Browse Category: Kumbaya Politics

Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson

Earlier today, as I was scrolling through my news feed, I noticed  declarative statement after declarative statement from a number of my white friends either threatening to, or professing that they’d just unfriended several of their white friends based on “wrong,” “terrible,” “racist,” (read: conflicting) views about the grand jury’s decision to not indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown – an unarmed Black teenager – in Ferguson.

If you haven’t been following the story, start with this Jon Stewart recap here.

With each “unfriend” post, I felt myself getting angrier and angrier, wondering how on earth white people (who understand racism) disconnecting from white people (who don’t) was supposed to help anyone.

As a Black person enraged by the blatant racism in Ferguson, I felt involuntarily benched by my emotions; I was too angry, sad, etc to engage on the subject period, let alone with white people who felt differently and required that I engage “objectively.” This stood out to me as a moment in which white allies could come in really handy. So, I shared the post below on my Spectra Speaks page in an attempt to articulate my thoughts and propose an alternative to disconnection: empathic engagement with the “other side” on my behalf.

The post was well received and felt too important not to share on my blog, so here it goes…  After reading I encourage you to share your thoughts — on being  a good ally, on facilitating critical conversations, on connecting with unlike minds — by commenting below.

———-

Dear white allies, this is not the time to “unfriend.” This is the time to “engage.”

This is the time to remember that the outrage you feel can in no way match my own and therefore you have way more emotional capacity than I do to talk some sense into the “other side.”

This is the time to remember that your “solidarity” does not render you powerless; in fact, the entire point of your solidarity is to lend the power you DO have to folks who do not.

And by the way, this is the time to remember that you do have power.

It may not feel like much – your empathy may temporarily make you forget that you’re not like Brown, you’re not “one of us” and that in fact you are still one of “them” – but please try and remember how USEFUL you could be should you decide to be brave enough to speak up to the folks more likely to hear YOU than me.

I’m seeing one too many white people bragging about defriending other white people. I don’t need your condolences. I don’t need rash actions that absolve you of the responsibility of facilitating hard conversations with folks I will never be able to reach.

I need you to step up in a major way, and leverage the connections you DO have to address ignorance with conversation and interrogate white privilege with compassion. Because I will not do this. I cannot do this.

My rage as a black person witnessing yet another moment in the endless cycle of racism in the US prevents me from engaging in “level headed” conversations with people who see this terribly unjust Ferguson ruling as just another news story to banter about at the water cooler.

But you, don’t do me any further injustice by claiming to stand in solidarity with me while really (really) excusing yourself of the hard work that is engaging with fellow white people on this issue. Don’t hide behind “being a good ally” without actually doing any work beyond merely echoing my cries of pain, anger, and soul wrenching disappointment.

You’re a socially conscious white person? You don’t share *their* views? It’s disappointing to hear your friends say racist things? You don’t wanna talk to them? I hear you. I really do. But if you don’t speak to “them” who will?

Who will?

(Hint: Not me.)

So before you squander the opportunity before you in an attempt to demonstrate your solidarity, ask yourself which choice would be easier: unfriending the guy who attended your birthday party last year because he posted support of the non indictment OR responding to his post with an open ended question to begin a (likely long and strenuous) conversation?

What would a good… actually, forget good… What would a useful, valuable, effective ally do?

We need you to be brave, now more than ever. Stop with the Unfriending. Speak up.

And to those of you doing this already, thank you thank you thank you.

How to Increase Media Diversity: 3 Lessons from the London Feminist Film Festival

A few months ago, the London Feminist Film Festival approached me for help in reaching out to African feminist filmmakers for their open call. The media activist I am, I admit that I did make them jump through hurdles before I agreed to help them spread the word of the festival on my blog. But it was only fair.

In my relatively short experience as an activist (who is also a person of color), I’ve received so many requests from white-run organizations and campaigns asking me to “help them create more diversity”, often without any proof that they’ve attempted to do any of this outreach on their own. It’s almost as though they view brown people as the people primarily responsible for alleviating the “burden” of creating the diversity they claim to want in their spaces. Oh, who am I kidding? 9/10 times that’s actually the case. But I digress.

