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Roller Coaster

Let’s Get Off This Ride and Get Justice

A few days after Eric Garner’s killers were not indicted in New York City, a very big Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand sent an email.

She knew we were grieving injustice, she wrote, and she had something that could help us transform our pain into change.

And I felt hope rising in me.

Finally, one of leaders I so dearly loved, who’d been so important in my personal development and my business, was showing up.

***
The year before, when I was doing some pro-bono writing work for a social justice media project, I was asked to interview two mothers, Collette Flanagan and Tressa Sherrod. They had something terrible in common: their young black sons had been killed by police.

They cried as they told me who their sons were. About their births. What what kind of babies and toddlers they were. How loved they were. Who their friends were. How generous they were. The way they walked in the world. How they loved their families. Their hopes for their futures.

I tried to be a vessel and write their stories — the stories of their beloved sons, lost — so that the humanity and ordinariness of Clinton Allen and John Crawford III didn’t get lost.

***
I didn’t tell you how I felt about these calls because.

Because I don’t even want to finish that sentence.

***
I didn’t lose my child. It’s not about me.

But oh my god, I fear.

This is my worst fear for my own children.

My partner and our five children are black. Because of my beloved family, I have a ringside seat for some of the daily, ordinary, racist shit black people go through in this world.

When my husband sits in the car beside the soccer field with our five year old, watching our teenager play, and the white woman in the car beside him who is watching her son play too calls the police on him because he looks suspicious, I have a ringside seat.

When another time a police officer pulls my children’s father over for no earthly reason and he asks, “Is there a problem, officer?”, and the officer says, “Maybe”, I have a ringside seat.

Maybe? MAYBE?

(There was no reason ever given. And no ticket.)

I have a ringside seat for The Talk — when my husband teaches our teenage son what to do with his hands when – when, not if — he gets pulled over by police. This was the driving lesson before driving lessons began.

(No one ever needed to explicitly teach me how not to give police officers an excuse to shoot me.)

I was at my daughter’s school five times in one year because a child was calling her the N word. Five times.

I’m not even telling you this affected her, because.

Because I don’t want to finish that sentence.

I don’t even want to finish this list, either. Let’s leave it at this: the stuff I just told you was the most innocuous stuff.

It doesn’t happen to me, but I witness it. I have a ringside seat for the daily, deliberately dehumanization and cruelty.

It’s not a rarity. It’s not an exception. It’s the norm.

So when when I see videos of black people being murdered by police officers and vigilantes, I see my husband and my children.

I see the millions of little deaths my little family experiences — and survives — every day and the energy it takes them to stay buoyant.

I see the way that these everyday, normalized little deaths are one side of the spectrum that ultimately ends in murder. With impunity.

***
So when I saw that email from that changemaker I cared so much abouthope.

Imagine. Imagine if she uses her huge reach, her significant platform, and her influence with the people who follow her and love her to contribute to the movement to end white supremacy and police brutality…

Using what she has, she could help create such an amazing impact.

***
All of us: every little bit counts. We all can use whatever we have.

I admit, I’m not Generation X or Y. I’m Generation O, for Oprah.

Oprah says use your life and I take it to heart.

I truly believe in using your life.

And I thought this changemaker was going to to do that. I thought she was using one of her most important resources — her email list and her online platform — to make an impact.

***
Her email said, roughly, with all the injustice in the world, how do we transform pain into compassion?

This is six days after the lack of indictment for Eric Garner’s death. She lives in New York. There have been waves of protests. She must know what’s going on.

She says as much. She says, in her email, that like us, she watches the news and her mind is boggled. She knows we’re all in pain.

And this video might help us transform our pain into something productive.

This is what my heart has been hungry for from this world changer.

So I clicked through.

***
She had recorded a video for us. It started with her lip syncing Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass while getting her make-up touched up.

Then she reads a question from an audience member. Roughly, the viewer says, I work with this really negative coworker, and it just completely transforms my mood. It makes me feel really outraged, and how do I cope with this coworker and transform these bad moods into something else? How do I get over this?

Then the worldchanger I love so dearly — I meant that, I’m not being sarcastic — suggests the Buddhist practice of Tonglen to transform your mood.

That was it.

That was the video addressing our pain at injustice.
That was the video responding to black death.

That was her contribution.

