Stop looking for the helpers; you’re it! You are the agent of change.

As we enter the season of darkness, the heaviness that hangs in the air is palpable. There is the literal reduced light outside which leaves many feeling out of sorts as we move deeper into autumn and prepare for winter, but there is also the internal heaviness that many of us are feeling as a result of the larger world.

Despite the platitudes that are bandied around that stress hope, in this moment it feels as if there is a distinct lack of hope. When a teenager shoots and kills a student in school and classes continue for the day, it feels as if we have crossed a line. We have surrendered a piece of our collective humanity.

This past week brought one of the most vile acts of anti-semitism in recent memory. A routine Saturday morning at a Pittsburgh synagogue turned into a massacre that left 11 people dead. Several days before that, two Black people were killed at a Louisville, Ky., grocery store by a white man who when confronted by another white man, is reported to have said “Whites don’t kill whites,” which apparently led to this armed bystander letting the shooter go free—so much for good guys with guns being the answer to gun violence. This coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s targeted efforts to erase trans people and a concentrated campaign of fear targeted at high-profile Democrats.

To say that the past week has been absolutely awful would be an understatement. It’s only compounded by the sad reality that Trump continues to hold what increasingly seems to be modern-day Klan meetings on an almost weekly basis.

So many awful things are happening that it is hard to keep up and yet at the heart of all of this awful is that some white people are committed to protecting whiteness and white power structures at all costs. Trump is the maestro at tapping into white hearts and stoking the flames of hate. Unfortunately after three years of such divisive rhetoric the, garden of hate that Trump cultivated is blooming.

In this moment, many of us are clinging to the hope that things will get back on track with minimal effort But the truth is, that probably isn’t going to happen. The upcoming midterm elections are absolutely one way to effect change but with voter suppression a reality in many parts of the country, voting is not a silver bullet. At best, voting will staunch the bleeding that we are dealing with as a nation but it is not going to be the magical cure-all.

Voting alone will not fix a white power structure. We cannot continue to believe that voting, reading books, donating a few dollars and good intentions will fix a raggedy-ass system that never should have existed in the first place. A system whose structure required the complete dehumanization of other people; a system that required the stealing of land and bodies and the systematic destruction of other people’s cultures.

I am convinced that the radical change we need will require the vision to imagine new possibilities and an active rejection of what makes us comfortable. It’s shifting power to those most affected, which in this case is Black people, other people of color and other marginalized people. It means being intentional in taking a new direction and essentially releasing old ways of being. It also means radical honesty about what we are facing and acknowledging that progress in the United States has never been a straight line. It means recognizing that two years into the Trump regime, it is no longer acceptable to continue to be dumbfounded by what’s going on. Trump told us who he was and as Maya Angelou wrote “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Given the shifts across the globe, we are entering a new era, one where the fight to preserve whiteness at all costs is the primary goal of a large percentage of white people, and that goal is supported by the passive efforts of most other whites to not rock the boat too much. Turning that around means becoming proactive and not reactive. Reactivity doesn’t serve us well. Neither do traditional values of the white supremacist system such as niceness and civility. Our long-standing commitment to civility has long kept us from having much needed deeper conversations. In this moment, if we are to connect with our individual humanity and the humanity of others, we must be willing to go deeper, not just in our conversations but in all that we do.

The hope that we need should not be dependent on charismatic leaders or other people but on the understanding that we each individually have a part to play in creating a world that we want to live in. It lies in recognizing that we should no longer look for the helpers, but that each and everyone of us is the helper and that our values should drive us to be a part of this change process. It is also understanding that the odds are high that we will not be the beneficiaries of this change and that if true change does come, it may be many generations from now. But it should be that our collective love for the greater humanity leads us to push on, that our collective love will hold us when times feel heavy and tight. But it also means understanding that love alone is not the change. Love must drive us to action.

Friends, I invite you to sit with how you are feeling in this moment. Trust me, I have been feeling out of sorts for the past week. Give yourself time to process. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t let it consume you. But also don’t stick your heads in the sand. I leave you with a piece that I shared on the BGIM social media and it offers a wonderful guide for what you can do moving forward.


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.

Image by Fares Hamouche via Unsplash

 

An old tactic with a new twist: Attempting to erase an entire group’s existence

I’ve long noted on this blog and in other places that the two most oppressed groups in this country are Native American/Indigenous people and Black people. And that hasn’t changed.

