Little Black girl: A Halloween costume and a white woman’s threat

Today’s post is written by a guest writer, Dontavis Hines and you can read about him in his own words. 

My name is Dontavis Hines. I typically go by “Dante” and recently started using the name, “Dante Speaks” to raise the volume of my voice surrounding racial issues I face as a black man in Maine. I’m a man of many talents including dancing, singing, story-telling and nurturing others; you can always ask more about my personal life.
I moved to Maine in 2011 to be a missionary in the campus ministry, associated with my church. Although I had only planned on staying in Maine for one year, God has his ways of twisting up one’s journey here on earth. I’m still here in one of the whitest states, seven years later. During my time here thus far, I realized that I was different and that I needed to start talking about those disparities more. I currently am aiming to become a Nurse Practitioner of Psychiatry and one day hope to reach out to many who suffer (some unknowingly) from mental disorders. I’m a nursing student by day and night and an activist whenever the opportunity presents itself.

​I’m going to keep this real simple and discrete. Over the past few years of living in Maine, I’ve had to deal with a lot of white people’s ignorance. In this particular case, a white woman decided that she was going to casually joke about little Black girls and how her white mother perceived our beautiful princesses.

I believe God put me in the right place at the right time. Why else was I there to witness such racist remark? As I stood near this white woman, she proceeded to make her “joke” about how her mother would threaten to dress her up as a little black girl for Halloween. For some reason, she decided to tell this story of hers, in my presence. I’m a Black man with a little Black sister and little Black girl cousins. It was almost as if she was trying to provoke me in which she succeeded at to some degree. Did she really think I wasn’t going to say anything and just let her be a “Passive Patty?” You know? White women who attempt to be slick at the mouth with racial microaggressions and think that a Black person like me is just going to be accepting of it? Yeah, I don’t tolerate those kind of white women.

As she continued telling her little “joke”, she went on about her mother’s threat. “My mom used to threaten to dress me up as a little black girl, to paint my face black and to put brillo-pads in my hair if I didn’t behave,” she announced as everyone else around us laughed out loud. I immediately thought to myself, Is she really doing this right now? Is she trying to get my attention?

I knew I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to be deemed the “angry Black man” so I turned around calmly and said, “You cannot dress up as a Black person for Halloween.” Her and her other white peers, and one other brown lady, ceased at laughing and went back to minding their business. I was so annoyed, upset and hurt all at once.

I later made a complaint about her racial remarks and of course, we all know how that turned out. Nothing happened other than an apology; this was not how I hoped for the situation to turn out but when you’re a Black man in America, trying to stand up to a white person, we typically don’t stand a chance. I honestly didn’t even know what brillo-pads were until I googled them. I was humiliated. I couldn’t believe that she grew up in a home where her mother taught her to compare Black hair to brillo pads; a scrubbing tool used for washing dirty dishes. Who knows what else she was taught by her white parents?

Racism is often taught to white children in their homes, even when it’s subtle or seemingly innocent. As usual, white folks “mean no harm” but they never fail at causing it nonetheless.

Dear white people: As we approach Halloween, please don’t attempt to dress up as Black person. Please don’t paint your face black to try to be any Black person. Please don’t threaten to dress your white children up as Black people, as if we’re some scary costume or a sort of punishment.


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Calling All White People, Part 28: Halfway isn’t the way to justice and equity

Calling All White People, Part 28

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: We always give white racist patriarchs room to maneuver  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

I have a wooden chair in my house with a loose leg that I repaired using probably half a roll of basic silver duct tape—yes, it’s secure and usable again and it was a quick and easy fix, but it’s ugly and hardly presents a welcoming seat for visitors. I have more than one room where I mostly painted the walls and then failed to finish off the details. I have ceiling damage in one room that I couldn’t afford to repair, so now a floral-patterned fabric hangs in a billowy manner in that window space like some sort of valance-like treatment to hide the damage.

I could call all of those measures and many more in my home, on my property and in my life half-assed. But that wouldn’t be fair. They did the job more than halfway.

Still, they kind of suck.

And you know what sucks more? What we do with any kind of social progress in the United States. Because rarely do we do the job in even a half-assed way. Quarter-assed would be too much credit. Too often, we start the work or get some momentum going, and then just walk away and assume that what we did will hold—worse, we assume that it will somehow flourish and grow without any effort on our parts.

