blackgirlinmaine Archive

The soul of the nation

Today’s post is written by regular BGIM contributor Teddy Burrage, a Portland, Maine, native and local activist and organizer. When he’s not writing or working, you can usually find him exploring Maine’s vast interior and coastline.
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The events that took place in Charlottesville and the days after laid bare the soul of the United States. No matter how hard this nation tries, we cannot rid ourselves of the seemingly everlasting scourge of white supremacy. Early movements for civil rights sought to change our institutions in favor of more equitable policies and that tradition continues today through the efforts of those who advocate for criminal justice reform, for example. But even though it’s been proven possible to effect change in institutions, the notion of white supremacy persists in the attitudes of many white people—whether they are stanch white nationalists or oblivious liberals.

Recently, the president of the United States compared the two sides who clashed at the Charlottesville rally, making a moral equivalence between white supremacists and anti-racists. And even though his assessment rightly offended many people, in some ways it is representative of national tradition. Our country has a rich history of contemplating the humanity of Black people as matter of acceptable public discourse.

In 1787 after a contentious debate, it was decided that that Black slaves were three-fifths a person. Seventy-four years later, the nation entered civil war over the humanity of slaves. The following decades were defined by battles against the KKK, a fight for voting rights, and tensions associated with a segregated South. Today, the nation grapples with the morality of mass incarceration and the extrajudicial killings of Black people. The worthiness of Black lives has always been up for debate in the United States. What is unique about the modern era is the ever-present idea that we are a post-racial society.

There is a perception that George Wallace was the last segregationist to exist, that Martin Luther King Jr. healed all the nation’s racist attitudes, and that Lyndon Johnson rid our institutions of racism and discrimination. Many believe that these acts of social sorcery ushered in an era in which our racist past was no longer relevant.

A brief exercise in critical thought exposes how absurd these assumptions are. But nevertheless, such perceptions serve as a point of departure for many debates surrounding race in America today.

Most Americans are familiar with the images of the Birmingham Campaign in 1963 when non-violent Black protesters were blasted with fire hoses and attacked by German shepherds. Similarly, images of the sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter continue to be emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement. But somehow, despite these historic scenes, people believe that they were just an isolated moments in time.

But where are those people now who dowsed Anne Moody in condiments at the lunch counter or the cops who released attack dogs on Black men, women, and children? Were those people, and their community of like minds, suddenly washed over with feelings of compassion and equality with a swipe Lyndon Johnson pen? The events that took place in Charlottesville prove that is unlikely.

It cannot be underestimated the amount of people who carry the torch of hate and bigotry into the 21st century. Many people look at Donald Trump and say that he is the creator of these attitudes. But that is an error in thinking. Donald Trump is just a purveyor of hate looking to capitalize on an already abundant resource. He now serves as an umbrella under which cowards can hide from the rains of reality.

Even though these white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists tend to align with the political right, white liberals and moderates, too, have some ownership to take when it comes to dismantling racist notions in their own backyards. Simply announcing one’s allegiance to a certain political affiliation or ideology doesn’t automatically make them immune to being part of the problem. Of course liberals do not thrust their hands out into a Nazi salute; oftentimes, though, they meet communities of color with only lip service, apathy, and silence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Just as feelings of hate and ignorance have been inherited by people on the right, apathetic and blasé attitudes have been handed-down to the white liberals and moderates who stand to the left of them. Colorblind-ism is likely the most pervasive viewpoint that liberals hold which serves to invalidate and undermine Black folks and their experiences. (For more information on the problem with saying you don’t see race, see here.)

Racism is a system and depends on many different moving parts. Right wing extremism may represent the pistons that drive the engine, but ineffectual and shallow support from liberals serves as lubrication. It all works together.

Even though we have a long history of deliberating whether Black people are deserving of respect and humanity, it does not mean that we need to further that tradition. Though our nation has gone through even harsher social and political unrest, the level of regression we are facing now is unparalleled. Emboldened white supremacists who now feel safe to slither out of the shadows have been legitimized by the so-called Leader of the Free World.

In these uncertain times, it is important for people who are committed to justice to review what Karl Popper called the Paradox of Tolerance. The philosopher theorized in 1945 that societies could be tolerant to a fault. Liberalism says that tolerance is an unbreakable virtue but Popper said this was a misstep in thinking. He said that there is one thing that we should not be tolerant of and that is intolerance itself.

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.   In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

Even though the theory is an exercise in reading comprehension, the concept is quite simple: be tolerant to all people but reject those who hold intolerant ideologies such as white supremacy.

