blackgirlinmaine Archive

The chorus is forming…won’t you support it?

Back in August, I wrote a post Lemons to Life and the Raising of the Collective Chorus. To recap, as I looked out at a changing landscape, I decided that after eight years of just writing in this space, I wanted to make changes and accommodate more voices in this space. Starting in early 2017, I will be adding podcasts to the mix, and I am looking to move Black Girl in Maine from more than a blog and podcast but to a media hub for non-white voices in Northern New England. From Black Girl in Maine the blog to BGIM Media.

I have long held to the belief that we need to look at who creates the narratives that we read and believe. In most places, the narratives are fed to us by white people who are often unaware of the biases and prejudices that are often projected in the messages they share, which in turn tends to keep things like white supremacy and institutional racism alive and well, in both subtle and overt ways. Stories about the “Dapper alt-right,” anyone? Articles that normalize Steve Bannon and his hateful rhetoric?  Now more than ever (especially as we see so many Black hosts in particular having their shows yanked recently from various channels like Comedy Central and MSNBC), there is a growing need for non-white voices to be heard and elevated, and my mission is shifting to do just that.

Since that announcement, I have added Teddy Burrage and Marena Blanchard as regular contributors, as well as a few drop-in guests such as my brother and my co-parent (granted, my co-parent is white, but his two decades of experience in my family give him provisional standing in non-white circles). I have been inundated with resumes and writing samples from writers of color throughout the region and I am looking forward to bringing new voices to this space.

Now more than ever as our nation grapples with the realities of a Trump presidency and our racially divided nation, spaces such as this are places for camaraderie and learning. My blog posts continue to travel far and wide; this was brought home to me one day recently when my tween daughter came home and told me that her school’s Civil Rights Team had used one of my posts in class as a learning tool. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local high school that has been using my posts for learning. An old childhood friend who is a professor at a prestigious university contacted me after a faculty meeting when a colleague suggested several of my posts as resources for students. We had quite the laugh. My words have come a long way from the South Side of Chicago.

As wonderful as it is that this space and the curated posts that I share on the BGIM Facebook page resonate with many and are tools for learning and knowledge, there is a cost. Frankly all the media that we consume digitally has a cost, yet for legacy media, they still have the resources to underwrite or absorb those costs with corporate and institutional support.

For smaller creators like myself, I ask readers to support the work. For many years, I wrote and was happy to just have readers but as the readership grew along with the time devoted to this space, I started to ask readers to consider making the occasional donation to help underwrite the cost of maintaining the site. In the past year, I have moved to using Patreon , which allows people to pledge monthly support to content creators they enjoy. I also offer the Paypal tip option for one-time or sporadic gifts of support.

I recognize that the internet is a vast place and that there is plenty of good content available, but increasingly legacy media uses paywalls and limits access. Also, some sites are so littered with pop-up ads and other distractions that the noise gets in the way of reading the good stuff. There is none of that here. However, this space involves a great deal more than just writing a post and posting it. I am also committed to offering my contributors financial compensation because I know all too well about writing for free and earning nothing but a headache. I also know that we live in a world where Black women earn 63 cents to the white man’s dollar. Given my primary focus on using this space for the uncomfortable discussions of race, for me to consume the work of Blacks and other non-white people without ensuring that we are working towards financial parity would just one more way we continue to perpetuate the systems that create divisions and maringalization. We can’t talk about racial justice without realizing that there is an economic piece too.

If you are already a financial contributor to BGIM, thank you. Your support has allowed me to kickstart the wheels of transformation and to start shifting this platform. If you have never financially supported this space and it matters to you, please consider becoming a monthly patron or making a one-time, year-end contribution. If you work with a group or organization that could benefit from a dialogue on race, consider bringing me out to your space. I do travel nationally.

Thank you again for your support!

BGIM, aka Shay and crew
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Feelings as self care in a hectic world, a peek into my life

I have a confession to make. The month of November kicked my ass. It twisted me in knots and took me to highest points of joy and it also laid me low and, while I was in the street trying to crawl away, the city bus came and rolled over me and then backed up over my broken body. Then like a phoenix, I rose again from the ashes (I sure am mixing metaphors today, right?) and now, like an imperfect human, I am crashing and counting days.

My public and professional personae have been immersed in trying to make sense of the world in the wake of Trump’s win, the rise of the white nationalist movement and the surge in harassment nationwide, which has resulted in an increased amount of work as head of an anti-racism organization. Meanwhile, my private self has grappled with riding a wave of joy that has softened me. To be frank, it has tenderized me. But extreme emotions competing for validation in one body that gets little downtime are hard to reconcile over time.

Which is why today’s post is a bit of a detour from what has become standard in this space. I need to reclaim my own humanity as a woman and not as an anti-racism educator, activist, or nonprofit manager but as a mother, a sibling, a daughter, friend, lover and my newest role, grandmother.