After a series of sharp-shooting, poignant questions to the committee (“What have you done to reach out to feminist filmmakers of color?” “Who is missing from your lineup, and why?” “What have you done to make this relevant to African feminists, specifically?”), and receiving thoughtful (and honest) responses, I found myself in a strange place: satisfied, and affirmed enough to see myself as partly responsible (as an afrofeminist) for ensuring their success. I didn’t just write about the festival; I volunteered to be one of their media partners and a judge for one of their jury awards as well.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are lessons about diversity to be learned (and shared) here. 

It’s only been a few months since the LFFF’s initial email to me, but judging from the film festival’s program, the organizers efforts have really paid off. The lineup of films included in the program look fantastic; the panelists and jurors represent a wide range of perspectives, aaaannd (so far), they’ve avoided appearing to be The London White Feminist Film Festival, which is quite commendable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed “universality” (i.e. lack of intersectionality), result in the white-washing of so many spaces which would — with some effort — have the potential to truly empower and unify communities within communities.

It’s not every day I get to see I’m impressed with an organization’s outreach efforts (and results). So, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight A Few Awesome Things the London Feminist Film Festival Did to Support Media Diversity:

1) They Avoided the “We Are One” Trap: In my post calling for support of the London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF), I talked about the importance of diversity in media, especially in the context of solidarity groups; it’s actually quite easy to let diversity slide under kumbaya umbrella politics i.e. “we’re all feminists, women, etc,” ignoring inequalities as we embrace sameness. But the festival organizers, tempting as it may have been to default to what was familiar, made a commitment very early on in their organizing process to keep the inclusion of minority groups in mind, including queer/LGBTI women, African/Black women, etc.

2) The Organizers Did Their Own Outreach Before Contacting Minority Stakeholders: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there’s a different between being asked to solve an organization’s (lack of) diversity issues for them (i.e. being tokenized) and being asked to lend your efforts and guidance to work with them towards a more inclusive space. As my communications with LFFF revealed a progressive approach to diversity, I was happy to become more deeply involved in ensuring the festival’s success. When I asked the organizers what they’d done to reach out to other minority groups, I was pleased to hear about their efforts, as well as their honest observations about audiences they were having trouble reaching, making it easy for me to see my role as offering support vs. being saddled with the entire responsibility of creating a diverse program for their festival. Still, I’m obviously not the only partner LFFF has been working with obviously; the LFFF committee has done a phenomenal job building a team of partners, community stakeholders, vendors, and feminist advocates with unique perspectives and talents to both both shape and amplify the 3-day event this weekend. So, this is a PSA to festivals, organizations, campaigns everywhere: outreach isn’t a buzz word, it’s work that needs to be done. So please do it vs. asking marginalized people to do it for you.

3) The Film Festival Resisted the Urge to “Caucus”

Instead of creating a ‘special’ track for Black films, LGBT films etc, the festival opted instead to create special tracks for their “outreach”, in order to improve representation in the larger pool. The result is an impressive festival program that reflects a range of perspectives and experiences, rather than the separation of “main” from “other.” Now, can everyone just adopt this policy? I’m tired of having to choose between discussions, sessions, films etc that represent fragments of who I am, and I’m pretty I’m not the only person with multiple identities that feels this way. Check out some of the films that I’m most excited about (and the range of countries represented), which will be screening next weekend:

  • Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution is a documentary about the lesbian writers, philosophers, and activists who were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood in the 1980s (USA)
  • As a Warrior (Como una Guerrera) is a drama about a victim of domestic violence who finds the strength to be her own knight in shining armor (Argentina)
  • Sari Stories is a short about women in rural India documenting their everyday lives and talking about the problems of growing up as women in a patriarchy as they’re trained to become video journalists (India)
  • In Beautiful Sentence, women prisoners experience the therapeutic effect of creative writing (UK)
  • The Witches of Gambaga is an award-winning documentary about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ (Ghana)
  • Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 highlights the contributions of award-winning, African-American, lesbian, feminist poet, Audre Lorde, to the Afro-German movement (Germany/USA)
  • And last, but not least, Kung Fu Grandma is about elderly women in Kenya undertaking a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community (Kenya)

Note: Some of these films are available for free viewing online, so I encourage you to check them out. The LFFF has also granted me access to a few of the features as well, so I’ll be publishing my reviews (and reflections) of several of these films leading up to the festival. I’ve already published a few. But stay tuned for more!

