Loving across racial lines…what isn’t spoken

This fall will mark 20 years that I have been partnered with my husband, we’ve been together 20 years and married for 17 of those years. We met in our 20’s, when we were young and idealistic and even though my previous partner had been white, I had no idea that race on the cusp of the 21st century would still be an issue. I assumed that love was all that we would need but the truth is that for people who love across the color line in America, you need more than love. You need courage, strength and resiliency to deal with a world that is often hostile to those whose love crosses color lines.

We started to grasp the enormity of what our life together would entail early in our marriage, when a simple traffic stop in Chicago became a moment of horror and shame that we would rarely speak of because the ugliness was too much to bear. Yet in light of a story that broke this weekend, it seems fitting to share my own moment of shame; perhaps if more of us share these uncomfortable moments, people will truly start to grasp how little has truly changed when it comes to race in America.

Several months into our marriage, we attended the wedding of a mutual friend in the suburbs of Chicago. The type of event that many couples do, nothing out of the ordinary yet for me, that night would forever live in a place within me to serve as a reminder that my humanity could be taken from me at any moment, not because of my actions but because of the color of my skin.

Traveling back home from a northwestern suburb of Chicago, we came across a DUI check, the type of checks that happen in countless cities across America. A check you have no reason to fear if you haven’t been imbibing. My husband being the designated driver had abstained from drinking at the reception, so when the cops signaled to us to pull over, we had no reason to fear or so we thought.

The officer walked up to the window and it became immediately clear to us though we were in shock that we had been pulled over because my husband was a white man and I was a Black woman. The officer instead of asking had my husband been drinking, asked him about me…who was I? My husband said that I was his wife, the officer looked incredulous and without getting into the nasty details pretty much stated he didn’t believe him and that he thought that I was a prostitute. We ended up being briefly detained while the officers debated whether or not to believe our story, never at any time was my husband given a breathalyzer or any other type of test. After running our plates, they apparently decided we really were a married couple or else the most skilled set of liars who happened to have the same last name and a set of wedding bands.

We drove home silent and in tears as the horror and enormity of what happened weighed on us. Chicago being a big city, I later realized that without a badge number at that time, filing a complaint was futile. We weren’t harmed physically but psychically that encounter laid the foundation for the rest of our lives. Traffic stops over the years have become moments of fear for us and while other cops in other cities have also asked our relationship to one another, none have been as open in their assumptions that I must be a prostitute and my husband a “john”.

I wish I could say encounters with police officers are the only places where loving across racial lines has been troubling. There are few areas of our outside lives where we are not reminded that we are different, even in medical emergency situations when I have had to explain to harried medical personnel that yes, he is my husband. Yes, the worried white man is not my caseworker, a good samaritan or my neighbor, he is my partner and my legal spouse.

As my husband has learned in recent years, even simple encounters with other parents on the playground can become awkward moments. Several years ago, another parent made a casual reference to “niggers” and my husband had to quietly explain that his wife (me) is Black to which the other parent said he wasn’t referring to Blacks like me. As my husband has learned when he is not physically with me, many whites particularly white men will thinking nothing of saying careless and questionable things. Of course, in his quest to speak up, he has pretty much ensured that he will have few friends. The price he pays for daring to love outside of his race. Recently we hit a rough patch and bandied around the big D word for a while, it was interesting to learn how quickly whiteness took over for the few people he shared our situation with, then again I wasn’t surprised because I had already lived through him losing most of his friends when we got together almost two decades ago.

There are some interracial couples who are spared these indignities but more often than not, couples reach a place where the wear and tear of love with the added battles of dealing with race become too much to handle. As we approach 20 years in the battlefield of love, I look around and realize other interracial couples we have known have lost the battle. Marriage is hard work, no matter who you are but living in a world where the legitimacy of your union is constantly questioned and the partner of color is often dehumanized starts to wear on the soul. Nevermind the intricacies of dealing with family and inlaws across racial lines and when you add kids into the mix, the complications grow.

