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Chances are, your definition of racism is outdated and inefficient.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

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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.)”

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“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!!!!!????)”

Stuff We Need You to Understand. Now.

I did this social experiment almost a year ago and I found then, as I do now, that it’s a freeing experiment for those that participate, but it’s also a glaring depiction of what’s wrong with our society. And when I say ‘our society,’ I mean white America and the white lens that colors everyone’s interpretations of reality.

On social media, I asked:

 

What are some words that you wish people–especially white people–understood?

 

Apparently people came to have church on the subject, but there was one running theme throughout the entire dialogue. It may have been in the forefront of the psyche of the participants due to the question’s prompt of white people, but I strongly believe that most of the people who participated (if not everyone) understands the default of the term “people” in America is always epistemologically constructed to mean “white people.” Meaning, I didn’t have to say it specifically for peop.le to draw the conclusion.

Read the list. All of it. Because it’s all important.

 

“Racism.”

“White people don’t seem to understand that turning 18 means nothing to POC parents. ‘what do you mean your parents said no you’re 18?! you can do what you want now’ lmao can i tho…”

“No.”

“Heritage.”

“1. We run a different marathon in this world. 2. It’s not about you as an individual but as a whole, white people are in power.”

“Not everything is about you, you know…”

“No.”

“Also! I wish white men would understand protective hair styling. I’m so sick of being looked at sideways for wearing wigs.”

“Illegal. It’s a slur. Why can’t people realize it’s a slur?”

“Ghetto. There is no ‘inner black woman’ in you. Saying ‘nappy’ to describe someone.”

“Boundaries.”

“Taco.”

“That Latinx is not a race but a socio-linguistic marker. Latinamerican-latinx is a person who socio-linguistically speaks Spanish but is not necessarily tied to Spain. Indigenous people’s are still very much alive all over the Americas and some of them dont speak Spanish as their first language or at all but zapoteco, mixteco triqui, maya, quechua, guarani and etc. Hispanic–is a person who ethnically is from Spain or born in Spain.”

“Stop.”

“DIVISIVE.”

“Colonialism / Imperialism.”

“GHETTO. I am tired of people calling broken things or cheap things ‘ghetto.'”

“Haram.”

“PoC are not required to educate those that oppress them on how they oppress them. There are enough resources out there to figure it out on your own… do not demand they tell you about their oppression when you can figure it out yourself from the bevy of people already talking about it. Discussing it is a decision for them, not a requirement of them.”

“[The] phrase ‘Black lives matter’ does not erase you and is not racist.”

“Overnight marinade.”

“WHITE FUCKING FRAGILITY.”

“Rape culture.”

“For me, it’s stuff like “sassy,” “feisty,” and “attitude.” White people don’t seem to understand that all of those adjectives carry misogynoir in their connotations.” “Similar to the ways hysterical and emotional are used to invalidate or infantilize white women but with some dehumanization and anti blackness mixed in.”

“Hahaha racism … No but seriously.”

“Tea.”

“White privilege. Them understanding that would be clutch.”

“White guilt. Make it stop.”

“Not as specific but white ppl, and nonblack poc, misusing aave and or “performing” it to make something sound “funny” makes me want to hit things”

“No.”

“The real reason you don’t call Asians orientals…And it has nothing to do with rugs.”

“Thug.”

“It would also be cool if people realized the general importance of political correctness. Words are power, words have connotation. When you use slurs or any form of derogatory language, there IS a reaction. It incites attitudes and actions. (Just look at how people scream at people while they call them illegals.) Easy to mock if you are unaffected, but some of us here are dealing with the ramifications of your abusive language and that’s why we fucking combat it.”

“Destructive, abusive, hostile, disrespectful, violent, stupid.”

“Preference.”

“Attitude. Thug. Racism. Free Speech. Probably more, but these come to mind immediately.”

“Slavery, power, oppression.”

“Typing the words “All Lives Matter to deny or erase the protests against police brutality and racism in America while denying the fact that all lives have never mattered in America, just ask the Native Americans who are virtually ignored or erased by America.”

“Fetishize.”

