We are the change and now is the time! Use your voice

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”- Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Our nation’s relationship with the truth is often tenuous at best. We are a nation that has always espoused values and visions that, frankly, have never squared with reality. After all, we were seeking to create a perfect union while settling in on stolen land and using the labor of enslaved people.

As a nation, we have never fully and publicly acknowledged the irreparable harm done to innumerable displaced and massacred native people and to the enslaved Africans whose bodies, labor and land were the ultimate sacrifice in creating this so called perfect union.

Instead, as the sun settled on this new nation and allowed for growth beyond belief, we sold our brand of righteousness around the world and people gobbled it up. America as a beacon of hope and new starts, a place to be free. And yet, the lies on which this nation was built lay beneath the surface. As a descendant of enslaved Africans, I have always been critical of this nation and the message of hope which we marketed to the world and of the lies which we have fed to our own people—so heavily and so consistently for so long that far too many of our own people are ignorant of our own roots.

To be clear, America has never given a damn about non-white people and has long been cruel to those who are not white and who lack the ability to one day be considered white (like Irish or Italian immigrants generations ago, for example). The hopes and dreams that fuel America require the American-made creation of whiteness. Whiteness is the key in America and unless we are willing to face that uncomfortable truth, we are trapped in a circle that we destined to stay in forever.

In this moment, millions of Americans are horrified at the scene that has unfolded in recent weeks. As the Trump administration looks to crack down on what it calls rampant illegal migration, it has instituted a “zero tolerance” policy where migrants and their kids who now  arrive at our borders are separated, the adults face deportation and their kids are taken away and we now know are being housed in conditions that no one should face. Abandoned Walmarts now house kids who, after enduring what the average white American could not fathom just to make it to the land of dreams, are being warehoused in a strange new land away from their parents. In a six-week period, the U.S. government separated almost 2,000 kids from their parents.

The reports are heartbreaking and rage-inducing given that this policy belongs to the Trump Administration and yet Trump won’t own it; instead, it looks like these kids are being turned into a political tool for the man child/POTUS to get his way (aka, the border wall he campaigned on).

While some of our politicians are speaking out against these atrocities, most are mum, because at the end of the day, it’s just politics and too many of the white men and women who we elected don’t give a damn about these families.

Social media is filled with heartbreaking stories and inside the silo of social media, many are repeating the tired words “This is not the America, that I know.” Well, it is the America you know because if you can utter those words, it means you don’t know the real America. A country that from the late 1800s to the 1970s forcibly took Native American kids away from their families and sent them to government-run or church-run boarding schools also known as “Indian Schools” where the goal was to strip these kids of their identity and instead force them to assimilate into the dominant culture and abandon all aspects of their family culture. In other words, wear a mask of whiteness that was forced on their faces.

During slavery, enslaved Africans were constantly under threat of having their loved ones sold off, and with the fugitive slave laws the state was complicit in ripping apart Black families. While the technology has made it a lot easier, one of the reasons it’s hard for Black Americans to trace our lineage is because of how our families were constructed, ripped apart and reconstructed often at the whims of white people.

Let us not forget that during World War II, President Roosevelt, by executive order, declared that people of Japanese descent would be interred in isolated camps. From 1942 to 1945, this country imprisoned Americans on our own soil simply because of their heritage.

Again, I say that as we watch this current humanitarian crisis unfold, this is us. This is our nasty truth. This is how we have always treated non-white people. America is that aging beauty whose beauty we now know was artificially enhanced, the beauty we thought existed was more a figment of our imaginations and desires rather than our reality.

If we are to move beyond this moment, now is the time to become really clear on just who we really are. And commit to who we actually want to be.

It is time to understand that racism and bigotry are the foundational building blocks of our nation and once we own that ugly truth, we can work to change the narrative moving forward. But nothing changes beneath the surface without that honest acknowledgement. It means making sure that our people are not ignorant of our history so that we can stop repeating the mistakes of the past. In this moment, we must not allow ourselves to become desensitized or overwhelmed because frankly that is what the Trump folks are counting on. Trump is a chaos master and it is tiring but now more than ever we must have the courage to use our voices and our talents to say “No more!” How many times must we go down this path of state sanctioned dehumanization?

