Any rat can learn a single maze; that doesn’t make the rat a genius

Y’all. We gotta stop calling Stephen Miller a mastermind. Seriously. We’re calling him a mastermind way too much. He’s ain’t no mastermind. He’s and idiot who benefits from a system that is designed to benefit him.

That shit is obvious from the second you even start to think about it. He’s taking peoples’ rights away, but this country doesn’t just give out rights. In fact, it often takes droves of people fighting as hard as they can for as long as they can and sacrificing everything they have including their very lives just in hopes that a generation they’ll never even meet can have the most basic dignity of being recognized as human.

The people who have accomplished that are goddamn masterminds. But guess what. Those rights can be taken away pretty easily. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one because any fucking fool can start a fire.

So, no. Stephen Miller is not a fucking mastermind. He’s an imbecile that can only even exist because this country values its own fragility over its competence. He’s the soft ooze that leaks from a machine built to produce hard ooze.

I think the reason this bothers me so much is that calling Miller a mastermind continues down the path of the destruction of a clear and obvious reality (for now). I mean, if you’re a Nazi or Republican or whatever else you wanna call it, sure, Miller is a mastermind. For you and your standards that’s probably true, but the rest of us should fucking know better.

Like, the president is obviously a hateful, feeble-minded, overly sensitive coward who is somehow incapable of even baring this country’s most basic standard of humanity. Obviously. Or, you know, as his supporters believe, he’s a fair-minded, wise, tough warrior-champion, who is M-ing AGA.

Those people can believe that. I’ve spent my life experiencing worse than that from those people, so I’m fine with it. I expect them to think Miller is a mastermind, but if you’re not on their side, let’s not give this turd the benefit of the shine.

Now, listen. I’ve spoken about this before, but I was homeless for a little while when I was a kid. And I lived in a youth shelter for a minute. I got there right around the same time as this other kid, Billy. We were very similar. We were both gangly nerds who read a lot and couldn’t break the habit of talking too much about shit no one else cared about. In those ways, we were very different than the other boys at the shelter.

The other boys were tougher and more prone to violence. And, of course, because this was in Maine, they were all white. Billy, too.

Guess which one of us got our ass kicked every other day.

Did you guess me?

If you did, you are wrong. Believe it or not, Billy bore the bruises. This was because we had come from very different places. I came from foster homes where I was often the only Black person at school and always the only Black person at home. I had to learn how to stay out of peoples’ way. Not Billy, though. He came from a place where you could provoke anyone as much as you like because you could always yell for the teacher and walk away victorious.

Unfortunately for Billy, the shelter was nowhere near where he was from.

He’d provoke another kid, and run to the counselor. Sometimes he’d make it. Sometimes he didn’t, but even when he did, the counselors had to turn their backs sometime and vengeance is patient. Billy couldn’t square the environment that created him with the environment he was in, so the environment squared him. Over and over.

I left the shelter before Billy, so I don’t know if he ever learned. I like to think that he did. I like to think that he’s doing well in the world and no one ever says of him, “That guy should’ve gotten his ass kicked more as a kid.”

Now, look: Am I saying that Stephen Miller needs his ass kicked? Not in public, I’m not.

What I am saying is that he’s the product of his environment. We have systems that are made to create Millers and because the Millers are created by those systems, the Millers know how to use the systems.

A rat raised in a maze will know how to run that maze, but only that particular maze. In the end, a rat is gonna be a rat. He’s gonna run. He’s gonna spread disease. A rat can’t change what it is and neither can we.

But we can change the maze.


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Downward spiral into hate: A year after Charlottesville, a few thoughts

It’s been a year since last year’s deadly Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., which took the life of Heather Heyer, a white anti-racist activist. It was an event that shredded any last hope that America was post-racial, especially when the president couldn’t bring himself to condemn the actions;  instead, he equivocated and said there were many fine people on both sides.

For many, Charlottesville was the moment when the racial blinders came off and many were forced to see the real America right in the eye—perhaps for many, right in the mirror in their own eyes and faces. To see a nation where the virtues and dreams we have espoused are not who we are in reality. Instead, we are a nation that was founded on the stolen land of Indigenous people and built with the labor of enslaved Africans. A nation where white supremacy is as much a part of our daily rounds as the air we breathe. Charlottesville was when the door of that closet where tried to keep all the hate stashed away flew open and it, would no longer close, spilling out it contents.

