Random babble

A few words from an angry Black woman in Maine

“Don’t shrink your Black womanhood for anyone’s comfort today or any other day.” – A tweet on Twitter

Not too long ago, I found myself having drinks with another Black woman up here in Maine…imagine that? There really is more than one of us! As usual when I am having a moment of fellowship with a fellow Black woman in Maine, the conversation turned to the racial climate and matters of racial equity. It was a conversation that gave me a lot to sleep on as I found myself pondering: What does it mean to wear the label of “angry Black woman?” It’s a label that I have heard applied to myself countless times and one that I tend to brush off because I refuse to have my existence as a person, a living being, a fellow sojourner in the path of life be reduced to simply being an angry Black woman.

Yet it is a label that haunts far too many Black women. If we speak up for fairness and equity, we are labeled angry almost as if it’s an excuse to not dig a little deeper as to why exactly would we be angry (if indeed we are, rather than simply pointing out injustices because they are unjust).

Since the founding of the country that we call the United States, Black women have been viewed as the second-rate members of a group that is itself already seen (at best) as second rate. There is being Black and then there is being a Black woman. During slavery times, our ancestors were ripped away from their families even their own children and made to serve whites. Despite what certain history books are trying to tell us, this was not the immigrant looking for a better way of life story. A white master could sexually take us against our will and then the white mistress would often act out against us…as if we asked her husband to debase us in such a fashion.

In more recent times, too many us still find ourselves fighting against the tide to be seen as actual humans. Not simply a tidy and often inaccurate category. In our workplaces, too often we not only earn less than men, we earn less than white women. Promotions come slow and often with a lot of pain and struggle regardless of how good our qualifications are, and rarely do we have the support that we need to truly blossom. If “Leaning In” is hard for the average woman, it is only compounded for those of us with darker hues. The very act of surviving (and sometimes thriving) at times feels like a grueling feat and yet millions of us manage to do it every day. Yet the act of surviving, even when it looks easy on the surface, comes at a deeper loss that rarely are we as Black women allowed to express publicly because to be a Black woman is often associated with a word that at times I want to throw out the window…strong.

Yeah, the “strong Black woman” archetype. It can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.

What is seen as “strength” (and sometimes “anger”) is sometimes a cover for the deep emotions that we carry that we are rarely allowed to name publicly. It is admitting to vulnerability and a need that few wish to respond to. It’s knowing that a white peer can lay her burdens down and there will be a cadre of folks rushing to assist but, for a Black woman, too often there is no one there to pick up our pieces and necessity often makes us keep going when really we would rather stop for an extended break. I know that I push myself hard and often because the alternative is scary.

Still, we live in a culture where our survival at times requires our own subjugation, something that I know far too much about and that I am not necessarily proud of as I ponder: “Is it even possible to be seen as more than just an Angry Black woman?” Funny thing, though, is that not all anger is unproductive and sometimes anger is the impetus that leads to change. A mother’s anger at unfair racial treatment changed the trajectory of my own writing in this space and in the past two years has led to larger dialogues in the region on race. What started as my personal anger has allowed countless other people of color in this state to know that they have a right to their voices. In macro moment of anger, we are seeing the presidential election cycle being shaped by a type of anger that few of us have ever seen. The common denominator being that something has got to give for millions of Americans who have watched the American dream become a collective nightmare, the only difference being whose version of change are you buying?

Culturally, we have always had a very precarious relationship with anger. Often in childhood, girls are chided for being emotional or angry whereas boys are given a space to deal with their anger. Yet if anger is unbecoming to girls and women as a whole, it really is seen as extra-vulgar for Black women. However I am tired of being an angry Black woman; instead I challenge anyone who is comfortable labeling any Black woman as angry to walk a day in our shoes and ask yourself: Wouldn’t you be angry too? And frankly, to ask yourself: Why aren’t they angrier…or angry every single second…given what they put up with day after day after day?

As for me, I am striving to use my anger in productive ways that plant the seeds of change while giving myself as much space to honor my own humanity in a world that rarely sees me as a woman worthy of the full spectrum of human emotions.

Anger is both a guide and a tool if we allow it to be. Yet to see anger as a tool for change means reshaping the paradigms around who is entitled to be angry. My womanhood as a Black woman is filled with an array of experiences and emotions that only someone who walks this path can truly grasp and sometimes, it is filled with anger, but I am far more than the sum of my anger and I refuse to only wear that label. 
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Digital selves and real lives

Once upon a time in a world not that long ago, the acquisition and exchange of information was a multi-step process. When I was a wee lass, it often involved a physical trip to the library and meant asking the librarian for guidance, looking things up in the card catalog, trips to the stacks and then physically skimming books. Now we possess handheld devices that can deliver the world to us and we don’t even have to leave the bed. This brave new world has also allowed voices that often didn’t have access to an actual audience to be heard. It’s allowed me, a child of the working class, to create a voice and a following and to integrate my thoughts into my actual work in a way that I never could have imagined as a younger person. Yet increasingly I am aware that there are pitfalls to this brave new digital world that in many ways has become our actual world.

I am not big on podcasts, but there is one podcaster whose work I often listen to and this morning Audacious Kay had a podcast that felt like it was tailor-made to me. I think it’s a worthwhile listen for anyone who uses digital means as a platform to build a brand or to promote their actual work.