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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang from Unsplash

If you are a witness to injustice, will you intervene?

Preparing to write this piece, I started with the suggestion that I address current events, such as the wrongful arrest of two men in a Starbucks for the crime of sitting in a Starbucks. Of course, identifying an event for discussion where people of color are treated like garbage in public doesn’t require digging. Here’s an example, here’s another example, and here’s another one. So many of us want to end this violence; so many want to make a difference. What can we do?

That people of color have been treated as second-class citizens, as criminals, and as less than human has been true since Europeans took over the land where the United States exists today. People of color know the truth; they live it every day. White people facing the truth comes in waves. We all know something about the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. We know about Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus (not all of us know about Claudette Colvin, now only 78 years old, who took action before Rosa Parks). But even in this age of phones recording video and social media sharing the stories, many people consider each of the stories of violence against people of color as isolated incidents. They aren’t. They are a part of a system of oppression many call “whiteness.”

So, the first step for many of us in changing our system of racism is to recognize it is a system. It isn’t just some bad apples. It isn’t isolated incidents with incident-specific explanations. The mistreatment of people of color—and all people who don’t fit whiteness’ defined default—is, as they say, not a “bug” in the design. It’s a feature. It is part of what makes our systems work. It helps to recognize each of these incidents as parts of a larger system when we consider what we might do to work for change.

We want to believe if we saw Rosa Parks (or Claudette Colvin) being told to move to the back of the bus we would’ve stood up and told the racists to leave her alone. But, moving from being a bystander to someone who intervenes when you are a witness to injustice requires preparation. It requires education and practice.

Understanding and correcting our own implicit biases honestly and deeply is an essential step in being of service if you are a witness to injustice. If at any level of your being you think “they must’ve done something wrong if they are being treated badly” because of how someone presents themselves, you will be less likely to get involved. How do you understand and rid yourself of implicit bias? There are many, many resources available online (some to connect you to offline resources). Here are a few: 4 Things We Can Do to Minimize Implicit Bias; Four Tools for Interrupting Implicit Bias; or, How to Fight Your Own Implicit Biases.

Learn about the “bystander effect.” Know that being in a larger group of people will make it less comfortable to get involved if you are a witness. There are tools online and in your community to learn how to overcome this and other obstacles. Googling “bystander intervention” is a good start. Hollaback! offers webinars and their website has excellent, practical resources.

Talking to my friends from marginalized backgrounds confirms what I’ve learned online: one of the most important steps to actively and visibly take a stand against harassment or mistreatment of others in public settings is to make contact with the person who is the target. Follow their lead. Do they want your involvement? Perhaps your involvement might make things worse for them. But making contact, human to human, can make a difference.

Find opportunities to practice intervening. Again, Google and other search engines are our friends. Local nonprofit organizations certainly offer trainings that can help. It’s been my experience that until we risk saying something stupid and actually say something, we will remain silent—and ineffectual. We can’t let our fear of making mistakes prevent us from trying to affect change in ourselves or the wider world. We will make mistakes. But if you see someone being treated badly, don’t be the person who tries to ignore it. If you do not let the person being mistreated know you are on their side, you will be on the side of the perpetrator.

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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Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

I’ll see you nice white ladies at the next Black Lives Matters protest, right?

I can’t believe that it has been a year since that man took office in this country (this author refuses to acknowledge his name and is saddened by the fact that a staggering 52% of white women voted for him and are proud to call him their president). And it has also been a year since the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, with congruent sister marches all over the world.

While the “success” of the march can be found in the non-violent way mostly (white) women and men marched, there was backlash. But how? How can women and men peacefully marching be a problem? And why would others have issue with it?