While the world has been spinning off its axis, my son and his wife welcomed their first child into the world, a beautiful baby boy.  My workload has prevented me from flying out to see my first grandchild; however, that problem will be resolved shortly. But already I am smitten. I can stare at pictures of my grandson for hours on end and I am sitting on my hands to prevent myself from becoming the pesky mother-in-law who dispenses advice or suggestions.  My grandson’s arrival has reminded me just how open the heart is to love and how love manifests in many different forms. I haven’t even held my namesake in my arms yet, but I know that I love him as completely as I love his father, his aunt (my  tween) and his mother. They are all three my babies. Even if two of them are adults.

The month of November has also brought a deepening of feelings for a non-related grown-up. A man. A man who has made me realize that vulnerability can be sexy and that I am far more open to new possibilities than I realized.

A lot of importance is put on the role of self-care in our lives, especially in activist spaces, so much so that at times it frankly sounds trite. In the ideal world, when life is stressing us out, we would have the resources and time to take care of ourselves and maybe even unplug from the world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and sometimes you have to do the job because there is no one else to do the work. You have to show up because if you don’t, no one else will and that small problem really becomes a larger one. Sometimes you can’t have the vacation or the trip to the day spa because doing so will leave you and your kids in the dark with a lonely pot of unseasoned beans to eat all week.

Sometimes self-care is just knowing that you are doing the best that you can while praying/hoping for the strength to keep on keepin’ on, which has been my life for far longer than I like to admit. In those moments, I am learning that the greatest self-care is to immerse myself in the people whom I care deeply about. It is to allow for the transmission of human emotions that strengthen me and somehow give me the strength to keep going one more day.

The next several years are going to be a test for many of us who are based in the United States. Now more than ever, we need all hands on deck as we fight against policies that almost certainly will make life harder for our most vulnerable and marginalized communities. We all have a role to play whether we are longtime activists or new to organizing and educating. Trump may not have a mandate, but for half of the country, we do have a mandate and that is to activate now.

None of us knows what lies ahead as we shift to a Trump presidency but given the president-elect’s hijinks already, it is safe to say there will be no shortage of emotions and outrage and our best defense aside from direct action will be to protect our own emotional, physical and mental well-being. As for me, I am counting down the days until the adult man in my life returns home as well as the days until I fly out to see that newly arrived little guy. I am taking joy in sharing laughs with my daughter and conversation and drinks with friends. On days like this, I take joy in just writing these words and remembering that I wear many hats and while some create headaches, some create joy.
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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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Enemies in the same uniform

Today’s post comes from my co-parent, Jeff Bouley (also known as Deacon Blue online) who has gone through a couple decades of racial education (via dating and marriage and child-rearing with me) and continues the journey not just alone but still by my side a lot of days even though we aren’t a couple anymore. I asked him to share some personal thoughts (revealed in late-night drinking/yapping sessions with me in recent weeks) about how his perspective on people has changed since the election.
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The night of the 2016 presidential election was bad as I watched a rich, pampered, ego-driven, shallow, nonsense-talking reality show personality and real estate mogul gain impressive numbers of votes and wins even in states that should have known better.

The wee hours of the “morning after” as late vote counts came in and Hillary Clinton conceded the election were worse, knowing that some half of American voters had chosen a blustering, shamelessly lying, bullying, ill-informed, ignorant, thin-skinned, uncouth, bigoted, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, etc. etc. man to be president of the United States over a woman who, whatever her flaws, was a proven and competent public servant clearly more qualified to lead a nation.

The actual “day after” when the sun was officially up and I awoke after a few hours of sleep and realized Donald Trump’s victory wasn’t a nightmare was utterly devastating.

I had never felt so hollowed out, feeling betrayed by so many of my fellow citizens who decided “real change” or “fixing the system” required throwing away our national reputation and turning back the clock on social justice gains for marginalized groups to give power to an obvious con-man.

And there was something simmering inside me—a burning aggressive energy throughout my whole body that had me on edge and prepared to literally fight.

I thought it was anger at first, but in fact I quickly realized it was something perhaps worse—because it was something that could not be as easily vented as anger. It was a grim determination and wary, anxious readiness that I can only assume is a “second cousin” to what is felt by people in the midst of major armed conflict. People who are on the battlefield; citizens trapped in cities and villages that are ravaged by civil war.

It was the activation of the “fight or flight” parts of my brain, with the full and immediate realization that there was nowhere to run—flight wasn’t an option and that meant I had to be ready to fight at any moment.

I awoke to a world in which I was surrounded by more enemies than I realized had been around me all along. Except now they were energized. They felt validated. They were empowered by the fact that their poster boy had become president-elect.

But even though I knew they were all around me in numbers so much more than I had ever imagined before, I couldn’t identify them, because they all wore the same uniform that I do.

Whiteness.

I don’t hate my whiteness. I am not wracked by so-called white guilt. However, as a person who is white I am well aware of the privilege I have from my skin color, not to mention the social advantages that come with being male, hetero and cisgendered. I am aware of the armor I wear (so light and ever-present and almost magically effective that I don’t even notice it or have to think about donning it) that almost invariably protects me from kinds of harm and mistreatment that are almost only meted to marginalized racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity groups—and also to white women to a significant though lesser degree (though women—white or otherwise—face a greater and unique threat from rape culture and domestic abuse in this country, but I digress).

