Learning to be anti-racist: Calling IN white people and non-Black people of color

This post is written by Amelia Meman, ’15, Assistant Director in the Women’s Center.

I am trying to write this as plainly as I can because there are so many other words that are crowding racial justice spaces and many of them are stemming from the folks who could benefit from saying less in order to listen more.

Foreword: It is valid to feel and process through your pain, but the pain felt by our Black friends, family members, and community is not the same as the pain of white folks and non-Black people of color (POC). Feelings of anger, sadness, betrayal, frustration, exhaustion—all of those things make sense because we are in a time of massive unrest (and a pandemic to boot).

More importantly, it should not be Black people’s jobs to take care of and see to your pain right now. It is also not Black folks’s jobs to hold space for you to learn, to educate you, and to explain themselves.

That’s why I’m writing this. Because the burden we are placing on Black folks in all a manner of places right now, needs to be lifted. It is crucial that we center Black voices and words and prioritize creating and maintaining safe spaces for Black-identified people to feel.

Ally is a verb.

  • Being an “ally” is not a moniker that one earns through good intentions, donations, or rallies attended. You will never erase your white privilege, and just so, you will always have to work hard if you want to be an ally to the Black community.
  • Being an ally is a process-oriented way of being. It means being conscious of privilege and committed to learning more about social justice. It means that allyship comes from your actions and not from endpoints. In other words, allies are made by doing—not by showing. It is a title you are always earning and always striving to do better at.
  • Learn how to take feedback and correction. This work is messy and difficult. “Wokeness” does not come automatically (or ever, but that’s a different blogpost). If someone is calling you in or calling you out, especially if that person is Black-identified, listen and course-correct as needed. There’s no shame in changing your mind or letting people know you made a mistake. Feedback, the good critical kind, stems from a place of trust and care. Trust that you will do better. Care for you. Feedback takes work on both sides, and if someone is offering it to you, see it as a gift.

Check in with your people.

  • If you are white-identified, check in with other white people to see where they’re at. Hold space for them to be messy and for them to be uncomfortable. Use your privilege to be tolerant of others who are at different stages of racial consciousness. Yeah, it might feel better to unfriend your middle school friend who “does not understand why you’re supporting riots,” but frankly, this is not about your own sense of comfort and curated content. This is the time to dig in your heels, put on the armor afforded by your privilege, and either defend Black folks or help that person understand why they should care about racial justice.
  • If you are white-identified, check in with the POC in your lives, especially Black-identified people, and ask how you can support them. That might mean doing absolutely nothing. It might mean being okay with silence coming from the other end. It might mean donating money, giving rides, helping provide PPE for folks in marches, etc. Please offer your support and send your love, because people are hurting right now.
  • If you are a non-Black POC, check in with Black-identified folks and help to create, maintain, and safeguard Black-centering spaces. Help to uplift Black voices. Ask how you can support, and, again, be okay with silence on the other end.
  • As you reach out and check in, leave space for all of the ways of being. When a bad thing happens in someone’s life, we often default to problem solving and/or wanting to get someone to smile. I get it. It’s hard to watch and empathize with people who are pained. Right now, though, we do not need the reminder of silver linings, rainbows, or bright sides. Toxic positivity does not make us feel better—it does the opposite and perpetuates this idea that the only good way to be is happy. Here’s the thing: the only good way to be is how you are.

Educate yourself.

  • It is not the duty of Black folks to explain themselves or this moment to you.
  • Recognize that privilege and white supremacy are not just evidenced by the words we use. It is also about behavior, patterns of behavior, and the social value we give to some but not others. For example, if you are at a rally, pay attention to who grabs the microphone and what they have to say. Pay attention to the space white folks and non-Black folks take up whether through their speech or their behavior. Pay attention when a white woman’s tears are met with empathy or care, and when a Black woman’s raised voice and anger are met with eye rolls or pushback (for being “aggressive,” or “too much”). White people have access to so much more social value and acceptable behavior—pay attention to how that can dominate spaces.
  • The resources to understand white privilege and the role you can play in anti-racist work are available in many different places. Below there are a list of resources that you can search through.
  • Also! You do not need to know everything in order to do this work! Quality, not quantity! Frankly, the best thing you can learn to do is reorient your yourself so that you are open to feedback, open to learning more and/or changing your mind, and not having easy answers (see more on practicing cultural humility). Those paradigms do not come naturally to most people. We are acculturated to feel shame in not knowing and to hold fast to deeply entrenched beliefs, and so this work is difficult.
  • There are many ways to support Black lives and do anti-racist work. It’s not always about being in the streets. It’s sometimes about taking the time to have hard conversations with friends and family who are not totally getting it yet. It might be in taking the time to read a book. It might be in journaling and reflecting on how power and privilege come to play in your life. Just like any movement or group effort, it takes as much work as it does rest and reflection.

