When strength turns deadly…why the strong Black woman must die

This post is for my beautiful sistas of the African diaspora, and for the littlest sista who at 9 is already becoming far more skilled in wearing her mask than a little girl should be. But, like her mother, she already knows the spoken and unspoken rules required for us to take up space in these brown bodies.

I woke up to the news of the passing of Titi Branch; Titi was the co-founder of Miss Jessie’s Natural Hair Line. To be a Black woman in America with natural-textured hair is to have almost certainly at some point come across Miss Jessie’s products. Titi was still a young woman, just a few years older than myself, but what struck most people upon hearing this sad news was the news that Titi’s death may have been a suicide.

Whenever someone dies too young, it is always seen as tragedy, when someone dies by their own hand, we often don’t know how to process it. I think in the Black community where the cultural norm is to pray away the bad, we rarely acknowledge the unspoken depression and angst that lives in the closets of many strong Black women. With so much attention on the plight of Black Americans and the biased criminal justice system, too often the focus is on Black men and boys when the truth is Black women and girls are in a state of crisis too.

We know that Black women go missing and rarely do the stories of missing Black women and girls ever even make the evening news. We know that Black women are killed and assaulted by law enforcement. But rarely do we talk openly about the Black women who struggle under the weight of being asked to be strong. I am talking about the Black women who from the outside look together—the women who “beat the odds” and have all the markers of success by the standard of this society. Women who often feel too guilty to even talk about the deep pain of being asked to be everything to everyone while still living in this deeply racist and sexist culture that puts Black women on a third-rate stand at best. Women who can’t tell their relatives how that “good” corporate job feels more and more like a noose around the neck when those same relatives are still struggling to keep their lights on.  Women who often endure the subtle racism and microaggressions that eat away at your spirit piece by piece and thrown you in a downward spiral of malaise and depression.

The strength of the Black woman is a popular trope that rarely allows a Black woman to be honest with many people—or even herself—if she ever feels anything but strong. I know this struggle all too well myself—times when I have tried to reach out for help only to feel worse. When people expect you to be strong, the very act of revealing your vulnerability and humanity  feels like you are letting others down and creates a hamster wheel that is damn near impossible to get off of.

Yet it seems some of us are choosing to get off of the hamster wheel of being a strong Black woman by choosing to take our own lives. Black suicide has been researched by folks like Alvin Poussaint, whose book Lay My Burden Down discusses the mental health crisis in the African-American community. It’s a good read and it gives us real insight and ideas to curb this crisis, but how do we take it from the head to the heart? How do we do more than pay lip service to the idea of supporting one another? Even in Maine, our numbers are small, yet often the Black women here (I am guilty of this myself) are too busy to make time to just be with one another. If we can’t even take the time to create meaningful connections among ourselves, how can we have a support system when we are in crisis?

As Black women at times it feels we battle the world, each other and ourselves—and it’s killing us. Whether we consciously take our own lives or we go the unconscious route of shortening our lives which often is the result of not physically taking care of ourselves, something must give. I am tired of burying our men and sons but I am also tired of seeing too many of my sistas leaving the world far too early. Just as we are fighting now to make it known that Black lives matter we must create space for ourselves for our own Black lives—spaces and places that honor our humanity and support us in not just our high and strong points but at the low points when we need someone to know we are hurting enough that they come in to help hold us up, give us comfort and lend a caring and attentive ear.

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Fighting the fight for racial justice in Maine…I salute these brave young people

I never imagined when I moved to Maine in 2002 that talking about race, racism and race relations would be something that I would do with regularity. In many ways, coming from Chicago, I had spent years in my own silo, one that was rich with diversity and where my presence was not alarming, different or “othered.” Choosing to talk openly about race in a state where non-white people make up less than 10 percent of the population is a risky proposition. It makes you a very unpopular person who is alarming, different and often perceived as a troublemaker…and it most certainly doesn’t make you many friends. Needless to say, my social calendar stays pretty empty. I have few regrets, despite the occasional moments of sadness when I see the impact upon my family and the utter isolation in which we live, but occasionally something happens that reminds me that there is value in raising our voices for the collective good.

In recent years and months, I have seen more of my fellow Mainers speaking out about racial injustice. Too many times, there is an assumption that because the number of non-whites in this state are so few that racial bias has no place in our lives. The reality is that racial bias in Maine is real and it takes many forms. My friend, blues man Samuel James has been raising his own voice as a Black man raised in Maine to talk about the racism he has faced and continues to face. As more of us raise our voices, it gives us the strength to stand tall even when we face opposition.

