We can be #strongertogether – but we’re not yet

​My thoughts as I watched the election results roll in…

We need to own that, on the Democrat/left/progressive side, the closeness of this presidential election is the consequence of our collective failure to center #NeverTrump as our shared interest and organize effectively around that. None of us – including Clinton supporters – made that a priority, and so if Trump is defeated tonight, it will be in spite of us doing a shitty job of building a coalition powerful enough to defeat him.
I’ll be completely honest: defeating Trump was never my first priority as a voter. I live in a safely “blue” state where my vote for Jill Stein wasn’t going to have any meaningful impact on the Electoral College outcome. But I also was, and frankly still am, of the opinion that a Trump presidency wouldn’t significantly change the trajectory or nature of the work I do around dismantling structural oppression – and that the shock among both progressives and anti-Trump conservatives at such a result would actually make certain aspects of my work easier. You can disagree with my analysis of the landscape, but a) you’re not viewing it from where I’m standing, and b) whether or not you see what I see doesn’t actually matter. You just need to know how I am seeing this election, and know that the end result was that not only did I not change my vote, I also didn’t devote any real energy to developing a coalition of voters from multiple perspectives who could effectively work together to defeat Trump because I wasn’t sufficiently invested in that outcome.

And this is where we come to what I do have in common with #voteblue advocates: with a VERY limited number of exceptions (which I’m assuming exist simply because there are exceptions to every rule, not because I actually encountered any of these exceptions during my experience of this election cycle), Clinton supporters also didn’t devote any real energy to developing that coalition. Like me, they were primarily concerned with how the world looked from their viewpoint, and they primarily focused on trying to get others to agree that the world was as they saw it. But arguing isn’t organizing, and no matter who wins the presidential election it will represent a massive progressive organizing failure. We didn’t respect or work from a recognition of each other’s self-interest, so we didn’t build the power we needed to avoid this mess.

We are witnessing the entirely predictable result of focusing on positions instead of interests; of not being serious enough about defeating Trump to dedicate ourselves to building the power that would lead us to achieving that end. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it is highly tempting to reject that analysis in favor of believing that it’s somebody else’s fault this is happening. But an organizing training I attended last month has caused me to take a much more focused approach to building power – and a much closer and harder look at the ways that our attitudes and actions in progressive organizing fall into predictable patterns the dominant system trains us in from birth in order to keep us from being able to work together toward our liberation.

The paragraphs below are excerpted from a comment I made earlier today in response to a friend’s post. The context is a rebuttal to the idea that a #NeverTrump outcome could be achieved by anything other than a #voteblue strategy, so the excerpt includes my particular feelings about that as a third-party voter. But in addition to reflecting on how one segment of voters may have responded to Democratic persuasion tactics during this election, I invite folks to focus on the segments concerning self-interest and organizing for power.

I’ve been saying this all year: the only successful way to build a coalition guaranteed to defeat Trump was to engage the interests of those you needed to persuade – not what you think their interests SHOULD be, or what YOU think their interests are, but what THEY say they want and are concerned about. Dismissing someone’s concerns as short-sighted, self-serving, egotistical Hillary hating may be gratifying to your ego, but it is IN NO WAY persuasive for your target audience. It is not only completely disrespectful, but also INCREDIBLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. You might want to believe that people choosing to vote for Clinton despite serious misgivings are being beatifically altruistic; they are not. They found a way to connect a Clinton vote to the things that were most persuasive for them as a voter. But that rationale is not going to be the same for every voter, so you can’t just make the same case to everyone and call anyone for whom that doesn’t resonate an immoral whiny baby who doesn’t deserve to be listened to – at least, not if the priority is organizing for a desired outcome rather than resting in one’s own sense of righteousness.

People organize themselves and their resources in their self-interest: that is, in the ways they see that they can meet both their needs and those of the others they are working with. And contrary to popular belief, being self-interested is a good thing; it means that you can clearly identify the reasons for you to continue working toward your shared goal even when your coalition faces obstacles and conflicts. Our self-interest is our stake in seeing the outcome through. Without it, when things get too difficult or frustrating, people bail, and your coalition loses power. With it, people can focus on the shared goal and find ways to overcome obstacles together.