Indigenous people were subjected to genocide that reduced them from being the dominant group in what we currently call the United States to one of the smallest demographics. One that was segregated to substandard land as a “fix” for having their actual lands taken. A group that faces constant disenfranchisement, most notably recently with a rule that could bar many Native Americans in North Dakota from voting because they have P.O. boxes rather than street addresses as a result of living on reservations. Indigenous people also face higher rates of police violence—and death at their hands—than any other racial or ethnic group.

Black people were brought to this land as slaves and subjected to centuries of that horrific treatment as mere property—more than two centuries of it under U.S. laws—then when freed were subjected to all sorts of legal, social and political actions, both overt and subtle, to keep them from ever having full rights and freedoms, economically or otherwise. Systemic roadblocks, hurdles and atrocities that continue to this day and have allowed so many Black people to be openly harmed by authorities and average citizens with few or no repercussions (as evidenced by video of unarmed Black people in recent years killed by police still usually not enough to bring violent officers to justice).

So, these two groups are the original and continuing victims of America’s embedded racism and white supremacy. But sadly, another group may be fast on their heels as the third most oppressed group if the current administration has its way. And that would be LGBTQIA people, most particularly trans people.

People who don’t wish to hold to “traditional” gender or sexual norms have always been at risk and their risk, much like that of Native Americans, Blacks, Muslims and others, is on the rise—and here again, I’ll bring it back to blackness for a moment to note that the deaths and assaults of Black trans people are among the most under-reported in media. But in recent decades trans people have been able to be more open, more accepted and more protected by the law.

That could be about to change, and through a time-honored American practice of erasure. This nation loves to erase people. Native American children were stolen from their families and forced into schools to drive their language and culture out of them. Today, Latinx children are being ripped from parents at the border and there are fears—and some signs—that plans might be in the works to place them with white American families instead of reunited  with their parents—more erasure. America consumes things like Black culture and other ethnic culture in blatant appropriation while telling non-whites that they have to “conform” to traditional white American standards to be accepted—even though this almost never results in them actually getting equal treatment.

And now trans erasure.

But whereas you cannot deny that a Black person is Black—their skin proclaims that, no matter how much you erase their culture and humanity—it will sadly be a lot easier to get a lot of Americans to accept that trans isn’t real. That being trans is a violation of nature itself.

And so we have the Department of Health and Human Services reportedly having drafted a memo to federal agencies and considering a policy that would erase the equal protection under law of millions of transgender people by using Title IX to define gender as “immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

In fact, for about a year now, the Department of Health and Human Services has been making a case internally that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or homosexuality, and that by doing so—particularly under the Obama administration—civil rights protections were wrongfully extended to people who should not have them.

Let that sink in.

Civil rights protections wrongly extended to people who should never have had them.

Considering that civil rights protections are meant to help ensure that marginalized groups are not excluded or harmed, that’s basically saying that trans people (and perhaps the larger LGBTQIA community) should not be equal.

And if they aren’t equal and if they are defined as “not existing” it’s not that far a leap to get official policy going that essentially says they are “lesser” or that they are “a problem” or even that they aren’t really “people.” And Black people like me know how easy it is to be painted as less than human or not human at all. Trayvon Martin and other Black youth and men killed extra-judicially are often described as “demons” or having some special immunity to harm that makes them more dangerous, like some rabid wild animal.

A lot of conservatives, and probably no small number of “moderates,” would argue that civil rights protections to transgender and other non-gender-conforming people are “special rights.” But what is “special” or “extra” about expecting to be treated like any other citizen—and other humans?

And yet here we are. In a time when children who cross the border can be put in cages and drugged up and stolen from their families and it’s just another story that trends for a few days and fades away from the public consciousness for most people.

It’s not that hard to see it being very easy to say “trans” doesn’t exist and for most Americans to perhaps hardly bat an eyelash.

The government has been painting non-white people as threats, whether citizens or immigrants (documented or undocumented). Mexicans branded as primarily being rapists and murderers. Black people presented as threatening and scary just by existing.

And in the non-racial realm, trans people being called threats in public restrooms (despite evidence to the contrary). Even the mostly white media painted as a threat to this country for reporting the news.

No, trans people are in real danger.

What will it take for most of America to wake up and demand an end to this? How many people will have to die at the hands of bigots? Or will it take millions of people being rounded up and sent to concentration camps and literally erased (murdered) like in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s?

Or would even that be enough?

It starts with erasure of humanity. That process is well underway for many groups, trans people among them. You can’t make entire groups truly disappear, but you can make it easy to destroy their safety and lives. And we’re getting really good at doing that again across the board in this country.

