Black suspects or Black victims? Will someone dig deeper?

Maine is an overwhelmingly white state. At 94.4% white, according to the 2010 Census count, Maine remains one of the whitest states in America, which is no small feat given the shifting demographics in the United States.

As such a white state, it means that it is not uncommon, especially in Northern Maine, to encounter living, breathing human beings who have had little to no interaction with non-white people. People whose worldviews about people of color have been shaped by media. People who assume the absolute worst based off nothing but what they have been fed by others and whose lack of lived experience gives them no reason to counter the images that are fed to them.

This is why when Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, stated back in 2016 that “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” come from New York and Connecticut to sell their heroin in Maine, and “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” it wasn’t based on any actual facts, just half-cocked assumptions that were both racist and insulting to Black folks—especially the ones who call Maine home.

A quick Google search  will reveal that Maine’s governor holds questionable views on Black people and given that he is the governor of this state, that is very problematic. Maine, like many states, is in the grips of a drug epidemic. But to lay the blame for that at the feet of Black people is simply a tired and worn-out trope that can have real-life consequences for Black and Brown people in this state.

Which is why when this story came across my desk, it made me stop in my tracks. In the Portland Press Herald, a major newspaper in this state, the headline reads “Maine man, 2 women from New York accused of dealing crack in midcoast” and in this story the headline reads “Mainer swept up in drug bust with NY twosome.”

A quick read of both pieces tells us that Raquel Renfro, 18, of Rochester, N.Y., and Shaundrea Fuller, 20, of Rochester, N.Y., were charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, according to paperwork filed in Knox County Unified Court. Meanwhile, Joseph Malburg, 51, of Warren, was charged with trafficking in drugs. All three were taken to the Knox County Jail in Rockland. Bail for Renfro and Fuller was set at $50,000 cash; Malburg’s bail was set at $2,500 cash.

Two young adults and a man who is old enough to be their father or even grandfather are arrested for drug trafficking but the two young people get the sky-high bail and the 51-year-old gets the $2,500 bail. Seems rather a stark inequity to me. Perhaps it’s just me, but the alarm bells are ringing, especially because these two girls are extremely young and—I am sorry, but I have a hard time believing that a barely-adult and barely-out-of-her teens pair has the connections or means to move drug weight at that level without someone else being behind this. I also know that sex trafficking is a very real thing that happens in Maine and in communities of color. So the possibility that they are being manipulated or forced into this work is rather high.

I also know that the media is very selective in how we frame suspects. Too often, white suspects in the 18-21 age range are still viewed as youth, but that framework is rarely applicable to suspects of color. In fact, too often Black children and tweens are viewed as being adults by white folks, particularly when they are suspected of doing something wrong. And even beyond the skewed perceptions, let’s just talk about being 18 or even a couple years older. Technically, one is an adult at 18 but the science tells us that the  brain is still growing and to be frank, I think this is one of the many reasons that white suspects in this age range are presented as teenagers rather than adults because while they are legal adults, they are also teenagers.

Look, I don’t know the suspects, I don’t know the case and I am not an attorney but I do know that this case isn’t passing my smell test, I know that Maine is a state where race matters and that we have a governor who has on more that a few occasions been very clear about who he sees as the enemy: people of color, whether native to Maine, immigrants to Maine or visitors from other states. I also know that implicit bias is a real thing and that all these factors together means that it is less likely that these young women would be seen as anything other than a problem. It means that if they are in fact part of something they were forced to be a part or were somehow brought here to work, what is the likelihood that someone will see them as victims and not predators? Black girls going missing and ending up in bad situations is a reality in this country. Too often Black girls go missing and their stories rarely even touch the national conscience; Black children are targeted at early ages and deemed to be problems.

Perhaps it’s just the mother and grandmother in me, but I hope that the powers-that-be dig deeper in this case before throwing these young women away.

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.



Are you lifting up Black women or harming them?

