Understanding that you, too, are racist (even if you’re one of the “good ones”)

Within the past 24 hours, I have had several exchanges that brought me back down to Earth and reminded me that for many self-professed white allies, their knowledge of racism is still rather rudimentary. It’s more of a head exercise that hasn’t quite gravitated downward to the heart and shaken them to their core.

As I have written many times before in this space, for many white Americans, Trump’s win was a wake-up call of sorts. Kind of like the first alarm before you hit the snooze button. For the liberal, white progressive or the white moderates as Martin Luther King Jr. referred to them in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the goal has almost never been about achieving the type of racial equity that acknowledges that America’s prosperity was bought and paid for with the land, blood, bodies and souls of Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) and that continued oppression and marginalization of both groups has been a mainstay of maintaining the America status quo. Nor has the goal or effort been to really sit with that reality and look at what is truly necessary to right 400-plus years of such immense wrong. (Hint: It’s more than a free college education and some feel-good moments with diverse faces at the table.)

A deep dive is what is needed, yet for many white people they simply want to bob and float and splash at the surface or in the shallow end. They want to focus on surface-level, feel-good moments around race—videos of the occasional police officer showing random kindness to a Black person or a Black person doing a heroic act or a white ally standing up for a person of color being harassed in a store or whatever. Or to focus on the accomplishment of getting our first Black president—of course, both the fact we got a Black president (freaking out much of white America) and the fact that so many white liberals and moderates thought that was a moment that made us “post-racial” is also what gave us the current awful occupant of the White House.

Too many white people, while horrified by the extrajudicial killings of Black bodies and the blatant racism coming out of the Trump administration, refuse to understand that their very whiteness has allowed them to be co-conspirators in the system of white supremacy—that to be born white is to inherit the blood of white supremacy. Personal kindness toward Black people and other non-white people doesn’t erase that. To be born and raised as a white person is to be racist. Full stop.

That’s a hard one to swallow but the type of transformation that we need is a critical mass of white people who understand this. We need a majority of white people to understand that their good feelings and good deeds towards BIPOC—without frequent reflections on lingering racism in themselves and without a commitment to systemic, societal change—only helps to keep the system of white supremacy alive. As my colleague and collaborator, author Debby Irving, says: She spent 20 years on diversity committees in educational and community spaces with no real analysis around race. With no understanding that her good fortunes in life were built on the backs of others. The same system that allowed her relatives access to Harvard and upward mobility (and to pass that on to other family members), also worked systematically to prevent others who were not white from having those opportunities.

Even in anti-racism work, there is a tendency with white organizers to see themselves differently; to see themselves as better and more enlightened than the “other white people.” Not wanting to deal with the Trump supporters and others of that ilk—but, are they not white people like you? If you don’t work with your more actively racist people and, yes, other such white people are your people (your neighbors, mentors, peers, colleagues, family and more), who exactly is ever going to work with them? Do you feel this is the work of Black and other non-white people? No, it’s not. Your very whiteness allows you a certain level of access that I or other non-white people will never see nor should we. The emotional labor required on that task shouldn’t be our job when we are drowning in racist systems and behaviors on the daily already.

Which is why loving, good feelings toward other people regardless of race don’t change the impact or the system. As we often say in movement spaces, it’s intent versus impact. Your intentions may be all good and well, but the impact can still be harmful.

It’s the same type of harmful impact that has many in this current dialogue on reparations suggesting that tax credits or free college education could be the answer in dealing with racial inequity.

The data are clear that often Black people with college degrees fare worse than white people with only a high school diploma. Black women with advanced degrees have higher mortality rates than white women without a high school diploma. High-earning Black people are still targeted for discrimination when it comes to home ownership. We have access to enough data to know that overall, being a college-educated Black person does not afford you the same access or protection that it gives to white counterparts of a similar demographics. We also know that more and more Black Americans, particularly Black women, are already well educated—so how is paying for our continued educations going to change anything when the ones we paid for ourselves still don’t allow us to catch a break?

Erasing the student debt or paying for the education of Black people is but a drop in the bucket when the real problem is the current infrastructure and system that favors white people. When white people refuse to see that and understand how their seeming benevolence fuels this system, nothing changes.

Look, being told that being white means you harbor racism (in certain thoughts, in certain actions, in certain benefits you reap without hesitation, in certain preconceptions, etc.) is not a slur or necessarily even a judgment against you. Telling you that being white is to be racist on some level is a statement of fact. White people have blind spots when it comes to racism; even white people in loving and intimate relationships with people of color can fall prey to the seductive allure of whiteness and wanting to uphold a system of standards that decided hundreds of years ago what is right and who is wrong and made white people the center and the standard by which to judge that.

