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Saturday
Aug132011

This Is Not Really About Cake

I'm not going to put anyone personally on blast and I'm sparingly linking in this post because the larger context  is more important than pointing fingers and forcing one person or a community to answer for what I'm feeling passionate about right now. However, I am using some of the wording I've seen written about things and, when I do, they will be in quotes.

In the world of blogging and, dare I say it, mommyblogging, there is a racial divide that I have called out on several occasions. Most of the time that calling out is aimed at marketers and community websites that are all white. Some things have led me to believe that it's high time for a conversation about that. It seems that it's all come to a head this week especially and it's nearly impossible to stop ruminating about how seemingly separate these matters are but how much they fall under the same umbrella.

First. some background on one of the issues. Last weekend I attended a party where the well-known theme is unicorns. There was this cake:


There is some silly notion about the unicorn cake at the Sparklecorn party being racist as they are black and white cakes. Perhaps it looks like they're dueling and honestly I didn't give it a second thought. Then I heard rumblings about these unicorns. These mythical creatures on a cake. This is the part I can't emphasize enough: a cake.

It's simplistic to use symbolic racism and attribute it to a cake just because they are black and white. Mostly because, and I'll say this again, it's a cake. A cake that is eventually eaten and gone. It reminds me of the oft-misquoted "Eat your cake and have it, too" proverb. It's fitting to this discussion because we can pretend to be concerned about racism but not "have" to deal with it since we're talking about a cake. Look, it's not my metaphor, but entertaining that coupled with an ancient aphorism about eating cake is where the car was headed and not by me. I'm fine having this mutual exchange of perception of a cake if that's what we're doing. So let's go ahead and grab a bite of it.

Get your fork.

Some people mix up that proverb and say it backwards, but the origin of it in its true form is to eat it first and then still want to have it. Hence, the paradox. Once it's eaten you no longer have possession of it. Owning this thing, whether it's cake or pointing out racism, presents a snarled conundrum. People continuing to perpetuate intentions with a "racist cake" are still attempting to benefit from it for personal use. It's as if to say, Look how concerned I am about racism! I'm calling out a mythical unicorn cake!

Here is where I feel the need to start numbering these issues:

1. There is an interesting phenomenon that I am party to and that is when people want to ask questions in private they email or DM or send me Facebook messages about issues of race. It's entirely understandable as these are hard conversations to have and I truly believe the intent with this is pure. I gladly respond to all of them but I think that something I will start doing is, after the conversation on that topic ends, start posting them publicly because the contexts overlap so often that I may as well bring it out in my writing. Fair warning, then: if you email me privately with questions then go ahead and choose a pseudonym because I'm going to bring it up and my design isn't to call you out or embarrass you.

2. I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about how great "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett is and I was so grateful to see a plethora of articles and posts and reviews this week that put into words what I believe but don't feel I've been able to explore. But the one thing that stings is when I start a discussion about it and then am asked if I actually read the book. The implication is that I shouldn't talk about something unless I'm intimately familiar. The irony is so thick and obvious that all I can muster about that is WOW. I don't expect everyone to have read my thoughts on that or my blog thoroughly enough to know that I wrote about that and that it took me several months to finish reading it or that I hated every minute of it. The latest trailer on television for the movie has this upbeat, smiling-towards-the-sun, giddily running and jumping  self-congratulatory feel to it. Way to take one of the most painful times in the history of African Americans and add a plucky soundtrack, Dreamworks Studios.

On one such site there was a fantastic recommended list by Black authors and, since I'm still emailing back and forth with people about that I think it's best to just list them here:
Suggested Reading:

Fiction:

Like one of the Family: Conversations from A Domestic’s Life by Alice Childress

The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James

Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neeley

The Street by Ann Petry

A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight

Non-Fiction:

Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph

To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors by Tera Hunter

Labor of Love Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by

Jacqueline Jones

Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis

*Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

I said I wouldn't link, but I don't want to plagiarize someone and the effort they put into creating the list, so here is the source for that. *I listed this as a recommendation in a previous post.*

Telling me (or others) that I don't understand what it was like to grow up in the South in the 60s leads me to the conclusion that I shouldn't judge a white author for writing about her own experiences. In fairness, neither does Stockett understand what it's like to grow up black. Anywhere. At any time in history.