I recently held a public dialogue with my colleague, collaborator and friend, author Debby Irving. In the course of our talk, I shared about my experiences with society rarely creating space that allows Black women to be vulnerable or specifically to be human or, dare I say, sometimes even weak. An audience member took offense at my words (claiming erroneously that I had called Black women inherently weak) thus kicking off a bit of a shitstorm that I have been dealing with for the past several days. Some of the details of that incident can be read here but what’s been sitting with me is the humanity of Black women. How we see or perhaps more importantly don’t see Black women.

Black women were brought to this country to be breeders and workers. Period. Ours is a womanhood that was denied and still continues to be denied in part due to the harmful tropes that have been created to define us. Whether we are the sassy Black woman, the angry Black woman, the hypersexual Black woman or the strong Black woman, there is little in the average mind that sees us as simply women who deal with the joys and sorrows of life as our other racial counterparts. 

When we think of today’s iconic Black women, we marvel at their strength and their ability to uplift. Michelle Obama, Oprah and Serena Williams are a few who immediately come to mind.

We live in a culture that is in love with the idea as Black women as saviors or those who rise above adversity but rarely makes time to see the very human side of Black womanhood. Rarely are we exposed to Black women as soft and vulnerable and even when we are, too often we equate Black female vulnerability as a type of strength. Instead of an expression of what it means to be healthy and human.

Rarely do we think of the high cost of not seeing Black women as imperfect people who struggle as all people do. Rarely do we look at the toll that feigning that endless strength (or being bullied into being stronger no matter what) takes on Black women. While our minds may even buy into the myths of our strength, our bodies don’t lie. Our material living situations don’t lie. Racialized health disparities are real and the economic wage gap is real. We often work ourselves literally to death being strong, thanks to high blood pressure, unrecognized mental health pressures, and so on.

Too often our womanhood is denied and devalued and it takes a toll on us, I know because that is my current struggle and I am reminded in the moments when I talk to other Black women regardless of age that this is their reality as well.

Recently my work allowed me to hold space with several Black women and the denial of our humanity was really driven home when a young Black teenage girl told me how she struggles not to be seen as an angry Black woman. An older Black woman thanked me while breaking down in tears for giving voice to our struggles. Another Black woman told me that finding my writings gave her the vocabulary to understand and describe what her life is like in New England. Anytime I am blessed to hold space with other Black women, I am acutely aware of how much of our real selves are in hiding because the world has no space or place for us and especially not our feelings.

Even our sorrows and tears have no value and are not seen in this society, compared to our white female counterparts whose tears are multi-purposed and can range from a true expression of emotions to highly effective (and often racialized) tools of manipulation or derailment.

As I settle deeper into my middle-aged life, no longer having a life partner, I am constantly battling with the reality that rarely do I have the space to take my mask off and lay my burdens down. Instead I am forced to confront the reality that for most, I am nothing more than a resource bank, skilled manager and juggler of life and occasionally a desirable sex partner. In my less mindful moments, it’s been easy to buy into others’ visions of me and put myself in a less-than-healthy space whether physically or mentally.  

My resolution this year has been to work toward wholeness and health by actively pushing back on the labels and tropes that are assigned to me without my consent and instead become an active participant in creating a whole me. But the struggle is real because there is little in the way of support for my actual desires.

In part, this is because misogynoir is real: anti-Black sexism directed at Black women. We live in a world where anti-Blackness is real and to be a Black woman is to be a double target. Allies and accomplices, while skilled at grasping the basics of white supremacy, rarely have the language or skills to combat misogynoir and often end up continuing to harm Black women. Instead Black women are all too often asked to join the sisterhood without the recognition that our solidarity and sisterhood is not that of the mainstream and until our white sisters have deconstructed their own internalized beliefs about us, they often do more harm than good.

Are you supporting and lifting up Black women? Are you seeing Black women as full humans at the table of humanity? Or have you compartmentalized them thus denying their agency and humanity?

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.


