“I’m thinking of all the other people that think that my presence in this community and this space in this organization is a stamp on this is also safe for you.”
Shanise Barona is a web developer and community builder with a passion for where tech and social justice intersect.
K: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the #causeascene podcast. I have someone who I met a year ago and we’ve spent some time together so I’ve been able to get to know her better. I’m very happy to have Shanise on. Shanise, please introduce yourself to the audience.
Shanise Barona: Hi everyone, my name is Shanise Barona. Happy to be on your podcast!
Kim Crayton: Shanise, tell me why is it important to cause a scene and how are you causing a scene?
Shanise Barona: I think of the quote by Zora Neale Hurston that says, “If you’re silent [about your pain], they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Kim Crayton: Okay, that’s fucking deep. Okay. Go ahead.
Shanise Barona: That’s why it’s important to cause a scene. And how am I causing a scene? Many ways… Primarily, just existing.
Kim Crayton: There’s a specific reason that you’re here, but we’ll get to that. Tell me why — fuck it, we’re just gonna get into it. I’m just not even gonna beat around the bush.
Many of you know that I’ve had some issues with some of the “women’s groups” in tech, particularly the groups that are run by white women. Because, like many “feminist”/”feminism” organizations, it’s about white feminism. And these organizations are focusing on white women’s issues in tech. As many of you know (and if you don’t know, I’m gonna say it again), white women are NOT “diversity.” Although they are underrepresented in tech, no, WOMEN are underrepresented in tech… White women — very few, if they don’t come from other marginalized groups, as in, having a disability, LGBTQ, all these other things that makes a group of people marginalized, particularly in tech — don’t belong to that group. White women, they are underrepresented, but most are not marginalized. And so, they cause harm to most marginalized individuals who they recruit. They have this “we’re open to everyone” “we’re safe spaces for all” when in actuality I’ve had far too many people in my DMs who are part of these organizations who can attest that these are not true stories. These organizations are focusing on white women’s issues and it’s causing harm.
Like I said, I’m just gonna fuckin jump into this.
This conversation is about Girl Develop It. I tweeted about them and I also tweeted about Women Who Code. If anyone wants to come on the show to give me some specific examples of Women Who Code, I have my own, but I’m gonna leave that alone. Women Who Code is a problematic organization because I’ve been DMs from people from there as well. But we’re going to focus on Girl Develop It.
Shanise, this is going to be about you telling your story. I just really… I’m gonna tell you: you are a godsend. And I haven’t said this before. Because these “leaders” of these organizations are causing such harm. Really marginalized groups, particularly black women, are being shut down, silenced, all these others things. I’m just at a place where I’m just tired of us being harmed and not being able to say anything. Tell us about your relationship with Girl Develop It. It’s your time to tell your story.
Shanise Barona: Sure. I worked at Girl Develop It. I held two positions there over the last couple months.
Actually, let me backup. I started there as a student. I started at Girl Develop It in 2016 as a student. I was kind of learning about tech. I had kind of experimenting with coding in the past in high school with sites like MySpace and Tumblr and things like that, but I didn’t know that this was an industry I could work in, a job coding. So I was working at a university and discovered Girl Develop It and started taking classes that summer. I remember feeling grateful and very excited. A lot of my, up until this point, I would say maybe that first introduction to tech was very positive and Girl Develop It was a part of that for some time. I remember my first impression being that it definitely felt very white, it definitely felt very cliquey. For some background for folks who may not know, at Girl Develop It there’s a national team but there’s also chapters locally in about sixty cities across the United States. I’m talking about my local chapter when I first joined. It definitely wasn’t inclusive and it wasn’t diverse. But it wasn’t necessarily intentionally unwelcoming. I was just like, “I need access to these resources and this is a little uncomfortable, but fuck it. I’m here because I fuckin deserve to be.”
