With the public face comes some unwanted attention

The past five months have been a whirlwind! When I decided to run for public office, I had no idea how much work even a relatively small local campaign would be, nor did I fully grasp how much my life would change. For those who aren’t local or who don’t follow Black Girl in Maine on social media, I won. Not only did I win, but I won with 64.9% of the vote. 

I wish I could say that I have been relaxing since the election but I can’t. I quickly learned the hard way that after winning, everything I say, tweet, or retweet would become newsworthy to the local media. A less-than-mindful late-night retweet on election night that was meant to signal a celebration of the win, for one thing, placed me in the middle of an unexpected storm related to someone else’s views and comments. I will just say that it is a lesson learned and that I am looking forward to being sworn in on June 28 and getting down to the actual work that I was elected to do. 

Given the recent kerfuffle with the local media, though, I find myself wondering about this life of visibility that I have created for myself (and not for the first time, mind you). It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, and while it has given so much to me, it also takes away a great deal. 

As I have written in the past, when I started this blog back in 2008, I had no idea how far it would go. After all, was there a market for reading the musings of a Black woman living in the whitest state in America? Apparently there was, and over the years, I have cultivated some amazing friendships and connections from this little space and its related social media. But in more recent years, what used to be genuine reciprocal connections have turned into something that increasingly makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. Unsettled. 

No longer are the connections a two-way street. No longer do people see me as a regular person just writing my thoughts and learnings as offerings to the larger world. Instead, there is this strange dehumanization of me as an actual person to make me some kind of object or tool or icon. Which is at odds with anything that I have ever written. 

In recent years, with social media becoming a cultural norm and people having greater access to celebrities and other media types or influencers, we have seen a marked increase in parasocial relationships. Intimacy at a distance is not new; it was first researched in the late 1950s and in layman’s terms, it’s when we consume media and it makes us feel as if we have an intimate bond with the media’s creators. In a TikTok and Instagram kind of world, the rise of parasocial relationships makes sense, but to be on the receiving end of some fans’ outsized affections (or sometimes stalkers’ attentions)  is jarring, disturbing, and mildly terrifying. 

After all, at what point does the person imagining a relationship attempt to create that connection outside of their mind? 

Sadly, I find myself dealing with such a situation right now, with a Maine-based reader who has been insistent that my work has changed their life. Upon hearing this several years ago, back when I didn’t worry as much about my personal safety, I offered words of support and encouragement which I now regret. Apparently, my words of support and encouragement were seen as a gateway to a deeper connection and a “relationship” which—given that I have never broken bread with this person or invited them into my intimate spaces as a guest—is a figment of their imagination. However, their imagined close connection with me has become a source of great irritation to me in recent months. 

As a writer and speaker, it is a blessing to know that my work has touched so many people across the world. In 2019 and early 2020, several universities asked for the rights to use my work in their studies. Readers across the United States and even some on other parts of this dusty globe help financially support this work—and I am still ticked about the day when I was a featured speaker at an event on the West Coast and a gentleman came up to tell me how much he appreciated my work (only for me to learn he was someone whose work I had long enjoyed). It was a weird fan moment on both sides.

For many in Maine, my writing was the starting place to bring an anti-racism lens into their work and lives. I was one of the first to help normalize discussions of race in this state, and nothing has touched my heart more than to know that at least one of my fellow commissioners on the Charter Commission to which I was recently elected came of age reading my work—and that work helping them to develop their own anti-racism praxis. 

The downside of all of this has been that I have endured a lot of pushback and still receive pushback. There are those who would brand me a racist because I have written and spoken openly about white supremacy over the years. As I have shared previously, I have received hate mail, death threats, and (as recently as last year) I had my own personal stalker. Last year, the trainers at my organization were pushed off a long-term assignment after a community member used my tweets as “proof” that we were carrying out a nefarious plot to “indoctrinate” white youth. Even now, I have had to face the chilling reality that I am not sure the last person I dated was actually into me as a person, but was perhaps just into seeing what life was like with BGIM, the persona. 

There is a certain irony that my work is about lifting up Black humanity and creating liberation vis-a-vis an anti-racist lens, but increasingly I find myself not being seen or valued as an actual person with feelings, burdens, and concerns. And when someone demands “accountability” from me for a situation I have nothing to do with and does so when we have no pre-existing reciprocal relationship, that doesn’t make me want to develop a connection. It actually enrages me.

