blackgirlinmaine Archive

Revisiting the gauche and tacky, or consider supporting this space

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me a message chiding me  for not responding to their request for information about Maine. It isn’t the first time that I have received such a message, and I am sure it won’t be the last. Black Girl in Maine (the blog) launched on January 2008, though I didn’t start regularly posting until about June 2008. Since that time, despite personal and professional ups and downs, I have kept writing and kept sharing. Over the years, the readership has grown and it never ceases to amaze me how far my words travel…I wish I were as well-traveled as my words, to be honest.

In a day and age when we can log onto our devices and have an endless supply of words at our fingertips for merely the cost of our internet connection, it is very easy to forget that behind the words we read are real people who provide their time, energy and resources to write the words that amuse, inspire, educate and maybe even piss us off at times.

This space has never been a commercial venture (and trust me, I’ve tried) but, in any case, it’s hard to sell racial justice and life with a side of baby food! The demographics just don’t match up. Some readers may recall that almost two years ago, I wrote a post asking readers to consider supporting this site with a financial contribution and at that time, enough people answered the call that I felt good about keeping the site going. In the past year, I have shifted to using Patreon, a site that allows people to support the content creators that matter to them. In almost a year of Patreon use, it’s been a mixed bag. Patrons come and go so it’s a continuous struggle.

I love writing and I get great enjoyment from the words I share, but the reality is that in any given month, less than 10% of readers are supporters, and I would love to see that figure increase ever so slightly especially given how far these words travel. My words have ended up in classes far beyond Maine as learning tools, and even in books that I neither wrote myself nor gave the green light to use my words within their pages, but that is another story. (Yeah, I know, I know: The author didn’t have to ask but an ask would have been a nice courtesy move).

There is a monetary cost to running this blog and there is also a time cost which, given that I no longer have a partner, I have become increasingly aware of…do I keep writing or get a weekend gig as the greeter at Wally World? While I do have a day job, the reality is that running an organization that has an annual operating budget of less than $250,000 a year (with a staff of 4) means that I am hardly getting over like a fat cat. The upside of growing up working class is I know how to make the dollars stretch. While I have added speaking events to my repertoire, as anyone who has ever attended an event knows, I do try to partner with groups to ensure that readers rarely have to pay to hear me speak. But those gigs are catch as catch can.

So, much like public radio (which I am a big fan of and support with my dollars), you can read here as much as you want but if this space holds value and you have the ability, consider becoming either a monthly patron or make a one-time gift. Your support allows me to upgrade and maintain the site and earn just enough to know that I am not taking away from myself and my kiddo in continuing this venture.

Now, back to the readers whose messages I don’t always answer. Sometimes there simply isn’t enough time in my day. On any given day, I field twenty or more emails/messages related to this blog and given that I do have a full-time job and other responsibilities and that this is a solo operation, I can’t always get to your request. Though, sometimes, I answer messages by writing a blog post that addresses the question that you asked. However if support grows and stays steady, down the road I can consider hiring a virtual assistant to help me get through the emails.

As always thank you for your support and commitment to justice!

XOXO

Shay, aka Black Girl in Maine
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A few words from an angry Black woman in Maine

“Don’t shrink your Black womanhood for anyone’s comfort today or any other day.” – A tweet on Twitter

Not too long ago, I found myself having drinks with another Black woman up here in Maine…imagine that? There really is more than one of us! As usual when I am having a moment of fellowship with a fellow Black woman in Maine, the conversation turned to the racial climate and matters of racial equity. It was a conversation that gave me a lot to sleep on as I found myself pondering: What does it mean to wear the label of “angry Black woman?” It’s a label that I have heard applied to myself countless times and one that I tend to brush off because I refuse to have my existence as a person, a living being, a fellow sojourner in the path of life be reduced to simply being an angry Black woman.

Yet it is a label that haunts far too many Black women. If we speak up for fairness and equity, we are labeled angry almost as if it’s an excuse to not dig a little deeper as to why exactly would we be angry (if indeed we are, rather than simply pointing out injustices because they are unjust).

