Real talk is sensitive, or How the truth is silenced

As a Black woman in America, my entire existence at times can be summed up as: uncomfortable. Anytime I leave my house, I know that there is a strong probability that discomfort will be a part of my day by simple virtue of the fact that my soul and essence are housed in a container labeled female and Black. In this society, that combination leaves me open for assault on two fronts. Whether it is being called out of my name, treated as inferior, having my body touched without my permission—and the list goes on.

People like me are born leaning into the discomfort because the only other option is to wait for the sweet release that death will bring. For me, that is not an option. Instead, I choose to lean deeper and allow that discomfort to be the fuel that activates my life whether in my writing, speaking or managing Community Change Inc. I cannot make the world bend to my will but I can die trying to effect change.

We are now living in a rapidly changing world, one where for many, the blinders around injustice are slowly coming off. For millions of white people, including many who read this space, the dots are connecting and people are realizing that racism is more than a matter of interpersonal “choice”—it is a systemic situation and problem where, at birth, we are all assigned our roles. No choice given—your skin color determines whether discomfort is your norm or your option.

The past decade politically, combined with the rise of social media as a staple of modern-day life, has allowed millions who previously thought racism was a relic to realize that it is, in fact, the foundation of America. All that it has done in modern times is to change its appearance. Racism in America is a bit of a chameleon but eventually, we see its true nature.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have allowed us to take the talks that used to not be seen and bring them to the public conscience. It is the space where we learn, where we we teach, where we allow ourselves to break the social taboos on speaking openly about the uncomfortable. Yet as these spaces become part of our daily rounds, a strange thing is afoot.

Abuse and harassment are part of social media. Women and people of color have long complained that these platforms that are increasingly vital for many of us in our work but are also unsafe spaces. A quick Google search can confirm my words. These platform creators have pledged to make changes but too often, these have been empty promises that fall short.

However, we are now living in a world where the president of the United States governs by tweet, where he regularly uses his phone to stoke the fires of intolerance, and where even  social media novices now flock to these sites to stay abreast of the happenings as traditional news organizations cannot keep up with a president who wants to connect directly (and dysfunctionally) with the people.

When your leader aligns himself with white supremacists and has an uncanny knack for attacking  women of color and making disparaging comments about people of color, discussing white supremacy and racism is no longer an option but an imperative. However, increasingly these platforms that give us so much are starting to censor these much-needed conversations, either directly or indirectly.

In recent months, many activists of color have openly talked and written about being censored on these sites, suspended or banned. Oftentimes, it is Black women who are being targeted. Meanwhile, white nationalists and their allies are allowed free reign in these spaces. Richard Spencer, the current front man of today’s white nationalist movement is considered important enough to merit a verified account on Twitter. Talk about legitimizing the hate.

Until recently, I had managed to keep my words moderate enough to avoid the censorship and bans that my peers and colleagues have faced but yesterday, I realized that my words on Twitter were considered “sensitive content.” A fellow writer reached out to tell me that my tweets weren’t showing up and sent me a few screenshots. After some sleuthing, it seems that my tweets will show up with a change in settings but the larger question is why is discussing racism considered sensitive? What are the larger implications of labeling uncomfortable but critically needed conversations as being sensitive?

We are a nation divided on race; a not-insignificant number of Americans don’t understand why our sports figures are kneeling and not standing for the national anthem. These same people see rich Black and Brown bodies and assume that their wealth insulates them from the police brutality and racism that non-wealthy Black and Brown people face on a daily basis.  Many of these same people see things like the Movement for Black Lives as a form of terrorism instead of a quest for liberation. White Americans too often live in racial silos and, aside from social media, rarely have meaningful connections to non-white people (and often those online connections are less than meaningful as well, to be honest). There must be accessible spaces where we can start talking and start activating. In recent years, groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) have experienced an uptick in white people getting involved due to the words and sights seen on social media. We need more of this—not less—and in labeling discussions of white supremacy as “sensitive” we are moving backwards.

Given the Trump administration’s feelings on race and journalists and our rapid movement towards an authoritarian regime, I have no doubt that we will see an increase in censorship, and that the list of “sensitive topics” will continue to grow.

