I Don’t Need Your Pity, I Need Your Action: Simple Ways to be a Better Ally

I recently wrote an essay about my feelings as a woman, a black woman and person of faith in the current American political climate. Essentially, I came to the conclusion that I live in a constant state of being pissed. In my little community of friends and family, the essay gained a bit of steam and was viewed almost 200 times. Interestingly, the strangest part about having that many people view your thoughts is the nagging feeling that you may be misunderstood anyways. I’ve especially caught myself  thinking about my white friends who read the post. I find myself wondering if they got it? I mean, did they really get it?

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Most notably, I’ve noticed that quite often, the non-marginalized (in this case, white people) have a tendency to exhibit a certain condescending pity towards marginalized people (in this case, my black ass). I usually begin to feel pitied when I hear “I’m sorry”, “that must be so upsetting” and worse of all, “awwwww.” Now, I’m sure that this is oftentimes true empathy. The emotional burden of racism is taxing (especially taxing on black women) so just hearing about certain experiences can also become emotionally taxing on others. However, empathy without action is pity and pity, quite frankly, effects no change. White people, have the privilege of stopping at the point of “empathy”, they can briefly feel the burden and then allow themselves to carry on with their day. Black people, unfortunately, do not have this same pleasure. We are taxed with both bearing the emotional labor and doing the moral and sturctural groundwork. This kind of pity from well meaning white folks is demeaning and demoralizing to black and brown folks fighting against systems of oppression. Language as mentioned in the examples above illustrates an effort to distance oneself from the issues that plague that community. Don’t distance yourself from the issues in the community, fight with us. However, this is not to discourage white people from empathizing with black folks, it is rather a call to allow your empathy to act as a catalyst for action. Here are some ways that you can be a better ally that empathizes and acts.

Ask instead of Assume

Instead of assuming that you know how your black and brown comrades feel in the midst of systemic racism, ask them how they are feeling. Instead of assigning emotions to your Black and brown colleagues, be open to hearing from them about exactly how they feel then ask where you can provide further support.

Call Out Racism EVERYWHERE, even from your problematic ass granny:

Call out racism everywhere and every time you hear it even if there are no people of color around. I understand that it may feel easier to let “minor” aggressions go but challenging racism on the smallest level is the only way to work towards changing larger systems. Change is never comfortable but it is necessary.

Invest in Change

One of the biggest and lasting effects of systemic racial oppression is the economic deficits between the black and white community. Historically, white families earn more annually than their black counterparts. So guess what, you should invest those extra earnings into the work being done in your city. Invest in your local participatory defense hub,  Black Lives Matter chapter, local bail fund, go to a black owned coffee shop, buy a book from a black author, shit pay a sista’s student loan for a month, Sallie Mae be calling me! Sharing money is a radical way to effect change.

Be Ready to Put Your Body on the line

This is one of the most dangerous yet most important ways to be a better ally. Think of the cookout in Oakland last month. Last month, a white woman (we’ll call her Karen) called the police on a black family cooking out in a park in Oakland because they were using a charcoal grill in a non-charcoal grill area. How would this narrative been told if it wasn’t for the cinematography of another indignant white woman? How deadly would this story have ended if one of the black BBQers confronted Karen in the same way that the white woman behind the camera did as the police showed up? White allies, use your  privilege to Black people’s advantage by using your body to disrupt racism. Break out your camera phone, confront the bigot, call out the police, do whatever you have to do to physically disrupt racism. If you’re afraid for your physical safety, at least begin recording on your camera phone.

Listen… you don’t always have to relate

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Lastly, be okay with just listening to people of color and not feeling the need to tell a comparable story. Yes, we understand, a black person may have called you Becky on your way to pick up your pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks last week. And yes, it was probably hurtful. However, it is not comparable to the experience of black and brown folks that are subjected to racism daily. There are not systems (prison industrial complex, redlining, pay gaps, etc) set in place to support individualized prejudice against white people. I understand that relating is a common conversational tool but when it comes to racism, just listen, don’t try to prove that you get it by relating. That has the opposite effect. Just sit back, listen and refer to suggestions 1-4.