Are your social media posts effective in creating change? Or are they performative?

  • Social media messaging comes easily. It also means little to nothing beyond helping people see that you “care” about a cause. If you want to join in on hashtags and/or social media campaigns, that’s fine, but that should only be auxiliary to all of the work you can do to support Black lives. Those things include all of the recommendations in this blogpost and put more succinctly:
    • Donating
    • Reading
    • Listening
    • Contacting government officials and those in elected office
  • Always. Be. Critically. Engaged. It can be tempting to retweet, repost, share messaging from others’ making powerful statements—BUT when you’re jumping into the trend, look at the “why” and the “who” of what is being posted.
    • Quick killjoy jab: corporations do not care about Black lives right now. They care about where you would like to put your money. Just like with human activists, look at what companies DO and NOT what they SAY.
    • For a case study on this, see the origins of #BlackoutTuesday and how far it strayed from the initial campaign by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, two black women working in the music industry.
  • Ask yourself why you are posting anything at all:
    • What purpose is this message serving?
    • Who is this message serving?
    • Who is the audience?
Graphic from the @take.back.theinternet.
Graphic from the @take.back.theinternet.

Solidarity is the way.

Quick preface: If you’re reading this blog, you have probably gotten to a place of understanding with the difference between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” The idea of Black lives mattering does not negate others’ importance. Rather it shines a light on the discrepancy between how certain lives are valued more than others.

  • The only way through is together. This is not a feel-good statement—it is a hard truth. My survival is tied to yours and we can only do the radical work of anti-racism by understanding that solidarity is key. This means allying with causes and movements that do not necessarily center your own social identities.
  • Deepa Iyer writes about the difference between transactional and transformational solidarity practices. She uses the case study of attending a rally: in transactional solidarity, one would attend a Black Lives Matter rally in support and return home to post pictures from the rally on my social media profiles. In transformational solidarity practice, one brings friends to the rally, learns more about the historical roots of the cause you’re supporting, engages in deep and meaningful dialogue, and shows up to more rallies on and on.
    • Transformational solidarity practice stretches the activist and the movement in beneficial ways. The actions taken in this practice have the potential to create meaningful change.

I know that was a lot. If you’ve read to the end here, then you might be feeling many different things. Offended, confused, validated, relieved, upset, guilty–and that’s okay. This is the time and the space for sorting through the discomfort of anti-racist work.

Please know that I write this with as much love (albeit tough) as I can muster. I believe in you.

Quotation from Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Australian visual artist and activist.

Thank you to the Mosaic Center for curating many parts of the following Resources list in their recent posting on myUMBC. As UMBC’s leaders in helping our communities embrace and affirm diversity and inclusion, the Mosaic Center is more important than ever. The Women’s Center is, as ever, in close partnership and solidarity with the Mosaic, and we will always commit to that. Thank you, Mosaic Team, for all you do to make the UMBC community and our world a better place.

Resources*

* There are a lot of resources below. A lot. This work is not being timed. There is no deadline. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Many folks feel an urgency to read! All! The! Things! And yes, this work is urgent but also must be sustainable. Take breaks. Breathe. Set SMART goals when it comes to reading, learning, and digesting so as not to burn yourself out. 

Books:

Readings:

Podcasts:

Collections:

Resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children:

UMBC Organizations:

More Organizations:

Navigating the Women’s Restroom: An Open Letter

KayThis post is written by Kay, a student staff at the Women’s Center. Kay is a senior Psychology major.

This letter is addressed to a long slew of people. Who, you might ask? Well, that’s a loaded question, but in the interest of time, it’s primarily addressed to the cisgender women (women who identify with the gender that corresponds with their biological sex) who very clearly don’t want me in the women’s bathroom and are visibly uncomfortable or uncertain if I belong. 