Basically, Clinton supporters have been telling a lot of progressive voters that the things those voters care about don’t matter, or don’t matter enough to be addressed in any way, and that they should band together with a group of people who look down on them and call them names. That’s insanity; only highly-traumatized people respond to that tactic, and EVEN THEN it’s still because the person has redefined abusive behavior to represent a twisted, demoralized definition of meeting their needs. Thankfully, most of us are not residing in that psychological place (except with respect to capitalism, but that’s another diatribe), so we dissociate from people who treat us that way and go find folks who will treat us with some dignity. But again, that dissociation means you lose potential members of your coalition.

Don’t want to organize with third-party progressives because you really do think they’re whiny babies not worth your time? That’s cool; you don’t organize with everyone. There are people and organizations I definitely write off when I think about food justice organizing, because I don’t respect them and I think the gulf between our interests is way too far. But if I’m going to do that, I damn sure better make sure I have organized enough other people and resources to make up for what I lose by writing those folks off; otherwise I will fail at achieving what is important to me because I failed to do what was needed to build sufficient power. We’ll find out later today whether the Clinton electoral coalition built enough power to emerge from this nightmare with the presidency.

It’s no longer ignorance; it’s a choice.

I’ve just about lost my damn mind.

I keep thinking that there will be some point when someone says, “No more.” Where one of these incidents will be so barbaric, and so clearly documented, that everyone who looks at the case will say, “This absolutely cannot be allowed to happen; never again.” In my foolishness, I thought the shooting-on-sight of a 12-year-old boy at a playground would be on of those stopping points, where we would have to hold ourselves and our public officials accountable.

For those inclined to think that highlighting persistent, deadly racial justice issues is divisive, perhaps this alternative argument will resonate; a brief except from the article is below:

“What we see with Tamir Rice—and what we’ve seen in shootings across the country—is what happens when the officer’s safety supercedes the obligation to accept risk. If ‘going home’ is what matters—and risk is unacceptable—then the instant use of lethal force makes sense. It’s the only thing that guarantees complete safety from harm.

It’s also antithetical to the call to ‘serve and protect.’ But it’s the new norm. And worse for any accountability, it sits flush with our broad sympathy with police in the courts of law and public opinion. So that, when police kill someone in this relentless drive to reduce risk, it’s almost impossible to hold officers accountable, barring incredible circumstances. The public just accepts that this is what police had to do … Given this status quo, Tamir Rice—his shooting and the officers’ acquittal—is inevitable. Indeed, it’s almost certain to happen again.”

The unjustified murder of ‪#‎TamirRice‬ is a clear example of an “incredible circumstance,” and yet it still was not sufficient to convince a grand jury that law enforcement officers need to be accountable for their use of force. We are now actively supporting “shoot first, ask questions later” as appropriate policing policy, at least for people of color. HOW ON EARTH does that conform to any definition of the liberty and justice that our laws and Constitution are meant to guarantee?

Are we seriously prepared to argue that civilian protective services have the discretion to shoot people on sight if they feel in any way uncomfortable or threatened, and that they should feel no compunction about doing so? If you are defending these kinds of actions by police, are you comfortable with police being empowered to kill you, your friends and family members, or your children anytime you are carrying anything that could be construed as a weapon or doing anything other than immediately and silently complying with police instructions? Do you or any of your friends and family members own a real or imitation weapon, and do you think that you should be shot for displaying or handling it in public?

Enough is enough – except it isn’t in this country. We accept murder with minimal or no provocation as a proper police function. We accept mass shootings as an appropriate side effect of our current gun laws. And yes, we accept clearly race-differentiated applications of law, policy, and state-sanctioned force as routine and completely permissible. We have reached the point (in fact, we’re far past it) where any of us who decide that we are not actively dedicating our time and energy to changing one or more of these things are actively sanctioning them with our silence and inaction.

If you don’t like that characterization, and you want to view yourself as part of the solution rather than the problem, then take time NOW, before the end of 2015, to find out what other people in your neighborhood/community/city/state/district/region are doing on one of these fronts. Call or email someone to get more information. Schedule a call or meeting with a nearby activist or organizer. Send out a message to some friends asking if you can get together and talk about what you can do together. Ask your elected officials and candidates for office at every level how they intend to lead in confronting these issues and how you can support them and hold them accountable in doing so. Do not let another year pass where we accept these deaths as the status quo.