Fast forward through that. 2017 I began working for Girl Develop It Headquarters’ national team, very small team. And that experience, I would say, was completely — I guess maybe it’s not completely different. I also felt, kind of like that “fake happiness”. Like that fake “oh yeah, we’re welcoming, we love empowering women.” but my experience there was very opposite of that. I didn’t feel empowered. I didn’t feel respected or valued. I didn’t feel like I mattered. I definitely felt like a token. And it was very disappointing.
Kim Crayton: I want to stop here and say — you guys can’t see this but, Shanise, I can see her — there’s some discomfort in her in having this conversation. But she’s going outside her comfort zone to have this conversation because it’s very important.
I want to bring up two things. When you said you were in your local group and it wasn’t inclusive but you were like, “fuck it, I deserve to be here” and then you go to the national and there’s this “fake” whatever, the writing on the wall, the motto is how inclusive we are, but it’s not.
And this is why I say in my talks all the time: you do not get to define what inclusion is for me. Organizations really need to understand this. You do not get to say what’s inclusive for the individual, particularly someone from a marginalized community who has ALWAYS been excluded. You need to go above and beyond. You’re saying “you’re inclusive” means SHIT, particularly if I’m articulating to you that I do not feel included, that I do not feel welcome, that nothing you’re doing changes the fact that I’m not feeling included. You can say you’re making that a one-off, like, “Oh, that person’s just being sensitive.” You can say all these things. You can justify it or treat it any way you want to. But the bottom line is if I, Kim Crayton, say that your organization is not inclusive-feeling for me, that’s what the fuck it is. If it’s important to you that I am included, then you need to change something. It’s not the status quo. You cannot continue moving the way you’re doing if you want ME and people like me to feel included.
The whole “but fuck it, I’m gonna do it anyway”… that’s what marginalized individuals do. We are SO used to being treated at the margins — that’s why we’re marginalized — being discounted and disrespected. But we already know that’s gonna happen. That’s the status quo for us. We have learned to say “fuck you, I’m gonna get what I need” because this is the norm. So I’m not gonna let this shitty environment, this shitty experience stop me from moving forward or getting whatever I intended to get from this group. But let me say this: it is not beneficial for everyone, for anyone. Because women of color, particularly black women, are under so much stress because we’re constantly put in these kind of situations where we have to excel in spite of the bullshit. We’re expected to “vote like black women,” to be the moral compass of this fucking country while every obstacle is put in our way.
It’s like doing hurdles. We’re expected to get through these hurdles time and time again even though the hurdles keep getting closer together, they keep getting higher. Let us stumble one time and it’s our fault. No one ever looks at the fucking hurdles that are being put in our place.
This is why I wanted to stop and articulate this. Because some of you are gonna say, “Oh, Shanise is being catty.” No. No, no, no, no, no. This is why I want to have this conversation. What Shanise is speaking to, thousands of women everyday have this experience. Shanise is just brave enough to tell her story. As comfortable as you feel, I need you to give me specific examples of how you speak to this and you’re being ignored; you speak to this and you’re being disrespected; you speak to this and it’s your issue, not theirs. Because what I want is for these organizational leaders to hear this and understand it is in their power, it is their responsibility to make the change. I’m going to tell you what I’ve been telling people who keep sliding into my DMs with these issues. I’ve been saying if the leaders of these white-run organizations aren’t willing to change or to change that leadership, then let the fucking organization burn to the ground. And that is where I am right now. This is why I have no fucks to give, because you’re causing harm. Can you tell us, as comfortably as you feel, some specifics on what this feels like. Because everybody wants to act like they don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Like we’re all black women and we’re crazy as shit! Give us some examples of what this looks like.
Shanise Barona: Definitely. People definitely like to act like that, but what they don’t realize is as black women we have fuckin receipts because a lot of times our livelihoods depend on them. A big thing while I was there was there was a coworker who would say racially offensive things. The way she spoke to me was completely inappropriate, very different from how she engaged with other members of the team. I pointed this out MANY times.
Kim Crayton: Okay, Imma stop you. I need specifics. Tell me specifically how she would engage with you. Without telling me the person’s name, how would her interaction with you be different from her white counterparts?
