A ‘Dangerous’ Battle Cry to Rethink Racism

Sarah Cornett

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Writer Mia McKenzie challenged students in a performance of readings and conscience-raising on Friday, Sept. 13, in a packed Reid Campus Center Coffeehouse. McKenzie discussed what it means to be an ally and asserted that racism will never go away. Slam poetry team Almighty Ink opened with five poems, many of which dealt with issues of sexuality and race.

Mia McKenzie

Photo by Marra Clay

McKenzie, the founder of the influential online literary project Black Girl Dangerous, advocated for queer people of color (QPOC) in her talk. She focused on the persistence of racism in America and discussed her own struggle with developing an identity as a queer person of color.

Black Girl Dangerous, a blog where various writers critically analyze the way our culture deals with race, gender and sexuality, is McKenzie’s brainchild. McKenzie is known for her distinct style of writing and advocacy. She focuses on issues related to QPOC and the intersection of queer and POC identities.

Sophomore Gladys Gitau, a member of the Black Student Union (BSU) who was involved in bringing McKenzie to campus, introduced McKenzie as a writer who addresses issues that are often overlooked.

“She fills in critical gaps in mainstream discourse of gender and sexuality,” said Gitau.

McKenzie, who is often criticized for her uncompromising stances, opened her performance by addressing a common misconception about both herself and Black Girl Dangerous.

“Some people that read Black Girl Dangerous think I’m gonna be hella mad. A lot of stuff I’m talking about is meant to be humorous,” she said.

McKenzie began her readings by presenting one of her most frequently cited pieces, “8 Ways Not To Be An Ally.”

The dark humor and sarcasm coupled with the easily relatable nature of the list had the audience laughing.

Point Five, “Don’t Try Any Harder,” demonstrates McKenzie’s deep and biting sarcasm. She comically referred to a situation in which a failing ally attempted to involve QPOC groups in a performance, but gave up when they were unavailable.

“You tried, right? You reached out to three different QPOC burlesque performers and asked if they wanted to be in your burlesque show and they all declined. Now your show is as white as a Klan meeting, but it’s not your fault, right? You did your part,” said McKenzie.

Though remarks like this are deeply serious, McKenzie’s presentation and use of humor had everyone laughing. Still, it was clear that the issues she talked about were very real and felt by many.

Some of McKenzie’s points seemed to speak directly to Whitman students, many of whom call themselves allies of people of color and the GLBTQ community.

“But the truth is that being an ally takes more work than most of us imagine. In fact, it takes constant vigilance. And there are many ways we fail at it every day,” said McKenzie.

McKenzie’s lecture at Whitman was sponsored by the Intercultural Center and a number of clubs, including FACE, GLBTQ and BSU.

BSU budget manager junior Alisha Agard began to follow the blog Black Girl Dangerous upon learning that McKenzie was coming to campus.

“My friends would post her articles on Facebook, and that’s how I learned about her,” said Agard. “I personally never thought about bringing her to campus, just because she is so cool and so influential.”

McKenzie received a number of questions asking her to flesh out an earlier point, in which she asserted that reverse racism does not and cannot exist.

“Racism is a system of oppression, not just disliking someone because of their color. If you don’t experience racism, you can’t grasp the magnitude of it,” she said. “It will always be there, so it’s not something we can really alleviate.”

Mia McKenzie

Photo by Marra Clay

Students also asked McKenzie about how our culture can begin to alleviate racism. McKenzie politely explained that these questions demonstrated how poorly informed many Whitman students are on issues of solidarity and race.

Following the talk, senior Kaitie Ivory said that McKenzie’s messages can contribute to the way Whitman students think about race.

“She really challenged a lot of Whitties. As we saw from the questions, most are not very well-versed and attuned, and I think it is because Whitman is so non-diverse and white,” said Ivory. “Things like this make people more comfortable talking.”

McKenzie’s confidence in her words resonated with the audience.

“I know who I am. And that makes me dangerous,” she said.

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