Don’t be afraid to tell someone to fuck off if they detract from your sanity: a Q+A with Sara Benincasa

Header photo by the amazing Gia Cognata.

Sinclair: You’re the author of several books, including Real Artists Have Day Jobs, you did a screenplay, you act, and you’re a comedian. How did you get to where you are today?

Sara: I have been very fortunate: I started with parents who cared about me and encouraged me to write. And I had nothing to do with that. That was chance. Luck of the draw. Fate. However you regard it, my birth wasn’t of my doing. And I’m very grateful. I regard it as a privilege and I’m conscious of it every day.

Setting that enormous gift aside, I often say that success of any kind in entertainment and the arts requires talent, hard work, and luck. For everyone, these percentages are distributed differently. I’d say I’m at 40% talent, 40% hard work, and 20% luck. And I’m not the most successful person by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m doing alright. Glad for it, too.

Sinclair: Who inspired you along the way?

Sara: In comedy, Amy Sedaris, John Leguizamo and Margaret Cho were early inspirations. In writing, Molly Ivins, David Sedaris, and my pal Francesca Lia Block. If I could combine Amy Sedaris’s career with David Sedaris’s career, shake it up, blend it up, and turn it into a delicious smoothie, that smoothie would be my ideal career.

Bourdain inspired me. What a storyteller. A chronicler of idiosyncrasies and quirks and details. His love for people was out of sight.

My pal Angela Trimbur is this amazing dancer. I’m terrified to dance in public. She leads this dance group, LA City Municipal Dance Squad. They’re hilarious and great. I love that they teach these affirming, loving dance workshops that I am very frightened to take. I just like knowing they’re out there.

I’ve written one pilot for a couple networks and one feature for a couple of cool production companies. I want to write more for television and film and I’ve been watching lots of stuff lately. I’ve really enjoyed “Sorry To Bother You” directed by Boots Riley and “Eighth Grade” directed by Bo Burnham. Lakeith Stanfield is a fucking incredible actor. His physical work is just beyond – posture, movement, everything. Elsie K. Fisher is so young and so good at conveying pain and hope all at once. Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” was an amazing Netflix special. My friend Molly Mary McGlynn is a brilliant young director. Kate Berlant and John Early are fantastic performers.

These girls in the comedy group, 3 Busy Debras, are hilarious. I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing 15% of the time and I also don’t care to know because I love it. They remind me of Stella. I greatly enjoy Cocoon Central Dance Team. They’re like Mummenschanz on meth and shrooms.  Sam Jay is an excellent stand-up. I featured for her a few times recently in Toronto and I opened for Scott Thompson as well – two very different, very funny performers who are incredibly educational to watch.

Nick Kroll is never not interesting to watch. It’s good to use a double negative when trying to describe someone as very funny, which he is. I would follow Phoebe Robinson into the ocean, but only with consent, and specifically only with the appropriate breathing apparatus on because I don’t want to die yet.

I find literally no one else inspiring, ever, at all.

Sinclair: Who did you have to let go of along the way, because they weren’t healthy for you or your career?

Sara: I’ve had to let go of a few people, and it would be unhealthy for me to name them. Unfair to them, also. I’d say anyone who can’t be with you when you are up and when you are down has got to go. Get ‘em out. Bye. You don’t owe them an explanation or one more moment of your time.

Sinclair: What’s one piece of work that you’re most proud of?

Sara: I recently wrote a long essay called “Reading Joan Didion in California.” I was scared to post it because it talks about many things – dating, writing, eating, abuse, and getting sober. I worried it was too confessional, too navel-gazing, perhaps selfish. An actual thought I had was, “Maybe I didn’t drink enough to be the right kind of alcoholic.” Having that thought is a big buzzing neon sign you’re an alcoholic.

Now I’m very glad I posted it. I’m a columnist for Medium and it was my first piece of work as a columnist for them. It got passed around a lot and so many kind people offered words of compassion, empathy, or appreciation. I feel deeply grateful to them. In part write and create so that folks will feel less alone, and this time my readers made me feel less alone. I also write and create to make money, and I’m getting paid for this long essay, which is cool because it’s 11,000 words and Mama needs to pay the electric bill.

Sinclair: You were on Marc Maron’s podcast. What was the “fuck” count for that episode? Also, what’s he like? I love him in Netflix’s “G.L.O.W.”