While the story of African-American actress Daniele Watts being detained after the cops assumed her to be a prostitute and her white husband to be her “john” has sparked outrage and shock across the internet, for me it’s a feeling of how much longer must we endure this shit? I am not shocked, I am sad, sad that yet another couple has to live this life and this shame for daring to love. I am sad that we keep repeating the lie that race relationships have improved based off a few victories in the racial arena when really very little has changed. We are still sitting on the same raggedy couch which simply has been draped with a new cover and rather than facing reality, we shift our position, looking for the comfortable spot instead of working towards a brand new couch.

I write a great deal about race in this space, in part because examining racial inequity is part of what I do as Executive Director of Community Change Inc (CCI),one of the longest, continually running anti-racism organizations in the United States. Our mission is to promote racial justice and equity by challenging systemic racism and acting as a catalyst for anti-racist learning and action. CCI makes visible and challenges the historical and ongoing role racism plays in the institutions that shape all of our lives. We focus particularly on involving white people in understanding and confronting systemic racism and white privilege.We understand racism as a system that impacts every area of life in the United States from education to law, from housing to transportation, from employment to media, from religion to artistic expression. It is a system that privileges white people and oppresses people of color.

This fall as part of our expanded programming at Community Change, we are looking to engage in authentic dialogues about race throughout New England. We are kicking off with a discussion this Tuesday, September 9th with a public conversation between white author and anti-racism Debby Irving and myself at the Portland Public Library in Portland, Maine.

Tell me the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross Racial Conversations, is an open, honest and perhaps even painful at times discussion where Debby and I will talk about the impact of racism in our own lives as well examining the barriers that prevent authentic dialogue across racial lines in America.

Details on Tuesday’s event can be found here and if you aren’t able to make it, have no fear! Debby and I will be back at the library on Wednesday, September 10th at noon time discussing her book “Waking Up White” as part of the library’s Brown Bag series. So two days of racial justice and open discussion.


You can also check out a clip we did for a local show recently. Hope you join us and if you do, please say hi!

Dissent, haters and angry white people

How many times are you gonna use “silo of privilege?” It’s about as worn out, as your using the color of your skin as an excuse for all the world’s wrongs. Maybe it’s just that you’re arrogant, and that’s why whites don’t care for you. And if you hate Maine so much, just leave and move to” black is beautiful” Boston. (BTW: If you dislike Caucasians so much, then why did you marry one? It’s hugely hypocritical.)-Jamie a blog commenter

“What about us white men who were harassed by cops or treated unfairly by cops when we were younger, do we go around saying it was because of this or it was because of that? No, income class has more bearing on how a person is treated in our country than race. I’m sick of all these people saying that I must’ve had it easy because I’m white. I’m sure Will Smith’s kids are going to have a easier life than I did, confrontations with cops included. Stop the BS”- Kevin a poster on the BGIM Facebook page

“Shay never responds to questions, or even thanks people for commenting. I guess that it’s beneath her. She can complain all she wants, but at the end of the day it’s all about “race card.”- Chris a blog commenter

“U sound like a racist…your peeps! Come on black girl dont be such a fool. But i guess its a good thing u have come here to work and not sell drugs like 80% of black folk that come here.’- Shawna a blog commenter

I am not a writer by trade, I am a non profit administrator, researcher, and consultant with a background in both non-profit management and African-American studies who spent a number of years in the trenches of social services.  One could say that my background is rather eclectic. Writing was a long lost childhood dream that I reconnected with back in 2002 when I convinced a local newspaper to let me write a column. On the strength of my early pieces for the Portland Press Herald, I convinced a local indie paper to give me a column focusing on diversity. My Diverse City column with the Portland Phoenix celebrated 10 years last year. It was a little over six years ago when I decided to throw my hat into the blog arena.

One thing I learned early on when I started writing for an audience larger than myself is that people aren’t always going to agree with you. There will be readers who really think that your ideas, your writing and you suck. The first few times you receive less than stellar feedback, it hurts like hell but you learn to brush it off. Yet there are times when it is hard to brush off criticism and times when maybe you shouldn’t brush it off and this is one of those times.

