An open letter to all “everyone is welcome regardless of race, sex, sexuality, political affiliation, etc” event organizers

Let’s set the scene. I wrote the following part of this post as an email to an event organizer and someone who tried to connect The Yarn Mission with said event coordinator. It, however, applies to many events floating around these days. The edited excerpt is followed by further discussion.

I have to say that this event is not something I would attend. I believe it misses the mark on inclusivity by compromising on values and anti-discrimination. The Yarn Mission builds inclusive spaces by being purposeful about the values that will be upheld in the space. This is the ONLY way to insure that all people can feel welcomed into the space. Inviting people regardless of their values and across the political spectrum especially in a time where we continue to see Black, indigenous and of color people publicly persecuted (legally and by executive order) for their skin color, religion, gender identity, and sexuality is shameful at best. I believe that these “unity over all” events suggests that race, sex, etc are barriers. Yet,race, sex, etc are NOT barriers. Racism, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, etc are barriers and through the “everyone is invited” framing you have done nothing to bar them from this event.
I hope you will not read this as an attempt to start a conversation about this, because I believe the information exists that should have alerted you that your event is more harmful in neglecting oppression and its relationship to things like politics than “uniting.” It is also available throughout The Yarn Mission’s website and social media posts. Moreover, this email encompasses the entire issue.

*I edited it for applicability to other similar events.

At the end of the email, I concluded that the organizer was welcome to talk with the organizer of our white affinity group (Jeanne) if she was truly ready to make progress and grow. I stressed that Jeanne sits at the intersection of multiple oppressions and that while she is patient with white people’s path to anti-oppression, her time and energy should not be wasted.

I believe that it is noteworthy that I am offended that anyone would think that we would be interested in this power-blind (neglects recognizing the power structures that underlie society) type of event. It makes me question our presentation.

I wish that this post was just to share this bit of enlightenment. Alas, no. Both recipients responded. Their responses suggested that they either did not read or accept parts of what I wrote. This was indicated largely by the fact that each acted entitled to my further involvement in their path to anti-oppression.

“How are we supposed to learn anything if CheyOnna — or other people of color — won’t talk to us?“

“I admit that I don’t know fully what you’re up to and what you’re for. And, by pushing me away I’m not going to get that either… I won’t get very far or be able to make any kind of difference if I do this in isolation however.”

(One day we will also discuss the ways that well-meaning white folks attempt to distance themselves from whiteness…)

This insistence on MY FREE EMOTIONAL LABOR, ENERGY, AND KNOWLEDGE for teaching how to be better white people is why I am angry. I am expending energy through this anger; yet, energy doesn’t disappear (science) so I am channeling it into this post. In the end, being the teacher I insist I do not need to be. However, if I build up my bibliography of responses to white nonsense I will be able to just link to myself in future instances right?

I am angry because the insistence that my labor and the labor of other folks of color overvalues white people’s place in liberation and places undue culpability onto us. First, if they don’t realize that this information exists… that none of this is new, they actually are NOT needed for liberation. I am not opposed to people learning. I am not opposed to the fact that people are beginning to learn VERY late. I am opposed to the fact that they came to class unprepared and still felt entitled to disregard parts of the lesson. (Yes, I am suggesting that my emailed response was a “class” and they both failed.) We will get free regardless of them. They are actually a liability. Second, whether or not they make it to this higher understanding they supposedly desire is absolutely not my responsibility or fault. If they are truly interested in liberation, they can be salty about my snub and continue to pursue their higher understanding in other ways (i.e. NOT using ME as a tool). If they decide not to they were NEVER going to make it.

For example, in response to my post about the women marches, a white woman (who had been a friend) private messaged me about how disheartening criticisms of white efforts by people of color are (note that she fumbled with how to refer to us). I recognize that white people believe that I should be their friend, their neighbor, their teacher… etc… that I should be nice, polite, patient, welcoming first and a Black Woman second. I will always be a Black Woman first. Always. I will never leave my identity at a door for the purpose of “unity.” I must live and die Black. I do not have to die nice. And while my skinfolk and folks from other marginalized groups are having their lives and liberty stolen, I refuse to expend my energy on anything else. Since, I do not believe that “well-meaning but unwilling to equip themselves” white folks are necessary for liberation, they do not warrant my never-ending efforts.

I actually feel guilty for the time I give to teaching because it sets a bad precedent which is burdensome for other Black Women and Femmes in particular. I also feel guilty because it repeatedly backfires. I attempted to reason with the white woman who was my friend for 30 minutes before she accused me of distorting her words and applying identities to her that she refused to accept. I restrained from responding as she berated me further after telling me to stop “attacking” her and as she proceeded to move her harassment to my cell phone. I know better but could not help to lament that I knew better. Why had I expected my Black Woman voice to get through to her? And now. I could have ignored this entire situation. However, I went out of my way to share some insight while making my boundaries clear. Those very boundaries were demanded removed for the sake of their understanding (as if it is essential to liberation). I should have expected this.

I recognize that white supremacy is a great beast and that I cannot blame myself completely. I take these instances as a time to recommit myself to my boundaries, which are essential for my self-care and our liberation.

The Yarn Mission is a wonderful thing; it does not exist to educate white people. It does and can but we knit for Black Liberation. The white affinity group (sign up to get looped in at http://eepurl.com/czKHv1) was formed so that Black women and femmes do not have to continue to field these attacks from white supremacy coated in good intentions and “I just want to do/be better.”

Power and Love,
CheyOnna