AuthorSarah Morgan

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 12 – Sis vs The Sisterhood

White. Male. Christian. Wealthy. Young. Able-Bodied. Hetero-sexual … If you do NOT belong to all of these groups at the same time, you’ve been oppressed at some time in some way.

And if you do not belong to all of these groups at the same time, you should be able to relate to the struggles of others who don’t belong to all of these groups at the same time. You should understand their oppression because you too are oppressed.

And if you do not belong to all of these groups at the same time and understand their oppression, you should speak out about it just as you do your own.

This is what Intersectionality is all about. It is the belief that our oppressions are linked and cannot be solved alone. It is understanding that anyone who is not White, Male, Christian, Wealthy, Young, Able-Bodied and Hetero-Sexual are all being oppressed and have to support each other to get justice and equality.

Unfortunately, those of us who do not fall into all of these groups at the same time fail at this. Instead of supporting each other in our efforts at justice and equality, we compete with and undermine each other. And when the person combines Whiteness or Maleness with being part of any other group,  Supremacy and Patriarchy come into  play and insert a Privilege that often supersedes, lessens and clouds any oppression.

I don’t think any group has suffered the consequences of what happens when Privilege clouds oppression more than Black women. Throughout history and in the present day, Black women find ourselves the group that all the others depend on to keep moving efforts toward justice and equality forward. Yet we end up cut out of the accolades and rewards that come with progress and results.

When Women were fighting for the right to vote, Black women were key in organizing efforts — yet we were abandoned near the finish line and the right only granted to White women … When Black people were fighting for civil rights and the act was finally passed in 1964, it was amended shortly after to include gender and religion under unlawful discrimination laws — leading to White women and Christians as the greatest recipients of protections and progress.

The list goes on … Equal pay.  The 2016 Election. The 2017 Women’s March.  #MeToo … Black women on the frontlines of progress. White women reaping the results and leaving us in the dust, sometimes with barely an honorable mention.

The Sis vs The Sisterhood.

White women have shown themselves to have conflict in their loyalties. When faced with a choice between their Gender and their Race, they choose Whiteness over Womanhood.

This makes it difficult to feel confident in collaborating. This makes it difficult to feel comfortable in confiding. This makes it difficult to feel civil in challenging conversations.

If we are not being intersectional in our efforts toward equality and justice for people who are not members of power groups, we are failing in our efforts. Every time we use the little bit of privilege we have to advance our cause without helping those with less or no privilege, we are failing in our efforts and undermining progress.

We don’t get to call ourselves progressive as Women but not fight for the rights and speak out against injustices against People of Color.  We cannot be progressive Christians and allow Islamophobia in our midst. We cannot support affordable healthcare for all but be unwilling accommodate people with Physical or Mental Handicaps. We cannot advocate for reproductive choice but keep silent on Homophobia and Transphobia.

Don’t let your Privilege in one area allow you to actively oppress someone in another area. Don’t abandon other oppressed people and keep all gains for yourself. Don’t label other oppressed people as angry or unworthy due to your lack of understanding of their issue and it’s connection to yours.

We either lift as we climb or we all fall.

We must be intersectional or we must sit down and shut up.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 11 – Kathy Rae

Kathy Rae. Ohhhh. Kathy Rae.

For those who may not be familiar, Kathy Rae was a viewer of the local CBS affiliate in Atlanta, who wrote a letter to anchorwoman, Sharon Reed, after an on-air discussion about the Atlanta mayoral election and the impact of shifting racial demographics played a part in the race. Reed is a Black woman.

Kathy Rae’s letter to Reed stated she should be fired from her job for “race baiting” by her comments about the Atlanta mayoral election. Kathy Rae concluded her letter by saying Reed is what she considers “a Ni**r not a black person” and went on to say “you [Sharon Reed] are what’s wrong with this world”.

Reed read Kathy Rae’s letter on air during a broadcast a few days after receiving it. Her response to Kathy Rae’s comments were a masterclass in classy clapback. Take a look here:

The internet exploded with support for Sharon Reed and outrage at Kathy Rae. And rightfully so. Kathy Rae’s letter was disgustingly rude and completely racist. Sharon Reed’s decision to let those words speak for Kathy Rae rather than try to engage Kathy Rae further for some kumbaya moment was the right thing to do. It’s time to stop normalizing supremacist action by giving them platform to clean up their words and actions. Reed owed Kathy Rae nothing — and that’s exactly what she gave her.

