The day before an election—musings on life and the campaign process

In less than 24 hours as I write this, the polls will open up in Portland, Maine, and to say that I am nervous would be an understatement. I entered 2021 with two ideas kicking around in my head. One was to seriously consider running for a seat on our local Charter Commission. The other was to truly open myself up to the possibility of finding love again. To be honest, I wasn’t sure where either of these ideas would go.  After all, I had never run for public office and had some deep reservations about opening myself up to more public scrutiny. Years of running this site have turned me into a local public figure of sorts and as a writer, that’s not always comfortable for me. 

As for finding love again, I wasn’t sure where that would take me, since one can’t just order up a partner and love, and living in Maine as a middle-aged Black woman meant that the options would probably be slim to none. But life often has other plans for us. Not even two weeks into the new year with a paid subscription to a dating site, I did meet someone. It’s been a turbulent ride and this man has helped me to grow in ways that were unimaginable—and it also has become clear that despite the mutual fondness and affection that exists between us, we are not destined to be together.

As a Black woman, living in a largely white space, it was heady and intoxicating to briefly partner with a man of color, but sometimes people are only meant to be with us for a season. The gift of wisdom as we grow older is being able to know that compatibility is about more than adoration or love. For now, ideas of love are on hold though I remain open to whatever the universe has in store for me.

Which brings me back to this election. 

I decided to run for the Charter Commission because as our city’s constitution, I think it deeply matters who is at the table during the review and revision process for the charter. It is also a one-year process and given that the last Charter Commission was convened in 2008, it felt like a great way to look at structural changes without the usual tensions of things like re-election, etc. 

In my mind and based on the advice I received, I also assumed it would be a relatively low-key election and campaign process. 

Let’s just say it’s been a wild ride. A record number of candidates threw their hats in the ring, there have been political tensions, it’s also an election that has captivated the local media (such as here and here), and given my own relationship to the local media at times, it’s been stressful. Stressful enough that in these last weeks before the election, my body has been sending clear signals that I am stressed beyond belief. My resting heart rate in the past month has been higher than it was a year ago, when I was sitting in Chicago waiting for my Dad to pass away in the early days of the pandemic and against the backdrop of the national uprising in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. 

Personally, this run has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and also one of the most rewarding. I have met so many amazing people, and the spirit of generosity that exists between the majority of candidates has restored a great deal of my faith in our collective humanity.  

I became a member of the Rose Slate, a group of women candidates in this race who are all first-time candidates. We are intergenerational and multicultural and we believe in our collective humanity in this process. We are progressives and we think that politics don’t have to be harmful. There are other candidates as well who are running inspiring campaigns. 

In choosing to run, I have had to accept that failure is also a possibility and I won’t lie, that is a harder one for me. Public failure is most certainly not attractive and yet I can say that regardless of the results of this election, it will be okay. 

In a weird way, the last six months between navigating this campaign and a fledgling relationship have forced me to go deeper in living my values. Namely, seeing myself and leaning into my own shortcomings and being okay with them. I can’t speak for anyone else but running for office has made it clear what my strengths and shortcomings are and—in the case of my campaign—accepting help from others. Help is hard to accept and for this Black woman, I am not always good at it. But in a campaign, you can’t do everything yourself. No matter what you think. You need others. 

Even today as I write this, I had to make an extraordinarily hard decision to cancel a speaking engagement. I have never done this and it was hard, but I spent this last weekend before election day canvassing in brutally hot weather and I am physically spent. I am also dealing with last-minute campaign activity and a host of other tasks. To say that I could show up on Zoom for a talk tonight and bring my A-game was to lie to myself and my panic attack in the shower today made it clear. 

Win or lose, this campaign has actually been a blessing on many personal levels. I have grown as a person and while I hope to make a difference in our city, the change that has started with me during the past six months will no doubt play a part in whatever work that I do moving forward.

For those who are local, if you live in my district and haven’t voted yet, I hope that you do go out and vote—and obviously I hope it is for me. If you are a local and you don’t live in my district, you need to vote as well if you haven’t already done so. 

If you aren’t local and have just been following my journey, I would encourage you to think deeply about how you can create change in your own communities. Electoral politics isn’t everyone’s jam, but I do believe we must all be a part of creating the change we wish to see in this world. We can’t depend on others to create an equitable and just world, and as powerful as my writing and speaking has been for many, or even my position as the executive director of Community Change Inc, for me that work is no longer enough. 2020 reordered our world and requires all of our collective efforts. Be the change you wish to see in the world. 

