In my past essay When Well-Intentioned Compliments Are Also Reminders of Inequality, I mentioned how some people really do not mean to harm when they imply that I should be in bookstores, television, classrooms etc., but because they seem to think meritocracy exists (hahaha) they do not consider how inequality impacts access to these spaces, especially so in terms of the academe, which I elaborated on in my essay I Could Not Be Any More Tired Of Academia And I Am Not Even A Part Of It. In my post Not Here For The Fame, I mentioned people who suggest that I should desire exposure for exposure’s sake; they’re people who are being passive aggressive and aren’t trying to compliment me. They cannot and will not value anything that I say without credentials and publicity “validating” it. In my essay The Price Of Rejecting An Institution, I elaborated on not being part of certain social institutions means a certain level of “freedom” from institutional abuse, but then people target me with violence because I am not a part of those social institutions (i.e. academe, corporate America, organized religion, marriage etc.). People who think my rejection somehow “devalues” their choices (which is ironic since the status quo aligns with their choices, not mine) or people who enjoy the inequality and oppression involved in gatekeeping and rejecting people like me are the ones who respond violently to my distance from or rejection of these institutions.
I tweeted about this a few weeks ago:
Am I opposed to book deals, television, classrooms or panels etc. themselves? Of course not. When Black women that I know operate within these spaces, challenging how these spaces can harm as institutions and use their power and influence to help others, I cheer for them because I always want fellow Black women to win. I don’t begrudge anyone who is in these spaces and not actively harming, though I know that institutions themselves function to oppress before they ever liberate and are designed to violently protect the status quo and privilege. I understand this complexity. This is the problem of reform over revolution, which is a different issue. What stands in between them is survival though. And survival at times requires navigating reform though truly desiring revolution.
Why am I worth nothing to some people until “properly credentialed?” How much violence do I experience that isn’t just in response to me being a Black woman (which is of course significantly high) or being hypervisible as a Black woman writer online (makes it worse), but solely for not being one of the mainstream Black thinkers online who isn’t labeled (primarily by mainstream feminists, but also by “respectable” Black people seeking comeuppance) as “toxic" for rejecting misogynoiristic abuse? Not “respectable” enough. Not enough credentials. Degreed, but not an academic. No doctorate; not getting one. Not enough buddies with doctorates to vouch for my “worth.” Not enough highly visible “polite” White “allies” with power who like me. The same (and even worse at times) happens to other Black women that I know online. The people engaged in this abuse are White, non-Black people of colour, “respectable” Black people—many are engaged. Because this is core level stuff. This is the bullshit of American exceptionalism, meritocracy, bootstrap theory, prosperity gospel, the law of attraction—an assortment of victim blaming ideologies that assert that a lack of status is a lack of “worth” and must be because of a lack of valuable work. The structural is ignored; the individual climb to status is centered.
How is it that so many people seem utterly uncomfortable with my words or won’t even acknowledge my contributions, and not because of what I am actually saying (though of course these people exist too and are usually rather violent in response) but because it’s in tweets and on a free Tumblr blog? Somehow the words are less valuable then. Somehow it becomes okay for academics who call themselves activists to either violate my Content Use Policy daily/plagiarize me and call it “being inspired by” or degrade and troll me because what I say isn’t deemed valuable in its existing form. Somehow it becomes okay for journalists to lift my tweets and essays, which they would not do if the same essays were on a mainstream publication and if the tweets were associated with some publication deemed “respectable.” I am truly tired of status and the chase for it. I am tired of others (hourly/daily) suggesting that this is what I “should” want. And I know everyone is socialized into a very narrow model of success that requires credentials, attention, publicity, status and usually stepping on people’s faces to get there. I am not naive. I wish I had the luxury of naivety versus the reality of knowing too well and too acutely to the point it impacts my health severely.
I do not conflate the need for money to survive in this capitalist State with this “need” for status that causes so many problems, especially among people who claim to be activists, people who should be interrogating what violence they engage in and what violence occurs to protect status, versus clamoring for it, (though to be clear, often through money is status achieved as well). Thus, I am disinterested in people who suggest that Black women like me should be struggling (which I do, which I have, hello, generational poverty despite a college education) to “prove” our activism. Black women don’t owe anyone shit in this regard. It is through the violence on our bodies, the labor on our backs, the ideas in our heads that people’s very lives let alone activism stands on quite often. I elaborated on this in the past in Exploitation of Black Women’s Labor…In The Name of Feminism or Justice? Please. and in Fuck What Ya Heard; Money DOES Buy Happiness. In fact, it is often those who desire superfluous status who want to deny the needs, including financial ones, of those who do not desire status, as punishment for not being able to control them, harm them, deny them some form of access. And people gladly and gleefully support those with status on their sides, with the power to harm yet very little/no accountability. Again, the price of being without status is abuse. The price of being without status and not desiring it at all? Isolation. Violence. And even those without status (and are thereby abused) but are seeking status? They often support the violence against those not seeking it. Because ultimately to not desire status is to not “fit.” And it is to not fit in a way that eclipses even shared identity otherwise, hence why even some fellow Black people (let alone Whites and non-Black people of colour), and yes even some Black women, gladly harm other Black women in order to achieve status.
This is the status quo masquerading as activism. This is the same hierarchy that I am breathlessly running from within institutions being replicated in people’s tweets and blogs and in “progressive” spaces where literally nothing changes if people are stepping on faces to climb to some sort of activist “top.” For what? And then what? Because often these climbs come without monetary award relative to survival, especially for people already in the margins. A lot of times they’re just someone White’s sidekick or attack dog being used to harm other people of colour. The violence deemed acceptable for status is not about survival. It’s not even about activism. It’s about a claim to power over others in a way that is little more than a smaller mirror reflecting larger oppression. It is oppression.