Shanise Barona: Absolutely. One thing that comes to mind was there was a white chapter leader that was giving a presentation that was largely problematic. It presented gender as a binary, it was very white feminism oriented, things like that. I was the first one to point out that this presentation was a problem. This woman going to represent the organization and state a lot of these things that were inaccurate and problematic. This specific person was kind of in charge of leading this group of leaders. I had pointed out to the team. And she did not like that. I say that she did not like that because she proceeded to — the way she spoke to me via our private Slack conversations was degrading. She said I was having a strong negative reaction. Which I feel like, saying that to a black woman, and painting me as an angry black woman…
Kim Crayton: Is gaslighting.
Shanise Barona: Exactly. And that narrative kind of carried on. In which I would speak out on something and it had to become about how I was feeling, what my emotions were, instead of the actual thing I was pointing out.
Kim Crayton: Okay, I’m going to stop you. I need to draw these parallels. What Shanise is saying. She brings up valid — fuck it, even if it’s not valid criticism — she brings up feedback, critiques, or whatever, that something is going on. And instead of it being left to “professional feedback”, it now becomes about our feelings. It now becomes about “Shanise is taking this personally.” It leaves the real of “professional feedback” to “unmanaged emotional something or other.”
Shanise Barona: Exactly. That conversation quickly became unproductive. I was pushing back on her and saying, “How exactly am I having a ‘strong negative reaction’?” And also, to your point, I could have whatever fucking reaction I fucking want. If this is an internal team conversation — granted, professionalism, respect, et cetera — nothing I said was disparaging, nothing I said was disrespectful to the presentation or to this woman. It was kind of like: Here’s a problem; how are fixing this problem?
How that situation was handled compounded the issues with this woman. I was told that I just didn’t know her that well, that we needed to be friends and maybe go out for drinks or coffee… Which I then challenged, because why should I then spend more money — keeping in mind I was the lowest, in terms of authority level, at the organization, therefore I’m getting paid the least; we talk about black women’s equal pay, so probably not even getting paid what I fucking deserve anyway — to meet this racist person, and to make an effort not only to be her friend, but to educate her?
Kim Crayton: Now you’ve got the emotional labor. Everything falls on you. The reason I’m teasing this out is because it’s not just these organizations. I see it all the time and it becomes the person who has been victimized, who is marginalized, their responsibility to educate. That’s why you see so many black women assigned to doing Diversity & Inclusion work and all this other bullshit when white people need to educate themselves — you don’t need to be leading this shit, but we traditionally don’t have the power to make any changes. What should have happened was to check the white chick that this has absolutely nothing to do with my emotions. Don’t dictate the fuck who my FRIENDS should be. If you wanted us to meet as the organization, you should have set that up.
Shanise Barona: Facilitate a fucking meeting instead of making us resolve things outside of work on our time.
Kim Crayton: This was a work issue and now you’re putting it back on me. This was never about you and your emotions. This was a work a concern.
Shanise Barona: This theme keeps popping up with another person in the organization. There was a situation in which, again in a local chapter, something happened. I think it was two white chapter leaders, maybe three. They were being degrading to a black chapter leader. I became aware of the situation from Twitter. Two people in that local community started tweeting about it.
Kim Crayton: I’m sure this is the one I got in on, too.
Shanise Barona: They start tweeting about it. For more context, the Girl Develop Team works remotely but a lot of us are based in Philadelphia. This particular day we were co-working together in person. I arrive at the co-working space and I remember saying to the Executive Director, “Look, I literally just woke up this morning and I saw this on my timeline.” It already was timestamped two days ago… the fucking Twitter algorithm is like *laughs*. I was already tardy to the party! I was like, “Oh, what’s going on?” and I looked at the responses and I saw that the Executive Director had already responded. I’m thinking, okay, there’s been action taken here, so I’m assuming there have been conversations internally. I’m, at this point, asking clarifying questions to try to get information.
