This past weekend was my birthday celebration. After a special breakfast prepared by my children and a spa day gifted to me by my husband, I eagerly headed to NYC for continued self-care and a weekend getaway of dinner, club dancing and brunch. I delighted in the company and the high energy of a large and varied group of friends from college, my former law firm, and powerhouse women I have come to know in real life through a supportive private Facebook group created for black mothers of black children.
On this eve of MLK Day, and feeling chock full to overflowing of genuine love and support of great friends, I now find myself unpacking and unloading — literally and figuratively, as I get rid of mental baggage and stress.
I am keenly aware that the emotional well being and calm I was steeped in this weekend will be especially hard to maintain and keep up over the coming months and years.
Our country is just mere days away from ratifying and legitimizing a backwards, perverted version of America, one that daily grows more openly, self-righteously aggressive and explicitly hostile towards groups expressly targeted by the president elect, his surrogates and his acolytes.
In the months since the presidential election, 7 personal friends living in major cities around the country have personally experienced aggression and open threats of violence from white people. One friend was approached days after the election in the middle of Manhattan by a white man wearing a suit, who told her he would be glad when Trump “kills all you niggers,” before melding easily and confidently back into the crowd.
Last year my 10 year-old son was called “nigger” in a local New England park he played in as a baby, by teenagers riding by on bikes. As his mother, one of the most painful and frustrating aspects of this incident is that while I raise my children to have empathy and compassion, these sterling qualities had the unintended result that he waited a year to tell me about it, because he was worried about what would happen to the perpetrators. While he is certainly the better person, but I can find no comfort or peace in the fact that these boys (and their parents) got away with it.
These close-to-home, deeply personal examples are among many hundreds of similar hate incidents reported to the American Civil Liberties Union since the election. These aggressions explain why I gave pepper spray with UV dye for later police identification as Christmas gifts to people I love and want to protect.
A while back, together with one of these friends who had been threatened – in San Francisco — I compiled a list of action items to counter the violence and attempts at dehumanization we are now staring down, face to face.
Here is an updated variation, intended to provide suggestions for standing up for civil rights and defying white domestic terrorism, while also focusing on maintaining good mental health and peace of mind.
Engage In Local, Grassroots Activism and Political Action
It has often been said (correctly) that “the personal is political.” Certainly, this presidential election proved that ¼ of America felt a personal compulsion to cast their votes for an outspoken, racist bigot and misogynist. Logically speaking, those views must have resonated with their own personal beliefs and/or met their tolerance threshold for hatred.
To counter daily aggressions and violence to our Constitution, I make efforts in my community to stay informed about local marches, presentations, and acts of resistance to normalizing hate. For example, every Saturdy morning my family attends a standing outdoor vigil alongside like-minded people.
Although our area is neither racially nor socio-economically diverse, it has been satisfying to have honest, difficult, educational conversations about race, ethnicity and class with receptive and committed participants. This is the first time I have felt a strong, authentic sense of connection to this community over the 16 years I have lived here.
As a silver lining, I’ve witnessed my son discovering the power and strength of his voice when sharing his testimony about the hurtful incident in the park. One couple at a nearby table kept their promise to come join us for a vigil.
My son is very intuitive. Afterwards he said it meant “a lot” to him that the adults he spoke to were tearful and angry about what happened to him – that they honestly cared about his experience. His narration has encouraged others who know and care for us to stand with us every Saturday, and we have seen the ripple effect of his personal testimony when shared by white accomplices to educate and shine a light into minds that are open and willing to learn and grow.
Remember that resistance and protest against injustice are hallmarks of patriotism and are rooted in the history of American democracy.
If You See Something, Say Something
Stand up when you see bad things happening, even if it is just talk. Tell someone if you are afraid to confront the situation alone. Photograph and videotape from a safe distance, so that assaultive people can be identified and criminally charged where appropriate.
Bear witness for others when you can.
Formally report hate incidents, so that you have an official record of the occurrence, particularly if there is a chance it could reoccur, escalate or require police involvement.
