Ask Cody: Lessons learned, Lawrence, and still no action or change; what will it take? (Column)

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Note: Ask Cody is a regular opinion feature that Cody Keith Charles writes for The Lawrence Times. Community Voices pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

Read previous editions of Ask Cody here.

Q: Dear Cody, what is a life lesson you wish you could share with the greater Lawrence community?

A: Six years ago, I wrote the article Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Well-Intentioned People. It was not loved by all in 2015, as it condemned whiteness (not necessarily white people). In fact, many people (Black and brown included) thought it was distasteful and too in-your-face. I remember sharing the piece on my social media and it not receiving any acknowledgement, as folks were scared to engage it. One white woman even said something to the effect of “this feels more negative than true.”

At the end of the day, white folks didn’t see themselves in this piece. They had no ability to connect themselves to the violence I wrote about. For them to reckon with truth, even their truth, they must be committed to breaking through their delusions.   

I began to gaslight myself for a few months —are my experiences valid? Am I  telling the truth, or at least my truth? 

Do I deserve the violence that continues to come my way? 

Am I a good friend?  Do I complain too much?  Am I too sensitive?  Is it possible to center myself too much?  

I was unsure if I could trust myself. I began to lose out on opportunities because I was deemed too radical — no committees, no promotions and no white woman sending me food during Black History Month. Yes, there was a Lawrence white woman who cooked meals for Black folks during Black History Month, and I didn’t make the cut. I wasn’t even deemed human enough to receive the unseasoned nourishment. 

However, years later, the article is used and shared widely. It is used in classrooms, within nonprofit organizations and in daily life (within friend groups). The white woman who once said “this feels more negative than true” approached me saying that the piece felt unrecognizable a year later. She said that she thought I edited the piece since her last read. In her words, “I realized the article didn’t change — it was me. I changed.”

Take a moment to fully and truthfully reflect on the white woman’s response a year later. 

How do you make sense of this moment? What happened in that year? What does it look like if you believe Black trans folks the first time? 

Why do you need to be convinced that anti-Black racism and transphobia exist? What makes you think you are the authority on anything around being marginalized? 

How do you live knowing that folks in your community are suffering and barely surviving, and you have so much? In a whole ass global pandemic? How do you routinely escape any responsibility? When will you choose to live in alignment with what you say you care about? 

After reflecting on these questions as a family or friend group, now think about the amount of labor that goes into engaging whiteness. What is Black queer labor worth to you? 

Do you think Black queer folks deserve payment for answering degrading questions 10 times a day in their most respectful voice

Do you think we can continue to educate you without depleting our very own energy?

– Cody Keith Charles (all pronouns) is the Founder and Executive Director of Haus of McCoy, a queer and trans community center in Lawrence, Kansas. Moreover, Cody is a writer, facilitator, cultural critic and dreamer who critiques pop culture at the intersection of liberation. Cody enjoys trash TV, spending time with beautiful queer people and loving on their dog, Monét.

Find Cody on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Read more of Cody’s writing on Medium. Read more of Cody’s writing for the Times here.

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