We are the change and now is the time! Use your voice

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”- Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Our nation’s relationship with the truth is often tenuous at best. We are a nation that has always espoused values and visions that, frankly, have never squared with reality. After all, we were seeking to create a perfect union while settling in on stolen land and using the labor of enslaved people.

As a nation, we have never fully and publicly acknowledged the irreparable harm done to innumerable displaced and massacred native people and to the enslaved Africans whose bodies, labor and land were the ultimate sacrifice in creating this so called perfect union.

Instead, as the sun settled on this new nation and allowed for growth beyond belief, we sold our brand of righteousness around the world and people gobbled it up. America as a beacon of hope and new starts, a place to be free. And yet, the lies on which this nation was built lay beneath the surface. As a descendant of enslaved Africans, I have always been critical of this nation and the message of hope which we marketed to the world and of the lies which we have fed to our own people—so heavily and so consistently for so long that far too many of our own people are ignorant of our own roots.

To be clear, America has never given a damn about non-white people and has long been cruel to those who are not white and who lack the ability to one day be considered white (like Irish or Italian immigrants generations ago, for example). The hopes and dreams that fuel America require the American-made creation of whiteness. Whiteness is the key in America and unless we are willing to face that uncomfortable truth, we are trapped in a circle that we destined to stay in forever.

In this moment, millions of Americans are horrified at the scene that has unfolded in recent weeks. As the Trump administration looks to crack down on what it calls rampant illegal migration, it has instituted a “zero tolerance” policy where migrants and their kids who now  arrive at our borders are separated, the adults face deportation and their kids are taken away and we now know are being housed in conditions that no one should face. Abandoned Walmarts now house kids who, after enduring what the average white American could not fathom just to make it to the land of dreams, are being warehoused in a strange new land away from their parents. In a six-week period, the U.S. government separated almost 2,000 kids from their parents.

The reports are heartbreaking and rage-inducing given that this policy belongs to the Trump Administration and yet Trump won’t own it; instead, it looks like these kids are being turned into a political tool for the man child/POTUS to get his way (aka, the border wall he campaigned on).

While some of our politicians are speaking out against these atrocities, most are mum, because at the end of the day, it’s just politics and too many of the white men and women who we elected don’t give a damn about these families.

Social media is filled with heartbreaking stories and inside the silo of social media, many are repeating the tired words “This is not the America, that I know.” Well, it is the America you know because if you can utter those words, it means you don’t know the real America. A country that from the late 1800s to the 1970s forcibly took Native American kids away from their families and sent them to government-run or church-run boarding schools also known as “Indian Schools” where the goal was to strip these kids of their identity and instead force them to assimilate into the dominant culture and abandon all aspects of their family culture. In other words, wear a mask of whiteness that was forced on their faces.

During slavery, enslaved Africans were constantly under threat of having their loved ones sold off, and with the fugitive slave laws the state was complicit in ripping apart Black families. While the technology has made it a lot easier, one of the reasons it’s hard for Black Americans to trace our lineage is because of how our families were constructed, ripped apart and reconstructed often at the whims of white people.

Let us not forget that during World War II, President Roosevelt, by executive order, declared that people of Japanese descent would be interred in isolated camps. From 1942 to 1945, this country imprisoned Americans on our own soil simply because of their heritage.

Again, I say that as we watch this current humanitarian crisis unfold, this is us. This is our nasty truth. This is how we have always treated non-white people. America is that aging beauty whose beauty we now know was artificially enhanced, the beauty we thought existed was more a figment of our imaginations and desires rather than our reality.

If we are to move beyond this moment, now is the time to become really clear on just who we really are. And commit to who we actually want to be.

It is time to understand that racism and bigotry are the foundational building blocks of our nation and once we own that ugly truth, we can work to change the narrative moving forward. But nothing changes beneath the surface without that honest acknowledgement. It means making sure that our people are not ignorant of our history so that we can stop repeating the mistakes of the past. In this moment, we must not allow ourselves to become desensitized or overwhelmed because frankly that is what the Trump folks are counting on. Trump is a chaos master and it is tiring but now more than ever we must have the courage to use our voices and our talents to say “No more!” How many times must we go down this path of state sanctioned dehumanization?


