Black, LGBTQ and influential

Bayard Rustin was an expert community organizer and played key role in the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” He mentored Dr. King and taught him tactics of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience.  His philosophy was inspired by Gandhi and labor leader A. Philip Randolph. Arrested on numerous occasions for standing up for his beliefs, he spent two years in jail for refusing to register for the draft during wartime. In 1947, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks after protesting the segregated public transit system. In 1953, he was arrested for being a homosexual and spent 60 days in jail. Despite that, he continue to live as an openly gay man until his death in 1987.

American novelist, poet, and social critic James Baldwin launched his career after publishing the acclaimed novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. He is best known for his poetic and poignant commentary on race, spiritually, and humanity. Baldwin was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954 and soon after wrote Giovanni’s Room, a story of an American living in Paris. The novel was groundbreaking and controversial for including scenes of homosexuality. Baldwin was open about his relationships with men and women though he believed focusing on labels limited freedom.  He believed that human sexuality is more fluid and less binary than often expressed in the U.S.

Audrey Lorde wrote technically exceptional poems with themes that covered civil rights, feminism, and black female identity. Her volumes of poetry include works such as Cables of Rage, which she wrote after teaching a workshop on poetry at a Mississippi college and witnessing the harsh racism of the Deep South. The collection of poems cover topics of love, deceit, and family, and also discussed her own sexuality in the poem “Martha.” Lorde had a decade-long battle with breast cancer during which time she wrote The Cancer Chronicles, he last project before her death in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1992.

Often credited with inciting the Stonewall Riots 1969, Marsh P. Johnson was a transgender women who championed LGBTQ rights and worked as a staunch advocate for trans women of color. She was founder of Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries, also known as STAR, whose mission to this day is to help homeless transgender youth in New York City. Aside from her activism and advocacy, she was known for her kind heart, serving as a “drag mother” to many young people struggling with homelessness and poverty.

Stormé DeLarverie, a musician and pivotal activist in the inception of the modern-day LGBTQ movement, has also been credited with igniting the Stonewall Riots in 1969. DeLarverie was known as the guardian of the lesbian. Legally armed, she regularly patrolled The Village checking in on local lesbian bars to make sure that her “baby girls” were safe from harm. Quoted in the New York Times in 2014 shortly after DeLaverie’s death, her friend Lisa Cannistraci was quoted as saying, “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero. She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.”

Scholar, author, and activist, Angela Davis is known as an unabashed advocate for social and economic justice. While enrolled in graduate school at the University of California, Davis became a member of the all-black Che-Lumumba, an arm of the U.S. Communist Party. During that time she was also associated with the Black Panther Party. Davis was wrongly accused of murder and spent 18 months in jail as a result. To this day, she continues to be an advocate for prison and criminal justice reform, racial justice, and women’s rights.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Miss Major is a transgender activist who serves as executive director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project. The transgender powerhouse was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1940 and grew her passion against oppression after experiencing the queer bar raids of the ’50s and ’60s. Miss Major is known for her advocacy for women of color and for her work on criminal justice reform. She was present at the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 and since been a warrior for justice and equality.

Kristin Little Photography

Alicia Garza is an activist and, together with her friends, co-founded the #BlackLivesMatter. In a Facebook post, she provide the inspiration behind the movement, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.” She is an activist and writer who works against racism and police violence. She currently serves as Director of Special Projects at National Domestic Workers Alliance.

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So focused on teams we ignore the game

To all my white friends, I need you to question your team. Yes, I know I talked a lot about teams last time, but I just keep seeing their problems everywhere I look. It’s as though this country only thinks in absolutist, binary bullshit terms.

Like, we got the president over here talking shit about his attorney general. It could prove to be a big problem, but who do we root for? The racist who left to his own devices would absolutely ruin the country? Or the racist who left to his own devices would absolutely ruin the country? My money is on the racist who left to his own devices would absolutely ruin the country.

I mean, we’ve got the president in one corner and the Mueller investigation and the Comey book tour and the FBI in the other corner. While that may sound comforting to some of you and yes, the president is just an absolute piece of shit, Mueller is a Republican, Comey ain’t no homey, and the FBI is not now, nor has it ever been interested in defending my rights or any other citizen who looks even remotely like me.

And if you’re hoping to be saved by the blue wave, you might want to find out how many Dr. Mai Khanh Trans are out there running for office.

Answer: Both too many and not enough.

And I’m not just talking about political candidates either. Last week the entire country was either rooting for a racist comedian or a goddamn pharmaceutical company. More on that later, but seriously, WTF is happening in the world?

We’re so focused on the teams that we’re forgetting about the game. Also, we’re not really on the teams. Sure, we’ve got the jerseys and yes, some people came here together, shirtless with letters painted on their chests and yes, they’re on live TV drunk, standing in the wrong order and everyone watching at home sees “RUMPT” but they’re not really on the team. They just really love the concept of the team.

The problem with that is when your only priority is the concept of the team, the actual team can cease to exist. It’s not being evaluated. The people you were once rooting for eventually cease to matter and all that matters is the other team’s loss. And not even that so much as the other team’s perceived loss.

That’s how you end up with right wing TV like the Roseanne reboot, or Tim Allen’s dumb shit, or, ugh, goddamned Sinclair, while at the same time Black shows are getting censored.

As my white friends, you should know this because, though you may have heard otherwise, there are still racist problems with restrooms.

And restaurants.

And resting.

Where does it stop? Maybe they’ll reboot segregation.