However, it is the actions of a group of high school students in Lewiston, Maine, who have me convinced that change is coming…even in a state like Maine. With demonstrations taking place across the nation, few would expect them in a state like Maine but demonstrate we did. Last weekend, we had two demonstrations, one at which I had the honor of speaking at and meeting some of the courageous young people of all races who are working for racial justice across this state. Which is why, when a few days later when one of them reached out to me about a situation at Lewiston High, I was alarmed.

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Several students put up a poster in the high school to raise awareness about the racial injustices that disproportionately affect Black people using the slogan that has emerged in this struggle based off the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The students were told that using “Black Lives Matter” is divisive and ordered them to take the poster down. Of course, the complaints are that all lives should matter and when we only focus on the plight of Black Americans, we are creating racial divisions. In theory, all lives should matter but in reality all lives don’t matter equally. Much like George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, some of us are perceived to have more value than others. In a year that has seen record numbers of Black lives shot down before their prime, Black women sexually assaulted by law enforcement and Black children marked for failure before they can even spell their own names, calling the slogan Black Lives Matter divisive ignores the reality that Black lives seem to have little value in our current day. Many white Americans have already divided Black people out to label them as troublemakers or criminals because of the color of their skin alone, divided them out as being less deserving of rights and safety when police are involved, and dividing them out by trying to silence them when they even try to discuss race. Black people and their non-Black allies want discussion to bring people together for once across racial lines.

How talking about an issue can be divisive is beyond me. To acknowledge and discuss inequity does not create inequity any more than discussing cancer leads to the creation of more cancer. Such thinking is faulty at best and downright insensitive and insulting, and it often reveals the racial bias held by the person who dares to utter such things.

In the day of the viral story, the plight of the students in Lewiston was picked up and went national; not long after, the school reversed its decision and are now allowing the students to put the poster back up. The community is planning a forum on the matter sometime in January. Based off comments in the local paper, I imagine it will be a lively forum since many feel this sort of “thing” has no place in our public schools. Yet I can’t think of a better place for such action.

These brave young students are our future, they are connecting across racial lines and having the types of discussions among themselves that many of us who are much older won’t even dare to have with our family, friends or even ourselves. Social change is often guided by the young; as I went to two marches in five days and realized that my marching and chanting days are almost behind me, if for no other reason than how tiring they are physically. I am heartened to know that even in a state like Maine, there are young people daring to break out of the silo that society has created for them and work across racial lines to speak truth even in the face of pressure to be quiet. I salute these young people and I pledge to assist in any way that this old-head can.

America unmasked…a nation of hate and pain

 

In the spring of 1991, I was a girl who fell in love with a boy and being two headstrong and impulsive types we pledged our undying love to one another and ran off and got married. A few months later, we discovered we were expecting a child and by the winter of 1992, our beautiful son was born. Yet, it was too late for us. We learned early on that love wasn’t enough because as a mixed-race, young couple, the world was not a kind place for us. Thirteen months after our son’s birth, our marriage was over. Shattered under the weight of adult realities and the inability to acknowledge or talk about race and the impact it had on our lives. My ex-husband would spend the next two decades avoiding all talk of race, instead choosing to see the “human family,” until it reached a breaking point in recent years as my son’s identity as a Black man emerged and he was faced with the possibility of losing his son. In a stunning reversal of more than four decades of long ingrained “truths,” I have seen my ex-husband speak up as a white man in ways that I never thought possible when it comes to race.

I share this personal story as I sit saddened under the weight of what our inability to talk race as a nation is costing us. Today’s New York Times has a piece that speaks to the very real divide in this country when it comes to race. We are in a state of emergency and many of us don’t even know it. A civil war is brewing and we are almost at the point of no return as a nation.

Too many Black people suffer under the weight of a system that marked us before we were even aware of our own essence as people. Too many whites believe the past is the past and that we should just move on. As a general rule, we don’t make a point of pressing crime victims to just move on and forget the trauma they have endured, and we certainly don’t ask them to endure more abuses by the criminal while we refuse to apprehend that criminal (well, I guess we often do in domestic violence still, but other than that…). Yet when it comes to the Black American community, too many whites engage in intellectually dishonest rhetoric on race because the truth is too painful to face. But as anyone who has lived long enough knows, facing our past often allows us the freedom to eventually move forward.

Here in America, we are literally stuck in a loop unable to move forward racially; as I have spoken about many times in recent months, it was 46 years ago this year that American witnessed the race riots of 1967 in Detroit, which later led to the formation of the Kerner Commission. The Commission was tasked with figuring out what to do with those pesky Black folks. The Commission’s findings in 1968 determined that the problem was white people and detailed all the reasons why. We failed to heed the recommendations that came out of those findings and here we are…at a racial crossroads.

We have reached the place where families are fracturing over recent events such as Ferguson and the Eric Garner case, longtime friendships are ending and spaces such as Facebook are revealing our true shadow selves. It ain’t pretty. I pride myself on being someone who keeps drama down in my online life and I actually took the rare step of unfriending a white sister in Christ because her comments were borderline abusive.

