we live in a world where meeting someone in person or in a virtual space equates to” knowing” someone. i went along with this new age approach to community building because i’m a technofile. if you do actually know me, you know i’m all about integrating technology into every part of my life. i love how it allows us to connect and simplify our lives. but it is not without its own challenges. lately, i’m finding myself overwhelmed by both the assumption that we automatically connect after a first encounter, and the imposition of letting you into my space. i’m gonna code switch real quick and just tell you, you don’t know me like that!
i have been guilty of this very behavior i’m referring to right now. when we know better we do better. i’ve lived in seattle for almost eight years. when i first moved here i didn’t know anyone except my college classmate shaq. i also knew that my grad school roommate and one of our classmates lived here, but i hadn’t kept in touch with them. i didn’t have an automatic network of people to draw from. everything was new. i also didn’t have a job when i moved to seattle so i didn’t even have a network of coworkers to help me make the transition. technology bridged that gap.
through social media, i have been able to cultivate community around many areas. it has allowed me to stay close to my family back home in kansas city and other places. seeing their pictures and videos allowed me to remain connected to what has always been my lifeline. my family is close, and for us, family truly is everything. when i was aching with homesickness, seeing their lives unfold on the book of faces made me ache a little less.
social media also allowed me to seek out and connect with my tribe in areas of interest. i was able to locate blerds online near and far. joining these communities was affirming and in many ways salvation for a black girl who loved all things nerdy and geeky and techy, but that wasn’t supposed to be our thing. black girls aren’t into that kind of stuff!
as the national conversation around race in this country has finally caught up to the long-shared narrative of black folks (ya’ll suddenly believe us when we say snafu) social media has presented an opportunity to connect with like-minded black people in a way that speaks to my truth, my identity, my very being. i need to see your words, i need to see your stories, i need to see your faces.
social media is a powerful connecting tool. lately, i’m demanding that it be a safe, sacred space for me as well. and that’s where i’m struggling. as i said, i live in seattle. i love seattle. i have enjoyed every single moment of living in this beautiful city. but seattle is white. overwhelmingly white. i can go through my entire day some days without seeing another face that looks like me. this happens less than when i first arrived, but i had to work hard to change that truth. that is the reality of living in seattle. i am awash in white american culture – names, food, entertainment, trending topics, interests, politics, belief systems, bigotry, assumptions, colonization, and world view.
it is a constant requirement that i assess how i am perceived and how i create a connection for you to relate to me so you are willing to “see” me. and i am painfully aware of how little i am seen. the simple act of walking down the sidewalk and having to demand my right to actually occupy space on the sidewalk with you testifies to this. i am black, not invisible. yet, when you are awash in white culture, you often feel invisible. and there is a limited context in which some white people are even willing to see you. it is exhausting.
so when i log on to my social media, i do so to affirm my blackness, my existence, my presence in this world. it is to connect with my people, to drink in their melanin-dipped references to our culture, our people, our interests, our ways of living and doing and being. i am desperate for it. but my social media feed is not currently that safe, sacred space. it is filled with people who don’t know me. while i make zero apologies for what i say or post on my facebook wall, i am aware of who is on my “friend” list and i process what their thoughts and feelings might be to what i share. most times i ignore it, but the fact that i pause is a problem. it means that i have allowed my sacred space to be overrun and placed in jeopardy.
i have been struggling with how to reclaim sacred spaces for myself and my people. it is so common for us to have a thing and others to invade it. we are not trying to exclude anyone. but we do need to have places where we can be black, be free. where we don’t have to code switch to make you happy, to make us palatable to your taste. we have to have spaces where we can let our hair down and get vulnerable and transparent. where we can work out the various shades and shapes and sizes of our blackness absent outside interruption and interpretation of what blackness is supposed to be. where we can just be without having to explain every damn thing.
white people don’t always have to have a seat at our tables. sometimes the lesson for you in being in relationship with people of color is to understand that you don’t need to invade. resist the urge! i know it’s cultured into you to enter a space and make it yours. but not every space is for you. and that is okay! us being pro-black is not the same as being anti-white. your white greatness is the standard! let us celebrate us in all of our glory without a requirement that we measure it against whiteness!
as i said, i’ve been struggling with this issue. it came to a head recently when i looked at a few posts on my facebook feed this week and some recent friend requests. we all know to avoid the comments online. it’s a cardinal rule of blackness in this digital age, never read the comments. but avoiding the posts of people who are out of sync with what is happening in your head and heart is a little different. it made me wonder, why have i even allowed them into my sacred space? i see my facebook account as a more private place. i share more intimate things about my life and activities on facebook than i do on twitter or instagram. i curate my communities in the same manner. everyone doesn’t need a seat at this table.
over the next few days, i will do the work to evaluate whose words and presence i want to give a seat at my table. that list will be more intimate because i desire to reclaim my space. it doesn’t mean i don’t like you or even desire not to connect with you. it just means i have realized that when i finish a hard day of swimming through white culture, i don’t want to log on at home and skinny dip in it.