On love and epiphanies

I’m coming down from a high – a revolution of the mind that has shifted my identity on a molecular level. It has been a slowly gathering avalanche of self-actualization and empowerment that brought peace, understanding and energy in a way that I didn’t think possible. Let me explain.

So if you follow me on Facebook, you saw my post yesterday about a few recent epiphanies… and these are realizations that apply to humans, not just people with my intersectional experience.

1. The people that love you may only conditionally support you. You have to decide whether or not you can (or will) change those rules or leave.

Leading up to this week, I have been thinking a lot about who I surround myself with. Who is in my corner, who’s off to the side, who flits in and out as they please. And who is a vital part of my life. I’ve had to take a step away, reach back into my memory, and take painfully honest snapshot of my “crew”.

I was a Shakespeare nerd growing up and in my favorite sonnet 116 he writes,

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;

Translation: love–true love–is not conditional. It doesn’t change when you do something they don’t like. And similarly, those that really, truly love you are ride-or-die supporters of you. They believe in you and will support you even when they may not agree. The only condition that transcends that kind of love is one that threatens lives. Seriously. And even then, there’s movies about the moments when they love you to the end.

So people who love you but only want to support when you’re doing something that they get or they can emphasize with are people who are only conditionally in your corner. When your support group, your friends and family and acquaintances and mentors and whatever are conditional, you need to ask yourself if you’re okay with that.

You need to decide whether or not you can hack it if they’re not there when you may need them, or if they are there, they’re only there to make you feel lesser. (Think: the “I told you so” crowd.) If the answer to that is no, or maybe not, you may need to think about whether or not you want to address it with them or leave temporarily. Or permanently. Self-love, self protection is key and you need to figure that out.

 

2. When you’re on the right track, you’ll see signs. you’ll have validation, you’ll develop camaraderie with others.

This past week, I was gifted a comp ticket to Big Omaha, one of the biggest conferences in the entrepreneurship space in the Midwest. I got to tell my story, pitch my inclusive communications business and talk about my favorite topic – social constructions and society. I met people who were highly successful, people just starting out, people who have no idea what they want to do. People who live on the road and people who live in their office. I talked with the presenters from all over the world and didn’t stutter or sound like a loser. (Seriously, I did a happy dance a la Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30 after meeting Tanya Menendez from MakersRow. She’s really awesome by the way.)

The thing is, I explained my story and they got it. Immediately. Not only did they get why I wanted to do this inclusive communications work, but they also got why it matters. Since starting this blog 4 months ago, I have yet to have to explain why the work I’m doing matters. At Big Omaha though, I had people who not only got it, but bought in, literally and figuratively. There is a movement for change that is building momentum and I want to build a team that can help influence it. It’s time that we internalize compassionate and empathetic inclusion instead of institutional oppression and the fragility that comes with it. This week, I met people who are 100 percent, unapologetically on board.

 

3. What you have been told is the right track is not always the track that was made for you. Clinging to it could mean missing out on the life that you were destined for.

I was told to focus on school, and then get a job, and then set aside money, and then, once everything is set, once you’re solvent and you’ve got your ducks in a row, then you can do what you want to do.

Life hasn’t worked out that way. And honestly, I’m starting to realize that it wasn’t meant to.

Holding onto what society, friends, family, etc. has told you should be your path is literally denying and blocking the path that you may have been destined for. Let your spirit free to do what you are meant to.

 

4. Loving yourself is hard. Be patient with yourself in the process.

Society will tell you, you are not enough. You are short, or fat, or slow, or lesser because of your skin, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, etc. That’s crap. I know you know that, but knowing it and owning it are two different realities, and navigating from one to the other is hard, it’s time consuming, it’s draining. Be patient with yourself. Treat yourself with care, love and compassion.

 

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My thoughts on things…

…you should definitely ask someone else about. Because I attempt to fill the role of ally, creating space to people who are directly affected by their oppression to speak on it, and it’s not for me to tell you what their oppression is like. There are tons of people out there who have written about it.

But I get that you may not even get that these things exist. Thar you (and I) exist in these systems of oppression and are privileged by them. That you may not have access to learn about these things — or more accurately, that you think you don’t have the access or ability to learn about these things.

Trust me, as long as you have Google, you do.

So let me tell you about some ways that we’re being jerks.

Fatphobia.

I don’t know about you, but my timeline is flooded with prom photos. And 8 out of 10 of these gorgeous Black girls that are slayin’ prom are thin. Of the few fat Black women that I see, I also see fatphobic comments. It absolutely enrages me.

Fatphobia is horrible. You are a horrible human being. You are literally making a judgment on appearance and dehumanizing a person based solely on physical appearance. Sounds like an r-word that I talk about often huh? That’s probably because they’re both oppressive ideologies y’all need to cut. Out.