As for me, I will continue to maintain my piece of personal internet real estate until such time as I am silenced. I will say though, now more than ever, supporting independent journalists, bloggers and others who are writing, educating and working for change is important. Whether that’s BGIM Media or whatever outlet you enjoy, one way to resist and move forward is to offer support whenever possible.


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Touching my hair and stealing my humanity, or How white supremacy robs us all

Given the current state of race relations, the story that I am about to tell is seemingly small. After all, America is currently being governed by an openly white supremacist madman who lacks compassion and empathy for anyone who falls outside of his base. We are in the midst of a dumpster fire called America and the truth is, we may all burn to death if things don’t change. Hyperbole? Less so than we really want to admit.

However, the truth is that the same thing that is driving our president to destroy our country is the same thing that drives the vast majority of white Americans to fall short when it comes to race relations. The inbred desire to only see whiteness as the one, true way to live life. Anything that falls outside of whiteness and its world is treated as an anomaly, a freak occurrence or a curiosity piece. Rarely are ways of being that fall outside of the white paradigm given the same level of respect and courtesy that whiteness is given and sadly this extends to actual people.

This morning, I went out to breakfast with my co-parent. We are still friends and we take our family and shared financial expenses as seriously as we did when we were a romantic unit. In short, our getting together to break bread and talk is not an unusual experience.

As we were wrapping up breakfast, an older white woman stopped in front our booth and interrupted our conversation to tell me that she loved my hair. I politely said thank you and continued speaking with my co-parent. The woman turned to walk away and as she walked away, I suddenly felt my head being patted while simultaneously watching a look of horror wash across my co-parent’s face. As I felt her hand patting my head, it hit me…this woman who I didn’t know from anyone had just taken it upon herself to touch my hair.

It’s not the first time that a white person has taken liberties with my body (or specifically my hair) and I am pretty certain that it won’t be the last. At least once a year, I encounter a white person who thinks nothing of reaching over to touch my hair, never asking if it would be okay; just assuming that it is perfectly acceptable to touch the head of a perfect stranger. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but in what world is it acceptable to invade the personal space of a perfect stranger? I have never in my life reached out and touched anyone’s head who was not a family member, friend or lover.

Yet ask any Black woman or non-white person and many of us have stories of having our space and persons invaded by white strangers who feel they have the right to touch us. We are touched in the same fashion that one reaches down to pat a dog, cat or other cuddly creature.

I can only conclude given my understanding of how white supremacy operates that this lack of understanding of how to interact with strangers who are Black (or other POCs) is born from the same driver that puts whiteness on a pedestal. It’s the inability to see non-white bodies as equal to their white bodies; the inability to see the humanity of others and to meet people as equal members of the human family.

Yes, I know that white women whose features fall out of white physical norms are also subjected to these invasions of bodily autonomy but it simply does not exist on the same scale that it happens to Black bodies. Whether it is touching our hair, our skin or commenting on our appearance and its “difference.”

While my hair being touched by a stranger is seemingly small, let’s look at the larger picture and see a president who openly attacks women of color via his daily Twitter rants, who openly threatens to pull the much-needed relief aid from Americans of color who are recovering from a hurricane of epic proportions while chiding them for a “lack of responsibility” and who makes time to denigrate Americans of color for exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest, we can see how the dots connect. Especially at a time when white nationalist activity is growing in this country.

The greatest threat to America is not an outside threat; it is the festering sore of white supremacy that is ravaging our national body. All white people are infected by white supremacy. While that may be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you are reading this piece, it doesn’t make it any less true. I work with white people who are committed to dismantling white supremacy and yet too many times, even in doing the work, I have seen people whom I personally like continue to perpetuate the same destructive behavior that they are fighting against. I am sure that the woman I encountered today didn’t see herself as engaging in harmful behavior; after all, she gave me a compliment. But intentions usually mean nothing when compared to the negative impact of those intentions (e.g., if I intended to drive safely and harm no one, but my attention drifted or I disobeyed a driving rule and now you are lying broken and twisted under my vehicle, how much would my intentions matter to you?).