“First-hand experience.”

“‘I want a black baby!! Mixed babies are so cute.’ I’ve heard this one a lot this year. So fetishizing black people is also on my list of things white people need to understand is not okay.”

“Shut up.”

“I made a post about how White women activist don’t understand their role in the breakdown of the movement to rebuild Black families when they date/marry Black men (from a revolutionary standpoint). One of the White aunties told me that I was wrong for calling them “our men.” I didn’t ask you if you agreed with our terminology. If you are not a Black woman, you don’t have a say. Only Black women can say if I am misrepresenting them with that particular assertion. #Interference

“Colorism.”

“No.”

“White guilt. Cause I’m so tired of that shit. Just stop.”

“Systematic racism. Post-racial. African diaspora. Interference (allies interfere a LOT).”

“‘Appropriation’ vs. ‘honoring’ too. Literally painting your face red, wearing a warbonnet, and whooping with your hand on and off your mouth, of wearing ‘Navajo-inspired panties’, or having a racist mascot isn’t honoring me, my ancestors, their strength, or whatever the fuck you insist.”

“Privilege.”

“Intersectionality.”

“Privilege.”

“Oooh sassy really makes me upset. Like as soon as a person uses that work I know what’s going to come afterwards. I’ve had so many friends be like “one you’ll LOVE my friend she reminds me a lot of you. She’s soooo sassy and just cool and….black.” And people describe me as sassy which I know is NOT one of my general descriptors amongst most of my actual friends. Just because I call you out doesn’t mean I’m necessarily sassy. I’m just woke as hell and tired of listening to you be ignorant.”

“Oppression.”

“‘my parents are paying for it so its free! it’s not my money!’ like ok……….”

“Spices.”

“Life experience.”

“The real definition of racism, because only then can we have a truly honest convo about it. As long as folks think it’s limited to lynching and using the shitty n-word (and not systemic issue embedded in everything) we cannot really dissect it.”

“Flavour.”

“Microaggressions, institutionalized bias, White Supremacy, and I’ll throw in how basic Tim Wise is.”

“Lazy. Oppression. Terrorist. Irrational. Divisive.”

“Curry.”

“Also, chai.”

“Appropriation vs. appreciation.”

“Culture.”

“Ally. Liberal. I’m so tired of White people, especially White women, somehow believing that if they are in these categories that they understand what it is to be Black. Naaaahhh, doesn’t work like that.”

“And stop calling us angry. Shit is tired, invalidating, diminishing.”

“Appropriation.”

“Stop.”

“Reverse racism isn’t a thing. I don’t know when this list stops to be honest.”

 

If the primary theme is racism and white privilege, then what does that say about what the reality of society is?

Personally I think it just goes to show that “post-racial” America is a fallacy constructed to help white fragility escape white guilt and keep the systems of power and privilege in check. But hey, that’s just me. *sips tea*

I don’t care for your well-meaning media

Let’s talk about the media and journalism for a second.

Originally, I  was going to wait, but with all that I’ve seen in the media lately, I recognize it should probably be addressed now.

Before we get into this though, I want you keep in mind what Martin Luther King (whom is the white moderate’s flag of Black respectability) said about the white moderate:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

The white moderate has grown since Dr. King wrote this. They are now in every major position of power in our society, speaking on our behalf as social others. They are our presidential candidates, our teachers, our lawyers, our doctors and our journalists. While we have now infiltrated those industries previously closed or segregated, our voices are still not given the same credence as the white moderate. This is not a question of conjecture and opinion; it is an undeniable fact. If you feel the need to debate it, then you should know where they stand.

But what I most specifically wanted to address this morning is the white moderate–those who are predominantly passively participating in structures of oppression; who say they support oppressed peoples but only so far that their comfort and privilege remains intact.

These well-meaning benevolent white savior folk are terrible, because, among other things, they think they are experts on the experiences of othered peoples–continually, systematically ignoring, harming and erasing the experiences and the needs of the same people they say they are trying to aid. (I wrote a post about this on my other blog if you want to read more about this.)

