One of the most stressful things about using social media as a Black woman—besides the convergence of hypervisibility and misogynoir—is how people have weaponized the experience of learning, to make it additional labor that I "owe" them, not a consensual shared process that improves our minds and hearts. I never made any agreement with anyone on Twitter (or any social media space at all) that I would provide them any education on anything. I see the phrase "I am just trying to learn!" and my skin crawls now. "Learning" is not a neutral experience. Neither is "educating." Even what is considered "knowledge" and what is considered "labor" are not neutral. I can do the same things that someone who is not a Black woman, or a woman, or Black does, and it is instantaneously deemed "not valuable" but also "owed" to people at the same time. Using Twitter since 2009 has revealed to me how abusive some people are about "learning." People use "I wanna learn!" as an excuse for gaslighting, derailing, entitlement, demands, plagiarism and abuse. Many people are very exploitative and entitled towards Black women's intellectual and emotional labor. On top of this, people readily dehumanize me online and turn any and everything that I share into some sort of generic education nugget, a generic fortune in a cookie, a platitude...literally anything to separate me from my experiences. I experience this type of weaponizing of "learning" in a few ways.
When I share art:
Can I share a selfie without owing a makeup and skin tutorial each time? Especially since I am not a makeup artist, esthetician or dermatologist? Especially since some women—especially White women—ask about this so that the conversation can shift to center and serve them, and no longer be about me in my own timeline? Can I share my photography without having to describe my camera gear to someone who thinks it is cameras that make pictures with zero artistry and artist experience involved? Am I supposed to stop each time I share a photograph to critique someone else's photographs, teach them Photoshop or Lightroom, or give them gear shopping advice? These requests usually come with jabs about my photography skills from people who cannot reconcile the fact that I have more than one creative interest; these are usually people who have already declared me a race/gender Fact Portal before they knew I was an artist. I see people share art and get compliments only. I get labor requests. I am only valuable to some people insofar as I provide a service to them 24/7. It is not that I am opposed to sharing tips; I do all of the time; I have the proof. It is the notion that I "owe" them and that this is the primary way that people engage with me; an expectation of service more often than a normal conversation. Even when I launched this new site here, some people thought that was the time for me to teach them design and blog management.
When I share my feelings on a personal experience:
Can I discuss depression without having to solve someone else's personal problems right then and there? Can I mention anxiety without then getting unsolicited advice from people who are not medical professionals nor have access to my medical history, and then I have to waste my time explaining to them why this is a horrible thing for them to do? Can I discuss highly specific experiences that I face individually, or many/all Black women face or many/all Black people face collectively, without then being demanded to make these experiences generic for mass consumption, so that other people can center themselves in something that they do not even experience, while they conveniently decenter or erase me, Black womanhood or Blackness altogether? Worse, people love to disrupt my train of thought to "debate" my memory recollection or personal experiences as if I just read from a textbook and am not speaking about my own life. This is primarily because most people simply do not allow others to vent, and when it is a Black woman venting, those feelings and thoughts are treated as "debatable" public property that cannot be valid if it is not generically applicable or in service to someone else.
When I discuss sociopolitical topics:
Hundreds of Storify posts and tweet collections; hundreds of thousands of tweets; over a thousand essays. None of this is deemed "enough." It is too much work for someone to simply read what I have already laid out before in spaces such as Gradient Lair. It is too much work for them to be thankful that I even bothered and at an extremely abusive high price, at that. It is too much work to simply read an entire thread of tweets, yet these same people magically can understand threaded tweets when they are annoying "pick one" survey threads or threads of celebrity videos. Even giving an opinion on a news article—as millions of other Twitter users do—is deemed "classroom time" where other adults with the same access to the same information that I have pretend that I "owe" them a political education. They are never responsible for guiding their own education yet I am supposed to believe that they care about any type of resistance or liberation whatsoever. Their "freedom" does not exist without servitude from me. Their concept of freedom, let alone their "activism" still includes Black women as collateral damage at best; targets at worst. All use and abuse; no concern nor care.
