If you are black and question a popular or dominant white cultural narrative (dominant by admission or omission, explicitly or implicitly), then you are deemed wrong and ostracized without a thorough examination of the merit to your critique. (see here.)
During and immediately after the 2016 election, I pledged to be more vocal about what I thought was a confirmation via the vote of the worst racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and other phobic impulses and narratives in our country. I pledged to not sit idly by anymore in the face of such outright and explicit instances of bigotry and discrimination. I pledged to be more courageous about calling out what I felt in my head and heart was contrary to ethos of my community and my country.
I changed my email signature to include, “Love & Struggle”. I started being more active in my statements of disgust of some of the things occurring in our country on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. I was different. I was no longer, solely, the “middle-of-the-road” executive director, the “happy-go-lucky” community leader, the acquiescing-type integrationist that many had come to know me as in this community. I was bolder… more courageous… more affirmative in my demand for inclusion regardless of who that ran contrary to. What follows is one experience, my experience, that sums up what happens when you challenge a dominant white narrative while being black.
“Bukata… I have gotten a couple of calls about you and the nature of your personal social media posts.” – One of my Non-Profit Board Member
“Bukata… Someone who wanted me to talk with you about what you have been posting on social media.” – Former College Basketball Coach
“Bukata… Are you part of Black Lives Matter? I have been told that you are by your social media posts.” – Employee with City Government
“Bukata… I heard you don’t like white people? Someone told me you posted that on social media.” – Community Member
“Bukata… Can you present to my group? But I hear there have been some issues with the nature of your social media posts.” – Employee of County Government
“Bukata… We have a Board Member who does not want you to do the racial justice training because you retweeted some racial stuff.” – Employee and Board Director with Economic Development Entity
“Bukata… I just got a call from a friend and said someone with our economic development entity is calling you divisive.” – Close Friend
The above questions/statements/comments have been a steady cascade since the 2016 election. All of these assertions relayed to me emanate from one source… one influential white “young guard” businessman. What popular and dominant white cultural narrative was I speaking against that caused this white influential “young guard” businessman to start badmouthing me around the community and informing others to not work with me?
Throughout the 2016 election, many, in the media and in my community, were hesitant to declare what Donald Trump was doing or saying as “racist”. There were numerous attempts at characterizing what he was saying or doing as unkind, ill-informed or insensitive but never flat-out racist (or sexist or homophobic or ableist and so on) as it should have been. I didn’t provide such cover for these incidents and instances that I believed (knew in my heart) were racist, I spoke up… in person and on social media. That outspokenness in tandem with being black in a predominantly white community like Mankato brings you in to conflict with a community that oftentimes is part and parcel in forming the dominant cultural narrative (Trump wasn’t racist but maybe insensitive, rude, mean, etc) by admission or omission.
Side Note: A narrative becomes dominant when it is confirmed, reaffirmed and reinforced through explicit statements by a majority of a community OR by the absence of objections, challenges, and critiques by a majority of that same community. Dr. King once said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. This silence of our friends that Dr. King spoke to is what I believe occurred here in Mankato and across the country. The reluctance to call Trump’s actions racist was the equivalent of being silent. This silence was interpreted as compliance. This compliance deemed many in my community as complicit in allowing a dominant narrative to form that Trump was not racist but rude, mean, a jerk, etc.
There were three tweets (two below) I personally liked that were deemed professionally disqualifying to conduct a racial justice training with an economic development entity’s board because one board member, this same white influential “young guard” businessman, thought my calling out Trump’s racism and those who were supporting said racism was racist. He stated that I couldn’t be effective in a racial justice training because by liking those three tweets I had clearly shown that I was unable to facilitate the training inclusively. I was being painted as wrong for pointing out the ways racism was peddled and present in Trump’s campaign rather than actually examining the ways racism was peddled and present in Trump’s campaign.
The dominant white cultural narrative in my community was that Trump wasn’t being racist and I challenged that narrative by stating my observations and interpretations explicitly via Twitter (and Facebook).
I had to meet with the president and board director of this economic development entity to discuss a possible resolution to this matter. I offered to meet with this disgruntled board member to assure him that I could effectively and inclusively facilitate the racial justice training. I was asked to submit in writing my rebuttal to this board member’s claims in the event a face-to-face meeting would not be possible due to the small amount lead time before the training and/or the board member would refuse to meet with me. The latter was the outcome.
