The real conspiracies are worse than the wild conspiracy theories

To me, the difficult thing about writing is choosing what to write about. There’s just so much happening all the time. Do I write about the country’s racist history or policies or population? Do I write about our own Black history? Do I just write about the most recent time I got pulled over? What issue do I want to draw focus to in the moment? There’s a responsibility in that question that is clouded over by an ever-changing media landscape, peoples’ personal habits and now more than ever, conspiracy theories.

As a member of the media, a person with an audience and just as a person, the abundance of conspiracy theories in the public square is terrifying. It points to how few of us have to acknowledge the shared reality and I worry that it’s just going to get worse.

The thing that’s always bothered me about conspiracy theories is that generally, they are obviously and flatly false. For instance, I think a lot of people buy into the idea that there is a group of mysterious people who control all of the wealth and politicians and pull all of these strings from behind a secret curtain somewhere just out of sight.

I hate this idea so much for so many reasons. I hate it because believing it dismisses our own agency as a citizenry. I hate it because it’s an argument from ignorance. I especially hate it because the opposite is true and the truth is actually in our faces all the time.

Do the wealthy control everything? Absolutely. But are they hiding it? Fuck, no! They brag about that shit! It’s not a secret. They’re constantly shouting it from the rooftops, all of which they own.

Here’s how not-a-secret it is: 101 years ago Bertie Charles Forbes created Forbes magazine. Currently Bertie’s grandson, billionaire Steve Forbes, is the editor-in-chief. If you were to flip through the magazine you would quickly see that it is the voice of the wealthy publicly celebrating themselves as masters over all they see and imagine including the rest of us. And they’re so fucking ostentatiously proud of it they name the shit after themselves.

And, yes, I mean ostentatious.

If I were to tell you that the wealthy actually celebrate surging wealth inequality as a happy sign that life is becoming much more convenient, you might say, “Well, they probably think it and maybe they say some monstrous shit like that behind closed doors, maybe, but that’s not really something you can prove.”

And if that were to be your response, I would gladly direct you to a recent Forbes article, unironically titled, Surging Wealth Inequality is a Happy Sign that Life is Becoming Much More Convenient.

It’s the furthest thing from a conspiracy, though it is somehow believed to be.

That being said, things are different if you’re Black.

Very different.

That Forbes article begins with, “Two hundred years ago the American people were quite a bit more equal in terms of wealth…”

Just like my enslaved ancestors at the time, I know I wouldn’t have been considered any kind of equal two-hundred years ago. Or considered American. Or people. And that information, that the opening line conveniently leaves out is the shadow of a very tall tree with very real conspiracies for every branch, like nooses.

There are intimate conspiracies between individuals like the recent police frame job in Florida. There are more widely-spread conspiracies involving multiple institutions like red lining. There are even full-on, 40-year-long conspiracies of Nazi-style human experimentation perpetuated by the United States Government like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Like I said, it’s a very tall tree.

I’m not saying there aren’t conspiracies based things aside from race. There definitely are. What I am saying is that there is a reality we can choose and a reality that is forced upon us and not understanding the difference can mean falling victim to both.

But understanding the difference can mean undoing both and making an objectively better world for everyone.

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Stop looking for the helpers; you’re it! You are the agent of change.

As we enter the season of darkness, the heaviness that hangs in the air is palpable. There is the literal reduced light outside which leaves many feeling out of sorts as we move deeper into autumn and prepare for winter, but there is also the internal heaviness that many of us are feeling as a result of the larger world.

Despite the platitudes that are bandied around that stress hope, in this moment it feels as if there is a distinct lack of hope. When a teenager shoots and kills a student in school and classes continue for the day, it feels as if we have crossed a line. We have surrendered a piece of our collective humanity.

