The goal is in sight, but the content needs reader support…your support

Dear Readers,

The first five months of 2019 have personally been quite a journey and a testament to the power of how our voices can make a difference. When I created this site back in 2008, I never could have imagined that this space would be a part of taking my work and voice beyond Maine and Northern New England.

Not only has it done that, but it has served as an incubator for new and emerging writers of color in the region as several of our earlier contributors have moved onto other opportunities including one who has a book in the works. Yay, Samara!

I am constantly looking to bring on new contributors with a racial analysis and story that I believe can benefit the larger readership. Which is why, despite our focus on working with writers of color, we have two white contributors: Average White Guy and Heather Denkmire. Two white people who are personally committed to doing better as white people, understanding that they will never be woke enough, because they are white and will forever be works in progress when it comes to their own liberation from whiteness and white supremacy.

As awareness of how white supremacy is embedded into the fabric of this nation continues to grow, our readership grows. Sadly, what has not grown is the revenue to fully sustain this site, along with the podcast which is now on permanent hiatus until we are fully funded. It costs money and time to work with a podcast producer as well as the scheduling of guests, something that with my work schedule (which involves 8-12 days per month of travel) was becoming a logistical nightmare. We currently have contributing writers, an editor, and myself, along with the related costs to run this site and pay for my time which includes covering our subscription costs as well as time spent daily posting resources and articles on social media.

The thing is, as I wrote in February of this year: How exactly does one make money from blogging or really any type of digital writing? In reality, the average writer is making very little as consumers have come to expect a steady stream of content to be available at no cost to them. I say this not just as a blogger but as one who was partnered for 20 years to a journalist. An ole-school J-school grad, who has watched his own fortunes dry up. The days of writing for a buck or two per word have gone the way of the landline telephone.

In today’s world, asking readers to support the work that they value has become the norm. Sites like Patreon are no longer an anomaly but a reality if you are a content creator, otherwise there is simply no way else to have the work covered.

I announced in February that I was moving much of the content that we provide on this site to Patreon but after hearing the feedback from many of you, I decided to shelve that idea for the time being. I grew up poor/working class, I recognize that many people may truly not have a spare $5 or $10 a month but truly wants to be able to access the information. However, to keep the site accessible to not have to put much of my content behind a “paywall” requires that those who can afford to become a patron do so. It’s a form of class solidarity and it’s important.

Right now, we are 134 patrons away from being fully funded. To put that in perspective, I need 134 people to commit to a minimum monthly gift of $5 either via Patreon or Paypal. In February, we were 200 patrons away, so we are making progress. Thank you.

That said, every month, we have fluctuations as people cancel pledges or pledges don’t go through. This month, we had a higher than usual number of pledges that didn’t go through. Which means even if you can’t commit to a monthly pledge, a one-time gift is also helpful as they allow us to make up the difference on a month like this.

Look, my day job is running a small non-profit, I know that you are bombarded with almost daily requests for support. Yet if this space has added value to your life, I am asking you to let us know by making a one-time gift or monthly pledge. Theoretically, no amount is too small, though to be honest, because of money taken off the top before I ever see your pledges or donations or tips, anything under a buck really is too little, as I will only literally get loose change in the end. But in the end, what I am saying is that modest support—especially by enough people—is just as welcome as large donations or pledges. And perhaps more so if enough people step up with modest pledges and tips.

As always, thank you for your support and keep fighting! Fight as if your lives depend on it. Because, for many of us, they really do.

In solidarity,

Shay aka Black Girl in Maine

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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Raising kids of color in very white places

For the last several years of my marriage, while we never doubted  that there was love between us, we were uncomfortably aware that there was something deeply amiss in our relationship. We spent our last few years together doing everything in our power to keep the relationship going until it became painfully obvious that love was not enough and that, on many levels, we were deeply mismatched as a romantic unit. That revelation, while painful, allowed us to end our romantic coupling and transition into our coparenting relationship with little of the anger and animosity that is often present when couples split up. Despite our differences, my former life partner and coparent remains one of my favorite people.

I find myself thinking about the end of that relationship and the clarity and strength it took for us to make that decision as I ponder the realities of raising a Black girl—now 13 years old—in a very white state. I must admit that I am wondering if raising Black children in such spaces is not borderline abusive. Is living in these spaces, even as an adult, a form of self-harm?

By the time I was 13, I had already had Black teachers; it’s almost 40 years later and I still remember my second grade teacher—the first teacher I knew who shared my race. By the time I was 13, several of my best friends were, like me, also Black girls with Southern roots and  working-class backgrounds. While I attended racially integrated schools, our home and family spaces were Black. I never had to struggle to see myself represented in my immediate life.