I was not even looked in the eyes. I definitely noticed that her behavior became a little strange. I was reading her body language and she was, again, not looking me in the eyes. She seemed very flustered. I was just asking, “What is going on? I saw this on Twitter. What’s the organization’s response? What are we doing? I saw that you responded.”
Another coworker came in and the ED didn’t really respond to me. Instead I got a private Slack DM in which I was told to step outside. We step outside and the first thing that this person says to me is, “You seem upset.” Kim, I was not fuckin upset! I was fucking asking a question. That was over and over and over. In this instance it wasn’t even new information I was pointing out to them. It was just, “Hey, I saw this. I’m on this team. I’m here collecting knowledge, trying to figure out what even is going on. What are the next steps here?” …To be treated off the bat, again, like an angry black woman.
Kim Crayton: Or “emotional.” We can’t “manage our emotions;” everything we do and say comes from “emotions.” And they’re so even-keeled, but we’re just “emotional” — we just walk in, our faces, everything about us, is just “emotional.”
Shanise Barona: Absolutely. If you’re not bubbly and pouring over with the fake cheeriness then you’re “emotional” and you’re “having a strong negative reaction” and it’s a problem. I was serious. The situation is upsetting. I shouldn’t have to —
Kim Crayton: It upset a lot of people! Again, it goes back to: “So what if I’m having an emotional reaction to it? It does not negate the fact that I’m asking you a question, as a leader, ‘What are we doing next?’” Those are two different things! Two fuckin different things.
It speaks to why I say civility is optional for white people and expected behavior of marginalized groups. It allows us to manage our own behavior. When we’re taking turns, when we’re managing our voices… I want you to get back to your story but I really want to stop here.
I don’t think white people really know the mental gymnastics black women go through on a daily basis just to be effective in professional situations. Something happens and we not only have to think about what to say and when to say it and how to say it in that moment, but, what if it escalates and it goes to HR? How will this affect me ten years from now on my career path? We are doing so many calculations in our heads. When people say, “We’re inclusive. Your voice matters. You’re at the table.” No the fuck it doesn’t if I have to do all of THAT to feel safe when you can just say whatever comes out.
And we saw with the Kavanaugh hearing. That man said whatever the fuck he wanted to say and dealt with absolutely no repercussions for his behavior. That is how whiteness is all the damn time to us. Even with [Christine Blasey Ford]: she was very measured, very stoic, but so was Anita Hill years before and it was a totally different thing. Everyone felt empathy for [Ford], like “oh my god,” but when Anita Hill spoke it’s the angry black woman.
Shanise Barona: The irony in this is it’s the same woman who had a temper tantrum at a women’s conference we went to that Michelle Obama was speaking at. She got into an argument with black women and was trying to have black women stand up out of their seat to give HER a seat. But I’M “emotional.” I literally saw someone that is supposed to exhibit leadership, is supposed to be running this organization, and supposed to be fucking empowering women, have a fucking temper tantrum in front of our whole team.
Kim Crayton: And no one called her on it?
Shanise Barona: I mean, kind of. But that person was shortly after not working for the organization anymore. No apologies were made. It was SO fucking much to be a black woman sitting four rows away, about to see Michelle Obama speak, and see someone that is supposed to be a leader, someone that says that they’re an ally, that they’re a champion for women and people having access, literally throwing a temper tantrum because she felt like SHE deserved to see Michelle Obama speak. Not that there weren’t any other seats though! Don’t get me wrong, there were fuckin other seats. You just thought you deserved to be four rows in front of Michelle Obama, and that these black women — and I want to highlight these were black women sitting there — had to get up and give you their seat.