Finding Common Ground (Part 1): Why Aren’t More Activists Collaborating?

Based on how often marginalized people talk about the power of “community”, especially within the realm of grassroots activism, one would imagine the non-profit industry would have evolved into a flourishing ecosystem of recyclable free-flowing skills, bartered services, and shared progressive ideas by now.

Yet, when you think about how many grassroots groups and non-profit organizations are working on the same exact issues and, unfortunately, due to this overcrowding, are often fighting each for resources in an unhealthily competitive manner (e.g. hoarding funding opportunities, barring access to resources, guarding intellectual capital, etc.) it’s easy to conclude that, often enough, this is not the case.

Let me put this in context: there is a funding crisis, everywhere; not just in the US or in the UK, or even in Africa, but globally.

In the U.S., the financial crisis didn’t just negatively impact the wall street suits, or even the industrial blue-collars, but the many grantmaking foundations that have provided the steady source of funding to non-profits for years. As a result of Wall Street’s snafu, a number of foundations have needed to significantly reduce the size of their grants; a few of the larger ones have even merged. As I’m quickly learning via my ongoing Southern Africa social media project, the effect of this can be felt all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, too. Downes Murray International, an African fundraising consulting firm writes:

“While some major Western donors to Africa, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, plan to maintain or increase their giving, many are scaling back their efforts in Africa in order to concentrate shrinking resources on projects closer to home.”

Here in South Africa, in an attempt to slow down the funding drain, governments have significantly cut back subsidies for critical social services, beefed up funding requirements and tightened up monitoring and evaluation practices, creating a domino effect of non-profits cutting back on most of their programming, or shutting down completely.

Even outside the non-profit industrial complex, grassroots groups are feeling the pinch of the financial crisis. In a recent online fundraising workshop I hosted, an attendee complained about being inundated with messages from “too many smaller, community groups all asking for support for the same issue.”

The harsh reality is that under the current economic conditions, many not-for-profit organizations have just two choices: adapt or die.

After years of dependency on government aid and foundation grants, non-profits are being forced to operate more like businesses (e.g. diversify their revenue streams, reduce overhead while increasing output etc) just to keep their heads above water.

Ironically, non-profit professionals may have to adopt a few strategies from the same “capitalists” in the corporate sector they once characterized as greedy and selfish for their unwavering focus on profitability and expansion. Yet, if this means, sustainability and wider reach for organizations striving for long-term social impact, could this shift towards running more like a business be such a bad thing?

Due to the funding crisis, complete dependency on charity, government, and in the case of Africa, foreign aid, is no longer an option. And, quite frankly, the non-profit industry could do with a good dose of the kind of survivalist creativity that’s prevalent in the corporate sector, such as collaborating with other players to pool resources, using strategic partnerships with similar organizations to strengthen service offerings, or even merging to widen their reach (or prevent closing up shop completely).

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that activists and non-profits should only ever consider collaboration as simply a tactic to navigate financial crises; organizations, especially the ones working with communities that are particularly marginalized, constantly under-resourced, and over-looked for more traditional forms of support, should already be working together, not just to save money, but for the sake of furthering their collective missions.

We have a moral obligation as people who are working towards social justice, to always choose the path that maximizes our social impact and/or increases our sustainability, regardless of what the economy is doing.

So, again, why aren’t more non-profits collaborating? What have we got to lose by working together? Why isn’t collaboration not happening as frequently as we suggest it should, especially when we have so much to gain? I hope to explore some of these questions in part two of this series.

Got an opinion on that? Why do you think we have so many activists, non-profits, and social impact initiatives doing similar work, yet not working together? Ego? Time and resources? Lack of awareness? Are you an individual activist doing social justice work? What has kept you (or turned you off) from collaborating in the past? What do you see as the “cons” for collaborating (as there are certainly a few). Note: This is a no judgment zone. Please share freely, as the conversation around collaboration is important for us to have if we are to move forward.