I follow several activists that have various stances on this… and for the most part they follow the rhetoric that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being fat (fat-positive). For loving your fat. For loving who you are period. If you are about to use “health concerns” as your basis for your fatphobia please know that all people have “health concerns” regardless of their body shape and your argument is oppressive.

I was on a date where a fat couple sat down next to us, and let me tell you, they were slayin. One person had their makeup LAID and both rockin’ the cutest grins. Obviously on a first date. My companion made a comment about fat people being disgusting. All I saw for a second was red, blinding rage while I explained to him that not only is that incredibly offensive, but mean, insensitive and oppressive. Thankfully we hadn’t ordered yet.

Keep in mind that workout bros and thin people do this all the time.

They are so deeply and comfortably ensconced in their privilege that they don’t even bother contemplating how they could be oppressive jerks in their fatphobia cuz you know “they could just do something about it.” 

 

Follow them instead: 

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Ashleigh Shackelford

Radical Black Fat Femme.
Queer, Agender Baddie.
Writer, Body+ Advocate, & Activist.
Ratchet, Blessed, & Ain’t Shit.

http://blackfatfemme.com/

 

Fat People of Colortumblr_ngyl5wlcmk1qd8hu0o1_500

A blog dedicated to encouraging and showcasing media of fat (and non-“straight sized”) people of color. We are anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-classist, anti-queer hatred, anti-transphobic, and generally an all inclusive space.

http://fatpeopleofcolor.tumblr.com/

 

 

Colorism.

I’ve always considered myself brown to dark-skin because in Omaha, that’s what I was told I was. Recognizing it was partially dependent on how much sun I got, I was a brown to dark brown. More hot chocolate than caramel or coffee. (Fetishizing Blackness is a whole ‘nother issue.)

As Kristin Collin Johnson wrote in this Bustle article,

“I avoided the sun because I knew that as soon as my skin started to darken, I would inevitably be on the receiving end of jokes such as “Oh, sorry I couldn’t see you because it’s night time.” Those jokes about my skin were a dime a dozen during my childhood in a predominantly white environment.”

Childhood was rough y’all. So now that my skin has mellowed to this beautiful brown (and I’ve learned to love and embrace my Blackness) I have had some really enlightening conversations on colorism and all the many facets of Blackness. I’ve traveled. I have actually seen places where there are Black people every single place you look. Like do a 360 and there are Black people in every angle of your vision.

I didn’t even realize life could be like that y’all.

As I traveled people kept calling me light-skinned. Well actually, light-skinneded, but I’m keeping my slang to a minimum. I realized I am now in an… interesting spot, where in other places of the United States, I benefit from light-skinned privilege. I know that I have what eurocentric beauty standards deems to be “attractive” features, and that plays into my privilege as well. And so I have learned to take a backseat on conversations of colorism and try to make space for others who have experienced the oppression of colorism. I realize that my experiences are relevant only to my specific set of circumstances, and do not have a great benefit to the larger narrative of extreme anti-Blackness that exists within our society.

I say all of this because I want you to understand I am not the person you should be talking to about colorism.

I am not a person who should be centered in this conversation.

I still benefit from the structure that this oppression is based upon. (ForHarriet did an excellent article on this, called Black Women Who Benefit from Colorism Must Confront Their Privilege.) If you want to learn more on colorism, I’d start with the hashtag and see the many, many stories of Black people who have had to and still do struggle with this specific intersection of oppression, compounded by anti-Blackness and racism.

Follow them instead: 

moyabailey
Moya Bailey 

Black queer feminist scholar, writer, and activist, notable for creating the term Misogynoir, which describes the specific type of discrimination experienced by black women.

http://moyabailey.com/

 

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Arielle Newton

Friendly neighborhood radical. Creator of Black Millenials. Black feminism and hip hop. Black Livies Matter NYC is Family.

https://blackmillennials.com/

 


 

These are just two of the trending topics that you should really be listening to the experts on. I’m just referring you to them. Basically be conscious of what your existence is like. Look up the -isms. Look up the many ways that privilege exists. And be aware that you’re probably being a jerk.

Sincerely,

A Recovering Jerk

“Daddy made a soldier out of me”

Beyoncé is a genius. As an artist the way she crafted this album both visually and lyrically is incredible. I think we’ll still be attempting to deconstruct all the layers to symbology and meaning embedded in this album for years to come.

I could write an essay on each of her songs alone, a novel on the visual album and all of it’s lyrical imagery. The timing of the album alone pulled me out of the depressed funk I’ve been in since the loss of the legendary, revolutionary Prince, and while I know it was already schedule I’d like to think Beyoncé coordinated it to bless the grieving masses with music that carries more than just a catchy tune. It soothes the ache in my soul.

Her album is a smoothly compiled showcase of the diversity of Black music–a homage to the beautiful sounds Black people throughout history. It’s a love letter to Black womanhood–in its complexity, its strife, its evolution. But as much as I’d love to delve into that, right now I want to focus on one of my favorites on the album, Daddy Lessons.

