Will anything change after this hate shooting?

I guess we’re supposed to talk about the Buffalo tragedy but I just don’t know how to discuss this anymore. How many times can we reveal our Black humanity in an appeal to whiteness? How many times can we spell out our quantifiable worth to all things cultural, spiritual, and economic to this country? An infinite amount of times, really, and we should never expect anything to ever change by doing so.

Nothing fits anymore.

Even the most liberal think pieces are pointing fingers at 45 and Tucker Carlson. I gotta tell you, that’s some real pre-George Floyd bullshit that I’m just not buying anymore. Yeah, sure, it used to be pretty easy to lay the blame at the feet of the most obvious hate-filled right-wing monsters. But we’ve been well past that for a minute.

May 25 will mark two years since George Floyd was murdered. We all watched millions of people take to the streets in protest on an entirely unprecedented global scale. Politicians promised to defund the police and corporations pledged tens of billions of dollars in the name of racial equity. Then those promises were all broken. The money never showed up; support in general quickly became less than before George Floyd was murdered. Then the new president funded police more than the previous one which led to the very obvious result of police killing more Americans that year than any other year on record.

And there’s no end in sight.

Just last week our democrat president urged cities to redirect their COVID funding to the police. And since COVID disproportionately kills Black people, as do police, the likely outcomes are again obvious if not guaranteed.

But, sure: The future of Black lives is entirely dependent on America’s most hate-watched pundit and a failure-defining ex-president.

The truth is that if my rights can be legislated according to my identity, then my identity is a political one. If I face violence based on that identity, then that violence is political regardless of its source—state agent, terrorist, or other. The maniac that killed those people in Buffalo is a political terrorist.

Political terrorists don’t exist in a vacuum and political problems have political solutions. Tomorrow democrats could address gerrymandering, voting rights, the filibuster, the senate, the electoral college, any and every other part of institutionalized racism within our political system. They could virtually rid the institution of racism in one presidential term. Really. And while that wouldn’t necessarily shrink the amounts of maniacs in this country, it would certainly draw lines around what is and isn’t politically viable.

Think of it like forest fires. Sometimes they’re deliberate, but you rarely have to hear about some dumbshit pyromaniac’s manifesto. This is because pro-woodland arson is not a politically viable stance.

But democrats will not act. Instead they’ll send out fundraising emails on the heels of tragedy explaining that they need just enough votes to outdo the republicans or Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin or eventually the endless amount of right-wing democrats hiding right behind them.

In the days and weeks ahead we will hear democrats talk about everything but the very clear and obvious things they could do to stop this kind of political terrorism. They will talk about gun legislation and internet censorship and how all these poor little hapless and helpless white boys are being brainwashed by the evil of evildoers doing evil. And then they’ll turn to you and explain that come November it will be your civic, moral, and holy duty to walk into that voting booth and piously Vote Blue Lives Matter No Matter Who.

Like I said, that’s some real pre-George Floyd bullshit. If our leaders don’t figure out how to make a post-George Floyd country, there isn’t gonna be much of this country left to lead.

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The end of BGIM? …I hope not

And just like that, we are in crisis mode here at BGIM Media.

This is not a post that I thought I would find myself writing, but it seems the same reality that is killing off independent media and content creators elsewhere has abruptly and unexpectedly landed on my doorstep. It was very sudden, and regardless of the reasons, I have to be blunt: this is a crisis. 

As I wrote to the BGIM team earlier today, the editorial calendar for May will go on as scheduled, but for June—barring an infusion of support from readers—some nasty changes are ahead. Because, at present, while I can cover our expenses for May. June, though, is not looking too good. 

It’s a moment that feels surreal, because between April 30 and May 1, we lost in excess of 50 patrons. This abrupt and unexpected drop means we are down over $1,000 a month, which for a small operation like this represents a lot of cash. Cash that I can’t easily replace, as I have not been doing as much contract consulting work, due to my political work (unpaid, mind you) on the Portland Charter Commission

I just spoke with a friend who also runs an indie publication, where she works with some of the best-known writers in the industry. She said she is seeing the same thing. Like me, she’s keeping her operation afloat with personal resources and sheer determination. 

It is not an understatement to say that I view this site as my third child. BGIM was created in 2008, when my daughter was three and I was trying to figure out my career path, as I was having a 30-something-year-old crisis. I worked with a life coach who suggested that I start a blog as a way to indulge my writing desire beyond what I was doing at the time for the Portland Phoenix

I have said it before in the early years: readership was low and it was a labor of love done solely for the joy of it. This site was started as a way to park all my feelings about being Black in Maine and raising my kids here.