In the year since the horrifying event at Charlottesville, despite the stated desire of many to unify and do better, in reality it’s been an almost daily assault on Black people, other people of color and other marginalized people. We now live in a country where babies are separated from their families for the crime of families wanting a piece of the American dream but lacking the white skin that historically has allowed those we deem white to emigrate to this country.

Donald Trump’s vitriol towards people of color has intensified, and in the past year we have seen far too many average white people emboldened to act as modern-day slave catchers. Giving rise to BBQ Becky, Permit Patty and a host of other white characters who are so offended by the audacity of Black and Brown people daring to exist in anything other than misery that they call the police to report non-white people for the crime of living.  There are few daily acts of living which are immune from police involvement: a trip to Starbucks, a kid selling lemonade, a visit to your local pool. And the daily acts we haven’t seen criminalized by white people surely will be soon enough, until it is clear that police will be called on any Black person, any time, for any action.

At the same time, the national media has been forced to report on racial issues, but instead of using accurate language, too many times, blatant acts of racism are cowardly reported as “racially tinged” or couched as “racial anxiety” rather than named for what they truly are: “racist” and “racism.” Vile and racist white people who are steeped in the clutches of white supremacy are given equal air time because there is a “need” to hear both sides. Those who push back are told they are not being tolerant. The need to be fair overrides the need to be just or sometimes even accurate. Because ultimately those in charge of making these decisions are themselves steeped in white supremacy, albeit a weaker version. Hence their inability to understand that they are upholding the rules of white supremacy that reward a certain type of docility when it comes to uncomfortable topics or matters of race.

Let’s not even talk about the hundreds of pieces dedicated to examining the economic fears of a certain type of white person.  White “economic fear” is simply another version of dog-whistle politics. Fear of losing the benefits of whiteness that gave the white people a headstart and that continue to give white people a head start. Fear of sharing space with any more non-white people than we already have. In fact, fear of sharing space with non-white people to the extent that they will support not only cruel acts to “protect” our borders but also condone the stripping of citizenship from naturalized citizens.

On the flip side, millions of white people are waking up to the reality of white supremacy and becoming aware, as evidenced by the flood of books on the market talking about racism. Awareness of white supremacy runs rampant in certain segments of the population and while my own work is predicated on creating awareness, we are quickly coming to the end of the awareness train. Because awareness isn’t enough to produce change and reverse the increasing racial damage being done lately.

We need more white people who are well-versed on white supremacy and who can think about the issue without centering themselves. We need white folks who are ready to move the needle. White people who will put themselves on the line or even in harm’s way to protect non-white ones from abuse. We need white people who have examined the ways in which they were socialized and indoctrinated into whiteness and who can do this work without a person of color as their tour guide. These same people must increase their own awareness of how to actively question everything and start to notice when they are operating under the rules of whiteness.  We need white people who are thinking critically about racism and privilege and who understand that the societal change we need will require skin in the game and moving beyond the good and bad binary to the deeper work of dismantling whiteness within and in the larger world…while also understanding that the work is messy and deeply uncomfortable and that there is no list of best practices to follow with a list to check off. You aren’t going to read 75 books, amplify marginalized voices online, donate money, attend rallies and occasionally have an uncomfortable encounter and earn a good white person badge. That’s not how any of this works.  Instead, your mission if you accept it is to strike at the heart of white fragility both internally and externally.

We are a nation with a white nationalist at the helm, an aggressive white nationalist whose key advisers hold racist and xenophobic views which are affecting national policies. Can you say Stephen Miller?

Looking back over the past year, I wish I could say things have changed for the better but I would be lying if I said so. To be honest, the rate at which horrific change is happening is downright scary.  That said, the midterm elections are coming up, and the abolition movement is growing. Glimmers of hope in an otherwise dark space.

Many showed up today in Washington, D.C., to protest the white supremacists who were holding a rally. The white supremacists were outnumbered by those who condemn their hateful messages. While it is tempting to give into feel good messages that love trumps hate, that isn’t a good path. While love is amazing, it is not a useful tool enough tool alone in the work to dismantle white supremacy. It’s just one tool, and probably not the best one in the box. Let the good moments give us joy in the dark spaces, but understand that we are playing the long game.


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Reclaiming my time; saying ‘yes’ to me

It ain’t easy being a Black woman. Never has been. But I guess I figured we wouldn’t have to still be working this hard just to stay behind, no matter how much education and how many skills we bring to so many tables.