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Sister, Sister

My older sister and I spent many evenings in the 90s watching the popular television sitcom “Sister, Sister.” Tia and Tamera Mowry (the stars of the show) were two of the coolest examples of sisterhood little Black girls could see at that time (sorry Olsen twins). They were Black like us, talked like us and more than anything, they were opposites, just like us. Much like the television twins, my sister and I have always differed greatly but as children we were all we had so we always stuck together.

My sister, Francesca, is an unapologetic individual. That’s actually my favorite trait of hers. She has, for many years, lived her truth unconcerned with the thoughts of those around her. Francesca is somewhat shy and reserved, she of course smiles when spoken to and politely laughs at people’s jokes but isn’t necessarily the first to speak in a room full of people. She enjoys The Hunger Games novels and has no problem entertaining comic book conversations with our father. She is the first to call herself a “nerd” and tries to convince her friends to accept their nerd status as well. Another thing I really like about her is her deep devotion to animals and animal rights. She at one time dreamed of being a pet psychologist and I believe she has a divine connection with animals. After graduating from our high school, she went on to major in Psychology at a small, predominantly white Christian college in Pennsylvania and has always maintained the close relationship with God that our parents instilled in us throughout our childhood. She’s not perfect of course; she has a habit of teasing beyond the point of humor. I can remember her teasing me to the point of tears once because my mother said I farted too much and needed beano (I still could use some beano). Or the time she ripped my Ken doll’s leg off while we bathed together, forcing me to quickly come up with a background story detailing his loss of a leg in war. She’s also terribly stubborn, I mean EXTREMELY stubborn.

I, on the other hand, am far from reserved. I often command the position of center of attention in most settings although I’ve tried to improve this obnoxious habit over the years. I also struggled for many years to truly identify and own my identity in fear of rejection. I could care less about books, I’m more consumed with hair, makeup and clothes. And lastly, I spent four years partying at my beloved HBCU and mustered up the strength to attend church on Sunday only a handful of times throughout my collegiate experience. Last summer, I was talking to my sister about her cruise to Canada on the car ride home from her trip back to the U.S. She excited divulged that she and her best friend had lifted their shirts and flashed a crew of sailors as they cruised by. I responded “You showed your titties?” She retorted “No! We had on undershirts underneath!” I burst into laughter as memories of my trip to Mardi Gras in 2014 played through my mind including my girls gone wild moment of flashing my breasts for beads.

Having your opposite as your sibling is far from easy, my opposite and I struggled with this dynamic throughout our teenage years. Relationships take hard work and patience but that’s a hard concept for hormonal teenage girls to grasp. Some of the nastiest altercations I’ve been involved in were with my sister. I think it is human nature to fight what you don’t understand and we fought like cats and dogs. Some of the venomous words we spewed towards each other have had hurtful effects lasting well into our adult years. We wreaked havoc in our household. She just didn’t get it! I didn’t get her! I so badly wanted her to get me! But, her differences just annoyed me. We eventually learned that we didn’t “need” each other like we once had, she gained her clique of friends and I had mine. For years there was rarely any peace between us.

We eventually grew used to our strained relationship, we were cordial (sometimes) but far from relational. I can remember saying to a friend “If she wasn’t my sister, I’m sure we wouldn’t be friends, we probably wouldn’t even notice one another.” This relationship continued after college until I realized that we didn’t get along because I was hoping she would change the essence of who she was… for me. Our relationship, for years, consisted of me trying to get her to conform to the idea of who I wanted her to be (“Don’t you want to drink?” “You don’t curse? At all?”). As I stated before, my sister is stubborn AND an unapologetic individual, she was not conforming! Francesca is uniquely her and there is no changing that. Her life, her story, her narrative is uniquely hers and that’s where her beauty lies. Why try to change a precious jewel, why try to change a diamond into a ruby? It seemed as if in the same moment that I came to this realization, our friendship blossomed. She could finally be the unapologetic individual she was so destined to be… around me! What a blessing it is to have a sister who in any other circumstance would never notice me, nor I notice her. I have been afforded a friend that thinks differently from me, talks differently from me, dresses differently from me and exposes me to so many different ways of thinking. It’s challenging but beautiful because my sister makes me laugh, makes me think and in many ways takes cares of me (and also in many ways I don’t even know). We struggle still, she still annoys me but I know my sister loves me unconditionally and I love her. I need her. God gave me the gift of having my polar opposite as my sister and now as an adult, I can truly cherish the treasure she is. They say that opposites attract and I know this to be true because no matter what, my opposite is right by side.

