Diversity isn’t the goal; we must do better

I have a confession to make. Raising non-white children in the whitest state in America is draining. I spent my first 13 years in Maine living in a town so utterly white that my dearly departed mother, who had a chance to visit Maine before her untimely death, referred to it as “Pleasantville” in reference to the film of the same name.

Two years ago when my marriage ended, I relocated to our bustling metropolis (granted, not a metropolis by the standards of most other states, but our most populous and vibrant city nonetheless, and a pretty cool one). Portland is touted as Maine’s most diverse city. Portland public schools are held up for their diversity and the many languages spoken in their schools. On the surface, it does look different from most of Maine. But the truth is that it is an illusion. It’s not real. It’s not real at all and the truth is I am tired of it.

I typically steer clear of discussing my children in this space but today I am going to break my rule because what we are facing is larger than being Black in Maine. It’s what life is like in any racially homogeneous space that is dominated by whiteness. It’s how we can lose our sense of self if we are not vigilant.

Last year, my daughter started middle school. Her school is known nationally for their style of teaching, and it is considered by some to be a good school. However, from the time mini-me entered middle school, our experience has been nothing but lackluster. Not even a week into middle school, my daughter pointed out that all her teachers are white and that the Black kids are Black immigrants from various countries who rarely interact with others groups…including Black kids like her. (My kids are biracial but identify as Black and, honestly, even if they didn’t most of the rest of society would).

A visit to any of the school-related events confirmed what my daughter was seeing: white people running the show and even at the parent level, parents tended to stay grouped together based on race/skin color. Most interaction along racial lines is superficial at best with the occasional interracial friends. Yet this school and most of the parents whose children attend it insist that the school is diverse.

Let me be upfront and just admit that I hate the word diversity; over the years, it has become the catch-all statement used to tokenize people of color. In predominantly white spaces, if we have a few flies in the buttermilk, we call it diverse but we don’t do the deeper work of dismantling whiteness or creating an anti-racist lens (or a truly inclusive and interactive space) because those efforts would require the deeper work of unearthing and restructuring. A commitment to “diversity” however allows us to do the work of adding color without really doing the work of changing anything.

Despite the reality of the “diversity” issue at the school, the co-parent and I were willing to keep the girl child in this school. However, as time went on, her enthusiasm for school waned and by this current school year, it reached code-red status. This isn’t typical tween ambivalence about school. This has become tears and angst in the weekday mornings, at night, fading Friday night and Saturday but beginning again by Sunday afternoon. Pretty much any mention of school was treated like a pending trip to the clink. Regardless of what was going on or which parent she was with, her feelings about school were loud and clear.

We reached our breaking point and brought the situation to the attention of the school, they were flabbergasted. The tween is a stellar student, never gets in trouble and is polite. I won’t bore you with the details but I hit the wall after meeting with all of the kiddo’s teachers and the principal and the tired diversity line being trotted out. As I said in that meeting, I am a Black mother sitting in a room full of white people in charge. I don’t see diversity, I see white people in charge. I am paraphrasing but you get the point.

The thing is, this isn’t just my daughter’s school. This is about how organizations and institutions in Maine and most white spaces approach people of color. POC are recruited or brought in and, in most instances, they won’t be there in a few years. At  one point, Portland had a Black police chief and a Black school superintendent. Neither one stayed longer than three or four years if memory serves correct. In my 15 years in Maine, I have known more than a few talented POC who moved to Maine, only to pull up stakes after a few years. Are people using Maine as a stepping stone to greener pastures? Possibly, but my gut says that it is tiring being one of the only ones. It is tiring never fully relaxing, it is tiring always being on guard. I can mostly say that feeling is what led me to take a job out-of-state.