Over the years, I have had my share of haters and dissent. Civil dissent I can respect, I have no illusions that my words will resonate with all. That would be absurd, this is not circle time in kindergarten where we must all get along. I can even say that at times, I have honesty dropped the ball in this space. One of my biggest challenges with this space is that as someone who has simultaneously ran organizations as my day work that require me to go above and beyond lest my staff nor I will be compensated, while juggling my family and household I am not always great at replying to commenters. I admit that and if ever someone was offended I do offer apologies.  Though as many readers have learned direct email is often the best way to get a timely response from me.  I am a flawed human being as we all are, and I try the best that I can. If that offends, I am sorry.

However in recent weeks and months, the level of virulent emails and comments (that I often don’t approve) that I have received has reached a level that frankly scares me. I shared a few of the tame ones at the beginning of this post because I am tired. My day job is heading up an organization that organizes for racial equity, I am well aware that racism exists but to have so many actively telling me that I am wrong or attempting to silence me is also wrong.

To put ones words and thoughts out for public consumption is to invite dissent or “trolls” but personal attacks or a general lack of civility is one thing I can’t tolerate. I write about race and it is not just my personal views, the research supports my words. As a researcher I know that my opinion needs to be backed up and I can do that. To answer my critics I don’t hate white people, my life partner of almost 20 years is white but I refuse to stuff myself down to appease anyone who is uncomfortable with reality as it is.

Today I came very close to shutting this blog down and committing digital suicide because in a moment of humanity, it hurt like hell to know that as someone committed to equity and justice, this space is a source of pain for me and my family. Yet to do that is to allow ignorance to win and well…my plucky side just can’t do that.

We don’t have to agree but if you are troubled by the words that I share here, I would ask why? Why is it uncomfortable to hear a Black person saying that we are not post racial and that racism is real? Why must be my words be met with statements that I should leave the state of Maine or to cut the BS? Why am I not entitled to stand in my truth as much as you stand in your truth (at least when it is truth; some of you make assumptions about reality that aren’t backed up by facts/research)? Why do you think you have the right to silence me?

If we cannot even agree to disagree in a respectful manner, maybe we should ask ourselves why? Acknowledging reality is not painful but avoiding it sure as hell is and in the end we all lose and we truly won’t ever move ahead.

Effective immediately comments are no longer allowed on posts older than 7 days. Also, be aware that if you cannot conduct civil discussions with other commenters or myself on this blog, you will likely be barred from commenting.

 

PS: There is no race card, I tried to get this mythical card but like the Amex Black card, no one knows anyone who has this card. In reality the term race card is how we stifle uncomfortable discussions about race. 

A Nation Divided and the Ugly Legacy that Won’t Die

“The chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people.”- The Atlantic

A family lost a son, a community rages and a country confronts the hard-to-ignore reality that we are a nation divided. The sins of the past still live with us and in spite of our best efforts of the past 50 years, we have never moved on despite a brief and fanciful dream that we were beyond race.

Race matters. Race always matters and that hard-to-swallow truth prevents us from moving on. As the nation watched Ferguson, Missouri, unravel in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s premature death at the hands of law enforcement, it was clear that how one viewed the unraveling had everything to do with one’s lived experiences. In fact whether or not one even viewed the events had a great deal to do with the color of one’s skin or willingness to see the pain of others as they would see their own pain.

 

Several days ago a report from the Pew Research Center that was released showed just how stark the divide is between Blacks and Whites in this country. At a time when we are becoming a more racially mixed country, old tensions between Blacks and Whites are still strong. Yet to those of us who study race or in my case work in the anti-racism field, none of this is news. White supremacy is the undergirding which this country was founded on; racism was inextricably woven into the fabric of this nation and constructed into the founding principles of this country. Whiteness is the default setting that we operate on and anyone who is not white learns that lesson early on. Even preschool age kids understand race and understand that whiteness is valued and everyone else is a distant second.  There is a reason that non-white children prefer the white dolls over the ones who look like them; none of this is coincidental.

