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Being Black in white Spaces, part 1.

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

A few days after a conference in Boone, Iowa, I’ve struggled to understand how white people can continue to invite Black people and people of color into spaces where they really aren’t welcomed.

These outwardly "progressive" spaces are filled with microaggressions, "I have a Black friend" and a million "I'm so happy you're here(s)." For me, this looks like microaggressions at the volunteer table, where I am the only Black person in sight. It is filled with stories of white women “genuinely stating” to her sons WOC girlfriend that the term negro was once an acceptable term and her being offended that she was offended. It looks like living in the same quarters as a Black person and not recognizing them every day. It looks like leading sessions based on racial inequality and progressiveness but being led by white faces and never really touching the topic of race. These progressive spaces look like placing Indigenous people in cabins named "crazy horse." Crazy right? 🥴

How do white people possess the power to occupy spaces to discuss issues of gun violence, climate change, of intersectionality, of inclusiveness but have no Black people or people of color leading these discussions. It looks like white girl tears and white guilt when you’re held accountable for your actions, your words, and the trauma that you have inflicted on Black and Brown bodies in a space that you brought us to.

White people must do better. They must educate themselves, through reading, through physical experiences, through actually having more than one Queer friend, more than one Black friend, more than one disabled friend, and attending more than just the women’s march or the joke that is the march for their lives.

If you really care and appreciate the lives that are Black and Brown people, it looks like including us in the planning sessions, it looks like making genuine and authentic connections (shoutout to Shanise). Making an inclusive space before adding the diversity. It looks like calling out your white friend for saying that weird ass comment, or appropriating other cultures because it’s trendy.

After I introduced myself for a second time, an older white woman asked me was I glad that I came. And I’m not so sure. While I believe that Black and Brown people should be in white spaces, as a means of access and opportunity, I do not believe that it is our responsibility to in fact educate the masses. I do not believe that it is our responsibility to be super vulnerable in every space. I don’t think that we should have to be the person to answer all white people's questions about Black life and experience. I do not think that Black people have to share their trauma to gain white guilt and white sympathy.

I do believe in having crucial conversations. I believe in accountability and in discussing language. I believe that if we are to truly build intersectional and inter-generational spaces and movements that we must do more than meet quotas. And while the picture might look great, it means actually breaking down the issues within your own groups and orgs and communities and processing through them. It looks like collective healing. It looks like hiring more than one Black person, asking if I’m ok, if you can come into my space, or if I need time off.

For me, my activism isn’t performative. My activism is simply just me trying to be. Trying to be Black, to be a woman, to be loved, to be heard, to be seen, and to be represented.

I believe that people should sign themselves up for trainings, visit historical sites and landmarks where Black and Brown bodies have been devalued, destroyed and displaced. It’s not up to Black people to dismantle the monster that is white supremacy. It’s up to whites to put their bodies on the line, to show up for Black and Brown people, to give their money to Black and Brown people.

White folks, I’m sick of your shit. I’m sick of you not being held accountable. I’m sick of your white fragility and your white tears. I’m sick of your progressiveness being an excuse as to why "you're not a racist."

To my people of color, I stand with you. I will always fight for you. You are seen, you are heard, you are loved, and you are valued.

Until Justice Is Real,

Teryn Denae

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