This one resonated immediately, within the first lines, because at the surface level, she is literally “strummin’ my pain with [their] fingers, singing my life with [her] words…” I “came into this world Daddy’s little girl and daddy made a soldier out of me.” If you’ve met me before, you know how incredibly accurate this is. I’m close to my family, and my relationship with both of my parents has always been close… so when Beyoncé sang about how her dad “made a soldier” out of her I literally screamed “YASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” to my empty house.

But listening critically, she probably is talking about her relationship with her father, yes, but it’s a different relationship dynamic overall. She’s talking about the Black existence–about our ancestors and the survival mentality that’s passed down generation to generation. She’s talking about how my grandmother’s mother had to “toughen her up”; how my grandmother’s father treated her like a man because that’s the life she was born into, and the existence she had to live.

Beyoncé’s talking about legacy. About “face”. About the Black existence in a white America. When she says her Daddy made a soldier out of her she’s talking about the fact that Black children are taught there are specific things we will have to deal with, fight against and for, that other people will not have to. Other people who don’t look like us. Who don’t have our ancestry. Who haven’t had generations of people who have come before who’ve been brutalized for the color of our skin. She’s talking about being a soldier in an involuntary war for liberation–for civil rights and the right to be human. Black women are placed in this cutesy role in relation to the Black man – an existence that is adorable, like “Daddy’s little girl”, but is also diminishing.

 

 

If you are seen as “respectable” you are also sheltered and forced into this role of possession rather than autonomy. Additionally, you are expected to carry the mission that has been dictated to you from childhood, because the greater enemy – the massive system of white supremacy is the greater issue.

In the song, this is “men like you” – it’s the white man in my grandparents’ generation who cheats the Black family because he’s assumed Negroes don’t know any better. It’s the Black man since then, who’s fallen into the archetypes created by white supremacy and the misogyny of the patriarchy. The caricatures of the drug dealer, the playboy, the cold, unfeeling power-hungry social climber. These are what we are warned against, and our Daddies say to “shoot”.

Not a warning shot. “Shoot.”

He waits, in the song, to say “take care of your mother/watch out for your sister” before gives her the gun and tells her to shoot when they are threatened. He teaches her to protect the family, protect the legacy by choosing action. He doesn’t say, “when trouble comes in town, sit em down and talk it through” he teaches her to shoot.

So much imagery of this song is tied deeply to the roots of Southern Black America – the Bible, the whisky in his tea, the blackjack and classic vinyl. The layers go deeper with each line, but what I want to finish with is this one:

“My daddy warned me about men like you
He said baby girl he’s playing you
He’s playing you
Cause when trouble comes in town
And men like me come around
Oh, my daddy said shoot”

Yeah… she’s tellin’ all her business about her relationship. She’s also talking about the smooth-talking men I mentioned above. She’s talking about the trouble that enter our lives when unsavory folk come in. Bey’s talkin’ ’bout a girl who’s told to watch out for men period, because of the society we have–because “men like me” refers yes, to his personality, his essence, but it also refers to men in general. It hints at a power imbalance between men and girls, and a mirrors a similar dynamic in terms of white vs. Black America.

It’s pretty interesting when you replace “Black male patriarchy” with “Daddy”, but hey, that’s just me.

If you haven’t watched it yet, you can check it out on Tidal. Personally I got it on repeat. #Lemonade

Stop Wasting Space.

I left a fantastic meeting this morning feeling energized and ready to take on the world.. and then something happened.

Rachel Dolzeal happened. IN OMAHA.

 

The buzz on my social media was that the woman was here in Omaha for an event that was funded and heavily attended by, at least in part by UNMC personnel. I was floored that anyone would think that inviting that woman to an event in any capacity would be a good idea. I put out a call-to-action for details on the event.

The event organizer, a Dr. Renaisa Anthony, spoke out and told us her life story before finally explaining her motivation on Facebook.

“An Intimate Dinner Discussion on Race, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity through the Eyes of Rachel Dolezal” was MY “non-traditional” approach to starting the conversation about the importance and relevance of RIDE at UNMC. As Ghandi says “we must be the change we want to see in the world.” For our purposes, we must start in our own backyard in order to achieve health equity. The private, invitation only dinner discussion hosted by me….was NOT and IS NOT about Rachel Dolezal…but about leveraging a polarizing figure that made national headlines (mostly because of RACE) in 2015…as the first platform to foster a frank and candid dialogue about topics that are not commonly discussed at a predominately White academic medical center but are easily identified as major contributors to disparate health outcomes and life experiences. The name “Rachel Dolezal” brought various leaders, faculty, students, staff and partners to the table to discuss our current RIDE environment at UNMC. To give voice to what has been silent for too long. “Rachel Dolezal”…the woman…the name…the controversy was the catalyst that brought the necessary people literally to the dinner table.”