And when you continue to see the word “we” as this piece continues—and you will, many more times—I mean “We the white people.”

So, we decide slavery is bad and we abolish it. Then we keep our eyes on the former slaveholders for a few years and walk away. And then here comes the Jim Crow era and laws that held Black people down every bit as firmly as slaver-drivers with whips. Oh, and we never did confront the rampant racism in the North that pushed Black people to the margins, either. By the way, we also didn’t get rid of slavery—we just said you could only be enslaved as punishment for a crime (so it should be no wonder why white people are 64% of the U.S. population yet only 39% of the prison population).

Oh, look, now we have the Civil Rights Era. Voting Rights Act. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This time we’ve finally arrived. We’ve reset the game. …No, we didn’t. Yes, gains were made and some wrongs were righted and some programs came into being that gave Black people some help, but no one addressed the core problem that almost every American institution was controlled by white people and incentivized to continue putting white people in first, second and third place. Honorable mentions only for the people of color, especially the Black and Native American/Indigenous ones. And then when the 1980s rolled around shortly thereafter, we turned away our eyes as the crack cocaine epidemic became not a clarion call to provide counseling, medical care and economic reform but instead an excuse to incarcerate even more Black people simply for having addictions that we helped create to begin with.

Women got some control over their own bodies with Roe vs. Wade and then we acted like it could never be reversed, and plodded along, most of us (women included)  tucking our heads down and looking at our feet as state after state found ever-more-creative ways of limiting access to abortions. And then we ended up with the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief Donald Trump who has now tilted the Supreme Court to a very, very right-wing slant and installed Brett Kavanaugh with a very obvious mission to help bring down women’s rights even more (there are other agendas, too, but that’s the first I think). Oh, and by the way, we the white people put Trump in office. Even if we didn’t vote for him (and a lot of us did, including 53% of white women voters in full support of white patriarchy and white supremacy), most of us propelled Trump to office by assuming he couldn’t win, treating him like entertainment (or a joke) or voting for third party candidates instead of Hillary Clinton (or refusing to vote at all because Bernie Sanders didn’t get the Democratic nod).

We elected a Black president in Barack Obama and gave him two terms and declared ourselves a “post-racial” nation, ignoring how white supremacist violence increased and also being unwilling to name Republican resistance to his policies and practices as the blatant racism that it was. And we got the Tea Party and a move so far to the right in the Republican party that even Ronald Reagan might have been appalled. And then we assumed (wrongly, in case you haven’t noticed yet) that the far-rightward shift would be the death of the GOP—instead, they are going strong and sending decades of progress in this country (such as it was) backwards at a breakneck pace.

I could go on, but I already have, and I think it’s enough.

We start the work, but we don’t finish it.

We give marginalized groups a little something extra, but never enough.

We say we want to create a balanced and fair world, but we aren’t willing to give anything up ourselves.

We point to how evil the oppressors are, but we don’t actually resist them. Instead, we take the “high road” and give them platforms to spread their hateful thoughts, under the guise of “listening to all views.” We see them coming with guns blazing and doing all kinds of shady shit, and we bring along butter knives and boxing gloves to the fight.

We white people who often think ourselves so progressive and fair and open minded too often give white male patriarchs (as do a quite sizable population of white women who don’t want to lose what privilege and power they can get by proximity to them) all the room in the world to maneuver, scheme and undo whatever gains are made to advance racial equity, religious freedom, worker’s rights, women’s rights and more.

There is no halfway in the fight against injustice. There is no end. Can we (reminder: we white people) for God’s sake stop half-assing social change, trying to have our cake and eat it too and assuming that the death of all the old people will end their legacies of hate? Their children and yes, even we “progressives,” all carry that same corruption. As with cancer, you’re never truly “cancer free.” There is always the chance (even the likelihood) tumors will return one day—particularly when we stop paying attention or put on those rose-colored glasses and gorge ourselves on optimistic bullshit.

We need to stop thinking that the current state of rising uber-conservatism, fascism, Nazism, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, gun violence and all the rest “isn’t the real America.” It is. And that’s the problem. We keep believing a better America was hidden under a pile of garbage. It isn’t. We have a pile of garbage we need to burn so that we can create an entirely different America. If you want justice and equity to reign, that has to be the goal. Nothing less. No compromise. No halfway.


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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