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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Black pu**y, or Sexual racism…What we don’t talk about

Racism is everywhere. In part because white supremacy is everywhere, it is the foundation of American and other Western cultures. We are steeped in white supremacy and even when we think we are fighting it, it rears its ugly head. Racism, which is a direct byproduct of white supremacy, is like the bad penny…always showing up and sometimes when you least expect it.

I write about racism, I speak on racism and I run an anti-racism organization and yet even in my interpersonal relationships, it has become clear that there is little relief from racism. This piece is a bit more personal than usual but I suspect it is a piece that any person of color who finds themselves in predominantly white spaces can relate to.

When my marriage ended over two years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of work ahead of me; after all, I had been partnered for two decades to the same man. My most pressing concern was whether I would be able to financially provide for myself seeing as how in all the years that we had been together, I was not the primary breadwinner. My former life partner was always the chief earner of money and I was the chief dreamer and do-gooder. It was a great pairing until it no longer was and, a few years ago, I was confronted with the reality that while the career path that I had chosen was a beautiful thing, it was a very sad thing when it came to my finances. So when I realized that the party of two was to become a party of one, my focus was on rebuilding myself at midlife and learning to become financially self-sufficient.

Since leaving the marital home a couple of years ago, I have made great strides towards economic self-sufficiency as well as the mental and emotional work of flying solo (I admit, I still have my bad days) but what I am realizing is that I now live in a world rife with the minefields of casual sexual racism. The type of racism that doesn’t immediately show its hand but when it does, it hurts worse than any random N-bomb dropped from the mouth of an idiot in a car rolling past you.

At a certain point in the new life-after-marriage adventures, that dating thing comes up. For some folks, they jump immediately into dating and for others, it takes a while. It took me a while; frankly, I still needed to remember to buy toilet paper and garbage bags for the longest time…tasks that had previously belonged to the co-parent. So I already had my plate full without adding a helping of find-romance to it. Needless to say, the juggling of my professional and personal life along with child schedules in the same year that my eldest kid decided to get married and have a baby meant that my first years sans a life partner was not really about dating.

However, at a certain point, the inner woman inklings started and, well, a woman has got to do what a woman has got to do and thanks to technology and chance, I ended up in my first post-marriage relationship. It was a good pairing but our lives have taken us on different paths and several months ago, the decision was made to put the relationship on indefinite hiatus. That first post-marriage relationship was what I needed to rediscover myself as a woman, to feel comfortable in my skin and frankly get my ass back in the game instead of in my bag of Cheetos and bottle of wine.

Now let me stop here for a moment. I am a middle-aged Black woman living in what is the whitest state in America. The pickings are really slim as far as the dating pool in terms of prospects that really mesh with me on intellectual, social and cultural bases in general, and they are painfully slim in terms of non-white prospects. To be blunt, as a heterosexual woman, the pool of available Black and Brown men over 40 in this state is damn near nonexistent. That means that if I plan to date anyone, the odds are pretty damn high that I am dating a white man.  Unless I plan to import some Black and Brown men to Maine, I am SOL on them. Trust me, I am trying on the importation thing but given what most folks know about Maine and how Black and Brown men are perceived here thanks to our loud-mouthed governor, it is a hard sell. After all, no one wants to be confused with the imaginary (but still prominent in many Maine minds) Smoothie or Money D. It also means that I am meeting men who have had, in many cases, little experience with real-life Black women and who have frankly spent a lifetime in the silo of whiteness. It means that I am encountering men who are so steeped in whiteness and often patriarchy that they have no idea how much work they need to do. Instead they assume that their willingness and desire to date me is proof that they are not racist. Nope, not at all.

White men being desirous of Black women is not new. I repeat, white men wanting to get jiggy with Black women is not new. Let’s take it back to Thomas Jefferson: That cat was out in the world talking about how all men were equal, all the while he was creating a whole family with Sally Hemmings who despite modern-day attempts to whitewash history was not his mistress or even his enslaved mistress. She had no agency and I am pretty sure given the time frame, Sally couldn’t exactly tell ole Tom no. This wasn’t a love connection. She was his property, a sexually assaulted slave pure and simple, no matter how we try to spin it.