This is not a progressive/liberal/Democrat concern. If you are a United States citizen or resident, and you believe that the things we call “American values” (like freedom, justice, democracy, equality; or protection of our lives, property, and rights from being taken by other parties or by our government) ought to be truth rather than fiction, these things cannot continue. We have no greatness or moral standing as a nation if we turn a blind eye to murder and injustice within our borders. Our values are meaningless if we will not stand up and hold to them because we prefer convenience and complacency to the fight for true liberty.

I’m glad I can laugh at myself!

Here’s a fun update: I’m currently clocking in at a svelte 212 lbs! While losing five pounds since the last time I posted about this may not seem like such a big deal, it becomes more impressive when you know that almost immediately after that post, I gained ten pounds and had to work my way down from there. It was an inauspicious, disheartening beginning; but I’m thankful that better things were yet to come.

Hilariously, I achieved my unusually successful weight loss by keeping rigorous track of what I ate and generally making sure that I expend more calories than I consume. 🙂 When I realized that I was just following really basic weight loss advice, it cracked me up. But hey, I never said I wasn’t incredibly hard-headed and terrible at listening to what other people tell me!

The key for me was finding tools that made the tracking fun and interesting instead of duty and drudgery. I got a Samsung Galaxy S6 this spring, and discovered that it came with this fitness tracker (S Health) pre-installed. I was curious and started playing around with it, and all the charts and analysis made it more like a game for me, as well as tying into my competitive mobile gaming side (wanting to beat my previous “scores”/get new achievements). I started to see that I was walking more and even getting other things like my blood pressure and blood sugar to go down a bit, but I was frustrated at not seeing more consistent weight results because I thought I was eating OK. So I decided to test my assumption about my own consumption using the app’s food tracker.

Turns out I was eating good food most of the time but really indulging in some crap at other times, and generally eating WAY too much (i.e., 3,000 calories) for my level of activity. So I set myself a goal of staying under 2,500 calories, which I seemed to be able to do most of the time, and then later tried staying under 2,000 calories, at which I was less successful. Slowly but surely, I started to see that when I kept to my steps goal and my calorie goal, the changes (albeit small ones) would show up on the scale. Those small wins, combined with the “gaming” perspective, kept me going as I tried to figure out how to move my progress along a little more quickly.

Oddly, it was the frustrations I experienced with S Health’s functionality that moved me to the next level. The food tracker database wasn’t very extensive, and I found myself constantly having to look up nutrition information on other websites for food I needed to log in S Health. That was when I discovered MyFitnessPal, the food log site I found myself turning to over and over. My other issue was with the step counter: because it was on my phone, I constantly had to be carrying my phone to count my steps; and since I don’t always wear outfits with pockets, that felt very inconvenient (not to mention upsetting my competitive side when I didn’t make a goal because all my steps weren’t being counted!). Enter the search for a wearable step counter.

It seemed a little ridiculous to buy yet another gadget after I’d just purchased a new phone and laptop; the fact that my shiny new phone wasn’t also functioning perfectly as a wearable fitness tracker is such a #firstworldproblem that it’s a little embarrassing to write about it. That said, I’m so grateful to my sister for my birthday gift of a Fitbit Charge HR, because it the difference it has made in successfully moving toward my weight and health goals is nothing short of stunning for me.

I’m counting my steps and tracking my food rigorously almost every day, managing my activity and calorie consumption goals with the benefit of the the seamless integration between Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. I’m engaging in challenges with my cadre of Fitbit buddies, which helps to push me on those days when I’d rather not get all my steps in. I’m even tracking my sleep, along with still monitoring my blood sugar and blood pressure through S Health. And I can see the results so clearly: my weight is down, my sugar is consistently in the target zone, and my blood pressure, while still high, is markedly down from where it was. My energy is up, I can move more quickly and more easily, and I generally want to eat less.