We don’t typically ask the victims of violent crimes to heal themselves and solve the crime on their own, but in America we expect Black people to do just this. The history of Blacks that is taught in our schools and often talked about publicly has whitewashed the horror that impacted Blacks. The average white American because they have so little contact with people unlike themselves truly believes that Black Americans were freed in 1865 and that life was smooth sailing until a few hiccups in the 1950’s and 60’s when Martin Luther King Jr came along. So there is a persistent undercurrent of belief that that plight of Blacks is somehow the fault of Blacks and Blacks alone and that white hands are clean. Nothing could be further from the truth. In families like mine, people worked the land for white landowners under an arrangement called sharecropping while living under Jim Crow laws  which lasted well into the 1960’s. My father picked cotton as a child well into the early 1960’s on white owned land while being raised under Jim Crow which determined which school he could attend and what water fountain he could drink at. Integration hit my father’s life about 8 years before I was born. Considering that I am in my early 40’s that isn’t terribly long ago. Yet in recent days my inbox has been filled with angry rantings from those who feel that I am a whiner and race baiter but these same people are lacking in their own knowledge of all of American history.

Considering the sheer ugliness of America’s history when it comes to Black and Native Americans, it’s no wonder that we as a nation whitewash history and gloss over the pain of those who suffered mightily in this nation’s quest for success. In many ways it is no surprise that the social and professional networks of White Americans are 91% White (while those of non-whites are far more diverse).  The very setup of how we live does not lend itself to making cross cultural connections at a soul level and unfair funding of our public services often creates a situation where even well intentioned and open whites eventually end up in spaces where everyone is just like them. Often this is under the guise of needing good schools, etc for the kids.  For Blacks like myself who do end up living in white spaces, the psychic burden of always being an ambassador for Blackness often proves too much.

Is all lost on the racial front? No, but to move beyond requires more than Black and Brown bodies doing all the heavy lifting, it actually requires white people to move beyond the the moments of shame and defensiveness that is too often a part of racial discussions. It requires a willingness to acknowledge that for some of us privilege is bestowed upon us through no efforts of our own. It requires a willingness to learn just how American culture privileges whiteness at every turn and a willingness and desire to dismantle and change that narrative that enslaves us all.

When we actively work to dismantle the ugly foundation that we all stand on, it becomes easier to see the systemic inequities and notice the patterns of abuse and brutalization that certain bodies in this country see on a regular basis. When we are actively dismantling the ugliness we no longer “other” the pain of certain communities but recognize that a lost child matters to us all. Dismantling the system means we no longer hear that quiet voice of doubt that says a teenager somehow earned his killing but we become as passionate for that Black or Brown child as we would be for our own child.  We may not all change our life path to become an anti-racist but we can recognize the harm and danger of homogeneity.

Until we as a collective reach that place, we will continue to live this half life of sorts where we think we are all free when in fact none of us are free.  The choice is ours but do we have the heart and the strength to go beyond? That is the question.

Just a quick note for Mainers and those near Maine, on September 9th, white anti-racism activist and author Debby Irving and I will be giving a talk on cross racial discussions at the Portland Public Library, FMI click here.

Note: This is a deeply personal post and as a result it’s written in a stream of consciousness to say what I need to say, there is no point other than to give words to my truth.

“If you’re white you don’t have to live in our world. You can if you choose to. You can choose to visit. You can choose to completely ignore it and us. You have a choice. We do not. We do not have any choice over where we live. We, paradoxically, have to live in your world.”- A Black Bluesman in Maine

It was over 100 years ago when W.E.B. DuBois coined the phrase double consciousness, the state that the average Black American lives in. This past week I have never more been aware of the dual nature of the Black experience in America. A state that leads to what at times can best be described as a half lived life, a life where Black bodies are always aware of the space they exist in and how at times we wear the mask to conceal the depth of our sorrows and our pain, knowing that no matter how well we perform by the standards of whiteness we are never fully viewed as human.

 

Years ago when the decision was made to move to Maine, I knew there would be hard days, days when for my own safety and protection I must stay barricaded in my house.  Because the depth of my emotions would not allow me to wear the mask that is common amongst Black people who inhabit white spaces. How can we ever take our masks off when the very experiences of life in America are so very different! White lives and bodies exist in the silo of privilege where one can trust in the goodness of the world around them. Black bodies learn early on that the goodness that is part of the white experience in America  does not necessarily cross racial boundaries. Our worthiness as humans is measured against the white experience and if we fall short we are deemed to be very bad.

