Showing up for us in meaningful ways

Today we have a new post from contributor Marena Blanchard. It’s a very personal piece in the sense that it focuses heavily on her home city of Portland, Maine. But while some of the names and circumstances may be specific to that city, I think many of the issues she touches on will resonate with people of color and those who support them as far away as the “other Portland” in Oregon and oh so many communities in between in the United States. By the way, Marena is a community organizer, working to resist and dismantle the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in Maine. She focuses on racial justice and immigration rights.

Here we go.

I love you, Portland. I love you so much that I choose to live here and have committed to raising my precious daughter here. Liberal and progressive white people of Portland, I love you so much that I am willing to expend significant emotional labor to remain in dialogue with you, over and over. I love you so much that I put my Black, queer, femme body in white-only spaces to provide a perspective you can’t imagine. I love you so much that I’m willing to make you uncomfortable and navigate through the consequences that has for me. My love is actively working toward King’s Beloved Community.

Here we go.

I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to learn how white supremacy permeates all things. (Shout out to the Black folks who invested in teaching me outside of the institution of public education). Truth is, America is and always has been a country rooted in white supremacy. Since its genocidal founding, the institutions that make up this country have been built and maintained to keep a Black person down and keep the white man on their neck. There is not a single American system, law, code, etc. that exists outside of Racism. There is not a single region, state, county, or city that exists outside Racism. See where I’m going with this?

There’s this pervasive myth that Portland is a progressive bubble devoid of the racial strife present in other cities. It’s not. Portland stays hella problematic and perpetuates white supremacy in ways you may not recognize. Yet. More on this below.

Chances are your analysis of race has deepened due to your exposure to PoC [people of color] writers and thinkers, like Shay. There is a local lineage of leaders who have taught and mentored us, directly and indirectly. Gerald E. Talbot, Rachel Talbot Ross, Pious Ali, Leonard Cummings, Bob Greene, Keita Whitten, Regina Phillips, Daniel Minter, Rev. Kenneth Lewis, Samuel James, Rene Johnson, Samaa Abdurraqib, and the organizers of Portland Racial Justice Congress are just a few who have influenced me. You also have relied on their labor, perspective, insight, and persistence to gain understanding, whether you are conscious of this or not. It’s in this tradition, and that of my own familial ancestors, that I attempt to pop this myth about the Portland bubble.

Here we go.

Let’s talk about white saviors taking up space, the value of civil disobedience, and grounding anti-racist work in a human rights framework which centers the voices and perspectives of marginalized and frontline communities.

Are you ready?

Local white folks are so concerned with the anger expressed by some Black folks, specifically Black women. I have been prompted to address this so many times that I need to declare publicly, at the onset of this discussion: civility is not the greatest good. Black people are humans. With the full range of human emotions. Black women are humans. With full human rights to life. Black women should be angry. I, personally, am angry as fuck. And I will remain so, as long as my people remain oppressed. White folks, understand that you are also bound by white supremacy and will not be free until I am. Our liberations are interwoven.

The ways white supremacy manifests internationally, nationally, and locally should make us all mad. I am here for normalizing anger and normalizing its expression. I am here for the motivation it can provide to us. I am here for what it can tell us about ourselves and the world around us. And ultimately, I am here for transmuting it into the deepest kind of love. Feel your feelings, Black fam; they are valid and I will never shame you for it or tone-check you.

In the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder and the mobilization of Ferguson, Brittney Cooper wrote this in defense of Black rage: “Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us. They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.”

The trail of Black bodies has led us to this election. Donald Trump is our very own fascist president. Yeah, I’m fucking angry about that. And also terrified for my physical safety and that of my daughter. And also realize that even I, as a Black queer femme, am still less of a target than disabled PoC, trans PoC, Muslim PoC, and LGBTQ+ Muslim PoC.

After checking multiple news sources to confirm his victory, I was immediately triggered by the sense of not being able to protect those I love. I became instantly obsessed with figuring out how best to address the safety concerns of my community and change the system that made the concern a reality to begin with. In dialogue with another organizer, Samaa Abdurraqib, we formed For Us, By Us.