On the one hand, it’s easy to blame the troll culture that is so pervasive online but in many ways I think that our online selves are a lot closer to who we really are. It’s harder to show our true selves face-to-face when accountability can be demanded or a punch in the face is always a possibility. American culture and especially white American culture has always trafficked in politeness, which by extension has meant avoiding discussion of the potentially problematic things like religion, sex, politics and race. However, in a racially changing world, we can no longer avoid that which is unpleasant or uncomfortable, not when lives are on the line, not in a world where children with toy guns on the playground are shot dead by the people who are charged with serving and protecting. To stay silent on race is to be complicit in the systematic destruction of a people who bear the scars left over from centuries of abuse and oppression. No white person alive owned slaves but many are still alive who benefited from the system’s preference for whiteness. To openly acknowledge that truth is not to indict whiteness but to indict the system that created this divide that we all currently live in…the truth has a way of setting us free but if we run from it, freedom will never be ours.


Standing on the brink of destruction, all I know is that we must be brave. We must not back down and if in the fight to right the wrongs of history and not bestow upon our children and grandchildren this tortured legacy that will not fade away, if we lose loved ones along the way, perhaps it is a small price to pay to right the wrongs of history. Pandora’s box has been opened and it cannot be closed, our ugliness is on display and the pain is heavy but it doesn’t have to remain this way if we find the strength to deal with that which we have long ignored.

Reflections on a march

Another week, another dead Black man and another white police officer who won’t face legal consequences for the taking of that life. Enough is enough…that was but one of the cries this week that led to nationwide demonstrations. In recent months as the racial tensions have grown in this country, I have watched from afar, commenting and empathizing but from the safety of my home (or office or train). At times feeling helpless and thinking that I must do more; it is not enough to write in this space or even to be the Executive Director of an anti-racism organization. True change often requires action and sometimes making ourselves raggedy, vulnerable and uncomfortable. It requires a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone and go from the theoretical to the practical.

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Little did I know that this week would present me with the very opportunity to do just that. I found myself Wednesday evening making the decision to cancel a planned Thursday night discussion at Community Change and instead asking people to take to the streets to stand in solidarity with those protesting in response to the Staten Island’s grand jury decision to not indict the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner. In asking people to take to the streets, I knew  that I too needed to take to the streets. Let me just say the last time I was part of mass protest was back before I had kids and considering that my eldest is now a grown man…well, it’s been a while.

However, I put on my walking shoes and was ready to go as I led a group from my office to the larger gathering at the Boston Commons. I was not prepared for the sheer volume of people: young, old, Black, brown, White and every shade in between. Standing and later walking in solidarity. The beautiful young Black and brown faces clumsy at times in execution but strong and on point in theme and resolve: We are tired, we will shut this shit down!

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It was amazing to bear witness on a night that grew colder with each passing hour yet there was no surrender; not even at 10 p.m. when a portion of the group that I was involved with walked towards the cops with hands raised, chanting, nor when a group of protesters swarmed a police vehicle. Any fears that I started the evening with dissipated as the night wore on; instead there was strength in the collective group. A diverse, multiracial group that according to some reports was the largest mass protest held in Boston in at least a decade.

There were moments of discomfort (walking up towards I93 was definitely unnerving as I thought, “Are we really about to shut down a highway?”), and there were a few less-than-friendly faces we encountered (man on the Commons who yelled “Losers!” to me and a few of the people from my group) but overall there was support. Black and brown men in traffic who honked their horns in support. A middle-aged white man who got out of his car and stood with his hands up in support, a touching gesture even if I do question the wisdom of white people putting their hands up.

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I left the evening thinking that we are bearing witness to a shifting consciousness, the rising of a generation saying that business as usual is no longer okay. That we as a society cannot continue to accept injustice that regularly assaults a portion of our population. The road to systemic change will be rocky at times and it will be hard, but we must be the change that we wish to see in this world.

The toll of Black death…the aftermath

“I’m crying a lot and trying my best to feel safe, make my friends and family feel safe. I hope you tell the people of color in your life that you love them before they are murdered by police.”- My 22 year old son’s Facebook response to the St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown

For several days now I have sat down and waited for the words to come but the truth is that the only thing that comes is rage and sorrow. Sorrow at the pain that Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, must be feeling. The collective rage of all Black parents and the sorrow at yet another dream deferred. A few days after the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of Michael Brown, I attended a local vigil in Portland, Maine, and was struck by the collective pain in all the brown-skinned faces. A tired, bone-weary pain as I saw a young Black woman break down in tears.  The tears and sorrow on the face of the local NAACP chapter president as we embraced as Black women and mothers knowing that while we were mourning the loss of Michael Brown and the callous disregard for his life we were also mourning the hope that so many of us have had that one day we might be beyond race.

