Fellow white women. Hi.
I feel uncomfortable.
I was brought up probably in a similar way to you: don’t talk back, don’t raise your voice, be nice. And yet as a parent to a little girl, I have a lot of uncomfortable conversations about the difference between nice and good. Good people aren’t always nice. Good people speak up. Good people stand up for others when there is no benefit to them or even at risk of loss. Our training makes us nice, not good, and that makes it even more difficult to speak up when you see behaviour that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially when it’s coming from people you respect.
So here we go…
I need to talk to you about the way we’ve been sharing other people’s quotes.
I get that using other people’s words is a common way to elevate our own brands. Branded quotes on Instagram, bold statements on a webpage, we align ourselves by using words that other people said best. It’s a great way to nail down a point, situate yourself in the market, and make online friends all while keeping our Newsfeeds pretty. And fine. Except when we use those quotes out of context.
Just last week, I heard Staci Jordan Shelton say, “context is everything” and the truth of this statement made me want to sink to the floor on my knees.
Again for those in the back. CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING.
It’s not enough to credit the person or quote them properly, it is integral that we respect the context in which the person was speaking.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Missy Elliott is a force and a champion. Imagine if BIPOC women were no longer systemically oppressed. Imagine if their voices were elevated to the point of no longer being ignored. How fucking unstoppable would they be? (that’s obviously rhetorical)
I’ve already seen white entrepreneurs using this quote on social media to say “imagine if we all felt unstoppable”. Sure, yes, wow, great, but friend, that is the equivalent of saying “all lives matter”. We wouldn’t have to say Black Lives Matter if all lives actually mattered in the eyes of our society.
Missy Elliott speaks as a woman of colour on behalf of and as a champion of other women of colour. As white entrepreneurs, when we take this statement and loop it back to what we’re doing, how our businesses run, and what our mission is, we are using her voice out of context for our own benefit.
Using a quote to talk about your business is one thing. Using a quote that speaks specifically about championing people who have been marginalized in this [broken] society for centuries in order to talk about ourselves is a whole other thing altogether. Spot the difference?
Context is everything and Missy Elliott’s point is strong enough to stand on its own…without us looping it metaphorically back into our businesses. Good intentions or not, her sentiment is not ours to own.
We need to use our privilege to elevate the voices of the people who are not heard, rather than their voices to elevate ours.
This is the work and it isn’t easy.
Dismantling a racist (and sexist and and and) system is not a button we can flick or a straight path we can follow. It is messy and difficult and necessary.
We need to keep having these hard conversations. We need to keep teaching each other how to be more anti-racist. We need to keep trying even if we make mistakes, even if our voices quake, even if we don’t know what to say. Because our silence equals our complicity. Because the silence of white women specifically helps forward an agenda that keeps people oppressed.
I am reminded of something Ijeoma Oluo said, “the beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
I don’t have all the answers (I barely have some of them) but there are incredibly gifted and generous people doing this work already including the fierce and eloquent, Desiree Adaway.
My recommendation to you is to speak up for others. Be good, not nice. Think before you share. Do your research. Elevate voices from people who don’t look like you. And consider this your permission to rise above your good intentions. Context is everything.