Many times, when we as women are wronged, we speak out carefully, choosing our words as thoughtfully as possible to avoid any semblance of anger or resentment. We, especially black women who have been taught to avoid being labeled an angry black woman at all costs, allow others to go on with their lives as we struggle with the treatment given to us. We fear being shunned, labeled, and misunderstood while those who have wronged us go on as if their behavior was acceptable.
We (read: I) really need to stop that shit.
Donald Wright has not only wronged me, but continues to do so by dismissing my valid anger, and my very agency over my own space. That stops immediately.
As board chairman of Houston Black Nonbelievers, Donald decided it was in the best interest of the group to continue communications with a person who was known to be problematic in his belief that all the ills of the world could be solved by eradicating capitalism. This man’s belief wasn’t the problem, his refusal to understand a black organization’s mission could not be solely based on class, his bombardment of members with emailed rhetoric and his ultimate harassment and fixation on me were the problems. Despite all of this, Donald invited this man to come back to the group months later, starting up another round of harassing communication to the entire board and most specifically, me. Donald said nothing while this was going on, deciding to put the matter on the next board agenda instead. At the next board meeting, Donald feigned ignorance about why this man would start contacting us again, knowing full well he had been in contact with him, which he conveniently admitted later in pieces that are probably still incomplete.
I let Donald and the board know this was unacceptable. Whomever would go behind our backs and invite this man neither cared about the organization or me personally and I would not work with such a person or group. One board member, Carl, suggested banning the man. That was the closest point during the whole ordeal I came to having anyone support or stand up for me. Unfortunately, that moment was fleeting.
Also during the discussion, board member Andrew had this to say, “Well, I mean, I can understand him being a little upset. When Deanna breaks something down, she breaks it down.”
Wow. Even months later, that little gem of victim blaming drivel still stings. So, I am somehow to blame for my own harassment because I can articulate problems so they are easily understood? This was the moment I felt the beginning of being painted as an overbearing, angry black woman unable to see both sides or be reasonable. This was when I began to realize these people, whom I had worked with to grow the organization for nearly two years, truly did not care about me as an individual, as a fellow black person, or as a woman.
Even so, the most devastating moment of that meeting was yet to come. Donald, in his most misogynistic, paternalistic moment, looked at the only other woman on the board and said, “Candice, AS A WOMAN, what do you think about this?”
As I wrote in the previous post, I was livid. I couldn’t believe he was trying to validate my personal experience through another woman. How dare he attempt to silence or subdue me by invoking how another woman would feel in a hypothetical situation? How dare he?
Well, dared he did and his error was met with my rage. I explained why what he did and said were wrong, misogynistic and completely out of line. Of course, my rage was met with bewilderment at this point. I had been driven right into the stereotype I had fought most of my life not to become, hadn’t I?
No, I had not. I had not because the angry black woman is a stereotype meant to silence us, to strip us of our right to be angry at injustice, to stop us from protecting ourselves while others leave us unprotected. It’s a caricature that strips us of our power and our ability to boldly say “NO.” No, I will not accept this treatment. No, I did nothing to deserve this harassment. No, I will not be quiet when my very safety is in jeopardy. No.
I said no very loudly and clearly that day, and in doing so, I left that meeting immediately, knowing I could not trust any one in that room with my best interest.
But wait, there’s more. To my dismay, I ran into the board and some members a couple of hours later at a local restaurant. Donald’s response? “Oh, Deanna is mad at me, heh. You know I didn’t mean it that way, though.”
Don’t ever tell a person you have wronged what they know. They know you wronged them, that is all. This statement reflected the dismissive attitude Donald had and still has towards me. He either truly still doesn’t understand his error, or he truly doesn’t care and just wants to put on a fake smile in public. Either way, I want no parts of it.
Another stinging reality born of this situation is the fact that the other board members who witnessed (and took part) in this discussion, those who could not be bothered to stand up for me, those whom I worked with side by side, those who supported my wonderful ideas prior to this meeting, were nowhere to be found after. When I officially resigned a few days later, I didn’t hear from any of them. Not the one who initially suggested banning the harasser, not the woman who ran downstairs in tears because she knew how it felt to be harassed and unheard, not the man who suggested I bore some blame because I know how to “break it down.” These people, whom I considered friends, all abandoned me in the name of what exactly? I still don’t know.
The freethought community in Texas is relatively small, more so the black freethought community, so even though I want nothing more to do with Donald Wright or Houston Black Nonbelievers under his leadership, I understand our paths will cross. I am more than capable of continuing my activism in this community without avoiding him at all costs. Be that as it may, Donald’s behavior at a meeting we both attended today was unacceptable and the reason I broke my silence and wrote this piece.
After the meeting was over, Donald was invited by the speaker to be a part of our group photo. He walked to my side of the line, put his arm around me and said, “You don’t mind, do you Deanna?” With my smile intact, I said “I most certainly do” and he moved to the other side of the line immediately.
Donald. Do not ever touch me again. Do not think that your easy dismissal of my thoughts, words and requests grant you the right to invade my personal space without my permission. Do not ever forget that this black woman will not be cajoled or bullied into silence. Do not underestimate my resolve to fight for freethinkers, the black community, women and myself. Understand that your error today was the catalyst for breaking my silence, and I suggest you not make that mistake again.