Plus, I feel more in control of my weight (rather than it having control of me) because I see very directly how my body responds to a low-activity or high-calorie day – both of which I still totally have. There’s no specific food or activity plan: no special diet (although I have to watch how much I eat food out, as the calories in those meals are generally crazy), no series of workouts beyond my daily step target. But I feel like the information I get from my trackers empowers me to make activity and food intake decisions that affect my weight and overall health in a way that is dynamic, natural, and sustainable.

And really, that’s the underlying change, which is a gift of God and not any work of my own. He slowly and patiently brought me to the place where I could look at those health metrics as tools to use in pursuing the things He is prompting me to do, rather than judgments on my worth and character. That sermon I mentioned in my previous post was a turning point, where the Lord helped me to stop using insecurity and fear of failure as excuses and crutches. He prepared my heart and then spoke the right word to me at the time when I could hear it. And He led me to ways of managing my health that are responsive to my real life instead of some imagined ideal. So this is one of my testimonies to the things the Lord has been doing in me this beautiful year – and it is only one of many!

In summary, here’s to discovering the obvious; having my weaknesses (competitiveness and technology obsession) turned into strengths; and the overwhelmingly impossible becoming completely doable. I’m still at the beginning, and there will be setbacks along with successes – but I know that I’m moving forward instead of backwards, and I am rejoicing at the transformation.

The Complexity of Movement

Seriously fam. Can we caucus and vote on any movement/BLM position on police before we continue to speak and write publicly/broadly about it? There are MANY of us that are abolitionists and that needs to be included too. Love yall and soooo appreciate the public work tho (I couldnt do it- or wouldnt want to, rather.) But goodness.

Dara Cooper

I’m so thankful for the black activist friends I’ve become connected to over the past few years through my work on food justice. There are many reasons why this is important to me, including how it has both required and helped me to better understand my own sense of black identity when I operate in predominantly black professional, social and intellectual spaces; but that’s a blog post for another time. Today, I’m appreciating how my activist friends keep me connected to the vanguard of the current fight for black lives and black liberation, and how they keep challenging and making me reflect on my own understanding of the moment we are in.

The post above from one of my friends raises a really interesting and important question about movements for me, whether we’re talking BLM or food justice. We tend to think of movements as monolithic, but they’re not; and even when you have people who are solidly aligned on core values (which ISN’T always the case in the network of actors within a “movement!”), they may have very different strategies and even different visions for what it means to fully realize those core values. Thinking back to the civil rights struggles of the 60s, you had groups as different as the SCLC, Nation of Islam, and Black Panthers all within that movement; all were seriously and sincerely committed to the goal of black freedom, but held very different understandings both of what that meant and how to go about it. Yet, each group carried important components of what it would/will take to achieve black liberation.

What can we learn from that movement that would help make our present one stronger? How can we ensure that our full range of perspectives and solutions is recognized, rather than using the same models of dominance that we are fighting against to declare one sub-group of the movement as the “primary” one while marginalizing other voices and strategies? There are many who argue that a movement has to have a dominant narrative in order to be successful; and yet, when I look at the civil rights struggles from the 50s and 60s, I think that we are reaping today seeds that were sown back then, when “success” was defined as getting better access to oppressive, white-dominated systems instead of building and strengthening systems designed to serve us as black people (e.g., Nation of Islam farming cooperatives or the Black Panthers’ feeding program). Those initiatives pointed to a deeper reality about systemic racism, perhaps one that we were loath to fully acknowledge as a people at that point in time: that the roots of racism are so deeply embedded in every aspect of the United States’ history that no system of law or policy would ever be safe for black people until that national sickness was truly identified and healed in all its manifestations.

This isn’t a dismissal of what so many people fought and gave their lives for during that time; my life and those of every single one of my family members is markedly different because of the enormous policy wins that civil rights activists achieved in the middle of the 20th century. I’d have to be stupid, and profoundly ungrateful, not to recognize that. At the same time, I read even in the writings of leaders from that time that there was a recognition that the struggle had to go deeper and push further, and a worry about whether it would do so successfully and what that was supposed to look like. Too many people’s lives were cut short before they could pursue those questions. And maybe the questions weren’t theirs to pursue; maybe we had to go through the last 50 years as a people in order to come to our own understanding that we had to go after that deeper struggle. Maybe we weren’t ready to face that yet.