Lately, I find myself listening to Eminem’s old song Stan. And you know, it’s okay to appreciate the work of others and be a fan. But when you cross the line and assume a relationship that isn’t there—and you start making impositions and demands—it’s not a healthy place to be in. Nor is it okay to dehumanize others when the journey is about mutual liberation. And our mutual liberation is about working in our respective authentic social and relationship circles to create larger societal change. 

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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Tired Black women: How will you love and care for us?

When I started this space back in 2008, it wasn’t my intent to have it grow into a resource of learning for the public; it was actually just my reflections and musings on living in Maine as a Black woman and raising kids here, during a time when blogging was all the rage.

But sometimes, despite our intentions, we end up on a very different path. For me, that has meant this space is less personal due to the visibility of my work. However, today I am honoring my truth and going back to the origins of this space. I’m getting personal. And while what I am about to say is my personal truth, I suspect it is a truth that will resonate with many other Black women. 

I am tired.

Let me repeat, I am tired.

Sure, we are all tired. We are living through a pandemic and dealing with all kinds of social and legal chaos Yet we don’t all have the same kind of tired. No, my tiredness is born of the bone-weary reality of what it means to be a Black woman in a world where almost all the value we have seems typically tied to our production and to our usefulness to others. 

We are valued when we perform. Like the eponymous character in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, people come to us casually seeking and expecting what we can give, and returning for more over and over until there is almost nothing left of us. Whether we are tending to the love and care of others, saving democracy, or carrying emotional and psychic weights that would crush most others, the cycle continues and people feel entitled to more.

It’s not that no other groups or individuals can get this treatment. But what I see as an individual and in the case of too many of my sisters is that too often, our value is only seen when we give of ourselves—and rarely do we receive love and care beyond performative, ephemeral actions. 

Unfortunately, that means for many Black women, we hide our pain and we keep our masks on, and sometimes we do it so well that we even start to believe the myths of our own supposed strength—never even seeing that our “strength” is slowly eating us up. In some cases, we can’t even find the words to really touch the depths of what we are really dealing with. As a writer, I can use words to great effect, including the ones in my own head, and so I have perfected the art of deflection and not touching the pain. Or truly even wanting to name it.

To finally name my own pain and trauma honestly has taken me three consecutive years of working with a trained therapist, a Black woman, who is skilled in knowing how we don’t touch that pain and the trauma—because, in many ways, it is a survival skill passed down from our ancestors. 

This past week has nearly broken me, as I confronted the painful reality that the man I was falling in love with was not who I thought he was. And just when I was sitting in that pain and shame, there was the killing of Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, at the hands of police in Columbus, Ohio. Not only was she killed, but there are many in the Black community as well as white allies and accomplices who have tried to justify her killing. She had a knife; she was lunging at another person. In their minds, there was no other choice. To them, she was just another “Black female” to throw away. She had to be put down, like a rabid animal—end of the story for them. 

To me, and many Black women, we saw a child in pain: a cherub-faced young girl in pain. A child whose last moments in this realm were spent in foster care, a child who called the police for help but instead met her death at the hands of the same people who should have had the skill and compassion to de-escalate the situation rather than shoot. Even the action of picking up a knife to plunge into someone who has been a cause of hurt is relatable to me, because sometimes for Black women and girls our constantly unseen and unheard pain becomes a rage. It’s a pent-up rage that can overtake you when you are fighting—whether literally or metaphorically, mentally or physically, socially or emotionally—to stay alive.

Our pain is rarely seen or acknowledged and for us to even speak out loud that we feel hurt or used is labeled as anger or disrespect no matter how calmly we do it. So when our calm words are repeatedly called anger and we are labeled “scary Black women” for just saying we’ve been hurt, are you surprised that years of that might catalyze into something explosive? We are eventually left with only rage to protect us when we are deemed not worthy of care and love anymore—as if we had ever been seen worthy of it by most of the people around us. But that’s the lie we are sold, that we are valued, and many of us trick ourselves into believing it for too long.

As I was getting ready to write this post, I came across this brilliant piece, which poses the question that needs to be asked: What does loving Black women look like? I wish I knew because too many times, I have been deeply hurt by those who claim to care, and rarely do I feel supported. Honestly, I find my most sincere love and care comes from other Black women. Women who, despite the burdens they carry and how tired they are, will make space for a fellow sista when she is reaching her breaking point. Women who understand that we are all only one bad exchange away from taking a knife, whether it is a physical knife or a verbal one, and plunging it into the hearts of those who actively attempt to hurt us or who silence us or who continue to take and take and take from us. 