When this phenomenon manifests in the media, it’s most easily recognized as a young Black kid murdered by police called a “thug” in the coverage. It’s in the way a story about a successful person of color is more often than not framed as that person transcending their race to be more than just a Black or indigenous or gender fluid or queer or otherized being.

For me, in my story and the way it was reported, the journalist told my story as if I was a formerly angry and violent child with “18 years of hardship” that has now been reformed and transcended the mold of the angry black girl. So much is wrong with this.

But before we even get into the story itself, let’s talk about how perception vs. reality in expectations of how it was to be shaped. The majority of my interview was explaining how language is important, how you tell a story is important, and you need to understand how oppression influences your subject(s) in order to accurately and fairly tell their story(s).

 

Basically, don’t use the tools of the master when you’re telling the story of the people they’ve brutalized.

 

My story turned out to be far different than what I expected, and hoped. As people of color and especially as activists we are often weary of white journalists and/or white-owned media for this exact reason. Our story is distorted and becomes a disingenuous portrayal of either the benevolence of whites or the stereotyped stories of transcendence.

When our stories are told thus, we become nothing more than an anecdote to entertain the predominantly white market. When our experiences–our trials and struggles, our joys and triumphs–are told incorrectly, it invalidates us. It erases the beauty, the impact, the enormity of who we are and how we came to be. It diminishes us to a repeat of the same caricatures we have always been, and keeps those oppressive structures of privilege and power in place.

For me, I stay in the caricature of the “angry, violent Black child,” reaffirming the Black beast mentality repeated in media since slavery. This mentality aims to depreciate Black people to lesser-developed human beings who cannot help their violence, promiscuity and ignorance. It must be understood that this caricature and others are racist, they are oppressive, and they still permeate the American psyche. Telling our stories by using them hinders the conversation, rather than helps it. So to the well-meaning white moderate, this is what you must understand:

 

This is a problem. It needs to be addressed. It needs to be changed. We need to do something about it. And the time for this is past due. Listen when we say you must understand our oppression before you can tell our stories.

 

Educate yourselves from the resources written by oppressed groups rather than the easily-reached white masses. Heed us when we tell you to change the pronouns you use in our stories; to not include the racist caricatures of white supremacy; to avoid the passively sexist benevolent language of the patriarchy.

We’re expecting you to put up or shut up and either way, make room for us to tell our stories in the meantime.

Re: “What are your thoughts on XYZ person/event?”

A lot of you have asked for our thinkpieces on current events–everything from the Oscars to #Formation to Kendrick to the extra messy presidential race. We haven’t. And it’s not because we’re ignoring you, or that we don’t believe that discussion is important. It most definitely is. We need to have in-depth, sincere dialogue about these issues, because they affect the greater Black community and American society as a whole. But let’s be honest – oftentimes there is a thinkpiece or collection of them that are being shared on social media which accurately, eloquently relay all of our feelings and deconstructions on the subject.

We’d rather discuss issues that affect us a little closer to home. Our experiences here in Omaha are unique… as I explained to someone in a meeting yesterday, we have the most polite racism, sexist and otherwise oppressive people I have ever encountered. We’d rather talk about what it means to be Black and identify as something other than a cishet man here in Omaha. Our voices are not represented.. They are pretty much erased and ignored, not only in the dominant white society but also in our greater Black community. Everyone wants to talk about the Black experience in urban communities in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, DC, Baltimore and NYC but not about the other communities.

Liberation doesn’t happen by only paying attention to the struggles of Black Americans in specific areas of the United States; it comes with talking about all of us. And we want, we need, to be centered for awhile.

not-here-for

Ally vs. Activist.

So I’ve seen a lot of people self-identify all over the advocacy spectrum from an activist to an ally to an advocate. I reached out to my social media friends and asked them to answer a question I feel a lot of us have:

Can someone self-identify as an activist and if so, who? Can someone self-identify as an ally and if so, who?

“I think anyone advocating for something is an activist. I think allyship is earned though, that’s just me.”