Sara: Marc and I didn’t fuck at all during that episode. OH YOU MEAN THE USAGE OF THE FOUR-LETTER WORD. (See what I did? Look at my creativity.) We probably said “fuck” 30 or 1,000 times. I don’t remember. I don’t usually listen to podcasts after I do them, because it’s me talking about myself or my work or something and I hear myself think all day. Marc is a brilliant interviewer and he walks around in your head if you let him. I opened up a lot at that time and was actually frightened to listen again. Turns out it wasn’t that scary at all, once I finally did listen to it. It helped me figure out some important stuff. He pushed back on some assertions I made and later I thanked him for it.. I don’t know him super well but I’d say he is a brilliant, funny hard worker who is sober and looks great in plaid. He’s a bit of a polymath, you know? A real musical ear and sensibility, which understandably gets second billing after his comedic gifts, but he’s very good.

Speaking of sexy people, I am a Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson stan so I hope “G.L.O.W.” lasts for 1000 years.

“I’d say anyone who can’t be with you when you are up and when you are down has got to go. Get ‘em out. Bye.” – Sara Benincasa

Sinclair: As an advocate for mental health awareness, what’s something you’re working to unlearn about mental illness?

Sara: I’m pretty open to ideas and methods for others so long as they’re helpful and not harmful. I guess I’m working to unlearn my own fear of the gym or exercise. I know it’s very helpful for mental health and I certainly advocate it for others but have trouble using it as a tool myself.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Sara: Audiobooks often bring me comfort and joy. I love the feeling of being read to. My mother used to be a school librarian and It must come from there.

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Photo x Bonnie Burton

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off?

Sara: My own procrastination as a writer enrages me sometimes.

Sinclair: Whatcha gon do about it?

Sara: Write.

Sinclair: What advice do you have for creatives and writers just starting out?

Sara: Read a lot. Read outside the genre in which you wish to write. If you’re creative in a different way than writing, that’s cool – read stuff about folks who’ve excelled in your field. These are your creative ancestors. Learn from them. For everybody: read great sportwriting. I don’t care if you like sports or not. Great sportswriters like Dave Zirin take a game and make it into an epic battle – and often it’s a moral, spiritual or emotional battle, not just a physical one.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values?

Sara: I value flexibility, adaptability, a slow and steady approach and the willingness to apologize when you fuck up  – are these values? I have no idea. Hold people to good standards. Hold yourself to good standards. Set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to tell someone to fuck off if they detract from your sanity. If you’re having a tough time, find a shrink or a meeting or call a friend or find a podcast or audiobook or website that addresses your issues until you can find a professional. Masturbation in the privacy of your own home or office is a healthy choice so long as it isn’t distracting you from important work. Is that a value? I’m bad at this question.

 

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Photo x Gia Cognata

 

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Sara: Be kind to yourself and to others, and you’ll leave this place better than you found it. It’s okay to be flawed and to make mistakes so long as you’re actively working to better yourself and others. Put your own oxygen mask on first. And say thank you when it is warranted. Breathe. As long as you’re making your art, you are an artist. Threesomes can be boring, so watch out. Drink a lot of water. Not necessarily during a threesome, because you’ll have to get up and pee and then it’s a twosome and why are you doing this if not for the thrill of the triad? I have no idea what I’m talking about. The end?

💎💎💎

Sara Benincasa is an author, comedian, and actress. Born and raised in New Jersey, she’s lived in six states and performed comedy in four countries. She’s adapted two of her own books for film and television. She lives in Los Angeles.

Learn more about Sara and connect: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Featured awesomeness: Get Sara’s book Real Artist Have Day Jobs

Also, Sara says: “If anybody wants to donate money to Legal Aid Justice Center Virginia that’d be cool too!” 

You are capable of more than you know: a Q+A with Sarah Von Bargen

Sinclair: How did you get to where you are now?

Sarah: This is not a particularly inspiring answer, but I got where I am by working incredibly hard and writing, writing, and then writing some more.

When you publish enough blog posts (I have 2,000+ in my archives) and hone your writing skills for 18 years, eventually you’re going to get somewhere!

Honestly, ‘success’ is a numbers game. If you send enough pitches, make enough videos, create enough content, something will stick! People will find you!

And sometimes you win the race because everyone else drops out.

Sinclair: You say you slowly and organically built a list of 13K daily readers and a list of 15k email subscribers. How did you find ways to be patient during this journey?

Sarah: I learned to trust myself, trust my readers, and trust the process.

I put in the work to figure out what topics my readers liked, which freebies appealed to them, which blog posts got favorited and forwarded..

When I figured that out, it was easy to create things that help them and appeal to them. You just look at your analytics – it’s not hard!

Once you know these things, you have all the information you need to create content that will make people click that ‘subscribe’ button.

Sinclair: Who is someone that kept you going along the way to becoming who you are now?

Sarah: My 15-year-old self. I want to stay true to the life path and dreams I had for myself before I cared about ‘viral content, ‘conversion rates,’ and what success ‘should’ look like.