So many people talk about what they would have done if they were there during the Civil Rights Movement. Well, that opportunity has presented itself again and this era will be defined by who stands up for justice and humanity.
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Calling all white people, part 19: Chuck white feelings in the wake of Charlottesville

Calling All White People, Part 19

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Get real about what Charlottesville means, and get out of your feelings  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Look, I’m not going to tell you what’s been happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, the past couple days. If you’re deep enough under a rock that you haven’t heard about it all, get online and hit up Google search, OK?

But I have some feelings about what’s happening in Charlottesville and in particular how my fellow white people are feeling about it. And I have some words for those who are experiencing fear, dismay, outrage, guilt or affront (or anything else) with regard to said feelings.

Fuck my feelings.

Fuck your feelings.

Fuck all of our white people feelings.

I’m not saying we can’t have feelings about the way racists of all stripes straight-up decided to instigate a race riot and declare that white supremacy is willing to harm and kill Blacks and other non-whites to survive and prosper. I’m not saying you can’t be emotionally wrought by this horrific set of events.

But we white people love to get in our feelings, especially when we want to make sure people know we aren’t like “those white people.”

But instead of getting *in* your feelings, get *out* of them.

What are you going to *do* about all of this?

Again, not saying you can’t share tweets and Facebook posts; I sure have. But what are you going to do beyond that? What will you do to demonstrate that you won’t tolerate racism and white supremacy in this country?

You can declare all the outrage you want online or among friends about the racists in Charlottesville but what are you going to do about them and the system that both props them up and that they are trying to preserve? A system that, by the way, nurtures all of us white people at the expense of people of color, especially Black people…and which was built on the blood and backs of Native Americans and Black people.

What are you going to do about the white people around you who feel attacked by the Black people who point to Charlottesville and say, “See, white supremacy at work again, in plain sight and unchallenged by authorities” or will you remain silent because you don’t want to have uncomfortable feelings or don’t what those other white people to feel a certain way about you?

Screw your feelings and theirs.

When they say “The Ferguson, Missouri, situation and all the BLM protests were just as bad,” don’t let them get away with it. It’s not the same. Tell them that. Don’t allow them to have a dissenting opinion that is patently untrue. Don’t let them be entitled to feelings of sympathy for racists that are entirely misplaced and undeserved.

Ferguson was a place where Black people protested an injustice and had shrines and memorials with candles and such that were vandalized, and when they marched they were met with police and they were accused of burning down their neighbors when in fact there were more protesters putting out fires than outsiders or people negligently setting them. And yet they were met with tear gas and tanks and had to deal with being occupied in a military fashion.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, you have white people carrying not candles but torches, surrounding a church and being threatening toward people conducting vigils, while other racists dressed in fatigues and armed themselves and helped spur on actual assaults of counter-protesters and one guy drove a fucking car into a crowd of them…and the white people even threw tear gas at the people of color…and the police did nothing. No tanks. No sweeping show of force among the white people.

It isn’t the same and no matter how much Trump wants to say there is hate and violence on multiple sides, that isn’t the case.

The hate and the violence is overwhelmingly on the side of white people, used against Black people and other POC in overt ways like Charlottesville and in subtle ways with daily discrimination.

Fuck. Your. Feelings. And mine.

It’s time to change, and change will begin by standing up clearly for what you believe in. If you believe racism is wrong, stop hiding that from the people it will bother. Stop allowing non-white people around you to be misused or actually harmed and say or do nothing. Do *something* damn it. Something to show you’re on the right side instead of just saying you are. Something to support or protect people of color instead of hoping someone else will be there for them.

This isn’t, as BGIM and others have pointed out online recently, a “both sides” thing. This is a thing where racists are openly using violence and intimidation to ensure that white supremacy not only remains alive and well but shoves people of color down even harder than it has been for decades even with civil rights legislation in place.

You need to stop worrying so much about feelings and start worrying about which side you are on. Because being in the middle essentially makes you a supporter of the villains who will do anything and everything to harm people of color in order to make sure oppression remains the norm and becomes so normalized that it doesn’t even need to be done subtly anymore at all.
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On race and dreams, and an update on BGIM Media

Once upon a time, I believed that if I could just work hard enough, I would get ahead. Yes, I foolishly believed at one point that hard work and moxie alone would get me ahead.

And, for years, I believed that because I had a few more of the success trappings than my parents had ever had in their 33 years together that this was as good as life could get. Throughout my childhood, I had heard that “As a Black person you have to work harder than the most average white person to get half of what they have.” For the longest time, I didn’t want to believe that was true, but it is one of the few absolute truths when it comes to race in America and how it is lived.

