Just Done: Is There a Way to Block White Fragility?
I had such a sacred and precious experience last night at The Black Fantastic. It was three hours of beautiful blessings, poetry, music and art. It was a wonderful turn out that spanned generations, shades, folks born in Tacoma, and transplants who have moved here for family, work or military.
From the beginning this was advertised and described as a space centered on Blackness. I invited anyone who could respect the space with grace and humility was welcome. And I meant that shit. Come one, come all….but recognize this is by, for, because of, and honoring BLACKNESS. Without apology. Straight no chaser.
As I came home - feet burning from running around, back achy as fuck – I smiled because folks were vocal about the fun they had, the relief and release of the space, and new connections they made. I was proud of myself for holding the space. I was especially proud and grateful to know Rena Bird, whose support made this thing a reality.
I sucked down two strong rum and Coke’s; just the shot of strong sweetness I needed to decompress. I took a couple pulls of a blunt, and mama was coasting into slumber. I snuggled up to my beloved, and drifted off feeling good. Yes, Lawd.
Not so fast with your joy, Kells. I woke up to some shout outs and love on social media, a couple follow up emails to think about collaborations or partnerships. And then stumbled up this in my inbox:
The event was completely amazing. Both Laura and I (I came with white lady Laura) were awed at all the talent and we found both the sermon and poetry, music and water meditation just as inspiring as the painted art and food.
Meanwhile, I felt a bit like I was intruding on a private event with repeated announcements made about this being for "black people" only. I'm wondering, in future Facebook event notices, if maybe you could state the demographic you want to attract so others don't make my mistake and show up? The announcement I saw made the event look like a welcoming community open to the general public and I value diversity so attended to learn and be of support.
Yep. There it is. White fragility in action. Dammit! Some Miss Millie bullshit.
For those that need some context, Miss Millie was a character in the The Color Purple whose racism and fragility won her a lifelong servant named Sophia (breakthrough role for Oprah). It's one of countless iterations of White women feigning relationship/connection with Black women when in reality, Black women are simply a resource to be used, dissected and discarded at will. This phenomenon transcends time and historical context. When I see or experience it now, I call the condition Millinoma. Here's a couple personal and very real examples of Millinoma I have experienced:
You're chilling with semi-familiar group of White women at a coffee shop, one of which you've worked with for some time. You've had some lunches and happy hours together, traveled to a couple conferences together. After the small talk dissipates, your work buddy says,"Kellie, tell them what you told me about that time you got pulled over! You guys this is crazy. But like, really sad."
You are the executive assistant to a White woman. She asks you to help shift organizational culture, bring your experience in equity to meetings, lend your voice. You do so. Another White female staff member cries after you do so. Your boss tells you that you have to be careful about what you say. She says that she likes that you are sassy and fun, and that she chose you for that reason. But she also reminds you that there was another Black woman she could have hired; that she was more polished and would have been a great fit but she took a chance on you. Things get tense. Your physical and mental health suffer. After avoiding you as much as possible, she tells you to "get better" because she needs you happy. You quit. She hires the polished Black woman to replace you.
Some of those reading may have their own examples, and I encourage you to share them at your comfort level.
I went back and forth about whether to respond, what to say, what not to say. I tried my best to shake the White gaze, but alas, Miss Millie snuck in through Gmail. I made the decision to spend 10 minutes on it and let it go - to acknowledge, but not own or feel responsible for her the way that I and so many people groups have been taught and socialized to protect White women's feelings at all costs.
Wondering about my response? Glad you asked:
I’m glad you enjoyed what you saw.
Each announcement, to include the reminder explicitly described the event as centered on Black joy, healing and imagination.
From the event page: This event is Black led, and Black centered. We welcome anyone who can attend and support such a space with respect and humility.
There were no statements of Black people “only.” There was no sermon. To enter a Black space, center your cultural context, and then request a Black person adjust their space to cater to your discomfort is an act of White privilege that you should explore if you indeed value diversity. It is possible to thrive in your identity while celebrating others. I invite you to consider what you learned. Why did you feel like an intruder in a space steeped in joy and laughter? What does valuing diversity truly look like, and who determines that? Be well as you continue on your journey.
And that was that. But then it sort of wasn't because there is always the residue; the process of shaking that shit off. And I do shake it off. And then there's the next time. I aspire to the unbothered countenance of bell hooks and Gaian Bird and Thy Nguyen. They help me earn the process of preserving my energy for the specific, sacred reasons that I am here: to create and to serve my people.
How do those of you contending with energy suckers replenish your spirits? Better yet, send me your tips on building your apathy toward such nonsense.