Here are some helpful links:
Given the many campaign references to “law and order” in the black community and calls for currently illegal national stop-and-frisk, the following link leads to information concerning state-specific ACLU mobile apps allowing you to record and automatically upload to the ACLU video of instances of police misconduct and racial profiling:
Harness and Deploy The Power of Social Media
Although hate speech may be legally protected from government interference, Freedom of Speech does not equal freedom from the consequences imposed by private citizens. We also have the constitutional right and the personal choice of voicing objections and protesting against hate.
Use your Facebook or other social media outlets and apps to support causes that matter to you. Denounce individual and businesses perpetrating hate speech and hateful acts. #grabyourwallet and #notonmydollar are two examples of Facebook platforms devoted to sharing news, contact information and templates for economic boycotting of businesses.
Write an “Imagine my disappointment to discover….” letter to a company employing people who engage in public hate speech, bigotry or misogyny. Let companies know if you are unwilling to buy from them and why, so they get an accurate message.
Please also remember the flip side – consider patronizing those businesses (like Penzeys Spices) that have stood up to racism and bigotry by expressly putting human rights before profits.
Finally, when you run across factually accurate, verified news and other information share it with your network along with a “CALL TO ACTION” heading and a request that they continue to pass it on. Strength in numbers is real, and motivating.
Guard and Protect Your Borders
If you have friends or family who try to minimize, trivialize and/or even outright deny the truthfulness or the effects of hateful incidents or aggressions, give yourself permission to protect yourself from them.
You are not required to put up with attempts at psychological manipulation by anybody. It is a disrespectful and abusive tactic known as gaslighting.
Cut the cord with anyone who does not honor your humanity or who gets offended and centers themselves and hurt feelings as a victim when you point out their racism.
A white friend beloved by my children was tagged on FB in a posed Halloween pic standing next to a grinning, blond European wearing — as a supposed “costume” – a pink wig and something big and lumpy stuffed up under the back of her dress in a misshapen, grotesque parody of a black girl butt. Voila! A highly offensive fake Nicki Manaj.
Our ensuing heated exchange escalated rather quickly, as he detoured to take great offense at the notion that I was insulting him by accusing him of participating in racism.
Yes, I was. Absolutely.
I gave him a crash course in Offensive Racist Costumes 101, sending the usual PSAs, including the still trending announcement at Yale concerning racially/culturally offensive costumes. Shared links about the tremendous blowback Ellen Degeneres (Nicki Manaj) and Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki (Serena Williams) deservedly received for engaging in similarly stupid behavior. Pointed out that this is exactly the type of intentional racism that appropriately gets people fired from their jobs within hours of Black Twitter getting hold of it.
He acknowledged, when asked, that my children would have been shocked, hurt and incredibly disappointed to see him endorsing a white woman’s intentional, disdainful lampooning of black women.
All of which is to say he definitely knew better.
But as my beloved Dr. Maya Angelou said, “when you know better, do better.” She also warned “when people show you who they are believe them the first time.”
Great advice and words to live by. I believe. We shouldn’t have to build the case for getting someone to respect our humanity. They don’t get to decide their racism isn’t racist or to tell us that their plainly offensive behaviors don’t offend us. Decent, smart people understand without needing convincing that we are not costumes, cartoons, caricatures or mascots.
We deserve and must demand better than stereotyping from the people we allow in our lives.
Stay Woke. Always.
A wise mentor once told me that the worst thing you can say to a racist is to tell them they are not up to your standards and that you are better than they.
This election was won by an open appeal and a dog whistle summoning the most base and disgusting instincts of people who believe us to be inherently unequal to them.
That sentiment is, in and of itself, sufficient reason for this country to expect constant agitation. Rock solid resistance. Constant calling out of systemic racism and whitewashing of history. Refusal to treat racialized language, blatant stereotypes and Hitler salutes in our nation’s capitol as “normal” or lacking in mainstream media newsworthiness. Insistence on manners and basic civility towards people of color and other marginalized groups.
We don’t have to “get over it.” Instead they need to “get used to it.”
Because I will never stop saying that we ARE their equals in every way.
Great advice and words to live by Every. Single. Day.