Today, we are going to tackle the issue of relational aggression. I know that this is something that we all face from time to time. At Beyond Black and White, we get quite a few questions on how to get along with women of other races, particularly white women. While I am no expert in this situation by any means, I thought I would add my two cents. This case study will really put things into perspective. Last weekend, I happened upon a tweet that intrigued me. The thread was rather wild. The main people in the story are Ayanna Mill and Brianna Williams, who share an apartment. They are black and white respectively. (Yes, this matters. Please see the starting tweet below.)
My White Roommate Called the Cops on Me Because I Put The Heat on 72 Degrees: A Thread— Ayanna M. (@ayannamnmill) November 9, 2019
I am not going to source each tweet made by the OP (original poster) and fellow participants, as this series of Tweets is a thread. (Threads link the tweets together, so they flow like a text conversation. Once you click on the link to the original tweet, you can scroll down to see the replies.) I am also going to write temperatures in Fahrenheit, followed by Celsius. (For the life of me, I cannot understand why the United States, as advanced as it is, remains one of the two countries that uses Fahrenheit …but I digress.) Feel free to read through the entire Twitter thread here.
That was a lot of reading. For those of you would rather read the paragraphs, here it goes. Ayanna was sick. The outside temperature was in the 30s – 40s Fahrenheit (about 0-10 degrees Celsius) and the inside of the apartment was about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 degrees Celsius. She decided to turn up the heat to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, then 74 degrees (roughly 22-23 degrees Celsius). Brianna, her white roommate, turned off the heat and sent a message to everyone to discuss the issue.
While she could have just approached Ayanna, it was a topic that affected everyone, so I cannot fault her there. I noticed that Ayanna had a problem with Brianna turning off the heat without asking her, but had no problem turning the heat on without asking everyone. Fair is fair. Also, I wonder – was this ever a discussion point between them? There should have been clear boundaries established from the get-go: Who can touch the thermostat? What range is acceptable? What hours should the heat be on?
Points to both of them for at least coming together to discuss the issue. We have two perspectives. Brianna seems to be unable to afford the use of the heat before a certain time, and disguises/couples it as/with a concern for the environment. She also has a space heater that warms her own room. Ayanna explains that she is sick, her room gets super cold and that personal space heaters are a fire hazard.
(Now, someone I know has a serious iron deficiency and lives in an apartment. If she had to rely on those around her to regulate the general apartment temperature, she would be on Worldstar. The space heater suits her just fine. However, I completely understand the concern over fire hazards. In a professional setting, I have experienced many instances where I am about to comment about how cold I am, when a white associate of mine will start saying that they are too hot and want to adjust the temperature lower. To combat this, I have a heater in closed spaces, like my office, and wear sweaters around the office, much to the amusement of some of my white colleagues.)
I do have to apply fault to both ladies in one thing. I noticed is that they had a set temperature that warranted the use of air conditioning, but not heat. At least they are starting to address it now. Ayanna wants the heat to kick in at 72-74 degrees Fahrenheit (22-23 degrees Celsius), but Brianna has yet to provide a temperature that she is comfortable with. All she states is that the heat shouldn’t go on until it snows. I think this is where Brianna starts to go wrong. As a Canadian, I am well aware of winter weather. Actually, I find it warmer when snow is on the ground during winter, that when it is not. Snow on the ground is not an indication of the cold. That is why we have temperatures and thermostats. If you make a request of someone, you should have reasonable terms. It seems that Brianna just wants the heat off, and is not working to compromise on a specific temperature to warrant the heat. I have not seen her offer a specific range herself.
In other text message screenshots, you can start to see that Brianna is not really listening in the conversation. She continues to explain (in a condescending way) how heat can be wasted, when Ayanna explained how she does not waste heat (self-regulation and turning it off when leaving). I am not sure about the tone surrounding that cough drops comment, but it seems rather snarky, like, hurry up and get better so you can stop messing with the temperature.
As I continue to read, it seems to me that Brianna’s real issue is cost. She cannot afford to pay for the new heating bill, so she continues to push for it to be turned off. She even makes a bid for a lower portion of the heating bill, if the heat stays on. In an indirect way, she is asking her roommates to accommodate her financial situation, without a clear explanation. Had she chosen to appeal to their emotions, and been vulnerable about her situation, she might have gotten what she needed. Ayanna makes a good point regarding Brianna’s personal heater, and the heat bill breakdown. It is not fair for Brianna to increase the electric bill with her space heater, with no attempts to pay for it, but ask for everyone else to cover the extra heating costs, as she doesn’t use it. In addition, the gas bills are calculated by the use of the stove, oven, water and heat. If she really wanted to save money, she would need to use each of these products less.
However, the delivery was awful. In Ayanna’s defense, I often express myself this way too. However, hearing someone else say the same thing I would, helps me to really look at communication more objectively. Who on earth says, “I oppose” outside of a courtroom or a debate? That wording really gives you a hostile tone, even if you didn’t mean the comment that way. Stating that bills are not high to begin with misses the point. Yes, the bills may not be high, but Brianna is saying that the bills are too high for her.
Honestly, this is where I tend to go wrong in the situation too, if I am honest. I get so concerned with being right, that I don’t think about a long game strategy. Relationship, not rightness, is key. These days, I am learning that even if someone else is wrong, working with them where they are at can earn you some social capital. It is possible that if Ayanna had made this concession, she wouldn’t be in this situation today.
That said, Brianna needs to grow up. If you cannot afford to live on your own, stay with family or with a friend. Ayanna is not running a charity. Based on this conversation, you are roommates, not friends. You could have offered something in return, like help with cleaning, cooking, tutoring – something to make this concession worth Ayanna’s while. At this point, the entitlement is a bit galling.
As an aside, I’m actually quite surprised that this story didn’t blowing up with a nickname attached, like BBQ Becky last summer. Brianna is hereby renamed, “Heater Holly.” *drops gavel* It is so ordered. This article is getting to be too long, and I haven’t even finished going through the thread. Until part two, ladies and gents!
Note: Since I wrote this post back in November, Christelyn has created an amazing course on Relational Aggression. As black women, we are often taught to be very blunt and direct in our communications, which Ayanna tried to employ here. However, Brianna has been taught to communiate and express herself in a different way, one that helps her to play a more long game strategy. Find out more about how ladies of other groups communite differently, how to speak their language and play the long game. Check out the Relational Aggression Course today!
Note Two: Twitter screenshots and images within posts are provided for entertainment value only. This is not a license to harass anyone depicted.
Note Three: If you see something on Twitter, and you would like our take, send us a screenshot or tag us in a comment. Our Twitter handle is @BeyondBandW.