ORIGINALLY POSTED: June 5 2020
EDITED: June 17 2020
My original post about the Black Lives Matter movement was not very good, and because of that, I’ve upset and disappointed some people I care deeply about. And I seek to make it right now. I’m going to explain why some of the things I said and the way that I said them don’t work and don’t help.
Perhaps others like myself who are not Black, but who seek to be friends to those in the BLM movement, can learn a few things from my mistakes. So now I’ll go through and highlight where I have fucked up while introducing a few things I have learned so far, about what a true and authentic practice of anti-racism could look like.
1. Making it all about me and my white guilt:
In my post that was originally supposed to be about the BLM movement and promoting a black artist friend of mine, I wrote an entire piece that was all about me. It’s about what I’m dealing with, how I feel, my guilt, my shame, and that’s not helpful. It doesn’t deal with the actual message of the BLM movement. It’s more laziness on my part, because I’m not taking the time to fully research and speak from my heart about what I’m seeing happen in the world right now and what I’m going to do about it to help transform it within myself and my community.
There is no good excuse for ignorance, I acknowledge that I did this because I didn’t know any better way to write about this issue on my personal blog, without an interview and quotes from an expert or someone with authority on the subject, and I didn’t have those. I also didn’t do enough research to pull quotes from those who are blogging on the subject.
Usually, my blog is all about me and my personal experience and how I see and feel about certain things. It’s about confessing or “telling on myself” when I realize I’m doing something that doesn’t work, and that was my intention with the original post. And it backfired, because this is a really important issue and I didn’t say enough about that issue that wasn’t about me, or looking good.
Like a lot of white people, I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt and shame lately over not doing more to support this movement. But I’m struggling to figure out what I can do to help, since I don’t feel safe going out to protest, or gathering in large groups at this time of the coronavirus.
I’ve been wondering, what I could say or do that would really make any difference? As I often do in all areas of my life, I freeze in that indecision, in that land of fear and uncertainty, I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing, and that just doesn’t work. I’ve been doing nothing for far too long.
I want BIPOC folks to know that I’m here for them, that I stand with them, and that I’m willing to help. And I will admit that like most white folks, that likely has more to do with me wanting to look good, and avoid people thinking I’m a complete racist asshole, than anything else. Because the truth is… I’m fucking lazy!
I admit, I want this to go away, I want this to be a non-issue. What comes up for me is, “we should be so much further than we are with equality by now!”, “why are we still dealing with this shit?!?” And it all just feels hopeless.
Then I think of what my BIPOC friends are dealing with right now, and realize that’s so selfish. This fight is far from over, but if we are ever going to get anywhere, I know I’ve gotta step up and start doing my part.
There’s a sink full of dirty dishes, I’m too lazy to clean them, and I’m looking around for someone else to do the work. What nonsense?! I’m sick to death of looking at that stinking pile, the pests are starting to swarm… it’s past time to get off my ass and clean up this mess!
Now, I did NOT mean to compare dirty dishes to racism!! That’s horrible! But I kinda just did, although unintentionally. It’s awful, it’s minimizing and clearly it’s not the same thing, and that’s not at all what I meant by this statement, and I get how it comes across that way, and how incredibly shitty that is of me.
Clearly there is not very much harm that comes from not doing the dishes, but we are faced with the reality of what happens when we ignore our racism. It’s life threatening! People are dying, on mass, every year, as a direct result of systemic racism in our society, and most of the time nobody outside of the BIPOC community is even talking about it. And that is CRAZY! It’s CRIMINAL, and I will not stand idly by any longer. I want to be a stand for transforming that forever. The loss of human life is tragic, it’s outrageous, and I’m so sorry that I minimized it.
What I was trying to articulate, very stupidly, is that most of us white people are just looking for an “easy out”, and are being lazy, and I was trying to “tell on myself” about that. Saying I’ve been no better than any other white person. I’m no different, and if I’m not a part of the solution than I admit I’m a part of the problem. And it’s just pure laziness on my part.
I want to be in action about it now that I see the way that I’ve been being. I’m interested in cleaning it up. I’m acknowledging my inaction in the past, and I’m moving forward with a new plan of action. I will continue to learn, educate myself, and have tough conversations with people. I can admit when I’m wrong, and I’m wrong! I apologize because I’ve hurt people and I am trying to find a way to make it right. I give you all my word that I am committed to this, and I am totally open and inviting of criticism.
3. Saying / believing it’s not my place:
And I know I said that it is our place to speak up in the rest of this section. However, what I’m learning from some of the videos and talks about being of service to folks in the BLM movement, is that it is not just absolutely our place to speak up, it is 100% our job and our responsibility to find a way to transform the racism that we as white people invented.