It’s not always easy, of course. And I DO care about conversion rates!  But I want to balance that with writing and doing things that make me happy and fill me up, regardless of how cool they look on social media.

Sinclair: What’s one of the best blog entries you’ve ever written?

Sarah: People love ‘How To Figure Out What Makes You Happy (So You Can Add More Of It To Your Life).’  I almost didn’t publish it because it felt too obvious. But clearly, it’s something that people need help with!

Sinclair: What do we often get wrong about budgeting and money?

Sarah: We don’t take the time to consider if our spending aligns with our values or happiness. Soooo many of us say that we value ‘travel’ or ‘time with family.’

But if we take a look at our credit card statements, we’ve spent $0 on travel, $20 on family outings and hundreds of dollars on fast fashion and meals out we didn’t even enjoy.

Most of my work around money is helping people get their spending and happiness to work together. It’s amazing how your life can change when you do this!

Sinclair: What advice do you have for aspiring writers/bloggers?

Sarah: View your blog as an opportunity-maker, not a money maker.

Yes, you can support yourself exclusively from your blog, but it’s hard and incredibly time-consuming.

It is a million times more likely that your blog will create opportunities you couldn’t have imagined: free trips, new friendships, amazing clients, fun experiences.

You’ll enjoy blogging so much more if you take the pressure off yourself (and your blog!) to completely replace your full-time salary.  

 

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Sarah Von Bargen

 

 

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Sarah: Summer time in general! Minnesota has 12,000 lakes and I’ve been swimming in as many as I can! Also: sweetcorn, snap peas, cherries, and eating outside as much as I can.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Sarah: The entire Trump administration.

Sinclair: What’s something you did for self-care recently?

Sarah: I’ve got a pretty nice post-workday self-care routine. Every day around 5 pm, I make myself a ‘fancy drink’ – usually LaCroix with some frozen fruit in a highball glass. Then I drink it on the deck while reading a novel.

It’s a great way to transition from my workday into my evening!

Sinclair: If often find that people in my circles have no idea of what blogging and social media mean to me and others. Do your friends and family understand what you do?

Sarah: My friends understand, my parents don’t necessarily get it. I usually tell people over 50 that it’s like I’m a magazine editor, but on the internet. Or I just tell them I’m a writer on the internet. That makes more sense!

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Sarah: There was a time on the internet (maybe we’re still in this time?) when people shared how much they earned in a given month or from a specific launch.

And, of course, they chose to share these numbers when they were particularly high.

Now, I totally believe that talking about money is a gift to everyone around you. But when I first saw these posts and these insaaaaane monthly income reports, they filled me with self-doubt.

*My* launch didn’t bring in $450,000. *I* wasn’t earning seven figures. Did this mean I wasn’t good enough or that my products weren’t worthwhile?

Eventually, I realized that
a) other people’s business is none of my business
b) everyone who is earning these huge amouns of money is selling B2B products and courses. I don’t.
c) if someone’s blog or social media is making me feel less-than I CAN JUST UNFOLLOW THEM

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Sarah: We all need to play an active role in creating the type of world we want to live in.

Honestly, I can’t think of a time I DIDN’T believe this! My parents spent their entire careers working as public school teachers in a low-income school district, so I think I just absorbed this by osmosis.

These days, I try to live these values by being politically involved, voting with my retail dollars, and helping others find small, doable ways to make change every blessed day.

I do, of course, make puh-lenty of mistakes, but I’m trying my hardest!

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Sarah: Track your efforts, not your accomplishments and avoid goals you don’t have control over.

So many of us struggle with self-doubt because ‘success’ is taking longer than we think it should or we’re not seeing the immediate results we’ve been hoping for.

Rather than getting hung up on how many people watch your Youtube videos or how many people open your newsletter, track how many videos you make or how many pitches you send.

You can’t control how people will respond to what you create. You can only control yourself.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Sarah: You are capable of more than you know. Let go of expectations and trust yourself, your work, and the process.  

💎💎💎

Sarah Von Bargen is a writer, teacher, and coach who helps people get better at spending their time, money, and energy on things that fill them up.

Learn more about Sarah and connect: Website | Twitter 

Featured aweseomeness: Freebie // How To Stop Buying Sh*t You Don’t Need 

 

Working While Black Series: “This moment made me feel so incredibly othered.” A Q+A w/ Shadae Mallory

Sinclair: Share about a time you felt unwelcome when working while Black. What happened? What did you take away from the experience/incident/situation?

Shadae: As a first-year graduate student I worked with a living learning community for performing and visual arts students at a Midwestern 4-Year, public institution. In this role, I was one of three people in the office. My director, a White middle aged cis-man, often tokenized my blackness. In February of 2018, he came to my office in a bout of excitement. Barging in from the hallway, he said, “Shadae! Did you see Black Panther yet?” 