Guest Blogger Feature: The Journey from Point A to Point B

It’s been awhile since I blogged and I’ve also been a little uninspired… Or maybe I should say too inspired. I have so many thoughts going on in my head right now that it’s been difficult to come up with a worthwhile and concise piece to share with you. Alas, I won’t continue to leave you hanging. Each month, I will feature an “adult” guest blogger to share their narrative of how they get away with adulting everyday. This month’s guest blogger is Bobby Brown and no, not the Bobby Brown you’re thinking of. I met Bobby about three years ago while working for a non-profit in Philadelphia. Bobby has an infectiously vibrant personality, wicked sense of humor and quick wit. Those three personality traits made for the best and worst of times considering I was often the butt of his jokes. However, Bobby is truly one of my most valued friends I’ve gained in recent years. His drive and strength in the face of adversity often inspire me, he’s steady when others would be shaken. Bobby often lamented “let me be great” and I’ve enjoyed seeing his progression to greatness in the last few years. So, without further ad0, please enjoy this month’s guest blogger.

“They say that the fastest way from point A to B is a straight line; however, when you’re following your dream(s), you soon find out that the “fastest way” is a relative term.  On my “fast” journey to law school I realized that some tools towere missing from my tool box. I wouldn’t have had such a revelation unless I took some time off after graduating from Temple University in the spring of 2012.  My undergraduate GPA epitomized the saying “C’s get degrees” and my L.S.A.T score was probably the L.A.S.T thing I wanted the schools to consider, but I knew law school was where I wanted to go and an attorney was what I wanted to be.  In the two years following graduation I worked for a non-profit service organization, a logistics company, an insurance agency, and received mom and dad-isms that allowed me the opportunity to fill my toolbox with the tools necessary to succeed in law school. After going up to Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Texas week after week, month after month, and discussing with the Dean all the reasons why I needed to be there, I received an acceptance! I ended up in the top 15% of my 1L class, made the Thurgood Marshall Law Review, and now have two paid internships this coming summer.

However, my journey through this adulting tunnel was one filled with a massive amount of darkness, potholes with no cover, and social media (this being the worst obstacle of all). Instagram and Facebook made it difficult for me to look at the bright side as I often try to do; these social networks were full of people my age or younger traveling here and traveling there, partying here and partying there, having the time of their lives. Meanwhile, I was at my mother’s home trying to apply to a job that had a salary above 35K, making me feel like I was nothing more than a has-been (and that’s assuming I had “been” to begin with). How can I look myself in the mirror and feel good about myself if all I saw on my timeline was amazingness that I had no part of?  Jealousy sucks, no-one wants to be a hater or feel like a hater but at times, I felt as if I was hating on impulse. But, there were also those few times when I would see my real friends doing something dope and I would be proud of them, I instantly became motivated.  How could I be a real friend to them and not get on my grind? We want to go turn up in different countries, with different people, how could I do that with them if I didn’t step my game up?

And then I came to realize that this is a process, this is MY process; MY process isn’t their process, MY time isn’t their time, and most importantly, this is MY life not their life.  I had to start focusing on my process, getting the most out of my process and appreciating what my process was creating in me. I vividly remember an instance in which I was at a low-point and called my mother for guidance. I usually call my father because my mother tends to be a worrier. My father, however, is a more level-headed thinker under pressure. This time, I called my mother and she said four simple words that changed my whole outlook on life: “Delay is NOT Denial.” It was as if she gave me the answer to the meaning of life. It was as if the Heavens opened up for me and for only me. It was as if Nicki Minaj and Amber Rose came to my room to twerk for me while Wiz rolled one up just for me and my mixtape, that the streets so desperately needed, dropped and broke the internet, it was as if…well, you get the gist. That was the message given to me by my mother and that is the message I give to you: Delay is NOT Denial.

