The next white colleague or acquaintance who reaches out during these troubled times and asks what s/he can do, or how they can support me is going to be taken seriously and will receive the copay invoice for the therapies, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and blood pressure meds that I need on a daily basis.
I am very serious about this as I’ve received approximately 20 extra emails and texts pretty much every day since the uprisings started following the final-straw-done-broke-the-camel’s-back murder of George Floyd. I noted on FB recently that the one person who offered some actual real world support to me for the de facto educational work I do isn’t anyone who has ever asked me for anything and remains a complete stranger- a FB friend of an unmet FB friend. (How many degrees of separation would that be?) One actual woke potential ally in a sea of good intentions/thoughts and prayers. (Another stolen term that almost everybody needs to stop using)
Meanwhile, people have been emailing like mad and have asked for bibliographies; explanations & insights; to be an uncompensated speaker; and to engage with them in discussions and even arguments. (Please explain to me how the hell are you going to contact me about what I think and then argue about it? Damn- now that’s some serious ego/white supremacist, stone cold audacity!) I’m not even going to talk about social media and the incredible amount of work I see PoC being asked to perform on their own pages and in the innumerable professional groups that have been created since Covid-19 quarantine began. It’s all too much to handle on top of the harsh realities we’re forced to process that include our higher vulnerability to Covid-19; the greater financial impacts on us resulting from the layoffs or added work hours; the horrific on screen, traumatically repeated murders of multiple, unarmed Black people during the same period as the pandemic.
We are not your Mammies/Nannies/Ayahs/Niñeras. In most cases, we’re not friends or even have-lunch-sometimes-casual-acquaintances. People are so insulated in their privilege that they take for granted that Black folks and other PoC are there to teach, fix, and otherwise uplift them and make it all feel better, because you won’t give us the power that would allow us to implement changes that would actually make things better. Hell- you don’t even hit the “like” button before you Columbus memes!
I have to laugh, but I’m not amused.
People Melania our ideas, perspectives, sayings, and actual words without citing us, and are often published or have your your social capital raised via our ideas and creativity. We have been a constant source of creative as well as physical labor since at least 1526, if we’re only talking about my Black ancestors. We’re back to 1492, if we’re including all the roots in the Americas.
And before anyone gets hurt, I’m not talking about actual friendships where there’s a mutual exchange of energies: support, encouragement, inspiration, sometimes money. In grad school, my best friends and I shared what we called “The Floating 25.” It was $25 that we sent to one another to cover our needs between our staggered pay periods. A tiny amount by most standards, but it allowed us to avoid further debt and eat. We pulled one another off of various emotional ledges, praised and helped edit each other’s work, made sure we were properly attired and functional before leaving the house, prayed, hoped, wished for, and helped actualize each other’s highest good. One secretly flew down from another state to be at my dissertation defense with a scowl on her face that dared my committee to do anything other than praise my work! Another restores my balance with humor and once made me laugh to the point that I was actually afraid of dying because I couldn’t catch my breath from laughing so hard. We do these things still. No one is wealthy and most struggle, but we give what we can. That’s friendship and it’s something that grows and evolves from mutual respect, affection, and mutually agreed upon terms.
But that is not the nature of most relationships, so the expectations and boundaries are quite different. If I contribute to you in any way, the very least I should expect is verbal/written recognition. If we’re work colleagues, then compensation is required, financially or via the various awards that academia and many corporations establish. Tell the Dean/Provost/Supervisor about the contributions your Black/Brown colleague made to the committee. See them! I’ve often been in meetings where a Black person (generally female) contributed a suggestion that was ignored but later repeated by a white person as though it was theirs, and accepted by the committee as coming from s/he who appropriated in a room full of witnesses. Highlight their work. Speak up for them strongly if they’re untenured or adjuncts. My college has vehicles for recognizing uncompensated service by adjuncts and professional staff- submit their names if those arenas exist, and create them if they don’t.
Respect boundaries. I make very clear distinctions in relationships and never confuse colleagues or acquaintances with friends although I try to be relaxed and friendly. While suddenly inquiring about my well being might make you feel better and will be appreciated by some Black colleagues, be sure that you’re really ready to make some emotional investment before you bother them, because you can’t go back to half listening or taking a call as they’re answering. If I were to answer honestly how I’m doing at any time before or likely even after current international and national crises, you’d glaze over or run away in fear. I know, because I make it my business to occasionally answer such inquiries honestly just to watch the reactions. So if you weren’t interested before now, ask yourself what you’re getting out of it and what value it has to your colleague/vague acquaintance.
Outside of my students, I’ll answer some questions for people IF I think that my emotional and scholarly labor might bear fruit and that the person will follow up by doing their own research. I post information on FB for a number of reasons, including witnessing and venting, not- as some apparently think- to always enlighten you or relieve you of the responsibility for your own enlightenment or the debt you owe to all citizens towards a diverse, well integrated, and just society.
But I’m tired. Emotional and intellectual labor add up, and 99% of the time, there is no reciprocity, and every anthropologist will tell you that reciprocity is the cornerstone of society.
So pay me and all the other folk you presume to depend upon without thought. Recognize and promote your colleagues & acquaintances. Do unto others what you would have done for yourself and at exactly the same rates. There are various activists you know who are making your towns and neighborhoods and society better, yet who are struggling to pay their bills. If you’re flush, Venmo them! Buy Black made products, support Black businesses, make a grocery run for the elders, pay a bill.
Do real things for people and never, ever, take what isn’t yours without permission/compensating the creator. That’s called looting, and an enormous amount of angst and ink has gone into telling us how very awful that is and decrying the horror of it over the past weeks. So let me remind you: Columbus and the Europeans that followed looted two entire continents, its people and resources, and then looted millions of people from a third continent before looting its other resources and wealth, including what would now be considered intellectual property. The wealth of this nation, the privilege that you even casually enjoy- including ideas of white supremacy that permeate our society and are intrinsic to every system and structure of our society-was created and continues to be supported by a hierarchy of race that was constructed to legalize and normalize the looting of those deemed “less than” starting from the Doctrine of Discovery, to the 13th Amendment, and on till today. That privilege allows you to deny racism and your own privilege. It allows you to always see yourself as, and find each other innocent.
Stop being butt hurt, relieve yourselves of the weight of that considerable ego, listen, allow yourselves to feel true compassion. Decenter yourselves. It’s not only about money, but in our society, money is how value and worth are understood, so start there until thoughtfulness, compassion, humor, and a sense of justice mature in you to the point where no one is exploited or treated unfairly because you’ve done the work of creating that kind of society. And yes, they can exist- read widely and note that there were people and systems that existed before 1492. Some of them had some very nifty ideas about balance that you should check out, but not appropriate.