Over a week ago, a young Black man in Ferguson, MO was gunned down by a local police officer.  The town of Ferguson itself erupted under the weight of decades of mistreatment and systematic oppression yet in the mainstream narrative that is framed by non Black people the inhabitants of Ferguson are deemed dangerous and unruly. I have lost sleep and cried many tears not just because my heart goes out to Ferguson (it does) but in knowing that for my Black body and the bodies of my kids, at any time we can meet this fate. Blackness in America is knowing that our lives at any time can be snuffed out. Yet in more diverse spaces in America, one can find comfort in communion with other Blacks but when living in a predominantly white space, we are denied the fellowship of others like us. This hit home for me a few days ago when a young Black person reached out to me on how to navigate life in this very white state.

To be brutally honest the past few days have been hard; hard conversations have been had as my very white husband and I admitted to each other that if we knew almost 20 years ago what we know now, we would not be. Not because of a lack of love but because life is hard enough when living as Black, and to bring children into the world who while technically biracial will be viewed as Black will test the boundaries of love. These children have to navigate a world where in many ways there is no place for them. To love and live across racial lines is harder than anyone can ever know. To live in a space where few can understand is hard under the best of conditions but to add active situations with strong racial overtones is to be a person who goes above and beyond and sadly I am not that person.

My heart is broken and my anger is quick, I am tired, I no longer want to be a sideshow attraction for well meaning whites. I no longer believe that justice is available to others freely because as Frederick Douglass said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Yet in these tender moments when I see faces that look just like mine fighting to be treated like humans, I am tired. I finally understand why Blacks on average have shorter life expectancies than whites, our hearts and souls give up the good fight. Today I sit unable to go outside because to know that at best I am a curiosity is too much,even in writing this I wonder if I should hit delete. Yet after a week of being teased, taunted and ridiculed for my belief that Black bodies are worthy of inclusion into the human family, I write this to show that we are capable of the full range of human expression. To inhabit a Black body in America is hard and to inhabit it in a space where there are few people who look like you is hard and a continual journey where you hope and pray that you don’t step on the landmine.

 

 

Uncomfortable truths and dead Black boys

“History, despite it’s wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but, if faced with courage, need not be lived again,”- Maya Angelou

As the inhabitants of the US once again face the uncomfortable reality of yet another dead, unarmed Black boy, it’s clear to me that we are all living in a warped version of Groundhog Day. We are all trapped in a cycle that we most likely will never escape because we as a nation lack the heart and courage to talk openly and tenderly about our ugly truths. Truths that exist because of people long dead, ugly truths that we all live with today.

Instead we tell ourselves that race doesn’t matter, we tell that brand new lie that we are “colorblind”; those of us who point out that racial disparities are real are told to “stop our race baiting bullshit” as a reader recently told me on the BGIM Facebook page. Or worse yet we are told that we as Black people are responsible for the ills that befall us, that our children deserve to be shot down in the streets and left out like roadkill because we did not govern ourselves accordingly. We weren’t acceptable nor respectful enough thus we bring this pain upon our own heads.

Yet how can we tell another mother, that her son earned his savage killing at the hands of the local cops in Ferguson, MO. On a week when Michael Brown should have been picking out classes, his parents will instead be picking out his final resting place and fighting the national media’s compulsion which frames Black men as either devils or saints. Never fully acknowledging the range of humanity that exists within all of us and most certainly the range of humanity that exists within Black people.

Police Shooting-Missouri

A humanity that feels so deeply, because we know that we are all just one or two degrees of separation away from this pain that Michael Brown’s family is feeling. A humanity that took to social media to hold each other and share space and yet found itself mocked. A humanity that met on the streets of Ferguson, MO to gather as Black people do in times of trouble only to be met with police in riot gear whose presence and demeanor was not one of comfort but of escalation of tense feelings which brought about the predictable script that shows Black people as savages.

Even now as I write these words, words that have become so familiar yet so painful; young men being shot and killed should never become familiar. But how can we not deny the familiarity of these scenarios juxtaposed with the uncomfortable truth that these uncomfortable moments only affects some of us?