Kathy Rae isn’t alone in her views or behaviors. There are whole legions of White people who think they have the right to classify Black people as “good” or “bad” — or as Kathy Rae put it, a Black person or a N-word — based solely on their experience of the person. If their experience with a Black person is positive, they are a good Black person. If their experience with a Black person is not positive, they are dehumanized and labeled bad.

The decision on what is positive or negative almost always seems to center on the Black person’s deference to the White person’s privilege as superior. Anything that doesn’t make them feel comfortable in their Whiteness is labeled bad and the Black person is completely rejected as a human being. They are reclassified to a permanent place of lesserness because of a difference of opinion.

We seem to blame social media for this. We think the anonymity of user handles and emails addresses have created racists and given them a platform to spout their nonsense.

The truth is they were always there and technology has given them a broader, easier space to come out to play.

Our response in our personal lives should be like Reed’s. Let the words and actions of racists speak for themselves. Do not engage them in arguments. Do not invite them to bigger public forums to hash things out. Do not excuse their racism because of their generation or geographic location or any other superfluous reason. Our job is not to cajole ignorant White people out of their views with our intelligence and niceties. Leave them alone in their ignorance and move on to something more important and productive in the fight for equality and justice.

However, if you decide to make time to set a few ignorant people straight along the way, that’s OK too. While I loved the restraint and classiness Reed showed in her response, I would’ve been just as OK if she’d let Kathy Rae have it with a barrage of insults of her own. I get that combating ignorance with ignorance, anger and sarcasm doesn’t lead to the understanding we need.

However, I also get that telling someone who’s been attacked the appropriate way to respond isn’t acceptable either. In fact, telling a Black person who has been called the N-word or who was unlawfully stopped by police or who was profiled in a business or who suffered any other kind of unjust violence against them … telling a person the proper way to behave in that situation makes you no better than Kathy Rae. Because  it basically says “keeping calm” makes you a good Black and having any other reaction makes you a N-word.

No more.

Stop requiring Black people to behave and react in ways that maintain the supremacy and privilege of Whiteness in order to be considered worthy of success and voice.

Stop being like Kathy Rae.

Cuz not everyone is going to  be like Sharon Reed.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 10 – Don’t Let Yourself Be The One Black Friend

It is not unusual when you’re Black to find yourself being the only Black person a White person knows and regularly interacts with. At work or school or even church, you’re it.

And because you’re the only Black person they know, your White friend talks to you about all the controversial topics surrounding race. Before you know it, because you’re the only person your White friend knows and talks to, you become their resident expert about all things Black.

Don’t let yourself be the one Black friend.

Throughout the #BlackBlogsMatter challenge, I’ve said over and over that Black people are not a monolith. Our experiences and opinions are as diverse as our skin tones and hair styles. While our culture and history unites us, we are not the same and no one Black person is equipped to speak for all Black people. They should never be asked or made to feel as though they have to do so.

Don’t let anyone force you into that role — especially one who calls you friend.

Forcing you to be a personal Black-opedia is hurtful, manipulative, unfair and racist. Someone who is a real, sincere friend would not do that to you. Asserting they do not see your color is just as bad. A real, sincere friend wouldn’t do that to you, either.

Real, sincere friends see you as a whole person — including your race, gender, physicality, economic standing and background, sexual identity, relationship status and changes, etc etc etc. Real, sincere friends value every aspect of you; they recognize and respect you. Real, sincere friends admire and celebrate you.

Asking you to explore, express and explain painful aspects of your existence on a regular basis for their education is not something a real friend does. Certainly, if your White friends have questions and curiosities, they should feel comfortable asking you. Real, sincere friendships are the best, safest places for these conversations and they should be reciprocal. But if their learning starts and ends with you, they’re abusing your friendship and damaging you in the process.

This is not OK.

If you find yourself becoming someone’s resident expert and educator on Blackness, take these steps:

  1. Bring it to their attention. Tell your friend that you’ve noticed how frequently they ask you about these topics. Be as brash or polite as you feel necessary based on your desire to maintain the relationship once the conversation ends.
  2. Let them know this is hurtful to you. Specifically state how it makes you feel to recount these issues to your friend and why you need their regular questioning to stop.
  3. Suggest alternate resources. If learning about these topics is a sincere effort, your friend will welcome other, independent resources to assist them.
  4. Refuse to participate further. As issues arise going forward, hold back your opinion when asked. Not forever, just for awhile so your friend can get used to using other resources and not just you. If they don’t use the other resources, know that the issue isn’t really important to them and don’t participate in the conversations further. Talk about other stuff instead.

The burden is on those with power and privilege to educate themselves and use what they’ve learned to help those without power and privilege achieve inclusion, equality and equity. Disenfranchised and oppressed people should not be exclusively responsible for educating those in power.  It perpetuates the supremacy that they claim they’re trying to stop.

Information is at our fingertips. There are thousands upon millions of resources online and offline available to get information and education about the issues facing Black people, Women, People of Color and any other group, if wanted. Your friends don’t need you to hold their hands through the journey. They  justneed you to point them in the right direction.

Friends don’t ask friends to consistently hurt themselves to help them be a more educated, inclusive individual.  Don’t let anyone relegate you to being the one Black friend.

#BlackBlogsMatter – Week 9 – Addressing MicroAggression

A micro-aggression is a statement, action or incident regarded as an indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against people of a marginalized group.  Micro-aggressions are dog whistles; they are coded language that appears to mean one thing but has a different, specific and usually negative resonance for the target marginalized group.

In our workplaces, we do a lot of training and reminding of people surrounding bullying, discrimination and harassment. We provide long, detailed lists of behaviors to refrain from in order to not bully, discriminate or harass anyone. We provide even longer and more detailed lists for managers of these behaviors.

But we never talk about micro-aggression. We don’t talk about what it is. We don’t talk about how or why it shows up. We don’t talk about the best way to address it when it does.

In our workplaces, we are slow to act on complaint issues that are not overt. We immediately know what to do when someone uses a racial slur or touches someone inappropriately. We don’t  know as quickly what to do with someone who regularly describes Black men as “aggressive” or asks Black women if their hair is real or volunteers the women in the meeting to take meeting minutes.

We should. But we don’t.

We’ve been conditioned to ignore micro-aggression. We’ve been conditioned to ignore the dog whistles. We tell ourselves that we didn’t hear what we heard. We tell ourselves that the aggressor “didn’t mean it like that” or that the target is “being too sensitive”.  When we do address it, we often approach the aggressor apologetically and downplay the severity of the issue. “What used to be acceptable back in the day will get you fired now” 

Newsflash: It was never acceptable. TimesUp!

When micro-aggression goes ignored and under-addressed , a few  things happen:

  • It continues … Our gentle approach to addressing micro-aggression sends the message to aggressors that their behavior is OK and the target is the problem.
  • It gets worse … Our gentle approach to addressing micro-aggression sends the message to the aggressor that their behavior is protected and the target is the trouble-maker.
  • It escalates … Our gentle approach to addressing micro-aggression leaves the target feeling they have to defend themselves. They begin to argue back with the aggressor publicly.  They refuse work assignments which cause them to have to interact with the aggressor. They exit the organization and pursue separation claims or disparage the company online. They commit acts of workplace violence.

Think I’m going too far? Do a google search on recent workplace shootings. Read some negative Glassdoor ratings. I promise you’ll find ignored and under-addressed occurrences of micro-aggression at the heart. The same can be said for many if not most occurrences of bullying, discrimination and harassment.

Micro-aggression is the seed. Failing to address it allows it to grow.  Eventually, it will choke out all the diversity and inclusion you’ve worked to achieve in your workplace.

So what do you do about it?

  • Believe the targets … When an employee brings a complaint of micro-aggression to you, believe them. Believe they heard it as intended. Believe they received it as intended. Believe their right to be offended. Believe their story and affirm them.
  • Get understanding … If you’re not a member of the target group yourself or familiar with challenges they face, you may not understand why the behavior is so upsetting. Don’t discount the issue just because it doesn’t make immediate sense to you. Research the context of the statement if the negative meaning isn’t clear or obvious to you.
  • Educate yourself and others … Learn in general about common micro-aggressions in our workplaces. Take a look at your team or organization’s population. Become aware of how people identify and the racial, ethnic and religious make-up. Incorporate teaching about micro-aggression into your required trainings.
  • Address issues firmly … Treat reports of micro-aggression behaviors as serious as all other reports of bullying, discrimination and harassment. Investigate it. Document it formally. If the issue repeats or escalates, use progressive discipline against the aggressor. Do not send mixed messages, blame shift or coddle aggressors. Apply the same zero tolerance approach to micro-aggression as all other inappropriate behaviors.

Micro-aggression is bias. Conscious or unconscious. Intentional or unintentional. It doesn’t matter. Bias is bias. And it has no place in your workplace if inclusion is one of your goals.

Micro-aggression is the seed that, if allowed to grow unchecked, will become bullying, discrimination, harassment, disengagement, turnover, liability and violence.  Stop it before it does irrevocable damage.

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