Kim Crayton: This speaks sooo much to why I distrust whiteness by default. Two things that immediately make me not trust you, and if you use them in conjunction with each other I’m just like “fuck you” et al: “feminism” and “ally.” If you’re feminist and you’re white, I don’t trust you. If you call yourself an ally, I don’t trust you. If you say those two things together, you are a shit show to me until you can prove that. “Ally” is about how I feel you are acting on my behalf. You don’t get to self-assign. Feminism, historically, and I drop these articles all the time, has been about white feminism. It’s always been about white feminism. Although the want to fight the patriarchy, they don’t want to give up any privilege whatsoever. They might get upset because they’re being treated like little girls but they do NOT want the experience of black women. A lot of feminism is anti-blackness anyway. When you tell me that, it just makes me…
I’ve heard so many people, when I mention that I’m getting these DMs, say “Oh, well that must be at the chapter level, because this ED is not this kind of person.” And I’m thinking, “No, that’s not what I heard.” I’m hearing it’s all through the organization. And definitely at the executive level. And this is the problem! This is it. Everybody wants to fucking make excuses for shitty behavior. But again, black women jumping hurdles stumble — we’re the shit show, we’re the problem. You’re being “emotional,” you’re being “aggressive,” you’re being “defensive,” you’re feeling “attacked.” All these things that quickly escalate now being some kind of physical harm to people. But yet you can cry, you can wail, you can scream, you can do all these other things.
Just what happened to me recently. She wasn’t even a white woman, but a woman of color who lives in the United States as de facto white because that’s how they’re treated, attacks me and then there are white men who come and attack me without the full fuckin story. It’s like we can never catch a fucking break. And until organizations, organizational leaders, community leaders, event organizers, get that your MERE BEHAVIOR is racism… This is why I don’t even have these fuckin conversations. You’re racist! I’m not gonna debate this. Where on the spectrum of racism are you on? Are you actively working to be anti-racist or are you swinging the pendulum toward white supremacy? That’s the only thing I want to have a conversation about. Your behavior consistently shows this is who you are. Consistently. It’s not a fucking one-off! This is fucking consistently. And then I look at the article that Ruby Hamad wrote about white women’s tears. It so speaks to how it’s not just here. She’s in Australia and she was so blown away by getting attacked by white people in Australia, regretting even doing the article, until black women in the United States say “Oh my god, this is our story.” That’s when she realized that, “Shit, this is not isolated. This is something that’s happening everywhere to women of color.”
Shanise Barona: As you were saying like how we as marginalized people feel about that person’s actions, this is also someone that… I live in West Philadelphia. As some of you may know, Philadelphia is pretty segregated. This is also someone that would DM me articles of shootings in the neighborhood that I lived in asking me when I would move. That’s a fucking microaggresion. Not only do you control how much I’m getting paid, but you live in THE most expensive neighborhood in the city, so you have no fucking concept (or maybe you do you just don’t give a shit), but that’s not fucking allyship at all. To then flaunt or kind of tout in my face how “dangerous” this place is that I live — because that’s where I can afford to live right now — is and ask me when I’m moving. What the fuck is THAT?
Kim Crayton: I want to throw out the title of that article is “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour” from the Guardian. I want to talk about that because people might say, “What does she mean that that’s a ‘microaggression?’” Well, let me explain. Shanise just said there’s someone who controls her pay, who actually KNOWS how much she gets paid, who knows how much it costs to live in Philly. On one level, someone could say, “She’s just being concerned.” There’s a bigger thing there.
Shanise Barona: You can turn your concerns into action—
Kim Crayton: —through my money, through my pay.
Shanise Barona: You’re over here tweeting about Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, so what the fuck is you talking about?
Kim Crayton: That’s where I was trying to get with this. I understand that a majority of white people who listen don’t understand these things. That’s why I try to break this down. To do it more than once. If you’re so concerned about my safety, then you as an organization need to say, “Damn, Shanise is living in a place that’s unsafe and I’m concerned about that. What can we do to help facilitate a move?” Or something. Then that becomes a conversation. I do this to my friends all the time. I moved back to Atlanta from Chicago. When they’re having a fuckin snowstorm I would always drop, “Oh damn, it’s 50º in Atlanta.” That’s what that is!
Shanise Barona: The thing is, it doesn’t even need to be an individual thing. I’m not necessarily expecting like, “This is Shanie’s situation. Let’s find out how we can give to her.” That would be fuckin great but the chances of that happening are… But you LIVE in this city, too, right? If you’re for Philadelphia, you’ve gotta be about Philadelphia. Internally, we’re having conversations: “How can we reach underrepresented communities? What does that look like? Going into libraries, going into community centers, going into lower income neighborhoods.” Well, that’s fucking West Philadelphia. You’re saying this, you’re touting this around, maybe to sponsors or to get partnerships, in conversations, “2018 Goals: reaching underrepresented communities” but here you are antagonizing someone that IS a part of that community, LIVES in that community. I’m not gonna say I enjoy living where there’s crime, but there’s crime everywhere, and I actually enjoy living in West Philadelphia. How can you maybe provide more resources to them? I attend the library in West Philadelphia all the fucking time and it’s a great fucking center and it’s a great fucking resource. Do you think any of these people have even stepped FOOT in these communities centers with their white savior bullshit?
Kim Crayton: You’re throwing these grenades over the fence but you’re standing behind it. “Where you live sucks!” Oh my god, I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. You use the black experience, or the experience of marginalized people, when it’s convenient for you. When you can benefit from it, it’s all about — just like all these people who want to get DNA tests so they can see if they’re part Native American, if they’re indigenous. Like, what the fuck? Whiteness will do that shit when it benefits them. My point is the fact that if this concerns you, you need to be making sure that the organization is providing salaries that are of a livable wage so that I can move to a safer neighborhood if that’s what your concern is. But you speak to even more specific points. If you’re concerned about these communities — not just the fucking safety of it, because that is so… white. There’s so much else going on in these communities! There’s culture—
Shanise Barona: People fucking steal shit in Old City, too.
Kim Crayton: Not only that, but there’s so much culture and respect and honor and history and nuance in these communities. Don’t boil them down to just being “crime places.” You spoke to that about the library. That’s a public-paid-for entity. When you go in our communities, we have some of the best food and all these other things that you’re missing out on because all you can think about is crime. When I did the #causeascene conference in San Francisco, there was a black gentleman who spoke. He was the only black man who spoke that. After everyone speaks I like to do a Q&A. Everyone sits in a circle and we just debrief what just took place. There were a LOT of white guys there and he was the only black guy there. So I asked, “White people, white men specifically, how do you feel when you see black people in public?” Someone was brave enough to say “When I encounter a black man I’ve really noticed and been conscious that I don’t make direct eye contact when I cross the street” and all this other stuff. I commended him for being honest. I asked the black gentleman, “Tell us how you feel.” He gave the socially-politically correct answer and I was like, “No, that’s now what I want. I’ve created a safe space here and I want you to tell them how that makes you feel.” Immediately tears come out of his eyes. He’s bawling. He explains how it makes him feel. Every other white person in that room needed to see that. They needed to see the harm of their ideas of what blackness means, how that affects us on so many different levels. They needed to see a black man who is professional, who just gave a talk, who is kicking ass in tech, tell them what this feels like. This is where a lot of white people — I have so many white followers — are are now tuning in and willing to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Because they’re recognizing how complicit they’ve been in harming people they care about.
When I see organizations like Girl Develop It — who, again, I never would have known this had the Twitter thing not happened, but black women were so frustrated and so upset that they had to have this conversation out in the open — that even seeing THAT, nothing changed. This is where I say fuck it. Let it burn the fuck down. Even if you see that. Two or three of the executives started following me after I made a comment about that. That’s where I got those followers. I noticed it because they weren’t following me before.
Shanise Barona: To create a faux sense of “We’re listening.”
Kim Crayton: I’m taking a pause because I’m getting angry. I’m really getting angry in this conversation and I’m trying to manage that and facilitate this conversation with Shanise. Because it is no longer acceptable. This behavior is fucking no longer acceptable. You can’t so you don’t know it. SO at this point, after you know something, you’re now making a conscious decision that it doesn’t fucking mean anything to you. That’s where the harm comes. Black women and marginalized communities will continue to come to your organizations because no one’s saying anything.
This is another reason I’ve got to figure out a way to have a public list of all these assholes who go to conferences and cause problems and no one knows about it. They continue to go to conferences and no one knows about it because people whisper in these backchannels, “You shouldn’t invite him or her to this thing because they’re gonna do this thing,” but the PUBLIC doesn’t know about it. Because they’re trying to save their reputations. But they continue to cause harm to people. And this shit has to STOP.
Shanise Barona: My thing was that I was vocal. I was giving suggestions, not only on these issues, but even organizational things. A lot of times my ideas were laughed at. They were passed over. When you’re not suggesting things, that’s when they want to complain about a lack of, “you’re not as vocal anymore in meetings.” I’m fucking tired! I’m tired. This shouldn’t be an expectation. I’m going above and beyond to try to educate you. And this assumption that marginalized people are experts? I’m an expert in my experience and what the fuck I’m feeling, but I also don’t have this figured out. That doesn’t give room for learning, it doesn’t give room for mistakes, it doesn’t give room for “Let’s all try to fuckin figure this out together. And listen to the most marginalized voices.” Even when suggestions come through, they’re still warped into this other thing that you didn’t necessarily intend.
Kim Crayton: Because it leaves you and it gets filtered through white feminism.
Shanise Barona: Zapier does this thing that’s like a Diversity & Inclusion Changelog to be more transparent in the changes in which they’re making, their hiring practices, things like that. I came across that and dropped it to our team. A big thing that has been a barrier is the lack of transparency on my team and in the entire organization. There’s no transparency.
Kim Crayton: Stop right there. Explain to me what you mean. Where would you like to see areas of transparency?
Shanise Barona: There’s just so many levels to it. The way the team’s overall communication is defaults to passive-aggression which I would say is aligned with white feminism. People like to think their communication is direct but they’re just being passive aggressive. I specifically called that out to my manager. I said “I don’t ascribe to that form of communication. I prefer direct feedback, direct critique, whatever it is, that’s fine with me. I feel like communicating with each other passive-aggressively is disrespectful. I’m not going to stand for it and I don’t communicate with people like that. I do my best to not communicate with people like that.” But that’s the default mode of communication.
With these situations that pop up at a chapter-level that went public on Twitter, it kind of created a lot of internal chaos because it was something that went public. If I’m being silenced, I’m being microaggressed, no one knows that outside of my small network of friends and family and my therapist because they have to hear me talk about it. I’m not really in a position where I can be as candid and as public with it on Twitter as someone who doesn’t work for the organization. I don’t even want to say that they gave a shit about it because I question that, but it definitely caused a flurry of scrambling because it’s all about appearance.
Kim Crayton: That’s why I like calling shit out. That’s why we have to. Until these organizations are publicly shamed, they do nothing. They default back to “Oh, it’s a minor issue. It’s just you. It’s just this pocket.” This is what I keep telling people. We need to stop thinking in silos and start thinking in systems. If part of the system in Philly is fucked up, the rest of the system is going to eventually have to deal with it.
Shanise Barona: That experience of asking questions and not getting clear answers, not being clear on what the organization is doing… I felt like working for this organization was eroding my moral fiber. I’m a black woman before I’m an employee of any organization. Yeah I’m asking questions as an employee and needing to know what’s going on, but also I was living that experience that these women at that chapter in Minnesota were experiencing with their white local chapter leadership. I was living that on this very same team. Not only was I invested and concerned about that, but I was like, “You haven’t handled my shit!” You tell me.
Kim Crayton: You can’t handle it here, so how are you gonna handle it there?
Shanise Barona: Accountability. And holding them accountable. To hold them accountable, they would even have to be responsible for their actions… And there is NO, there’s no—
Kim Crayton: —to acknowledge that there is a problem. And that is the problem with white feminism. It never acknowledges there is a problem with it.
Shanise Barona: There is no owning of actions. There is no owning of mistakes unless it really comes to a head and shit hits the fan.
Kim Crayton: And by that time, we are so traumatized. We’ve had so much pain. For a professional black woman to publicly say something, to get to that point, there is so much trauma that is sitting behind that. Because we’ve calculated all the things that will happen to our careers and we’ve said, “You know what? At this point it just doesn’t fucking matter.”