But we’re here again now, and we need to take the fullness of all the lessons we can learn from the work of our forebears – including those things they left undone. It’s not enough to return to comfort with confrontational tactics, or even to lift up the value of militancy in addition to nonviolence. There’s a deeper question of how we model the change we want to see in the world within our own movement, how we reject the forms and tactics of the oppressor and truly acknowledge the full range of our voices and needs. And how we learn to learn from each other and our different perspectives: maybe you’ll never become a police abolitionist, but do you understand why other movement colleagues are and can you work with them to address the real concerns they have about police reform platforms as they currently stand? Can we acknowledge, even if we choose police reform as a focus for now, that police abolitionists may be the holders of the long-term goal we need to work toward, and that our work won’t be done until that goal is addressed?

I see parallels in the LGBT movement and incidents like Jennicet Gutierrez’s action at the White House: marriage equality became the core fight because it was most palatable to the dominant culture and allowed the “movement” to “unify” its messaging – but that was a false unity that disregarded concerns voiced by groups experiencing marginalization within the movement. We can’t keep repeating this pattern. Intermediate policy wins are helpful for maintaining momentum and morale; but they become incredibly dangerous when we mistake them for endpoints and try to shut down those among us who are pointing to the work we need to keep doing. We need to figure out how to do the shorter-term, “feasible” work while holding the long-term, radically transformative vision before us at all times.

This isn’t an intellectual debate about movement strategies and tactics; this is about the life and heart of our movement. It’s about learning what love and solidarity mean so that, even when we are doing different things, we are always standing together and lifting one another up. And if nothing else, it’s because I don’t want my nephew and niece and their children fighting another version of this same battle in 40 or 50 years. I want the children of my family to inherit not only new policies but a new way of being, a transformed nation with love instead of hate and violence at its core. It takes a lot of faith to even believe that is a possibility – but for me, it’s the only vision worth working toward.

I have nothing to lose but my chains.

This post is the verbatim content of my reply to another Facebook user’s comment on a friend’s post about Bernie Sanders and his response to #BlackLivesMatter protests at recent events. I share it because I have reached the point where there are no longer excuses for accepting any lesser outcome than the full liberation of people of color from the systems of racial oppression upon which this country has been founded, upon which it has built its wealth and power, and upon which it continues to build its political, economic and social systems. If you are a person in my life, you need to know where I stand; and then you can choose whether or not to stand with me.

Continue reading “I have nothing to lose but my chains.”


Dating While Black and Female. It’s a real thing, people.

(Of all the things going on in the world,  who would have predicted that this is what I’d finally get agitated enough to post about? I’m not sure what that says about me; I don’t think it’s something good.)

We’ve been steeped in contrasting pairs of hashtags lately: #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen, #LivingWhileBlack, #CrimingWhileWhite. The #CrimingWhileWhite was a supportive contrasting tag to highlight racial disparities and injustices; but in the other pairs, #AllLivesMatter and #NotAllMen have been attempts to diminish or negate real concerns about the difficulties and differing realities experienced by women and black people in our society. Now, my dating struggles do not rise to the level of a societal injustice. 🙂 Nonetheless, I experience echoes of similar frustration when I get #DatingWhileHuman’d after I try to explain why dating while me is unusually difficult and frustrating.

The fullness of my unique personality is tolerable only for a select subset of the population; likewise, no one is attractive to everyone (Idris Elba being the obvious exception). So, having realized and moved away from the bizarro pathologies of my previous attitudes toward sex and relationships, I don’t expect all – or even the vast majority – of men I meet in person or online to find me viable as a dating partner. On the other hand, I also did not expect the number of people (random men on the street excluded) interested in actually going on a date with me to be exactly two since 2009. So what’s the deal?

It’s possible I’m just a horrible person to date, and my exes are vigorously spreading the word. Assuming, however that a) I am not exceptionally more terrible than most other humans in the dating pool and b) my exes aren’t villains intent on ruining my social life, it seems there must be a more plausible explanation. Despite the fact that I frequently voice frustration with the whole dating enterprise, I have regularly attempted the modern version of hanging out my dating shingle: online dating sites. I’ve actually been using dating sites since well before it was something you’d openly admit, so I’ve got a good 15 years of working in the medium. And up until six years ago, I’d been at least passably successful in finding both dates and relationships.