 

“Of course I did; I went on Sunday,” I replied.

 

He proceeded to stand in front of my desk and delved into everything he loved about the movie. He took a breath and said, “I went on opening night, though. I wish I would have known that watching movies with Black people was like going to an interactive theater performance.”
He laughed at his joke and said, “Why do Black people insist on talking to the movie?”
In the moment I didn’t know how to respond.

 

He continued, “I was very disappointed by the languages, too. I was hoping the Wakandans would speak more traditional African languages– you know, like with clicks and whistles.”
When I didn’t know what he meant, he proceeded to demonstrate. When I was still confused he said, “What language do your people speak? English?”

 

This moment made me feel so incredibly othered.

 

This supervisor also used me as a shield between himself and every student of color. He would send all of them to me, even if the issue was something he could handle. When I confronted him about it, he said, “You can just connect with them better.” I spent a year in this position where my identities were used as my selling points. He told me he hired me because I was Black, but did not support me.

 

Sinclair: What advice would you give to another Black professional who is feeling tired, defeated and/or hopeless? 

Shadae: It’s okay to find your passion somewhere else. When school and work have you defeated, fill your cup from another circle. Play video games. Read a book. Write a book. Go to church. Find a new hobby. Don’t let your work consume your happiness. And if you are so tired that you simply cannot find a solution, it’s okay to redirect your energy to yourself. Watch that Netflix show. Go to your favorite restaurant. Find a new job if you are able to.
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“When school and work have you defeated, fill your cup from another circle.” – Shadae Mallory

 

Sinclair: In regard to your colleagues that don’t identify as Black: what is one way they continue to send the message of “You don’t belong here” to you – intentionally or unintentionally? 

Shadae: Include us. My biggest concerns stem from being excluded in my office and masters program. When I post events in our cohort GroupMe all I want is for someone to engage. Come to the concert with me. Ask me how I’m doing, and don’t take it personally when I share I’m not well. March with me. Protest with me. Be visible with me.

Sinclair: What do you do for self-care? 

 

Shadae: I love to be outside when the weather allows. During the spring and summer I spent a lot of time in the campus courtyard enjoying the sunshine. During inclement weather I like to sit at home and play video games with my squad from home.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn about what it means to be Black? 

Shadae: Growing up as a biracial Black person, I have often felt that I am not “Black enough” and that I would never fit in. I am still trying to learn Black culture– or what that even means. For me, I want to understand what it feels like to be surrounded by Black people and to fully be immersed into what I have longed for my whole life.

Learn more about the Working While Black Series and share your story.

✊🏿✊🏿✊🏿
Shadae Mallory is a graduate student pursuing an MA in College Student Personnel. Completing undergraduate an undergraduate degree in English, Shadae works as a freelance editor and writer. Following graduation in May 2019, Shadae hopes to continue in student affairs in residence life, campus activities, or admissions. 
Learn more about Shadae and connect: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Morality is a matter of opinion, queerness is not: a Q+A with Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: Your name on Twitter reads: “thicc,” meaning fat. Tell us more about what this means to you.

Da’Shaun: I wrote a piece titled The Conflict Between Thick and Fat where I discuss at great length how anti-fatness shows up in language like “thicc/k” and what it really means when people refer to fatness as “thicc/k.” Said differently, “thicc/k” being used as an avenue, of sorts, to arrive at desire for what really is just fatness is anti-fat, and this only adds to the systemic oppression which fat people experience. My Twitter name comes from this idea.

Sinclair: In your article, “Homeleness and the Death I Fear as as Queer Black Person”, you said: As a child, my family seldom spoke to me about sex or sexuality. Not in a healthy way, at least. How can we have these conversations in a healthy way?

Da’Shaun: First, parents should really educate themselves on all that sex is. I think many adults think they have sex all figured out because they are adults and/or because they have children, but the reality is that sex-ed is ever-evolving. We can never learn too much about what it is we can do to pleasure ourselves and our partner(s). Beyond that, parents should also educate themselves on sexuality. More and more knowledge is acquired and shared on sexuality each year. We know more about how attraction and identity and desire all work than we ever have; this knowledge is imperative to a child’s development.

With this knowledge, I believe that parents should always be open and honest with their kids about sex and sexuality. When they get to an age where they are able to comprehend what they’re being told, parents should talk frequently with their child(ren) about what sex is, what sexuality is, and affirm for their child(ren) that they are loved and cared for even and especially if they are queer and/or trans. And, not all people experience sexual attraction; this is valid, too. Opening children up to the fact that conversations around sex do not have to be taboo and are not always hypersexual will assure them that their parents can be trusted and, hopefully, will lead to them engaging in healthy sex—with whomever they want to—if they choose to.

