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Calling Out My Sisters

I see you, sisters.

Maybe you don't know this about me, but I'm leaning in here. Maybe not in the way the Lean In "movement" suggests that I do in terms of getting a job or a seat at the table, but I'm leaning in. I've tried, and failed, when I've done all the leaning. I've lost out on jobs, been demoted, and told that I'm in a position because of my race. I interviewed for a position a few years ago within my district and another candidate, a White woman with whom I worked at the time as a fellow teacher, said to me, "As soon as I saw your name on the interview list I knew I'd lose out on this. You'll get the job. They need a Black person."

She said that out loud to me. In an office full of people. I started floating above my own body in that moment because, no, that didn't just happen, did it?

Indeed, when I was leaning in during that very moment, I got the job. The next time I saw her I pulled no punches. "I got the job alright. But I got it because I was better than you. Not because I'm Black." Whenever I happen to run into her again she refuses to speak to me. Fine. I leaned in and got snubbed by someone whose feelings got hurt when I "got racial" with her. She told this to a friend of mine who repeated it to me. No love lost. I didn't mind. She snubbed me in the Education World in which I live.


I see you, sisters, when you're passionate about something. I read your writing, your blogs, your tweets, your Facebook posts, the things you Pin and +1.

Maybe you don't know this about my online world, but I get asked to write and spread news and sign petitions. In my offline world I volunteer, work on phone banks, put up yard signs, vote nationally and locally, march in parades for candidates I support. Do you know what that is? It's politics. It's the things I believe in manifesting through being a change agent.

I see you, sisters, when the world gets political. I stood with Texas women, watched the livestream of the filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis, and tweeted my heart out because I have a stake in this faux-pro-life-but-really-anti-woman stance that is rampant in this country at the moment. It's a distraction from the real politics that affect Americans, but I get the tactic, politicians. If we keep arguing about that we don't pay attention to other important things. Smoke and mirrors.

Still, I stood with my sisters on this, one of many political issues into which I involve myself.

I see you, sisters, when you get close enough to me and feel comfortable enough with the care I will take with you to discuss race. 

Not very long ago The Cuban and I were joking around and thought we would create our own app that we would call Is That Racist? We thought it would function as a sort of browser that would pop up after asking a question. You could type in whatever question you wanted to about race and the answer would always be YES. Because, if you have to ask, then it's probably racist. Then, the app would take you to some informational website designed to help you understand various ethnic histories and, voilá! Learning would take place!

It's not that easy, though, and we know it's a gimmick (but I swear, if any of you steals this idea I'm coming for you) because that's how we learn about race.

The recent and persistent advisement I've seen from White folks about misplaced priorities amongst Black folks is mind numbing. Lean in, sisters, I have some things to say to you.

Here are a few things that are not at all helpful:

1. Being "Just" Curious

In the space of an hour, a CNN newsanchor asked what the haps was, injected President Obama's responsibility and inclusion into the conversation, and talked about dinosaur teeth. Her question, a stupid one, had the hashtag #justcurious. First of all, her willingness to lay the national conversation at the feet of one man and not the Supreme Court justices who struck down voting laws last month was laughable. Does she really want to talk about race? Her question about race in America got the JUST CURIOUS hashtag, but her hashtag on a previous tweet about the death of Cory Monteith was SOMETHING MUST CHANGE. Just curious as in she has some passing interest in this and has some questions, maybe possibly, and could we talk about this and whether or not we can get one more Black man involved in the conversation because, hey, Brooke is curious, y'all. She has questions. But for the death of a Canadian actor? Things must change. 


2. Saying that you don't live in America

Guess what? I don't live in Pakistan and I supported and talked about Malala Yousafzai.

Guess what? I don't live in New Delhi and it didn't stop me from donating to the Red Cross the day a building collapsed and killed 46 people. It didn't stop me from refusing to spend money in big box stores that profit off those places.

Guess what? I'm not a homosexual who wants to marry my partner but I still signed petitions, called my state and local representatives, and used the hell out of my social media accounts to voice that opinion.

Guess what? You only have to be a human being to find interest in places all over the world that threaten our humanity, politics, and beliefs. Why so shy about getting involved with Trayvon Martin?

3. Whitesplaining. That's never helpful. Don't ever do that. I never care to hear the accusation that I am the one making it about race ever again. Don't get mad just because someone points it out to you.

4. Lawyersplaining. All of a sudden, lawyers want to break it all down for us Americans who didn't go to law school so we understand why the case turned out that way. Hey, lawyers, want to weigh in on the Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act? Were you all getting Tumblr and Twitter accounts at breakneck speed to ensure we understood that? Or did you leave it all up to those hacks on cable news?