The goal should never be diversity and tolerance, that is simply not good enough. Just having a mix of people (diversity) doesn’t mean anything fundamentally changes. And tolerance is terrible; I tolerate my annual mammogram but I certain don’t like or look forward to it. Organizations should be dedicated to creating a vision of wellness and an understanding that systemic racism is a barrier to that wellness. This barrier cannot be addressed or eliminated until a critical mass in any given system understands the systemic nature of racism and addresses it as a threat to the health of all members of the system. Any systemic barrier must be addressed within four dimensions:

  • internal: within the individual
  • interpersonal: within relationships individuals have with each other
  • institutional: within the organizations created to structure society
  • cultural: within the values, norms, belief systems, behavioral patterns, etc. of groups of people

In other words, we need to be willing to examine our systems and make sure that we are creating spaces that are not upholding the status quo and thus perpetuating the type of harm that too often is a part of being the diversity.

No doubt my words are  harsh but this space and my work puts me in contact with many POC throughout Maine and in other predominantly white spaces and the stories I am privy to are at times heartbreaking. They are also a reminder of how often white people don’t truly see POC as actual people. White people don’t see the real harm that is perpetuated onto POC—sometimes intentionally but sometimes out of sheer ignorance. Regardless, it’s not okay and organizations and schools need to do better.

As for my daughter, the odds are high that she may end up at a private school that, while not diverse, can at least meet her academic needs and is upfront about their diversity or lack thereof. At this point, honesty and intentionality are better than the superficial.


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Learning to be alone: The struggle

The cognitive dissonance in our culture is strong. We say one thing and yet we do another. Whether it’s climate change, racism or interpersonal relationships, we struggle with uncomfortable truths and instead cling to immature hopes and dreams, because the vast majority of us have never been taught to face life as it is and to take that reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is and work for something better.

Today’s post is a departure from my usual fare because I am grappling with some issues and, as a writer, the only way to work things out is to write.

It’s been a little over two years now since I left my husband. It was not a dramatic ending—simply two people who, despite loving each other, were simply not meant to be life partners. Instead we now soar as friends, coparents and business partners. To say that we confuse people is an understatement but we found the courage to accept that love is not enough and that we are simply too different to be life/romantic partners. The differences that endear our friends to us can make for many uncomfortable moments in a marriage.

Ours is a culture that lives for love and too often the endings of relationships are seen as a sadness rather than the end of a single chapter (or a few chapters…or several) in the book of our lives. Too many of us run from relationship to relationship looking for our next hit of love because it’s what is expected.

For cis-gendered, heterosexual  women, the pressure to be paired up starts early on in life. I was raised in a family where women were expected to marry. All your achievements are great but a husband and kids is the crowning achievement. I learned that lesson early and married at 18 and again at 24. While many women today don’t marry as early in life as I did, for many of us, marriage or a life partner is our end goal and anything less than that feels like failure.

In the two years since the former spousal unit and I split up, there are a few questions that have become so normal, I know when to expect them. Have I met anyone else and has he met anyone else?  In other words, have we moved on? I thought when I left the family home, I had moved on but apparently, one must have a new partner to truly move on.

When we first split up, I knew that I wanted to spend some time alone figuring out my life. After all, it took getting into my 40s to finally be alone and standing on my own two feet sans a man. The reality is that I didn’t even spend a full year alone (if memory serves it was about 11 months) before meeting someone.  It was a complicated and brief affair that served to solidify a few things for me. I am not interested in marriage, living with anyone or additional kids. In fact, those are my three non-negotiables and I am not interested in wasting anyone’s time.

Since that relationship ended early this year, I have vacillated back and forth about whether or not to date again or to simply make peace with being alone. The truth is it’s a hard decision. I am a woman with needs and frankly, it would be lovely to have a companion to attend events with (including my own work events, which is another layer of complication) and just to have a special person in my life. On the other hand, my life is full. I have one kiddo still at home, my son and his family including my grandson, and a host of friends and colleagues. My professional life is full and I am filled with goals that only now am I in the place to work on.

My latest adventure in dating has left such a bad taste in my mouth that now more than ever, I am questioning whether I have the intestinal fortitude to even deal with the madness of dating in a swipe right or left world. It’s also making me examine why being alone, especially at middle age, feels so challenging. Is it because no matter what we say, we judge the unpartnered? We have created a world that assumes one is partnered and when they aren’t, it feels wrong even though we never question why it seems wrong.