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The last thing you need right now is a Thanksgrifting

If there’s one thing I’m not sweating this year, it’s inviting a bunch of grifters to my Thanksgiving table. Sure, they’re family, but they had their chance and now they’re dead to me. Not in a COVID way. In an “Uh, no, I will not pass this creamy bowl of mac and cheese because you, sir, are a manipulative nuclear reactor and this table is not an emotional bomb shelter.” 

I do not want to make light of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost during this pandemic or the suffering so many have felt and are currently feeling. The culture, at large, takes great pains to emphasize “coming together” during the holidays. If you are a person who genuinely enjoys your family, you should stop reading right here. (Also: are you accepting applications for new members??) 

If you’re still with me: This one goes out to all of the folks who turned Thanksgiving into a day for giving thanks to cutting these bitches off. 

Feeding the poor and the hungry, the friends without a place to go—I support these altruistic endeavors with the kind of enthusiasm you’d expect from the internet about Harry Styles in a dress. But feeding the emotionally needy? Count me out. My family expects the most while doing the absolute least. In years past, the weeks leading up to the fourth Thursday in November were like a hostage negotiation with an orange ghoul for the safe return of democracy—I was eyeballs deep in demands for gluten-free gravy and vegetable sides with folks who show up with a pack of turkey-themed paper napkins demanding “gimme sportsball or give me death!” and then segueing into “we need to get back to common sense.” 

And each time I would be like, “give me death then.” Which is why I cut them off. 

Listen. This life, especially right now, is too short to mess around with family who do not deserve your time. I am under no obligation to continue these relationships and neither are you—this is the year, if you’ve been wavering to hit the block, to throw up the NO VACANCY sign, and roll into your Thanksgiving with a thankful heart full of gratitude that you do not have to put up with fragile nonsense. We’ve all been through way too much this year to mess with a turkey brine full of crazy. Especially when the stakes are so high. I mean I wouldn’t risk a paper cut for this shared DNA let alone my life; c’mon now. Get in losers, we’re setting boundaries! 

Coming together, for a lot of us, is aspirational at best and a fairy tale full of lies, at worst. Does it sometimes suck to not have a full house on Thanksgiving? Sure, if you catch me when I’m spiraling in estrogen but otherwise I’m floating down the lazy river of leftovers. This mashed potato wave pool is about to get nuts once the gravy starts flowing.

Protecting myself has meant Thanksgiving is now a day I enjoy because it is mine to share with my husband and daughter. Gone are the universal and cultural traditions of watching football and eating pie. Instead, I turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as I prepare the turkey, then I switch over to the Pauly Shore movie Son In Law—a ’90s deep cut from the formerly curly-haired bohemian MTV VJ also known as “The Wiez”—and end with cheesecake.

The Thanksgiving I sit down to is filled with lighthearted fun with people who love and like one another. I don’t need a day in November to be thankful for that, I appreciate it every day. 

But if you’re wavering on the merits of a scaled-down Thanksgiving, let me offer you the confirmation that even the slightest, the pettiest, half thought out reasons, can rock with you to limit your guest list. Let your Thanksgiving feast operate behind a velvet rope like Studio 54 (you know, before it was shut down for tax evasion or whatever. I am not googling it). 

Season your distance with the resentments you still harbor, and thank yourself for the good taste to know you have standards. Be the algorithm you need in your life and curate your Thanksgiving away from the kind of people you wish were strangers. Here are just some of the “lemme stop you right there…” things I’ve considered this Thanksgiving (ok, and the last one too): 

  • Brought me into this world without asking my opinion first
  • Had the caucacity to consider Mrs. Dash spicy
  • Filled the fridge with Pepsi like it’s not the Rudy Giuliani of cola beverages 
  • Married some guy with a long history of DUIs and three or four ex-wives who I guess is my “step-dad” now
  • Banged on my door like it was the DEA demanding a search for an unreturned vacuum 
  • Sent me some kind of emotional blackmail happy birthday message on Facebook
  • Still uses Facebook
  • One time said, “some people like cheese and some like squirrel” like this is something well adjusted, not at all a serial killer thing to say
  • Not only owns but nests an American flag bandana on their rearview mirror for all to see
  • Duct tape but make it decor 

Family can be exhausting, so take a nap this year and let your shared DNA hunt and gather on their own. And give thanks to cutting these bitches off. 

Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Sign up for her emotionally slutty newsletter, Best Indoor Life. 

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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Image by Craig Adderley via Pexels

How to be a white person who is friends with Black people

Even though I’m a 51-year-old adult, my experience of friendship feels new. Or, rather, it changes and grows as I change and grow. Because I don’t feel like I’m very skilled at friendship, I must admit that writing about it—and adding the dimensions of race and class into the topic—feels presumptuous at best. However, I’ve talked to many people (mostly white, but not all) about cross-racial and cross-class friendships and some things keep coming up that I want to try to share as I’m learning.

I’m going to talk about friendships we white people might have with Black people, though much of what I say might be applied to friendships with Indigenous people or other people of color, too.

As most readers of this blog know, white people tend to mostly only know other white people. Most of us white people only know a handful of Black people. And, of those people we do know, usually we don’t know them well. Or, perhaps we think we’re “friends” but if the Black person were asked they’d give a different answer.

Because so many white people want to be anti-racist and want to “fix” the problem of living in “silos” a lot of us really wish we had Black friends. Even as we know this is a gross way of looking at friendship (the statement alone dehumanizes Black people, as if they are a commodity, just an object to attain and display). At first, though, as our racial identity begins developing, I’ve found this is a common response. I talk with white people who have become even less comfortable talking to Black people they already know because there’s now a worry that it’ll seem like we’re just looking for “a Black friend.” Whether or not there are shared interests, common values, or other interpersonal groove-points that might make a friendship develop aren’t even a part of the picture because we white people are so hung up.

So, before you even think about trying to be a better friend to Black people in your life, or, god forbid, go out looking for Black people to befriend (DO NOT DO THIS), take a step back.

Realize that it’s quite possible to be an anti-racist and a good person while not having any friends who are Black. In fact, trying to expand your social circles in your antiracism work shouldn’t be one of the first steps you take.

Know yourself. Have you really and truly dug into your own racism, your own implicit biases, and your own racial identity?

I take an “if I built it, they will come” attitude about friendships in general. What I mean is, I work on becoming someone who deserves trust before I ask someone to trust me. Friendships aren’t necessarily linear, of course, but when I was still mired in the shame of white guilt and hadn’t learned how to even be in the same physical space with Black people, there was just no way I was going to deserve people’s trust if they were Black. I would have flung microaggressions their way without realizing it, for example. I might’ve asked them to explain racism, or only talked about race and racism, or… there are so many things I’ve done in the past that I (mostly and hopefully) wouldn’t do now.

Don’t assume you are entitled to friendship with Black people. This is a phrasing I got from a friend (who is Black woman) who gave me feedback about this post. Part of whiteness is the assumption that we deserve all the good things in life, including assumptions about friendships. Broad strokes here, of course, but lots of us have insecurities and low self worth, etc. For white people, though, no matter our complicated emotional or psychological makeups, we often move in the world assuming we should get what we want. And for reasons that may have well-meaning and good-hearted aspects but also—at the same time—racist and self-centered aspects we want to “win” at being antiracist. We want to show ourselves and the world that we aren’t racist and “having Black friends” can feel like the ultimate prize.

Again, I’m calling on feedback from my editor friend (who is a Black woman), here, in framing anti-racism work as something we white people so often think we can or should win or complete. No. Being human with other humans isn’t something we can win.

My best advice about being a white person who is friends with Black people is to start out by not trying to make it happen. Work on yourself, on your own racism, and your own sense of entitlement. Understand that this is okay. It doesn’t inherently make you a bad person. Practice being a friend to your current friends in deeper ways. Include anti-racism in friendships you have with white people. Get involved in anti-racism work wherever you are now instead of seeking out multiracial groups if that would be just for the chance to build friendships with Black people. Recognize that the urge to “have Black friends” likely has a lot of racism inside it. Unpack that, understand it, and practice doing it differently. Antiracism isn’t something we can win or graduate from. It’s got to be a part of our life as we are living it now.

[An evergreen reminder: I am a white woman writing about racism so I might share with other white people what I learn—mostly what I learn from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color—so we can all work toward societal transformation; our collective liberation.]

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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