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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang from Unsplash

How are you showing up for Black women in Maine and beyond?

“De ni**er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston published these words in 1937 and yet in 2018 those words still ring true for far too many Black women. Black women were the backbone of the Civil Rights movement and yet how many Black  women from that era aside from Rosa Parks can anyone name? Black women have been at the forefront of the current movement for Black Lives and yet too often we see men being lifted up for their work. The critical behind-the-scenes labor that Black women provide is often dismissed or taken for granted.

Last year, in Alabama, Black women came through and were instrumental in the election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate, thus kicking off the rallying cry of Black women as being our collective saviors in  Trump’s America. And this year, with the midterms elections looming large, Black women are playing a prominent role especially with Stacey Abrams winning the Georgia Democratic Primary for Governor. A historic win.

Suddenly, Black women seem to almost be in vogue. But, while that sounds good, how many Black women are truly getting the support and nurturing that they need? How many of us instead are fighting twice as hard or more as our white peers to be agents of change and getting far less of the credit? How many of us are getting no credit at all? How many of us are encouraged to change the world while getting precious little assistance and backup from anyone but other Black women? While it is popular to say that people are supporting Black women, the truth is too often we are still seen as the mules and whatever support we receive is marginal at best.

Here in Maine, we have a Black woman running for re-election for the Maine House of Representatives. I should mention now that Rachel Talbot Ross, the woman in question, is a personal friend. But my words have nothing to do with our friendship; rather, they are the observation and reality of what it means to be a Black woman who is working for change.

Rachel, in her two years in the state legislature, has sponsored bills related to housing security, mental health training for corrections personnel and tax incentives for businesses that hire people from traditionally marginalized communities. Four of the bills she sponsored passed and are waiting for funding from the legislature. One of her priorities was to involve people who are typically underrepresented directly in her work.  

As a Black woman in a very white state, Rachel knows that representation matters and as a ninth-generation Mainer she is only one of two Black people in the state legislature. Which is why it is all the more surprising that as an incumbent this year, she is being challenged for her seat by a member of her own party: Herb Adams, Adams held the seat from 2004-2010 until term limits forced him out. He’s had two other unsuccessful runs. Given that there are no Republican challengers, it is almost a sure thing that whoever wins the primary will secure the seat.

Look, it’s a free country and he is free to do whatever the hell he wants but it is this type of behavior that frankly makes me side-eye so-called progressives.

You have a Black woman who is busting her ass in this very white state to create representation and a truly inclusive space and after just two years in office a white man feels entitled to challenge her just because he can? Was there no one in the state to tell this guy to sit down? I am pretty certain that if Herb and I sat down, he would say it’s just politics, as would many other nice white people. But the fact is, as a white guy he sits at the top of the hierarchy and his decision means that Rachel must yet again work harder just trying to keep her seat, and be distracted from the work she’s trying to do legislatively. The white man’s ambition becomes more important than allowing the Black woman’s momentum to continue and her star to shine. And those kinds of challenges to hard work (and success) is the way of things often for Black women, especially in predominantly white spaces.

In this moment, many white people are waking up to the reality that racism never went anywhere and that it’s insidious and deeply entrenched into all of our systems. People feel bad and want to do something and yet the work that can truly move the needle seems to elude them. Understand this: Nothing will change until white people realize that the only way we solve our racism problem starts with them asking themselves “What am I  willing to give up?” You cannot right the scales of injustice without taking something from one side and moving it to the other in order to get the scales to balance out. You simply cannot. And while it’s bad enough when no white people are willing to step aside for Black people, it is especially galling when they actively try to displace them or diminish them when there is no need to do so.