Below find my rebuttal email sent to the president of the economic development entity whose board member brought the accusations against me. (Some portions have been changed to protect the identities of individuals and organizations. These portions are bolded.):
“I have not heard back regarding a face-to-face meeting with your Board member who has issues with three of my tweets. Due to that, please find my response to your Board member’s objections to me continuing with the racial justice training to your Boards. I would like my comments to be shared with Board members in the instance that this matter is discussed at the Board level prior to or without a face-to-face meeting between the upset Board member and myself.
First and foremost, I have never let my personal feelings or beliefs (which the referenced tweets are) interfere, disrupt or taint any of my hundreds of presentations/facilitations with the tens of thousands of people I have worked with in my 13 years as a non-profit leader. There is not one instance of this occurring. I have built a reputation of fostering a safe space for open and honest dialogue directed by the participants in my presentations/workshops with countless other community businesses and organizations. The assertion that I can not keep my personal beliefs out of my professional dealings is truthfully unfounded, hurtful and damaging to the confirmed reputation I have worked extremely hard to build over my 13 years at my non-profit.
To the matter of the tweets…
As context, please understand that the three tweets in question are three of the approximately 20,000 “tweets/retweets” and approximately 22,000 “likes” that I currently have on my Twitter account. My reason for mentioning this is that my overall “tweeting” speaks more to my twitter “character” than the three tweets referenced by this Board member.
Please find attached 5 screen shots. Three screen shots are of searches on my twitter account regarding the tweets one of your Board members has issues with. You can see the three searches for “Watch Whiteness Work, Yall” on/around December 31, 2017 , “If you still support Donald Trump, you’re racist, period.” on/around January 12, 2018 and “someone tell this bitch to meet me outside” on/around February 17, 2018 returned no matches. This means that twitter’s search engine could not find such tweets belonging to my account or tweeted by my account. So my issue is that it seems as though I didn’t retweet these things as I have been accused of. I may have “liked” but I couldn’t find actual “retweets”. I have requested my entire twitter history to further look into to this.
Two of the screen shots are of the actual tweets the person accuses me of retweeting. Please notice that none of these tweets are my creation. I did not pen these tweets. Also please notice the tweet from Ellen Pompeo that states “someone please tell this bitch to meet me outside” is from one white woman to another white woman. I do think of note, two of the tweets are political in nature as well as racial. The “If you still support Donald Trump, you’re racist, period.” on/around January 12, 2018 and “someone tell this bitch to meet me outside” on/around February 17, 2018 are political in nature as much, if not more than they are racial. So I feel like this Board member has selected these tweets for more than its racial undertones and is using that as the basis for calling my objectiveness in leading a racial training into question. I have not been able to find the “Watch Whiteness Work, Yall” on/around December 31, 2017 so I can not speak to if this tweet also contained political commentary as well as racial tones.
I would still rather sit face-to-face with this Board member than to have this read before the Board. I would also say that I have been approached by two other leaders in the community, one with ties to your Board, about this matter. So my concern is that this Board member is telling other people about this issue and bringing my character and reputation into question unfairly and unnecessarily. I would really appreciate it, if at all possible, this stayed a closed circle conversation until all the concerns and issues were resolved.
A face-to-face was never had with this disgruntled Board member nor was any formal closure ever brought to this situation. The racial justice training never happened. Instead, a generic diversity session was attended by board members of this organization when a visiting white author who writes on diversity and inclusion presented in the community.
I share the email above to underpin a consistent narrative and lived experience of being black in a predominantly white community… “it takes one accusation from an accomplished white person to obliterate the established impact and verified reputation of someone black”. This is not solely my experience but the experience of countless black folks (numerous people of color, truthfully) who work hard to benefit their community, both personally and professionally, only to have all of that undone by one unverified insinuation from an established white “old guard” or in my case an ambitious white “new guard”.
My reflection on this situation: It is TRUE that if you are black and question a popular or dominant white cultural narrative then you are deemed wrong. I have also learned that the same people who were silent (complicit) in helping to form this dominant white cultural narrative will be silent (complicit) in your undoing for trying to disrupt and interrupt it.
Update: The president and board chair told me that this was not a matter for this economic development entity to intervene in or assist in rectifying. I was told to try other channels to try and address this i.e. talk with, take this matter up with, this influential white businessman’s companies he owns and operates. Remember they deemed it an organizational matter to intervene in when they approached me about my tweets, this board member’s issues with them and its, his issues, impact on going through with the racial justice training. But when it comes to the matter of them redressing this situation with him and telling him to relent, they decided to basically “wash their hands” of this matter and not deal with this board member’s behavior and false accusations. Yet another example of being complicit by one’s silence in allowing a dominant narrative to take root when we refuse to challenge white narrative or actions.