3. Thinking about this racist cake discussion reminded me of a book club I know about that wanted to read it last year and how all the women were white. I wasn't a part of this one but I am a part of a few others and some of my white girlfriends were telling me about the great discussions they were having with each other. Talking about complicated race issues in a safe vacuum where everyone else looks like you doesn't really work for me. Straddling the fence as I've always been privileged to do means that I hear this in black circles and white circles but never together. Let's shoot for more of a Venn diagram overlap there, book clubs. Because I think that would be fantastic and way more authentic.

4. One of those private messages came to me yesterday from a woman whose husband has a very Conservative, very Republican male friend who has taken to calling Obama "your boy" when he talks to them about the President. She pointed this out as it offended her for very real historical reasons due to the connotation of that term.  This friend defends emphatically that it's not racist and that she's being too sensitive so she asked for my take on it. Is that a racist sentiment on his part? Absolutely. So is asking the President of the United States for his papers birth certificate. That was an easy one.

5. It was and continues to be interesting and a slap in the face for writers to claim how diverse they are on their websites and how quickly they defend the fact that they've embraced diversity. In the past I have asked people, friends even, about diversity on their community sites and I think there must be a different definition for it because a cursory glance at the photos of writers tells a conflicting story. Babble is one such site that has turned me off in the past as being overtly white on parenting issues and with the pictures they use. So, when they came calling to ask me to regularly contribute to their site I was pleasantly surprised. After all, I'm a parent even if I don't fit the socially accepted norm of a mommyblogger.

6. In fact, last year I was named on Babble as one of the top 50 Twitter people. As expected, there was indignation at the contents of the overwhemingly white list. More importantly, lists and voting contests serve to exclude a great number of people so it naturally creates some controversy. It's been over a year, but this week I read a comment that someone wrote about me that, in all honesty, wouldn't have bothered me as much had it not come from a black woman. There was a compliment or two thrown in the comment but there was also this:

"While I think Kelly and Kimberly are great, neither tweets much at all" (Just now looking at my tweets I realize I'm over 20,000 and last year at this time was less, obviously, but that seemed like plenty enough for me. It rubbed me the wrong way.)

and she also said this:

"... not sure if I'd choose them on a list for Top 50 Twitter Moms"

Well. There you have it. I'm unable to make even moms of color happy. And that's okay because I'm unwilling to even attempt such a thing.

7. This next one makes me all prickly to think about in a community of women writers and I have kept silent on this for a few months. In that time, I noticed how a really popular blogger went to India and got called on the carpet for it. You know what my first reaction was? It's about time there are people of color on that blog! How wonderful to see them and to read about what she's learned and experienced from it! But it was the aftermath and reading nothing for an entire week from friends' posts that vehemently defended her. That's not the prickly part. What was hard for me to swallow was something I asked myself that I desperately wanted to ask them. Where were you when Satoshi Kanazawa wrote and published an article making the claim that  black women were physically less attractive? Where was the passionate condemnation for me and my black sisters/writers? [That is written in all seriousness and query so if you have written about it and devoted an entire post to it, please leave me a comment about where it is because I cannot find any from my close mommyblogging/non-mommyblogging friends.]

8. Using your blog and social media to get some action is something that companies and PR people fear if it's done badly and I've witnessed many people benefit from it when they get formal apologies, services, or products because of a bad experience. Remember back when I posted that horrible picture of myself from the Ulta experience? That was on July 14 and I was contacted rather quickly from Amy Sattler who does their PR. We exchanged a few someone will be contacting you emails and that never occurred. On July 21 I sent her this email:
Hi Amy,

I wanted to update you on the poor quality of an experience I had at Ulta last week.