But online dating has changed, and I have changed. My favorite, dearly departed site was Yahoo! Personals, back before it became a pay site. The freewheeling, people-secretly-trying-to-find-love-on-here atmosphere came with its full share of creepies and crazies; I went on a date with at least one. But it also tended to come with less pre-judging: there were no compatibility profiles, no match questions, and just some basic demographic facts. Race was one of those facts, absolutely; but back in the age where no one felt entitled to their “perfect” match, people were a little more willing to chance meeting a new person who might be outside of their preconceived notions of a mate.

Even back in the day, sites like Match.com, with their more “sophisticated” matching systems, yielded me worse experiences; I rarely got initial contacts or responses, and those that I did get never translated into dates. So by the time I was back on the dating market after 3 years, online dating had become a much less appealing prospect, as the advent of Match and eHarmony made folks a lot more picky – and not in the good way. And suddenly, I began to experience the true aggravation of DWBF online, as few contacts shifted to almost no contacts in short order.

My last successful foray into online was born of a period of spiritual as well as sexual frustration, where I finally said, “Screw it” – literally. Very few people who’ve ever been on AdultFriendFinder will admit to such, but you probably know someone who has. (And now you definitely do.) My thinking was pretty simple: perhaps if I start with people who are already willing to have sex with me, I’ll be able to find someone who is both willing to have sex with me and a nice person I want to spend time with out of bed.

AFF wasn’t my proudest dating moment for a number of reasons. (Sidebar: nonetheless, I’m quite thankful that the Lord, despite my active rebellion, led me on the site to the best dating relationship I’ve had, and eventually through that process back into my relationship with Him. God is good, all the time!) But beyond the moral rebellion, it also was the result of a growing frustration: the sense that, no matter what the site, no matter how I tried to present myself in my profile, being a black woman always meant my chances of even getting a first date were slim to none. (Let’s not even talk about being a black woman who’s not a virgin on a Christian site … that deserves its own rant.) And the fact that it worked – that I had to start with the sex to find someone who was willing to get to know me as a person – I don’t even know how to describe that BS.

In the times that I’ve been back online since that last relationship, my experience hasn’t gotten better. I’m still black; and neither aging nor becoming heavier over the years have improved my prospects. While I go back each time hopeful and fully engaged, the silence from the void of whatever site I happened to be on tends to swallow that hope fairly quickly. Contacts are still rare, and it takes an enormous amount of effort for me to generate one or two reasonable responses. Dates are none.

And that’s the thing that distinguishes my online experience from that of my other single friends, all of whom are white or lighter-skinned than I am, regardless of their age or weight: it would be one thing if I just wasn’t finding “THE one.” It’s another thing not to be able to find “ANY one interested in talking for a half hour to see if we might be interested in each other.” Dating can be crappy all around; feeling like you couldn’t date if you tried is a different level. And so, as much as it’s depressing to see it confirmed, this assessment from OK Cupid of the response rates for their users by race was also validating: finally, something that let me know that I haven’t just been making this stuff up for years and years; it’s not “just in my head.”

It’s worth noting at this point in my rant that I operate in a mostly white world, both online and offline. I grew up and went to school in predominantly white suburbs in Massachusetts and Virginia; I studied at predominantly white schools and went to work in the dismally white architecture and design field. It wasn’t until I went to grad school for public administration that I was in classes where I couldn’t count the number of black people in class on one hand (a welcome surprise!). When I went back to work in nonprofits, I enjoyed seeing more people of color in my workplaces – but they were almost all women. And I lived almost all my adult life in the white areas of the strongly racially segregated Boston metro region. Most of my friends come from work, school and volunteering in my community – which meant being the “only one in the room” more often than not; and even when I wasn’t, rarely being in the room with an available man of color.

