B+W Photo Challenge Shame


I need to talk about the elephant I am feeling in the virtual room. This whole black and white photo challenge and the shame around it. It is not a competition of who is more “woke”.

Anti-racism is a process, a life-long process that we individually need to work on each day. Instead of shaming your friends for not being the perfect anti-racist, can we try uplifting and inspiring each other to be better anti-racist people?

I am one of the white women who posted a b+w photo of myself after two beautiful friends tagged me. These two friends happen to be women who lead by example in being anti-racist even before it was the cool thing to do. The same women who were supportive of my same-sex marriage and parenting before it was cool to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.

I had been on a social media break for four days. The first thing I saw when I started scrolling again was all these beautiful b+w photos of women. It was nice to see some positivity in my timeline, it had been awhile!

Before I posted, I did a little research trying to find how this challenge got started because I saw a lot of white women doing the challenge. I searched the hashtag, I checked the accounts of the most informed anti-racist educators I follow. Some had posted b+w photos of themselves, others had not. I saw women of color posting photos, in fact, one of the women who tagged me was a woman of color. I even saw Oprah and Gayle posted one celebrating women empowerment. I should have dug further, but I said, what the heck, I am going to post one, why not? It’s fun and it feels good when people celebrate you (I’ve been a bit depressed lately), and it feels good when you celebrate others. I tagged a few friends and sent them honest messages telling them how fabulous and inspiring they are. It felt good to spread some joy.

Then, of course it happened, I should have trusted my gut and realized there was more behind the challenge than just women celebrating women. I learned about the origin of this campaign and that it was to raise awareness about the alarming rates of femicide (murder) happening in Turkey against women.

I got that horrible feeling of shame. I’m just another stupid white woman. I am not a good anti-racist. I am self-centered. I should delete my post and a bunch of other useless, negative shame-filled self-talk that was not helping me or anyone else on this earth, especially not the Turkish womxn!

At the same time, private messages started coming in from the women I nominated. They were happy and appreciated my kind words. Many posted their photos and tagged other women and continued spreading the joy.

I decided to keep my photo up. I am not a perfect anti-racist feminist and I don’t need to hide that. Instead what I did was share on my IG story about the origin of the challenge accepted. I shared a few different posts and I wrote “course corrected” acknowledging I made a mistake and learned from it. I also edited my post and changed the first line to explain the origin of the challenge and linked to a profile that was educating folks about the femicide happening in Turkey.

Then the SHAME posts from white friends started passing by eyes as I scrolled.

I read posts saying thigs like “Challenge Accepted is NOT an excuse to post a selfie and hope your friends will validate your beauty”. [Ouch!]

And, then there are the people who never put the effort into liking any of your posts but take the time to send you a private message letting you know you messed up by posting that photo.

It made me think about how there are different ways to educate and to be anti-racist. You can shame others or you can educate, inspire and invite them to become more informed. I know I have been guilty of shaming but I am really trying to change that.

Here are some examples of educating and inspiring around the issue.

@yvettemikha tweet about challenge accepted

I know most of you are well-meaning but white friends can we please try to inspire and educate rather than shame?

Working to be anti-racist is not an easy path. We will all make mistakes. Things will feel uncomfortable. There is no clear path. Be brave. Keep up the work. Keep correcting your own course, put yourself out there, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, admit those mistakes, and apologize for those mistakes. But, please before shaming your well-intentioned friends, please try to ask yourself if there is a better way to educate and inspire each other.

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2 thoughts on “B+W Photo Challenge Shame

  1. Suzanna B Stinnett

    Sally, thank you for bringing things into the light once again. To let you know my level of ignorance, I cannot understand why you felt shame at all, when you read that the b&w photos were originally about supporting Turkish women and bringing awareness to their plight. I don’t understand why that triggered any guilt at all. To me, it is just another opportunity to recognize more and more of what we want to change. Even more obscure to me is the response of women to you personally. In what way does engaging each other to post pictures of our smiles, when we are so fatigued by masks and distancing, hurting the cause for Turkish women? It isn’t.

    I am on board with the fact that we are learning to change our perspectives and our behaviors, and we are taking lessons from marginalized people, learning to listen and apply our energy in ways that make a much bigger difference. That is a difficult path we’re on and to me, absolutely necessary and to be embraced. But I don’t allow people to actually shame me for my efforts. Even if I make a really big, glaring mistake. I know where my heart is. I consider it part of my job under these extreme conditions (at least extreme psychologically), to step back from judgment, over and over and over, to check my various reflexive responses toward judging, and do my best every day with every word. If others judge me, well, how can that be my problem? It simply is not. That is not where I choose to or can afford to put my energy. Further, if I had people in my circle who came to me with judgment or shaming, I would probably choose to distance more from them, at least for the time being. It’s toxic and again, I don’t believe it has anything to do with me. The last person I will take lessons from is the person who is judging me. Uplift, inspire, respond, console, listen, act, love. There’s no room for anything else. You are a huge-hearted, hard-working, consistent voice for positive change. There is zero room for guilting you. Love – Suzanna

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