First, I hoped that once you contacted me that the store manager would be in touch with me quite soon. That was not to be. When I first called about the appointment for the free hair events I asked about doing both the curly and sleek events and was told that it was perfectly fine to choose both services. As you may recall, my salon experience turned out to be entirely horrid and, by definition, entirely racist in how I was treated. Perhaps you might suggest otherwise, but asking a new client/customer her genetic makeup is unprofessional.

Since you last emailed me I have yet to be contacted by the store except for the fact that my next appointment for the sleek styling is tonight at 7:30 and yesterday, when I was too busy to accept the call, a message was left for me as a reminder for tonight's appointment. But no one has called about what I posted last week. I was disappointed when I listened to it because no one at that store seems to know that they helped provide a service for a potential customer that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

As the PR coordinator who works and was educated in the diverse Chicagoland area, I fully expect you to understand from where I'm coming. Am I to assume that this is no longer an issue and to just take this experience for what it is? Shall I have low expectations for your company? Am I to chalk this up to "just another post-racial encounter"?

I just wanted to know where I stood.

Sincerely,

Kelly

I heard nothing back from her and I still have never heard from the manager at the store. What conclusion would you come to if this were you? Do I ask myself  how Ulta feels about their employees treating customers with racial insensitivity? I guess I don't have to question it at all. Their answer, in the not answering, is that they don't care about whether or not some woman of color had a bad experience in their store. Maybe it's because I don't have that influential of a following on Twitter or that I don't tweet "much at all". Maybe they don't care about any of their customers regardless of color. I'm just left to wonder about that.

9. By way of another illustration I have a story about my career. Once, I had a job where there were four people in my office. Two black, two white. Two were male and two were female. The white female was our superior and anytime I tried to broach the subject of the subtle racism within the office, I was dismissed. Naturally, the black male and I became close because of it and due to the disenfranchisement we felt, but it was clear that the whites in our office held all the knowledge and power and shared those things without effectively training us for the same position. Much of it was on the technical side of the job which, in turn, helped to meet strict deadlines. If someone isn't properly trained then the implication is that they aren't fit for the job or that affirmative action is to blame for the unqualified black people in higher positions. That type of racism? That faint, muted sly kind of refusing to share wasn't a topic to be brought up without having the finger pointed back at me (sometimes, us) for "playing the race card". What I learned from that is a truth I am loathe to admit and that is that being black means I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth and educational training lest I be labeled as lazy or not knowing how to do my job.

You know why everyone is up in arms about a unicorn cake? Because it's safe and it doesn't mean anything. Because you can feign indignation about something as trivial as sugar and fondant. Because you get to create a distraction with a big old mess of a cake that has some "racially problematic imagery" and that right there is where your concern for and discussion of race end.

Keep talking about cake in the vacuum of mostly white communities. You've proven the old proverb wrong. Eat your cake, people. Down it to the last crumb. Tomorrow, you can have it again. Trust me. It will still be there. The racism, that is.

We can talk about race in a real way or we can talk about cake. I'm choosing the former.
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Reader Comments (117)

I am so glad that I totally missed the entire 'racist unicorn cake' discussion online. Here's hoping that our little baby called Blogalicious is contributing in a small way to raising the profile of women of color in social media, educating marketers about how to effectively communicate with our demographic and fostering a sense of real community.

seriously? the cake is what bothers people?

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustice Fergie

Yes! What Laura said! How do we make that happen?

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoules

[...] working on a follow up post to this piece entitled “This is Not Really About Cake” and it’s coming soon. But so is a huge [...]

I missed everything about the cake until well after BlogHer. It's just a cake. But, I like that conversations are happening because of it. Same with The Help. I read it awhile ago and I liked it. I may or may not see the movie. It's weird thinking that, as a black woman, I now need to apologize for reading and enjoying it, as though I don't understand the criticisms. Do I think it's a literary work of genius? Not at all. Is it something people need to read as part of a history class? Definitely not. The Help won't change the world, but like the cake, it's got people talking and to me, that will never be a bad thing.