Point is, I am Caucasian and I spent more than 20 years of my life with a Black woman; we’re separated now, but Shay is still my best friend and co-parent. I have two Black children, one a grown man and the other a tween girl. I have Black in-laws. My direct and indirect involvement with Shay’s social justice and anti-racism work has added all kinds of non-white people (and non-straight and non-Christian as well) to my online circles and offline interactions. I have personally gotten to see—over and over again—how differently I can be treated by police, restaurant servers, passers-by, etc. when I am alone compared to when I am in the presence of a Black person in my family.

And now, after the election, I woke to a world full of people who clearly don’t care about Black people—whom I do care about—and these enemies to what I hold dear are all around me. It’s not like I haven’t been aware for years upon years about systemic racism, institutional racial bias and even personal racism still being nurtured in white hearts. But I hadn’t realize just how much racist animosity and bigotry was still simmering in white minds and hearts and souls just waiting to explode outward and be expressed once a man was elected president who used racially charged jargon and fanned the fires of racism to stir up support and did little if anything to speak out against white nationalists and racist hate groups who were openly supporting and endorsing him.

Trump has picked for key posts like chief strategist and attorney general men who have clearly racist histories or white nationalist/white supremacy ties that show they will not be amenable to racial equity or enforcing/advancing civil rights. Racially and religiously oriented hate crimes went up markedly right after the election, many of them committed in Trump’s name specifically. Shay herself experienced a disturbingly aggressive racially bigoted exchange just a few days after the election in the most liberal city in our all-too-white state of Maine—my beloved ex-wife in the crosshairs. Many in her professional and social circles of people of color have talked about similar experiences they have gone through or that have affected their friends or relatives.

And so I am in a kind of war zone. Overnight, a civil war was silently and implicitly declared in which a huge portion of America—specifically, white people, who turned out in a majority for Trump across all gender, age, income and educational demographics—decided they “want their country back.” Who want people who aren’t white and/or Christian “back in their place.” Who are proud, whether they know it or admit it, that they are part of a group of people that conquer and oppress and push down people who aren’t white to keep a stranglehold on power, money and opportunities. Who see nothing wrong with the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black people because that’s in the past (ignoring the fact both still have substantial effects in the modern day) and because white people won “fair and square.”

Somehow, bringing our society closer to equality (though we’re still far from that goal) made them feel they were “losing” and that being more fair to other groups was giving those people “special rights.”

And they reacted by naming a man to be president who has made it clear he sees Black people, Latinx people and Muslim people in particular as damaged, dangerous, problematic and lesser. They have reacted with either indifference to increased violence and risks faced by marginalized groups of people or have reacted with verbal and/or physical violence toward them.

I am surrounded by enemies who want to hurt or disenfranchise (or both) people I care about and people whom the people I love care about, too. And I cannot identify most of them because their uniform is the same as mine and many of the people like-minded to me. White.

I go out of the house now with the clear knowledge that easily a quarter of the people around me (maybe even half or more sometimes) are enemies to me and to the people I love. Knowing that while I may be protected by my own whiteness that my Black loved ones are not. That people in my circles of friends, associates and acquaintances who are Black (or Latinx, or LGBTQ, or Muslim) are at higher risk.

That, in fact, I myself am at increased risk in a sense because I may have to physically protect those people from harm by people who wear my same uniform—that white skin.

I won’t know the enemies until they reveal themselves. Perhaps by telling a racist joke to me that only a few weeks or months ago people would have been ashamed or afraid to tell to a stranger. Perhaps by expressing to me how much better America will be under Trump. Perhaps by actually threatening or attacking my ex-wife or one of my children.

To some degree, I suppose I’m getting a small and slightly analogous taste of what Black people go through every day: Walking out the door and never knowing how many racialized things they will endure. Will it “just” be the microaggressions or will it be something more overt and perhaps dangerous? Knowing that they cannot shed the very brown skin that marks them as racial targets every moment of every day.

In that respect, though, I’m still protected. I may go out hyper-aware that my fellow whitefolk may do bigoted things in my presence and I may have to react to that, but the people who hail a new American social order under Trump and hope for gains in white supremacy look at me and probably mostly see a potential ally. I wear the same white-skinned uniform as them and they likely assume that I am an ally until proved otherwise.

But I cannot afford to see the people around me who share my uniform of whiteness as allies. For the sake and the safety of those I love, I now have to view every white person at every moment as a potential enemy, particularly when my Black loved ones are with me.

And thus a part of myself is murdered. One of the first acts of violence in the wake of the Trump victory was to kill most of the hope I had that America was progressing—far too little over the decades and far too slowly, but still moving forward. No more do I have that feeling. I can only see risks and dangers for my family from potentially half the people around us, and wonder when the forward progress will begin again.

And how many decades it will take us to get back to a place where I feel I can let down my guard and not be looking for the next enemy at all times.
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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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