Hello, I’m a Queer Non-binary Disabled Person of Color living in poverty whose work as an artist, poet, writer, and culture critic is routinely undervalued, turned down for publication, ignored, uncredited, and outright stolen. Liberal progressive white people don’t make space for me, explicitly exclude me, and frequently demand my labor for free.
It’s been a particularly rough month for me as a writer and culture critic. By the time you read this, more than a month will have passed and these situations will be just memories for everyone else involved. But for me they will remain parts of larger, ongoing, patterns. They will be the things that my Virgo mind dwells on when I’m trying to decide if I should say yes to an offer, if I should trust someone, if I’m safe.
Appropriation of "Nasty Woman"
I woke up to see tweet responses to the presidential debates. Those responses featured white liberal women citing Janet Jackson and Vanity as the original “Nasty women.” Across both Twitter and Facebook, white liberal friends were appropriating the term as their own, posting memes in which they literally whitewashed an iconic Black woman, and generally getting really comfortable with reclaiming the term. I quickly (before 9am) tweeted out a series of tweets and then combined them into one post on my Facebook:
“White women were quick to reclaim ‘Nasty woman’ & appropriate Black iconic use of ‘Nasty’ in ways that ignore context/racialized violence. ‘Nasty’ as used by Janet & Vanity had a different meaning & situation. And maybe WOC don't feel the need to claim it in defense of Clinton. Y'all just gonna overlook that Janet & Vanity were reclaiming the narrative re how you view Black women's sexualities, huh? And even now, in the Clinton context, that it was like he called her a bitch, but WOC can't afford to reclaim that & be accepted for it.”
A few hours later, white friends who had already engaged in the behavior suddenly started critiquing it. No one cited me or any of the other Black women critics as the source of their new awareness. I complained about this privately to friends. We noted at least two white acquaintances had started Teespring campaigns to monetize “Nasty Woman”, and one of them had posted they made $1,300 in under four hours.
I wrote and published a poem about it. It barely got read, and was shared by only Black women.
Lack of Public Support
A well-known literary magazine published a poem begging for people to view Donald Trump with compassion. The timing was odd, the day after the debates. The literary magazine has a history of publishing inflammatory, offensive, harassing, and thoughtless work under the guise of poetry and “free speech.” The poet is someone I know from private writing groups in which she has engaged in racism, ableism, harassment, and dishonesty.
I spent three days dealing with fallout and harassment by various white poets and editors on Facebook and Twitter. I had to block people because they wouldn’t stop trying to force me to engage with them publicly and privately via messages. Someone told me that blocking these people was, itself, giving them the attention they wanted. Apparently they did not see it as my right to self-protection. No one publicly supported me.
True Accessibility is Elusive
I was asked to participate in a disability panel talk with an organization that I had already decided I have lukewarm feelings about, but I agreed to do it. It was very clear that I was approached as an afterthought, and I was not told who else would be participating. Had I known, I might have declined. Among other issues, it was two white panelists in wheelchairs, and I was the only exception, but my super light skin means they can claim they included a POC without having to include truly diverse voices and experiences. A few days before the event I finally received the questions to prepare for. Some of the questions were just trite, others were phrased offensively. I (still) don’t really know how to answer any of them because they started from a place of too many assumptions about what it means to be disabled and an artist.
I remembered too that I had told them the previous year that the venue they chose was not very accessible for me, and perhaps more importantly, that the owner of the venue has a history of verbally abusing and physically intimidating disabled people. The owner also argued over the need for a gender-neutral restroom, and the previous year when he finally allowed them to make one gender-neutral it was completely inaccessible to me to get to it. But they didn’t change their venue.
No Practical Support from "Allies"
Fast forward a couple of weeks and here’s where liberal progressive values have us: A terrible president elect, and safety pins.
My PTSD is out of control. I’m worried about how I’m going to survive even a few more months. I’m concerned I could lose Medicaid in January. I am struggling to keep up with schoolwork because my mind is overwhelmed with basic survival needs. A lot of my friends are struggling too, so we are burning through our reserve energy, and extremely limited funds, supporting each other.
I received several messages from white cisgender people telling me how much they care and (privately) want to support me. They don’t do anything practical for me, like buy something from my shop so I can pay my bills. I am not even sure how to respond to them, it is emotionally taxing to parse out what they mean and what they expect from me. It is clear they expect something. Even now. They expect to be told that telling me I matter is them “doing the work” and that they are Good Allies.
White Organizers Exclude Diverse Communities
I am out and about on a Friday night, Veteran’s Day, and get triggered by the heavy police and military presence in the area. I post on social media asking if anyone is available to walk with me between events but no one answers me until after the fact. I attend an event full of liberal, even radical, artists who proudly wear safety pins. I am in a lot of physical pain and cannot continue to stand around, even though the art is engaging and fantastic. No one asks if I need a ride home, or any other support. I walk three blocks in the dark alone, again, through flag waving crowds of white people, to get an Uber home. I am in fight or flight mode, trying not to pass out from pain and fear, and my only comfort is friends reaching out via text message.
White people organize protests against Trump and invite the police to attend. They explicitly say they are open to everyone and allow pro-Trump people to take the microphone and talk about why they voted for Trump. They allow others to take the microphone to pray Christian prayers, asking everyone to participate - but they didn’t proactively invite diverse faith leaders and intentionally create an interfaith space. When I say protests aren’t protests if the city leaders are supporting them and the police are there to protect you, I am told that’s being divisive. When I say the most vulnerable of the community cannot participate in events and spaces where the police are present, I am ignored.
Apathy and the Safety Pin
I write about this new safety pin phenomenon. I write about how a pin is nice and all but requires action to back it up. People stop reading at that point, share the post with a quote from the top third that implies I think safety pins are great. They don’t seem to consider the rest of the essay where I tell them their safety pin does nothing for me and I don’t trust them to do what does need to be done. I don’t feel safe.
I am approached by strangers on Twitter with questions about how to wear the pin and why it is useful. They don’t like my answers when I ask why they need the pin to actively step in when they see a situation. I explain that I personally know people who wear the pin because they want to support women and LGBTQ people, but they are known for being bigoted in other ways. I have been harassed as a Muslim in this city for almost 20 years, by the same people who now say they will safeguard me as a fellow Queer person. I ask, how am I supposed to approach you for help and trust that you will help me if your solidarity is only for one part of my identity but not for another?
Friends tell me this is their experience too. While we are all terrified of what the future holds for us, our children, our other loved ones, people who are far less marginalized are asking us “what can we do?” More labor is being demanded of us, to hold hands, to be peaceful, to bridge the chasm between Trump supporters and the rest of us, to hold white tears in our cupped hands, and to give them answers. But whatever we say is wrong, and we realize: Some of us will not survive. And to many progressives, we are expendable.