Ferguson has shattered us, and while we are a resilient people, we are also a people in pain. Yet it was in talking to my own beloved son that the pain became personal because unlike when he was a small child, he knows now that my words and promises are no longer guaranteed. I cannot keep him safe in a world that sees a 6’4 Black man as suspicious just for being tall and brown-skinned. He is a former philosophy major who is now an up and comer in the music business, garnering national attention and making his way in the world. A rising star, yet every time he is pulled over (which as of this writing was less than a week ago, and he’s been pulled over just for being Black so many times before that), he knows at that moment he could lose his life.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We are the children and the grandchildren of Jim Crow-era parents and were raised on hope that things had changed, that racism was a thing of a past, that we could go further, do more and live at peace with all. Yet that isn’t true, not when 12-year-old Black boys playing with toy guns on playgrounds are shot dead by police officers without a moment’s hesitation because a bystander can’t tell the difference between a child at play and a threat and the police somehow see a man instead of a boy.

I look into the face of my 9-year-old daughter and with each passing day realize that like my father before me, it is time…I must shatter her illusions and talk openly about race and how her skin coloring makes her suspect and how she must learn to navigate this dual existence. To raise Black children is to take a piece of their being and essence and crush it in the hopes that the ugly truths being imparted will keep them alive until adulthood and even with this crushing of the soul, there are no guarantees that they won’t end up taken too soon.

These are interesting times as I navigate racial justice work in my professional life yet feel the weight of racial oppression in my personal life. Wondering if the work that I do in my day life will manifest and create lasting justice for all…only time will tell. But I do know that for all the discussions and media buzz in the aftermath of another Black death, there is a yet another weight tied around the collective souls of Black people as we struggle to stand tall in the midst of pain and continue the fight as our elders and ancestors did.

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To my white brothers and sisters in Christ…where are you? Let’s talk racial justice!

I rarely talk about my faith in this space, but this is one of those times…Longtime readers of my work may recall that I am the daughter of a now retired pastor. After a very long, dark night of the soul following my mother’s death, I almost entered seminary but instead took a detour to head up a faith-based agency. The calling to seminary is still very much there, and I fully admit that I am negotiating the calling versus my free, will but that’s a tale for another time.


Across the nation this morning, millions went to worship their God and to presumably hold sacred space with fellow believers, while waiting for the man or woman in the pulpit to give them good news in a world that seems increasingly short of anything good. Today, I was among the people sitting in one of those church pews, feeling a deep need to fill up my sagging spiritual reserves.Yet I was reminded once again of why the church hour for those who attend remains almost as segregated as ever.

I sat and listened to the music, the sermon that touched upon the growing class inequity in this season of gratitude and the reminder for congregants to go further and then the the time for prayers and prayer offerings…the most amazing prayers of concern, pleas for support and gratitude. But as I heard the prayer requests being offered up, I noticed the prayers that were never uttered. It was a weekend in which a 12-year-old Black child Cleveland, Ohio, with a toy gun was shot and killed in a playground by the police after a call from a bystander who apparently mistook the child for a threat. And that terrible news came on the heels of yet another unarmed Black man who was killed by police, this time in a stairwell by a New York City police officer. And both of these pieces of news at a time when we’re still wrestling with the killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri…at a time, in fact, when the grand jury verdict we’re expecting soon on that shooting could racially destroy this country no matter which way it goes.

There were no prayers related to any of those issues, whether individually or as a collective whole.

The absence of prayers for justice with regards to race in this country is a glaring omission, given how prominently they are playing out in the national consciousness. The type of omission that serves as a reminder of just how vastly different life is for whites and non-whites in this country.

As the daughter of a now-retired minister and pastor with Black Baptist roots, I know the Black church well. It is the balm for my soul despite its blemishes—which are many, I admit, but at least the Black church does not require me to check my very being at the door for participation. (In other words, while the Black church certainly has its baggage, it is a place where I am allowed to be Black without fear of repercussions.) However, in a state like Maine, my worship options are limited much like almost everything else for non-white people around here.

Sitting in the pew and noticing the glaring prayer omissions, I found myself wondering about how in far too many white, Christian churches, the only time differences of race and ethnicity come up are when discussing the latest mission trip. The mission trips that almost always involve going far away and helping economically disadvantaged people of color in faraway and exotic locales.

Make no mistake, there are some white churches that are on the front lines of racial justice but they are too far between and few. Too many white churches and particularly white churches in predominantly white spaces aren’t talking about racial justice. They aren’t engaged in the racial happenings, instead choosing to trust that the love of Christ is all we need. I love Jesus, but my love for Jesus isn’t going to stop white supremacy from harming me and my family.