My weekends were rich experiences that involved shopping, living and loving with people who looked like me. I did not have to explain my family’s ways of being and have my friends inquire about why my parents were so strict.  While I had to code switch, and most certainly had awkward moments especially in my teen years, my existence and reality was so much more than being Black because I did not have to fight to exist. I simply existed.

In my 17 years here in Maine, I have seen Black folks and other people of color come and go. In many cases, the realities of always having to think about race and the energy of living that reality takes its toll.

My daughter will be wrapping up her middle school career in one of Maine’s most diverse schools, never having had Black friends or any non-white teachers. Despite me being her mother and my work around race, her external experiences are shaped by whiteness. We live in a state where our numbers are so few that we are reduced to simply being People of Color. No, we are not just people of color, we are  Black people and specifically, we are the descendants of enslaved Africans.

My Facebook feed is filled with the painful struggles that so many  twenty-something Black Mainers endure in their day-to-day lives, from racial slurs at work to the realities of dating while Black in a white state. I fear that our entire lives in this space are shaped by race.

In a country built on white supremacy, race will always matter but true wellness requires a more expansive view of ourselves beyond our race. Yet if leaving the house becomes an act of war that requires donning our mental shields and armor, what are the long-term implications? It’s not healthy to be in battle mode every time we leave the house and yet it is the reality for many.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being a keynote panelist at the New England Grassroots Environment Fund Root Skill conference which was held in Brattleboro, Vermont. The panel was racially diverse, so I was not the only non-white panelist. We were asked what we love about our communities—we all shared that we loved the natural beauty of New England and the overall feeling but for the panelists of color, the realities of being non-white  in these white spaces is never far away.

The thing is, after 17 years, I can say that there are some real changes happening. When I started writing about race in 2003 for the now defunct Portland Phoenix, I had to tread lightly and often my pieces were watered down and yet, I still received death threats for daring to name race.

In recent weeks, Maine has done away with Columbus Day and become one of fewer than 10 states in the nation to do so and replace it with Indigenous People Day. Maine’s governor just signed a bill banning Indigenous mascots within public schools. Conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming more commonplace across sectors and with individuals. And yet the day-to-day realities of living here as a non-white person, for all the progress, remains fraught, tense and downright uncomfortable at times.

It’s a place where microaggressions are as common as the morning coffee even with allies, and where I fear that for too many allies, anti-racism work is an academic activity that resides in the head and not the heart. A place where few white people are interested in giving up any privilege but are happy to show up at the rally and be a fierce online advocate. But in real life? Disrupt the status quo? Less so.

So for each step forward, it is still a half step back, meaning that the process of change will take a very long time. In the meantime, what becomes of the Black people and other people of color living here? Do we pack up and leave because it’s too much or do we stay? Do we raise our children here or do we take them away from the beauty of the state and all the joys of Maine because whiteness is toxic and—while we can never escape the toxicity of whiteness in this culture—at least being in spaces where we exist in greater numbers can provide some protection from the more virulent forms of white toxicity?

If only I had the answer…

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.

Photo by Meghan Schiereck from Unsplash

Anti-racism work is messy: Observations from the road

The past week has been a whirlwind as I found myself juggling back-to-back speaking engagements in Seattle and then speaking again in Maine. Over the past several years, I have done numerous speaking engagements with my friend and collaborator, author Debby Irving, as well as solo engagements. However, these most recent engagements have had a profound impact on me as I ponder the state of anti-racism work, both as a writer/speaker and as the head of an anti-racism organization.

Too often, we conflate anti-racism, racial equity and racial justice work as being one and the same. In reality, while they are very much related, I don’t believe them to be the same. One can engage in racial equity, implicit bias or racial justice work while still dancing around the core issue of dismantling white supremacy. In fact, as we discussed at a recent board-staff retreat at my organization, equity is rapidly becoming the newest buzzword, much like “diversity” in the early 1990s. Increasingly when I hear people using it, I ask them to explain what they mean. People theoretically want equity, but without the larger framework, they are not committed to the type of systemic change that will require white people to actually give up something. And the fact is that active reallocation of resources is essential to equity.

On the other hand, to be actively anti-racist requires a level of constant intentionality; it’s the personal and the systemic. It encompasses equity, implicit bias and racial justice and for most people, specifically white people, it is the hardest to achieve. It’s a lot easier to discuss our biases and how they affect our decision-making than it is to look at the whole framework of our society and look at how one can be complicit in upholding white supremacy. Anti-racism work demands more of us—it involves that we bring our whole selves to the work. And it also indicts good white people.