These women have created so much space in women’s bathrooms for themselves that they have hindered how safe I feel. This letter is not addressed to all cis women, as many of you do accept me for how I present myself, and know that me entering the women’s bathroom shouldn’t be their concern. Even if this letter doesn’t apply directly to you, there is still a lot of important information here to make you a better ally and understand more of the position I and people similar to me are coming from.

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I decided to write this letter because I’m tired. It’s exhausting navigating the world as a tall, black, androgynous nonbinary individual, even in a women’s bathroom. In many cases, my mere existence in a women’s bathroom is perceived as a danger to cisgender women. My identities, the essence of my being, are assumed as a threat through the racist, homophobic and transphobic lens of society. Many of my identities come into play in these situations, and they all work interconnectedly and simultaneously: I am black, and have many masculine physical traits; I have short hair, I’m 6’ tall, and I often don’t wear clothes that are associated with femininity. The black masculinity stereotype is portrayed in the media as aggressive and violent, so me being a black person who has identified with masculinity can cause discomfort, especially in a women’s bathroom (link). Queerness and transness also comes with many preconceived notions. Queer and trans folk have been typecasted as perverted and/or as sexual predators. But, cis women, try to remember that I just need to use the restroom and that’s all there is to it. Leave your preconceived notions at the door. 

When cis women gatekeep the women’s bathroom, many concepts regarding gender policing come up in discussions about bathrooms. Gender policing can be defined as the act of imposing or enforcing gender roles based on an individual’s perceived sex. This can be done overtly as well as covertly, whether it’s someone saying “I think you’re in the wrong bathroom directly to you” (yes, this has happened), or someone looking confused or worried (see GIF below). 

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Gender policing can turn violent and endanger people who defy gender norms. These actions and many others tell me and people like me that we are not welcome to exist outside of the gender binary and traditional heteronormative gender roles. This reinforces stereotypes and expectations of gender presentation. Nobody should have to subscribe to some sort of gender standard. Everyone should be able to express themselves without being judged or subjugated against.

Because of these constant negative experiences in the women’s bathroom, I’ve reached the point where running to a public restroom during a road trip, at the mall, even at the movies, becomes an emotional task. So many things go through my head before entering the bathroom:

Will I be stared at? 

Will people wonder why I’m entering the women’s bathroom? 

Will I face confrontation?

Should I ask my friend to go with me?

People often stare at me when I enter the women’s bathroom and wait for an open stall. Some are visibly uncomfortable with me who up until recently identified as a cisgender woman, and that makes me feel exposed and self-conscious of the way in which I present myself. 

One might say that you are all uncomfortable too, and I acknowledge that. I want you to feel as though the bathroom is a safe space for you. But the person who is keeping the bathroom from being a safe space for either of us is you and the stereotypes you have placed on me. 

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You are, in fact, exhibiting implicit biases based on how I present myself and the assumptions you make of me because of that (see my previous blog for more information regarding microaggressions). How can you be a victim based on the stereotypes you decided to put on me?

In no way do I want anyone to be uncomfortable in the bathroom they decide to go into. I definitely don’t enjoy the discomfort of a bathroom not being presented as a safe space. There are many times I feel as though the women’s bathroom is not for me anymore. Though I was assigned female at birth I don’t identify as a woman. I identify as nonbinary, and for me I don’t feel like I belong in either a woman’s or men’s restroom. But sometimes there’s no other choice. Sometimes the single-stalled all-gender restrooms are dirty, far away, occupied or non-existent. Multi-stall all gender bathrooms are not very common. Even on the UMBC campus, all gender multi-stall bathrooms weren’t available until 2019! Outside of college campuses, they become even less common.

So, to all the people this may apply to, whether you’ve experienced similar instances to me or are one of the many who give people the side eye when they enter the bathroom, I hope you are able to at the very least understand the two concepts listed below:

  1. My gender identity is none of your concern. There’s no need for you to figure me out. The ways in which I identify shouldn’t matter; no matter how I identify, it doesn’t change the fact that the most comfortable option for me at the time is the women’s bathroom. I’m just using the loo like the rest of you.
  2. If you are uncomfortable with me, ask yourself why. Your gender policing is showing. Why do I cause you to be uncomfortable? Do those reasons relate to assumptions about me based on how I look and the ways in which I express my identities?