Liberal and progressive white folks in Maine also sprang into action. Suddenly, there was an excess of energy and ideas. Which is great and inspiring and part of the reason why I love Portland. There were meetings, events, and action plans made to protect marginalized communities. But y’all, the spaces were almost exclusively cis hetero white, as was the leadership of these initiatives. As a principle, I need you to understand that nothing about us or for us, should be without us. Liberal and progressive white folk do not have the perspective or lived experience to fully understand the challenges facing communities y’all don’t belong to. So how can y’all set priorities or frameworks? The assumption that you can save us is Peak White Savior mentality. We need to dead that shit; no more white saviors.

Recognize where your learning around race comes from, give credit where it’s due, don’t set up initiatives that compete with PoC initiatives and yet claim to benefit PoC. Don’t take up space and collect coins for initiatives that claim to benefit marginalized communities. Again, nothing about us or for us should be without us.

In these weeks and months directly following the election, I have been SO BUSY. I made it my mission to interrupt predominantly white spaces. I’ve had mixed results. My goal was and is to center the experiences and priorities of marginalized communities in their struggle for full human rights. Another goal was and is what is referred to in the organizing community as “the slow build.” The slow build acknowledges that white folks have more access to the financial and social capital required to begin a project as quickly as possible and that members of marginalized communities largely don’t have that access.

The idea of a slow build says slow down. It says don’t just do outreach to token and visible Black folks, LGBTQ+ folks, etc., in order that they may join and support your project. Rather, show up for us, in the spaces we curate, and figure out how to support us. Build mutually beneficial relationships, not exploitative ones. Figure out how to leverage your resources and connections, so that you may further initiatives led by members of marginalized communities. That is the work of an accomplice.

So here we are.

We’re about a month into the fascist presidency. Locally, we’ve seen our “moderate” Republican Sen. Susan Collins kiss the ring in a multitude of ways, KKK flyers manifesting in your suburban neighborhoods, hate crimes against PoC youth, a bomb threat against a Jewish preschool, the Portland Police Department chief holding a press conference in which he elevates rallies and condemns civil disobedience, and recruitment at the University of Southern Maine (USM) by a group listed on Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate map. Insert spinning Mr. Crab meme. Do you still think Portland is a bubble? I need to know where y’all white saviors at right now on this.

Last I checked some of y’all were still asking whether racism is a problem in Maine…where exactly the line is between cultural appropriation and appreciation…and characterizing the occupation of a commercial center as violence. When I think about where the needle is on these conversations, when I observe how basic civic engagement in participatory democracy is labeled as resistance, when I see the commodification of movement moments…my anxiety sets in. I wonder if you are prepared to address what’s happening. I wondered if you are prepared to stand with those of us who are most affected by this regime’s policies. My fear is that you are not.

Showing up in Meaningful Ways:

I see Rep. Larry Lockman’s speaking engagement at USM as a test. Read about his background here. I’ve heard your arguments about freedom of speech and the slippery slope toward absolute censorship for us all. I’ve heard your warnings that he’s down here solely to get a rise out of leftists and repeat what happened at UC Berkeley. And honestly, y’all got me fucked up with all that and I call bullshit. Lockman’s down here to spread his anti-immigrant message. Successful recruitment will have real impacts for our neighbors. Worry about THAT slippery slope. Y’all keep talking about the need to make inroads into rural Maine while the hateful and violent are out here making their own inroads into our community. Hate speech incites violence and USM shouldn’t be used for recruitment in this way. It’s already a dangerous environment for PoC and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Go ahead ask me about that, I got stories and receipts for days.

Let me connect a couple dots for you. Remember the Islamophobic graffiti that appeared in USM’s student senate office late last year? One of the senators forced to resign due to his efforts to cover up the incident is listed as the primary contact for this newly formed student group, Young Americans for Freedom. And one of their first acts is to invite down this motherfucker Lockman. In a public Facebook post, a student senator revealed that the event is privately funded. Further, this group is paying for their own security for the event. Where’s this money coming from? Y’all wanna talk about freedom of speech, tho.