As white people, our BIPOC friends are looking to us to guide an ongoing conversation in our communities about this. They can only do so much. We created these problems of injustice and discrimination, and we reinforce them with our behaviors, our language and our inaction. It’s our job to educate ourselves, and each other on how we can stop being so fucking racist.
It’s going to take more than a few shared meme’s, or likes on FB posts to affect real change in this world. Yes, this is so uncomfortable, I don’t know what to say, I don’t feel like I even have a right to speak at all on this subject.
But if I don’t, some people might not truly get the message. Some people might not see this as something that’s truly important to me. Something that I think should be important to all of us. My actions have to match up with my words.
And it’s all too often forgotten about, because we are all “too busy” worrying about our own problems to pay attention to what other people are dealing with. I can barely get off my ass to keep my own house tidy, most of the time, so how the hell am I going to be responsible enough to help clean up the rest of the mess in this world?
And it’s just pure laziness, plain and simple.
I’ve been reading people’s posts, and discussions on social media over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been commenting and liking things, like I usually do when someone shares something I agree with on FB. But it rarely goes beyond a quick like, comment, and maybe sometimes a share.
And I see myself falling into the mind trap that says “it’s not me”, “I’m not part of the problem”, “see I shared that thing, I helped”. And that’s all bull shit! We are all part of the problem, and we are all called to stand up for a solution. Nothing happens if people like me don’t take actions consistent with what they say they believe in.
A black friend pointed something out to me the other day, while I was liking and commenting on her FB share. She said that, if I really wanted to help, I needed to do more than just like, comment and share on BIPOC folks posts. I need to use my own platform, and speak to my own audience, to my white friends and family members, the ones that she doesn’t have access too.
Some people really do need to hear this message from people like me, in order to truly hear it at all. And I have access to a whole other pool of people, influencers, and media outlets. Why not use it? I’ve been building an audience for my blog, and now it’s time for me to use this platform to spread the message that:
I stand with Black Lives Matter and I demand change.
I want to be like the white women standing in that line, arm in arm, protecting black protesters from the cops. I am called to say something, to stand up, to be the change I wish to see in the world.
I can use my privilege and my voice to lift up those who have incredible things to say. Voices that need to be heard. I can guide those in my life towards a path of understanding, equality, freedom and love.
4. Asking BIPOC folks what you can do to help the BLM movement:
So, “what can I do?” I asked her. And the answer is LOTS!
White people, we have to stop doing this!!! We have to stop asking our BIPOC friends to tell us what to do! It’s lazy! Google that shit!!!! Take some responsibility! Our BIPOC friends are exhausted! They are so tired of having this conversation over and over and over again with idiots like me! I’m an asshole!
There are plenty of resources for this online, it’s not your friends job to educate you. It’s not their job to come up with a reading list for you. They are not your cultural studies professor! They’re your friend and they’re exhausted, and they are going through a lot right now, and they have been going through a lot their whole lives, and we just started paying attention now.
“What can I do to help?” does not help. It puts more pressure on the person you asked to do the work for you. I was asking my friend to educate me and do my research for me, to come at me with the solution to my problem. It is nobody’s responsibility but my own.
“Applauding” or “cheering” BIPOC folks on, does not help. They are right, they know they are right, they don’t need us to tell them that they are right, they need us to tell each other that they are right. They need us to tell all of the white people of the world that Black Lives Matter. They need us to find out why we need to say that, and they need us to keep talking about it amongst each other ongoingly, forever.
They need us to take on a beginners practice of anti-racism. And it is just that, a practice, a journey with no final destination, there is no point at which the work is done and we can put this aside. Like any process of working on yourself and becoming a better human being this takes practice and the work is never done. We have to keep reminding ourselves every day. Every time we say something, we need to question ourselves. We need to read and get smarter.
As Resmaa Menakem says in this great discussion about how white people can be better at allyship: https://youtu.be/qio0BvKDMUM They need us to come together as white people and practice creating a culture of anti-racism in our own circles. They need us to study, to read, to argue, to get mad at each other, and figure this shit out.
It’s our job, nobody else’s. It’s my job! I take responsibility and I’m sorry that I tried to put that on my friend. That’s not cool.
As a start here’s a great resource she shared with me: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
5. Making Lists:
This also seeks to simplify things. It seeks to reduce the complex problem of systemic racism to a bullet point list of tasks we can check off our list, after which point we will magically no longer be racist. That’s not how it works. Like I said the work is never done. Just keep doing it, keep reading, keep talking about the really awkward subjects at the dinner table with your families and friends, and fighting with your loved ones about racism, forever. Don’t stop.
This list I created with the best of intentions, does not help and does not work. It’s gross.