5. Ignoring. I see a lot of people whom I consider friends, many of them with powerful Twitter accounts with amazing reach, simply giving Trayvon Martin and all the conversations surrounding his death, a wide berth. There's power in social media, that's a proven fact. 

I remember once when my sister wrote something on Facebook and I asked her if I could repost it on Twitter and when I did there was an uproar from a bunch of huge Twitter personalities who believed a White woman who said I stole it from her. Her account was PRIVATE when I posted it. I remember that I went out to walk my dog and came back to my computer to a veritable shitstorm of angry people telling me I stole it from her. When I tried to explain that I saw it from my sister and didn't have proper attribution yet (my sister couldn't remember where it came from, but it was a variation on a lot of tweets that day) and that I couldn't possibly have taken it from a private, locked account which I did not follow, it fell on deaf ears.

Was that racial in nature? Who knows? I just know that big names CAME FOR ME and got behind the White woman who yelled that I stole it from her. It's still odd to me that even then I had far more followers than she had but White comedians and writers of television shows blasted me that day and didn't listen when I responded.

Far fewer people defended me that day. I had to shut it all down for a while.

I see you ignoring me. I see your campaigns and your righteous indignation. I saw what you did, Motrin Moms. 

I’m leaning in closer to see you.

And I went in today via Twitter. I called you out and asked about your voices while a nation of Black parents grieved, you were like petrified wood, failing to move. I saw some of you cringe and weep along with me, too. I read your private messages and your private emails and your private texts.

Private. Not public. 

Make no mistake: I said hush. I said listen. I wanted you to listen before spouting off right away. Take it in, drink it up, and let it digest. If it were a meal, I would eat first and then do all the talking. You would sit and listen. Nodding, asking questions as necessary. Clarifying when I didn't make sense. Just don’t speak over me. Don’t set the agenda without knowing which players are at the table. Don't play checkers and tell me the game is actually chess.

I need you to speak up about Trayvon. I’ve given you some time but, sisters, I see you've let time go by with nary an outward concern.

The first time I wrote about Trayvon Martin was March 18, 2012.

There are 41 comments on that post and zero shares on Facebook and zero tweets. No pins, no Google+ shares. Nothing. A conversation in a silo. Blogs have been heading that way for some time now. The Cuban asked me once, “People don’t comment on your blog. Are they reading it anymore?” I told him that’s not the way it works anymore. Solidarity is in sharing within my social circle. We share and see the “shares” numbers, the plusses, the Pins.

In that time, and it’s been over a year, I’ve lent support either with my tax paying dollars, my take home pay, my time at a phone bank, my canvassing door to door, my words, my signage, my posting, linking, liking, and retweeting. I’ve done it for a few important things, too. Things that affect us all. We’ve even done that together sometimes.

I see you, sisters, and I already asked where you were when that racist "Dr" Santoshi Kanazawa claimed that science “proved” Black women were ugly. I wondered, in that painful moment for little Black girls everywhere, where all my White sisters were. I wondered with my writing like writers do. You're writers so you already know this.

I see you, social media crafters, dipping your toes into the political waters for other issues, but not for race. Never for race.

I see you, sisters. I see what you're sharing.

I am biting my tongue about the friends I see sharing Orange is the New Black as their new favorite show with pickaninny imagery. The advertisements which seem so lazily racist in a casual but the writing is so good, I can forgive them the pickaninny part, it’s a character STUDY kind of way. The cartoonish trailers and advertisements struck me so hard as an acceptable image in 2013 that I wasn’t able to see anything else about it. But look! There’s a bunch of Black and Latino actresses! With jobs! They’re working! Aren't you happy about that, Kelly?

I'll let you in on a secret, though, in case you haven't experienced this before: Mentioning racism gets you called a racist. That happens to me all the time. You'll survive getting called one, too.

Sisters, let me repeat something I've said already:

If black voices are lent to social issues that affect everybody, then all voices should be lent be lent in support to the memory of Trayvon and the legacy that Tracy and Sybrina must uphold.

Do you know Sybrina? Sure you do. She worried when she got pregnant, like all moms do, that her baby would be born healthy. She potty trained him after reading baby books and listening to the collective women in her family who offered, sometimes without provocation, their advice. She sang to him, taught him his ABCs, and enrolled him in school. 

Did I interview her personally? No. I just made the same assumption that, as a mother, you would make. 

You have words, sisters. You can’t use them for this?

I love you, sisters, and I’ve been disappointed in the quiet corners where you find me to talk about race when I've seen you in the public arena defend marriage equality.

You let everyone know, with your words, what’s important to you. 