Sinclair: What’s something we often get wrong when talking about sexuality?

Da’Shaun: Many people base their perception of queer people off of what they believe to be moral. However, morality is a matter of opinion, queerness is not. Science, both physical and social, provide more than enough “evidence” that sexuality is not rigid as many would have us to believe.

“We can never learn too much about what it is we can do to pleasure ourselves and our partner(s).” – Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: What advice do you have for someone who feels like their sexual identity is often under attack?

Da’Shaun: If at all possible, surround yourself with people who love you. Other queer people who, for many, have similar experiences and pain. For queer and/or trans people—especially of color, and especially Black—chosen families, “houses,” etc. are all vital for our survival. This is true historically and still presently.

I’d also tell them that strength is not a requirement for their humanity to be valid, but that they are strong . . . even if that is not always their truth. Loneliness, sadness, frustration, and anger are all valid emotions for us to experience. Some of us never come back from those feelings, and their lives are valid, too. However, being queer/trans is not all about our suffering and our oppression. We deserve to enjoy life just as much as anyone else.

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Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: You’re a prolific writer, Morehouse grad, and all around badass. How did you get to where you are now?

Da’Shaun: Thank you! I study, I read, I keep my ears and my mind open, and I feel deeply. These have all gotten me to where I am. This said, I am only as strong as my village. This journey has not been an easy one, by any means, and it seems to only get harder. Still, I am alive and where I’m at today because I have a host of people—my communities—who hold onto me, who allow me to be human, who pray for me, who burn sage for me, who talk to the ancestors on my behalf, who love me without wavering. I have honestly learned so much from all of the people I am around and I owe each of them all of the love and thanks I can muster up because I’m only here because of them and I’ll only continue to go up from here because of them. From my family back in my hometown, Wilmington, NC, to the many siblings I bonded with at Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta, to the large family I gained across the world (& the interwebs) through community organizing, I have a very strong support system.

“…Being queer/trans is not all about our suffering and our oppression. We deserve to enjoy life just as much as anyone else. – Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: What advice do you have for HBCU students graduating in May 2019?

Da’Shaun: This advice is for the rebels, the ones with low GPAs, the ones who dropout, the fifth and sixth year students: keep being you. We are not all fit to walk the path that the world says we must, and some of us simply don’t want to, and these are all okay. Always strive to do your very best and be proud of whatever that best is. Don’t stunt your growth, but also know that growth is not always linear and it is not always exponential.
What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

As a multiply-marginalized person with major chronic depression and anxiety, there is not much that brings me joy. Nevertheless, being around friends who are passionate about writing, and creating content that changes lives, and enjoying it all in the process has brought me a lot of happiness recently. I am grateful for that.

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Da’Shaun Harrison

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off?

Da’Shaun: Solange said it best: “I gotta lot to be mad about.” This world is horrific. One thing that’s been pissing me off more now than ever is being poor. There is no reason that poor and working class people, especially those of us who are Black, should have to struggle to *only* be able to pay bills while others sit on piles of money. It’s an abomination. Capitalism has been pissing me off.
When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

I doubt myself a lot. I always have. I’m a perfectionist, so it is oftentimes very difficult for me to not worry or doubt. I am currently in a place, a moment, where I’m unsure of where I’m going next. I’m not sure where my writing is going, though I know what I want to do; I’m not sure what my next education move will be, though I’m certain of what I want it to be. I feel that I am in limbo trying to find my way back to the surface. It’s a constant journey, but it is one I’m willing to continue on.
What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

I am a communist. This, to me, means that I am staunchly against this capitalist, imperialist, white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchy. This cannot be compromised and it cannot be changed. I became very clear on this when I began organizing back in January 2015, and I grow clearer on this as time progresses.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Da’Shaun: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” —Assata Shakur

Eat the rich. The People will rise.

✍🏿✍🏿✍🏿

Da’Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. He writes and speaks publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they meet. His portfolio and other work can be found on his website, dashaunharrison.com.

Learn more about Da’Shaun and connect: Twitter | Website 

Stop waiting for people of color to educate you on their lived experience: A Q+A w/ Bonnie Boyle McGahee

Sinclair: How many books are you aiming to read this year? How many have you read so far?

Bonnie: When I started my New Year’s Resolution back in December 2017 I set the goal to read 12 books in 2018. I figured 1 book per month would be realistic and pretty manageable. I also wanted to catalog the books I was reading on some sort of social media platform, so I chose Instagram with the hashtag #BBMReads (after my full name). I thought it would be neat looking back on my journey over the last year and see the themes and genres of books I gravitated towards. I have just finished book #20 and I am currently reading book #21:  Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter and Trump.