And why has there always been so much more backlash at Black people and other people of color marching or launching non-violent protests that filled streets or malls or the like?

I’ll bluntly tell you why: People felt safer because it was mainly white women marching.

As much intersectionality as the founders and organizers of the Women’s March on Washington—Bob Bland and Teresa Shook—touted, it was only after backlash that additional organizers, Tamika D. Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez, were added to round out the diversity. There was even more resentment, when the panel opened up to include others and basically asked white women to acknowledge their privilege. White women felt that they were being attacked and some even decided to not participate.

All of the above, initial ignorance to the need for more diverse representation in the organization of the March, as well as white women’s inability to acknowledge privilege in relation to this movement, resulted in women of color feeling slighted, as they should. (Another interesting fact is that the title of this march was originally going to be the Million Women March, erroneously taken from a similar march on Philadelphia in 1997, the Million Women March, which was organized by and marched for by African-American women celebrating their heritage. It was then changed.)

Then there is the public’s response to Black Lives Matter. BLM was formed by three women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer. This group was created to try to vanquish systematic racism that has been prevalent in our world. So I ask: Why was this organization the target of so much hate from the start? BLM has been criticized as being anti-police, Rudy Giuliani has called the group “inherently racist,” and white people began to make silly sayings, such as “All lives matter” or “Blue lives matter.” referring to people in law enforcement. Umm, hi. Your lives have mattered for a very long time, it’s time to put aside your white-ass privilege and focus on lives that society has been systematically eradicating.

So how do these two groups get labeled differently? How is the Black Lives Matter movement “violent and against police” and the Women’s March on Washington a peaceful and hopeful sign? I think I know the answer, but I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

One is easy. One makes white people feel good about themselves and who they think they are and have always been. Joining friends on Saturday after brunch out with that new pink hat just crafted, posting about the movement on Facebook (challenging the external world and not the internal one). It also involves white people following and surrounding themselves with people who look like them in an almost social setting.

The other is hard and challenges who white people think they are; it shakes the core, and it doesn’t feel comfortable for them. It highlights unconscious bias and privilege. It involves white people following and rallying behind people who are different and have different life experiences than their own. But shouldn’t activism and real change feel uncomfortable and shake us to our core?

It’s almost as if being an activist has become just as trendy as a pumpkin spice latte. Rosie Campos, a writer for Medium, writes eloquently about trendy activism:

Our social activism is only stirred when it’s convenient for us. We love our lazy activism. We love our safety pins. We sit in the comfort of our homes and shake our heads in disgust as police brutalize and kill Black people. Good intentions. We post a few memes and our regrets on Facebook and call it a day. We leave it to Black people to fight their own battles.

I remember a few years back, when I was in art school (here I go again beating that poor horse), I was beginning to find all of these feminists of color, ones that looked like me and had similar upbringings. I was so incredibly excited to find women I could trust and rely on. However, as I started making work concerning these experiences—specifically centered on Latinx situations—it didn’t line up with the Eurocentric view held by my white instructors and some peers. So, long story short, it was misinterpreted, talked over, and disregarded as wrong.

The idea I presented in my work confused and probably upset some of my white peers and colleagues. They did not understand that having the privilege of being a WHITE person entered subconsciously into their brains and told them that I was wrong. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had found my sisters In arms and then they were stolen from me.

What’s at the core here is the leaders and followers of the Women’s March on Washington couldn’t see past their privilege in a way to be inclusive to all women. To welcome and hear all of the stories, they needed to take a back seat to let someone ELSE speak. And they needed to listen humbly to that new experience, different from their own. I bring this up on the week after his first year in office, a week after the women’s marches, to show that not only has not much changed…but under his shaky hand, much has gotten worse.

Practicing intersectionality is essential to our well-being as a society from here forward. We must be inclusive to all: Black, Brown, LGBTQIA, Disabled. All of our voices need to be culled up against the tyranny they face each day. We need to be better to each other.

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 Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash