“Racism is Not a Game”
By: Crystal Egli
Our startup reached a major milestone today. Not a good one, but an expected one. Today was the day we received our first hate mail.
I found out about the nasty email when I received an early morning text from Parker. We’ve both fallen into the habit of working together (virtually) early in the mornings, before clocking in for our day jobs. We begin our days pumping each other up with positivity and joy, and I’m usually texting or calling her by 6:15am from my back deck with my dog sitting quietly beside me, daring the squirrels to take just one brave step into my vegetable garden. My phone buzzed at me, I glanced at it with anticipation, and then my heart fell. My dog gently nudged me as he sensed the tension grow. Parker was urging me to check our inbox asap, as we’d gotten a nasty submission from our website. Parker was angry. I was stunned. It wasn’t even the kind of hate mail we were expecting and 100% prepared to dismiss. This was something different, and we did not see it coming.
Parker McMullen Bushman and I are raising money via a gofundme to create a digital version of the Green Book, with a twist. We both value having honest and challenging discussions, actively fighting for equality and justice on behalf of (and as) marginalized individuals, and community building through authentic relationships and connections. These values are what defines our work and are the driving force behind designing a website which is, first and foremost, a place where people of marginalized identities can find safe and welcoming spaces to recreate and do business. At the same time it also provides resources and trainings for businesses to grow and improve. We’re not just putting unwelcoming spaces on blast; we fully intend to change the world in a fundamental way.
Parker and I have been anticipating receiving hate mail as we get further and further toward achieving our dream, but honestly, we didn’t expect it to arrive this soon.
Here is what it said:
The subject line was cut off, but I want you to know what it said. The subject line for this message was, “Racism Isn’t A Game.”
Racism isn’t a game. As my therapist would say, let’s sit with that for a minute.
While we’re sitting with it, let’s check out the definition of “game” by our friends over at Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.
Interesting. When I googled that I assumed it would include the word “fun”. But it doesn’t, and neither do we.
No, we do not think of racism as a game, and our mission to provide a database of inclusive and welcoming spaces for people of marginalized identities is certainly not a game to us. It’s comfort vs discomfort. It’s layers of trauma. It’s life or death. There are spoken and unspoken rules, and you can get ahead by playing into the unwritten rules, and it can be game-over if you make up your own. Oh, wait. Now I’m starting to think I might be onto something.
Bill Gates has been receiving plenty of conspiracy-laden hate mail lately, but do you think he and Peter Allen got their first nasty letter after only 3 weeks of letting people know they were tooling around with computer parts in a garage? Probably not, but we did. (Ok maybe the neighbors filed a noise complaint or two…?) This work is not a game in the sense of tag, hide and seek, or gin rummy, but there are still rules.
At Inclusive Journeys, we speak first from the Black lens, specifically, the Black, straight, cisgender, female/feminine, lens. We speak and work with the Black identity centered, because that is what we know, that is what we have lived, and it is what we are experts in by default. We are centering our project around the idea of creating “a digital version of the Green Book” because it is a historical connection that is meaningful to the both of us, and it’s easy to explain and make historical comparisons to. We use the Green Book framework to show that this isn’t a new idea, while bringing back to the forefront the story and work of Victor H. Green, a Black postal worker from Harlem, who society is dangerously close to forgetting. We stand on the shoulders of those who did this work before us, and we run alongside those whose work continues in parallel to ours.
There are a lot of resources out there to help people of marginalized identities find safe spaces, like restaurants, hotels, bathrooms, and parks. There are websites that list businesses owned by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), women, and people from the LGBTQ+ community. There are websites that help people of all abilities to find ADA compliant businesses, restaurants and pathways. At Inclusive Journeys, we plan to not only list businesses with a sense of all-encompassing welcoming atmosphere, but also provide resources for businesses to be able to learn and grow, and give them a chance to be better.
The apps and websites out there are providing incredible services and information to people who use them, but we are taking these ideas and turning the volume up to 11.
Inclusive Journey’s vision includes:
So why are we doing all of this work from a lens of the Black experience but for people of all marginalized identities? Well, honestly, I wouldn’t wish my customer experience on anyone else, and yet I know there are communities out there who potentially face exponentially more danger than I do from living their everyday lives in the comfort of their own bodies. Being a Black woman is one thing- there’s a couple strikes against me. Black and male might either be more or less dangerous, depending on the context. But Black and transgender is a whole other ballgame. The threat of discomfort, discrimiation and danger to a human being is exponentially compounded as you add up the identity labels society has assigned. We’re not out here to protect one group or another. We’re not trying to isolate one experience and say it’s more or less important to solve. What we do see is the intersectionality of the experiences of people of marginalized identities, and we are using the Black lens, our own experiences, and the fact that any Black person might also be part of the LGBTQ community, may need use of adaptive equipment, might have a Tribal affiliation or speak Spanish as their first language, or could possibly be a woman.
What good is it to be treated well by restaurant staff if you can’t get up the stairs to the entrance? (THAT IS STILL A THING BY THE WAY.) What’s the point of bakeries welcoming you in for a wedding cake consult, only to find out they won’t make your cake for another reason? Why visit a museum that proudly exhibits Black-Latinx history if you can’t understand the self-guided audio tour?
What’s the point of playing the game of Life if you’re not allowed to live it?
Crystal Egli is the co-founder of Inclusive Journeys, LLC.
You can find out more about the digital Green Book project at InclusiveJourneys.com.