In an ongoing effort to elevate Black voices and provide allyship resources, José González hosted a conversation with Dr. Carolyn Finney, Faith E. Briggs, Teresa Baker, and CJ Goulding to discuss allyship, Black Joy, Presence, and other themes.
As we move in these times with hurt and an increasing awareness of the brokenness and injustices around us, especially that of police brutality and anti-Blackness, it can be challenging to hold the space of perpendicular emotions, a space of pain that also includes a space to support Black Joy – a space of multitudes for the spectrum of Black Identity, Black Presence, and Black Leadership.
In this, I had the joy to be in conversation with some peers, colleagues, and friends I admire.
I consider them all talented teachers from whom to learn, and I am grateful for the time, energy, and spirit they offer to us, so that we can be aligned with working together on these ideas of collective liberation – one where Black Liberation is key.
You can listen to a full video and audio recording of our session HERE.
Following are some distillations and formulations from that conversation, which in itself is merely a sampling of the ideation that unfolds from their hearts and minds.
In discussing how the panelists are being in the space at the moment, how they view leadership and action for this time, as well as how they care for themselves and others, some key learnings are offered that are applicable for practicing allyship, sitting and learning with discomfort, and especially what can demonstrate change, action, and trust-building from White leadership.
To start, in being and then moving with this moment, there is a recognition of the reality and challenge of balancing between that which drains and that which energizes. This is a space that can be depressing and exhausting, while still including a hopeful energy if it means more people are willing and able to listen and act.
Teresa noted how “it’s hard, but this is also where we need to be. Change can exist in chaos.”
Faith stressed the point of recognizing the moment within a context of longer work, “I’ve been constantly trying to advocate for our freedom and equity and NOW you want to listen? So what do you think I’ve been doing? I’ve already been giving all this before. So, I’m glad you’re here, but this is hard work – it’s not a post, not a hashtag, not a black square. I’ve had to prove it’s real, now you need to prove you’re here for it.”
Carolyn added that “it’s weird to feel…beyond sad about something and excited, though that’s not the right word. Suddenly we want to be amplified, and heard…but how long is it going to last? I don’t want to TEMPER things any more.”
This was also a reminder to not view or treat Black identity and community as a monolith, especially as some things are moving relatively quickly. As CJ noted, “many things are happening quickly in a small time frame. The pandemic highlighted inequities that already existed, cracks that were already in the system and now people are home with a different sense of time, with information available at quicker speeds. Sometimes things are moving so fast that I need time to step out too and see how I can be helpful in this space, because the fire is burning and we’re here to stoke it in a healthy way and in a right direction.”
Such reflection is important since as Carolyn noted, “on one hand we need to have action, but action without thought and vision is dangerous. I’m cautious about who’s just coming on board and calling for action. I’m asking ‘what type of action? What frameworks are you using?’
My intent is to recreate something good, not recreate something that is going to cause harm down the line, especially because the issues underlying this ain’t going away in a month.”
The question of what wells we draw upon, the foundations we build on, and what frameworks we use matters not just in recognizing leadership of past and present, but also in opening up the imagination of the future. CJ and Faith noted how important it is to know one’s history and the intellectual and community thought leadership so that we “don’t have to come up with new words if not necessary, but apply them to where it is happening today. Folks have been through this – I’m going to see how I carry that baton.”
Teresa notes it with a simplicity of “everything is pushing me forward and encouraging me onward. No matter what, I live in debt to those that came before me and with an obligation to those that will come after.”
Faith noted how it’s personal with a bi-racial family. “What’s happening now is what’s been happening in me all of my life – I understand what the goal can look like, despite how heavy it is.”
Carolyn reminded us of the power we hold in the future we envision, especially as she said that as much as she draws strength and vision from the Ancestors and Black leadership, she’s also inspired by the power of science fiction, noting “we’re making up s*#t all the time, we dream it up and then make it real. So why can’t we change this?”
I admit that as a nerd in my own capacity, I’ve wondered about the potential of how we manifest that. That we can drive a lot of imagination and realization into not just actual space technology but also that dreamt by science fiction narrative. How easy is it to dream up a warp engine but not a just justice system? A rebellion against a galactic Empire, but struggle with how that looks like in our city streets?
Still, even as some things may take time, the call for action is now. As Teresa stated, “this needs to move from ‘Black Lives Matter’ to actual change in mission statements, in boards – I need to see where you really show you love Black America.” Carolyn added, “I want to see your budget line for it.”
This matters because it’s a common extractive and oppressive narrative and structure that White people need to face and account for, one that “loves Black culture but not Black people.” As Faith noted, “I want you to say Black Lives Matter and then back it up. I’m tired of people tiptoeing around it — and not say Black. You can’t watch Black entertainment and say that equates to loving Black America. We’ve been used and put on display, but not in the budget lines or part of the decision-making.”
CJ stressed the point of ensuring that this does not become or stay performative, especially as the line for what counts as change is moving. Actions such as kneeling matter, but they mattered before and were dismissed and ignored. So showing that now at best just shows that you need to catch up. As CJ noted, “you’re late to the kneeling party. I want you to do the things that your job allows you to have influence over.” This applies to elected officials who can change policy and direct funding accordingly. This applies to executives who hold power over resources and hiring practices.
