This article is written in response to the BDH’s factually inaccurate and spotty coverage of the event, “Black Girl Dangerous: Activist and Blogger” that occurred last Wednesday, Nov 20th, in Metcalf. Not only were McKenzie’s words misconstrued, especially in the closing sentence that stated she said, “‘You know what I love — when people don’t see race,’” with no context included. This was said in jest and the author offers it as McKenzie’s honest opinion, not informing its audience to her tone. The article also gave no background information on Black Girl Dangerous or McKenzie as an author. Moving forward, I ask that the BDH ensure that adequate background research is done on all of its reports and that the rigorous editorial standards of the BDH be met so reporting on events be factually correct.
Also, all of the planners of the event, Amy LaCount, Krishan Aghi, Radhika Rajan, Lorin Smith and Todd Baker (among others) were interviewed by the BDH about the event immediately after it ended. The event organizers chose to make statements as a group as opposed to individuals, and the event organizers names and affiliations were given. The few questions asked pertained to difficulties getting funding, other difficulties of getting McKenzie to Brown, and the purpose of the event. None of the organizers comments were used in the BDH article, despite their tireless work to organize what was deemed an event too expensive to fundraise for.
On Wednesday Nov 20th, renowned author, blogger and activist Mia McKenzie was brought to Brown’s campus through a conglomeration of student groups interested in organizing around race, sexuality, and gender. McKenzie started Black Girl Dangerous two years ago. It has been growing ever since and reaches a nation wide audience. The core tenant of the blog is to “amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.” The blog is a reader-funded, submission-based literary and artistic forum designed to highlight marginalized voices. McKenzie was invited to create a space for marginalized voices and bodies at Brown to come together. Over 200 hundred students and members of the community attended and packed Metcalf, many of whom were regular readers.
McKenzie’s talk consisted of readings from several of her original works, many of which can be found on BGD, as well as personal anecdotes about race and a segment entitled Oppression 101. McKenzie’s humorous and witty presentation had several people leave Metcalf in tears of laughter and provoked thought in other audience members. McKenzie opened with thank you’s to the various sponsors, financial and otherwise, included but not limited to Feminists @ Brown, The Asian/Asian-American Heritage Series at the Third World Center, and Women’s History Month at the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center. She then began to crack jokes about her past experiences with college audiences who were nervous about responding to jibes. She then assured the Brown crowd with, “You guys seem cool — you’re already laughing.”
After her introduction, McKenzie launched into her piece that lists out things that made her gay. McKenzie has the gift of being unflinchingly honest while remaining critical and enticing the audience’s laughter. Among the sections and subsections of the things that made her gay, McKenzie listed churches, 70’s era films, The Smurfs, and Cap’n Crunch that her aunt liked to eat soggy.
Some of her points were given explanations that included thoughtful analysis around race and gender. For example, she called out a film featuring Sinbad that she loved as a child for putting white actors in Arab face, but recognizes the gender-contesting Sinbad with eyeliner “thicker than [her] mothers” and gold hoops in each ear still got “mad pussy.”
McKenzie cited gender nonconforming individuals like Prince, Sinbad, and Michael Jackson as presenting her with new possibilities around gender as a Person of Color. Her early exposures to these images in the media helped plant a seed in the back of her mind that “would later grow into a really, really queer tree.”
McKenzie also elaborated on being a queer black tom-girl, sharing her former experiences with white people asking to touch her hair. She offered that such an absurd question deserved an absurd response. She called a white audience member to the front in order to act out their interactions. The white audience member was instructed to ask if she could touch McKenzie’s hair.
McKenzie had several responses, one of which was, “Are you smoking white people crack?” White people crack was then explained to be a mix of soy milk dust, espresso machine steam, and the remnants of seaweed snacks left in the bottom of the bag, one of many of her comical expression of sarcasm.
She then read excerpts from her piece “Dangerous” about her experiences of a being a “gifted” black girl. She powerfully stated, “To be a black girl in the world is to be dismissed and dehumanized at every corner of the globe, every single day. To be brilliant and a black girl is, in many people’s minds, an oxymoron. An impossibility.”
McKenzie then spoke about Oppression 101, relating that racism = power+ prejudice, debunking the notion of reverse racism, and calling out white privilege. She also read excerpts from her and A.D. Songs’s satirical piece, “How To Be A ‘Reverse-Racist’: An Actual Step by Step List For Oppressing White People.”
McKenzie closed her talk with “An Open Love Letter To Folks of Color,” which relayed all of accomplishments and brilliance of people of color. McKenzie also touched on the erasing of individual experiences within the term “people of color,” because she as a black woman and a Southeast Asian person, though both people of color, have very different lived experiences. She also facetiously said, “You know what I love — when people don’t see race” in reference to the idea of “color blindness,” a harmful line of thought that erases the lived experiences of POC.
The talk included a Q&A. The highlight was a student asking what the best and worst piece of advice McKenzie had ever received was, and requesting not to inform the students, which was which. McKenzie said one piece was to change your message for your audience, and the other was to not change your message for your audience.
Black Girl Dangerous reaches a wide and diverse audience, and McKenzie is very open about not changing her message to cater to the whims of her audience. McKenzie is based in Oakland, CA, and a transplant from Philadelphia. McKenzie is also the recipient of the 2013 Lamda Literary Award for her novel, The Summer We Got Free. McKenzie is the Founding Editor & Editor in Chief of BGD, Tina Vasquez is the West Coast Editor, and Mimi Khúc is the East Coast Editor based in DC. All of the editors are queer women of color with a variety of interests. Black Girl Dangerous is also a submission-based space so there is a variety of voices that contribute to the blog.
Check out the blog here!
Image via BlackGirlDangerous