How many black friends do you need to claim to prove you’re not racist? Asking for a “friend”

Out Loud’s name began one night in my buddy’s place last November. We were whiteboarding things we could do for Fort Smith through our social media. We talked about loving our city Out Loud, and there it was. Out Loud with Shannon. Supporting all things Fort Smith!

From that moment, with time permitting, I podcasted bands, poetry events, and volunteered for numerous events, and I saw the same crew while I was out. All while being a full-time student, trying to find work and adjust to my new life as a single mother.

It’s been a year, I’m still volunteering, still unable to find full-time work, and still in school full-time. I don’t have as much time as I do to volunteer and participate in everything, but somehow I do.

Social media is a double-edged sword when it comes to volunteering; I always wonder how much work should I share without looking like I’m attention-seeking, but I still wanted everyone to know that I was investing in my city, with the hope that they would invest in me in the future. So far, it’s just let everyone know that my time is free to them, as well as the babysitter I have to call every time I get called in to be told there isn’t a job for me, but there are plenty of things I can do for them for free. The babysitter is $10 an hour, by the way. I don’t have it in me to tell her that even though my budget doesn’t call for a sitter, she watch my boys for free with the opportunity to get paid in the future. I dunno, maybe I can’t afford to volunteer right now and should leave it to the real housewives.

I have a bird’s eye view of everyone’s stance on social politics; I know who shares memes with scripture about equality for all but makes a long-winded post about the importance of the wall and calling Mexicans “illegals”. I’ve been a peppercorn in a saltshaker my whole life and have accepted that racism makes some people so uncomfortable that they ignore it. It’s implied that I should ignore it as well. Or that if it doesn’t happen to them, it’s okay. That oftentimes, if something that I post is racially sensitive, everybody can hear the crickets chirp but will share a meme about nothing from a person they don’t know personally. That’s not fair, y’all. You want me to share your MLM stuff to my page, promote your business or band but you are neutral about racism? Whose priorities are off? Yah lipstick subscription isn’t saving the world, Karen.

Social Media is the most impersonally intimate platform of communication in the world. You can tell who’s going through a breakup by the pictures and memes that are shared, or in some cases, not shared. You know who just had a kid, who was offended enough about something arbitrary as hell to write an open letter to a complete stranger who will never see the post, with the intention of it being shared. Shared to who?

I started asking myself as I mindlessly scroll

What are you looking for?

Are you friends with this person?

Do they care about you or your people?

The answers are

NOTHING. I’m looking for nothing.

My friends call me. They don’t tag me in shit promoting stuff I don’t know about on social media because they know I hate it. They come to my house, we create together. My real friends don’t care what I’m posting right now either, because they know where to find me outside of that.

I spent last week watching random people troll my homeboy because he’s out doing stuff. He does it for attention, clout chasing?

Dude serves because he is a servant. A lot of us serve because it gives us purpose and we believe in our souls that our diligent service will reward us as long as we continue without expectation. Serving others makes him happy, and even if his social media posts are trash, he’s inspiring and hardworking and FORT SMITH DOESN’T DESERVE YOU, BRO!

Watching my peers reaction to racial relations, the apathy, the lack of empathy or even understanding of a situation reminds me that I’m a guest in Fort Smith. A near decade long guest. I’m a lot of people’s only black friend. It was a funny joke to me at first, but now it’s not. It’s embarrassing.

I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed that I worked at a place where I was called the N-word and the owner turned his back like it never happened, and I was told to shake it off. I’m embarrassed that all I could do at the time was bartend because finding work is nearly impossible for me here, and I couldn’t make an issue out of it because I needed the money. Have you ever been so worried about money that you work at a place where you know it’s okay to be called the N-word? It’s humbling, to say the least. When I worked at Ned’s in Tahelquah, regulars were removed by their collars if they harassed the girls and forced to apologize. They expected their customers to respect the waitresses and bartenders no matter who their daddy was, or how much money they spent in the bar. I’m embarrassed that I’m in a place where people are okay with racism because they don’t think I’m black enough to not be racist around. It’s mortifying, to know that I created a podcast around a city that makes me feel like I’m welcome until the hard stuff comes. When it’s time to stop hate rhetoric, or when it’s time to fight for equal rights. I’m here for you, with my brown skin and locs, your token brown person to make you feel better when you say, “I’m not racist, I have a black friend.”