This past summer, I took a mini-vacation alone and it felt like such a huge leap to experience pleasure alone and yet in the end, I had a fun and relaxing time by myself. Too often, though, such moments are viewed as an exception and not the rule.

How often do women feel incomplete without a partner? How often do we send the message that a woman is incomplete without a partner?  Why have we created the narrative that essentially tells us that our real life begins when we settle down with someone rather than seeing that what we are living is our real life whether we are partnered or not?

More importantly, how often does the societal expectation creep in and affect us in unconscious ways?

I wish that I could say that I have the answers to these questions but instead I am trying to figure them out myself. In the meantime, I am working on learning to love and cherish my solitude and make peace with my life in this moment. To see that being alone is not a curse but actually a blessing as it allows me the time to pursue the things that are important to me.

If you are over 40 and unpartnered, I would love to hear from you. How do you fight the societal expectation to be a duo act instead of a solo act?


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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Interrupting the usual flow to say that we need your help! BGIM needs you!!

Psst, hey you! Psst, come on in! Have you taken a look around here lately? Take a look, get comfortable. Black Girl in Maine recently underwent some changes, from a new logo representing the full breadth of what Black Girl in Maine Media is about in this moment to increased functionality, including a site that is now optimized for reading on a handheld device.

Last year, I announced my plans to shift direction: to add contributing writers of color as well as a podcast. I am proud to announce that we have accomplished part of that. We now have six contributing writers, including the internationally renowned bluesman Samuel James. The site has also been redesigned for greater functionality, including the ability to read your favorite BGIM writers’ posts.

My plans for expanding to include a podcast stalled out for a while but we are back on track now that my son aka Milo the Rapper is getting into the act with his own expansion. We hope to launch that aspect of things early in 2018. Exact date depends on his tour schedule and my own day gig.

For years now, Black Girl in Maine has served as a place for learning for white people and a community for people of color living in primarily white spaces. My pieces have been used across the country in educational and faith communities including with the Civil Rights Teams in Maine. The work that I have created has held great value for thousands and it has truly been a labor of love but in moving forward with the recent expansion pans, I have had to face the reality that there is a financial cost to all of this.

All BGIM contributors are paid, and my rates are comparable to local publications such as The Portland Phoenix and The Bangor Daily News. However, unlike those publications, there are no advertisers or investors. This is a one-woman shop that only relies on the generosity of readers making either a monthly commitment via Patreon or a “tip” via PayPal. With over 8000 “likes” on Facebook and 11,000 followers on Twitter, currently less than 3% of readers contribute to this space financially. Given that we post three to five articles a day on the Facebook page and post one to two pieces a week here, long term this is simply not tenable.

Many of my writing/blogging peers are moving to platforms such as Patreon where only paying patrons can read their work. I most certainly have considered going that route but recognizing that some people truly cannot afford a monthly gift of $5 or $10, that doesn’t sit well with me. Access is important. I’m also offering my platform to new and emerging writers, and offering them access to a larger audience is important to me.  So moving to a closed format is not something that I want to do.

However, after taking into consideration the true costs of this site as well as my own time that is often unpaid or greatly underpaid, what I am doing is launching a year-end campaign and asking for your help. If this space has been a part of your learning or community, I am asking you to become either a monthly patron or to make a one time gift. Monthly pledges are preferred because it allows me to set the editorial calendar for my writers knowing exactly what I can afford. However, one time gifts are groovy too.

If you have spent anytime online, you know that most media outfits are struggling. We have created a world where it’s easy to forget that the fabulous pieces you read are written by real people with real expenses. It is one of the reasons that as part of our work here, we have paid subscriptions to numerous publications so that we have access to the latest news and commentary as well as making sure that we live our own values—much of which is shared on the Black Girl in Maine Facebook page.

Given that my day job is running a small non-profit, I know that you are bombarded with almost daily requests for support. Yet if this space has added value to your life, I am asking you to let us know by making a one time gift or monthly pledge. No amount is too small (though, if I am to be honest, because of money that is taken off the top before I ever see your pledges or donations or tips, anything under a few bucks really is too little, as I will only literally get loose change in the end).

Thank you for your support.

Warmly,

Shay aka Black Girl in Maine


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.