The third and last full book I picked up for my Black History Month challenge of only reading books published by Black authors was Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous, a collection of posts originally published on blackgirldangerous.org, a (seriously amazing) collective writing project that works to “amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans people of color.” The book itself features posts that are no longer available on the site, and are presented, to some extent, with the context of their publication and some follow-up notes about how the posts were originally received and if McKenzie’s thoughts or positions had changed since the original post went up.
I downloaded the eBook of Black Girl Dangerous to read on a trip to New York to participate in a two-day staff meeting with my new job, and I think this ended up being a perfect time to read this book. I ended up reading the majority of the book on my train ride home, after participating in two days’ worth of strategic planning, organizing, and discussion around mindfully Jewish spiritual practice. This wasn’t just mindful in theory, but in practice–we engaged in mindfulness meditation, constant check-ins about what was happening with our feelings and bodies, and an intentional focus on creating a safe space for everyone in the room to be heard and to reflect on their on thoughts and processes.
Coming off two days of this sort of meeting, I was extremely conscious of my responses, both physical and emotional, as I read through this book. I started my reading already acknowledging that I was in a place of physical and mental weariness (as well as fairly substantial physical pain), which I do have the presence of mind to recognize is probably not the best frame of mind and body to approach a text that is insightful but entirely (and rightfully!) unapologetic in its approach to exploring intersectional issues of race, gender, queerness, and class. But coming from that mindful place, I was able–more than I usually am–to listen to the responses of my body and mind as I moved through the text. I recognized the times that I felt defensive (“‘Whack Jobs’ Are Not The Problem. You Are.”, certain sections of “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege”, “Hey, White Liberals”), the times I felt moved but wondered if I was co-opting feelings that don’t belong to me (“You Mad Yet? On the Murder of Trayvon Martin and the Question of Tipping Points”, “Resistance Is The Secret Of Queer Joy”, “To The Queer Black Kids”).
It would, I think, be very easy to read this book, get defensive, and put it away. And the reactions that McKenzie discusses that she received to the initial publication of these posts speaks to that–people who could not acknowledge their role in perpetuating these harmful systems and instead pushed back against McKenzie for her tone, her (intentional) word choice, her anger. Even as someone who likes to think that she tries her best to be open to being called out and told to check my shit at the door if I’m welcome in the room at all, I found myself responding to some of the book with a knee-jerk “wait, but–” and had to call myself back to a more mindful, receptive state of being. Once I re-centered myself, I could look at those reactions and try to examine why I was responding in those ways, and in what ways those responses were in and of themselves a reflection of my privilege.
If I’d had the time this month, there are so many other texts I wish I could have read: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, Paradise by Toni Morrison, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander–the list goes on, and I have all of these and more on my bookshelf and can’t wait to tackle them. But as I reflect, I think that Black Girl Dangerous was the perfect closing text for this month. It reminded me, more explicitly than Bad Feminist or Between the World and Me, that it is part of my ongoing work as a person who (regardless of my own marginalized identities) benefits from the tremendous privilege of whiteness to intentionally and mindfully direct my energies to dismantling these systems of white supremacy.
Pirkei avot, the words of the fathers, tell us that it is not for us to complete the work, but neither are we free to ignore it, and the call-outs of Black Girl Dangerous reflect this. I don’t believe that Mia McKenzie is telling me that it is my job as a white person to single-handedly take apart systems of institutional white heteropatriarchy, because she’s a damn smart woman and knows that’s not how it works. But I sure as hell believe that she’s telling me that if I claim at all to fight for racial justice, I am not free to ignore the ways that I benefit from my privilege, and to fight back against the systems that give it to me.
Black Girl Dangerous began as a response to a trauma that was both personal and political, as so many such things do, and became a transformative movement, dedicated to raising up silenced voices and building up black queer communities. In her final essay, “How To Be Black In America,” McKenzie ends her book with this reminder: “Don’t forget about love.”
Put defensiveness away, fellow white people, because that shit is not helpful. Acknowledge it if it comes up, and then move past it. Move forward. Build up this movement, and quiet the inner voices that tell you to speak over others when it is their time (because it has always been their time, but we have never listened) to be heard.
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