I am a Canadian woman and my parents are from the Caribbean. That means I am not African American and all I know about AAs is what I see in the media, what I have read online and offline, interactions with American relatives, and interactions with AAs online. I have never lived in the U.S. I do not live in a country where my people were enslaved and the slave masters’s relatives still reside. The worst things I have heard about racism and discrimination against Black people has come from the U.S. or some other country. I have had no problem dating interracially and never hesitated to do so. Almost all the media I consume that involves Black people is from the U.S. or the U.K. So with regards to many discussions of racism and the portrayal of Black women in the media, I am viewing these discussions as an outsider who doesn’t feel like the discussions are “about me” or very “relevant to my actual life”.
Due to the way I grew up no one needed to convince me it was okay to date interracially, that I should go to school and get a degree, that I can work, and that I should still value and seek to get married. Even though there were few Black faces on Canadian television and media I did not feel that being Black made me less attractive or desirable or that my life would turn out badly due to racism. I have never lived in “Blakistan” and have not faced the poverty that many AAs have written about. So, I was doing okay. But then I encountered the Black empowerment advocates (BE; e.g., Civil Rights, Black power, anti-racists etc. ), feminists, and BWE crowds and suddenly I was told that I was not doing okay, I was a mindless slave to “The Man” or “The Enemy”, and that I am constantly being insulted and assaulted on a daily basis without my knowledge! I didn’t realize the entire world hated me! Apparently, I was so brainwashed by the constant abuse that I had grown to like it, expect it, and be thankful for it!
Now after several years of private reading and interactions with the American BE, feminists, and BWE crowds and feeling like I was a suitable audience for their views I’m going to step back into my outsider shoes. I know that these groups are trying to help people and have been very helpful to people especially in the U.S.. No I have not read EVERYTHING these three groups have written and I haven’t taken courses because there are other better ways I think I should be spending my time to make my life better. I realize that there are some similarities between all three groups, that none of them need to be strictly followed by a Canadian woman like myself, and that I am actually “okay”. Today I wouldn’t say I identify with any of these groups, if they have a good idea I will accept it, but I will not blindly accept everything they say.
Here are the similarities among the three groups from my Canadian outsider perspective:
1) All three groups are American groups, started by Americans, meant for Americans with the expectations that the rest of the world follow their example. Neither BE, feminists, or BWE writers write from a Canadian or Caribbean point of view that reflects the differences between Canadian, Caribbean, and American environments. Just because something is important in the U.S. doesn’t mean that it is important for me as a Canadian simply because I am Black. I am not a “slave” or “brainwashed” because I think your views are extreme or unnecessary. Just like feminists ignore the Black perspective, BE and BWE writers ignore the non-American perspective. I don’t expect them to write from my perspective though and I’m not asking them to. I just want non-Americans to realize that their messages are not meant for you so use with caution. BE and BWE writers need to realize that just like U.S. dominates in terms of Black media, they also dominate in terms of online media and blogging. The world is watching, and you are being consumed by Black, Non-American women all over the world.
2) All three groups can be pretty extreme. For example, the groups often call for their audience to boycott or reject certain things in which many people participate or call for serious life changes. For example, rejecting all mainstream media, rejecting all White people and culture, seeing all men or White people as “The Enemy”, picking up and leaving your neighborhood, restricting what you buy and from whom, changing your appearance, choosing only certain careers, changing the way you date, breaking laws that are deemed unfair, constantly fighting and confronting people with more power than you, and never just being comfortable and going along with the crowd. They call for an overhaul or extreme changes in society that go against the power structures that already exist (not saying this is wrong, just stating what these groups are asking for). They want those in power to have less power, and those with less power to have more power and these may be extremely difficult changes to make. These changes may be very gradual or a limited number of people will succeed.
3) With these groups the work is never done, you are never doing enough, and you are never safe. There is always some new outrage, some new threat, or some reason why their audience can never just forget the cause and live their lives as they see fit. Leaving the cause and the fight is seen as being weak, brainwashed, accepting abuse and insult, and going against your own best interests instead of just not taking life so seriously and trying to enjoy what little time you have on earth. Nope, you must always be fighting and resisting whatever is easy for you because everything from the mainstream, men, or White culture is harmful. No it doesn’t matter if you don’t live in Blackistan, don’t let men impregnate and dump you, don’t be a mammy to others, you are educated, and you are open to dating anyone who is right for you, you have to reject more and do more!
4) They use insults and name calling to pressure you into agreement or submission. Certain names like mammy, slave, brainwashed, weak, follower, sheep, idiot, simple, broken and others are used to discredit and dismiss those who disagree or merely can not understand the advocate’s point of view. Yes I have been guilty of this at times and I will be careful not to do this anymore. This name calling makes people question their intelligence and free will so that they actually surrender their own decision-making to complete strangers in the advocacy groups! Instead of doing what they feel comfortable with, weighing the pros and cons, and deciding what is right for them, they are shamed into letting a group of strangers make life decisions for them!
5) They preach about not following the mainstream and being an independent thinker but expect you to do what the advocacy group says without discussion. You are told stop following one group (the mainstream) and instead follow another group (BE, feminism, or BWE). If you question them then you are just making excuses and are a mammy, slave, brainwashed, a follower etc. No solution is “one size fits all” and what is necessary or what works for some Black women will not work for all. In this case, what is necessary for a 22 year old, high school drop out, with a dead beat boyfriend, in Blakistan may not apply to a 30 year old, graduate student, with many job and dating prospects, living in a great neighborhood in Canada. People may disagree because their situation does not call for the extreme measures the group is asking for. People may also not be willing to make sacrifices for the group since they have been taught by these very groups to be independent and do what’s best for themselves. These advocates and writers are just individuals expressing their thoughts about how the world works and what they think will make things better. But like all humans, their reasoning is fallible and should not be taken as proven fact that will work for everyone.
6) The groups mock those who hope the mainstream will change but encourage their audience to hope that individuals will change. They say the mainstream and power structures are too strong to change yet they are proposing ways to change the mainstream. Or they are proposing alternatives that may satisfy the individual but won’t change the mainstream. But one has to rely on hope that these alternatives will succeed because they have not been proven yet. These groups have to hope that people will choose their alternative instead of the mainstream that may be more easily accessible and accepted by others. This is the case of hope that the mainstream will treat Black people, women, and Black women better versus, hope that Black people, women, and Black women will find ways to improve their lives despite the mainstream. I think that the mainstream, Black people, and women have changed a great deal over the years so it is possible that they all will improve but in any case, nothing is for certain.
I was never a part of the BWE blogging group but I used to write giving advice to Black women about how to improve their lives. I’ve stopped. Some people thought it was condescending and didn’t like the “tone” of my writing. Some did not like the advice or thought it was unnecessary. Some did not like that I chose certain behaviours and people to demonstrate negative behaviours. I’ve decided there there is enough advice out there for people to improve their lives so they don’t need me. I’m not trying to save everyone anymore (not that that was even possible) and people will have to save themselves with whatever resources they have. I will simply lead by example. Think for yourself, take the advice you are given with a grain of salt, use what you can and discard the rest, don’t let anyone bully or shame you into doing something that isn’t better for you, don’t be shamed or bullied into following any group whether its BE, BWE, or feminists, and collect information and ideas from many sources and then make informed decisions. That’s my final piece of advice 🙂