This comes with a recognition that “it ain’t going to be pretty,” and that’s okay. It’s a recognition that discomfort is part of the process because ignoring it has been part of the problem. As Carolyn stated, “don’t conflate hate with hurt, pain, and loss. Black people get upset and it’s about hate?
The whole White Supremacy structure has to change – some tables have to be destroyed – if you really want to see something different you’re going to have to give it up, because we’ve been giving it up for 400 years, and for me, I still got you, because if I see you do that, then for me it’s a process of trust.”
Faith and Teresa commented on the idea of being slow or paralyzed to action because of a need to “polish the message.” As Faith noted, “people have to be willing to take the message when it’s not polished, it looks angry because it’s hurting, it’s pain. I don’t want people to come to me because I’m making the message of pain and hurt more palatable. You have to learn it from all the different ways we’re putting it out there.” Teresa added “we’re delivering our imperfect selves. They want the work to be pretty, to be polished to be perfect. That you can only act when it’s perfect to do so, but it’s not.”
This further stresses the point of being able to sit, move, and act with discomfort, especially when facing hard truths. One such example is the sociocultural infrastructure of White Supremacy. Carolyn and Faith note how “managing perfection is one of the cornerstones of White Supremacy.” And yet, Faith notes, “people hear White Supremacy and they freak out. And yet what they ARE doing is managing perception – that very cornerstone…But also when are you going to say ‘I’m too tired,’ or it matters too much, to manage perceptions. This is about people, so making it about people is more important than managing self perceptions.”
Carolyn sums up an important point, especially in paying attention where respective work lies. Some people are hesitant to use the term “White ally” if it obscures the fact of where certain accountability lies. It’s a reminder of the work that White people as a community at large need to undertake and account for. As Carolyn notes: “you (White people) have to break it, ain’t nothing about it going to be pretty or comfortable, and we can help you. You have to be able to take the mallet. We can’t do it for you. Well, we could, but if we do, it doesn’t get us farther and you’re likely to blame us for it.”
In discussing how they view coming into their leadership and how that fits in relations to others, one takeaway from the group for me was the value of keeping the big picture in mind while practicing awareness of one’s development and value within that picture.
In addition to “doing what Teresa tells me to do,” CJ used a hiking metaphor, where “in setting out on a trail, you have to account for what your destination is and where you’re heading. So see the bigger picture, with awareness of myself – I’m not going to accomplish what I set out to accomplish if I put myself in the wrong position. That takes work, to understand yourself, understand the bigger picture, and how others fit into that process.”
Faith and Carolyn further added about the value and role of being connectors. “It’s good to ask what our roles can be, as well as who we can connect to shine in those moments. How can I extend it to others? I want to keep the gratitude and expansiveness of it.”
Faith also noted how “roles can also help us with boundaries so we don’t stop on exhaustion. (Using a hiking and running metaphor) At mile 10 you become a liability and someone has to come rescue you if you didn’t plan and prepare for it. Also, don’t apologize for your pace – when I’m running I can’t apologize for not being at someone else’s pace, don’t sell yourself short, but do what you can.”
Lastly, speaking of exhaustion, we closed with thoughts on rest and restoration. As the Nap Ministry reminds us, “rest allows space to invent” and “rest is a form of Resistance,” thus the value of it in this work.
Teresa, ever the outdoors and nature evangelist, notes how “heading out to the redwoods” is her space of rest, especially enjoying being still in the moment and to help with “not rushing to respond to someone because I’m expected to.” She also draws restoration from her 10-year old niece.
Faith echoes the need for pause “when everything feels urgent.” She draws rest and restoration from listening. That can be listening to podcasts but also listening to herself, in the form of meditation, of taking the time to think, and “being kind to herself.”
Carolyn, given her demanding schedule prior to the pandemic, noted how the current moment, as trying and triggering as it has been, has also provided a point of reflection on rest, compared to relaxing. “Rest and restoration, sometimes I forget – but I’ve been able to take a moment and put my hands in a flower pot…People were telling me ‘you look great’ and I would ask myself ‘why do people say that?’ Ah it’s because it’s the first time I’ve looked rested, compared to before. I can relax, but actual rest?”
CJ, always with a community perspective, noted “this conversation for me is restoration. A reminder that the burden is not on myself alone. As a result of that I have more energy to continue.”
That indeed is a good reminder that self care is not always an individual effort, and in many ways how self care is community care.
As we continue on this journey, moving with pain, hope, energy, and a dose of radical imagination, I found the words and thoughts of my esteemed colleagues purposeful and inspiring.
But it was also their presence and their ability to model and practice holding space for and with each other was instructive. Not merely in any reductive examination of process, but I think in grounding us in fundamental questions of this time. What does it mean to receive with gratitude the feedback of our Black friends, peers, colleagues, and community members. To practice seeing the multifaceted gifts they offer that challenge a dominant reductive narrative?
To me, there is much there that is offered and gifted, with purpose and love, if we are willing to listen.
Lastly, as a quick little playlist. Here are some songs that are fueling the group: