Showing up for us in meaningful ways

Today we have a new post from contributor Marena Blanchard. It’s a very personal piece in the sense that it focuses heavily on her home city of Portland, Maine. But while some of the names and circumstances may be specific to that city, I think many of the issues she touches on will resonate with people of color and those who support them as far away as the “other Portland” in Oregon and oh so many communities in between in the United States. By the way, Marena is a community organizer, working to resist and dismantle the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in Maine. She focuses on racial justice and immigration rights.
–BGIM
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Here we go.

I love you, Portland. I love you so much that I choose to live here and have committed to raising my precious daughter here. Liberal and progressive white people of Portland, I love you so much that I am willing to expend significant emotional labor to remain in dialogue with you, over and over. I love you so much that I put my Black, queer, femme body in white-only spaces to provide a perspective you can’t imagine. I love you so much that I’m willing to make you uncomfortable and navigate through the consequences that has for me. My love is actively working toward King’s Beloved Community.

Here we go.

I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to learn how white supremacy permeates all things. (Shout out to the Black folks who invested in teaching me outside of the institution of public education). Truth is, America is and always has been a country rooted in white supremacy. Since its genocidal founding, the institutions that make up this country have been built and maintained to keep a Black person down and keep the white man on their neck. There is not a single American system, law, code, etc. that exists outside of Racism. There is not a single region, state, county, or city that exists outside Racism. See where I’m going with this?

There’s this pervasive myth that Portland is a progressive bubble devoid of the racial strife present in other cities. It’s not. Portland stays hella problematic and perpetuates white supremacy in ways you may not recognize. Yet. More on this below.

Chances are your analysis of race has deepened due to your exposure to PoC [people of color] writers and thinkers, like Shay. There is a local lineage of leaders who have taught and mentored us, directly and indirectly. Gerald E. Talbot, Rachel Talbot Ross, Pious Ali, Leonard Cummings, Bob Greene, Keita Whitten, Regina Phillips, Daniel Minter, Rev. Kenneth Lewis, Samuel James, Rene Johnson, Samaa Abdurraqib, and the organizers of Portland Racial Justice Congress are just a few who have influenced me. You also have relied on their labor, perspective, insight, and persistence to gain understanding, whether you are conscious of this or not. It’s in this tradition, and that of my own familial ancestors, that I attempt to pop this myth about the Portland bubble.

Here we go.

Let’s talk about white saviors taking up space, the value of civil disobedience, and grounding anti-racist work in a human rights framework which centers the voices and perspectives of marginalized and frontline communities.

Are you ready?

Local white folks are so concerned with the anger expressed by some Black folks, specifically Black women. I have been prompted to address this so many times that I need to declare publicly, at the onset of this discussion: civility is not the greatest good. Black people are humans. With the full range of human emotions. Black women are humans. With full human rights to life. Black women should be angry. I, personally, am angry as fuck. And I will remain so, as long as my people remain oppressed. White folks, understand that you are also bound by white supremacy and will not be free until I am. Our liberations are interwoven.

The ways white supremacy manifests internationally, nationally, and locally should make us all mad. I am here for normalizing anger and normalizing its expression. I am here for the motivation it can provide to us. I am here for what it can tell us about ourselves and the world around us. And ultimately, I am here for transmuting it into the deepest kind of love. Feel your feelings, Black fam; they are valid and I will never shame you for it or tone-check you.

In the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder and the mobilization of Ferguson, Brittney Cooper wrote this in defense of Black rage: “Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us. They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.”

The trail of Black bodies has led us to this election. Donald Trump is our very own fascist president. Yeah, I’m fucking angry about that. And also terrified for my physical safety and that of my daughter. And also realize that even I, as a Black queer femme, am still less of a target than disabled PoC, trans PoC, Muslim PoC, and LGBTQ+ Muslim PoC.

After checking multiple news sources to confirm his victory, I was immediately triggered by the sense of not being able to protect those I love. I became instantly obsessed with figuring out how best to address the safety concerns of my community and change the system that made the concern a reality to begin with. In dialogue with another organizer, Samaa Abdurraqib, we formed For Us, By Us.

Liberal and progressive white folks in Maine also sprang into action. Suddenly, there was an excess of energy and ideas. Which is great and inspiring and part of the reason why I love Portland. There were meetings, events, and action plans made to protect marginalized communities. But y’all, the spaces were almost exclusively cis hetero white, as was the leadership of these initiatives. As a principle, I need you to understand that nothing about us or for us, should be without us. Liberal and progressive white folk do not have the perspective or lived experience to fully understand the challenges facing communities y’all don’t belong to. So how can y’all set priorities or frameworks? The assumption that you can save us is Peak White Savior mentality. We need to dead that shit; no more white saviors.

Recognize where your learning around race comes from, give credit where it’s due, don’t set up initiatives that compete with PoC initiatives and yet claim to benefit PoC. Don’t take up space and collect coins for initiatives that claim to benefit marginalized communities. Again, nothing about us or for us should be without us.

In these weeks and months directly following the election, I have been SO BUSY. I made it my mission to interrupt predominantly white spaces. I’ve had mixed results. My goal was and is to center the experiences and priorities of marginalized communities in their struggle for full human rights. Another goal was and is what is referred to in the organizing community as “the slow build.” The slow build acknowledges that white folks have more access to the financial and social capital required to begin a project as quickly as possible and that members of marginalized communities largely don’t have that access.

The idea of a slow build says slow down. It says don’t just do outreach to token and visible Black folks, LGBTQ+ folks, etc., in order that they may join and support your project. Rather, show up for us, in the spaces we curate, and figure out how to support us. Build mutually beneficial relationships, not exploitative ones. Figure out how to leverage your resources and connections, so that you may further initiatives led by members of marginalized communities. That is the work of an accomplice.

So here we are.

We’re about a month into the fascist presidency. Locally, we’ve seen our “moderate” Republican Sen. Susan Collins kiss the ring in a multitude of ways, KKK flyers manifesting in your suburban neighborhoods, hate crimes against PoC youth, a bomb threat against a Jewish preschool, the Portland Police Department chief holding a press conference in which he elevates rallies and condemns civil disobedience, and recruitment at the University of Southern Maine (USM) by a group listed on Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate map. Insert spinning Mr. Crab meme. Do you still think Portland is a bubble? I need to know where y’all white saviors at right now on this.

Last I checked some of y’all were still asking whether racism is a problem in Maine…where exactly the line is between cultural appropriation and appreciation…and characterizing the occupation of a commercial center as violence. When I think about where the needle is on these conversations, when I observe how basic civic engagement in participatory democracy is labeled as resistance, when I see the commodification of movement moments…my anxiety sets in. I wonder if you are prepared to address what’s happening. I wondered if you are prepared to stand with those of us who are most affected by this regime’s policies. My fear is that you are not.

Showing up in Meaningful Ways:

I see Rep. Larry Lockman’s speaking engagement at USM as a test. Read about his background here. I’ve heard your arguments about freedom of speech and the slippery slope toward absolute censorship for us all. I’ve heard your warnings that he’s down here solely to get a rise out of leftists and repeat what happened at UC Berkeley. And honestly, y’all got me fucked up with all that and I call bullshit. Lockman’s down here to spread his anti-immigrant message. Successful recruitment will have real impacts for our neighbors. Worry about THAT slippery slope. Y’all keep talking about the need to make inroads into rural Maine while the hateful and violent are out here making their own inroads into our community. Hate speech incites violence and USM shouldn’t be used for recruitment in this way. It’s already a dangerous environment for PoC and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Go ahead ask me about that, I got stories and receipts for days.

Let me connect a couple dots for you. Remember the Islamophobic graffiti that appeared in USM’s student senate office late last year? One of the senators forced to resign due to his efforts to cover up the incident is listed as the primary contact for this newly formed student group, Young Americans for Freedom. And one of their first acts is to invite down this motherfucker Lockman. In a public Facebook post, a student senator revealed that the event is privately funded. Further, this group is paying for their own security for the event. Where’s this money coming from? Y’all wanna talk about freedom of speech, tho.

In a recent Maine Beacon piece, Teddy Burrage asks, “To what extent should we allow freedom of speech to become an incubator for violence, particularly with the genocidal undertones within the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ movement? At what point are we responsible for snuffing out the embers of hate despite our commitment to freedom? Our answers to these questions may determine whether or not we repeat history.”

Let’s talk about history for a quick minute. White supremacists have been using the “freedom of speech” argument to spread hate and recruit for their cause for over 100 years. When “Birth of a Nation,” a horrid film which glorified the KKK and set a new bar for racist imagery, first debuted it was widely protested. The brand new NAACP worked tirelessly to prevent showings. This prompted the director of the film, D.W. Griffith, to pen “The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America.” Let me emphasize this: the very argument that hate speech is free speech was popularized by the white supremacist filmmaker credited with the spread of the KKK in America 100 years ago and y’all out here repeating it.

