You’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold dead hands

Today’s post is a guest contribution from BGIM friend and fellow writer Liz Henry.
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First they came for my cigarettes and I said, alright, makes sense. Then, they came for my smoking outside and I said, you know, this seems like a little much but I rolled with the inconvenience of other people policing the freaking air. And then they came for my Diet Coke with a tax on sugary drinks in Philadelphia even though Diet Coke is full of not even sugar but aspartame so fine, whatever, the chilwran diabeetus. Then, they came for the straws and I knew all bets were off, the turtles were just gonna have to die.

I like beverages and I love them with straws and if that means turtles have to eat it, well then the turtles need to eat it. Even if those turtles are Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo.

Look, maybe this is making you uncomfortable. There are many moments I’ve been uncomfortable in the past few weeks when straw-banning went from low-key, under-the-radar cause to full-blown self-righteous plague. Like, for instance, the moment I came across a growing list of companies in the process of banning straws and I saw McDonald’s on that list.

I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE—the turtles had come for me and won. My eyes couldn’t move fast enough through the sentence and by the time I got there and it said, “shareholders struck down a ban” I’ve never been more proud of capitalism in my life.

I raised my Diet Coke and I toasted the motherfucking shit outta those rich white men for holding it down for straws.

So, yeah, it’s been an uncomfortable few weeks for me, too.

I’ve had conversations where we whisper to each other “team straw” because we’re in a group and unsure of the company we keep and once the whispers go around and the eyes have darted and the nods have been reciprocated we let it out that paper straws ain’t shit.

I’ve had people tell me I’m “sad” like I need saving and I want to tell them they can come to my door with that kind of attitude and ring my doorbell so I can ignore them.

I’ve gone the Jurassic Park route and doubled down on evolution: “If turtles beat out dinosaurs, I’m pretty sure they can beat straws.” And, if they can’t, well who sold us “slow and steady.” Maybe turtles shouldn’t been liars.

I’ve also thought FINE, BAN THE STRAWS. I’ll create straw speakeasies and I’ll be rich and you’ll be stuck with adult sippy cups at Starbucks with no whip but Crush from Finding Nemo as your overlord just like you wanted. COOL DUDE.

I need you to know that I stared down the totalitarian talk points of crusading do-gooders, looked them in their profile photos and said, I LOVE STRAWS, and lived to see another day.

I want you to know that when I get a fountain beverage, and put that single-serving plastic straw into my cup, I look at the person next to me and say, “I’m making a political choice and the hate makes it taste better.”

Honestly, I’m having an Allen Iverson “TALKIN ‘BOUT PRACTICE, flashback but with straws, people. STRAWS.

The strawsistence will not be played by fake news. The 500 million plastic straws Americans allegedly consume per day? That number was arrived at by a then nine-year-old conducting phone surveys of straw manufacturers in 2011. How he arrived at that number? I dunno, go pound a calculator.

According to Bloomberg, if all the alleged 8.3 billion tons of plastic straws found on global coastlines washed into the sea, they’d “account for .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastic estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.”

The greatest threat to marine life and our oceans isn’t plastic straws, Bloomberg reports, but fishing nets and other abandoned fishing gear.

Which leaves me so freaking pumped right now that we’re making the lives of people with disabilities that much harder because Johnny Jackoff filmed a video of one turtle with a straw booger and then everyone else was like BAN STRAWS!!!

So how many straw boogers would it take for women to get some rights up in this bitch? Just spitballing here.

And that’s why, you’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold, dead hands. Which, if that even happens, I will haunt you with a glitter plague on your home and paper cuts on your person with Melania pumped through some Bose giving Michelle’s speech ad infinitum.

WE’RE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT STRAWS, MAYNE.

BIO:
Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and the anthology, The Good Mother Myth. She lives in Philadelphia and marks her territory in Diet Coke.


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Photo by David McEachan from Pexels

On race and dreams, and an update on BGIM Media

Once upon a time, I believed that if I could just work hard enough, I would get ahead. Yes, I foolishly believed at one point that hard work and moxie alone would get me ahead.

And, for years, I believed that because I had a few more of the success trappings than my parents had ever had in their 33 years together that this was as good as life could get. Throughout my childhood, I had heard that “As a Black person you have to work harder than the most average white person to get half of what they have.” For the longest time, I didn’t want to believe that was true, but it is one of the few absolute truths when it comes to race in America and how it is lived.

In case that is confusing to you, look no further than the 44th president of the United States…also known as Barack Obama, or the first Black president. Whether you loved him or found his policies questionable, there is no denying that the bar that was set for him and his family was set so high that only an extraordinary man who might be fifth in place behind Jesus Christ himself could meet the standard. He was beyond reproach with the most impeccable of credentials; even his wife was no slouch…no, not in the slightest. Given that Michelle Obama, whose humble start on the South Side of Chicago is the type of bootstrap, Horatio Alger story that white America loves, this nation should have been damn glad these two would have us. Instead, rather than do them a solid and respect what they did and build upon it, well…instead, through angst and disillusionment, this nation elected perhaps the most mediocre and unqualified man possible to succeed Obama. Talk about about a big “fuck you” to Black excellence.