I go on to say that as a 26 year old kid who knows he has to effectively adult every day, it’s important to understand that your need for speed to the finish line is not what makes for an efficient adult. The stops signs (no matter how vibrantly red) and speed bumps (no matter how big) on your road trip to success are not there to permanently stop you from reaching your goal but they are there to help you stop, think, and appreciate YOUR process in becoming an adult.  Appreciate every stop sign, every speed bump, and every thot (male or female) on your way to success. I hear it’s lonely at the top, so appreciate your real friends and meet them in the winner’s circle.  Appreciate your delays and denials so the celebrations of your advances and acceptances are that much more memorable, because when it’s over…it’s over and you want your life to be a legacy of triumph not tragedy.”

Bethany Takes a Tumble

I’m not going to pretend that I fall for men very easily because quite frankly, I don’t. When it comes to men and my relationships, I’m similar to those strawberry candies your grandmother always seems to have in the house but you’ve never seen sold in a store (is there like an old people outlet for all old people needs?). Yeah, those candies personify me, I put on a hard façade but after a little work, I’m different. I once fell for a man over six months and when I say I fell for him, let’s just say I fell harder than Scarlet took a tumble.

As I said in my previous post, I have been living and working in the city of Philadelphia for the last two years. Now, the young, Black and educated social circle in the city is small and it’s even smaller when you take social networking into consideration. We’re all on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. and we’re all able to connect within an instant. For these very same reasons, we work the same jobs, attend the same parties and hangout at the same bars. One evening, I caught myself at a busy yet dark bar in the city sipping a margarita when I looked up and noticed one of my followers walk in. He was a smooth brother with a lot of confidence and a mischievous smile. I waved excitedly and having recognized me immediately, he walked over to give me a hug. We made small talk, traded a little witty banter, exchanged numbers and connected… I mean we connected! You have to understand him a bit to understand why I emphasize that word. He can find a way to relate to anyone he encounters. See, he’s the type of person to walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a room full of friends… seriously… I’ve witnessed it…twice. He’s charming, has a fantastic sense of humor and a captivating presence about him. His personality draws people to him; men want to be the homie and girls… they don’t hold back what they want him to be (or do to them) either. I, on the other hand, just wanted someone to drink with me.

He was the perfect person to fit that job and he began inviting me everywhere he went. We soon began talking more often, a few texts a day burgeoned into texting ALL day. Hanging out on Thursday and Friday nights grew to include Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. And the only reason I excluded Saturday is because I spent most Saturdays in Delaware with my family. However, if I wasn’t with them, I tried to be around him. We soon noticed that our brief car conversations lasted for hours, most nights ending after 1am or 2am. And being that we were such responsible working adults, we made the decision to start our evening conversations earlier only to realize we simply took advantage of the extra time. Our car conversations continued to last until 1 or 2 in the morning. He worked to know me. He appreciated my idiosyncrasies, my ideas, my beliefs and opinions. Yet, he also challenged me, my ideas, my beliefs, my opinions and never hesitated to call me weird when he had enough of one of my strange habits. I began to fall. My drinking partner evolved into my biggest crush since Justin Timberlake and the best part was that my crush liked me too. He never strayed away from telling me why he liked me and what he liked about me. In fact, I think if I wasn’t dark skinned, (I’m kind of like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s extra crispy recipe chicken, delicious and well done. Or Hershey’s special dark chocolate) I would’ve been blushing all the time. I woke up in the mornings hoping to have a text from him and I always did, I looked forward to seeing him in the evenings. And as I struggled to adjust to my new life as a real working adult in a big city by myself, in a new industry I knew nothing about and having brand new responsibilities, he provided me with what I needed. I needed stability. I needed peace of mind. And if I didn’t know anything else, I knew he would give me that.

The months went by, our high school crush habits became routine and then suddenly…things began to change. The girls he once brushed off seemed to catch his eye. I began to act out spitefully because of my newfound insecurities. I soon learned that his tongue was as sharp as his wit and I felt the need to compete. Conversations that once flowed beautifully became strained and hostile. We went from… let’s say Barack and Michelle to Ike and Tina (sans getting my ass whooped and being forced to eat pastries). How could something so good turn so ugly so fast? Couldn’t I have another 6 months?

