In light of his phenomenal piece on Model View Culture, in which he broke down the ways in which online interactions almost always ends badly for the Black women and femmes involved due to the realities of hypervisibility and a plain ole “Open Season” that never seems to truly end (among other factors), I sit in awe of Riley H. and wonder what I can do to chill the f**k out and back the f**k up with regards to my online interactions with Black femme folk.
But before we continue, I will quote Riley on the phenomenon I’m talking about:
[S]et upon only Black women and femmes online, those with a certain perceived social reach and power. It’s not a power-reliant structure, though there can be power dynamics that make the effects more damaging; it is in fact just as often enacted by other Black women and femmes who feel as if they are not where they want to be social media-wise.
I’m a cis gay Black guy and I’m pretty sure that, based on blackness and non-hetero male-ness, I feel an affinity toward Black women (read: entitlement to attention and space). That’s not nice. That is invasion of space. That is violence. And I wanna reduce and eliminate the ways in which my comfort induces and relies on their discomfort.
When Black women/femmes say things that you agree with regarding their experiences, it would be in everyone’s best interest to listen and not insert themselves into the dialogue (at least without invitation).
BW: X happens to me and it makes me feel Y.
Us: OMG I HATE WHEN I FEEL Y BECAUSE OF X–THAT HAPPENED WHEN I…
“But I always talk like this,” you may say, indignity ebbing at the bay of your emotions like the sea preparing to turn into a tempest at being told to wait.
Great: You’re always undermining and ignoring your role in silencing people with less power than you.
There should be no question that cis queer men (read: gay men), even if Black, still benefit from their proximity to the white cis male standard–that is, being [cis] men. When you insert yourself into the spaces of Black women and femmes–especially of queer and trans standing–you speak over them in the same way you get spoken over by people with more power than you.
And that’s not nice.
So what can we do? As queer Black men, some of us are accustom to “siding” with Black women and finding comfort with them as opposed to Black cis hetero men (I wouldn’t dare say “natural solidarity” because the track record shows something different). When they are talking about their experiences, greivences or otherwise, recognize that it’s Black Girl Time and wait til you’re invited. If you can’t wait (or your owl just isn’t bringing that Hogwarts letter), that’s why Jesus made word processors and personal spaces for you where you can share what you want without taking away from the integrity of the sharing party.
Can I Ask Your Thoughts On…
You know how when you hear or see something you want someone’s point of view on it in order to validate your own (or satiate your own curiosity on the way someone else’s gears are turning)? That’s all well and good between people who have a banter and working relationship, but have you ever considered that you might be being unfair to the other person in a number of ways? Whether it be the latest Moesha episode or Breaking News™, maybe we shouldn’t indirectly dictate conversation. Imagine:
HEY DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THAT NEW HORRIBLE THING HAPPENED TO A BLACK TRANS WOMAN ON THE NEWS? LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT RIGHT THIS INSTANT EVEN THOUGH YOU MAY HAVE BEEN ACTIVELY TRYING TO AVOID TALKING ABOUT THAT SUBJECT BECAUSE IT CAUSES BAD FEELS?!?!?!?!
This is what we sound like. And that’s not nice.
Instead of trying to get the latest hot take, how about we be considerate and offer a hot cake?</corny rhyme> As Riley talks about in his piece, many folks (us included) participate in the dehumanization of Black women, using them for their labor as intellectual mules from which we may or may not profit (socially, if not monetarily as a staff or contributing writer to some outlet). How about making personal connections between the publications you write for and these women/femmes by vouching for them? Or even not trying to “get the scoop” and just be pleasantly surprised if, spilling down our TLs like sweet tea being mis-poured, we are graced to see the opinions and thoughts we were curious about.
Playing Pokemon Battle with Human Beings
I’ll let Riley’s words speak for themselves as this particular paragraph inspired this piece:
Eagerly “inviting” Black femmes to one’s personal fights with others on social media.
This is one of the most alarming phenomenon I’ve come across online. On Twitter, it manifests in tagging someone into an argument you are having, with the expectation that the Black femme will jump in and play attack dog to bolster your argument, or with the intention of using the Black femme’s following to make your point. On Tumblr it came in the form of reblogs and messages with links to some triggering, oppressive commentary for the same purpose.
Black women are not your tools or your battle axes. Even if you see us going after oppressive people, we do that on our own time and with our own effort. Our hands are usually full with dealing with the jerks in our own large followings. We are not online 24/7 to fight the battles of the entire community, often with no one offering help or contributing to our livelihoods in any way. We are not your mammy, and having a following doesn’t mean we owe it to others to take on their oppressive attackers as well as our own.
I said a moment ago this piece spoke to me–why? Because I had to catch myself the other day.
I fancy myself as someone who knows some thangs about Blackness, our history and our diaspora. While certainly only the tip of the iceberg, I’ve got a handle on a bit. Now, a Popular Fave™ with whom I have had a “Yaaaasss!!/*GROAN*” relationship with indulged in some slander and historical-ish talk sans nuance. Nuance that would have been necessary to put the conversation into perspective. But that might not validate the black/white (no pun) fable we tell ourselves to maintain our following.
As this person went on being loud and half-factual, I thought for a moment about @-ing a popular Black woman who is an expert in the subject we were talking about.
And then I realized how f*cking degrading that would have been:
Hey, I’m having an argument with this guy and I remember you said some thangs before that would defend my point so, um, POKÉBALL GO!
~Almost Me (circa Some Time Ago, C.E.)
Had I done that thing I just said I didn’t do, it would have opened her up to a realm of hateful comments, negativity, and it would have taken away from what may otherwise have been a wonderful day. And that’s just mentioning her–I cringe at the thought that perhaps she would not have told me off at first tweet and might have engaged with the foolery.
That’s downright hideous. And I see a lot of this awful behavior online.
Black femmes are not your mules, not your attack dogs, not your pokémon, not your Yu-Gi-Oh battle monsters, not your Beyblades, not your knights, not your chess pieces, and are not here for your useage as objects and disposal when they’ve “served their purpose.” We don’t get to decide how their energy is spent and where it is directed and for any of us to presume so is ugly and oppressive.
And that’s not nice.
There’s no cute little “how to do better” for this section because this is just something we need to quickly unlearn and rapidly execute. Just don’t do it. Don’t treat people as fodder for your cannon–no matter how righteous you think your war is. One of the reasons I’m careful when giving advice.
That isn’t to say you you can’t ask for help, but that is different from what Riley talks about in his piece.
So all in all, don’t be a jerk. Be nice. Learn what solidarity looks like. Learn what mutually beneficial friendships and relationships look like. This isn’t to imply that you as an individual don’t already know, but it is a call to arms to recognize how your ‘mutual’ may be someone else’s ‘oppressive’ if you are callous and don’t carefully consider other standpoints.
NOTE: JUNE 10, 2015 @ 5:12PM: In this piece I misgendered Riley H. rampantly and that was horrible of me. This is a prime example of how the privilege of oppressors (cis in my case) rests on the discomfort, triggering, and violence against the oppressed. I have apologized to him and changed this article to reflect those changes.