Back in 2008, I never could have imagined that one day this blog would have such a huge impact on my actual work. Until late 2013, I tried to keep this space separate from my day work because frankly as a Black woman heading up a faith-based organization in a very white space, talking about race was deeply frowned upon and when the white man signs your paycheck, you do what you have to do in order to stay gainfully employed. It’s what millions before me have had to do to survive and it’s what millions will continue to do to ensure their daily bread.

However in moving to an anti-racism organization, I was free to talk about racism without jeopardizing my livelihood and while that has been incredibly freeing, it has started to take a toll on me because increasingly, I am not Shay Stewart-Bouley, a woman who is Black and who writes and speaks on race. For many, Black Girl in Maine is the whole of my being, and frankly I am so much more than the head of an anti-racism organization and a writer on race. I am a mother, daughter sister, friend and a woman looking to find myself in the second act of my life. As people who work closely with me know, I rarely shy away from allowing myself to be human even in the moments when I need to be in charge. As a manager, sometimes my greatest strength is admitting that I sometimes don’t have the answers and that I even need help.

I recently had to take a medical leave of absence from my day job to address some health issues and there is nothing like being in a state of unwellness to give you clarity about your life and where you are heading. Things that seem important are inconsequential when you are working towards full health. During my convalescence period, social media was my near constant companion, and given that for two weeks, I was physically restricted in my movements, I had a lot of time to really think about how we live our lives in a digital world.

Presidential candidates are now elevated on the strength of their digital selves, a la Donald Trump. Everything that we deem true is only true if we can grab our device and “prove” it. Words are read and shared and rarely do we look behind the words to the people who speak them. People become the sum of these words that have become memes or hashtags. for both good or bad. Overall, though, I cannot help but think that this not a healthy way of being.

Given the emotional weight of this election season, I am sure that most of us are only one degree at best removed from relationships and connections that have been altered based off something someone said or shared online. It used to be that someone actually had to do something egregious to alter a relationship but now declaring our candidate can lead to the end of a connection.

As I struggle with the reality of needing to ensure that me the person is not consumed by the personality that writes this blog, I cannot help thinking that what once promised us growth and freedom has become a tool to control us and limit our human potential. We are  people who are ideally living whole lives and we need to remember that behind the words we read and share online are whole people who at best are only sharing a fraction of themselves via these digital channels that have become our masters.
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It’s bigger than no dates for Black women or How we avoid naming racism

Last night, I had one of those rare moments in a social setting where someone’s willingness to speak truth to racial reality caught me off-guard…but in a good way. The truth is, we would all be better off if we stopped skirting the issues and instead faced them head-on.  

As I settle into my post-marital life, I have found myself thinking about things that I haven’t needed to think about in over 20 years. The last time I was single, I was a slip of a young thing in one of America’s largest cities so, as a young woman of color, I didn’t have to think of age and race as being barriers to a dating/romantic/grown-folks life. But that is no longer my reality;  I am a firmly middle-aged woman with one adult child and one still underfoot (so to speak, at 10 years old you won’t find her crawling around much anymore), I also live in one of America’s whitest states as a Black woman. These truths mean that my odds are probably higher of having a decent-sized winning lotto ticket than of meeting a human or two for casual dating, much less any type of relationship. I have no illusions about the fact that as long as I stay in Maine, I will probably be alone. Right now, I am more or less okay with that though I know there will come a point where I may feel differently.

Dating while Black or Brown in predominantly white spaces has always been hard regardless of age. I have met young Black women in Maine who went years without ever having a date. I recently met up with a Black woman in her 50s who was born and raised in Maine and who told me she didn’t have her first date until well in her 20s…why? She was pretty for a Black girl but no one was taking her out, much less taking her home. The pain with which she relayed that story was so palpable that it hurt my soul. Most of us are hardwired for connection and companionship, and when race becomes the barrier that prevents those connections from happening, it leaves a stain on your essence.

Typically, whenever I talk about dating or even considering dating in this post-marital life with friends and acquaintances, the response always falls along racial lines. My friends of color pretty much ask when the hell I am leaving Maine, whereas my white friends insist that I am too pretty, charismatic, dynamic, blah, blah, blah for race to matter for such things. I have to admit these responses had been leaving me with an uneasy feeling until last night when at a local gathering, I found myself chatting with a forty-something-year-old white woman who, when the conversation turned to dating, she actually agreed with me. Surprised the shit out of me!  It was a good conversation and it was a real conversation. Sometimes being strangers allows us to drop our guards and just be real.

This tale of my post-marital life isn’t really the issue here, but it’s the vehicle to show us just how hard we work to avoid racial realities. If we can’t tell a friend/pal/person we know that yeah, you probably are screwed and your race is a barrier because people are small-minded, how can we find the courage to tackle the larger issues? How can we call each other out in love when racism is one of the most pressing issues we face as a nation but we are so uncomfortable naming it that the stench is overpowering the air we all breathe?  This current election season seems to have unleashed a current of hate that too many are ill-prepared to not only deal with but to actually do something about.  We shake our heads in disbelief and hope that things will get better when what we need is an action plan to combat the hate. Yet how do we expect to find the courage to tackle the big stuff if naming the small stuff feels too uncomfortable? Start close to home on being the change and let it grow from there. Naming racism and acknowledging it on a micro-interpersonal level is a good start.
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