In a recent Maine Beacon piece, Teddy Burrage asks, “To what extent should we allow freedom of speech to become an incubator for violence, particularly with the genocidal undertones within the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ movement? At what point are we responsible for snuffing out the embers of hate despite our commitment to freedom? Our answers to these questions may determine whether or not we repeat history.”

Let’s talk about history for a quick minute. White supremacists have been using the “freedom of speech” argument to spread hate and recruit for their cause for over 100 years. When “Birth of a Nation,” a horrid film which glorified the KKK and set a new bar for racist imagery, first debuted it was widely protested. The brand new NAACP worked tirelessly to prevent showings. This prompted the director of the film, D.W. Griffith, to pen “The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America.” Let me emphasize this: the very argument that hate speech is free speech was popularized by the white supremacist filmmaker credited with the spread of the KKK in America 100 years ago and y’all out here repeating it.

Further, did you catch that Portland Press Herald article about how the resurgence of the KKK spread throughout Southern Maine and resulted in significant influence over Portland’s City Hall? It started with speaking engagements. We cannot afford to sleep on this. We cannot afford to normalize this. We cannot afford to appease this. As a queer, Black femme, daughter of an immigrant, the stakes feel very high for me.

This needs to be, first and foremost, about standing with those most affected by the threat Lockman’s views represent to our lives and our human rights. We need to stand with women, PoC, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ folks. Portland Racial Justice Congress, #USMfutures, and other student groups are calling for a nonviolent protest of the event. We should follow their leadership. They are centering the most affected voices and we should stand with them. You should stand with us.

Portland, I love you and I’mma need you to get your shit all the way together and fast. I need all of you to fiercely defend the rights of affected communities to protest if and when they so choose. If you can fix your mouth to defend the free speech of someone like Lockman, I better see you at the protest too. If you are able, don’t leave the marginalized to stand alone, surrounded by police. I’m going to need you to understand the value in civil disobedience and show up for it in a way that makes the most sense for your body. That’s what this moment requires. That’s how you leverage your privilege. That’s how you resist.

You are not powerless.

We are powerful. All power to the people.


Six resources for going deeper:

Reframing Faculty Criticisms of Student Activism

White Progressives: It’s time to be transformers, not just have opinions

PBS Independent Lens Documentary: The Birth of a Movement

A Public Menace: How the Fight to Ban the Birth of a Nation Shaped the Nascent Civil Rights Movement

Some Garbage I Used to Believe About Equality

The Trump Era will Test us. What are you willing to risk?
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.

Why is your Colin making you Uncomfortable

Today’s post is written by a very special contributor, L. David Stewart, MBA, MSRE, a Black man who also happens to be my brother. As a Black man, he has words that I believe need to be heard. 

Race is for me is never as simply as the proverbial “black and white.” Folks I know on both sides HATE talking about it… so its Friday l want to make some folks uncomfortable and think.

As a Black MAN in this country (Black WOMEN have a separate sect of things to deal with, including from some of us as Black men, but that’s for another discussion…and I point you to PLENTY of women who are experts on my Friend’s list, including my Blood sister, for more about that) my very EXISTENCE makes people uncomfortable. Why? Because if I am the stereotypical assumed [insert, thug, drug dealer, extremist, etc.], that scares people for presumed safety reasons. And maybe they should be scared, but for other reasons, as I may be more dangerous to their comfort zone in other ways. I am educated (two master’s degrees and working on a doctorate), well-traveled, and all these other things that by society standards, say “well you made it so you have nothing to complain about.” Au contraire!

Some of my own accomplishments I don’t share because, to be honest, folks don’t believe me.  My dad, a Southern born and raised Black man, told me in my 20s: “Son, with the things you have done, if you were not Black, you’d be on Time magazine and fast-tracked for infinite growth!” I hated hearing that, but it was true. I have known racism first-hand since I moved to the North Side of Chicago. I played baseball for 12 years and was scouted actually by a MLB team. One year, I was denied the best pitching award, because well…you can figure it out. You may say “Well, maybe you weren’t the best.” Except the numbers said I was. But the golden boy of the league had to win it. Press ops and the like. Did it motivate me to defeat him in the championship game? Damn skippy! That’s when I thought, JUST BE BETTER!