Keep the conversations, coming Kelly.

Kelly, thank you for this post. I believe this is my first time reading your blog, and I'm really excited to have found it!

My post about Kanazawa can be found here: http://www.oneinthehandblog.com/2011/05/hard-truths-arent-true-just-hard-to.html

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Kelly, thank you for this post. I believe this is my first time reading your blog, and I'm really excited to have found it!

My post about Kanazawa can be found here: http://www.oneinthehandblog.com/2011/05/hard-truths-arent-true-just-hard-to.html

Sorry for the short comment, I'm supposed to be on a social media fast this month. Long, rambling comments from me are in your future. :)

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I am continually frustrated by how difficult it is to get adults to have honest conversations about race. Children/adolescents are so open to these kinds of discussions and, in fact, so relieved to have the opportunity to say the things they think and ask questions in a safe place with people who will answer them and really listen. The only way the constant pain caused by unearned white privilege and the institutional history of racism in this country is going to change is through this kind of open exchange, even though it's risky and hard. We have to trust each other to handle it. But how do we do that when some dimwits can't even handle a cake - worse yet, their own fear of the topic causes them to misinterpret sugar and butter.

Also, Avitable made me laugh. As always.

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWell Read Hostess

[...] takes responsibility and everybody feels like they’ve done their part. Mocha Momma is right: It is not about cake. It is about so much more than [...]

[...] This Is Not Really About Cake [...]

I love this post. I was not a fan of The Help. I struggled to get through it as I felt like another instance of our feeling not being validated until someone of the mainstream validates them. And I thought I was the only one who liked it because all of my friends both online and off and of all colors praised it like it was the best thing since Incidents in the Life if a Slave Girl.

I often notice the racist "feel-good-isms" that are thrown at the community of color simply to appease those doing the throwing- they want to "show" that they are not racist. Of course I do not believe that all white people are racist; I would not be married to one if I believed that. But I do believe that there is such a strong desire to be "liked' that people make a mountain out of a molehill, hence the racist cake. What next, chalkboards symbolize the Black man be walked all over by the white man?

There are real things to worry about. Real issues. It's one of the reasons that I struggled with decision of ending We of Hue/Moms of Hue. There were/are so many few sites that speak honestly about race and the issues of living as a Women of Hue in this country. Maybe one day I'll have the strength to start it up again

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristina Brooke

Sorry- my first paragraph should read

"I love this post. I was not a fan of The Help. I struggled to get through it as it felt like another instance of our feelings not being validated until someone of the mainstream validates them. And I thought I was the only one who DID NOT like it because all of my friends both online and off and of all colors praised it like it was the best thing since Incidents in the Life if a Slave Girl."

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristina Brooke

[...] didn’t think the unicorns at the sparklecorn party were racist but drama after BlogHer confirms there’s still some sort of racial divide (and let’s be honest, there will ALWAYS be).  let’s just practice being better with [...]

[...] Momma. I don’t know how long she’s been writing in-depth about race, but after a the cake brouhaha at a BlogHer party, she’s been digging in. This, at the same time I began decided to shift [...]

September 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthematically fickle. - “

Hi there, I discovered your blog by the use of Google at the same time as looking for a related matter, your site got here up, it appears great. I've bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOnkelSeosErbe

[...] great commentary on The Help, check out two of her posts about the topic and racism in general: http://www.mochamomma.com/2011/08/13/this-is-not-really-about-cake/ [...]

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDay 12 – Some thoughts o

[...] might remember the controversy when the film was released and I was certainly stirred by the beautifully stated thoughts of Mocha Momma, among others.  I was on the fence about seeing the movie after the idea was planted that it could [...]

[...] then I read this post by Tracy, and this post by Melanie, and this post (and several others) by Kelly, and I realized what I can do is speak up. What I can do is give this memory a voice, and by [...]

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRaised around racism

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