Do you have any idea how hard it is to want to celebrate a place “Out Loud” when you know you aren’t valued or celebrated? To feel like whatever you try to do doesn’t matter because in the end, you aren’t even as part of the crew as you thought? There is no opportunity for me here, and it’s a hard pill to swallow.

What would happen if we sat down and checked the demographics for the people claiming that Fort Smith is the most miserable place to live? How many valuable people have we already lost to Fayetteville, Tulsa, or Colorado because they wanted a better opportunity? What would happen if we were to check the demographics of racial employment here and compare it with another city? I already know from people who actually live there that I am not welcome in Greenwood Arkansas, and that’s just 15 minutes away.

To everyone who wants to mention us making history with our first black Mayor: WE DONT STOP THERE! WE ARE NOT DONE!

We recently had a black basketball coach fired over something he didn’t do to be replaced by a white coach so dated in his thinking that he doesn’t understand the importance of natural hair to us. He was allowed to openly remove a player for his hair and end a kid’s senior year. Over his hair. NATURAL HAIR IS SACRED. There is a reason we don’t let you touch it. There is a reason we are proud of our hair, and there is a reason you can never tell us to cut it. None of us are telling you what to do with yours.

Not even gonna go into that spray-painted car either.

Fort Smith made national news because of racism. I know y’all remember the KKK Halloween party. I also remember who all came to make sure I was okay whenever I went into Little Dude to confront them for allowing it to happen. I remember who told me that racism was an untouchable subject and they were advised not to help me.

I remember everyone who is staying quiet during all of these things, and I am the most disappointed. Ignoring and disregarding hard issues like racial inequality is a character flaw that someone like me can’t afford in my circle. Why should I support anything at all that doesn’t see or empathize an issue that will affect my boys?

Do me a favor, huh? If you’ve ever had to say that and use my name at the same time, stop. We are not friends, and you are not here for everything that is happening around us involving the wall, police brutality, and the missing women on our reservations. Don’t ask me to promote your business or podcast your business and turn a blind eye to what’s happening to people less fortunate than me.

I’m not your nigga, not your homegirl, not your black friend.

I’m not even your Facebook friend. Take a look.

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4 Comments

  1. Delvon

    By far one of the best outlooks on how many minorities feel on a daily basis. Its unbelievable how much we are expected to take and get over. It’s overwhelming at times. I don’t know you but thank you for what you do and will do in the future.

  2. Pam Ernce

    The truth behind your feelings break my heart. The reality leaves me taking a hard look at myself. Do my actions match my feelings? My personal beliefs? Do I express them appropriately or leave others wondering where I stand? I mostly pray your boys grow up in a better, more equal world.💕

  3. Hi Shannon. I hear you loud and clear 🙂

    First of all, I think that this was a great read, particularly in the wake of some of the recent happenings here in our city.

    I understand (or at least, I think I understand) a point from this being that some of us (myself included) need to think real long and hard about what “equality” actually is. While I can relate to the notion of feeling underappreciated for not getting back from the community what i feel like I put into it, I don’t think I can ever truly understand what it’s like to be marginalized by people and systems that are racially biased.

    However, that doesn’t mean that I do not empathize with the plight of those individuals. That being said; how is one to know if I don’t actively show it. Why should you stand up for a city of folks that aren’t standing up for you? That’s a great question.

    Thank you for this blog post. Thank you for provoking thoughts and making me reflect on who I am and compare that against who I want to be. It may not mean much, but I appreciate you, and I thank you.

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