If you are Black in this country, you have most likely heard “You have to be TWICE as good to be where THEY are.” I took it further; I feel you have to be TWICE as good to be half as far, so to be even you have to be four times as good, and to be TWICE as good you have to be eight times as good! What am I basing that on? I worked in architecture from 1996-2009. My undergraduate degree is in architecture. My initial dream was becoming an architect. I tasted racism in high school when I was told I could NOT be an architect. (I was the only Black youth in the room). I tasted it working in firms, when I was not exposed to the same things other interns were in the form of opportunity.  In undergrad at a prominent university where I graduated, it was obvious, but systemically obvious. Was I called a N*GGER to my face? Only once and well, thankfully, I had some restraint. However, any time race was discussed I was told indirectly to not make it racial. I remember vividly my freshman year, discussing race, and these twin male students, who were White, and blessed to live and come from good money, told all of us that were not White: “You have no excuse! You are hiding behind race and need to get over it; you are here, what is the issue?” One continued to opine on the socioeconomic plight of the South Side of Chicago (where I am from) and how it’s “THOSE PEOPLES” fault. Now I professionally rebuked him and invalidated all of his claims, but it reminded me that Black men only comfortably exist when it’s comfortable to be in an accepted space. If it’s music (certain types), if it’s entertainment (certain types), and if it’s negative (all types), it is comfortable for the general society.  Cultural pride or social awareness makes non-People of Color NERVOUS PERIOD!

As I got older I went from the overly militant, to moderate to trying to take race out of it.  DIDN’T WORK!  I’d lead discussions with my education to make people feel better. I would HIDE the fact that I am a hip-hop artist (, artist name NIZM) because I would be stereotyped. Other co-workers can talk about the cool things they do, and when they do perceived “Black things” like rap or are into hip-hop it’s cool.  When I as a Black person say I am in to Modernist architecture I get told I am “acting White.” All of this subconsciously builds and you learn to either numb yourself or face it. I learned to face it.

As an educator, racism welcomed me with her pungent aroma when I became a college professor. I was literally prevented from going into a faculty office because of my attire. (P.S. it was at an art and design school and almost everyone at an art and design school looks like a student, lol).  From there I was forced to revisit this. If I was a non-POC with ripped jeans and Birkenstocks and a t-shirt, and said I was a PhD student, there would be NO QUESTIONS ASKED! Might be a weed head but you know “kids these days” (insert Ryan Lochte HERE lol). Meanwhile if I got some fly gym shoes, a fitted hat, a t-shirt and jeans (that don’t sag), I am thug. I was motivated to dig into this with my first exhibit called “Hear We Are” ( showing 10 Black male educators.  These men are well-educated but if you saw them on the street, it would be negatively inferred the worse. WHY?

So all that said, Colin Kaepernick! His stance, (or non-stance, lol) hits because when he was just being a quarterback (which is a LOADED position for Black males in NFL history in itself), he was adored. Now he has a position OUT OF HIS COMFY SPACE and folks are burning his jersey. The counter is that he is rich and he was raised by White parents so he has no basis to show his “contempt.” As I paraphrase James Baldwin, to be Black in this country is to be in a “state of continuous rage.” When you are an athlete and winning, it’s cool!  Living in the South now, I chuckle at how folks I KNOW don’t like Black people ROOT on their favorite college or professional Black athlete in sports. When that athlete becomes aware of cultural matters particular to him or her, they are immediately vilified. Why? To better illustrate this, if a non-POC athlete addresses something like domestic violence (which is no laughing matter) or their own country’s wrongs it is saluted. However, history has shown time and time again, that when Black athletes do it, and in this case Black males, it’s reminiscent of a “N*gger forgetting his place”