For far too many “Christians,” going to church is simply an item on the to-do list; a lightweight country club where we gather with people like us, all the while ignoring the blueprint for activism and justice that was left for us in the Bible. At a time when church membership as whole is declining and many churches are fighting to stay, the church’s inability as a whole to be a part of social change is disheartening. In writing this I know the potential to offend my many local clergy pals is great, yet if you are in the pulpit and you haven’t talked about race often this year in light of what’s been happening, why not? Churches have the potential to be change agents but too often, they are stuck in places of comfort. Comfort, however, does not create change or help to create a just world. If we are the body of Christ on Earth, then why are we not helping all who are in need? How can we talk about economic inequality yet ignore racial inequality?

Young People and Racial Justice…we must do better

Twenty five years ago, I was a high school sophomore in honors classes at a predominantly white school in one of Chicago’s tonier neighborhoods. Even at that young age, I knew that my life was nothing like my peers and figured that college and a career were most likely not going to be mine despite being in the same classes as the white children of the upper middle class. I was Black and I hailed from the working class and other than my parents supportive words, no one encouraged me to excel. I decided to create a self fulfilling prophecy by dabbling in drugs and alcohol and aligning myself with the “stoners” who would cut school most of the day and get high. By the time senior year rolled around, I had failed physical education one too many times along with chemistry and my only chance to graduate on time was to go to night school. My family didn’t have have the cash to send me to night school and I didn’t want to graduate late so a few days after turning 18, I dropped out of high school. Three months after dropping out of high school, I was married and two months after getting married, I was pregnant. My life should have been over, I should have become another statistic…a poor Black teenage mom. Yet the universe had other plans for me.

I haven’t looked back on my teen years in a long time. My teen years and large chunks of my childhood were painful and frankly race figured prominently in that pain. Too many years spent being the only Black kid or one of the only Black kids in a class. Never quite knowing my place in the world and aside from my family, never seeing reflections that looked like me. Even now, I can count the number of non white teachers I’ve had on one hand.

Last night I found myself on a panel with several young people from Boston Mobilization discussing young people and racial justice. The discussion triggered some deeply packed away memories. A reminder to me of just how critical racial justice is and how critical is that we start discussions of race early in life.

One of the panelists, a 17 year old Latina woman, described going through school being deemed “smart” yet receiving the message that she was not entitled to be “smart” despite ending up in one of the country’s premier high schools. At times she faced accusations that she couldn’t possibly have done her work; after all, she is a Latina.  She spoke of how from age 11-12 being aware that she was seen as a stereotype at times and not an actual person. Another panelist, a 21 year old Southeast Asian man spoke of how growing up in the shadow of 9/11 he and the men in his family had been racialized. How as a Sikh, he was viewed as suspect. He spoke about the duality of being viewed as both a suspect in certain settings and a math/computer whiz in academic settings. Neither of which described who he really was. His quiet demeanor revealing at least to me the pain that is always present when we are deemed nothing more than a “type” based off our skin color.

As painful as it was for me to hear the words these young people shared, unlike 25 years ago, we have created spaces (in some places) for young people to give voice to these feelings. We have created spaces that empower young people to name the “isms” that 25 years ago, I couldn’t even admit to myself. But young people of color should not have to face their youth grappling with a racialized existence; yet they do, and will continue to do so, because far too many white people don’t get matters of race and shy away from such topics. Even whites who consider themselves allies often falter when it comes to talking race with their own kids. Yet these kids will go to school and interact with kids of color and bring their own racialized view of what people of color are with them. It’s a self perpetuating system that keeps us apart. However as I heard a young white woman on the panel speak of her own identity as a white woman and her racial justice work, it left me hopeful that perhaps our future of change lies with young people. Perhaps it’s the role of the older heads such as mine to support this work because, to quote one panelist, younger minds are more open and more malleable and not weighted down by personal baggage and anecdotal stories and narratives that get in the way of us actually hearing one another. In large urban spaces, programs such as Boston Mobilization and by extension even mine have the capacity to exist. Yet in rural states such as Maine, we have to be more intentional in opening the dialogue on racial differences and creating safe spaces and that work starts in our own families.

PS: I just wanted to say thank you to all who reached out after my last post. That was a hard one to write because it required a level of vulnerability that even a touchy feely type like myself prefers to avoid. I know the post didn’t go over well with everyone but thanks to those who understood the spirit in which I wrote it and thank you for your support of this space. 

 

I’m so gauche or the high cost of consumption

Deep breath here. This is a post that has been simmering for months yet every time I try to get the words out, my inner good girl would chide me and say don’t do it… Yet after a really strange series of happenings, it’s time. I may lose a few readers and that is okay but sometimes truth needs to be spoken even if it’s uncomfortable.