At the end of her encounter with me, that woman at breakfast had dehumanized me. She treated me not like she would an unknown white woman but instead like she would treat a pet or a doll. She reduced me to an object to satisfy her need in that moment. It wasn’t enough to compliment my hair and move on; she needed to touch it without permission, thus taking what might have been a random and possibly warm moment and turning it into a moment of making me feel invaded and demeaned. This is what white supremacy does: It strips the humanity of people. But make no mistake: It’s not just Black and other POC whose humanity it steals, because it makes monsters (large or small) of the white people who invoke that white supremacy.


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The same key to solve mass violence and systemic racism

In these moments, words are meaningless. Here we stand at the moral crossroad as a nation, deeply fractured and in tatters. We are a nation under siege but the enemy is not from outside; it is the enemy within. This enemy has always been with us but until this moment, the vast majority of Americans have been woefully ignorant of its existence and nature. Now, however, this foe’s presence has become so obvious and is so glaringly in our faces that we can no longer ignore it without simply being willfully and deliberately ignorant. I fear, though, that it might be too late for us as a people and as a nation.

As I write this, we are standing in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. A 64-year-old white man, Stephen Paddock, from his 32nd-floor hotel room in Las Vegas, took the lives of 50-plus people and wounded around 500 others. Authorities are flummoxed, as nothing in Paddock’s background can explain his actions. No mental illness, no radical background. By all accounts he lived a charmed life.

Given the arsenal of weapons that Paddock had in his possession, we could lay the blame at the feet of the gun lobby and our country’s incessant need to cling to the Second Amendment in a way that any thinking person would say the framers of the Constitution did not intend. No private citizen needs access to the type of guns that Paddock had in his possession.

Mass shootings have become as American as apple pie and baseball. However, the unspoken truth is that we are a violent nation and we have always been a violent nation. This country was birthed and raised and nurtured in violence. It’s just that the violence only affected a certain segment of our populace. Now the violence is all around us, from small town America to the glitzy strip of Las Vegas and everywhere in between. No one is immune from this very American affliction. In the five years since an armed man shot up a classroom filled with children, nothing has changed. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was our moral test and we failed miserably.

Most of us are asking for common-sense gun laws and while we definitely need to get our lawmakers off the gun lobby’s payroll and out of the NRA’s pocket, I am sorry to say that focusing solely on the gun lobby and gun legislation is not the cure all to our issues. It will be a significant bandage, however, on a gaping wound; it might buy us some time.

No, we need to go deeper. We need to address the culture of toxic white masculinity that is also very much a part of the fabric of this nation. See, one only has to look at how we deal with mass shootings and really any aberrations that don’t fit our comfortable narrative to see certain patterns. If a Black or brown person commits a heinous crime, it is an indictment on an entire community. If you think I am kidding go ask a Muslim friend or Black friend. Yet the rugged individuality of the white male American experience does not allow for pathologizing an entire group of people if that group consists solely or predominantly of white people. To quote Chauncey Devega: There will be no ‘national conversation’ about the connection between toxic (white) masculinity and American gun culture. In the mainstream news media and broader public discourse there certainly will be no discussion of the fact that white men are 31 percent of the population but commit 63 percent of mass shootings. Such a fact is forbidden or explosive, because it connects race, gender, guns and death.”

If similar stats around guns applied to any non-white group, we would be enacting bans (like Trump keeps trying with Muslims) on those groups and would have all manner of task forces at the ready to investigate them. Instead, due to our racial ignorance and the normalization of whiteness, we ignore the elephant in the room.

Yet we are a nation now governed by the poster boy for toxic white masculinity. As anyone who chooses to pay attention can tell you, it’s hard to ignore that our commander and chief has a problem with anyone unless they are white, preferably male and definitely cisgendered and heterosexual. Trump’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico has even those with only a basic understanding of dog-whistle politics shaking their heads at his blatant racism.

We are in a state of crisis. In order to move forward, we must find the courage to have the uncomfortable conversations. To understand that the systemic racism and violence go together like a hand in a glove. That the same culture that allows mass shootings to happen regularly also allows systemic racism to thrive and that the same key is required to solve these issues. We must start unpacking whiteness and its destructive properties alongside with unpacking the culture of toxic white masculinity. The question is, are you ready to create change or are you looking for another quick fix?


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.