As I learned in my recent talks with Debby, even a white person with a solid grounding in anti-racism work can still have an unintentional and thoughtless moment and cause harm to a Black person or other person of color. Because despite our knowledge and our intentions, to be human—regardless of race—is to make mistakes. Nasty, almost potentially friendship-ending mistakes.

That’s exactly what happened as we kicked off our first date in Washington, at the Seattle Equity Summit. When a glass of spilled water nearly ended my friendship with Debby and nearly derailed the summit. After several days of sitting with the events of that engagement, I don’t think a full recap is necessary in this space. But I can share that Debby spilled a cup of water, and she didn’t clean it up because she was caught up in listening to a speaker and then we had to get ready to go on stage for our own presentation. The spilled water soaked a woman’s belongings—a Black woman’s belongings. The Black woman had to clean up Debby’s spilled water and she waited until the question-and-answer portion of our presentation to rightfully call Debby out. As her presentation partner, it was horrifying and upsetting. It was also when the work we do became real as the audience members of color took Debby to task for her privileged and racist behavior. And in the end, I too from the stage—sitting next to her—shared my feelings about her behavior.

It was not comfortable. We were flown 2,000 miles to showcase how cross-racial communications look and to model our work. In the end, two Black women had to clean up after Debby and yet the whole experience has been a powerful learning moment as I realize just how much deeper we all have to go in the work.

To break the cultural norms of whiteness that dictate a certain way of being (nice), and to instead to have a cross-racial conversation with an audience where real emotions and pain were shared, is part of anti-racism work. In choosing to call out Debby’s behavior from the audience, the woman whose things were ruined was powerful and brave. It was also because the calling out was not simply a call-out, but turned the venue into a space where Black people and other POC stood firm in their truths.

That spilled water was about more than water; it was every moment when a Black person was dismissed or unseen by a white person. It’s standing in the line and having a white person insert themselves right in front of you, as if you weren’t even there. It’s the collective hurt of 400 years of being erased by white supremacy.

Dismantling white supremacy will not be a tidy to-do list. In fact, for white people, it is going to require a reckoning as they learn to grieve for their own lost humanity. It is no longer enough to feel bad for non-white people; it’s about turning the lens inward to ask: what was taken from me? It’s realizing that we all carry trauma over what was done to us and owning it. Four hundred years of white subjugation lives in the souls of Black people—50-something years of “freedom” doesn’t even begin to touch the ancestral trauma that is part of being Black in America.

All white allies and accomplices will have missteps and slide back into unchecked whiteness and harm Black people or other POC. Despite your intentions, you are not free until we fully dismantle white supremacy. You can read the books, attend the workshops, support Black folks/POC and f*ck it up beautifully. The question is, are you committed enough to face the pain you create and keep trying to do better? For me, the question is can I continue to extend grace to my white comrades knowing that our collective liberation requires that I stay present in this struggle. For Debby, it was sitting in that moment and facing what she had done without running off the stage or crying. Given that white women’s tears can so often be weaponized, it was powerful to witness, even with my anger.

At my last engagement, in Maine, a young Black woman told me that she thought that my work simply absolved white people and that it even coddled them. I have been sitting with her words, looking for truth and asking for wisdom. While that is not my intention, I also see where it is possible to think that. But sitting here with 46 years of lived experience as a Black woman, I know that walking around with anger is toxic. Anger can be freeing as it propels us to the arena of actively fighting for liberation. But living with anger, day in and day out, takes a toll on the body. It also starts to chop away at our own humanity and for me, at this stage in my life, I use my anger sparingly because the most radical act that I can engage in as a Black woman is to live with joy. To rewrite the narrative and live fully in my body. The joy I seek allows me to lessen anger’s grip and extend compassion towards those I see trapped in a silo where they don’t even know what they don’t know.

I have said many times that racism steals from the well of human potential. It isn’t just denied access and opportunity, it’s in how the pain of racism lives in our souls. I am convinced that the racial death rate disparity is absolutely rooted in the cumulative impact of racism on the body over the decades, as well as the ancestral wounds.

In recent years, we have tried moving the needle on race but we are only touching the surface. This work requires that we bring our full selves, knowing that it will be raggedy. It will hurt—and yet what is the alternative? To let white supremacy continue its reign of terror? Or to bring our many hands to the table and collectively chip away at this beast?

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.

Photo by Ethan Sykes from Unsplash