If you are going to become offended when you are confronted with this knowledge and told that you can’t claim you “don’t have a racist bone in your body” or that you harbor racism (whether you want to or not) simply from being white in a white supremacist society, you are part of the problem. If your first response is to get defensive and rattle off your racial justice bonafides, that should be a red flag that you need to sit with it and ask why are you pushing back so hard.

Look, we have a lot of work ahead of us and if you are truly down for change, we are playing the long game. The goal isn’t to assimilate enough Black folks and other POC into this unjust system. It should be to eventually dismantle the entire system and build something better.

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 Hannah Busing on Unsplash

The site, the work and life: Keeping it going

This year, this site celebrates its 11th birthday. Given the ever-changing world, 11 years of blogging is a milestone. Over the years, I have seen bloggers become household names and others fade away into obscurity. Blogging has come a long way, and it’s been one strange ride!  

Yet the one that thing that has remained the same is: 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.

Unfortunately, as a Black woman from working-class roots, I have no rich relatives or angel investors waiting in the wings to assist me in growing this operation.

What I do here at Black Girl in Maine Media was once very niche. But as awareness of race has exploded in this country, it has brought an influx of readers to this space in recent years. It is thrilling to know that we boast readership both nationally and internationally, and no doubt the increasing popularity of this site has led to a significant increase in speaking work for me. However, the site and our writers will always be the flagship operation and my baby. But unlike speaking engagements, there are very real costs to running this site. Regular and continuing costs.

Significant hacking attacks have become my norm, and the security and expertise that keeps this site running has a monetary price. Services I may have used only once or twice a year have become monthly. The trolls and harassment are very real. I recently shared a gem that showed up in my Facebook inbox. Higher visibility as both a Black woman and someone doing anti-racism work is persistent and takes a toll.

What hasn’t increased proportionally is the number of people financially supporting this site. I launched an end-of-the-year drive to increase the number of monthly patrons. In late November until almost the end of December, many signed up to support the site and by the end of January, we saw a number of people either cancel their pledges, or the pledges didn’t go through.

Monthly pledges determine the number of writers I can afford on any given month as those pledges pay the writers, cover the material costs of running the site, cover our editing costs, pay for the podcast to be produced and occasionally even pay me. Typically when pledges fall short, I cover things but as I make changes in my personal life, I can no longer do that. Instead what happened in February is that the podcast recording with our producer has been pushed back and I decreased the number of assignments to writers this month.

Given that reality, I am making some changes moving ahead. Effective March 1, only a limited amount of content will be available on this site. I am moving a portion of our content over to Patreon where only patrons will have access. For those who give monthly through Paypal, you will receive an email copy of those pieces. Anyone making a one-time gift will be eligible to receive all content for that month.

I have long tried to avoid these changes and yet for many of my blogging colleagues, shifting to the Patreon/patron-only model has become the norm. Recognizing that money is an issue for some and wanting this work to be accessible has always been important to me, which is why I am keeping some of the content available at no cost.

This was not an easy decision to make and if and when we are fully funded and the pledges are stable, I may reconsider. However with a decent-sized following across multiple social media channels, it has been disheartening to get so close to the goal and then watch support shift. What makes this site unique is that my actual work background is rooted in 20-plus years of social movement work; I actually work at an anti-racism organization and I have been writing on race for over a  decade. I am committed beyond any monetary desires and yet things cost money. There is also the desire to serve as a hub for Black people and other POC.

While we are talking changes here at BGIM, we are rebooting the podcast. The time off from recording has been beneficial, as it has allowed me to get a better focus on what my goals are with the podcast.

Moving forward, I will be engaging in dialogue with others in the anti-racism world across the US. Some of my confirmed future guests will be Austin Channing Brown, author of “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”, Kelly Wickham Hurst, a longtime educator/blogger/activist and the executive director of Being Black At School and Chris Crass, a social justice activist/educator and author of Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy. I will be tapping my extensive network nationally to engage in conversations with some dynamic changemakers.

Patrons will have early access to the podcast and while each episode eventually will be made public, there will an increased delay in terms of when episodes go public compared to before.

Right now, we need to bring approximately another thousand dollars a month to be stable; that means 200 folks committing a minimum of $5 a piece or some combination of patrons.

As always, thank you for your support and keep fighting! Fight as if your lives depend on it.