And then, under the video, she left instructions warning us not to get political in the comments.

***
I was physically shaking.

A man was murdered for selling cigarettes, there were no indictments, and there are protests in the city you live in…and this is the best you can do?

You speak to hundreds of thousands of people about growth and empowerment and taking massive personal action to create change and this is the best you can do?

She offered a video made months ago about feeling better with grumpy co-workers.

Even though she has a massive platform and the ability to be heard and make a difference, that safe little video that wasn’t even about injustice or collective striving + the instruction not to get political in the comments was the resource she offered in response to massive racial injustice.

***

Would that have been the video she contributed if this could happen to her?If it could happen to her family?

***

The way all of this went down looked a lot like clickbait using black death.

That may not have been the intention. But by sending that email, worded that way, at that moment, she gained views and comments and appreciation for her contribution and righteousness. Her reputation, arguably, increased.

This is how it works for white women. We say a lil’ sumthing safe against injustice without having anything to lose and everything to gain and we get adored and celebrated for it.

***
I was furious, I really was, but I was brokenhearted because this is someone I had followed for a long time and learned a lot from and championed and promoted.

It was just such a betrayal, and it was so callous.

It was more than that.

***
Here’s how white supremacy works: even if an individual white person never plays a direct role in the commission of a racial crime or doesn’t consciously agree with brutal systemic injustices, white people as a whole — including that individual — still profit from it.

Offering a self-promotional video as a  response to injustice via an email worded in that particular way, at that particular moment…

What else can we call it when a white leader appears to position black death as an opportunity for clicks, for comments, for reach?

***

Let’s get really personal about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand (FLEB).

The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand has a piece in this. The first rule of The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand is be beautiful and show it.

But beauty in our culture is not a universal. It’s specific. It’s white.

The widespread veneration of whiteness is why my black daughter gets told her natural hair is ugly and looks like a wig. The reference point for beautiful in our culture is a particular kind of white woman.

So when white marketing and business coaches use beauty, heterosexuality and glamorous photoshoots as part of their outreach strategy and teach other white women this success model, they’re leveraging white supremacist beauty norms to create relationship, reputation, reach and revenue.

Those of who do this are participating in white supremacy and benefiting from it.

Even if that wasn’t the intention.

Intentionally or not, this is how we keep white supremacy in place.

Like Ivanka Trump — and she’s an excellent example of the FLEB archetype aka weaponized white femininity — The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand is complicit.

***

I have been complicit.

I remain complicit if I choose to do nothing.

But my ringside seat will not allow me to do nothing.

And so I’m no longer letting the voice of culture work through me without my consent.

***

When I got that email, I had already been thinking about lifestyle marketing and how sexist and classist it was.
I’d already been noticing how the insistence on positivity in our self-help spaces was being used to shun or erase people in the midst of struggle.
I’d already been noticing how most people were using lifestyle + launch marketing, together, were trying to help women build their conscious, personal power while triggering them into unconscious buying decisions.
I’d already been noticing the way non-political platforms were using political, feminist language to build their brands…without building actual feminist business practices into those companies.
I’d already been noticing how we’re cultivating authority over other women rather than trying to consolidate and exercise power outside women-only spaces.

I’d been noticing all of that but when I read — and reacted — that email, it all coalesced.

The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand perpetuates white supremacy and it profits from it.
The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand is not just a marketing narrative and a way to sell products, it’s an archetype of the ideal woman.
And the ideal woman in our culture is white.
Beauty norms are white.
The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand leverages white beauty to make money and build power.
And round and round we go.

***
No.
Let’s interrupt this loop-de-loop.
***

If you were to ask me what is non-negotiable in my life, I would say justice.

Love and justice for me are the same thing.

I love my children, and I love Tressa Sherrod’s and Collette Flanagan’s children, and I will use my life and my work and my voice and my platform to create the just world they deserve and  that does not yet exist.

Justice is non-negotiable. I cannot be moved on that.

But I can be moved to take responsibility for the way I have been complicit and the way I have venerated and profited from whiteness in my own business and social media platform.

And I can ask all of us who are committed culture-makers to connect those dots, too, and undo it in their lives, their social media, and their businesses.

That’s why I started writing about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. It’s why I won’t shut up about it.

Because I want us to get off this ride and get justice.

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