White men were sneaking into the slave quarters back then and frankly many are still trying it today except that now Black women do have much more agency (even in this white supremacy-steeped nation) and while the approach looks more humane today, the end effect is often the same: the dehumanization of Black women. The refusal to see Black women as fully human. To treat them as experiments or fetishes. The belief that we are oversexed caricatures instead of fully human women who deserve more than a white man’s table scraps of humanity.

It’s the white man who has his respectable white woman and respectable life who thinks it is appropriate to try to get some side action with you. Or the man who thinks that if he buys you a few trinkets when you are low on money, you will be his faithful concubine. Also, the man who thinks complimenting you on your strength along with those trinkets is the way to your heart meanwhile he is posting  happy weekend pictures with his respectable white woman on Facebook. NO sir, that is not the pathway. Especially when it is clear this his desire is rooted in the “exoticism” of your Black skin.

The flip side of the respectable white man on the down-low is the brazen white man, the one whose eyes linger too long at your breasts when you run into him and his eyes undress you in a room full of people. He is the one who after one too many drinks at the local watering hole comes up to you with offers of dinner and pleas to spend time with him and yet when you turn away, you hear him muttering how he wants your Black pussy. This guy is crass and you wouldn’t touch him if he were the last man on the planet but at least there is no pretense. He wants that “hot Black puss”y that he believes to be wild and untamed. Tarzan with a side of Jungle Love anyone?

These two types you can almost laugh at because their white male desires that focus on the otherness of Black skin is easily recognizable and while it is othering, they are the ones you will never allow close to you (OK, some people still do, but not me and hopefully not too many of my Black sisters). They annoy you but it’s what Black women, especially Black women in predominantly white spaces, put up with.

It’s the last type that could crush you but instead disappoints you. It’s the white guy who reads the books, the guy who reads your writings, the guy who annoyingly plays devil’s advocate but who is willing to talk about the uncomfortable issues and so you think there is some potential there and you allow a friendship to grow despite the voice in the back of your head that says, “Are you sure”

He’s the one who over time, you call and text. He’s the one you start to slowly develop a first level of trust for. He is the one who takes you out and you laugh together and acknowledge that there is the foundation for something real to grow between the two of you and given your failure at relationships you decide to take it slow. He is also the one whose pals who aren’t too keen on you. The ones who judge you as an angry Black woman, the one whose texts you have seen on your friend’s phone, perplexedly and dismissively questioning that friend on his interest in you. This white friend you have made and are now growing more interested in is the one who just as he starts to see the insidiousness of how white supremacy works and is on the cusp of change realizes that life was a lot easier before he met you and, in the end, the silo of whiteness beckons. And perhaps a conveniently placed available white woman (facilitated by that annoyed friend of your friend) makes it easy for him to make his getaway. He says he values the friendship and doesn’t want to lose it but in the end, as you play Monday morning quarterback with a trusted confidante, you realize that your connection had been littered with pink flags. That you were probably never more than a white boy’s way to show how down he was. That despite the words, you were never more than a curiosity piece.

Whether it is the literal pussy or the metaphorical pussy, for many white men that is all they want from a Black woman. Sure, there are exceptions but for the vast majority of white men over 40, they haven’t done the work of dismantling whiteness within themselves to understand what their “choices” mean. So when you encounter these men, it means you are literally walking into a minefield not knowing what exactly you will find. Which in a weird way reminds me of a conversation that my father had with my preteen self over 30 years when I developed a crush on a white boy in middle school.

To be blunt, my father, who having been born and raised under Jim Crow, was not a fan of mixed race unions. He understood that the words of a white woman could literally take a Black man or boy’s life. He had already lived long enough to see his family kicked off the sharecropping land they called home because of his father’s (my grandfather) refusal to let the farm owner have my aunt when she turned 18. Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. My father’s family, in the post-slavery era, lost their home because my grandfather dared to protect his daughter from a lecherous white man.

Anyway, my father (upon learning about my first crush) told me: “Honey, the Lord made apple trees and he made orange trees, he didn’t make an apple-orange tree.”  For years, I thought that was cruel but his words have never left me and despite having been married interracially and dated interracially, the older I get, I am starting to wonder if there is not some truth in those words. Perhaps the struggles as a Black woman make this life too difficult to allow a white person into my world on an intimate level. Perhaps the social coding runs too deep for the average white man to understand that how he sees a Black woman (or fails to see her) is the result of a social code that was put into place many generations ago.

One thing for sure, racism is everywhere and neither love nor lust hold the keys to systemic change.
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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