Change will also require more people of color in the rooms where decisions are made. That means both seats at the tables as well as ownership of some of those tables. Racism is about power and privilege and despite the surface shifts since the 1960s, the levers of power across the board are still operated primarily by white men. We need Black and brown people to operate far more of those levers than is the case right now if change is going to happen. We need white people to recognize that fact and to step back and step down more often to make that happen. It also means calling out other well-meaning (or not so well-meaning, too) white people when they make missteps that are harmful to Black folks and other people of color.

Until a critical mass of white people move beyond awareness of racism to concrete action that requires some actual sacrifice on their part, not much changes. Until then Black women, who live at the intersection of both gender and racial discrimination, will have to work far more hard than will most white men to obtain, no matter if the Black woman is more qualified or deserving. Even the exceptional Black woman struggles to get what comes easily to the most average of white men. Despite being known for our strength, this type of struggle takes its toll on us; it’s what you don’t see when we are laid out in bed, unable to get up and filled with panic and dread but because you only see our strong faces and never see our human faces. Instead, you take our strength for granted and become dependent on us to go the extra mile and make things right.

No, that’s not  good enough and if you fancy yourself a white, progressive, liberal who isn’t racist, it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and share the burdens.

As for Rachel, if you live in Portland’s House District 40, I encourage you to vote on June 12 and let her return to the legislature to continue what she’s started.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash.

 

Booking Shay/BGIM for speaking engagements: 2018-2019

I’m taking a quick break from the usual postings to give you some information. I am currently booking fall 2018 through spring 2019 speaking engagements. For fall 2018, I have about six more dates that I can put on the calendar, and I would love to speak to your group or organization.

My signature solo presentation is Authentic Dialogues: Talking about Racism and How to Take a Stand Against Hate.

This interactive session is designed to look critically at racism in our communities and our nation by examining the roots of white supremacy and how the past impacts our present. A key goal will be teaching, sharing, and learning practical tools for working in our own communities to combat racism and to start conversations on addressing racism and difference in predominantly white spaces. This session is a mixture of lecture and small-group work, which will allow participants to deepen their knowledge of racism in the current landscape of America, examine their own biases, and learn techniques for starting conversations on racism and how to be an effective ally.

I also can create keynotes/talks that are crafted for your own special event or the needs of your organization/community’s membership or population.

So what’s the bottom-line deal? Obviously, there is a cost for this work but to make it accessible, I have created a sliding scale that is based on organizational budget.

Fee Schedule 2018

Signature Presentations

  • “Authentic Dialogues” – 90 minutes: $1,250 to $1,500
  • Cross-Racial Conversations” sessions (conducted with Debby Irving): Varies

Keynotes, Speeches, Etc.

  • Organizational budget under $250,000: $1,500
  • Org budget $250K to $500K: $2,000
  • Org budget $500K to $1 million: $2,500
  • Org budget over $1 million: $3,000 to $5,000
  • Community groups that are not officially organized: Case-by-case basis; typically ranges between $500 to $800 plus travel costs.

Workshops

  • Varies widely depending on scope and audience

Here is a partial list of venues at which I have spoken in the past few years:

TEDx Dirigo
Beacon Hill Meeting House – Boston, Mass.
Marblehead Racial Justice Team – Marblehead, Mass.
UU Urban Ministry – Roxbury, Mass.
Central Square Theater – Cambridge, Mass.
Nevins Memorial Library – Methuen, Mass.
Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Maine Women’s Fund – Portland, Maine
Knack Factory/ACLU – Portland, Maine
Waking Windows – Portland, Maine
University of Maine – Augusta
University of Maine – Orono
University of Maine – Bangor
University of Southern Maine – Portland
SURJ Southern Maine/Seacoast – Kittery, Maine
York Diversity Forum – York, Maine
First Parish UU Church – Kennebunk, Maine
Deering High School – Portand, Maine
Lincoln Middle School – Portland, Maine

To book or for additional information: Email me directly at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com

Note: I do work outside of New England but the cost may differ significantly for anything outside the region. The rates noted above are specifically for Northern New England.