A film and the affirmation of Blackness…my musings on Black Panther

Like millions of others in the past few days, I made my way to see Marvel’s Black Panther. This was no small feat for me given that my interest in superheroes has always been less than zero. Growing up, my father was a sci-fi and superhero comics geek and as a result, I was forced to see television shows and movies that did not speak to me. I suspect that forced encounters with all things sci-fi and superhero related helped to cement my dislike for these genres.

Truth is that until a week ago, I had no interest in seeing Black Panther, until I started paying attention to the buzz and finally checked out a trailer for the film. Gorgeous Black women in positions of power? A nearly all-Black cast (and, I assume, much if not most of the crew)? In that case, how bad could it be? I won’t attempt to dissect the movie because my words won’t do it justice given that I am a newbie to this world. What I will say is that I cried, I felt pride and I felt represented and that’s what I want to talk about.

How utterly powerful and life affirming it is to be represented in a world where the people who look like you are typically relegated to roles that are not uplifting and do not speak to you as a person. A world where powerful and affirming representation of people of color is the exception and not the norm.

Having been born in the early 1970s, I can tell you that when I saw images of Black women in media, we were loudmouth bitches, we were downtrodden and long-suffering, we were comic relief and occasionally we were extra sexy in that way where men would be happy to fuck you but love you. Did that feel like true representation? Nope.

The first truly positive image of a Black woman that I can recall was Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show. I was in middle school before I saw an image of a Black woman that represented bits and pieces of the world around me. My mom was a stay-at-home mom so while I did not grow up with a professional Black woman in my life,  I did have a mother who was nothing like what I saw on television or in movies. But I still had few images of Black women as change makers outside of their homes. Given that I only had one Black teacher in my K-12 years, that means that I spent the majority of my life not seeing women doing things that I would eventually go on to do.

When I finally grew up and decided what I would do with my life, I had no idea that my decision to run non-profits would almost be radical. Black and Brown women are over-represented in lower level positions in America’s nonprofit sector. But as recent as last year, the data showed that less than 20 percent of non-profit leadership specifically nonprofit CEOs/executive directors are people of color. Let’s not even begin to break that down to Black women specifically. I landed my first executive director position at the age of 31 but lest people think that is a norm, I am an anomaly. More importantly there was no roadmap for me because I never met another Black executive director until I took my current position in Boston and that is only because there is a support group for Black non-profit directors as we are a rare breed and we face a very specific set of challenges. That’s another piece for another day.

In case you are wondering why I am sharing this, it’s because, as I said before, representation matters. To see yourself mirrored back in the world is a powerful experience. While I grew up in Black spaces in Chicago, what was modeled was that there are limitations due to my Blackness and gender and most certainly the larger world did not tell a different story.

This is why Black Panther is so many things for the Black American diaspora. It is a chance to re-envision our Blackness and for Black girls, women and femmes a chance to see a larger world of possibilities. Even the film’s use of darker skinned Black women is modeling that Blackness is beautiful in its many forms which goes beyond the often trite “Black is Beautiful” statement. Black may be beautiful but if Blackness is best represented by lighter skinned Black women with looser curls, what message are we sending to the darker skinned women/femmes with tight curls? If we never see the deepest brown shades represented as beautiful, how can assess that we are beautiful? A question that I still at times struggle with.

As a woman who was told all too often that I was “cute for a Black girl,” I have never quite known what to do with that. Even now, as a middle-aged and now single woman, I have encountered more than a few men in the past year of dating adventures who felt the need to let me know I am okay for a Black woman. Do you know what I hear in those moments? I hear disdain for Blackness and I don’t hear a compliment.

In a world that centers all things white, whiteness and proximity to whiteness, a blockbuster film that centers Blackness and uplifts Black women is a much-needed paradigm shift. It is not just a new way to re-envision our world through the lens of Afro-futurism but it is also an opportunity to take stock of the Nakia’s, Okoye’s and Shuri’s who are already in our midst but who are often overlooked. I imagine a world where a Black woman won’t feel that she is traveling life without a roadmap as an anomaly but instead will know that she is another in a long line of changemakers because Blackness will not be relegated to the margins.

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.