“I'm going to cry, I'm sorry” was the phrase uttered by Katrina as we concluded the exercise that the other coordinators for Black Lives Matter designed to help elicit emotions for some of the problematic and racist experiences of people of color who live locally. The exercise was handed out on note cards and each note card had a fear on it that someone of color had expressed to Jon Williams at one point. “My son is mixed, and I am scared for him” was the card that Katrina got, Katrina is a mom and said she gets mad when someone bullies her son already, she can't imagine children having to deal with something like that, because childhood should be beautiful and safe.
Unfortunately for so many people childhood is nowhere near beautiful or safe. The phrases were things like “I don't wear an afro in public because I am scared people will touch it” and “I am scared my child will be murdered by the police”. Things that we read about and hear about that we can feel sorry for but we can never understand the fear, the threats, and the inability to change or take off the reason people hate you. To try to relate anything in my life to the fear that people of color face on a daily basis proved to be impossible and I, typically with a lot to say had very little, and what I did say was through tears. I can't imagine being scared like that 100% of the time. As a woman I can sometimes do things to make myself less appealing, there is nothing a black person can do to make them less black.
The point of this exercise at a meeting about the confederate flag was to help the white people who attended see the inherent fear of being black, the fear that comes from all directions for things that as a white woman I have never thought about, so that when we confront people waving the confederate flag proudly without an ounce of remorse we can use these emotions, we can help people realize that the human thing to do is to take down a flag with a background in white supremacy, a flag that was used by the KKK as their symbol, a flag that causes unnecessary intimidation to people of color. A flag that represents a treasonous south getting upset that they were going to lose their slaves and fighting for the right to have them. Fighting for the right to literally OWN a human being, and in owning slaves forcing them to fight for the right you have to force them to fight. Dying in fields because you said so. That is what the confederate flag is. The confederate flag is white slave owners raping and then killing black women because they ended up pregnant. The confederate flag is every riot that happened during the civil rights era, the tear gassing of MLK Jr on his march to Selma, every “White Only” water fountain or restaurant, every picking cotton joke and every time you have locked your car or crossed the street when you saw a black person. We all know what the confederate flag means, to keep defending and pretending it doesn't mean what it means diminishes every step we have made to make Grand Junction more inclusive.
Dear White Women,
It was asked of BLMGJ what YOU can do to be good allies to women of color, this is how Samantha (a woman of color and coordinator for BLM GJ) responded:
Listen to us, please. Please don't pull a "Mrs. Millie" (Color purple) and get upset, telling us about what you do for us when you feel challenged. Personally, I am tired of seeing that. If all this work was done, black women would not be in the situations they're still in, in this nation today.
Being an ally requires constant emotional readjustment. I'd implore you when you read, hear or see something on this journey that doesn't sit well with you, do not immediately respond. Stop and think, ask yourself what exactly bothers you. Then continue the discussion. It is human nature to assume that the things that make you comfortable are based in truth. That is not always the case.
After election night, I decided to become more aware of transgender issues. And I loudly declared myself an ally, asking my new trans friends to teach me. Their response? "Um, no." And at first I got mad, and I was about to pull my ally-ship. But I'd read this article just a few days before about emotional labor. So I decided to do my own, and I realized that it was wrong of me to ask someone so exhausted from trying to navigate this system, to stop and teach me would I could learn myself.
Read black literature. I'm sure they have some Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison at the local library, albeit kinda hidden. I'd suggest reading articles from publications like The Root and Very Smart Brothas, to start. There's also a page here on FB called Not Without Black Women. Just peruse, and also understand that there is a lot of anger out there right now, and it's justified. It is. I'm sorry, but it is. We're human too. We're more than the labels this society has placed upon us, to cover up all that they've made us carry on our backs.
I will warn you, though. In the wider world outside GJ, the interaction with black women may have a bit more of an edge, given all we've been through. I try to temper my words as much as I can. I have my limits, though. Please take a good while before you jump into dialogue, for your own sake. Just read, and if you find something that just doesn't sit well or compute and you have questions, you can always ask BLMGJ. We may not always be able to give you a satisfactory answer, though. Some things just are, and I've learned as of late that there are people who consider themselves to be progressive, who stop short at issues pertaining to people like me. And that is very sad.