This past week brought one of the most vile acts of anti-semitism in recent memory. A routine Saturday morning at a Pittsburgh synagogue turned into a massacre that left 11 people dead. Several days before that, two Black people were killed at a Louisville, Ky., grocery store by a white man who when confronted by another white man, is reported to have said “Whites don’t kill whites,” which apparently led to this armed bystander letting the shooter go free—so much for good guys with guns being the answer to gun violence. This coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s targeted efforts to erase trans people and a concentrated campaign of fear targeted at high-profile Democrats.

To say that the past week has been absolutely awful would be an understatement. It’s only compounded by the sad reality that Trump continues to hold what increasingly seems to be modern-day Klan meetings on an almost weekly basis.

So many awful things are happening that it is hard to keep up and yet at the heart of all of this awful is that some white people are committed to protecting whiteness and white power structures at all costs. Trump is the maestro at tapping into white hearts and stoking the flames of hate. Unfortunately after three years of such divisive rhetoric the, garden of hate that Trump cultivated is blooming.

In this moment, many of us are clinging to the hope that things will get back on track with minimal effort But the truth is, that probably isn’t going to happen. The upcoming midterm elections are absolutely one way to effect change but with voter suppression a reality in many parts of the country, voting is not a silver bullet. At best, voting will staunch the bleeding that we are dealing with as a nation but it is not going to be the magical cure-all.

Voting alone will not fix a white power structure. We cannot continue to believe that voting, reading books, donating a few dollars and good intentions will fix a raggedy-ass system that never should have existed in the first place. A system whose structure required the complete dehumanization of other people; a system that required the stealing of land and bodies and the systematic destruction of other people’s cultures.

I am convinced that the radical change we need will require the vision to imagine new possibilities and an active rejection of what makes us comfortable. It’s shifting power to those most affected, which in this case is Black people, other people of color and other marginalized people. It means being intentional in taking a new direction and essentially releasing old ways of being. It also means radical honesty about what we are facing and acknowledging that progress in the United States has never been a straight line. It means recognizing that two years into the Trump regime, it is no longer acceptable to continue to be dumbfounded by what’s going on. Trump told us who he was and as Maya Angelou wrote “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Given the shifts across the globe, we are entering a new era, one where the fight to preserve whiteness at all costs is the primary goal of a large percentage of white people, and that goal is supported by the passive efforts of most other whites to not rock the boat too much. Turning that around means becoming proactive and not reactive. Reactivity doesn’t serve us well. Neither do traditional values of the white supremacist system such as niceness and civility. Our long-standing commitment to civility has long kept us from having much needed deeper conversations. In this moment, if we are to connect with our individual humanity and the humanity of others, we must be willing to go deeper, not just in our conversations but in all that we do.

The hope that we need should not be dependent on charismatic leaders or other people but on the understanding that we each individually have a part to play in creating a world that we want to live in. It lies in recognizing that we should no longer look for the helpers, but that each and everyone of us is the helper and that our values should drive us to be a part of this change process. It is also understanding that the odds are high that we will not be the beneficiaries of this change and that if true change does come, it may be many generations from now. But it should be that our collective love for the greater humanity leads us to push on, that our collective love will hold us when times feel heavy and tight. But it also means understanding that love alone is not the change. Love must drive us to action.

Friends, I invite you to sit with how you are feeling in this moment. Trust me, I have been feeling out of sorts for the past week. Give yourself time to process. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t let it consume you. But also don’t stick your heads in the sand. I leave you with a piece that I shared on the BGIM social media and it offers a wonderful guide for what you can do moving forward.

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Taking my experience as a sexual assault survivor to better understand racism

In some ways, this latest post from Heather Denkmire carries echoes of a couple other recent posts, so I’ll link them here: Me Too by René Goddess Johnson and How about we examine what’s really likely with Kavanaugh? by Samuel James. -BGIM

If you’re anything like me—and most women (of color and white) I know are—you’ve survived some kind of sexual violation. My own history includes 12 traumatic sexual abuse, assault, and harassment experiences, eight of which were with boys (teens) and men with backgrounds similar to Brett Kavanaugh.