I convinced myself that “we can get this back” and I fought harder than Rhonda Rhousey in the 2nd round against Holly Holm (Pray for Rhonda). But, the good times were over. I greedily wanted more moments instead of appreciating the moments we had. And in an attempt to get more of these moments, I racked up a series of bad moments instead. Timing is truly everything and his position in my life, at that time, was perfection. Yet, perfect doesn’t last forever and that’s perfectly okay. I understand and appreciate that now. True appreciation comes from respecting the past enough to let it go. It’s okay that perfect moments are fleeting, they serve their perfect purpose at times in our lives. There is peace in reverencing the past as opposed to resenting it. I resented those moments for escaping me, abandoning me, I resented them for a long time. Now, as I reflect back, I am thankful for those moments because they were and he was exactly what I needed for that moment in time. So the next time I fall hopefully I don’t fall quite as hard as Scarlet but even if I do, that’ll be okay because I know to appreciate the moments before I take a tumble.

Allow me to reintroduce myself…

My name is BEF, oh, B to the EF. Well, actually, my name is Beth and I’m a 25-year old Black girl living and working in the city of Philadelphia. Sometimes I’m really angry, really happy, really funny, really sad or really none of the above. I’m assuming you often have similar emotions if you’re a young adult because being a young adult is filled with adventures as well as misadventures. Now, keep in mind that this is simply the perspective of one person that identifies with multiple experiences (Black, HBCU educated, millennial, female, working-class) and how I navigate through life on a day to day basis. I hope you can relate and if you can’t, I hope you at least get a good laugh. Enjoy my life as a runaway adult.

You Ain’t Got the Answers, Beth

I’ve had a job, a real job, for the past two years at a large law firm in Philadelphia (cues Law & Order: SVU theme). My first day of work I listened to “Ambitious Girl” by Wale on the bus ride in and I could not wait to walk into that office. My haircut was on point, my clothes immaculate, my makeup on fleek and my attitude… BIG! I had ARRIVED! I thought I was Olivia Pope with a hint of MacGyver and I was ready to solve some crimes… except for the fact that I work in civil law.

I soon realized that my glamorous office job wasn’t as glamorous as I once believed. My imaginary office was a bare cubicle. The people that needed me, my advice and my valued perspective… didn’t exist. I mean, after all, I was working with an attorney who had been in the industry for 40 years and a fellow legal assistant who had 20 years. My perspective wasn’t very valuable at all. My Olivia Pope wardrobe and fleeky makeup turned into a uniform of sweats and spectacles. Work wasn’t glamorous, I wasn’t glamorous and quite frankly, I sucked. A LOT! You see, I’ve always had the attitude of an all-American sweet apple pie over-achieving academic cheerleader from a small town with a big smile and the Midas touch. So how on earth could I possibly suck this bad at my job? I wasn’t organized, I didn’t understand protocol and unlike my high school and college years, for the first time in my life I NEEDED my job. I had a REAL job because I had REAL bills (hello Sallie Mae!). I couldn’t have the attitude of Rochelle from Everybody Hates Chris (“My man has two jobs, I don’t need this job!”) because I needed my job! I had to keep my job!

I…am…an adult. Who gave me this burden and why do they think I can handle adulting? Don’t you have to pass a standardized test for this position? Should I submit a resume and cover letter to be considered for adulthood? Adulting isn’t optional? Well, two years later I still ask myself these questions on a daily basis. Luckily, I suck a little less now thanks to tough love from my colleague with 20 years in the industry. I maintain reports, confidently communicate with clients and sometimes I even present new ideas to help improve productivity… well, I only did that once. I seamlessly adult most days but some days I still suck. However, I’m now realizing that sucking is a huge component of adulthood. My flaws, mistakes and experiences give me character even when I think they bring me nothing but anguish. So now, on the days that I suck at adulting the most, I remind myself to put my big girl panties on and live to adult another day.