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Voicing their opinions face-to-face, not in cyberspace

LOS ANGELES — It was an evening of stimulating conversation on Sept. 30 at the General Assembly in downtown when nearly 80 African-American women converged to talk about race, self-care and politics.

The evening, titled “Black Girls Matter,” was hosted by Kimberly Foster, founder of the website ForHarriet.com, who felt that with the growing impersonality of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, black women needed a physical space to air their opinions and grievances other than sounding off in cyberspace.

“I felt that black women needed an opportunity to come together and talk about issues affecting their lives through face-to-face comments and discussion,” said Foster, who has held Black Girls Matter forums in Atlanta, Oakland, Dallas, Houston, New York and Philadelphia.

Foster first asked the audience what made them mad and glad.

Denia said she was happy that despite the obstacles she had encountered in her life, “God has left me with an abundance of talents. I grew up in Watts where there were drive-by shootings. But I’m working on getting two degrees and I am a single parent raising a daughter.

“Be all you can be and be an example, as well,” she urged the audience.

“I’m glad to be here among all these beautiful women,” said another audience member. “But when I was in Las Vegas, I got angry when a white man walked up to me and put his fingers in my hair. It took everything in me not to slap away his hand.”

“I feel very fortunate to be alive,” Shia said. “I was born gay and I am proud of it. It has been a long journey to get here. Love yourself for who you are.”

JeJuana Johnson said she was concerned about the stigma of “colorism” that still affects the black and white communities.

“You’re not light enough to be accepted by white society and you’re not dark enough to be fully accepted by blacks,” she said.

Johnson, who once worked in corporate America, also felt that ambitious black women were stereotyped.

”They cast you in a role. You’re either a ‘mammy’ or a ‘jungle bunny.’ I’m a black woman with a smart and intelligent mind,” said Johnson, who finally left corporate America to start her own business.

Turning to current events, Foster asked if it was fair to expect NFL players to protest and kneel during the nationala nthem. “Do you agree when Trump said ‘We need to fire those SOBs?’” she asked. “Some are questioning the [players’] social justice credentials.”

“I don’t think it’s fair for all of the NFL players to protest,” Kim Isaacs said. “We all support black people in different ways. That black NFL player who didn’t kneel might be quietly giving back to his own community in his own way. Whether it’s money or time, there are different ways to show up for us.”

“It is up to our white brothers and sisters to help dismantle this situation,” Ola Wells said. ”The owners need to make it easier for the players to demonstrate their First Amendment rights. Colin Kaepernick kneeled because of the injustices going on in our community. “

Damia Gordon agreed. “I saw police brutality. I saw what they did to my brothers and sisters. There is definitely injustice in our community.”

Foster then asked the audience when was it time to “cancel” someone on social media.

“I had to cancel someone recently who was a friend,” Tamina said. “The friend felt compelled to tell me how the GOP and taxes worked. It was a quick cut off. I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, you have to go.’”

“I’ll cancel someone because I believe in self-care,” Kai said. “We as black women absorb enough negativity in our lives so I don’t feel the need to hear it from somebody else.”

Alisa, a defense attorney, said, “I’ll cancel someone if I don’t agree with what they say. I canceled my cousin when she said, ‘Let’s give Trump a chance.’ It can cause you to get high blood pressure.”

Pausing, Alisa added, “I’ve researched my position. I surround myself with family and friends who are like minded. When you’re talking about black people, Trump or issues of life and death, then it’s serious enough in my mind that you have to cancel that associate.”

“I ended a friendship with someone I knew for 30 years because I found out she voted for Trump,” said Marquita Thomas. “She was arguing about the troops and veterans and the military. How do you hang out after that? If you think all black people are criminals, then we have a problem.”

Foster then asked the audience members if their lives would be different if Hillary Clinton had captured the presidency.

“I feel like there are no accidents in life,” Baseema Pena said. “Trump is very negative, but we needed him so that we could wake up. We needed him because he compelled us to come together. He riled us up and that’s what we needed.”

Another audience member said that although Hillary didn’t win, she felt it was crucial to participate in local elections. “It’s so important to vote in those school board and city council elections so that we can have more say in our communities,” she said.

“I don’t think it would have mattered,” April Odom said. “Hillary would have been false security. People are seeing more police brutality and prejudice is now so in your face that you can’t brush it off.”

“Black women have been uncomfortable since the day we were born,” one woman said. “I think that if Hillary were president, we would get too comfortable. Black women have a lot of influence and power. I feel we need to know who you are. If you’re against black people, I’m not going to spend money in this store.”

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