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony echoed my own experiences closely, and I knew boys from my preppy Connecticut high school who told me they participated in assaults like those described by Julie Swetnick. Since the 2016 elections, I have been careful about my intake of the news, as Donald Trump’s vile behavior is also very familiar. To say that mid-September through early October was difficult for me is putting it mildly.

Many people came together to object to Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and they are still protesting. There were amazing and powerful protests of Kavanaugh by survivors like me, and survivors with very different stories, and people who know and love survivors, or simply people who have empathy and understanding. But in these protests, we white women have done harm to women of color.

It’s true that it wasn’t only white women protesting Kavanaugh, that’s for sure. And, believe me, I’m not suggesting the protests were a mistake. But, just like with the women’s march—see I’ll pass on “Unity” and the Women’s March and Black Girl In Maine’s The path to unity requires honesty, or Beyond the march—too many of us white women were driven to outrage because of our own experiences and the potential impact on our own lives, which, regardless of our intentions has the impact of telling women of color their lived experiences effectively mean nothing to us.

Let me explain what I mean here, and I’ll tell you how I use my own experience to try to comprehend what it must be like for a woman of color seeing the protesters dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale, or (understandably!) crying about losing ground in women’s rights.

Let’s start with this article by Melayna Williams, “For black women, The Handmaid’s Tale’s dystopia is real—and telling. In her piece, Ms. Williams points out that the show “doesn’t offer a vision of an America where democracy has collapsed. Instead, it shows white women subjected to the conditions under which their country was born. The thing that, tellingly, has proven the most alarming to audiences.” The characters are “find themselves captive, were bred against their will, and were tortured and even killed for attempting escape,” as Black women were for centuries.

The way we white women are full of rage and fear because Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned is reasonable. What is harmful and not reasonable is for us white women to act like all women’s bodies have had safe and affordable access to medical care and only now are those rights being threatened. Black women have not had the same access to abortions and other necessary medical care that we white women have had. For example, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women.

So, if you are a survivor of sexual violence as I am, and you see or hear another survivor like Dr. Blasey Ford go public with her experience, how does it feel when people don’t believe her? How does it feel when a survivor’s accusations are treated as if they are not evidence? How did it feel when you saw people demand Dr. Blasey Ford offer up more proof, more proof than her own lived experience? How many times are harassment, abuse, and assault survivors told they must’ve misunderstood? (Some claim they believe Dr. Blasey Ford was assaulted but think she must be mistaken about who the violent teen boy was.)

Now imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, “My life is not protected by the current system like your life is protected. The current system causes me harm every day.” And our response is, “Why are you bringing up race?” (I hear, “Quit complaining. Quit making a big deal about nothing! You’re missing the important point!”)

Imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, as Melayna Williams did, “White supremacy, weaponized to protect white women’s bodies, is not new. Liberal and conservative women have collectively struggled to acknowledge the ways in which mainstream feminism has served to undercut and erase the voices and struggles of women of colour.” And our response is to say women of color should work toward unity with us white women? Would we tell Dr. Blasey Ford she ought to shake hands with Brett Kavanaugh and make nice?

No. I’m quite sure the white women activists who are puzzled by the anger women of color at their Handmaid’s Tale costumes, or at their suggestion that people “take a knee” to protest rape culture would never tell Dr. Blasey Ford that her lived experience is not evidence, or that she ought to find common ground with Brett Kavanaugh.

When it comes to our activism, fellow white women survivors, we must listen to the truth tellers, the women of color who are understandably saying, “No. I will not work with you.” We must work to understand why. We must listen to the women of color who are telling us to acknowledge the harms we’ve perpetrated against them. We must change. We need to believe her when she tells her story. We must not cause harm to women of color in the way abusing, assaulting, harassing men have caused harm to all of us.

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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