Now I can opine on this for MUCH longer, but I will transition to a potential solution. What are we asking for? Respect! “Put some Respeck on it!” Also, don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable about Black people and the history and things we went through and still go through. Privilege allows for you to NOT understand. This is no different than what women of color go through. I do not nor will I experience the world as a woman. However, that does not excuse me from being sympathetic, empathetic and aware. Issues like rape and domestic violence I give the same zeal for as I do Black male issues. Also overcome your stereotypes and bias. Black people in America alone have a diversity that is unrivaled. If for nothing else, we have merged with many cultures in different geographies, and systemic issues have forced creativity that, to be frank, is envied and emulated the world over (exhibit a, hip-hop fashion; exhibit b music; etc.) Lastly, as you accept your “un-comfort,” don’t patronize or antagonize. Admit it scares you and help those that want to help themselves and step BACK! If invited to the discussion then you give feedback and in an assisting capacity. Racism is as much of this country as is the flag. It will NEVER dissipate; however, real conversations can go a LONG way toward UNDERSTANDING each other and why we are the way we are. And if Colin NOT standing for the Flag which has HISTORICALLY oppressed Black people (not theory; facts) bothers you, be man or woman enough to confront yourself and ask WHY it bothers you. If you do, you will understand why Colin, and many more of us, continue to remain hesitant about a lot of other things from expression to existence that you dare not consider.

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.

What happened Wednesday night at Cumberland and Washington?

For eight years, I have managed Black Girl in Maine the blog and related social media as a labor of love and as a one-woman operation (aside from the very rare and sporadic guest post) but in recent months it’s become clear that this site and the related social media has grown larger than my original vision. Thanks to a dedicated readership and those who have gone one step farther to become patrons, I am now able to add a contributor to the site. Today’s post is written by Marena Blachard. Marena is a dynamic “Black girl in Maine” herself who is also a mother, model, creative force and early childhood educator. 
By the time I got there, almost no one remained at the scene. A man was sweeping broken glass in a restaurant doorway. Two men were smoking by a car at the gas station. A small group of people sat on a stoop. I paced.

A Facebook post from a friend brought me out into the humid night air in this part of Portland, Maine, close to midnight.

“Something’s happening at Cumberland and Washington…” it read.

I met Susanna Rajala, who was standing on Cumberland Avenue, looking down on Washington. A police car was parked in a lot to her left, facing Northeast, headlights on. It was slightly foggy, humid, and surprisingly quiet.

Her eyes were alert.  

“What happened?” I asked, out of breath from my cross-town jog. I’d questioned some of the people around, but Susanna was the only one with an answer.

Below is my brief interview with her from the following day. In it, she describes an emotional scene and talks about police conduct.  

The events of the night of Wednesday, August 10, are unclear. I expect that there is an ongoing investigation but I have so many questions. Where does one go for answers? It’s not been reported in any media, as far as I can tell. In working through my feelings of confusion and concern for members of my community, in this national political climate that feels dangerous for people with black and brown bodies, I am led to ask the seemingly age-old question: who is policing the police?  

There aren’t any national standards for powers and features of civilian oversight of law enforcement. But, there are organizations working toward that end. A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice was recently published by a group of over 60 organizations affiliated with Black Lives Matter. The publication is thorough, detailing both problems and policy solutions on local and national levels. The document demands “direct democratic community control of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, ensuring that communities most harmed by destructive policing have the power to hire and fire officers, determine disciplinary action, control budgets and policies, and subpoena relevant agency information.”

What does our local community oversight look like? Earlier Wednesday evening, I’d gone to the police station on Middle St. to attend a meeting of the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee (PCRS). I was a few minutes late but when I arrived, there were 17 people in the lobby. We were dismayed to find out a few moments later that the meeting had been cancelled without any notice.

In recent interviews including this one, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck has cited the PCRS as an example of the Portland Police Department attempting transparency. I’d never been to one of their meetings before and was really curious about its purpose and function.  