Further, did you catch that Portland Press Herald article about how the resurgence of the KKK spread throughout Southern Maine and resulted in significant influence over Portland’s City Hall? It started with speaking engagements. We cannot afford to sleep on this. We cannot afford to normalize this. We cannot afford to appease this. As a queer, Black femme, daughter of an immigrant, the stakes feel very high for me.

This needs to be, first and foremost, about standing with those most affected by the threat Lockman’s views represent to our lives and our human rights. We need to stand with women, PoC, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ folks. Portland Racial Justice Congress, #USMfutures, and other student groups are calling for a nonviolent protest of the event. We should follow their leadership. They are centering the most affected voices and we should stand with them. You should stand with us.

Portland, I love you and I’mma need you to get your shit all the way together and fast. I need all of you to fiercely defend the rights of affected communities to protest if and when they so choose. If you can fix your mouth to defend the free speech of someone like Lockman, I better see you at the protest too. If you are able, don’t leave the marginalized to stand alone, surrounded by police. I’m going to need you to understand the value in civil disobedience and show up for it in a way that makes the most sense for your body. That’s what this moment requires. That’s how you leverage your privilege. That’s how you resist.

You are not powerless.

We are powerful. All power to the people.

#BlackLivesMatter

Six resources for going deeper:

Reframing Faculty Criticisms of Student Activism

White Progressives: It’s time to be transformers, not just have opinions

PBS Independent Lens Documentary: The Birth of a Movement

A Public Menace: How the Fight to Ban the Birth of a Nation Shaped the Nascent Civil Rights Movement

Some Garbage I Used to Believe About Equality

The Trump Era will Test us. What are you willing to risk?
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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.

Writers of color…to me, my friends!

For some time now, I’ve been attempting to cultivate writers of color here at Black Girl in Maine. I have had some contributors, but lately, life seems to be interfering, either with other obligations on their part or writer’s block. So, I’m putting out a new call for writers. The more, the merrier (within reason; I’m still a small but scrappy operation).

Best thing (well, one of them anyway): I pay. While I certainly hope you get plenty of exposure, I don’t (as many other sites do) pay in exposure. I don’t pay in hits/page views. I pay you a flat fee when you hand in the post and I deem it appropriate to post on BGIM.

Sure, I pay a small amount right now. As BGIM the blog works its way toward being BGIM Media and I add podcasts and such, I plan to bring in more income, and thus pay more to writers. But again, I do pay something…that exposure won’t buy you any groceries or gas.

Now, I know there are plenty of fine white writers out there, penning stuff on race. And I have one here already, An Average White Guy. That’s important, because this space is for white people and people of color. It is a place of education for both, and support/encouragement of both. I’ve long said that white people need to reach out to other white people, and that’s why I have An Average White Guy.

But beyond that, I need writers of color. Black ones. Latinx ones. Native American ones. You name it. Sure, I’m probably partial to those three mostly and likely in that order, but I am not trying to make this place monochromatic in a non-white fashion. I want to promote many voices of color.

And while anti-Black oppression and systemic racism are my forte around here, I also want to see intersectionality with issues like class, gender, sexuality, religion and more.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: No, you don’t have to be a New England-based person to write for BGIM…my readership goes well beyond the Northeastern United States.

Interested? Drop me a line, shoot your best shot and email me at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com 

The path to unity requires honesty, or Beyond the march

As the date drew closer for the Women’s March on January 21, I found myself having a mini existential crisis: To attend or not? Given the intersection of activism with my job as executive director of Community Change Inc., along with my writing and speaking on race and oppression, I am sure many would assume that I would be in attendance. If not at the Washington, D.C., march, then surely at one of the sister marches. But the truth is the decision to attend or not attend was far more complex. In the end, an upper respiratory infection showed up Saturday morning and pretty much took the choice out of my hands.

So I spent most of Saturday laying in bed and watching my social media feeds and all the wonderful pictures being shared by friends and colleagues both locally and nationally. By all accounts, it was an amazing day as turnout exceeded organizers’ expectations to the point of altering actual march plans and routes.