And yes, that matters. I’m not friends with people who are overtly racist, because I don’t need that in my life. But that doesn’t mean that social and cultural manifestations of white supremacy and anti-blackness don’t shape how we view each other and what we’re attracted to. I haven’t seriously dated someone I met socially since the ’90s; a major motivator in going online in the first place was my recognition that I was not considered dateable in my social circle. No, no one came out and said to me at that time, “You can’t date any of these folks because you’re black” (although, yes, for the record, I’ve had the joy of having a white friend tell me it “just wouldn’t look right” if I dated a white boy we both knew). But you begin to notice who is tagged as a desirable dating partner within a community, and you sure as heck notice when it isn’t anyone like you. Your social circle is the #1 way to find a dating partner, and online dating has now become #2. For me, it turns out both are a bust.

This is where my frustration comes in. More than one person reading this is going to think, “She keeps saying that the problem is race, but maybe it’s just her, y’know? She’s kind of bitter and more than a little desperate and just might not be that attractive.” Even some of you who know me are probably thinking some portion of that. And it makes me want to scream, having people try to comfort me or advise me or admonish me by saying that this thing I’ve been dealing with in one form or another my whole life isn’t real and isn’t really affecting me. So I have to try and dig up some professionals who’ve written an article or done a study to prove that I’m not talking out of my ass, and that maybe dating really is different for black people in general and black women in particular.

No matter what, though, some people will think it’s just me and my attitude, and if I were only happier and more content and stopped “playing the race card” and also stopped caring about finding a partner the right person would magically appear. Even the main “expert” quoted in that article suggests at the end that black millenials should stay positive and “reject the heightened sense of racial sensitivity” that they may be experiencing. My response to that tends to be something unprintable. Racialized preferences in dating are not anywhere near the level of issues like police brutality, mass incarceration, or economic injustice in terms of their effect on black communities and the urgency of addressing them. But that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that my dating world is colorblind or that the effects of our society’s dating culture aren’t real and painful for me and others like me.

BTW, those two guys who’ve sought to date me since 2009? Both of them were black, and I didn’t meet either of them online. One I went on a date with, the other I didn’t; in neither case did I feel attracted to them. (If people want to argue that I’m then being too picky, I’d ask them to reconsider the underlying assumption that I’d better enter into a relationship with anyone who offers, because I’m a beggar and I can’t be a chooser. That’s also BS.) I’m hoping that living in an area with more black professional men will make it more possible for me to find dating partners, whether in person or online. That said, the apparent reality that I need to restrict myself to solely dating “within my race” – or offer sex up front to overcome racial preferences – remains one of those nagging personal reminders that “post-racial” and “colorblind” are figments of our societal imagination.

Follow-up: On Membership and Privilege

[I’ve been trying – very unsuccessfully – to stop paying attention to the Rachel Dolezal story. It has been very difficult, because it keeps popping up in my Facebook news feed, and then I see comments on my posts or other friend’s posts about the story that I feel compelled to respond to. I’ve heard critiques from friends aout how we shouldn’t be spending time talking about this stiry when there are other leaders of integrity whose stories could be getting told and other pressing issues to address; I can understand and respect that critique. At the same time, rather than trying to make myself feel bad about how I’m processing this, I’m going to go with my own flow, and explore the questions about it that I need to explore. This post is an exploration of one of those questions.]

I’ve seen a number of articles and posts about the question of whether race is/should be fluid, whether the idea of someone identifying as a different race should be equivalent to their identifying as a different gender, etc. Jelani Cobb’s article in the New Yorker is by far one of the most sophisticated and nuanced commentaries on the question that I’ve read, walking a pretty decent line in addressing both the problems with Dolezal’s racial identification and the problems of racial identification, period. Even so, I feel like he doesn’t quite touch on one aspect of this “fluidity of race” question that bothers me every time someone brings it up.

As I mentioned in my last post, race is very specifically a tool for the definition and maintenance of white privilege. This means that, as history has shown, race is indeed fluid – but only in that people who are white get the privilege of determining who else they let into their club, as well as how they label and treat everyone who isn’t a member. It’s not fluid in that I don’t get to pick and choose how I want to identify if I’m not a member of the club. And it’s important to note that Rachel Dolezal does have the privilege of white membership, which is why she gets to choose. (I’m not going to get into it in depth here, but yes, people with non-European ethnic heritage who are able to “pass” as white are also benefitting from white membership, which they obtain as a result of skin color privilege.)