In case that is confusing to you, look no further than the 44th president of the United States…also known as Barack Obama, or the first Black president. Whether you loved him or found his policies questionable, there is no denying that the bar that was set for him and his family was set so high that only an extraordinary man who might be fifth in place behind Jesus Christ himself could meet the standard. He was beyond reproach with the most impeccable of credentials; even his wife was no slouch…no, not in the slightest. Given that Michelle Obama, whose humble start on the South Side of Chicago is the type of bootstrap, Horatio Alger story that white America loves, this nation should have been damn glad these two would have us. Instead, rather than do them a solid and respect what they did and build upon it, well…instead, through angst and disillusionment, this nation elected perhaps the most mediocre and unqualified man possible to succeed Obama. Talk about about a big “fuck you” to Black excellence.

Now we live in a nation governed by an old man whose mental stability is questionable and who loves to talk tough and is itching to play with his shiny new toys, aka nuclear weapons. From Black excellence (and dignity/upstanding behavior) to white mediocrity (and anger/misbehavior).

Too many times in my personal life, I have seen average white people who, due to luck, access to resources and frankly whiteness, soar when average Black and other POC are relegated to letting their dreams die on the vine. Truthfully, our society makes it damn hard for Black folks to make a dream come true, especially if that dream requires resources or money to get off the ground. Up until a few days ago, I was feeling pretty hopeless about my own dreams.

I started this blog in 2008 for a variety of reasons, but several things quickly became clear: this blog is a resource for other Black and non-white folks navigating life in very white spaces and it also became a space for white people to learn to see firsthand how racism operates and to start their own journey to dismantling whiteness. Since 2008, I have been published in anthologies, had my blog posts sited in academic spaces, been plagiarized, received accolades, did a TEDx talk and a few other things. My work profile grew but the one thing that did not keep pace was the financial compensation part of things. Partially due to my own lack of resources, I have never attended a single blog/social media conference, which has meant that my networking and ability to take this space to the next level has always been limited. This space is essentially one big do-it-yourself experience and while I am humbled by the success that I have had, my vision for this space is greater than being a one-woman shop.

After living in Maine for 15 years, I see a critical need for a POC-owned media space; a place that elevates our voice and a place that, frankly, can be a training ground for POC-led media in the region. It was almost a year ago that I announced that Black Girl in Maine would be shifting to BGIM Media. It’s been a long year but I have been able to bring in more voices: Teddy Burrage, Veronica Perez, Samara Doyon and An Average White Guy. I have stacks of resumes from writers whom I would love to give a shot, but given that everyone who writes here is paid, I can’t afford to add anyone else at the time.

What I have also not been able to do is update and redesign this site, which is dated and clunky, nor have I been able to add podcasts. Why? Lack of resources. Recently a reader donated a used MacBook so that I could start teaching myself how to podcast, since my Chromebook was not cutting the mustard. I am making significant headway, barring a few more pieces of equipment (good microphones are a must; it only took buying a bargain one to understand that cheap is not always best) and my son’s availability since, with his own work blowing up, his time is limited…but the upside of asking your kid who’s a musician for help is that the odds are high that you will get it.

There have been back-end and security issues that I can no longer afford to ignore, but they are increasingly testing the limits of my tech knowledge. In fact, my tech issues on the site are what almost pushed me to the breaking point of saying the hell with the dream. Since, after getting the final diagnosis on what was ailing this site, it became clear that either I needed to dream big or consider this a long, slow goodbye.

I average 20-25 hours a week working on blog-related stuff, that is in addition to my full-time day job that often takes more than typical full-time hours. There is also mothering, living and occasionally even loving. I have invested a significant amount of time into this space and the related social media and it is truly a labor of love. I have asked readers to invest and while many have, many more have not. To date, monthly giving only covers half of the true cost of running this site, which has meant that my plans for expansion have been slow. However I have a dream and after much prayer and thought, I have decided that I am tired of playing it small and safe. I am ready for my dream to come to fruition. I have taken out a small business loan to address the immediate issues, including updating and redesigning the site. I have started talks with two local designers and am waiting for estimates, confident that I can move ahead because for once, I have the ability to pay.

I won’t lie, in this 24/7 fickle media world, I am nervous. After all, the loan, while small, is still enough that if this site doesn’t progress according to my projections, I am shit out of luck. In an ideal world, I imagine friends and family admiring my drive and determination and offering to invest in my dreams. But for many Black Americans, that is a pipe dream. As someone who has been feverishly working to pay off debt, this is a big but scary step for me. However, as a Black woman navigating in a world that was not meant for me, I understand that my realizing my dreams requires going above and beyond.

On a practical note, the new changes should be apparent by late September/early October. As always, thank you for your support and keep passing the open windows.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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