 

I think this is where I’d insert that common colloquialism about ancestors turning over in their graves if we were talking face-to-face. As it is, it feels like my skin is drying up just reading all this ashiness.

But before we start the deconstruction let’s chat about this RIDE program. I love these kinds of initiatives, because they need to happen. We need to have these conversations in every industry, in every community, in boardrooms and patient rooms and restaurants and stores and police stations and city council meetings and literally everywhere in Omaha.

Omaha is not inclusive. The statistics support this. The stories support this. The segregation supports this. Common sense supports this.

I love that Dr. Anthony (an actual doctor, unlike the infamous “Dr.” Umar Johnson capin’ for homophobic misogynistic hoteps everywhere) is doing this. It can foster real change… it it’s done correctly. But as I’ve said before, you can’t build something new with the master’s tools.

That being said, let’s talk about the plethora of reasons this was a really really bad idea.

1. The term minorities is, in its etymology, diminishing. It’s literally equating non-normative people with the understanding that they are “less”–“less than” in population and subconsciously in humanity and value.

2. Giving Dolzeal a space is harmful. In Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack she discusses white privilege, and one of the points that continuously rings true for my life and many other Black people I know. In the article McIntosh discusses a specific instance whites never have to deal with that I know I, and Dr. Anthony, do. “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.” As a woman of color I recognize that my existence is a representation of my racial group, whether I want it to be or not. In those rare instances where people of color are given the space and platform to discuss their experiences in a facilitation of dialogue designed for change, we get to have our actual concerns and values heard. Dolzeal was given the platform instead, and if we continue to center white/white-passing people we will not be able to truly address the issues. Because, you know, we’re talking about white people masquerading as Black instead of the actual issues in the Black community.

As another commenter, Rebekah Caruthers of Caruthers Consulting said:

“I wish I knew of some scholars who could speak on diversity and equity as it relates to race and inclusion. It would be a bonus if they had national platforms, too. Marc Lamont Hill? Nah, no one knows him. Melissa Harris Perry? Too controversial. Julianne Malveaux? Meh, is she even published? Cornel West? He’s too shy. Wilmer Leon, Juan Gilbert, Peniel Joseph? Nada, zilch, zero. Michael Eric Dyson? Naw, he doesn’t even like hip-hop. Linda Darling-Hammond, Gloria Ladson-Billings. Nope, we need a woman. Someone with real legitimacy.

My mom died prematurely. Cultural competency at the Med Center would have made a LIFE of difference. This AIN’T a game or “spark” for social media chatter. It ain’t cute. It goes back more than 6 years–it goes back generations. Beloveds, let’s call a thing a thing. Foolish, not well though out, harmful, and a tool for mockery.

My mother’s legacy passed down to me is this: don’t let your black brilliance be used as a tool to shield generational oppression, neglect and abuse.”

3. Using Dolzeal as a marketing tactic does not absolve you from the fact you could have used any other notable person of color from Omaha  to draw a crowd. For one, you’re drawing a divisive crowd on a polarizing figure who does nothing to further the conversation. She has an opinion, I’m sure, on race, inclusion, ethnicity or diversity. But is it valuable? Is it relevant? Is it constructive to people who exist in these spaces? Is her voice being valued directly and indirectly as more important by her being the centered figure in that space, over actual people of color who have to experience the negative repercussions of white supremacy? The situation reminds me of grade school classes where we talked about critical thinking. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’s not rotten in the inside. I mean……. what were Gabrielle Union’s rates?

 

Dr. Anthony is organizing several events next week for the RIDE program, starting with a lunch on UNMC’s campus. For the events open to the public, I’m looking forward to attending. But in the meantime, I need some oil to moisturize out this ashiness from life.

Greater Omaha Young Professionals: Talking bout our biz

Omaha Women Push for Diversity in Business Community

April 13, 2016  l  Jacob Zlomke  l  Greater Omaha YP

JD_01028

“Morgann Freeman and Imagine Uhlenbrock see needs in Omaha that they intend to meet – a need for a greater diversity of voices in public discourse; a need for inclusions in Omaha’s professional spheres.

Meeting those needs began with a blog, Melanin & Honey, launched in January. Freeman says its impetus was a conversation between the two women about lack of representation in media, particularly in Omaha media, for black women voices as well as femme and non-men voices. They began working on their website the next day.”

 

READ MORE

White hipster filmmakers and our stories.

I have been purposely avoiding watching all the “popular” films of slave narratives that have been released in the past few years because, among other things, I feel like there’s something really messed up in expecting Black people to be the cheerleaders of these movies.

I also find that violent movies trigger anxiety so thick and disarming that it takes days to breathe normally again (which is why, to all my friends, I will never go to horror movies with you.)

But I found myself sitting through Django Unchained a few weeks ago, because it was assigned in a class. And good gawd, I don’t know were to begin in addressing the complete fuckery that is that movie.

