Be a human, not a Black woman

I have been battling a cold/allergy flare-up with a side of sinus headache for the past several days and honestly, I haven’t been in a mood to write. However, as I was making my morning rounds with email, I received the following email and despite my pounding headache, I realized that I have a lot to say.

We are living in a time when the president of the United States openly shares his disdain of Black and Brown people. His most trusted advisors hold openly white nationalist views, and the unfair treatment of Black and Brown people in 2019 is not exactly a secret—yet there are some who find those of us who speak out against racial atrocities to be the bad guys. There are those who feel we should stuff down our racial identity and simply become human; as if that is enough to ensure our just and fair treatment.

Last week, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned and in less than 24 hours, money was pledged from all over the world to restore this Western treasure. I have never been to Paris to see Notre Dame in person,  but I can respect the historical significance of the space along with its sheer architectural beauty.

That said, in the weeks before the Notre Dame fire, several Black churches in Louisiana were burned in what we now know to be hate crimes and the POTUS said absolutely nothing about it. In fact, the fundraising to rebuild these churches was going almost nowhere until it was pointed out on social media that the response to Notre Dame vs. three Black churches spoke volumes about what we treasure and protect from a cultural framework. As awful as the fire was at Notre Dame, the fact that it could be used as a true learning moment that raised money for the three Black churches was the one positive that came out of it.

However, if the collective “we” believed in a shared humanity that did not elevate whiteness, the response to the three churches in Louisiana would have been different to begin with.  However, that isn’t our reality and denying that reality only serves to continue the elevation of whiteness.

We cannot heal our racial wounds without an honest acknowledgement of what has happened and what continues to happen when it comes to race.

As a Black woman, I earn less than my white counterparts. Equal Pay Day was April 2; that date moves every year because it symbolizes how far into the year women must work (and add to their earnings the previous year) to catch up what men earned in the previous year alone. But, that date is only, practically speaking, applicable to white women. For Black women, Equal Pay Day will happen on August 22, followed by Indigenous Women’s Equal Pay Day on September 23 and Latinx Women’s Equal Pay Day on November 20. Yes, we are all women but as you can see, not all women are equal in their inequity—white women are still at the top of the ladder.

Structural racism and biases play a role in the healthcare that Black women receive or. I should say, don’t receive. We know that regardless of class and income, Black women on average receive worse outcomes. To put a face on what that looks like, look no further than tennis legend Serena Williams. She shared openly about the health issues she faced in the aftermath of giving birth to her daughter and how she wasn’t being heard by health professonals “caring” for her and had to be her own best advocate and aggressively so—and if she hadn’t done that, she very well could have lost her life.

Then there is the horrific story that came out of my hometown of Chicago a few days ago. For two decades now, a possible serial killer has been targeting mostly Black women and only now is it being looked at. To the authorities, Black women’s lives are worth so little that it’s only taken 20 years for someone to see a pattern?

In my life, racism is a reality—from my early years of apartments suddenly not being available to look at when I arrived for a viewing (despite having been available very shortly before I got there) to being assumed by a cop to be a sex worker (when in the car with my own husband during a holiday drunk-check traffic stop) and endless other kinds of examples. Even now as a middle-aged Black woman, despite being known for my anti-racism work, I still encounter entities that will offer me less money for speaking engagements than my white collaborators earn for them. (As many know, I work with the author, Debby Irving several times a year and we have honest conversations about what we are being paid; after once talking at a venue where she discovered she had received an honorarium and I didn’t, she vowed that would never happen again.)

Racism can even rear its head in my most intimate moments when despite what I thought to be careful vetting, realizing that a lover didn’t see me as a person but saw me as a Black woman with all the stereotypical expectations that so many people have of Black women in sexual spaces. Sorry, I wasn’t that hot jungle bunny, dude!

This doesn’t even begin to touch on what it has meant to parent Black children in a world not made for Black adults, much less our babies.

If claiming my humanity as a Black woman is threatening and off-putting, perhaps one should question why they are so bothered my insistence for a place at the table of humanity. Rather than writing me an email which amounts to a pile of white fragility, perhaps one should pick up what I call the starter pack and read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility in hopes of learning just how much whiteness has stolen from non-white people, particularly the Black and Indigenous ones, and how it has set white people up to only see the world from their racial silo and their expectations of “normal.”  

The thing about the silo of whiteness is that when you are in it, you think that you have an expansive view of the world, when in reality you are limited by the lies that whiteness has fed to you in order to keep you committed to the system of white supremacy. It makes you think that you are being helpful in writing me, when in fact you are an agent of hate. In choosing to tell me to be human and not be a Black woman, you are trying to silence me to perpetuate your dominance as a white person and your very erroneous view of how the world works.

Sorry, but I will not be silenced.


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6 thoughts on “Be a human, not a Black woman”

  1. I am a white woman and I want to thank you for this post. White people have never had to live with these issues and while we try to understand, we still have grown up with white privilege. Some understand this and try anyhow. Some just don’t get it. Being open and expressive is (in spite of backlash) the best way to combat ignorance. May we work towards a better world!

  2. Dear Shay: In referencing THAT email. When, when, whenever are “whites” going to get it ? Either your audience is expanding to include more idiots or are “whites” just getting – in concordance with Mr. James — more and more STUPID ?

  3. The whole email is based on the premise that the email writer lives a life where she is privileged to think of herself as “just human.” Thanks for pointing out the myriad of ways that racism forces us all to see our skin color everyday.

  4. 1) I’m so sorry you have to deal with this sh*t.
    2) I know you know this, but this is truly white fragility and white privilege personified.
    3) There’s not apology you should be making here so, I fixed the last sentence of your post for you: “I will not be silenced.”

  5. Shay — Do not even say you’re “sorry” for not being silenced. You have nothing to apologize for.

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