Sinclair: What’s the reason you created this reading goal for yourself?

Bonnie: I wanted to set a goal for 2018 that would help me grow both professionally and personally. Late in 2017, I started becoming more interested in learning about mass incarceration, the role I play as a white person in society, and how I can continue to develop as a feminist, wife, ally and educator.

Sinclair: Is there any particular way you source the authors?

Bonnie: Mostly word of mouth, blogs, and let’s be honest—Amazon suggestions (hah!). Back in November of 2017, I told a colleague of mine that I was so angry about the way the criminal justice system targets people of color and I needed to learn more. He told me I needed to read The New Jim Crow and my world hasn’t been the same since. Thanks, Jason, for inspiring me!

Next, I read …But I’m Not Racist and right after I finished that, my friend Natalie suggested White Rage and thus began the beginning of my #BBMReads journey.

Sinclair: Which book challenged your thinking?

Bonnie: I just mentioned The New Jim Crow and how that was the catalyst for my #BBMReads adventure; but truly I was stunned by reading Michelle Alexander’s words. As an educator, I am very humbled to say this. Prior to November 2017, I didn’t realize once someone is conflicted of a felony their rights get stripped away. They can’t vote. Can’t serve on a jury. Housing is pretty much a non-option. Education is virtually nonexistent because of the high tuition costs and lack of financial aid. There are so many parallels between slavery and prison and at times it was too much to read. I would highly suggest pacing yourself with this book.

Sinclair: Which book made you feel inspired or empowered? How so?

Bonnie: Oh, this is a difficult question! I would have to say Make Trouble by Cecile Richards. For folks who don’t know, Cecile was the President of Planned Parenthood for 12 years and recently stepped down from the organization. She starts off the book by saying: “Maybe there’s an injustice that’s bothering you; maybe you see something in your community or at work you want to change; maybe you’re trying to get up the courage to share your beliefs with friends or family who see things differently; maybe you’re worried about the world your kids will inherit. I hope this book will help you get out there and do something about it. Just don’t forget: to make a difference, you have to make a little trouble.” From that moment on, I was hooked. I read all 263 pages in a weekend. Cecile talks about her mother, Ann Richards, the first female democratic Governor of Texas. And, how Ann went from housewife to Governor, all while battling alcoholism and getting a divorce. But, Ann never lost sight of fighting for what is right. Cecile talks about her journey of activism all throughout her life and what led her to Planned Parenthood. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is an incredible book. Go read it!

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Bonnie & Sinclair looking fly.

Sinclair: You told me about a social media post that caused conflict with a family member. What happened and what did you learn from that interaction?

Bonnie: Back in November 2017, I posted on Facebook a New York Times op-ed by Jay-Z titled “The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill.” The article discussed Jay’s feelings on our criminal justice system and how Black people are sent to prison more often, and given probation at much higher rates than whites. This article really hit on how important it is to engage in conversation surrounding our criminal justice system, and how a person convicted of a crime at 19 years old would spend their whole adult life on probation, and be sent back to jail 11 years later for missing a curfew. This op-ed was important. It was interesting and really shook me, so I posted it on Facebook.

A family member reacted by laughing at the post. I was stunned. This article was talking about how the criminal justice system is harassing Black people. This is not funny.

I thought about what to do and decided to delete the post and message my family member. I told him I was deleted the post and reposted it. Apparently you cannot delete a reaction on Facebook. The conversation through Facebook Messenger was not ideal. I explained why I deleted it and that I was reposting the article because it was not funny to me. I also acknowledged that we have two different views on politics and that I’d prefer if we kept our views off of each other’s pages. He responded saying he wouldn’t debate a liberal like me, and that my posts are offensive to him because he views them as anti-white and anti-white police. My cousin is a police officer and I am very thankful for him keeping the city safe. I can’t even imagine how difficult it is risking your life every day. This situation made me really understand that doing this work of calling out injustice and discrimination is not going to be easy. I can’t even tell you the amount of negative messages I’ve received or relationships that have been strained. It’s sad, but at the end of the day: being an ally and confronting racism is just the right thing to do.

Did I handle that situation correctly? Maybe? Maybe not. Based on where I am now, I probably would have tried to engage in conversation a bit more: “What was so triggering? Talk to me about your view and here’s mine…” All we can do as allies is learn and improve.

Sinclair: You mentioned White Fragility at some point when originally sharing the story to me. What is that? And how do you think that played a part in this?

