog even was. 

I got my start writing for local Maine publications where, back in 2003, more people than not read a physical copy of the paper and if they disagreed with you and were passionate about it, they generally had to write a letter to the editor, get a stamp and an envelope and mail it to the paper. 

I received my first threatening letter several months after the debut of my column in the Portland Phoenix. It was disturbing enough that my then-editor contacted local law enforcement. 

From 2003 until 2008, my primary writing was local and although I quickly developed a following of haters, in many ways writing back then was simple. A few times a year, some disgruntled reader would pen a letter and the editor would forward it to me or it might run in the paper. I could read the letter and go about my day. The letter didn’t invade my personal space. In most cases, unless they were death threats, the letters were more like annoying gnats you swat away and move on from. 

Fast forward to 2019, and the majority of my writing now happens online with the occasional print guest piece or contribution. My writing and my audience is no longer local but in fact national—even a smattering of the global.

While this might be seen as a good thing, increasingly I am seeing a dark side. 

No longer are the people who take issue with my work locals who are probably harmless. I now receive messages and emails from people all over the country. If you follow my social media accounts, I occasionally share some of the messages that land in my box. 

A few weeks ago, a gentleman from the Pacific Northwest  told me that the white racists are waiting to get their payback on folks like me. Then a few days ago, a man, who describes himself as a Chilean-American told me that I am the victim of Black victimology and that American Blacks are a lazy and well taken care of by society. Let’s not even discuss the gentleman from Maine who is a top fan on the Blackgirlinmaine Facebook page and whose only mission seems to be to demand labor from others—a person who seems unwilling to even entertain the possibility that America fed him a load of lies. 

These are just the public pieces I am willing to share. I have received much worse, including a message so awful once that I went directly to one of the local sporting goods mega-stores to look at firearms. 

Often when I share the messages, well meaning people will say block and move on. The thing is, it’s not that easy.

For starters, my work is personal. As a Black woman who does anti-racism work, this is personal. My family bears the generational scars of this country’s racism. My father along with the majority of my aunts and uncles lived on a sharecropping plantation—they actually picked cotton under racially oppressive conditions. 

Racism isn’t just some academic debate for me. It is a lived experience because there are few instances where I can leave my house and simply exist as a woman. I am almost always a Black woman. 

Just the other night, I was having dinner on the island where I live and chatting with a friend, when a random white woman came up to me and asked if I was the woman who had the racist experience this past summer at the island bar. She then went on to say that she thought it was me, since there are few people of color on the island at this time of year. I am sure she meant no harm but I was in mid-bite of my meal and I just wanted to be an average human enjoying a meal and chatting with a friend. 

And the thing is that the racism that lands in my box in response to my work is the same racism that periodically lands in my face—because not all people who approach me are nice or even neutral. 

It’s the racist drunk. It’s the young white nationalist who showed up at my public talk. It’s the former Maine conservative talk-show host who once sicced his fan base on me after I turned down a request to be on his show several years ago—he now apparently has a penchant for looking at all my Instagram stories. Yes dude, I see you. 

I can no more block and forget the hate that lands on my digital doorstep than I can forget the ice cold blue eyes that looked at me with pure hate in a bar. A hate that ran so deep that the man was willing to spend a night in jail because having a cop telling him to pipe down (and stop calling me a nigger) made him so mad that she decided to take a swing at the cop. 

I haven’t forgotten the young white nationalist who—in a room filled with hundreds of people who had come to hear me and my colleague speak—felt entitled to confront me and derail the afternoon. I haven’t forgotten having to sneak out the back door through the kitchen of that venue to get to my car because the young man wouldn’t leave the premises. 

Maybe it is because I still remember the little girl who called me a nigger when I was 16 that I can’t just block out the trolls. See, the keyboard emboldens folks to say things, but the truth is that this hate has always been there. As well as the tendency to ask Black folks not to feel their feelings about such hate—and certainly not to express them.

Part of the survival and so-called resiliency of Black people in America has required us to not feel. How could you feel watching your family being ripped apart, whether on the slave auction block or by the unfair criminal justice system that sends young Black people away for decades for crimes that white people receive a slap on the wrist for. Or watching your family diminish because of a racialized healthcare system that sends to many of us to an earlier death than white people. How are you supposed to feel every day dealing with racial microaggressions in the workplace and knowing that you need the job, so you stuff down your true feelings and make sure that your mask is firmly in place. 