Back in 2007 I was licking my psychic wounds after having been laid off from my teaching gig at a for-profit college. I was at a crossroads with a fairly new Master’s degree, a toddler, a boatload of debt and no idea what my next steps should be professionally. So I scraped together my pennies and worked with a life coach who helped me gained some clarity around my professional goals. Like many, I was caught between the practical and the creative and in the end it was clear that going back to non-profit management made the most sense practically speaking and that I should look for outlets to feed my creative self. As well as a way to create an additional income stream. That passion and plan along with a desire to connect with other people of color led to the creation of this blog in 2008.

In the early days of this blog, which I truly believe were the heyday of the blogging world, it seemed like every other week there was a blogger quitting their day job to earn a living from their blog. Like many I had my dreams and hopes of striking it big with this blog, getting that book deal, getting the attention, etc. It was also clear early on though, that despite becoming classified as a “mom” blogger that I was not going to become the next Pioneer Woman or Dooce. Despite my attempts at monetizing this blog, I knew the chances of earning more than occasional coffee money wasn’t going to happen and I made my peace with that.

A funny thing happened though. After accepting that I was not going to strike it rich with this blog, my writing became more focused as I started to write from my heart and not a script for blog success.  I started to write about the things that interested me and the things that I was knowledgeable about, which meant taking my lived experience and academic background and writing about matters of race and occasionally musing about growing older. That decision changed my life in many ways starting with an appearance on the Melissa Harris Perry show in November 2012 after the Maine GOP made a gaffe of ginormous proportions. My readership increased and suddenly this blog was receiving attention. Initially it was wonderful to receive attention; writers write because we have something to say that we need to get out, but we love it when our words are read.

However, the past two years have been tiring for me. With the increased exposure it has meant dealing with trolls, nasty attacks and requests. A non-stop stream of requests. Speaking of which, when I announced my decision to accept my current position as the executive director of Community Change Inc., one of the longest, continuously running anti-racism organizations in the US, it meant an increase in exposure as I was no longer seen as just some yahoo online spouting off but an actual  professional with the backing of a long-established organization. I had anticipated an increase in exposure and actually had factored it into my strategy to increase CCI’s exposure.

What I didn’t expect though was an inbox full of individuals and organizations requesting free services. People who are interested in anti-racism training and information but who have no interest or means to pay for said services. As a blogger this was one thing but as the head of an organization with a staff that requires payment and an office that isn’t free, freebies aren’t possible.

Recently a series of requests for unpaid services as well as a few extraordinary requests for my own time (again, uncompensated) led me to sitting down and tallying up just what this blog is costing me. For almost 7 years, I have spent $19.98 a month for this blog (in the day and age of intellectual property, slapping a site up on a free space is a very bad idea) I have laid out almost $1,678 to run this space, which says nothing for the countless number of hours I have spent writing posts, interacting with readers, and managing social media for this space…that’s just the cash that I have spent out of my pocket so that this space exists. It’s not a lot of money but I can honestly say that in all my years of blogging this site has not ever financially paid for itself much less generated any profit.

I have spent the last 17 years of my life more or less in the non-profit sector minus the year I spent teaching. I typically have worked at small organizations with budgets of $500,000 or less, the types of organizations that do critically needed work but lack financial resources. Places where you earn a salary and you get a generous supply of paid time off since you often don’t have any other benefits. My last position in Maine didn’t even offer health insurance; the organization couldn’t afford it.

As I find myself creeping closer to 42, I am starting to think about my future in the next 20-30 years and the truth is that unless I make some course corrections now, my golden years aren’t going to be  golden.  I will be the senior citizen who I have served meals to at the low-income senior housing complex. I will be the elderly woman who cuts her pills in half or eats one less meal because I can’t afford my medicine and food. I don’t want to be that woman when I am elderly.

Yet for those of us who dabble in the creative,a bleak future awaits us all if we are fortunate enough to grow old. (Lack of consistent health insurance and access to affordable health care might ensure an early death) No longer do people pay for creativity, thanks to the internet. We consume it with no financial investment on our parts. Back in the ole days, I remember when listening to music outside of the radio required someone paying for the music. Back in the old days, books, movies and magazines were paid for if we wished to consume them. (even at the library, the materials are often paid for). But now? We can read a smorgasbord of material from the comfort of our homes and never pay a penny for any of it and we have more or less come to expect this steady stream of material with no thoughts about the creators of this material. I am a writer with writer friends and I know more than a few writers on the brink of financial insolvency because publications that do pay writers, often pay pennies for articles ($50 for 1,200 words but millions of pageviews) or pay nothing at all. For bloggers, unless you have a popular and marketable niche the odds of earning actual money for your writing is harder than ever.