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.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Being Black in a white state: Why I “stick it out”

This story ran in Maine’s largest paper this past Sunday and it reminded of a question that I was recently asked by a Black woman from the south. What is it like to be a Black person in such a white state? To be frank, I have received some version of this question pretty regularly and frequently since moving to Maine in 2002.

The short answer: It’s lonely, it’s tiring and it’s exhausting. However it’s far more complex than that because life, regardless of race, can rarely be distilled down to one sentence.

As someone known in Maine and the region for writing on race, I am quite accustomed to being asked, “Why do you stay here if all you are going to do is complain?” First off, I don’t only complain about the state but let’s be honest: I write on racial and other social issues so I have plenty of flaws I need to draw attention to about this state and the region. But, if you want to know why I stay, let me ask this. Why do so many white people in Maine complain about winter weather so vehemently after the first month of it, and expect Florida weather in January or February? Or complain about the tourists who are such a big part of the economy here but continue to live here and deal with them in the summer?

Maine is a very white state and while it is easy to say that our racial issues are related to our lack of racial diversity, that is lie. Even how we discuss our lack of racial diversity isn’t straightforward as this piece makes clear.

Fact is: America is a racist nation. If there is nothing else we should all be clear on in the past few years, America has a racism problem and we have always had a racism problem. Whiteness was created to keep white people in positions of power and privilege. Period. The reason that we can’t love our way out of hate or “just be nice and be patient” is because in our current system, whiteness is currency and a power structure. It’s why even in majority-minority (by the way, I hate that phrase) cities, more often than not, white people are still the ones in charge. It’s why Trump, a serial loser at life (except for his uncanny ability to stay rich and influential despite failing at business and personal relationships so overwhelmingly) played the ultimate race card based on white fear of annihilation and loss of power and rode his lazy, unqualified ass into the White House.

So when I understand how racism and whiteness operates, I understand that there are very few safe spaces where I will be free of racist behavior. After all, blatant acts of racism happen in racially diverse cities every day.

As a teenager in Chicago, I was called a nigger by a child who couldn’t be more than 5 or 6 years old. I showed up to see apartments that were suddenly not available though I had spoken to the landlord less than hour earlier and, of course, my favorite racial incident, being followed around in stores by general staff or security guards. Let’s not even get into the time I was accused of being a sex worker as a passenger in the car with my then-new-husband by a police officer who pulled us over for absolutely no driving infraction whatsoever—since Black women riding in cars with white men can only be sex workers in the eyes of the police. All of these incidents occurred in Chicago. The third largest city in America which has a large Black community as well as one of the largest Mexican communities in the country.

When you have experienced racism in large, racially diverse cities, you come to realize that racism is everywhere. The only difference being that in Maine, having a supportive community is harder to find and that’s where good extended networks across the country are a lifesaver. However, the small, mostly rural nature of Maine also provides the opportunity to start conversations that can make tiny inroads into shifting the current power structures because there are fewer layers to navigate.

Unlike in a city like Chicago or even Boston, the people who are part of the systems and power structures in a place like Maine are far more accessible. In Maine, I personally know several state lawmakers, and both the mayor and school superintendent of our largest city. I can access the folks in charge in ways that were simply not possible in Chicago. If I were to move back to Chicago, sure I would have an easier time finding a good church home and a hair dresser and I would have other better choices but accessing the power structures and having the ability to effect change would be an almost Herculean task compared to being in Maine.

The truth is that being a Black woman over a certain age in America is lonely, tiring and exhausting. The racial health disparities data tells that story, despite the adage that “Black don’t crack.” No, it may not crack on the outside but it is cracking day by day in this country. Racism steals from the well of human potential and it does that by ensuring for Black women in particular, the odds are that your chances of a long life free of heath issues is like playing the lottery and hitting big.

Understanding racism at the deepest level is, to some degree, freeing. It frees me from believing that I must exist in a way that will lessen racism. It frees me from believing that there is a safe space for me. Instead, I work to navigate this racist country and seek joy on at the deepest internal level where there is no white person or system that can touch me. My soul is free and eternal. It frees me to fight the system knowing that like the ancestors before me, my work will only be a minute piece of the larger vision for freedom. It frees me to know that even anti-racist white people will mess it up pretty often and to not be surprised when they do. It also allows me to be free to pursue the best life that I can and for me, access to nature is central to that and nature is something that Maine has an abundance of. When I look at the ocean, I see something larger than myself or any of the systems that oppress.

That is why I stay in Maine—at least for now—and why I will continue to live here not in silence but in contemplation, conversation and yes, also in criticism.

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 John T from Unsplash