I was pissed two minutes into the introduction.

It was clear as the whimsical music juxtaposed with the imagery of men slaves trudging across the American landscape that the design of the movie was to be an ironic and tongue-in-cheek portrayal of one of the most explicitly violent, gruesome and horrifying periods in American history. It made me quite literally sick to my stomach, nausea rolling over my senses as I realized this is yet another instance of white exploitation of the atrocities that white people have committed for centuries against Black Americans.

It is a half-Western, half-“tale of vengeance” narrative designed to both depict the sickening violence and tragedies of slavery with characters all on the spectrum tragic Negro personifications.

Django Unchained is a traumatizing, demoralizing depiction of slavery whose portrayal is modern-day Minstrel Theater featuring Black actors in theoretical Blackface.

In reality, it is a collection of very famous Sambos dancing to the tune of the white director and the white audience—the white, hipster audience—to entertain and amuse them. It is a story written from a white savior lens, designed to show white people “how Black people bleed too” during a faraway period of time; “that one time we (white America) really sucked.” The white savior narrative is in the screenplay itself! It is in the German bounty hunter who saves Django from being sent from one plantation to another—not, mind you, from compassion or empathy or any true vehement hatred of slavery, but because he say a use in Django, and eventually, the slave’s humanity as well.

 

django

Photo by Andrew Cooper, SMPSP – The Weinstein Company

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the movie, Django had to prove his humanity even to his partner who, although he becomes increasingly swayed by morality as the story progresses, only becomes so when forced with the inhumanity that Black slaves were faced with. So when the denial of the everyday brutality of injustices of slavery became unavoidable, he was forced to see the nature of slavery, and his passive acquiescence to it, for what it truly was.

It was an opportunity for the director to exploit a period of American history that was interesting (and provocative) to him, and attempt to create a discussion on the repercussions of the period… which, because of the nature of the execution, was disingenuous at best.

It did, however gruesomely depicted, show an accurate portrayal of the violently demoralization and brutal barbarity of American society. The dogs being set upon the slave hoping for freedom, tearing him limb from limb; the Mandingo fighters grappling, fighting, bludgeoning one another with fists to the death; the women threatened with rape since they were property anyways. All of it can be found in slave narratives.

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Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography

I found myself nauseated throughout the movie, and ashamed with myself during those rare moments where I, bewildered, found myself cheering for Django in his bloody revenge, especially against the head house slave, the butler, Joe. Their exchange at the end of the massacre raised some small triumph in me, because the parallel shows the longstanding struggle between the Black person so desperately fighting for the approval of the white man and their counterpart—the Black person fighting for their own identity and right to exist unapologetically as themselves.

I hope to some degree that the final image can be symbolic of a future generation of Black America—riding off triumphantly with their house of their oppressors in flames behind them, leaving just a new future before them.

But even more than that I hope that some day the narratives of Black America are told by our conscious Black folk, and that our stories will someday include our whole narrative of our history and our triumphs and our struggles and our oppression and how we, unlike so many different peoples forced into slavery through the history of humanity, we created ourselves, and found a way to love ourselves in a new nation, on a new land that hated us.

From Blavity: These powerful quotes from #BlackGirlsRock 2016 Should Be Heard (Again)

If you’re not on the #BlackGirlsRock movement you should be. It’s basically a campaign to empower Black girls. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the execution I’m not here for, like how it all centers on white supremacist perceptions of personhood, achievement and success; how they celebrate celebrities and not everyday Black girls; the fact that they are cissexist in communications; how they only center on major metropolitan areas of the United States when places like Omaha and Des Moines and Topeka need these programs most; the fact that their “empowerment” oftentimes sounds like respectability politics….

But as with all Black women-centered movements, the good of the movement, and the conversations around it should also be recognized. You don’t get a cookie for doing something, but you also don’t get erased for doing it wrong. If that’s the case, we need to erase the Civil Rights movement because they missed a couple things. And we are not doing that.

Our girls need to know they are valuable, they are loved, they are worthy, they are capable, they can change the freaking world because Black women are literally everything.

Our girls, no matter their gender, sexuality, disability status, etc. need these messages.

Heck, when I was a girl, I needed these messages. We need to saturate our girls’ environments with these messages in a world that continuously tells them they are not enough.

But I digress;

#BlackGirlsRock just had it’s annual awards show, and the quotes were quite impressive. Ignoring the appearance of HRC (ugh) it was a celebration of Black womanhood, and some of the quotes were fantastic. Blavity’s summary is a great collection – check it out here!


THESE POWERFUL QUOTES FROM #BLACKGIRLSROCK 2016 SHOULD BE HEARD (AGAIN)

""Black Girls Rock! 2016 - Show""

Photo: Brad Barket/BET/Getty Images for BET

“Black girls still have to grow up with pervasive and paradoxical messages that say that our Black is not beautiful, but our features can be bought and sold to enhance the beauty of other women,” Bond said. “When Black girl swag and the black girl’s aesthetic are only dope without the Black girl but skyrocket in value and get put on a pedestal when it’s put on other bodies, our girls internalize that to mean that they are less beautiful.” –Beverly Bond

READ MORE

We’ve got NEWS!

