“Truth is powerful and it prevails.”- Sojourner Truth
In the fall of 2007, I was at a professional crossroads after a year of teaching and realizing that I had neither the patience nor temperament to teach. I had a relatively brand new master’s degree and six figures worth of student loan debt so not working was not an option. However I really had no idea what to do, go back to the non-profit sector, consider the corporate sector or follow my dream of earning my keep by writing. I already had a few years of writing experience under my belt, having started my own column, Diverse City in the Portland Phoenix back in 2003 where every four weeks I tackled issues of diversity. In the end, I couldn’t make a decision, so I worked with a life coach and came up with a plan to satisfy my creative desires as well as my practical desires. In many ways the work that I did with my former life coach is what led to the creation of this space. Studs Terkel was my childhood idol growing up in Chicago, a storyteller extraordinaire, in many ways while I have called myself a writer, I see myself more as a storyteller. This space has allowed me to share my stories, bring awareness to others stories and create a community.
In the early days from 2008 until the fall of 2012, I was fairly anonymous with this blog. Most people in my community knew me for my social service related and nonprofit consulting work though a few who connected the dots realized that I wrote for local publications. Thankfully as a writer, rarely do people see your face and while my professional name is not common, I was able to mostly fly under the radar with my online work.
However my appearance on the Melissa Harris-Perry show in fall 2012 brought me a great deal of attention. That appearance increased my local profile and suddenly after years of blogging in relative obscurity, everyone from the local baker to fellow church members started reading my blog, friending me on Facebook and basically wanting to “know” me. Initially it seemed fine but after a series of unfortunate events it has become clear to me and my family that this space has become more than we ever bargained for.
Occupying space in the whitest state in America is a tedious dance. Local people emphatically tell me all the time that race does not matter, yet I believe firmly in the old adage that actions speak louder than words. In the past several months as I have used my social media platform to amplify the work that I do, it is clear that being the Black woman who refuses to not talk about race comes at a cost. When so-called friends started dropping out of our lives like flies hit with a stream of Raid, I didn’t think much of it. Losing one or two people here or there didn’t seem like much but as we see people we have held space with and broken bread with rebuff our efforts to get together or our child snubbed, shit gets real…really real.
Online harassment via trolls and threats is something many are aware of but what many don’t realize is that for some of us, especially women of color, we pay an extra tax for daring to speak our truth. So much so that writers and other activists, all people of color, who have inspired my own growth and journey have admitted they gave up blogging/online work because the offline price was too much. Living in a predominantly white space, I am aware that in choosing to speak my truth, I risk being ostracized but my family? My kid? They did not sign up for this life. In many ways, it would be easy for me to just shut this space down. In fact until I talked to my 22 year old son this afternoon, I was ready to call it a wrap. Yet as a son of Maine who has endured being called a nigger, having soda cans thrown at him, and even being harassed by cops for daring to get a sandwich, he asked me not to back down. How can I lead an organization dedicated to racial equality yet let the bigots win in my own personal life?
It breaks my heart this year to see my daughter retreating into her own head because it feels safer; knowing that I cannot explain why we no longer see old friends without explaining the ugliness of bigotry. Knowing that she does not understand why we stay to ourselves now. Because I only have so much strength and the false and fake smiles are too much for me to bear most days now. Knowing that those bigots will tell me that I am jumping to conclusions and try to erase me and my reality and pain with simple platitudes that aren’t fooling anyone yet allows them to continue to avoid the heavy work of dismantling their own racist beliefs that stink like bowels after collard greens yet covered up with dollar store air freshener.
In the end, I believe that as Sojourner Truth once said “Truth is powerful and it prevails.”
In the meantime, if my words are too much and we have a personal relationship, I am reminded that all things come to an end. Peace.
9 thoughts on “The high price of truth or assimilation gone wrong”
I am writing something comforting but I don’t know the words.
We all suffer from racism but some of us don’t know it.
I didn’t realize when you noted after reading my blog post on white people not seen speaking up on social media regarding the Jordan Davis trial, and on race matters in general, how difficult time you have. I am sorry for the weight this is causing you and your family, and yet am glad that your son encouraged you to continue, and not let the bigots take you down.
I’m glad your 22 year old son spoke to you. In that, lies the reason or reasons to go on I think. I’m a grandfather, seasoned, and embarking on the latter stages of my life. A product of the sixties, we thought, I thought, there would be so much revolutionary cultural change in America, in thought, action, deed … in real everyday life! Race I assumed, wrongly assumed, would be in this same forward spiral. MLK’s credo for a person to be “judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character” I believed would someday, possibly in my lifetime, come to past. Yet, as recent news has shown, not by just the Jordon Davis and Alfred Wright cases, as a whole, we just haven’t evolved as a society to the greatness and promise that we could be. It is indeed sad.
However, as I look into my grandchildren’s eyes, as you must have your son’s, something keeps us from just throwing in the towel and calling it quits. I, for one, am very happy that he spoke to you. As a constant reader of your blog it’s sooooo helpful and inspiring just knowing there is someone out here not just documenting what people of color go through, but a voice crying out in the wilderness for as Leo Buscaglia said it so well, for all of us to just be, more human.
I have no magic answers either, sadly, but I agree with your son. I write about bigotry in Australia and elsewhere on occasion, and I appreciate your situation. I have a black husband and 4 black children and I do believe I have also lost friends, although maybe they just moved on.
Keep up the good work. The only way we can build a better life for our kids is to keep educating the wider community.
I am so sorry that your online presence has led to offline pain and confusion for you and your daughter. Like Jennifer above, I am a great fan of your writing and believe it matters.
Those who dare to speak the truth, of any race and/or gender, are frequently ostracized from society. I commend your courage, and look forward to talking over coffee soon.
Very much looking forward to these issues being raised at the upcoming Think & Drink. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and let’s hope your words and bravery will help start an open and honest dialogue.
We are likely to never meet. I admire your writing – the words you put next to each other to say your truth make sharp and lovely lines. I admire also that you share your path with “us” — those who will never meet you. Your work matters to more than the people you see and to more than the people you serve. Being able to connect to a sense of doing something meaningful and necessary and good — however nebulously – through simply reading your blog gives me the strength to continue with my challenges to make a difference in my community. And I doubt I am alone. Thank you.
I am so sad and angry that these aholes are making life for eight difficult. You’ve always described her as extroverted and outgoing and now to deal with folks pulling away from her light because you dare to speak your truth and make people uncomfortable with themselves…it’s infuriating to me as a bystander, I can only imagine (and wait till the day it happens to me & mine) how it feels as a mother. I am sending love her way and yours. And while the agile bigots deserve nothing, I hope that they will one day realize what aholes they are and course correct.
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