Bonnie: Oh, White Fragility…something that is so troublesome in our society. White Fragility is basically the discomfort that triggers defensiveness and anger when talking about issues surrounding race. Race is a very uncomfortable subject for a lot of white folks. Some people are open to listening and others aren’t not open to discussion. Instead of leaning into the conversation to learn about discrimination and injustices that happening to people of color, some folks get very defensive and try to shut down the conversation because that isn’t true of their lived experience. That’s white fragility. Derald Wing Sue talks about that in his book Race Talk & the Conspiracy of Silence, Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. Sue writes: “Discussions of race between people with differing racial realities are likely to engender strong feelings of discomfort, anger and anxiety; most people prefer to avoid the topic of race, to remain silent, to minimize its importance or impact or pretend not to notice it.”

I think that’s what happened between me and my cousin. He was looking at the article from his lens and wasn’t open to another perspective. So, he reacted by laughing and being defensive in his response.

Side note: Robin DiAngelo’s new book just came out in June called White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism if you’re interested in learning more! It’s on my “to be read” list for this month!

Sinclair: What advice would you give you folks who are looking to be better allies and supports to folks from marginalized identities?

Bonnie: Do the work. Do not wait for anyone, especially people of color to educate you on their lived experience. If you are seriously committed to being an ally and support folks from marginalized identities I encourage you to read, engage, show up, be vulnerable, and most importantly call out your racist friends and family members.

A quote by Desmond Tutu is something I reflect on virtually everyday: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

I was silent for too long, letting microaggressions slide, not confronting my friends and family when they would say racist remarks. Now, since I’ve been educating myself more about oppression, racism, white privilege – while also being married to a Black man – I can no longer be silent. That just isn’t an option for me anymore. Most importantly, if a person of color says that you’ve done or said something offensive, apologize and do better in the future.

It’s okay to mess up, but it’s important to be better and grow. There is a passage in So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo that hits the nail on the head: “If you want to be an ally you must remember… you are not doing any favors. You are doing what is right. If you are white, remember that White Supremacy is a system you benefit from and that your privilege has helped to uphold. Your efforts to dismantle White Supremacy are expected of decent people who believe in justice. You are not owned gratitude or friendship from people of color for your efforts. We are not thanked for cleaning our own houses.”

Sinclair: How are you working to incorporate what you’ve been reading and learning about social justice, inclusion, and equity into your everyday work? Life?

Bonnie: When I started my hashtag it was definitely a way for me to keep track of all of my reading, but since I have friends, colleagues and students who follow me on Instagram they’ve began to message me, seek me out and let me know how certain books or passages really spoke to them. I try to engage with my students as much as possible whether it’s a one on one conversation, showing up at events and speaking out against injustice, or simply listening to their lived experience.

On a personal note: I am trying to be extra mindful of microaggressions and calling them out as I hear them, being mindful of the language I use (I’ve erased “hey guys!” from my vocabulary), and being open and honest about my journey. As a person working in higher education, diversity work is my work.

We as white student affairs professionals cannot just say “diversity and inclusion isn’t really my area…” No. We need to make it our area, because at the end of the day we serve students, all students, and being able to talk about race, gender, religion and sexual identity is important. I’m still working at this. I don’t have all the answers but I’m willing to learn.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?

Bonnie: I believe that we have a responsibility to one another, to be kind, show compassion and listen. Black Lives Matter! Being a feminist is about wanting and supporting equal rights. Science is real. And most importantly, don’t tell me what you believe in. Show me. Actions speak louder than words.

📘📘📘

Bonnie Boyle McGahee is the Assistant Director of Residence Life at Stevenson University in Owings Mills, Maryland. She received her Master’s degree at the University of Baltimore in Negotiation and Conflict Management; her passion areas include residential education & social justice. In Bonnie’s free time she loves spending time with her husband Linton, typically wine tasting and of course, reading.

Keep up with what Bonnie’s reading and connect: Instagram | Twitter | Email 

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I’m a self-hating black man. I’m trying to do better

Photos x Chris Singlemann

I used to get beat up a lot in my younger years, and the aggressor was always Black.

It started with my dad.

Then a few kids in middle school.

Then one kid during my first year of high school. I was walking back from the parking lot outside my aunt’s apartment, and a group black kids around my age pulled up to me on bicycles. We spoke. I was nervous and awkward. One of them followed me up the stairs to the main door to the hallway leading to my aunt’s apartment. My hands were full, but I got the door open. Once I was in the doorway,  I looked back to see a fist flying at my face. He hit me. He ran off. 

I feel like that’s always been the case.

I first learned that I talked like a white person when I was around the age of 8. My cousins seemed so curious about me. They wanted to know why I didn’t dance like them and why I didn’t talk like them. They called me white boy. It was confusing. I knew I wasn’t white, and all at the same time, I didn’t feel very Black.

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and was socialized in a predominately white school for most of my formative years. My grandparents raised me to keep my head down, do good work, and never upset any white people. They listened to Black music, and watched Black television, and went to our Black relative’s houses for cookouts. I loved all these things, but often felt like an outsider.