This list at the end of this post was NOT intended to be a “pat myself on the back” thing, or a “look at me I’m not racist” thing or a “checked it off my list and now I can forget about it” thing. Although I really get, that is exactly the way it is from the perspective of someone in the BIPOC community, and that sucks! I’m really sorry that’s the experience it created for people in my life. It’s not the intended message.
For me, I had just finished watching Obama’s statement about BLM before I wrote the original blog post, and I remember that he was talking about city mayors making a pledge committing to reforms and making changes in their cities and in law enforcement. So to me, this list I wrote was like my pledge, here is a list of all the things I’m doing, and all the things I will continue to do, and all those I have not done yet but will do in the future in support of the BLM movement, and in the name of change.
I’m not a mayor, I don’t govern a city, I don’t have that kind of power. But I have a blog, so I can use this platform to make a statement about what I’m willing to do to take on this important life long work and study. I know this list barely scratches the surface. I know I have so much work to do. This journey has just begun for me, and I’m sorry that I reduced this commitment to a sad little checklist of stuff to be done like chores.
Also, by the way, here are some links to the organizations Obama mentioned in his speech so you can check them out yourself.
Color of Change:
My Brother’s Keeper:
Also, here’s what I’ve committed to doing to help the cause, so far:
- I will be reading and listening to all the resources I can, learning the best ways to be of service to the cause.
- I’ve signed a bunch of petitions on Change.org and other sites, and will continue to do so.
- I’ve donated a little to the cause, although it’s a drop in the bucket, it’s all I can afford right now, and if everyone does, incrementally it will make a difference, even if it’s just a little at a time. So please sign and donate what you can.
- I’ve shared the link on FB calling on others to sign and contribute as well. If you think this is not your fight, you are wrong, you can still sign and donate in support of your fellow humans. Do what you know is right. #Solidarity
- I’m writing this post, and I pledge to dedicate many more posts over the next few weeks and months to supporting this movement as well as supporting my LGBTQ+ community, and other underrepresented or marginalized groups of people. I see you, I hear you, and I want the rest of the world to as well.
- I will continue to write stories and create entertainment content that will feature powerful BIPOC characters in leading roles.
- Whenever I manage to sell my series Making it on Mars, I will insist that the lead role of Max be played by a black or indigenous actress.
- I will be promoting the creative work and businesses of BIPOC folks in my community
6. Missing the point:
My original intention with all of this was to highlight the incredible work of my friend Sarahjean Richardson, an incredible, self-taught, black artist. And I only start getting to this point, down at the end of the article when, lets face it, most people have probably stopped reading it, because my article is total crap.
So I didn’t even achieve the most important thing that I set out to do here, which was to promote my friends amazing work. My intention was to ask that we all support her continued arts practice. And my intention was to share my logo that she created for me and recommend her services to others.
This part really needs a complete do-over! Sarahjean deserves her own separate article. I would like to interview my friend and post something much better than this garbage. Something that is all about her work, her process and her creative vision. So stay tuned for more on that, but it might take some time, because she’s a really busy person, and I’ve gotta wait in line. She’s got shit to do! Hopefully one day she will have some time for me. I will wait patiently, and eventually hopefully I can deliver the goods on her fantastic work and life and it will be a fantastic and interesting post of its own.
In the meantime, I’m continuing the work of my anti-racism practice and having a continued dialogue with the people in my life about it.
So on that note, and without further adieu, I’m delighted to share with you the amazing artwork of my friend, Sarahjean Richardson.
Her work is incredible, and I was especially drawn to her unique style by this Owl Dream Catcher piece. When I saw it, I knew she really had something special.
I loved her work so much that I asked her to design my logo for Flat Spider Media Corporation.
She knew I couldn’t afford much, and she even offered to do it for me for free. She is an incredibly generous person with her friends and loved ones. She really goes above and beyond. But I said no, I’m going to pay what I can for your work. It was important to me that she get something.
I couldn’t afford to pay her anywhere near what her work is truly worth to me, she deserves so much more. But I paid what I could, and I admit that even that took far too long.
So I ask that you all support my friend Sarahjean’s art practice by donating to her, buying prints of her work, commissioning work from her to make your own company logo, or other branding materials, purchasing gifts for friends, etc.
I highly recommend working with her on a commission piece, she was amazing at taking directions, she was a natural, with incredible instincts. You would never know that this was her very first logo design. And she was so afraid that she wasn’t going to get it right, that I wouldn’t be happy with it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I LOVE my logo. It’s funny, it’s quirky, and it’s strange, just like me and my brand. She really took time to understand what I was looking for, and she took my ideas and brought them to a whole new level with her wonderful imagination. She has an incredible artists eye.