A constant theme that runs through much of the hate that lands in my box is that I am arrogant and uppity. I won’t shut up, and I piss people off. I am not as knowledgeable as I claim to be. I won’t entertain other people’s views. Etc.

No, it’s not any of that (well, except that I won’t shut up and piss some people off). I do know plenty, and I am simply unwilling to cower. I stand on the shoulders of my elders who at times had to wear their masks and stay silent, so they could stay alive. I’m sorry, but I have seen too many loved ones die early. I have seen too many elders get beaten down by white supremacy and its demands, and I refuse to play that game. The greatest gift that I can give to myself and my loved ones is to feel and to be open—to not downplay the hurt and the pain and to allow ourselves to emotionally and mentally heal from the wounds of white supremacy. 

Instead of asking Black people and other marginalized people to ignore targeted ignorance and hate, instead ask: “How can I assist?” Ask how you might be able to serve as a buffer. Ask how you can support them and their well-being. But asking them to deny their feelings is another manifestation of how white supremacy dehumanizes us all. 

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 Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

The real conspiracies are worse than the wild conspiracy theories

To me, the difficult thing about writing is choosing what to write about. There’s just so much happening all the time. Do I write about the country’s racist history or policies or population? Do I write about our own Black history? Do I just write about the most recent time I got pulled over? What issue do I want to draw focus to in the moment? There’s a responsibility in that question that is clouded over by an ever-changing media landscape, peoples’ personal habits and now more than ever, conspiracy theories.

As a member of the media, a person with an audience and just as a person, the abundance of conspiracy theories in the public square is terrifying. It points to how few of us have to acknowledge the shared reality and I worry that it’s just going to get worse.

The thing that’s always bothered me about conspiracy theories is that generally, they are obviously and flatly false. For instance, I think a lot of people buy into the idea that there is a group of mysterious people who control all of the wealth and politicians and pull all of these strings from behind a secret curtain somewhere just out of sight.

I hate this idea so much for so many reasons. I hate it because believing it dismisses our own agency as a citizenry. I hate it because it’s an argument from ignorance. I especially hate it because the opposite is true and the truth is actually in our faces all the time.

Do the wealthy control everything? Absolutely. But are they hiding it? Fuck, no! They brag about that shit! It’s not a secret. They’re constantly shouting it from the rooftops, all of which they own.

Here’s how not-a-secret it is: 101 years ago Bertie Charles Forbes created Forbes magazine. Currently Bertie’s grandson, billionaire Steve Forbes, is the editor-in-chief. If you were to flip through the magazine you would quickly see that it is the voice of the wealthy publicly celebrating themselves as masters over all they see and imagine including the rest of us. And they’re so fucking ostentatiously proud of it they name the shit after themselves.

And, yes, I mean ostentatious.

If I were to tell you that the wealthy actually celebrate surging wealth inequality as a happy sign that life is becoming much more convenient, you might say, “Well, they probably think it and maybe they say some monstrous shit like that behind closed doors, maybe, but that’s not really something you can prove.”

And if that were to be your response, I would gladly direct you to a recent Forbes article, unironically titled, Surging Wealth Inequality is a Happy Sign that Life is Becoming Much More Convenient.

It’s the furthest thing from a conspiracy, though it is somehow believed to be.

That being said, things are different if you’re Black.

Very different.

That Forbes article begins with, “Two hundred years ago the American people were quite a bit more equal in terms of wealth…”

Just like my enslaved ancestors at the time, I know I wouldn’t have been considered any kind of equal two-hundred years ago. Or considered American. Or people. And that information, that the opening line conveniently leaves out is the shadow of a very tall tree with very real conspiracies for every branch, like nooses.

There are intimate conspiracies between individuals like the recent police frame job in Florida. There are more widely-spread conspiracies involving multiple institutions like red lining. There are even full-on, 40-year-long conspiracies of Nazi-style human experimentation perpetuated by the United States Government like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Like I said, it’s a very tall tree.

I’m not saying there aren’t conspiracies based things aside from race. There definitely are. What I am saying is that there is a reality we can choose and a reality that is forced upon us and not understanding the difference can mean falling victim to both.

But understanding the difference can mean undoing both and making an objectively better world for everyone.

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.