 

“I don’t tend to define myself as more than a supporter (or at most that I try to be an ally but am still learning as someone else said), so I’m not sure. I tend to feel uncomfortable identifying myself as things, but if someone I respect were to call me that I would accept it. To me this is like asking what makes someone an artist (except it’s more complex than that.) Making art is what makes one an artist, but what is art?”

I’ve always considered myself a supporter or advocate of a cause rather than activist, the term never crossed my mind when it came to myself!”

“I feel like activist yes, ally no. To me activist applies to your own actions/beliefs which i def feel like are under the purview of the self. Allyship however speaks to your relationship to others, specifically those with less privilege than you and I don’t feel like that’s a merit badge you can/should be able to award yourself on their behalf as not talking over those with less privilege than you is actually you know, not fucking helpful. I don’t think anyone at all should ever refer to themself as an ally.”

“I feel like to be an activist you have to be acting, as already mentioned by people above. It drove me crazy when people would only post on FB about things but if I called on them to volunteer or make a phone call or write a letter, they disappear. I get it can be scary, but it’s also necessary.”

“Not everyone is physically or mentally able to be/do what many label as active activism. So,I don’t poo poo anyone saying they’re an activist just because they aren’t in the streets. I’m at the point where I don’t care to police how people do things. As far as allyship, I personally announce I’m an ally if asked and then ask what I can do to help/alleviate. Otherwise, I announce nothing and walk that path, listen and continue to learn.”

Anyone who has a set of beliefs/views and acts on them in daily life, attempting to maintain any sort of praxis, as well as the ability to speak up when necessary makes someone an activist. If you do none of those things, then it makes no sense to self-identify as an activist. If you’re not active, then you’re not an activist. Allyship definitely falls under activism to an extent, but with this, if you are an activist, you don’t necessarily need to call yourself an ally because it should be evident that you are an ally by the way you live your life and speak on issues in regard praxis. I sometimes see people calling themselves allies but while not being activist in any sort of immediate way.”

“I try not to identify as any, considering it is my actions not my identity that is at play. my identity is deeply entrenched in whiteness and always will be. my actions are involved with my whiteness and it is my actions that can call this into question and my actions that will speak for my support against injustice.”

I think anyone can identify as an activist. For what and how varies from person to person. I think it’s problematic to dub oneself as an ally to a community that faces more oppression than you. At most, from personal experience, saying “I try to be an ally to xyz group.” or “I want to be an ally.” or “I’m learning to be ally.” make sense to describe a relationship or responsibility to a group, but I think it’s very important to include those contexts/caveats because it’s very important to understand and reflect that your “allyship” is determined by the oppressed group, not you.”

I think it’s important to distinguish activism from advocacy because people conflate the two. I wouldn’t call myself an activist because I haven’t physically done anything to disrupt the system (besides living unapologetically in a black body).

…I would call myself an advocate because I speak the concerns of my community. The distinction is important because the expectations are different. If you are an activist, chances are you won’t have to self identify because your actions will prove it. Allyship, I think it’s very important to self identify because that way you can be held accountable by the community you want to help. There actually is no allyship without first identifying yourself as such because so much of that identity comes with being vocal, transparent, and visible (when the community asks that of you.) In summary, I think you have to self identify. But at the same time that doesn’t make you perfect. Everyone is problematic in someway. We just have to be open to the critique that comes with self identifying.”

“I do identify as an ally, partial on the activist since I haven’t been able to do a lot lately. I try to go out to events and partake when I can. I think what makes an ally, especially a white upper class ally, is understanding that my space has been made for me. I’m comfortable speaking and answering questions. I’m comfortable voicing my opinion when I feel my rights where infringed upon. So understanding that other people haven’t had that same right, that same kind of space is important. The next step in being an ally, to me, is not only understanding that but then letting those who have had their rights and privileges stripped because of who they are, SHOUT. It is not my place to speak or shout on their behalf, it’s my job as an ally to hold their hand literally or metaphorically and support them. I speak when they need me and I take action when they need me, but like I said, it’s not my place to talk about a life I have no idea about. Lastly, being an ally is about accepting mistakes, owning them, learning them, and growing from them even if it’s embarrassing.”