Vote. Demonstrate. Resist. Adjust your own feelings and assumptions about the world and the people in it. Whatever. Do something. Maybe it doesn’t feel like some of these reinvigorated policies of oppression (and new ones) affect you personally. But they affect your fellow humans, so they do. And if you don’t step up now, it might be another group you care about—or are part of—that gets targeted next.


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.

Photo by Sandeep Swarnkar on Unsplash

The performance of change and why it fails: A note to my white sisters

The odds are high that if you are a reader of this space, the events of the past two years have had you in a perpetual state of rage. Last week’s hearing with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey Ford probably felt like a surreal kick in the teeth. After all, if you are of a certain age, you almost certainly remember Anita Hill and it almost seems impossible to think that we are here again. Another woman and another Supreme Court nominee being accused of sexual wrongdoing.

Despite the surface changes we have made as a society, we are indeed here again because very little has changed in terms of the structures that keep privileged white men in charge.  For the most part, a group that is primarily made up of white men decides our shared fates, much like the group of white men who founded this country and exported colonialism across the world.

In fact, this past week’s hearing was an extraordinary display of white, male privilege, the likes of which we rarely are allowed to witness. Brett Kavanaugh most certainly came across as an entitled asshole with a possible drinking problem. Brett is the guy who was born on third base with every conceivable privilege starting with a mother who was a judge, a father who was a lobbyist and a grandfather who was a Yale alumnus.

No doubt he worked hard (or at least that is what he believes to be true) but the shenanigans of his youth alone would have derailed a person of lesser means.

However the idea that one is entitled to a Supreme Court seat in a country where we aren’t even entitled to basic shelter and healthcare is laughable at best. Many people work hard and still can’t make their ends meet.  Though when you have always lived in a bubble of privilege, it doesn’t quite dawn on you that extreme privilege is not the norm.

That said, I am not interested in dissecting Brett and his bullshit, there are far craftier writers than I who have already wrote fantastic pieces on this man-child.

What I do want to talk about is the knee-jerk responses that far too many of my white sisters are having to the current times that we find ourselves in and how unchecked privilege keeps us from a unified course of action.

Over the weekend, my Facebook box was overflowing with multiple calls to participate in the female blackout on Sunday morning.

Some version of this request has made the rounds in the past and assuming it’s not a Russian bot yanking our chains, no doubt it some “well-meaning” person who thought this would be a great show of solidarity. The only problem is that for women of color and trans women, we are already erased in the hierarchy of women. Furthermore, well-meaning symbolism is not what we need at this moment.

From pink pussy hats to showing racial solidarity with safety pins and now blackout photos, these actions are meaningless and frankly insulting and divisive.

Too often, calls to action for women exclude the work of marginalized women who have often been in the trenches. Long before Alyssa Milano got on Twitter and said  #metoo, my pal Tarana Burke had been saying “me too” since the early 2000s while working tirelessly for years on the front lines to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our culture.  

Hell, I have been doing anti-racism work long before it became an actual thing we discussed in the mainstream.

The problem with being reactionary rather than proactive is that we miss out on what work is already being done and who is already in the trenches. It also means coming across as tone deaf and alienating the very people you want and need supporting your work.

In the latest moment of performative change, women of color and others have explicitly stated why the idea of blocking out our profiles on social media is not acceptable. As my sista in the work, Leslie Mac said: “I’d like to invite you to think about the optics & impact of you asking a Black Woman to join a “female blackout” on social media. First of all, for the most part we are already invisible & ignored so the idea that we would take collective action that further diminishes our voices, even for a day… nope.”

She’s absolutely right and yet for many white women, they have clung to the idea that people can protest in any way that they see fit without thinker about wide implications. Be that as that as it may, understand that choosing that path is but one of the many ways in which white women cling to their whiteness rather to come to the space of working together with a spirit of humility and sisterhood.  To work together for change requires knowing what you don’t know and bringing a spirit of humility. It also requires goals and strategy and this is where newcomers who are driven by feelings fall short.

To often these performative moments  of “change” fizzle out (remember the safety pins and pink pussy hats?) leaving nothing substantive but hard feelings.  To be a white woman is to exist in a state of duality as both the oppressed and the oppressor and for our white sisters understanding the historical weight that has been placed on them would go a long way in bridging the differences with marginalized women since the tendency to ignore what whiteness means even in a white female-identified body, and that the privileged behaviors that can come from that can be a huge barrier to our shared humanity. After all, not all women have pink pussies (or even a pussy to be frank) or any level of visibility.  So when you issue the call to action, make sure you aren’t furthering the erasure of others.


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.

Image from b0red on Pixabay