Further Resources:

Article on Black Masculinity Portrayals

Gender Policing

Fast Facts about Trans Bathroom Access

Inclusive Access of All Gender Restrooms at UMBC

UMBC All Gender Restroom Map

Let’s hear that one more time…

 

Sheila Suarez.jpg

 

A reflection from student intern, Sheila, about the subtle moments of life, both good and bad. 

 

A little while ago I asked someone for their life story. This is a random thing I do whenever someone new starts working at my restaurant (#serverlife), to see if they can stay on their toes. The response I got back was that this person was only 18 years old, and that they were too young to have a life story. I proudly said, “I am not too young for anything…. Only to rent a car for a good price … and I can’t run for president.”

Someone asked why I couldn’t run for president, and if you didn’t already know, it’s because you have to be 35 years old to run for the president of the United States.

Overhearing the question, my boss turned around and started laughing. He thought I couldn’t run for president because I wasn’t born in this country. For those who don’t know, you have to be a natural born citizen of the United 

 

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My “Bro!… seriously?!” face

States to run for president. I was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland…  (aka in this country).

He laughed and asked me if that was racist.…

I said, “Kinda…”

If you didn’t know what a microaggression is, that was one.  

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”

Some people do not see microaggressions happening because it can be so subtle. These are statements/actions that we hear or see every day– but no matter how common, microaggressions still have underlying meanings attached to them.

Another Example!

“Shalia. Sheyla. Chalia. Shayla. Sheila.”

These are the ways my name has been spelled and/or pronounced over my 22 years of life.

If you know me, saying my name wrong is one of the most hurtful things you can do to me.

On my first day of class, I walked in five minutes late because I had to go to the bathroom. When I finally walked in my professor yelled out “Sanchez!” as I confusedly looked for a seat. I realized the professor was speaking to me, hoping that I was the person that missed attendance and that their class wasn’t going to be only the 12 people currently seated.

Now, back to my original point, people have called me a bunch of different things in my life but I had never gotten “Sanchez” before. I corrected my professor, as I always do with my first name, and took my seat.

It wasn’t until 2 hours into our 2 and half hour class, I realized there was no one named Sanchez in my class. There was no one else with an “S” sounding last name in the whole class, actually.

Why in the world did my professor call me Sanchez?

Why would people continue to pronounce my name wrong after me correcting them for months?

Why do people continue to tell me I am pronouncing my own name wrong?

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My reaction when some tells me I am pronouncing my own name wrong. Like… what?

Recently I have noticed when these things happen more and more often.

When I face microaggressions, I challenge them! I fight for myself! I question why people believe these things to be true of me but the real question is… why I constantly have to fight these things? Some folks will tell me not to bother, that people don’t know better and I can’t let these tiny moments in my life impact me as much as they do.

I want you to know: I hear you. I don’t want these tiny moments to hurt. But it doesn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t have to deal with these things, I shouldn’t have to correct my professor or my boss, I shouldn’t have to waste my energy worrying about someone seeing me in a different light because of how I look. It gets tiring, sticking up for myself and challenging people.

While writing this blog, I spent my free time thinking about two moments. Knowing that these people did not intend anything negative by their words but it still filled this week with many headaches and moments of disheartening doubt. Why would anyone care what a queer latina women would have to say? Would they even believe what I wrote?

With all the personal demands I face during a week, I needed to take care of myself after thinking about why these moments in my life deeply impacted me repeatedly for the past week. This is where I talk about one of my favorite things in da world!

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Self-care!

I actually wrote another blog about it last year. If you like to read it, here is the link 🙂

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Me getting my hair did 🙂

Self-care sounds simple, it is taking time to care for yourself but often times folks have a hard time finding that time. This is very important for people who have marginalized identities, the energy it takes to live in a world that sees you as the other box is tough and annoying. Personally for me, trying to make the world a better place for me, people who share the same identities as me, and those who don’t; without any self-care makes me tired and an overall meanie.

I have been lucky enough to be in the Social Work department, were often professors remind us of self-care and work in the Women’s Center, which was one of my self-care spots on campus long before I started interning here. The Counseling Center also offers many resources to handle academic and personal stresses, as well as the Peer Health Educators from the Health Education Program at the University Health Services. The Mosaic Center has been great about supporting me after I talked about the microaggressions I faced.