“As far as allyship, I’m wary of anyone who labels themselves that but I have called people allies to x cause when they’ve acted as one, and I’ve seen others do the same (to me and others). That is, allyship is a verb, it’s an action, it’s not a state of being. And as I like to say, being an ally is not ‘once saved, always saved.’ Allyship is constantly in flux and must always be checked. It is our interactions with those outside the group, not towards those we are supposedly allies to. As a white person, my position as ally means reining in and educating white people. It is NOT a pass for me to say what POC do or do not do in x situations, speak over POC, arguing against their lived experiences, etc. Allyship is outward action. Activism and advocacy are inward action. Action with and for one another inside an identity.”

“I agree with allyship being earned. Naming yourself an ally makes you seem like a tool. And I also think activist has to be earned. Like someone said you gotta disrupt the system. I would consider myself aware and constantly trying to educate myself and learn. I think once you start dubbing yourself things that carry a large amount of responsibility without really doing the work then you fall short and people lose faith in you.”

“I think you can self identify as an activist. Allyship should be earned.“”I agree with the person who said that activism requires action (even if that action is very very small). Ally is someone who is vocal and helps amplify the voice of an activist. I think an ally is earned. You must study the thing you are advocating for. You must know when to be quiet instead of adding to the distraction. I’m also of the belief that all marginalized people are activists of that particular group, even if they do nothing. I believe that a black man living his day to day life is living the life of a civil rights activist. A woman, even if she is a house wife and doesn’t ever protest anything, is living the life of a feminist. She has suffered the consequences of her oppression or the prejudices people have against her. She has carried on.”

“I think you can always call yourself an activist, but if you’re…say a pro life activist and your “activism” involves bomb threats or actual violence then you’re a fucking terrorist. I dunno…”

 

I think it’s important, no matter how you self-identify, to pay attention to the voices of marginalized people in a space. You should always be aware that you are not speaking over, or tone-policing, belittling or exerting your privilege and power over people who you say you advocate for.

As we continue to get responses, we’ll update the post, so if you have your own input add a comment below. Thank you for everyone who contributed!

SJEN: Feminism! What the heck is it?

This weekend co-founder Morgann Freeman sat down with Feminist Yell‘s co-founder Kate Dowd for Social Justice Education Network‘s podcast, “Feminism! What the Heck is it Really About?”

We talked about, among other things, what it means to be feminism and who really can identify with it. Check it out here!

Disclaimer: Pardon the overlay of “trial” throughout the recording – apparently we had some difficulties. The message is still important.

http://www.socialjusticeeducationnetwork.com/podcasts/2016/2/4/feminism-what-the-heck-is-it-really-about

Okay, ladies now let’s get in #Formation

Beyoncé just made it clear she’s Black. Been Black. Always will be Black. While there are a lot of great critiques out there, we are here for a message of pro-Black everything. As one of our Facebook friends said:

‪#‎Formation‬ is pro-Black, pro-queer, pro-feminist, pro-Black boys shaking their ass, pro-Black women knowing who they are, pro broad noses, pro baby hairs, pro Blue Ivy with this afro, pro-intellectually trap, and pro ‪#‎CheddarBiscuits‬.

I. Am. Here. For. It.

Watch us get in #formation right quick.

Being Pro-Black and Corporate

After such an empowering message of pro-Black everything at the Super Bowl half-time, I know it’s hard to go back to a corporate workplace where you see little to no representation of that beautiful melanin in the halls.

Working in corporate America is no joke. It’s where I see Frederick Douglass’ concept of double consciousness most vividly represented.

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. Oneever feels his twoness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it frombeing torn asunder.
The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

We’ve come a long way since Frederick Douglass vocalized this strange sensation, but it’s still relevant to the Black experience. When one applies that experience to a traditional corporate environment, we have to understand a few things. White corporations where built like America was–for white, cisgender, heterosexual, skilled/educated men, by the same men. Even though there are many corporations founded by social others, the overall corporate culture structure is fundamentally the same. Because of that, social others are forced to try to assimilate rather than embrace their own identities, thus creating an intensely visible and divisive dichotomy between who you are and who you are expected to be.