Now we live in a nation governed by an old man whose mental stability is questionable and who loves to talk tough and is itching to play with his shiny new toys, aka nuclear weapons. From Black excellence (and dignity/upstanding behavior) to white mediocrity (and anger/misbehavior).

Too many times in my personal life, I have seen average white people who, due to luck, access to resources and frankly whiteness, soar when average Black and other POC are relegated to letting their dreams die on the vine. Truthfully, our society makes it damn hard for Black folks to make a dream come true, especially if that dream requires resources or money to get off the ground. Up until a few days ago, I was feeling pretty hopeless about my own dreams.

I started this blog in 2008 for a variety of reasons, but several things quickly became clear: this blog is a resource for other Black and non-white folks navigating life in very white spaces and it also became a space for white people to learn to see firsthand how racism operates and to start their own journey to dismantling whiteness. Since 2008, I have been published in anthologies, had my blog posts sited in academic spaces, been plagiarized, received accolades, did a TEDx talk and a few other things. My work profile grew but the one thing that did not keep pace was the financial compensation part of things. Partially due to my own lack of resources, I have never attended a single blog/social media conference, which has meant that my networking and ability to take this space to the next level has always been limited. This space is essentially one big do-it-yourself experience and while I am humbled by the success that I have had, my vision for this space is greater than being a one-woman shop.

After living in Maine for 15 years, I see a critical need for a POC-owned media space; a place that elevates our voice and a place that, frankly, can be a training ground for POC-led media in the region. It was almost a year ago that I announced that Black Girl in Maine would be shifting to BGIM Media. It’s been a long year but I have been able to bring in more voices: Teddy Burrage, Veronica Perez, Samara Doyon and An Average White Guy. I have stacks of resumes from writers whom I would love to give a shot, but given that everyone who writes here is paid, I can’t afford to add anyone else at the time.

What I have also not been able to do is update and redesign this site, which is dated and clunky, nor have I been able to add podcasts. Why? Lack of resources. Recently a reader donated a used MacBook so that I could start teaching myself how to podcast, since my Chromebook was not cutting the mustard. I am making significant headway, barring a few more pieces of equipment (good microphones are a must; it only took buying a bargain one to understand that cheap is not always best) and my son’s availability since, with his own work blowing up, his time is limited…but the upside of asking your kid who’s a musician for help is that the odds are high that you will get it.

There have been back-end and security issues that I can no longer afford to ignore, but they are increasingly testing the limits of my tech knowledge. In fact, my tech issues on the site are what almost pushed me to the breaking point of saying the hell with the dream. Since, after getting the final diagnosis on what was ailing this site, it became clear that either I needed to dream big or consider this a long, slow goodbye.

I average 20-25 hours a week working on blog-related stuff, that is in addition to my full-time day job that often takes more than typical full-time hours. There is also mothering, living and occasionally even loving. I have invested a significant amount of time into this space and the related social media and it is truly a labor of love. I have asked readers to invest and while many have, many more have not. To date, monthly giving only covers half of the true cost of running this site, which has meant that my plans for expansion have been slow. However I have a dream and after much prayer and thought, I have decided that I am tired of playing it small and safe. I am ready for my dream to come to fruition. I have taken out a small business loan to address the immediate issues, including updating and redesigning the site. I have started talks with two local designers and am waiting for estimates, confident that I can move ahead because for once, I have the ability to pay.

I won’t lie, in this 24/7 fickle media world, I am nervous. After all, the loan, while small, is still enough that if this site doesn’t progress according to my projections, I am shit out of luck. In an ideal world, I imagine friends and family admiring my drive and determination and offering to invest in my dreams. But for many Black Americans, that is a pipe dream. As someone who has been feverishly working to pay off debt, this is a big but scary step for me. However, as a Black woman navigating in a world that was not meant for me, I understand that my realizing my dreams requires going above and beyond.

On a practical note, the new changes should be apparent by late September/early October. As always, thank you for your support and keep passing the open windows.
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My Black life matters, or Ramblings of middle age

The past several months have left me feeling sluggish and out of sorts. It’s been a period of rapid change professionally and personally, and to say that I wasn’t ready would be an understatement. It’s also been a time when being middle-aged has become quite real to me. Bodily changes are coming at me fast and furious…and why am I always hot? Seriously, I am always hot or at least that’s what it feels like. I swear, I am running 20 degrees warmer than most people these days as evidenced by the fact that when other people are wearing sleeves and coats, I am quite content sans to bare my arms and shoulders. Frankly, I find myself wondering: Must I wear clothes at all?