If you are reading this and think you need support, please reach out. There are people reaching out to help you too.

Making myself feel awesome and unstoppable is powerful always helps me feel better.

Self-care looks different for everyone. There is no one way to do self-care.

Watching Netflix, taking a long shower, going dancing with your friends, being alone with a good book or eating those tacos you have been thinking about all week.Those tiny moments of self-care can keep you from feeling burnt out and help motivate you throughout your day.

This is how I deal with microaggressions, I take care of myself! That hour of Netflix comedies is enough for me recharge and continue to ask people, “what did you mean by that?”. *evil laugh*.

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“Are you judged by your name?” ­ On Raven­-Symoné and the Respectability Politics of “Black-Sounding” Names

Since becoming a co-host on the renowned talk show The View, Raven-Symoné has made her fair share of offensive comments, resulting in her receiving a lot of backlash on social media. From her comments about race to her jokes about not hiring “Watermelondrea,” let’s just say Raven has put her foot in her mouth far too many times.

While Raven-Symoné’s comments about “Watermelondrea” may have been for laughs and giggles, there is an unfortunate truth about names and racial biases.This is something that Black people with “Black-sounding” or “ethnic-sounding” names experience every day. According to Marianne Bertrand’s study,  Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?”, applicants with “white-sounding” names were 50% more likely to be called back for an interview than applicants with “Black-sounding” names. Therefore, not only are Black people discriminated against in person, but we also face discrimination on paper.

This notion of racialized names and name discrimination is not only a form of internalized racism, but it has further perpetuated respectability politics. What Raven-Symoné and many others fail to realize is that these “ghetto” names are embedded with meanings and, most importantly, they are an essential part of one’s identity. Continue reading

Where My Inclusive Dawgs At? — A reflection on American sports culture.

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center staff member Kayla Smith. Kayla Profile Pic

Society tells us that women are too sensitive. We’re crazy emotional creatures who are fragile and people need to tiptoe around us and our sensitive flower petal feelings. Because of this stereotype, I spend a lot of time unpacking my issues with certain comments, blog posts, statements and phrases. Is something truly offensive or am I just being a baby? Is something harmful or am I overreacting?

Recently, I attended the first soccer game of the season here at UMBC. I’m not typically a big sports person but I really like sporting events because of the sense of community, which is especially important at UMBC since we’re often seen as lacking in the school spirit department.

I tend to forget how often sports fans rely on sexism and homophobia in their heckling. While I’m framing my experience in the context of UMBC, no sports game is absent of these things. Unfortunately, it seems to be a part of the culture as a whole because every time without fail every time I go to any type of game I end up having this conversation with a stranger:

Expressive gentleman sitting behind me: “HEY [insert number of player here] YOU SUCK AND YOUR MOTHER IS A WHORE.”

Me (startled): “That’s so mean geez why would you say that?”

Man (with feeling): “It’s a sporting event. Get used to it”

So it goes.  Continue reading

It’s that time of year again! Halloween Costumes! by Narges Fekri Ershad, Student Staff

2004_10202146841581348_1327051636_nIt is that time of the year again! Pumpkins are out in the fields and costumes are back in the stores! It is the time of the year that people can wear anything, be anyone or any object and they won’t be judged!

While searching the internet I came across many points about Halloween that just shocked me! Did you know how much money Americans spend during Halloween? Americans spend between $6.5-6.86 billion dollars on costumes, candy, and decorations!

Fruit-Costumes-Sexy

On the other hand pictures of costumes was another “wow” experience for me, like always. During Halloween you can see many different costumes, many of which are problematic costumes. They can be sexist, culturally appropriative, and have many more problems — but most people think there is nothing is wrong with them!

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For the past several weeks I have been looking online and in magazines for Halloween costumes. Many of them have made me stop and think. Try it yourself, think of ANY object or character… search for it on Google and you can probably find the sexy version of it! Be a sexy carrot, a sexy watermelon, and of course, a sexy nurse!

It seems like sexy and offensive costumes are now the norm in our society. Halloween is that one day a year that people can be anyone and anything, with an emphasis on women being a sexual object, and most people will be fine with it!

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Have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought that something might be wrong here? That maybe we need to rethink this issue, talk and think about it a little more?!

Come to the Women’s Center this Wednesday, October 23rd, during free hour and let’s talk about Halloween Costumes!