Are you mad? Are you grieving, too? Or is it your fear that's keeping you from amplifying the messages of Black parents right now.

I've seen it, sisters, and it's a powerful thing when you make your friends go viral and when you jump on bandwagons, but when race is painted on the side, you tell me you’ll jump on the next one.

You hashtag the shit out of stuff. I see you. 

I'm leaning in closer than ever, sisters, just so I can see you clearly at this very moment.

« Untold Stories Are Sometimes Secrets | Main | Hushing and Listening »

Reader Comments (52)

Thank you for writing this, and challenging us to actually stand up for what we know is right. I am sharing this on Facebook, and I'm highlighting this section because it seems to me to be in pretty significant contrast of the discussion about elliot rogder (I won't capitalize his name) after the fact, where people were quick to blame mental illness, when after Trayvon's shooting I saw many articles that went out of their way to point out that he showed interest in violent videogames and MMA fighting (so therefore he must have brought violence upon himself):

"If black voices are lent to social issues that affect everybody, then all voices should be lent be lent in support to the memory of Trayvon and the legacy that Tracy and Sybrina must uphold.

Do you know Sybrina? Sure you do. She worried when she got pregnant, like all moms do, that her baby would be born healthy. She potty trained him after reading baby books and listening to the collective women in her family who offered, sometimes without provocation, their advice. She sang to him, taught him his ABCs, and enrolled him in school.

Did I interview her personally? No. I just made the same assumption that, as a mother, you would make.

You have words, sisters. You can’t use them for this?"

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElis

So I have a question.... I am a white woman, from the south, now living in the northern midwest (where in the world does michigan fall, anyway?)

i grew up surrounded by race issues... and largely ignorant of them. honestly. because I didn't get it. And I'm not trying to be insensitive. I'm being honest. we're all the same inside and out. i do not understand why there's so much hooplah surrounding who's skin is darker... and as far as how our ancestors were treated. sister, i'm irish... i get it.

and if i'm reading correctly, these last few blogs that i've read today, i'm wrong for saying i'm "just curious" and wrong for not knowing the answers... and wrong for having questions and not just blindly shouting out what i believe... when I am still trying to figure out what i do believe... because i have questions i'd like the answers to in order to form an educated opinion...

who CAN i ask the deep, personal questions of... wikipedia may or may not have answers i'm looking for.... and not just about different races, but also all these new gender identifications.. and all kinds of things that i didn't face when i was a child and still don't understand... if i can't ask the questions without being called racist or judgemental or a bigot, how am i EVER supposed to speak out on your (generally speaking here, but i'm talking about anyone other that a fat, white, southern-but-living-north-of-the-mason-dixon-line woman) behalf?

i'm not saying that the snarky #justcurious was genuine. but mine is... i would LOVE to understand what living inside your skin is like. all i have to go on is fat white lady who's been both extremely poor and relatively well off in my lifetime....

so yes. sometimes i am curious...

i am silent. i am supportive.

but when someone who is living it is shouting at me that i don't know what i'm talking about because i'm white, well... they're right.

what happened to trayvon... oh my the fights i've had with my family. it WAS a race issue. it was also a HUMAN issue.

Trayvon was MURDERED. and it was justified and sanctified by the media and the courts.

and that makes me SICK. physically ILL.

even when removing race altogether, it was STILL murder. that child--even though he was the size of an adult, he was a CHILD--was stalked and MURDERED by that man. that ADULT murdered that CHILD because skittles and a snapple?

and he went on to do violence again. and again. and again. proving that it was what we thought all along.


but see, some of us got told right away by african-americans (I've never understood, for example, why african-americans are separated out as anything other than just... americans. same with latin-americans. i'm irish and dutch, my family only arriving in the early 20th century... but we're still just... americans... one of so many questions I would LOVE to ask but can't because... shut up, white woman. you don't get it.... well, you're right! i don't get it! and i WANT to!?!) anyway, we were told right away to shut up, we didn't get it. we couldn't possibly understand what it was like to lose our sons to the *white man*.... or whatever other reason we were given for not getting it because we were white...

so what do we do?

never have homosexuals called me homosexual OR homophobic for speaking out on their behalf.

never have the poor proclaimed me poor-phobic for speaking out on their behalf and being an activist with city, local, and national governments, providing a mouthpiece for them... and a big fat large loudmouth at that...

but when i'm called a racist by the very people i'm trying to speak out for and being told to shut up, well... i'm going to... what other option do i have?

so when you're met with silence... and want to chastise others for their silence, maybe check with some of your co-activists and see if they haven't chastised us into silence....

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermelle
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