In this moment, I ask you: What does it look like for you to truly love and care for Black women? How do you hold us? Can you extend grace when we are raw and vulnerable, or is your care contingent on us not making you uncomfortable? Don’t keep saying you are protecting Black women if you can’t even see us in our true humanity, sometimes truly broken and fractured and often raggedy inside over something we never deserved. Don’t make us dance to your standards to be deemed worthy of compassion and grace. 

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.

Wishing tortures to Happy People one freshly baked microwave cake at a time

Today’s post is from guest contributor Liz Henry

Back when I was really depressed, happy people made me want to die. They did not inspire me to redirect my thoughts or look at my can of Diet Coke as half-full. The only thing happy people inspired in me were new ways I could torture them. Like, if there was a misery cake, and with each candle I was granted one Happy People Torture, I’d wish for things like: full-fat pumpkin spice lattes, every third page ripped out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books, the Internet but only in sports references like, “It’s a wheelhouse out there!,” a ban on the color teal, cookies but make them oatmeal raisin and self-cut bangs.  

No one gets more up in their feelings than a Happy Person™ when someone else lets the sad out. I imagine being a Happy Person is a lot like walking through Ikea with all its possibilities and combinations, and an earnest belief that no space is too small to feel big. And then, well, Happy People meet the brick wall of reality doom. The Ikea stuff must be put together with only one’s wits and a wrench thingy to guide the way. 

At the very least, Ikea is the small talk of furniture—no one really wants to know that we’re all cheaply constructed but more or less functional if we share the right angle on our Instagram feeds. 

A few years back, I saw the Pixar movie “Inside Out” with my daughter. Drowning in my chair from the tears leaking out of my eyeballs, I spent 90 minutes watching an animated tween girl and her personified feelings battle over joy and sadness. Which one, the movie asks, is more important? Or, can they coexist?  Obviously, as a children’s movie, the question is answered with a sledgehammer: joy and sadness inform, compliment and rely on each other for their very existence. 

In other words, the happy stuff in life is made possible by the sad stuff and the people who force us to deny our realities suck. Let me pull in some more Disney characters because why not: Did Pooh ever tell Eeyore to smile and did Eeyore ever question Pooh’s pantsless visible belly outline? Are you kidding? The Hundred Acre Wood does not play. It’s sugar, sadness, and no pants. 


Now that I’m on the other side of depression—I slid down the rainbow right into a pot o’ golden french fries—I can see Happy People™ for what they are: emotional police handcuffing the rest of us with their nonsense. They’re like feelings fascists making us suffer through forced smiles and, in the before times, filling quaint main streets with Life is Good stores. 

If there is any service I can do in this world, standing out front of  a Life is Good with a poster board sign reading, “IS IT THOUGH?!” would be a contribution I’d love to make.

I want to be clear: Happy People, the ones I’m writing about, enforce toxic joy at all costs. They have a freshly baked whattabout every time you drop a status update that’s even a whiff of a real emotion that doesn’t land somewhere between “lust for life” and “walking on the sunshine.” They’re the reply guys of Twitter, but smiling women with a hundred thousand Instagram hashtags and a preferred color palette. They start team meetings by asking the not at all squirm-inducing question (and during a pandemic  no less): What’s bringing you joy?” 

If it were possible for me to die from a shriveling hard-on, “what’s bringing you joy” would certainly do it. I’d like to strike it from the record. Just like salad with the dressing mixed in and Justin Timberlake. It’s dressing on the side and Janet Jackson forever. 

I feel a special kinship with the Sads. Sadness is my factory setting—it’s always there, kicking in like an air conditioner compressor blowing cold air whenever I go and get ahead of myself with some piping hot enjoyment. “Careful, bitch,” my happiness suddenly says, “play too close to the sun and you might get burned.” My favorite people are underdogs. The best stories are the down-and-out ones. I like the thrill of redemption instead of the tyranny of having it all. Resilience isn’t smiling through pain; it’s moving on with scars. The people who know the difference are my favorite.  

So maybe the next time you’re forced indoors or your sweet tooth is throbbing for some microwave cake-in-a-mug, make sure your scissor drawer has a pack of candles. After all, you have some wishes to make. 

Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post and Brain, Child Magazine. Read her emotionally slutty newsletter, The Non-Squad, here [http://www.tinyletter.com/lizhenry]. 

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.

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