"Anger is better, there is presence in anger."
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
I am coming to you from a very real place of exhaustion, confusion and anger. While the email above pales in comparison to the amount of messages filled with love and support, it stings.
It stings because I'm working 15-18hr days. It stings because I have done everything in my power to communicate both authentically and openly about our challenges and how we have humbly met those invitations for growth. It stings because we have an entire team working tirelessly to fulfill orders in a timely manner. It stings because we are being blamed for a problem that we did not create nor can we solve. Really, it stings because it's condescending and rude. I am angry.
My first reaction to the email was to ask myself a series of questions: what would make a person write this type of email? Were they having a bad day? Am I not communicating fast enough? Clear enough? Frequent enough? Should I have feelings as a business owner? What do I need to share about the book industry to help folx understand? What is not in question is this is a human being and before I take anything personally, I want to take their perspective. I want to humanize them.
Please let me be clear, I do not mind emails requesting an order update; you entered into a transactional agreement with us and deserve to know the status of the order. While I simply can not answer all emails, I've put into place 1. pop-ups on the website, 2. automatic responses and 3. weekly updates in effort to keep show respect by keeping you as informed as possible. I will concede that my attempts at communicating widely and clearly may not be enough for you, I can respect that. However, it is the best that we can do and I hope you can extend us the same grace of acceptance.
What makes me angry is when I and Team Cafe con Libros are not treated like human beings. We are people with feelings, limits and needs. We do not relinquish that because we're providing a service nor do we become hardened. In fact, we care more; you are our community. You matter. We are a small business; we are not robots. We are not Amazon, Walmart or Target. The level of expediency expected x the volume of orders/emails is not possible when you're dealing with actual humans. Should a small business apologize for this fact? I don't know however; I do know apology or not, we deserve to be treated with respect.
So, I ask...what is this about? Here are the facts: we are not perfect; no business is. We were slow to respond to the avalanche of orders; the entire industry has been. We did not have the proper infrastructure in place; we could not have anticipated this. So, where is this energy coming from?
The truth is that email is an example of the manner in which all people of color are treated and by association, their businesses every single day. We are not afforded the benefit of the doubt. We are presumed incompetent and undeserving of respect. And, we are acted upon with such an astounding lack of regard that either crushes our spirit or fires it up. This is the heart and soul of what the anti-racism movement is and has been calling attention to: the prevalence of the first response to Black folx to be one of suspicion, condescension and fatal aggression. There is no curiosity about or respect for our lives, internal drives or humanity. I am angry.
So, how do I respond? Should I be apologetic? Do I take the capitalistic way: the customer is always right? Do I beg for forgiveness? Or, do I respond with a great amount of humanity, honesty and compassion? I chose the latter. I was also direct and pointed.
Here's the thing...investing in a small business owned by a Black, Latinx Womxn was supposed to be an act rooted in resistance to the many systems that operate to limit our potential. It was an invitation to consider investing in small businesses versus Amazon as part of your tool belt of living more intentionally in a racist, sexist and capitalistic society. It was an opportunity to be in solidarity with Black Owned businesses as we battle for our survival on many fronts. And even this small act of activism was corrupted by the very internal ideology folx are seeking to disrupt and evict: anti-Black sentiment, internalized racial superiority and entitlement. There's so much work to be done. I am angry.
I want to conclude with these thoughts. Community, you are new to me and I am new to you. All relationships, particularly new ones, require work to build trust. I am committed to sharing about myself and my family as we continue to grow together. However, I nor anyone on our team will be treated with disrespect just because you invested your money in this business. If I allow that, I will be complicit in my own subjugation and the oppression of others. As Ryan often says "that will not happen;" not consciously or willingly at least.
I can't figure out what came first: capitalism or racism. I do know they operate in tandem; feeding lavishly off of one another. To work on uprooting one while leaving the other in place is pointless. Oppression is interlocking; we have to work on multiple fronts simultaneously. We can all start by how we show and engage one another. We can check our privilege, our sense of entitlement and underlying racially informed biases. We can all ask a series of question - humanize before we react.
Anti-racism has to be larger than a $17.40 purchase. Living anti-racism has to feel uncomfortable, almost unfamiliar for it to be real; that's the litmus test. Really family, anti-racism has go beyond the act of a singular purchase. It has to mean more than that. If not, then what's the point of all of this?