Perhaps one day we will find the courage that Maya Angelou spoke about, a courage that will allow us to rip these tattered bandages off these seeping, raw and bloody wounds of racism. Our only hope for survival involves more than an urgent care clinic approach to a disease that has ravaged this nation for so long.

Blessings to the Brown family and to all affected in Ferguson.

 

There are times where I just want to simply be present in my life in that moment with no regard for any of the various labels that society has slapped on me. Spending time with my kids would definitely be one of those times. My eldest is now settling into his new life as an up and coming artist a mere 2700 miles away from me! To parent is to know that one day the babies will fly away from the nest; when you are in the thick of the daily minutia and dying for a few minutes alone, you think you will never be alone again. Then it happens, they are gone, you are verklempt as you struggle to redefine your relationship to your child and get to know them as an adult and maybe even as a friend. But make no mistake, you never stop parenting until the day you take your last breath, I like to imagine that even in those last moments of consciousness, the kids are still with you.

The past few days have been pretty special up here in BGIM-land better known as my corner of the world. My daughter reached the ripe old age of nine and my twenty-two year old son journeyed home to celebrate his sister’s special day. It was a good time but our time together was marred yesterday by the beast of racial bias, nothing major but the type of microagression that is part and parcel of being Black in America. For my son, a young man who though technically biracial considers himself to be Black and is seen as a young Black man, his days are littered with microagressions and racial bias. As his mother, my heart breaks,my temper rises and my inner Mama Bear rages.

It’s no coincidence that my need to talk publicly about racism coincided with my son’s teen years when the racial shit started to affect him regularly, thereby affecting me. When a simple walk to the local convenience store for a snack turned into a ride home by the cops who thought he looked like a suspect who turned out to be a very short, very white guy. Or when a trip to the local coffee shop turned my son into target practice for spineless punks throwing cans of soda from their moving vehicle while hurling racial epithets at my son and his friend.

In some ways, what happened yesterday was minor but it hurt my soul so much more because when does it end? When will the world let my babies live and be fully human, hell when can I live and be fully human?

Yesterday after a day of running errands, we decided to stop for ice cream at a place we have been going to for the last 11 of our 12 years in Maine. My son had requested this particular shop in our town because it’s his favorite, we have been going there since he was 11 and in a town where people have deep roots, while our roots aren’t deep, we do have our own family traditions and this place is it. This is a shop where we have taken my daughter and her friends every summer to celebrate her birthday since she was 4!  As we were wrapping up our treats, my son noticed the owner eyeing him in that way that older whites often look at younger Black men, with fear and bewilderment. My son quietly said as we walked out, “We have been coming here since I was a kid mom, why is she(the owner) looking at me like I am a threat? She is looking at me the way all older white women look at me, as if they expect me to harm them.”

As the mother of a young Black man, I know the challenges my son faces, I know how the media fuels the fans of racial bias by presenting an image of young Black men that creates a mythical boogeyman creature. When young white men engage in youthful hijinks that reaches the level of public conscience, never does it condemn the entire group but young Black men? They are all suspect in the eyes of whites. Yet in a town that I tolerate with dwindling patience, a town where I pay taxes and have created a home, a community that I worked passionately for, I expect that my son can come home and be treated with human kindness and decency. My son should not have to be treated with disdain by people who have literally seen him grow from childhood to adulthood, yet this is the reality of raising a Black man.

In watching how the world interacts with my son when he comes home,I am struck by how different his life is from mine. When I was a young adult and until my mother got so sick that we traded places, going home was a place of safety. I would go home and spend time with my parents and when we were together, those were the moments of safety, those were my moments to refuel and prepare to go back on raised wings and find my way in the world. Yet in today’s world for Black kids particularly Black boys and young men, where is that safety? A visit home to family and a run for ice cream should be nothing more than enjoying the delicious richness of a treat, not a reminder of how our very existence as Black people is seen as a curiosity at best or suspect at worse.

Excuse the typos…my presence has been requested at the Barbie emporium. 