Back in the old days of blogging, a blogger might throw a tip jar up on the blog but as the digital landscape has changed, the tip jar in most cases is seen as tacky and as I have learned over the years the tip jar often stays empty. It’s been enough to make me think that it’s time to close my digital door and pick up a weekend job at Wal-Mart where at least I would earn a few dollars to stash away in the retirement fund. But the truth is, I really don’t want to do that and I am hoping that maybe a few of you wouldn’t want that either.

So I am putting on my tacky and gauche hat and asking regular readers to support this space. I am willing to continue giving my time to write pieces that I hope resonate with you but I am asking for your help to make this a donor supported space in an era where it’s increasingly harder for writers to receive more than pageviews. I love pageviews but here in Maine, the Central Maine Power company won’t accept pageviews for payment. I have met many wonderful people as a result of this space and I most certainly don’t wish to alienate any of you but I also know that long term I can’t sustain this space without financial support. I do have a modest goal, I would like to raise the $1,678 that I have invested in this space to date. Practically speaking, your support would allow me to pay up next year’s blog costs in advance and take care of a few minor things that I have been putting off as I pay down debt and save for my eventual relocation to Boston. So if you have the means, please consider a small donation and if you don’t send well wishes and keep reading!




Black life in Maine and what racism in Maine looks like…a student’s story

When I moved to Maine in 2002, I did not set out to become one of Maine’s best known Black residents. I was simply a mother who didn’t want her child to be caught up in a protracted custody battle. Yet when I arrived here in the spring of 2002 from Chicago, the casual racism that I dealt with on an almost daily basis threatened my very being. Knowing that I was committed to being in Maine, I decided to do something about it, thus launching my writing career for publications such the Portland Press Herald, Journal Tribune and eventually the Portland Phoenix where I have written on race and diversity for over a decade now. This blog came along 6 years ago and while the initial intent behind the blog was not to write solely about race with a name like Black Girl in Maine, it’s hard to avoid matters of race. 

Over the years, people have reached out to me seeking support, advice and occasionally a signal boost on matters of importance when it comes to race in Maine. Today I am sharing a letter from a University of Southern Maine student who reached out to me this weekend after experiencing a rather jarring experience at the school’s campus. I have never been a student, faculty member or employee of the university but I have known more than a few people of color who have mentioned questionable treatment on the school’s campus. Which is why I am sharing this letter in its entirety at the request of the letter writer. Many in Portland, ME feel that Portland is the progressive hub of the state yet for those of us without white skin privilege we don’t share that view. If we are going to create real change, it’s time to shine some light on the experiences of all Mainers. 

My name is Idman Abdul and I am a Canadian International-Student here at University of Southern Maine (USM). I am also a member of the Multi-Cultural Students Association, and a new student senator here as well. As much as I am proud of these positions, it doesn’t really mean much if my institution does nothing to aid its students in ensuring a more progressive and inclusive environment.
 
Over the past two years at USM, it has become evident that my institution has failed to foster an environment where students of color have felt comfortable, safe and engaged. For example, many students of have attempted to run for student government seats and as a result, they were confronted with racism and xenophobia. USM has failed to address these concerns in the past and continue to do so now.
 
Yesterday evening, two students decided to wear “Ebola Nurse” costumes to campus. These two students were approached by USM’s Multi-Cultural Student Association members (myself included) and were told, kindly and calmly I may add, that their costumes were insensitive and hurtful. They were told that this didn’t mean they were bad people and that we were coming from a place of love and understanding. 30 minutes after walking away we were approached by the POLICE. The students had told the police that we seemed dangerous and that they felt threatened. The fact that students like these walk around campus triggering students with their hurtful behavior and then can go ahead and call authorities on those they have offended is beyond me. I find myself obligated to shine light on this issue (them calling Police on us, 6 women of color) and all of its ethical, moral and racial implications. As black Muslim students, I find no other reason for them to have believed we meant them any harm other than our obvious physical appearances. We have since provided the authorities with our statements. With the history of occurrences at this school, I know as much as we approach administration for a change, that this will only get swept under the rug or they’ll offer up one of their “trainings” that never seem to do the job. That is why we are trying to get the word out there and show people what is really happening to students of color here. 
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These two students put on costumes that had the potential to cause widespread hysteria across the campus and then proceeded to not only defame us by making a false call to the police but also used State Funds to coddle their own egos. These women are nurses! Anyone in their field particularly, should know better! How desensitized have we become as people that an epidemic killing thousands, could honestly be referred to as a joke? Those people, I’m afraid, are too blinded by their own ignorance to see that they have actually affected us deeply. I will never forget locking eyes with another female in the room, the moment we saw them in their costumes. I will never forget the hundred horrible thoughts that crossed my mind the second I assumed they were CDC officials. And lastly, I will never forget the offense and shame I felt after being approached by an officer who believed me to be anything other than a regular student. A threat is what I, along with 5 others, were called ‘A threat’. After being terrified beyond belief all for the benefit of someone carrying out their own sick, tasteless joke (if we can even call it that).  
 