When I discuss...literally anything:
I mention food, I now "owe" a recipe. I mention my favorite things, I now "owe" an argument as to why I did not pedestal someone else's favorite things. I curate a list, why did I not include what someone else wants on my list. I mention a film—even as I have created Cinemacked with film/TV content that is already freely available—I now automatically "owe" a film review that I did not necessarily state that I planned to write. I mention a topic and people expect to be handed sources to "prove" its validity, as if I am not just having conversations and sharing thoughts with people that I regularly speak to. They see me tweet it? They are "owed" a source. People are constantly "looking forward to" consuming some form of production that I never consented to or even mentioned I would be creating. It is constant demands and the myth that production requests are "compliments." Well, people cannot "compliment" me into labor on demand.
Are voyeurism, production demands and hoarding really learning? There are people—as I mentioned in my years of writing in the past before I closed Gradient Lair last October—who literally hoard what I write and yet they are no different in 2016 than in 2012 when they started what seems like race/gender "fact hoarding." There is no growth, only empty consumption, or worse, plagiarism. The absolute worst of this comes from some "activists" and bigots, ironically. Both think that Black women like me "owe" them responses and content references on demand. Links on demand. Explanations on demand. Generation of new content on demand. An education on demand. Both have no concept of engaging social media space as equitable (it is not equitable space, by the way; the same hierarchies and oppressions offline repeat themselves online, even if small voices have started to gain some sense of space online) and both tend to resent Black women who experience hypervisibility. All they see are high follower counts and not the daily abuse that accompany them. I deal with people's personal resentment of me as an individual and their misogynoir that shapes their world view on Black women, in general.
The key thing here? The elephant in the room? This is often not about "learning" at all. This is about power and control in spaces where people are not used to Black women like myself being listened to. They have spent so much time in so many ways either ignoring or silencing Black women that they are having interpersonal and social crises from not being able to control Black women like me online. They do not want to engage my personal interests as just those of a regular individual who has them, so they have to turn my art and my personal life into objects that must serve them to have value. I must serve them to matter. Some people do not even speak to me unless it is in the context of expecting service. They do not want to speak to me otherwise. They have no use for a conversation unless it satiates their inquiries. They definitely do not want to engage my sociopolitical perspectives outside of the context of servitude. Most of them have never envisioned freedom where Black women are also free. As I mentioned in Artists Make Art, "I am not 'the media.' I am not a journalist. I am not an 'academic.' I am not an activist. I am an artist. Artists make art." This is what I do. I have a tweet that I send from time to time where I state that I write things and I make art and I would rather be watching Netflix when not doing one of those two. It is facetious but grounded in truth; I am not responsible for people "learning" on Twitter.
There are so many ways to engage with people and so many ways to learn online. Can these ways include actual respect for my interests, time and some sense of recognition for the things that I have already made available, or nah? Nowhere in any bio that I have anywhere have I ever described myself as a teacher or educator in an institutional or organic context, though I respect equitable educators who challenge the status quo. Do people learn from me? Yes. But do I exist, breathe, experience joy, suffer, and try to survive solely to be some sort of object that they can "learn" from and hoard facts from that they will never use to change and evolve? No. "I am glad you experienced something awful because I got to consume a reflection on it and I learned a thing! Fact 1,347,851 now hoarded!" is what their "gratitude" sounds like. I do not follow people on Twitter to reduce their lives into consumable nuggets as if I am collecting titles for a 6th grade book report. I follow people I like. Smart people. Creative people. Funny people. Interesting people. Happy people. Sad people. People who experience pleasure and pain in ways that I do recognize and in ways that I do not recognize. Humans beings. Not solely lessons to consume like I am Pac-Man and then forget what those lessons are as soon as I turn off the game console that is social media. My primary reason for engaging other people is not to siphon information from them; it is about being human and socializing, connecting, laughing, living. People have the absolute worst time engaging me as an artist, as a writer, as a photographer, as a womanist, as a Black woman, as a human being. Daily and often times hourly, someone reminds me that they will never engage me as a full human being and they are incredulous that I would even suggest that they should. Well, I do not give a shit about their "learning" needs. Besides, both they and I know that if this was actually about them learning and evolving, they would include viewing me as an actual person in this evolution.
Related Post: I Do Not Like The Ways That Most People Use Twitter