A Rant — The Ugly Business of Good Social Causes

I really wish the LGBT and non-profit industry in general would stop hiding behind “good causes” and own their mistakes/shortcomings so we can all move forward. [Free Idea: Someone should create a Yelp.com for the non-profit industry]

Companies in corporate America (yes, those ugly ‘for-profit’ entities) get “reviewed” all the time. And guess what? The smart ones make it their business to incorporate both positive and negative feedback into their marketing campaigns, products, and services. They’ve learned that alienating their customers by guilting or scaring them into silence is a sure way to fail. Moreover, they only ever defend themselves from competitors, which — at least in this analogy — would be warranted if a similar non-profit / group was using internet slander to harm your reputation or to make themselves look better.

I was just perusing some non-profit blogs today, and read a number of disheartening, angry remarks from alleged “community leaders” all across the country. Geez — and I thought Boston had issues. It seems it’s not uncommon for people, who are supposedly working angelically towards social justice, to sling low-blow internet shots at social commentators for stating opinions that expose new flaws (or highlight old ones). *In one case, a blogger simply mentioned that a certain social group / organization wasn’t her cup of tea in passing, and was called a fame-monger for using negativity as a means to receiving more site hits. Are you kidding me? This really got me thinking…

Shame shame shame to organizers, non-profit execs, promoters-for-a-cause, or anyone who thinks that manipulating others into feeling guilty for admonishing your “good” work, or worse, threatening them with internet attacks is justified or “good for the community.” None of us are above judgment. I work very hard to bring racial equality into dialogue within the LGBTQ movement but it doesn’t mean that I am without fault — ask my volunteers, I drive them nuts — and it certainly doesn’t do much for my popularity ranking, even if I’ve just been cited as a “celesbian” (lol, I love this new word). Plus,  I know that at the core of our resistance to hear negative feedback (I include myself in this) is a strong desire to be recognized for our efforts, to feel as though people do acknowledge how hard we’re working. However, as leaders, we should learn to pat ourselves on the back. In so doing, we can rid the general public of the responsibility of prefacing each and every criticism with praise, and learn to not take things so personally. Moreover, if we all learn to give cross-issue support to each other, we’ll have each other to lean on (or to rant to) while the crowd chants on…

Moving forward, we should remember to thank community members who voice their opinions (no matter how callously… ok – I take that back – some people need to chill out), and tell them “Thank You” for keeping us accountable. Shoot, at least some of them have an opinion you can take direction from; this certainly trumps the blank stares and shoulder shrugs one typically receives after requesting constructive feedback. But, I digress… Regardless of what kind of feedback you choose to accept, at the end of the day, it all boils down to whether or not you’re sticking to your mission statement. If your mission is too narrow to matter, or too broad that you do a piss-poor job of including all the relevant stakeholders (who then start complaining), consider redefining it, or better yet, scrapping it altogether. You’ve gotta be clear, and listen, cause fact: some companies —  non-profits, organizers, promoters, and lobbyists included — will do a much better job than you if you’re not.

The non-profit LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to deal with mediocrity due to lack of competition or options. Our social justice movements can only be as effective as our ability to listen and incorporate both kinds of feedback into our work.

So, to community members, if an LGBTQ promoter hosts a night that sucks, tell them why, and let them know how it could be better. If a grassroots movement leaves out people of color, damn right speak up, even if they throw buzzwords (like “diversity” and “inclusiveness” at you). Moreover, I dare you to take the next step — volunteer your time. If black people forget to advocate for latinos, asians, white allies etc during conversations about “people of color” then it is up to anyone who notices to call it out. Being unpopular isn’t fun (I should know), but it does get people to sit up and listen (even if they don’t admit that they will).

We are all part of the problem if we choose treading on eggshells vs. keeping people in check.

We are all part of the problem if we discredit our individual opinions based on some smackademic concept of oppression hierarchies.

We are all part of the problem if no one speaks out.

Social responsibility includes more than just donating old clothes to Haiti, or volunteering at a homeless shelter; it means raising your voice whether in solidarity or (respectful) disagreement so that your community leaders never forget who they are serving.  And for leaders, this also means keeping a finger on the pulse of your constituents’s needs, even at the expense of your ego. We can’t call ourselves leaders if we do not learn to hear reason rising from the heat of an angry crowd.

Diversity speaks. (That means you.)

*Note: I’m not posting links to the forums I was reading because the platforms / arguments don’t matter. I’m more interested in debunking the perceived benefits of blogging on the internet, one of which is that free speech is without reprimand (or cost in mental health)


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