None of my friends were black growing up. The ones that were, were only in my life temporarily, and either moved away or we just stopped being friends.

I used to think black women couldn’t possibly be beautiful. I didn’t talk to them, date them, or approach them. I thought they were all the stereotypes I’d heard about them and that I had convinced myself were true: that they were loud, unruly, aggressive, and insatiable. If they didn’t look like Britney Spears, I wanted nothing to do with them. I only felt safe dating and befriending white women. I was called out for it. But, I ignored it. 

Things shifted after the first year of high school ended.

I moved to a predominantly black neighborhood with my dad and his new wife and his new stepdaughter. I hated being in such an unsafe household, my dad never stopped being physically and emotionally abusive, so I spent most of my time with friends. Also, I was a teenager.

I became fast friends with a few of the neighborhood kids. I learned that I played basketball like a white boy, but beyond that, they pretty much accepted me. One kid called me “preacher pimp” because I wore nice clothes to school and because many of my friends were women. I wasn’t a preacher nor was I sleeping with any of these woman, but it felt good to be acknowledged in a positive light. Yes, I know all of that was problematic, but this is my story.

I learned to freestyle rap, play basketball like someone outta of an AND1 mixtape, and use the N word effectively and proficiently, but for the most part, they were just people I kicked it with. And also, none of these things made us black or make anyone black. We could have read comic books together and played Dungeons and Dragons and we would have been just as Black.

Sure, my Black friends did things that my white friends didn’t do, but they weren’t from another planet. They felt hurt, pain, love, sadness, and happiness. They wanted better relationships with their family members. They freaked out about school. These black folk were me. And I was them. Not some kid who talked white, or was an easy target for getting beat up. I was Sinclair.

Maybe Black is whoever you are, whatever you love, and however you live in your Black skin.

Still, I held onto a lot of anger and hate towards my own Blackness.

I held onto my beliefs and perceptions about who other Black people were. I gave into what the media told me about Black people: criminal, unsafe, lazy, and dangerous. That narrative was and still is burned into my brain. I can recall more mugshots of Black men on the news, than I can celebrity profiles or Black excellence and achievements. I can recall more times that I’ve been afraid to walk in a space full of black people (family reunions, professional conferences, church, any predominantly Black city neighborhood it doesn’t matter) than I can recall walking into these spaces feeling okay with just being me.

I have so much to unlearn. But, I’m trying. I’m telling you all this. That’s a good first step. I’m aware of the problematic narrative I replay and subscribe to. That’s a good step. I’m reaching out to black men and asking to hang out with them. I putting together a mental health conference for black people and by black people to be held in Baltimore next summer. I’m purposeful about connecting with black folks in any space I enter. My therapist is black. My black wife teaches me about this world and about myself everyday. My future children will be black.

And, I’m black.

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Photo x Chris Singlemann

Still, I have a long way to go. I’ve seen a lot of conversations on social media about self-hating black men who “prefer” lighter skinned women to darker skinned women. I’m like, that used to be me. Not that long ago.

I see brothas defending themselves and wasting their breath trying to silence anyone who holds them accountable. I’m like, I’m stubborn like that. My masculinity is so flawed and fragile and unhelpful at times.

I look in the mirror, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have to exist in this Black body. I hate my own skin at times, and am embarrassed to be Black. This isn’t healthy; this isn’t how I want to live.

These days, the worst part of all this is feeling unsafe to be Black. I feel like white people are emboldened to shoot us, strike us, harm us on site. I feel like my Blackness gets confused for targets all the time. I feel like no matter how many degrees I have, I’m still less than. 

But it doesn’t stop here. I’m not stopping at just admitting how I feel and being real about the barriers. I’m seeking to learn more and embrace my Blackness. I’m working on discovering spaces where I find comfort. I’m working on not feeling so upset when people pull my Black card. I’m working on being less judgmental and pious when someone who looks like me walks into a room. I’m tired of being a crab in a barrel. There is no barrel. It’s just all of us.  

I don’t want a badge, a trophy, or an applause. I simply want to do better. But, it’s not simple. So many of us are actively working to unlearn and undo the impact of slavery, trauma, and internalized racism.

And, I’m tired of doing this shit alone and in my head. Maybe you’re doing the work as well. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking: Dang, I thought it was just me.

It’s not. A lot of us are steeped in self-hate, and so many don’t even know it. 

So, if you’re black, and you’re reading this, please, reach out. Or please comment and share your story. Or just please be a little patient with me as I figure out how to untangle myself out of this beautiful complex mess that is a story and life of hurt, shame, being excluded, bring brought in, being loved, being black.