I also noticed on my feeds many women of color who also sat out the march or attended with reservations and realized that there was a very common theme. For many women of color, especially Black women, marching is not new. (This is not to say that other women have not been politically involved or to take away from their work.) Yet for my fellow women of color there was a shared sense of weariness. In the past several years, we have been on the streets, we have been at the rallies when yet another Black or Brown person has had their life cut short at the hands of law enforcement. Such as…

  • Michael Brown
  • Sandra Bland
  • Tamir Rice
  • Trayvon Martin
  • Miriam Carey
  • John Crawford
  • Freddie Gray
  • Eric Garner

These are just a few of the names that I have cried over, wrote about and marched for in the past several years. It takes a toll on you. It also makes you look critically at who shows up and who doesn’t show up. What many women of color noticed was that while Saturday’s Women’s March was a multicultural affair, it was heavy on white women. White women who are rarely seen at protests when the issues involve people of color. Many of whom also chafe when women of color bring up issues of feminism and women’s rights that are specific to non-white women.

Naturally, many people have noted this and in the past few days there have been some solid pieces written and expressed via pictures about who showed up on Saturday. Given that I have had nothing but time to sit on social media seeing as I continue to battle the ick, I have also noticed a bit of the pushback too.

Specifically on the BGIM Facebook page, I received several comments after sharing pieces that referenced the racial divide asking that I focus on unity and not divisiveness. Yet if we are truly to work for a unified goal, we need to make sure that we have a shared vision and goal and that starts with understanding the role of intersectionality and how it plays out in our respective lives. We may all be women but our overlapping identities impact the way we experience oppression and discrimination.

A middle-class white woman may experience discrimination based on her gender but has white skin privilege; as a Black woman with working-class roots, I face discrimination based on not only on my gender but my race and my class. The intersections grow as the identities do. Yet when we are asked to come together as women, too often the framing of that experience does not allow for multiple identities. In fact, a frequent problem in feminist circles has been a tendency to center the issues, voices and agendas on white women and their priorities (and also to marginalize and revile people like sex workers). The problem is that when we don’t acknowledge the various intersections that exists and when we don’t create space to honor various identities within the context of being women, we aren’t working towards a shared goal of women’s rights and equality. Truthfully, we thwart our own efforts. Instead, we are forced into a framework that only serves one type of woman, typically a middle-class white woman.

Saturday’s march was hailed as a success on multiple levels, including the peaceful nature and lack of arrests and violence. Given that women, specifically Black and Brown women, have been the drivers behind the Black Lives Matter movement and many of the local marches and protests in recent years as well as Native American efforts in North Dakota at the North Dakota Pipeline, it’s hard not to notice that with a majority of white women involved in the Women’s March, law enforcement in the various locales had a vastly different approach to the marchers. Instead of the heavy-handed approach and militarized weaponry that shows up too often when the protesters are of a darker hue, none of that was present. And considering the Women’s March efforts were bigger than BLM efforts and pipeline protests and there was neither police aggressiveness nor arrests to speak of (in D.C. or any of the sister marches in other cities), one has to look to what made it different. And the one key difference was the overwhelmingly heavy presence of white skin among the protesters/marchers.

None of us knows for sure what we are facing with a Trump administration, but it’s abundantly clear that it will not be business as usual and as hard as it will be, it is also a time for us to come together. But that requires trust, and trust isn’t going to happen until we can break down the barriers that have prevented white people (progressive white women among them) from truly hearing us. We can’t fight for the right to make choices for own bodies without being honest about the racial health disparities that have existed even before the Trump administration, for example. Much of what we are fighting to save has not been equally accessible to all women.

Criticism is part of growth, not a slap in the face, and for far too long the divisions that have existed between white women and women of color is the inability for some white women to hear the reality of women of color. Now more than ever, it is time for our white sisters to hear us and not stifle us. Instead of asking us to not be divisive by pointing out differences in treatment and access to rights, recognize that when you ask a woman of color to be quiet and go with the majority flow, you are saying that our needs don’t matter. We live vastly different lives and if we are to work together, we need our white sisters to recognize that and honor it.

Historically, women of color have been asked to stifle ourselves and maintain the status quo. But in this moment, if we are serious about change, we need to resist the urge to do that and instead listen to all women and all our truths so that we can work together. The road is long and the work will be hard but it is not impossible. As painful as this moment is, it is also an opportunity. But will we have the courage to sit with the uncomfortable topics and uncomfortable moments and use it as a catalyst for real growth and 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.