But it was 10 years ago, in 2012, that the site started to experience an uptick in readership which has continued for a decade straight. My posts have been read in classrooms across the country and have been cited in multiple books (also here and here). It was only when my marriage crashed in 2015 that I realized that I would either have to let this site go, and take on a second job to survive, or I could take a gamble. I could work to create a revenue stream given the popularity of the site. I chose the latter, but because of the subject content, advertising or traditional methods for monetizing social platforms have never been viable options. 

Instead, I decided to use the patron model, but making the unusual choice to not put the work behind a paywall. I also made the decision to expand the platform and bring on other writers, all of whom have always been paid. If we are serious about change, then both aspects are important—accessibility matters, as does compensating people for their work.

The intersection of racism is capitalism is challenging. I chose to offer my work as well as the work of the other writers to the world freely—this is one way to help create change, as it is an acknowledgment that not everyone has the means to pay. That decision has left me open to the occasional trolls and hackers, but despite the personal annoyance, it has been worth it. I don’t regret it, even when the stats showed that the majority of our readers do not financially support the work at all. 

I have always felt that despite never hitting our financial goals, as long as we bring in enough to ensure that all financial obligations are met, that’s fine. The last year has been rough because we haven’t seen much growth—a typical month involves five or six cancellations but adding three or four new patrons and one current patron increasing their giving. Given the economic realities, and knowing that inflation is hitting everyone’s button line, I could make it work, even though it has meant picking up more work on my end. 

To give you a peek into our operations, there are three writers in addition to myself. We have a back-end editor, who handles all editing and assistance with pieces and social media curation. We have contract tech support which includes site security, as well as professional services since we are an LLC. There’s also the cost of paying for our infrastructure and subscriptions to publications so we stay looped into the larger world. Oh yeah, there is also our tax liabilities; the IRS gets its money, too. 

Despite my full-time job, parenting and homeschooling a teenager, consulting work. and serving on the Charter Commission (which takes up a lot of time and pays nothing), I still do at least half of the social media curation that you see on our Facebook page and all the invisible-to-you tasks like managing the operations. Last year, I brought on someone part-time to assist, but it was clear that it was an expense we couldn’t afford. So when the person left, I didn’t look to fill that position again. Keeping our operations super-lean has allowed us to keep on doing the work. 

This super-lean model, while tiring, has been sustainable until today, when our payment arrived from Patreon and I saw the sudden drop-off.

Patron cancellations are straightforward, and many patrons do take the exit survey when canceling their support—those who do have almost all have indicated a change in their financial situations. I understand it; times are hard.

But declined cards are harder to grasp. It means that a patron’s card was declined and while they were given the opportunity to update their information, they chose not to. I can predict cancellations to some degree, but a massive uptick in declines can’t be predicted. Consider the fact that the previous month only saw $10 in declines, which is typically our norm. 

While I know that the media world is being hit hard, this decrease in giving is across the board. In my day job, we saw a decline in giving in our last fiscal year. I have spoken with colleagues in other organizations, and they are seeing the same thing. Colleagues who offer anti-racism training work have seen their bookings decrease. Colleagues who have written anti-racism books have seen a steep decrease in book sales.

Sure, in hard times, we cut the fat from our budget—but what does it mean about our commitment to social and racial change, if those are the cuts we make early on? Clearly, we have not fixed racism yet, and the pathway to change requires resources. And let’s face it: the Elon Musks of the world are definitely not interested in funding those endeavors. 

Friends, the bottom line is that I need your support and I need it now.

I need to make up a thousand dollars a month, and as much as I wish I could take it from my personal resources, I can’t do it long-term. I am doing it this month, but I can’t do it next month. We could certainly do it with one very generous benefactor—and I swear if you exist, I will schedule a personal call with you every month—but something tells me that is not going to happen.

So, short of one supremely generous soul, that means I need people who have never given to give now. The stats on the blog say that there are lots of you out there who consume this work for free, and I am asking for your help now even if that help is modest.

One-time gifts via PayPal or Venmo are certainly appreciated, but the only way I can plan ahead is with monthly patrons. If you grab a few drinks a week or more—be they lattes or wines or a smoothie or something else—could you consider BGIM Media as the equivalent of one or two extra drinks each month? I don’t want anyone putting themselves in a bind. But I am asking that many more of you to make a small monthly commitment to ensure that BGIM doesn’t meet the fate of so many other platforms. 