So are we all on the same page? Great.

It’s easier to be a coon than it is to be pro-black. Meaning, it’s easier to buy the crap they’re selling about what a respectable employee acts like, looks. like, does, etc. It’s a lot easier to not question the kinda racist comments and privileged and sexist casual break room chatter.

It’s definitely easier to slip into their clearly outlined formula for success and ignore, avoid and even rewrite in your own mind your experiences of Blackness and Black history.

So to every Black person who choose to be unapologetically pro-Black everything everyday in the corporate world of whiteness–I see you. Your example is empowering. And thank you.

If you’re still trying to navigate your identity in this territory of capitalist white supremacy–maybe you’re new to the traditional corporate arena or you are just “waking up” to how you’ve internalized their respectability politics–I have a few tips from my own experience and that of others.

1. Don’t believe what they tell you about expressing your Blackness.

You wanna play some hood trap music via your headphones or in your office? Do it. You wanna wear your hair in some bantu twists? Do it and send me a snapchat. You wanna wear African print? Girl tell me where you got it from. Just because you have to follow the their rules (to some degree), it doesn’t mean you have to do it their way. Be you.

2. You have a right to call people out for racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. especially when they are making you uncomfortable.

You have a right to call attention to really oppressive and offensive language. You have a right to call attention to threatening and offensive behavior. You have a right to speak up when you no longer feel safe doing your work. But conversely, as messed up as it is, you have to put yourself first and be aware of how you may need to escalate certain situations. For example, when I was working at a Fortune 250 company downtown, one of the security desk’s guards used to stare and make crude jokes about my anatomy. I tolerated it for months until finally I started completely ignoring him. Once he realized I wouldn’t engage or acknowledge him in any way, shape or form he started following me around the building. I finally reported it to the Human Resources department. Already contentious, things with my boss got more tense, and over the rest of my time there others within the company I had looked at as mentors, coaches, champions and friends treated me differently. Would I have done things differently? The act in and of itself, no, but the method, maybe.

3. Speaking your mind and defending yourself is not being angry.

Dismantling that stereotype also dismantles respectability politics. You should feel empowered to speak up, participate and engage with your team in discussions and meetings. You should also not feel like you have to tone down your passion, enthusiasm or even anger and irritation because you might be labeled angry. Forbes made an interesting article on this last year titled Speaking Up As A Woman of Color at Work. Check it out.

My best advice though?

4. Find a support system.

I found another Black woman, Sheila, at one of the corporations I worked at. She and I joke about it, but she absolutely saved me. Coming to her cubicle when my boss was lumping additional job duties onto my already pages’ long job description, when my co-worker needed me to train him on basic Microsoft Office capabilities, when men in the hallways proposition or harrass me. The bond that created, the way that it helped me persevere was incredible. I wouldn’t have survived without it.

If you don’t have another woman to connect with, try some professional networking organizations in your field in the community. Chances are, there’s someone out there who can meet you for a mid-day coffee run or happy hour to help you stay spiritually balanced and keep your happy Blackness fully present.

Inclusivity Involves Inclusive Language

TW: Ableism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity

 

Last night I attended Hello Holiday’s event at the Slowdown featuring Texas Senator Wendy Davis, best known for her 13-hour filibuster on women’s reproductive rights. During the speech, the senator used a common theme of walking in different kinds of shoes to explain the path of the women who came before her as well as showing compassion for other women’s struggles with claiming their autonomy and agency.

It wasn’t until Megan and Sarah from Hello Holiday introduced her that I realized one of my favorite episodes of Shonda Rhime’s hit show Scandal is based off of Sen. Davis’ filibuster. When I saw one of the main characters, Mellie Grant, take the stand and filibuster on reproductive rights I cheered and screamed and, yes, cried in support. It was an empowering tribute to a courageous stand and I loved every minute of it. So to hear from the woman who inspired it…let’s just say, I had very high expectations.