 

Today’s post is a bit reminiscent of the type of posts that were once the norm here in BGIM land. Nothing heavy but a need for me to give voice to my words and say them aloud. 

Over the years as this blog has attracted new readers, inevitably someone will ask “How did you end up in Maine and if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” A well meaning and complicated question that frankly is hard to answer in one short sentence but one that is valid and lately weighing heavily on my mind as I grapple with the reality that the longer I live here, the more it affects me.

I moved to Maine 12 years ago because of my son, the former husband and I had joint custody and long story short, we needed to reside in the same state. The ex stood firm on his decision  to not return to Chicago so I decided to move here instead. When the decision was made to move to Maine, I never envisioned myself staying a while, I figured at best, once my son hit the magical age of 18, that I would be gone with the wind. But as we all learn, life is all about change and with change comes situations that you can never be prepared for, so instead you make course corrections as life happens.

In my case, two years after arriving my mom died after a brief 8 month battle with cancer and her untimely demise set off a chain of emotions and reactions that pretty much made a long term stay in Maine a reality. Around the time that  we should have been planning our escape from Maine, we had a small child and the US economy imploded and when the major breadwinner is a full time freelancer, it means packing up and moving isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

From that point on, I decided to turn the rancid lemons life dealt me into something good and I have to say that many good things came from that decision. For 5 years, I worked in the community doing work that had a huge impact and continues to make a difference despite the fact that I am no longer doing it. Eyes were opened and people are actively working to address issues that had previously  been ignored and despite the fact that my work ended on a less than positive note for me personally, I will forever feel good knowing that in some small way I made a difference.

Yet after years of playing a dangerous game of chicken with my emotions and authentic self, I can also say that living here is hurting me. I talk a great deal about race and while being a Black woman in a predominantly white space is hard, this goes deeper than race. It’s about the fact that the culture in the little town where I live is not a culture where I as a person even absent of the racial difference can find my community or tribe. I don’t do small talk well, I don’t fit the mold of the typical person here and really it is okay. I am no longer mad about it, I just know that I need to get the hell out of dodge.

Lately in the media there has been a lot of talk about the need for community, yet absent from many of these discussions is that for far too many of us, the tribe is not just hanging on a tree waiting to be picked off. Community connects on a base level and if you can’t make that connection, chances are you will never be a member of the tribe. I spend most of my time feeling uncomfortable, I have been uncomfortable so long that I have made peace with it. Yet the price of being in a perpetual state of discomfort is high and that perpetual discomfort doesn’t just affect me, it affects my entire family.

We all need community, no one is an island, not even the strongest among us. No matter what we think, we need more than 1-2 people who get us because life happens and as I have seen in my own family, when your life partner is your only community and something happens to them, it’s catastrophic. My parents were married 31 years and when my mom died, my dad lost his support system and let me just say that watching someone navigate the world without their support system has been eye opening and also challenging.

Lately I have been struck by the fact that if something were to happen to my own life partner, I would essentially be just like my dad and that scares me. It’s already scary enough because even with my partner’s support there are days when I feel lonely. Lonely and trapped in a place where I don’t feel safe even going for a walk alone after the summer of hell a few years ago when I was being stalked by a local man. Also to walk alone in this town is to open myself up to harassment, nothing disturbs a peaceful walk like a carload of men yelling out “nigger”.

So, why don’t we just leave? Well, if you have never made an interstate move, you may be unaware that packing up and leaving involves this thing we call money and lots of it. Despite the fact that I work in Boston, I still work in the non-profit sector and since my job involves making sure the entire organization is financially sound, let me just say that  packing up and moving there is just not going to happen anytime soon. Another uncomfortable reality that I am learning to accept. I admit its been a hard one to accept but life is filled with uncomfortable truths, but my peace of mind is on the line and I can finally admit that publicly. I am a city girl in a small town and the two just don’t mix well, never mind that I am a Black girl! Lucky for me though, Maine’s largest city is not too far away and despite the insanity of knowing I would be adding onto my already long commute, the idea of moving to Portland is starting to look like an attractive option in the short run. At the very least, my kid won’t be the only non white kid in her class and I can eat a meal out after 8 pm!