Do you want the good news or the sad news?

 


Good news:

We’ve finally done it! After working with the Women’s Fund of Omaha on a workshop about diversity, inclusion and authenticity, we were inspired. We’ve made the transition to an inclusive communications agency, called INclude. We’ll be offering a variety of creative services like marketing consulting, branding strategy/design, event planning and social media content management as well as customized inclusive equity training for businesses and nonprofits of all sizes. The agency will also be focused creating inclusive spaces and communication in Omaha workplaces.

But don’t worry! The blog will stay melanin-blessed as Melanin & Honey, still focused on uplifting, empowering, and highlighting the many facets and triumphs of Black women, femmes and non-men.

 

 


 

Sad news:

Melanin & Honey co-founder Imagine Uhlenbrock has been an entrepreneur for years in the creative industry, and has recently decided to focus on her really amazing business Just Imagine Nails. We’re sad to say she will be leaving the Melanin & Honey team, but don’t worry she’ll still be sharing her insights every now and then.


 

Overall it’s a bittersweet time of growth. If you want to check out our agency, just go to www.includingomaha.com. Be sure to check out Imagine’s nail business – Just Imagine Nails – as well!

We’re also looking for support! Please support or share our GoFundMe campaign; we’re fundraising for our start-up costs such as legal fees, equipment, and eventually even an intern! (We don’t believe in working for no pay–it’s technically illegal and highly immoral.)

Also a big thank you to Hello Holiday for allowing us to try on their gorgeous threads! We had tons of fun working with them and the photographers at Hooton Images. .

Why Black people can’t be racist.

Yesterday I had such an intriguing conversation with a brunch date in the bright sunshine. After explaining what I do, the conversation turned to a discussion on reverse racism and why it’s not a real thing. (If you want to learn more about that, here’s this really great article about in that the Huffington Post did in January.) As I explained to my date, in order to understand that Black people can’t be racist, you have to first understand what racism is.

Chances are, your definition of racism is outdated and inefficient. 

Most people, including my date, understand racism to be prejudice against a person based upon the color of their skin. Unfortunately, that’s just the definition of racial prejudice. Racism, however, is a bit more complex.

Racism is the prejudice against a person due to their perceived racial group, where the individual, group or society has the power to exert social, economic and/or political discrimination, devaluation and dehumanization against that person due to the nature of socially defined stereotypes of that person’s race.

 

Basically, racism is prejudice + power. It is literally having the power to do something about your prejudice. 

 

Do Black people have the power to exert a large-scale social, economic and/or political discrimination against whites? No. While, yes, there is a biracial president, and yes, there are individual isolated incidents where a Black person makes another white person’s life more difficult, on a greater societal level, a white person cannot be as easily and thoroughly stripped of their humanity because of pre-conceived, socially-embedded notions of white people as a Black person can be.

Don’t believe me? Turn on the news.

Diversity =/= Inclusion

Tomorrow morning, we’re partnering with the Women’s Fund of Omaha for a Talk of the Town on diversity, inclusion and authenticity especially in professional spaces. A lot of the feedback I’ve heard throughout the years, even by those who are supposedly well-versed in diversity, inclusion and sociology, is that they believe that things are “not that bad.”

Compared to the 1916, a century ago, I believe you are completely right. But compared to where we should be, compared to the concepts of liberty and freedom and justice and compassion and empathy and equity? We still have a lot to go. More often than not, the immediate rebuttal I most commonly receive is, “Well, I never see/hear about it happening so it must not be an issue.”

When honey, if that logic follows then how do you know for sure gravity is a force and that it exists? You can’t actually see it with the naked eye. How do you know black holes and galaxies and planets exist? It could be a conspiracy.

See how ridiculous that argument is?

But I understand that oftentimes, when confronting oppression and our parts within it, we want evidence. We want facts. We want testimonials and first-hand accounts and proof, because we don’t believe that we would actually ever hurt or dehumanize someone because “we’re good people, darn it.”

Especially in professional spaces chock full of “diversity initiatives” and “employee resource programs” made for “people like me” it’s hard to believe that society has not progressed past a feigned veil of polite segregation and respectability politics. It’s hard to believe that managers are still racist, employee engagement events still exclusionary, randy male coworkers still lustful, gregariously handsy and overly confident. That people still steal ideas of women, of people of color just because of their “minority” status. It’s better to show you, rather than tell you, which is why I asked for my friends’ help. I gave them this prompt, with high hopes of that their stories will illuminate something within you that can help others.

After working in corporate America for a little while I noticed some things… and experienced quite a few uncomfortable moments. Tell me about a time where you felt uncomfortable and/or excluded due to your identity in the workplace/work-related function.