While at the police station, I met a local woman who was even more curious. She described how she’d attempted to find information online about the subcommittee. She’d emailed city councilors, searched for meeting minutes, tried to locate the required annual report, and couldn’t find much information beyond the basic offerings of this site.  

Later, I was able to find an interview with Kelly McDonald, Portland lawyer and PCRS chair, in which he stated, “We do not have a lot of power as a subcommittee.”

From what I could tell, this subcommittee is tasked with reviewing the process involved with each investigation into a complaint, but not the outcome, and reporting to the city manager. Since Sauschuck became chief, McDonald said they haven’t had any misgivings about a single internal affairs investigation. Sauschuck’s tenure began in January 2012.

I wish I could give you an informed analysis of what that means, but I’m not an expert in this area. And, I guess that’s why I’m writing this post. The past few days have been a blur of trying to get information and as an average citizen, I don’t feel well-equipped to launch my own personal investigation. My reliance on institutions, like the media, for information about that night reveal that there is opportunity for events like this to go entirely unnoticed. Unreported.

I’m concerned that there are eyewitnesses in my community recalling unimaginable police behavior and the entire incident seems invisible. What would it take for it to become visible? An official complaint? Has anyone filed one? Is there even a point in doing so? If you feel an injustice has been done to you, you have to report it to the police… and then the police decide whether or not there was any wrongdoing. If you’re a person who feels wronged, how can you be expected to trust completely in the system that wronged you? Especially if you have any past trauma involving the authorities, experienced on American soil or abroad.

Here in Portland, we were recently visited by Trump. He used the opportunity to cast suspicion on the local Somali community and immigrants in general. His message resonates with and emboldens bigots. Anecdotally, there seems to be an increase in the frequency of personal stories of black and brown people being harassed locally. This is an atmosphere of fear and traumatic stress. So many in Black Portland and Black America are in the depths of a crisis. Living while black in 2016 feels like at any moment you or a loved one can become a hashtag.

In the aftermath of the July 15 Portland Racial Justice Congress’ protest, there were folk questioning the need for disruptive protest in town. As if “The Forest City” were an exceptional enclave of racial harmony. Or as if the fact that black people are only 7 percent of the population meant that the national movement for black and brown lives is somehow irrelevant here. Or as if access to the police chief or other officials for meetings and conversations was the highest attainable goal in the fight for equality.

“This is Portland,” these folk said.

The erasure of local racial experiences directly mirrors the national issue of white silence. The intersection of Cumberland and Washington may be physically located in Portland, Maine, but it is really Anytown, USA.

On Friday, in Portland, a  young Muslim woman was verbally assaulted in a library. A white man called her a “nigger bitch” and told her to go back to her country. Her story made it into the paper because it was spread on social media and the University of Southern Maine issued a statement. The majority of the newspaper article is dedicated to the administration’s response. What was missing was any mention of how the USM police navigated the situation. What steps did the police take to address the issue in the moment? Why was the young woman compelled to post on social media? Ignoring crucial facts is one example of the erasure I mention above. Only telling part of the story is white silence or worse. Our reliance on the media for this information and it’s inadequacy is institutional racism. Yes, in Maine. (Also, as a side note to the Portland Press Herald: she posted about it on Facebook, not Twitter. Smh.)

This young woman’s courage in speaking out wasn’t without consequences. Almost immediately, she was a victim of online harassment over the incident. That was also missing from the newspaper article. Shay has written extensively in this space about the consequences of speaking out about experiences of racism. Online harassment and death threats are not uncommon for our local black leaders. Is it any wonder that victims are afraid to come forward with their stories? They face a press that can choose to ignore key details, a largely ill-informed public, and a powerless citizen oversight subcommittee. What recourse can they dare hope for?

Portland Racial Justice Congress made demands for more accountability when they shut down a segment of Commercial St. during high tourist season. Traffic patterns were upset. People were enraged. Disruptive protest is a known tactic to gain visibility for civil rights issues. I wonder how many events like Wednesday night’s remain invisible? Unnoticed and unreported. No complaints filed.
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.