Shanise Barona: At the end of the day, yeah, I suffered, and I’m suffering, but I’m thinking of all the other people who think that my presence in this community, in this space, is a stamp on “This is also safe for you.”
Kim Crayton: THANK YOU! I had to tell one conference organizer to stop fucking using my name because people would see that as an endorsement of you, from me, and I do not fucking endorse your event AT ALL.
Shanise Barona: I will never, intentionally or willingly, support suffering of marginalized people.
That quickly became a problem. Back to the Twitter situation. As a team, I felt like we weren’t even allowed to talk about it. We then had to go to our internal conference for our chapter leaders. This is a month later. Still have not dissected it as a team. I’m asking questions. What can we say about this? What is going on? What are the next steps? I don’t actually know what decisions are fucking being made. There was a presentation, a talk, that was I giving at this conference and that talk was heavily policed. I feel like they were absolutely concerned about what the fuck Shanise was going to say. My talk was policed so heavily that the Co-Founder of the organization was editing my slides down to the speaker notes.
Kim Crayton: What?!
Shanise Barona: Yes, down to the motherfucking speaker notes. Taking out the term “emotional labor” — “mm, I don’t like that. I think it should be ‘cultivating empathy.’”
Kim Crayton: WHAT?! That’s not… “Emotional labor” is emotional labor. That means you’re not… They’re not the same thing.
Shanise Barona: That’s why they’re different words. Words mean things!
That talk was so heavily policed. At one point it had to come to a head: I said, “Y’all can just have an hour break then. I’m just not giving this talk.” It was a talk that was going to be given in conjunction with another coworker who had spent a lot of time on it. And it still didn’t name the thing. I’m all for naming the thing. I wanted — as an organization, especially the white leadership — to say “we fucked up” and own that, and “here’s how we’re going to avoid that happening, here’s how we’re going to strive to make that inclusive organization.” Because it’s not.
They just changed their mission this year. You could probably go to the website and note this difference. But that is the only place in which this difference is noted. This mission was “serving women” and now it says “women and non-binary adults.” The only change in that was the wording. It feels so inauthentic to slap on “non-binary adults” and not have any effort in 1) educating the rest of the organization as far as the local chapters and their leaderships any sort of roll-out on “Here’s how we’re changing our language and this is intentional because _____, this matters because ____.”
Kim Crayton: “This is how we communicate it, this is how we move forward to the world, this is what it means…”
Shanise Barona: If you can’t stand strong in that… You’re saying “we want to be welcoming, we don’t just want this to be for cis white women, we want trans women to feel included, we want everyone to feel included, because Girl Develop It is for everyone.” They just focus on women. That feels inauthentic to to me. I’ve said that numerous times. When the new mission was rolled out, it’s like, “Oh, are we supposed to start using this wording?” But at local levels and in conferences, people are saying “women, women, women” over and over and over. That is erasure! You’re telling them, “You’re included here! We want to see you! Come to our classes!” but everytime you speak to a group you’re just gonna default to “women” instead of saying “people” because it’s not that fucking hard.
Kim Crayton: This has been an enlightening conversation and I’m sure we could go on. I don’t even know if there’s an endpoint to this, but there’s an endpoint. What would you like your final words on this episode to be?
Shanise Barona: I think right now what I’m thinking about and what I’m feeling is again the same quote I said earlier: “If you’re silent [about your pain], they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” So fuck being silent. Cause a fucking scene. Go the fuck off. It all needs to burn down.
Kim Crayton: On that note. I’m gonna leave you with that. *laughs* Thank you so much for sharing this. It took a lot for you to share this. All these people have come to my DMs, but they won’t tell the story. I commend you for being brave enough and allowing your discomfort to be… so you can tell this story. These stories need to be told because these organizations need to fix it or go away. There are more inclusive teams out there ready to take up this space. Thank you so much.
Shanise Barona: Thank you.