For every dollar that a white man makes, a Black woman earns 63 cents (even lower than white women, who earn 80 cents to the manly dollar). A Black woman must work eight months longer to earn what a white man earns in a year. In other words, a Black woman, even coming to the work game with excellence, has to bust her ass to have what comes naturally and with much more modest effort to even the most mediocre of white men.

So after you bust your ass, what next? As a Black woman, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In fact, while the saying “Black don’t crack” is entrenched into our consciousness as a statement of fact, the reality for many of us is far more sobering. We might look good and we might look young, but the collective weight of navigating life as a Black woman creates an extreme stress that causes wear and tear on our internal organs which leads to higher rates of illness and earlier death.

As this 2010 National Institute of Health study pretty much lays it all out, there is a real cost to being a Black woman. Let’s be real: it’s stressful. From birth to death, we often beat the odds in so many ways.

But again: At what cost?

I have been asking myself these questions for the last several months. I started going to therapy and immediately it became clear that I am doing too much. There is my day job as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc. We are a small, scrappy anti-racism organization that receives little in the way of grant funding; we are 90% donor funded. I spend a lot of time convincing people to support our work. Since 2014, I have managed to financially stabilize the organization and grow our programming, this is no small feat considering the other things that have happened since 2014. My marriage ended and I moved out of the family home in fall of 2015. My son got married in 2016 and became a dad in 2017, thus making me a grandmother. I also worked to grow the readership of this blog.

Our readership now extends far beyond Maine and New England. Last month a patron made a gift from Australia. This year alone, I have had over a dozen speaking engagements across New England and my fall speaking calendar is 90% full. But I have had to hustle for all that harder and longer than have my professional peers who aren’t Black and female.

My youngest child just turned 13 and I spend 50% of my physical time with her, but in the last three years, I have spent no more than 12 consecutive days at my own home due to my travel schedule. And sometimes that means time spent with her is at the family home I left when the marriage ended, while I’m in-between travel and my real home. And as you can imagine, that can get awkward no matter how well my co-parent and I get along.

I am inundated with requests to speak/teach/show up and honestly it’s overwhelming. People are forever asking if I want to engage in social/racial justice work during my off time. I’m frequently asked to do work for free or for amounts so low they might as well be free when you factor in travel costs and time lost. Um, NO! Even when I state this clearly, people still think they are an exception and ask for XYZ. Clearly the idea that a Black woman might have boundaries is hard for people to grasp.

All this to say: I have been heading head-first into the wall of exhaustion. I spent months trying to decide if I should take the plunge and quit my day job and trust that it would work out. I started ramping up my No’s.  No is my new jam.

The thing is, my situation isn’t unique. It’s what many Black women face, we give so much of ourselves and rarely is anyone concerned with our personal well-being. Even in a Black Lives Matter climate, how often do we see the Black women in our lives and ask what can we do for them? Do we see them as individuals outside of their Blackness? Or do they remain a fixed modern day Mammy whose mission is serve us, teach us and guide us? I’ve seen so many pieces published on how Black women are saving the country in so many ways by making things happen and building awareness and getting out the vote, but why are they leaned on so heavily to do that? Where is most of everyone else?

After months of feeling stressed, I worked up the courage to ask my board of directors at the day job for a sabbatical. Long story short: I am off work until after Labor Day. No emails, texts, calls or meetings.  Last night I slept for eight hours. To wake up and not feel like I have to hit the ground running is a marvelous feeling, it’s damn near orgasmic to not have to do anything and to not have to worry if I can pay my rent since this is a paid sabbatical. The internal silence is a gift. (However, as you see right here, I still have to hustle to work on the website here and post blogs and monitor my social media and promote stuff, sabbatical or not.)

This post is a bit more personal than my usual these days but I wanted to be honest about where I am at this moment in my life. While I am not on a sabbatical from BGIM Media, I am taking it easy especially because I have enlisted the assistance of a podcast producer and we record our first episode next week. The podcast will launch right after Labor Day. Weekly postings will continue though we are looking at six posts this month rather than the usual eight.

For all of you who are there for Black women—I mean, really there—thank you. For those of you who haven’t been, please start stepping up because we can’t do so much alone and we damn sure can’t do it without some emotional, social and financial support for our efforts.


f 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 Jared Rice from Unsplash