You can reach out to her for purchases, commissions, or simply donate to her artist practice by sending an email money transfer to her at her Art Email Address: email@example.com
Thanks for your time friends! More to come.
#BlackLivesMatter and #HappyPride
Definition: relating to or of the nature of dramatic or artistic performance.
And here is what it means in relationship to activism and the support of the BLM movement.
From Wikipedia: “Performative activism is a pejorative term referring to activism done to increase one’s social capital rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause. It is often associated with surface-level activism, referred to as slacktivism. The term gained an increased usage on social media in the wake of the George Floyd protests, although the phrase predates the killing of George Floyd. “Performative wokeness” and “performative allyship” are related terms.”
Basically it means, this article just isn’t good enough because it doesn’t do anything to help the cause, it’s just about me trying to look good and not be racist. Which I would have thought was better than nothing at all, but I’m learning that perhaps that isn’t true.
Other examples of performative activism are: the “Blackout Tuesday” movement, when the Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser had the phrase Black Lives Matter painted on 16th Street in front of the White House, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking a knee at an anti-racism protest in Ottawa.
Why is it harmful?
For this I will refer you to someone smarter, more informed and of a higher authority on the subject than me. Here’s an article by McKenna Kelley at SWAAY: https://www.swaay.com/performative-activism-silence-protest-allyship
I highly recommend that you read the whole article, it’s really well articulated and she’s actually quite witty as well. But here’s my “Cole’s Notes” on it, if your being a lazy bitch like I’ve been being:
“People that were once silent when their Black friends or peers spoke to them about how they felt in an incident or institution are suddenly outspoken on social media and do not hesitate to post their recent protest involvements. The sad fact of the matter is that we are left to question if this is true change or merely performance.”
“Performative activism makes us question if people are actually changing their mindsets or simply appearing to do so out of fear of trying to go along with what they feel is a trend.”
“Did you think your Black and brown peers were lying about the way in which they have constantly felt in these environments and in life? Or did you just not care enough to implement your allyship until you were at risk of your true colors being revealed?
“If you refuse to implement your newfound education on racism in real-life environments and not just on social media, then you are not an ally.”
“active action is required”
“Put simply performative activism on social media and real life also equates to silence. It is you trying to be an activist and an ally when you quite frankly don’t even care to begin with. Why is this detrimental? Because you will not take active actions in real life, you will not challenge people on the issues of race in order to change them, you will not open up dialogues. You will not hold yourself and others accountable for their actions, therefore you will continue to be silent and nothing will be done. Yet your so-called posts of solidarity prove otherwise.”
“Now, there is nothing wrong with being a new ally and trying your best to be aware of your past and present actions. The problem lies in people’s ability to not be held accountable for their mistakes or not even acknowledge past ones.”
“Plain and simple it makes no sense to tell your audience, your friends, or peers that you are dedicated to real-life change, when you aren’t. It’s time to actually educate your employees, and your students on effective change moving forward. Social media activism only goes so far, until you are presented with the same challenges racism provides in your everyday environments, and once again choose to stay silent.”
“When your Black or POC peers tell you about a problem they feel is based on race, it usually happens to be so. We never like to talk about race because it feels uncomfortable. We never talk about black issues, because society feels as though racism and racial bias is something that we can slap a bandaid or a performative post over and call it a day. Once we open up these dialogues and actually do the work, only then can we see change. The allyship has to move on past the news cycle and past the protests.”
So what she’s saying is, it’s about speaking up when you see something or hear something in your work environment or social life that you know is racist or ignorant. And it’s about admitting when you were wrong, being humble, and looking at putting new systems in place, taking these “active actions” towards that change. And it takes time.
“If this isn’t you, take your final bow, and understand that you were never right for the part of an ally in the first place.”
She also includes 6 links to related articles on the subject of the harm that performative activism does.
What I have learned here is, don’t call yourself an ally if you are not really prepared to do the work to be one. It’s no small job.
I want to be a real friend to people in the BIPOC community. And the first step is admitting that this original post was garbage. I fucked up. I got it all wrong. I hurt people deeply. And I’ve got a lot of work to do to clean this up.
I could have just deleted this post, but I think what a lot of these experts are saying, is that it’s a lot more valuable in the long run if I acknowledge and take responsibility for the mistakes that I made. That I call myself out for making these errors, and then move forward from a place of active action with my activism.
People make mistakes, and people will get upset and angry at one another when we are having these open dialogs. That’s ok, so long as we are willing to take responsibility for this and clean it up.
I’m committed to doing this work, because it’s the right thing to do. I’m committed to learning all I can about what true allyship means. Are you? If not, DO NOT say that you are. Do not make my mistakes! And if you do, clean it up and do the work to become a better friend and a better human being in general.