Since the founding of the country that we call the United States, Black women have been viewed as the second-rate members of a group that is itself already seen (at best) as second rate. There is being Black and then there is being a Black woman. During slavery times, our ancestors were ripped away from their families even their own children and made to serve whites. Despite what certain history books are trying to tell us, this was not the immigrant looking for a better way of life story. A white master could sexually take us against our will and then the white mistress would often act out against us…as if we asked her husband to debase us in such a fashion.

In more recent times, too many us still find ourselves fighting against the tide to be seen as actual humans. Not simply a tidy and often inaccurate category. In our workplaces, too often we not only earn less than men, we earn less than white women. Promotions come slow and often with a lot of pain and struggle regardless of how good our qualifications are, and rarely do we have the support that we need to truly blossom. If “Leaning In” is hard for the average woman, it is only compounded for those of us with darker hues. The very act of surviving (and sometimes thriving) at times feels like a grueling feat and yet millions of us manage to do it every day. Yet the act of surviving, even when it looks easy on the surface, comes at a deeper loss that rarely are we as Black women allowed to express publicly because to be a Black woman is often associated with a word that at times I want to throw out the window…strong.

Yeah, the “strong Black woman” archetype. It can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.

What is seen as “strength” (and sometimes “anger”) is sometimes a cover for the deep emotions that we carry that we are rarely allowed to name publicly. It is admitting to vulnerability and a need that few wish to respond to. It’s knowing that a white peer can lay her burdens down and there will be a cadre of folks rushing to assist but, for a Black woman, too often there is no one there to pick up our pieces and necessity often makes us keep going when really we would rather stop for an extended break. I know that I push myself hard and often because the alternative is scary.

Still, we live in a culture where our survival at times requires our own subjugation, something that I know far too much about and that I am not necessarily proud of as I ponder: “Is it even possible to be seen as more than just an Angry Black woman?” Funny thing, though, is that not all anger is unproductive and sometimes anger is the impetus that leads to change. A mother’s anger at unfair racial treatment changed the trajectory of my own writing in this space and in the past two years has led to larger dialogues in the region on race. What started as my personal anger has allowed countless other people of color in this state to know that they have a right to their voices. In macro moment of anger, we are seeing the presidential election cycle being shaped by a type of anger that few of us have ever seen. The common denominator being that something has got to give for millions of Americans who have watched the American dream become a collective nightmare, the only difference being whose version of change are you buying?

Culturally, we have always had a very precarious relationship with anger. Often in childhood, girls are chided for being emotional or angry whereas boys are given a space to deal with their anger. Yet if anger is unbecoming to girls and women as a whole, it really is seen as extra-vulgar for Black women. However I am tired of being an angry Black woman; instead I challenge anyone who is comfortable labeling any Black woman as angry to walk a day in our shoes and ask yourself: Wouldn’t you be angry too? And frankly, to ask yourself: Why aren’t they angrier…or angry every single second…given what they put up with day after day after day?

As for me, I am striving to use my anger in productive ways that plant the seeds of change while giving myself as much space to honor my own humanity in a world that rarely sees me as a woman worthy of the full spectrum of human emotions.

Anger is both a guide and a tool if we allow it to be. Yet to see anger as a tool for change means reshaping the paradigms around who is entitled to be angry. My womanhood as a Black woman is filled with an array of experiences and emotions that only someone who walks this path can truly grasp and sometimes, it is filled with anger, but I am far more than the sum of my anger and I refuse to only wear that label. 
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The silo blinds us…what is normal or not?

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans have been asked to be vigilant for suspicious activity, particularly in travel situations. Even in little ole Portland, Maine, at the local Transportation Center, a recorded voice goes off at regular intervals reminding us  that “If you see something, say something” which in theory sounds great yet is increasingly problematic.

What we see is often shaped by our perceptions, and in a world where whiteness is centered as a norm…with the vast majority of white people living in silos of whiteness…where anything that doesn’t fit into the norms of whiteness is often viewed with suspicion.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, an olive-skinned, curly-haired man boarded a plane to Syracuse, N.Y., and before the plane departed, he decided to start doing some work. Nothing out of the norm, as many travelers decide to work while flying, except in his case his seatmate (who has been described as blond-haired, 30-something year old woman in flip flops with a red tote bag) found the man’s work to be suspicious. In a story that sounds like something straight out of The Onion, it turns out the man was Guido Menzio, an Italian, Ivy League professor of economics who was hard at work on differential equations as part of a paper he was preparing on the properties of model setting.

