In recent months, there has been a trend of white women arming themselves with their womanhood against people of color, specifically black people. While this isn’t new, social media and the urge to record these interactions have put them on such a nationwide scale that these women have been given nicknames, like BBQ Becky and Permit Patty. Frankly, it’s about time people are publicly confronted and shamed for their unwarranted fear of black people. This thread of white supremacy and anti-blackness says to black residents: “I do not give you permission to exist comfortably in this space.” White women are given the autonomy to play the victim and feign innocence when confronted about a wrongdoing, but it’s past time that we stop allowing this to happen. With that being said, it would be wrong and hypocritical for me not to confront these situations in my own life.
This past spring break, I went on an alternative trip with an organization at my school, Flagler College. During the trip, we were told by the organization we were working with to write letters to our representatives on a topic we felt passionate about. Since the trip was based on helping the population of people experiencing homelessness in Washington, D.C., many people in the group, including me, decided to write to Mayor Nancy Shaver to discuss the issue of homelessness in St. Augustine. In my letter, I wrote that I believed the people experiencing homelessness in St. Augustine are over-policed and ignored, and that I would not be voting for her in the upcoming election as well as advising my friends not to vote for her. Most of us sent the letters to Shaver’s address and then moved on to sending letters to other representatives of our choosing (I decided to send my second one to the head of the school board in St. Johns County).
Time passed, school continued, and I completely forgot about the letter until April 6, when I received a Facebook message from Nancy Shaver at 8 p.m. The message asked if it was me who had sent her the message, because the return address was the school address. That wasn’t to avoid hearing back from her—I just lived on campus at the time. But I told her it was me and we exchanged a few emails. She did send one that was very professional, detailing her role in helping the homeless population and suggesting I help out at an upcoming event. I unfortunately couldn’t help because I already had a service project that day. The only problem I had with that particular email was her saying that the problem was with panhandlers—because to me, panhandlers aren’t a problem; the lack of affordable housing, resources and funding for programs are the true problem.
A few days after we exchanged emails, my professor stopped me to talk after class. I assumed he wanted to talk about me not turning in my last assignment and prepared to give my excuse on why my work was late. But he wanted to speak to me about an email from the mayor that was sent to the head of the Communications Department, who at the time was Dr. James Pickett. My professor told me the email was a copy of the letter I sent to Mayor Shaver along with criticism of how Flagler College teaches their students—using my correspondence as an example to indicate that I am illiterate and they should be “ashamed.” This threw me off, because everyone else on the trip I’d spoken with said Mayor Shaver hadn’t reached out to them directly, nor did she to attempt to contact them through other means. In other words, she definitely didn’t email their professors. Yet she singled me out.
I was not just angry because she reached out to my professors, but at what the email indicated—the idea that I wasn’t smart, nor deserved my position in school. These are the very same ideas I’ve had to fight against ever since being accepted into Flagler College, as if my blackness and their need for a diversity boost is the only reason I’m a student there.
But that wasn’t the only problem: The mayor, who is meant to represent and acknowledge constituents, and their wants and needs, decided to publicly shame me for a misplaced comma on a handwritten letter sent from an alternative spring break trip that was devoid of laptops and computers. I know that I am privileged to be a college-educated woman and not all of her constituents can say that. Does that mean if they try to reach out to her to address issues they see in their community and make a spelling error or send a handwritten letter, she will attempt to publicly shame them as well?
I did respond to Mayor Shaver and voiced my discomfort with her messaging my professors, as well as informed her of the irresponsibility and unprofessionalism she showed in attempting to humiliate a constituent who tried to reach out to her. I informed her that there is a lot of racial tension in St. Augustine right now and that singling out the only black woman to write her from that particular spring break trip could look bad on her part. Her response? To ignore the reason for the letter (emailing the Communications Department), bring up the Confederate monuments, and advise me to learn how politics in St. Augustine works. I, however, was under the impression that residents were supposed to reach out to their representatives so that they can more easily represent them. I’d like to note that since I transferred my voter registration from Atlanta to St. Augustine in my freshman year, nearly four years ago, I am now a resident of St. Augustine and should be acknowledged as such.
Sharing this story may seem late and long overdue; I needed time to focus on my schoolwork for the end of the semester. But I’m sharing it now because it’s important for me to tell my story. I refuse to allow white women to weaponize their sensitivity and make black people appear as aggressors. I cannot preach that we must hold each other and others accountable if I do not hold those same women accountable. So here I am, telling my story and trying to be heard. Thank you for hearing me.
Malone is a student journalist at Flagler College.