The point is that if you don’t stop this binary bullshit thinking, we may get rid of our current president, but we will most certainly only be making an easier path for one much, much worse.

Yeah, right now he’s the fuckin’ worst. And, yeah, so are the Russians, but all they did was exploit the problems we already had.

And you know what else? It was easy. Our president isn’t smart and neither is Putin. All they did was poke at the country’s festering, unbandaged wound. A monkey could do that.

But, white friends, you’re still the majority.

You can tend to your wounds.

You can question your team.

You can start here.

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How are you showing up for Black women in Maine and beyond?

“De ni**er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”– Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston published these words in 1937 and yet in 2018 those words still ring true for far too many Black women. Black women were the backbone of the Civil Rights movement and yet how many Black  women from that era aside from Rosa Parks can anyone name? Black women have been at the forefront of the current movement for Black Lives and yet too often we see men being lifted up for their work. The critical behind-the-scenes labor that Black women provide is often dismissed or taken for granted.

Last year, in Alabama, Black women came through and were instrumental in the election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate, thus kicking off the rallying cry of Black women as being our collective saviors in  Trump’s America. And this year, with the midterms elections looming large, Black women are playing a prominent role especially with Stacey Abrams winning the Georgia Democratic Primary for Governor. A historic win.

Suddenly, Black women seem to almost be in vogue. But, while that sounds good, how many Black women are truly getting the support and nurturing that they need? How many of us instead are fighting twice as hard or more as our white peers to be agents of change and getting far less of the credit? How many of us are getting no credit at all? How many of us are encouraged to change the world while getting precious little assistance and backup from anyone but other Black women? While it is popular to say that people are supporting Black women, the truth is too often we are still seen as the mules and whatever support we receive is marginal at best.

Here in Maine, we have a Black woman running for re-election for the Maine House of Representatives. I should mention now that Rachel Talbot Ross, the woman in question, is a personal friend. But my words have nothing to do with our friendship; rather, they are the observation and reality of what it means to be a Black woman who is working for change.

Rachel, in her two years in the state legislature, has sponsored bills related to housing security, mental health training for corrections personnel and tax incentives for businesses that hire people from traditionally marginalized communities. Four of the bills she sponsored passed and are waiting for funding from the legislature. One of her priorities was to involve people who are typically underrepresented directly in her work.  

As a Black woman in a very white state, Rachel knows that representation matters and as a ninth-generation Mainer she is only one of two Black people in the state legislature. Which is why it is all the more surprising that as an incumbent this year, she is being challenged for her seat by a member of her own party: Herb Adams, Adams held the seat from 2004-2010 until term limits forced him out. He’s had two other unsuccessful runs. Given that there are no Republican challengers, it is almost a sure thing that whoever wins the primary will secure the seat.

Look, it’s a free country and he is free to do whatever the hell he wants but it is this type of behavior that frankly makes me side-eye so-called progressives.

You have a Black woman who is busting her ass in this very white state to create representation and a truly inclusive space and after just two years in office a white man feels entitled to challenge her just because he can? Was there no one in the state to tell this guy to sit down? I am pretty certain that if Herb and I sat down, he would say it’s just politics, as would many other nice white people. But the fact is, as a white guy he sits at the top of the hierarchy and his decision means that Rachel must yet again work harder just trying to keep her seat, and be distracted from the work she’s trying to do legislatively. The white man’s ambition becomes more important than allowing the Black woman’s momentum to continue and her star to shine. And those kinds of challenges to hard work (and success) is the way of things often for Black women, especially in predominantly white spaces.

In this moment, many white people are waking up to the reality that racism never went anywhere and that it’s insidious and deeply entrenched into all of our systems. People feel bad and want to do something and yet the work that can truly move the needle seems to elude them. Understand this: Nothing will change until white people realize that the only way we solve our racism problem starts with them asking themselves “What am I  willing to give up?” You cannot right the scales of injustice without taking something from one side and moving it to the other in order to get the scales to balance out. You simply cannot. And while it’s bad enough when no white people are willing to step aside for Black people, it is especially galling when they actively try to displace them or diminish them when there is no need to do so.

Change will also require more people of color in the rooms where decisions are made. That means both seats at the tables as well as ownership of some of those tables. Racism is about power and privilege and despite the surface shifts since the 1960s, the levers of power across the board are still operated primarily by white men. We need Black and brown people to operate far more of those levers than is the case right now if change is going to happen. We need white people to recognize that fact and to step back and step down more often to make that happen. It also means calling out other well-meaning (or not so well-meaning, too) white people when they make missteps that are harmful to Black folks and other people of color.

Until a critical mass of white people move beyond awareness of racism to concrete action that requires some actual sacrifice on their part, not much changes. Until then Black women, who live at the intersection of both gender and racial discrimination, will have to work far more hard than will most white men to obtain, no matter if the Black woman is more qualified or deserving. Even the exceptional Black woman struggles to get what comes easily to the most average of white men. Despite being known for our strength, this type of struggle takes its toll on us; it’s what you don’t see when we are laid out in bed, unable to get up and filled with panic and dread but because you only see our strong faces and never see our human faces. Instead, you take our strength for granted and become dependent on us to go the extra mile and make things right.

No, that’s not  good enough and if you fancy yourself a white, progressive, liberal who isn’t racist, it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and share the burdens.

As for Rachel, if you live in Portland’s House District 40, I encourage you to vote on June 12 and let her return to the legislature to continue what she’s started.

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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