So, I am on fire all the time just when my body has also decided that sleep is optional and that my memory is something it doesn’t need to spend much time maintaining anymore. Nothing brings this perimenopause thing home like being in a meeting and forgetting your words in mid-speech. All you can do is laugh at yourself…wait? What is that word again?  Then, to add insult to injury, caffeine no longer loves me. Last year when my healthcare provider told me that some of the bodily shifts could be mitigated by giving up caffeine, I balked and agreed to lessen my consumption. Apparently that wasn’t enough, my body is flat out rejecting caffeine and when I do have a day where I don my inner toddler and declare that “I am the boss of me!” My body pretty much lets me know that caffeine is not my friend. Sob.

No matter what this “40 is the new 27” world tries to sell me and my peers, my body is saying “Not so fast” and I suspect a lot of my “I’m still young” fellow middle-agers are getting the same or at least similar bodily reminders. Aging is real and there is a physical and mental component and, despite my best attempts at ignoring it all, the CHANGE is here and is demanding my full attention.

Growing older in a Black female body is a special trip, though, especially because the majority of the health indicators aren’t exactly in our favor. Did you know that heart disease is the number-one cause of death for men and women in the U.S. but, moreover, Black women have heart disease rates twice that of white women. I have an aunt who isn’t even 60 and she’s been living with congestive heart failure for years now. We have higher rates of diabetes, and diabetes is prevalent in certain segments of the Black community. Oh yeah, there is also breast cancer, which is the most common form of cancer that affects Black women. The life expectancy gap is closing along racial lines but that is namely due to the plight of white folks dying earlier than they once did…probably from the stress of realizing life isn’t going so much their way as it used to and that only the really well off have futures with any comfort (welcome to some semblance of the world we Black people have lived in for decade upon decade upon decade).

If that wasn’t enough, there is also the cumulative effects of racism and patriarchy and the sense of being expected to always carry the loads. And yet rarely is there reciprocity. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote so many years ago “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”  That pretty much sums things up. We are often the first to show up, the first to do and yet almost always the last to be acknowledged or cared for. For all the work we do, it most certainly isn’t reflected in our economic status.  A study several years ago found that, on average, Black women have a net worth of $5. Then again, we do live in a world where the racialized wage gap leaves Black women earning sixty three cents to the white man’s dollar. It’s worse for our other sisters of color.

So you get to middle age as a Black woman and realize that all your hard work probably won’t prevent you from a retirement spent with the occasional kitty chow for dinner inside either your kid’s house, the subsidized apartment that may not exist by the time you actually get to retirement age or a snazzy cardboard box under the bridge. This while you are juggling whatever ailment that you are statistically doomed to suffer.

You can either get pissed off as hell, roll over and wait for the end or you can grab some joy where you can. I recently opted for “grab some joy” and did something that I have never done before. I went on a mini-vacation for two days and…damn it!…I feel refreshed. A few months ago, it hit me that I have never been on an actual vacation. All my travel has been either family or work-related. Never have I treated myself to unscheduled time alone. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that, since my Facebook feed tells me that most of the people I know are always traveling. However, I decided on early marriage and motherhood and spent my late 20s and 30s putting myself through college, graduate school and starting a career. They say shit happens but in my life shit happens often enough that the idea of vacations never materialized.

I am returning today from two nights away that fed my soul. I didn’t go far from home but I went just far enough that I was in an area  of Maine that is not part of my daily rounds.  I threw caution to the wind and it felt good and while racial bias is never far from the life of a Black person (a racially prompted traffic stop on my way to my getaway, plus being mistaken for the local help and not a lady of leisure by a waitress), it was just delightful overall.

My two nights away made me reflect on the importance of time away and how it is good for everyone. But for Black women and femmes, it is even more critical. Our bodies exist in a society where psychic and emotional abuse and misuse are the norms; we often internalize it, and it is hurts us. Too many of us are juggling too many balls often without a real support system. Too often our support system is simply another form of stress.  

How often do we look at the Black women and femmes in our lives and marvel at their strength without asking what that outward strength is actually costing them? How often do we profit from that strength without questioning it? How often do we truly give back to the Black women and femmes who bring beauty, knowledge and so much more into our lives? Do we ever see them as people who need a hand or a hug? Or do we sit so comfortably within the box of white supremacy that we take them for granted because deep down, we think they are indeed the mules of the world?

In a world where we must vocally declare that Black Lives Matter, I am declaring that my middle-aged Black self does indeed matter and that I will honor this vessel that I reside in, treating it as well as I can given my realities. If we say  that Black Lives Matter than we need to make sure that we are honoring those closest to us.
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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