Overall, I appreciate the message. Her focus is on creating access to reproductive health for women, that in turn creates better opportunities. Having the ability to control your reproductive health has direct and indirect consequences to create your own agency. The ability, the power and indeed, the privilege to be able to do what you want to do with your life is a heady, amazing opportunity that is affected in large part by your access and ability to be able to make decision about your health.

Sen. Davis introduces her platform by describing her process leading up to her filibuster and the oddity that sticks out, besides the catheter bag she had attached to her leg, was her pink tennis shoes. She goes on to weave this theme of different types of shoes to literally describe the different lifestyles and journeys of her mother and grandmother, and parallels them to how her own footwear evolved over time in her struggle for self-actualization and achievement. But as she describes her grandmother’s story, I began to suspect something. I realized throughout the course of her speech that she was not speaking about inclusion that night–she wasn’t, honestly, even talking about minorities or diversity. Her entire speech (with one short tangent) was targeted to the audience of and in support of the default woman.

Language in American society, like all cultures, is coded.

So when you–a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman–say “women” without qualifiers like “Muslim women” or “Puerto Rican women” or “non-binary femmes,” you are not including me in that mix. Most of the time the exclusion is not a cognitive choice, but that doesn’t change the fact that the default for everything and everyone in our society is defined by the greater social constructions of race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. And considering that American society, especially in Nebraska, has white supremacist, heternormative, able-bodied, capitalist and classist constructions, that means that when you say generalities without qualifiers, you are basing your statement on the assumed knowledge behind those constructions.

Meaning, if you are a white woman talking to a room of predominantly (presumably) white, cisgender, binary people, when you say “women” you mean white women–and not only white women, but white cishet women.

So when you are talking about issues that affect women’s reproductive rights, and you don’t explain you’re talking about all women and non-binary people and femmes and non-men and not just white cishet women, then I know that you don’t actually mean all women. You mean women like you. You can care about women like you, but the problem is that, as a white cishet woman, I don’t want you to speak on my behalf or the behalf of other marginalized women because you don’t actually understand or care about what happens to me.

I know that’s a bold statement, but here’s my reasoning.

If you understood that my sexism, my struggle for autonomy, my day-to-day lived experiences combating and debunking misogyny is always racialized, then you would also understand that my struggles are probably different than that of the average white woman.

If you understood how ableism works in our collective psyche, how it exists in healthcare in terms of mental, emotional and physical health then you would understand why casually using the word “retards” even in a context having nothing to do with mental retardation is inflammatory and ableist. You would understand why I don’t believe you understand, or care, about how the lives of social others are different.

“,,,inequality retards not only the advancement of women, but the progress of civilization itself.”

If you understood how systematic, institutionalized racism works then you would understand that your experiences of trying to find work, take care of your child, going to school and living without fear of harm are all closely tied to the color of your skin.

If you understood how long economic interests have been used to manipulate and oppress people of color, then you would understand that you cannot talk about economic opportunity and reproductive freedom without discussing how often marginalized people are completely erased in these conversations.

If you understood that assigned sex at birth is different than gender, and that when you discuss women as the default cishet white woman you are erasing everyone who may or may not identify as a woman or non-man and who desperately need representation of their reproductive rights.

The reason why all of this matters so very much to me, and why I am taking the time to point it out is because you, as a politician and a political figure, have the ability to seriously affect change in not only how we discuss reproductive rights, but how we discuss health in general in public and political discourse. When the title of the event is, “Inclusivity, Impact and the Equality Economy” I was expecting inclusive language. I was expecting the representation of many different facets of the American woman’s experience with reproductive health. I was expecting… well, more.

It’s really interesting that so often people talk about “women and minorities” commonly forgetting that there are women who are identified also as minorities. So where do we fit in that equation? Are we lumped in with women are we lumped in with minorities? Why do people constantly use binary language that forces marginalized women into one of the two spaces? As Sojourner Truth once asked, “Ain’t I a woman?”

So Sen. Davis, to borrow your words, I task you with the same plea you gave last night:

“I ask that you consider [our] shoes. That you place yourself in them. And that you consider the inextricable connection between reproductive freedoms and economic opportunity [and social oppression].”