Whether or not there is a community for me in Portland remains to be seen but it’s a start and it’s step one on the task list of Project Leave Maine.

 

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!!

 

“A focus on racial disparities alone,” Powell continues, also “presumes that the baseline position of the dominant group is the appropriate goal for reducing or eliminating disparities.” That is, it risks naturalizing or presuming a “white norm” that should be the standard policy goal to measure racial justice (for examples white rates of wealth, income, graduation, home ownership, etc.) rather than rethinking the ways such systems must be fundamentally transformed.”- Daniel Martinez HoSang

Another news cycle and another Black mother’s visage paraded before us as an example of “bad” parenting. This time it’s Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina woman who found herself  having to choose between her job at McDonald’s and her 9-year-old daughter. Harrell originally was bringing her daughter to work with her but after their apartment was burglarized and their laptop stolen, thus leaving her daughter with nothing to do while sitting at McDonald’s, Harrell made the decision to let her daughter play at the park down the way from her job while armed with a cell phone. This decision cost Harrell her job, her child and very possibly her freedom as she is facing a charge of unlawful neglect of a child which carries a 10 year sentence if she is found guilty.

A few months earlier it was Shanesha Taylor, an unemployed Arizona single mom who had a job interview and no childcare. Taylor went to the interview and left her children in the car which led to felony child abuse charges.

Poor, single mom faces 8 years for leaving kids in car during job interview

Each times these stories catch the attention of the national media, we are bombarded with a stream of factual and think pieces lamenting the lack of affordable childcare, well paying jobs and overall support for parents and kids. Without a doubt here in the US, we talk a good game about supporting families but the reality is we fall short. Very short. Until this year, most of my professional career was spent in social services both in Maine and Chicago and I know that all too often, families in need cannot find the support they need to not only survive but to thrive. In many ways this is old news.

Another thing that is also old news is that too many times stories such as Harrell’s and Taylor’s are retold to the larger world through a white lens. In the era of the mom blogger/writer as social activist, we hear these stories filtered through a white lens that lacks nuance and too many times in sharing the stories of others they also remind us of how “fortunate” they are because while their hearts go out for these women, they also know nothing of this world.

Stacia Brown, an African-American writer wrote a phenomenal piece on Black latchkey families that made me realize why stories that affect Black women and kids must be written by people of color. While African-Americans are not a monolith, many of us see life with a shared lens of understanding and a narrative that is largely absent from the white lens of life. Many of us were raised in families where choices were made that at times appear dysfunctional under a white, middle-class lens yet we know the lens that people like us live with and we can share the tales without the unspoken judgement that too often lurks in the background when whites, even so-called white allies, tell our stories.

For many of us, even if we have escaped bone-grinding poverty and need, we are not so are far removed that we can’t relate. Even in my own family, I have relatives who struggle. I have relatives who struggle with involvement in the criminal justice system. When I write, I write not only dispassionate facts and figures but I write from a place of lived experience. But too many times experiences such as mine never make it into the larger awareness or conscience.

Black women and men need to tell their own stories, because too many times only our tragedies make the news. Yet often there are untold stories of joy and overcoming that never make the headlines. We need to tell our own stories because our lives are more than think pieces that lead to click bait but our stories are the stories of human resilience in the face of obstacles and barriers yet when filtered through the white lens we are often nothing more than the poster children of “bad” when juxtaposed against the face of “good” which all too often wears a white face.

We live in a time when the goal is a white-washed form of colorblindness where we are measured against a standard that very few people of color can ever meet. We are not colorblind and the quest to pretend so is harmful because for too many of us it strips us of our humanity.

In the journey for racial and ethnic wholeness, we can all work together; in fact, we must work together.  But for white allies it is not to tell other people’s stories but to examine how the white narrative that is the norm is not only harmful to people of color but to whites as well because there re far too many whites who fall short of the white norm that is positioned as the “right way.”

Many will say such thoughts are “racist” without understanding that racism is a system yet our instinctual instinct to label “racist” what we don’t understand is just another reason why people need to tell their own stories thus revealing their own humanity. It’s when we connect on that very human level without judgement that true change is possible.