As a result, Dolezal’s story ends up highlighting a fascinating double function of the “one-drop” rule: it can simultaneously be used to exclude anyone defined or perceived as non-white from white spaces, while also giving white people a way to crash non-white spaces whenever they decide they want to. [Update: I just read a fantastic article going into this point in more depth.] This is a critical dimension of racial oppression: never allowing people of color to have safe spaces. And it’s a demonstration of the power that comes along with privilege: white people can and vigorously do police their spaces to deny access to people of color, but the right of people of color to do the same is challenged and/or denied outright.

It’s not just around race that you see this. It happens when men cry “reverse sexism” at the existence of women’s college or gyms. It happens when the cultural artifacts of groups that have been marginalized get appropriated by dominant groups; whether it’s the vigorous defence of the right of the Washington football team to continue using its current name and logo despite how offensive it is to many Native Americans, or this example that I recently read about the appropriation of vogue culture from queer spaces. And you can find so many examples around race, from the modern “reverse racism” cry around wanting to pick leaders of color for orgnizations serving people of color to the violent destruction in the 19th and 20th centuries of black towns and black farm cooperatives in the South whenever they managed to create some semblance of residential or economic security. Whenever a group experiencing oppression seeks to create a space for its own self-preservation, healing and power building, the dominant group will use a variety of tools from infiltration to extermination to bust up those spaces.

While the right of resorting to violence to undermine spaces for people experiencing oppression is always retained, today’s most prominent tools tend to be more subtle: the language of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and cultural sharing. This article does a great job of explaining how that language gets used to reinforce oppression rather than dismantling it; I quote it at length here, but you should read the whole piece:

“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded. This is why you might see a group proudly promote itself as being more “open” and “inclusive” than a group which is intentionally exclusive to create a safer space for a specific marginalized group. This is because de jure segregation is so strongly associated with racism. Still, segregation is not racist in and of itself. It is racist depending on a history of white supremacy, depending on who is enforcing segregation, and depending on the material impact of said segregation.

While after a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, fighting for desegregation was obviously necessary, but that progress is not inherent to diversity and inclusion. They are only valuable insofar as they reduce a white stronghold on power … [For organizations providing space for and run by marginalized people], diversity and inclusion whitewash and undermine the very basis of their value for racial justice and feminism: providing access to resources, representation, and power to identity groups that lack them. Not only is “inclusivity” politically meaningless, but to frame the benefits of stronger representation of marginalized races, genders, etc. within “diversity” gravely strips the progress it provides of its power and political significance. There is then danger in uncritically advocating for—or even just discussing power dynamics in terms of—diversity or inclusivity.

Closed spaces for marginalized identities are essential … Any group, whether organized around a shared marginalized identity or not, will by-default be centered around the most powerful within that group. For example, cisgender white women will dominate women’s groups that aren’t run by or consciously centering trans women and women of color. A requirement for all groups to be fully open and inclusive invites the derailment and silencing of marginalized voices already pervasive in public spaces, preventing alternative spaces of relative safety from that to form.

And perhaps it is that distraction from discussing issues of power and privilege that is one of the things that bothers me most about the Dolezal story. I can already see how people are using it to bring up the “colorblind,” “we’re all one race” arguments that try to undercut focus on race-based inequities and injustices. We already have enough issues discussing power and privilege, or the need for reparations to address historical injustices, or the ongoing ways that organizations purporting to “serve” people of color replicate oppression through paternalism and suppression of the leadership of people of color. We already have too many white people and white-led organizations inflitrating or taking over safe spaces for people of color, in order to advance their own psychological and material benefit.

I believe that Rachel Dolezal – like so many white people and white-led organizations – was sincere in wanting to help communities of color, and I also believe that she did some good things while she was in her positions in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. At the same time, how one does these things matters, and oppression can’t be fought by sweeping issues of power and privilege under the rug. In an unusually breathtaking way, Dolezal was unwilling to confront and deal with the reality of her white privilege, and she carried and used that privilege in all the spaces she occupied while trying to serve. Her privilege helped her to dominate and become the center of those spaces. And that pattern, no matter how well-intentioned, must be named and disrupted.