 

So for all skeptics of the world–no matter where you fall in the hierarchy of power and privilege, we give you first-hand accounts. 

“Me trying to explain to multiple people that I don’t eat beef or pork that was hard….and that there needs to be diverse foods at functions. People getting mad at me for not know Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or Bon Jovi songs- very important… apparently.”

“Actually I’ll just go with the most recent – yesterday my whole office got off for St. Patrick’s Day and although the idea of day off was nice I realized that I would not get a day off for Juneteenth or any other major day on Black History. Even superficial industry hyped holidays don’t see my skin.history and point of view as important.”

“Years ago, I was the only Black person at a meeting of women artists & the chair/leader answered a question about who should be added to the group by saying “We don’t want to be so diverse that we can’t talk to each other.” I remember feeling very angry & wanting to gather my things & leaving. I stuck it out for a while, but I never felt comfortable with that chair.”

ABW

“Boss: ‘Are you feather or dot Indian?’ (While poking my forehead.) Little white man almost got his wig split.”

“General manager, ‘Does it seem like you and your sister are always sat with the black people?'”

“I’ve never gotten a callback when applying for jobs online. I’ve only had one job at a place that wasn’t a person of color owned business. When I was finishing up nail school I applied at a couple different salons. One in particular said ‘We don’t do nail art here.’ And now they’re sending me postcards talking about they hiring. No thanks.”

“i just got let go from a job at a restaurant (where i was the only person of color, the youngest, and for a long time the only girl) where: 

  • My manager would frequently ask me if I thought “only white people could be racist” and constantly imply that things were reverse racist. He also straight up said that he couldn’t be racist because his ex is black. (I wonder why she left him?)
  • I was told that I’m “pretty white” and “didn’t count” as Chinese.
  • When I casually mentioned that I don’t have a great relationship with my family, my manager responded with, “Is it because all Chinese people care about is money and status?”
  • I tried to file a complaint with the owner/my boss about racist and sexist comments my coworkers made and was told to “get over it because my being upset was making everyone uncomfortable;” that i was “blowing everything out of proportion;” and that “I’m sorry you’re offended” counts as an earnest apology. Not long after my manager described me as being “oversensitive about political correctness.”
  • I tried to complain about a customer who would consistently be rude/refuse to be served by me even when all other associates were clearly serving other people, and was told by owner, “Yeah, well, he spends a lot of money here so…”
  • A customer of Chinese origin left her debit card behind and the owner and my coworker made fun of her name multiple times by pronouncing it in a really stereotypical/offensive “Chinese” accent.
  • A coworker once asked why “…some brown people wear a headdress (he meant a turban) and some just have a ball on their head.” Dude can name 10 different kinds of potatoes but he doesn’t know…
  • Dismissed whenever I corrected anyone on the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin dialects because “they’re basically the same anyway.”
  • My coworkers would always serve white customers first, and tended to be short/unfriendly and do the really condescending thing to ESL/PoC where you assume someone doesn’t speak English and speak really loudly and slowly like they’re less intelligent.

I was let go 2 weeks ago and honestly I’m so relieved, i work for myself now and it’s a lot less stable financially but the people at the company i do contract sewing for occasionally are almost exclusively young liberal women, and most of my clients are cosmopolitan liberal creatives that treat me like an actual skilled professional, and if anyone has horrible opinions I’m not around them enough to hear them.”

“I had a manager always refer to me as ‘all legs and no brain’ who constantly ‘accidentally’ would hit my ass and make bimbo comments.”

“Office small talk: someone told me their Halloween party costume and I said it was racist/cultural appropriation and they said that’s not a real thing, and joked I was racist for wearing a Irish cable knit sweater…”

negro nose

“I don’t think this counts as being excluded. But when I worked retail I had this manager from a tiny town in Iowa. And if she thought black customers were shoplifting she always made me confront them. Even though company policy doesn’t allow for us to do that. Sometimes they were stealing sometimes they weren’t. It was just frustrating as hell. When I brought it to her attention she said I was ‘aggressive’ or I was coming off as “mean” in our store meetings. So I guess I felt like I couldn’t actively participate in meetings without being looked at as aggressive and having my opinions or concerns ignored ’cause you know I’m just an angry black girl.”

“On a team of all men, I can repeat something three times and it may or may not be acknowledged. One of the guys says the SAME THING, and it’s suddenly a good idea. Oh, I point out that I said it first…and multiple times.”