I have attached a two photos of the women in the “Ebola Nurse” costumes. And here is a link to a post made on tumblr by another student who was there. She included the times and you can talk to her too if you like! 
Thank You,
Idman Abdul
Note: I am keeping comments open because I believe dialogue is important but I will not tolerate slurs, insults or attacks. 

The unruly privilege of whiteness or Pumpkinfest gone wrong

Over the years the feedback from readers whenever I write about matters of race has ranged from appreciative to downright hostile. There is a certain segment of people both in my readership and in the general public who believe that racism will die if we simply stop talking about race and instead see each other as members of the human race. This is naive at best and downright deadly at worst.  Ignoring problems or situations no matter how uncomfortable they are never leads to the situations or problems solving themselves. Trust me, I’ve tried it and not addressing my health or my finances led to disaster and I suspect that I am not the only one. Ignorance isn’t bliss, no matter how good it feels to stay in the dark.

2014 is turning out to be the year where Americans, specifically white Americans, are being pushed to the brink when it comes to racial matters. It is no longer enough to not be personally racist, to raise your kids to be color blind, and to not use the n-word. It isn’t enough to avoid certain conversations because they aren’t comfortable and they feel awkward. We are officially living in a two tiered system of existence where there is the white world and then there is the space where people of color, particularly Blacks, live and these worlds are not equal.

To see just how unequal these two worlds are, one need not look any further than this past weekend’s Pumpkinfest in Keene, NH. Just the word Pumpkinfest evokes images of a crisp fall day with warm, fuzzy sweaters, warm cider, pumpkins and family time. Keene, NH is the quintessential New England town and I should know because I went to graduate school in Keene. Keene is a  gorgeous wisp of a city near the Vermont border that is overwhelmingly white, laid back and rather liberal.

Apparently the annual Pumpkinfest held by the city is the premier event for students from Keene State College as well as visitors from near and far to come and have some fun. I dig it, everyone likes to have a good time and when you live in Northern New England you want to load up on fun before Ole Man Winter bursts on the scene. Once winter arrives in my corner of the world, you can kiss fun goodbye unless you are one of those hardy souls who likes to play in the snow.

However this year’s Pumpkinfest took a detour and participants around the city decided that throwing bottles, setting property on fire and basically becoming as destructive as they could be would take the festival to the next level. It seems that some had billed this year’s Pumpkinfest as a destination for destructive and raucous behavior.  In other words, in this predominantly white community, the predominantly white attendees decided that having a riot under the guise of a party sounded like fun.

View image on Twitter

As Steven French, told the Keene Sentinel that he traveled from Haverhill, Massachusetts to attend the festival because he knew it would be “f*cking wicked.”

“It’s just like a rush. You’re revolting from the cops,” he continued. “It’s a blast to do things that you’re not supposed to do.”

In some ways it’s not surprising to see someone share such views, have you ever seen the aftermath of a hockey game when folks are riled up? When white folks let loose, rarely are their actions seen as an indictment on the white race and often their actions are described with words such as “unruly behavior” and “melee” both words used in the media coverage of Saturday night’s ill fated festival.

By comparison, one doesn’t have to look far to see how the lens is shifted when the people engaging in what might be considered “unruly” behavior are not melanin challenged. Just google Ferguson, MO or Michael Brown. Ferguson, MO is a city that has been on edge since a Black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer in August and his body left on the street for four hours as his blood pooled in the street. In a city that is majority Black yet controlled by whites, Michael Brown’s death was the tipping point and acts of civil disobedience have been the norm since Brown’s death. Yet most of the media coverage presents an image of Ferguson residents and protesters that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many, particularly white Americans and really it is not surprising at all.

Power in America is held by Whites and as such, Whites frame the narratives that affect us all even when we aren’t aware of those narratives because white ways and white thoughts are seen as the norm. For most we don’t even question that assumption. White people see these “truths” as natural and People of Color spend our lives striving to be acceptable as set by the norms of white ways.  Unruly young white adults who are actually engaging in threatening behavior are perceived as “kids” blowing off steam whereas an actual Black juvenile is perceived as a menacing threat who even when found to be unarmed “deserved” their death. This is the world we live in and despite the hand wringing that has abounded in recent years and months when racialized incidents happen most of us are too wedded to the system that privileges us to do anything more than kick up a little dust online and stay safe in the cocoon of whiteness that privileges.

But ignorance is not bliss as I said earlier and by “staying woke” as the youngsters say we have an opportunity now before this system of inequity reaches the boiling point and endangers us all. However letting the scales fall off our eyes no matter how uncomfortable is the first step to creating systemic change.