This apparently very white woman apparently missed the advanced math offerings in high school and mistook Menzio’s scribbles as possibly being Arabic terrorist code and decided to follow the “see something, say something” advice which lead to the plane being grounded while Menzio ended up being questioned after the woman passed a note to the flight attendants. It seems that in addition to being hard at work at passenger-suspected terrorist math, Menzio didn’t answer the unidentified woman’s questions in a way that she felt was suitable. Thus, a plane load of people were delayed more than two hours because a man doing math on a plane was not the norm for one woman.

Menzio was far more good-natured about the disruption than I would have been if I were a math bad-ass. Instead, Menzio says he was: “treated respectfully throughout,” though he remains baffled and frustrated by a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently.” He is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, as well as “A security protocol that is too rigid—in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks—and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless. ”

Like I said, he was far more generous and good-natured than I would have been about the situation since the flight should have been only 41 minutes…yet he is right, we have a system that relies on the input of clueless people and in the vast majority of cases, it is clueless white people who are determining what is “normal” or “suspicious” without questioning why they believe what they believe. Instead, they see as “logical” that a man’s scrawlings could be threatening (even if it was terrorist code…which would look very unlike math…how exactly would that go from paper to threat on the plane when it isn’t transferred to anyone?). This system harms people and in most cases it is non-white people who are harmed. (And let’s not forget that since it was formed, the TSA and enhanced airport security hasn’t caught terrorists or prevented terrorism so much as it has allowed a fair number of TSA agents to mistreat and even steal from passengers)

However, the matter of perception and norms goes far beyond our traveling habits; it affects every area of our lives, including who we choose to extend compassion to and who is not worthy of compassion.

Lesley McSpadden, the mother of the slain Michael Brown, the young man shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, recently wrote in her memoir “Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil” that Michael Brown’s untimely death became the catalyst for the Black Lives Movement and helped open up the national dialogue on police violence and racism.  Given the significance of Brown’s death, it’s not unexpected that his mother would write a book. Yet in another instance of WTF?!, racist trolls took to the book’s Amazon page to leave hurtful comments and to refer to her deceased son as a “thug.” There are still far too many who still refuse to see the humanity of Michael Brown as a kid who did nothing to warrant what was essentially an execution at the hands of Officer Wilson. The fact is that he was a big Black teenager who didn’t meet someone else’s standards of normal, and even in death he is assaulted and his parents must live with the aftermath.

Earlier this year, Sue Klebold, mother of of Dylan Klebold, one of the two teenagers who, in 1999, walked into Columbine High School and shot and killed 13 people and wounded 24 others before taking his own life, released a book. Sue Klebold’s book is about the aftermath of this heinous act that forever shattered a nation’s innocence around schools as safe spaces.

To be fair, Dylan Klebold was a perpetrator of violence and a killer whereas Michael Brown was a victim yet in the aftermath how their families have been treated speaks volumes to who we choose to humanize and who is forever othered because of our own perceptions of what is normal and what is not.

The Klebold family most certainly has endured much pain and heartbreak and even stigma yet there is still enough compassion in the well to attempt to understand and humanize this family. Meanwhile Michael Brown’s family continues to fight to be seen as human, to have their son’s memory be more than the imagery that the Ferguson Police Department and Darren Wilson tried to leave us with and unfortunately, because our sense of normal is shaped by our very small social words, we often can’t see the humanity of anyone who doesn’t fit into our silo of normal. And those limited viewpoints that control most of the social norms and dictate what is abnormal come from white people who have very little knowledge of other races or cultures and, frankly, don’t care to expand that knowledge.

Professor Menzio is right that the system is broken and that we ought not to rely on the input of clueless people, but I will add that the system has a name and its called white supremacy. And until we get serious about dismantling the system of white supremacy, any and all who don’t fit into “white norms” will be at risk. In the meantime, let’s hope that “Al-Gebra” doesn’t come for us…heaven help us if we are attacked by those pesky-ass quadratic equations.


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