“I work with children and usually in the mornings I do this traveling show where I teach kids about different things bullying, making friends, etc. the one I am currently working on involves reading stories to kids and we have to read one about a chameleon which to most of my coworkers was no big deal we just had to figure out how to introduce it to the kids. But then one coworker gets fixated on the fact that it involves color and makes it this huge thing and tries to start talking about race and color. This is a white man doing this, the kind that is so “woke” and “down” to help but doesn’t always listen to the people he needs to and talks over them. After trying to move past this whole situation for what feels like hours I am shaking and so frustrated. I am the only black person in the room and this white male is telling me what is and isn’t about race and at some point shoves this book in my face and starts being like SEE ITS ABOUT COLOR. At that point I had to just flat out say “I hate this” to which he decided to apologize (for his own ego and conscience) which was not needed and I really just wanted to get the hell out of that room.

This situation still bothers me because I see this coworker often and am supposed to work with them again in May but currently can’t even look them in the eyes because I just can’t deal with them at all right now.”

 

“My last boss (a man) made a joke about my boyfriend-at-the-time hitting me. My current boss has only greeted me with ‘Hola’ since confirming my Mexican heritage. I just stopped replying.”

“I didn’t dress business casual enough or I can’t wear hair scarves as they’re considered inappropriate as well.”

nervous breakdown

“Was told that my thaali/mangalsutra (wedding necklace) was unprofessional and to take it off for work (clothing retail). To be honest, not a big deal for me personally, but I can’t imagine what it’d feel like for someone really culturally and religiously attached to it.”

“My not-black-or-latinx coworkers would gather around and talk shit about the black and latinx staff that they managed. They made fun of the black girls’ hair and their names, and they made fun of the latinx for not speaking English (many of them actually do but that’s not the point). They would all gather and whisper to each other and I was the only member not included in their huddle and whisper. Once, they all decided to go out for a team lunch and kept it hush hush until it was time to go, when I realized EVERYONE was leaving and i wasn’t invited.”

“When I was 16, and still a very new immigrant in Toronto, I worked at a pizza place for 2 years. My boss was this really friendly Iranian guy. However he was an atheist and had left Islam and literally harassed me because I still used to eat halal food. He would constantly ask me questions like:

‘How can you support a pedophile who married an 8 year old?’
‘How can you support slavery? You believe some people are worth more than others?’
‘You want your husband to have three other wives?’

I understood his reactions as a result of having to leave Iran due to religious reasons but wow, was he so cruel to a naive 16 year old for it.

After that I must admit, I have been super lucky to work in super supportive settings with folks having a lot of equity training. I feel lucky to have those experiences because I know they aren’t the norm.”

“My Latina manager with an Anglo name keeps trying to get me to shorten my name so people will remember it and put it on comment cards.”

“This wasn’t at work, at school, but i was working with them part of the student union, and they said brown is the color of poop and laughed at me.”

“Oh, or like they wouldn’t give me access to websites and emails that I needed to do my job, but then they had the nerve to say I ‘lacked initiative’ knowing full well my supervisor was passive aggressive and wouldn’t let me do A N Y T H I N G. And they always made fun of the Filipina because some of her food would have a fish sauce and they would yell that it ‘fucking smells’ and call it ‘gross food.’ Also fun to note: two out of four were white, the other two were chinese american (who would also make fun of going to China and getting mad at people for not speaking English.)”

vacation cramps.jpg

“One time a lady said she was getting a tan but was saying how she didn’t want to be too dark. I died.”

“Years ago I was referred to in a conversation between my supervisor and another community organizer. My supervisor mentioned that I ‘speak for the voice of South Omaha.’ Someone told me about it later. I mean, I grew up in South Omaha but I haven’t lived in South Omaha for years. What? That and her constant need to greet me with ‘Hola.'”

“A place I worked at docked the wome of color workers’ pay because ‘they’re not doing enough,’ even though they did all the tough, drudgy work while the white people just show their faces in meetings and tell the women of color what to do.”

“I used to work for Honey Birdette, selling lingerie and sex toys with an abundance of Pin-Up style ladies at my side… Though I was good at my job and customers loved me, I did not fit in with this company. I was once told that my frizzy baby hairs weren’t professional looking and that I looked unkempt. Having a classic Indian nose (the lovely bone bump in the middle) and features that didn’t match the pin up style yt girls I worked with, separated me further from my team. Part of the reason why I was let go was because the company/store wasn’t ‘[my] style.]’ One night, my store [manager] and another went to dinner with the CEO and I noticed that only I and another girl were person of color in the group, however the other women of color had more Eurocentric features so of course I stood out like a sore foot…

At my current workplace, we have a hugely diverse team, with southeast Asians, Indians, English, Italian, German, Scottish, and Sri Lankan employees. One other employee there, however, continues to make heavily racist remarks here and there and thinks it’s hilarious and she gets away with it cos she’s got that badass don’t give a fuck kind of attitude… Which isn’t good but I don’t say anything… She plans on leaving soon so I’m hoping no one carries on her racist rampages…”

“I work for the Canadian government and I am often the token ‘Latina.’ My department is extremely white and male and I get all sorts of comments about my ‘race’ (ugh! Can people please stop saying that Latino/hispanic is a race!!!!!????)”