And if you truly can’t afford to give, can you share this site and our Patreon information within your social circles? I am working on some perks I can actually deliver regularly, since I have heard feedback over the years that people want the perks. One perk will be a weekly round-up that will include my personal reading of the week, as well as a curated list of articles. 

Lastly, if you work at an organization or are involved with community groups doing anti-racism work, consider booking me. The new site should launch in the next week, and it will have a section that clearly speaks to all of my speaking engagements and offerings. But in the meantime, here is a snippet of some of my work

I have always known that a time would come when I may need to sign off as far as BGIM Media. But I don’t think this is that time. There’s too much work left to do; too many pieces that still need to be written. Our fate lies in your hands: Will we live or will we die?

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.

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Image by Neil Thomas via Unsplash

What’s in a name? And what’s it got to do with Twitter and Musk?

If you’re a white person, I’d like to give you a window into Blackness just for a moment. Let me give you just a tiny glimpse at the many layers of things happening all around you that you probably miss. I’m going to do this by talking about names.

My name is Samuel James. Pretty simple. You could probably make some correct guesses about me from just seeing that name printed. You could also make some wildly inaccurate ones, and those guesses could be dependent on whether or not you’re Black. For example, if you are white seeing that names in print might lead you to guess that I am quite a bit older than I am. If you are Black however, you’d likely know the importance of tradition in Black first names and so you’d know that age isn’t really detectable there.

Allowing you a further look into that window, I can tell you that as a performer, my name gets said a lot. It gets announced. It gets printed. What I couldn’t possibly tell you is the amount of times a white person has said my name as “Samuel L. Jackson.” It’s been said onstage by white presenters; printed in ads and flyers by white venue owners. Yes, with the “L” and everything.

But I have it easy. Black folks with African-derived names? Holy lord, that drops into a whole other level of power dynamics. Spelling is a big one. Language itself is meant to be spoken, but as the desire to retain and spread information grew, printing language became necessary. Access to information has always been policed and spelling is a common way to do that. It’s a touchstone of permission. You’re very unlikely to see a comment thread anywhere that doesn’t have at least one person attempting to invalidate an entire point of view by pointing out a misspelling.

All languages are fluid. Words get added all the time. Some words change definitions entirely—sometimes to include their previously opposite definitions. Correcting someone’s spelling isn’t so much an informed action defending language as it is an act of asserting oneself as the arbiter of right and wrong.

Now imagine if your name was allowed to be wrong. Not wrong like Madysen or Maddyson or Maeddaessaen. Wrong like wrong for this college or this job kinda wrong. Wrong like you’re in the wrong neighborhood kinda wrong. Wrong like longer sentences for the same crime kinda wrong. Wrong like your voice. Wrong like your hair. Wrong in a way that reveals all the rules about behavior and hard work and merit are only there to hide the actual rule: the existence of your Black self is wrong.

And, all together, everyone from elected officials to your average worm on the internet can give themselves plausibly deniable permission to laugh at all the ways this world abandons and destroys you just by pointing at the spelling of your name.

Let’s put a pin in that for now.

As of this writing Elon Musk is meant to buy Twitter. He might back out or he might do it. I don’t know, but either way we all know where this is going. His fascist views on “free speech” are no secret and the ubiquitous racism throughout the companies he already owns predicts a certain outcome.

As I write this “Bye Felicia” is trending on twitter. If you’re not familiar, it’s a joke reference from the 1995 movie Friday starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. The intent of the phrase is to dismiss someone who is annoying to you. But it’s not being tweeted by fans of Black cinema. Just the opposite. It’s being tweeted by Elon stans at twitter users who are worried that Musk will turn twitter into 4chan.

OK, so, with all that I’ve told you, please peer with me back into that window of Blackness. As you look, think about all that is implied—intended or otherwise—by the Elon stans or the culture at large when they type out “Bye Felicia.” Think about the what it means to not only defend a billionaire, but one that continuously perpetuates a culture of racism within his companies. Think about what it means to defend that particular billionaire with a catchphrase from a Black movie. Now consider how much deeper the matters of agency get when you learn that the two Black writers of Friday spelled the character’s name as Felisha.

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Imge by Hadi Basirat via Unsplash