Abusing/Exploiting Independent Creators Is Not "Fighting Capitalism"

©2016 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

©2016 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

It is popular on Twitter for "anti-capitalism" discussion to surface in response to Black celebrities who are usually one generation removed from poverty. This is usually in response to Black rappers/actors in general, or to Jay Z, Beyoncé (which I mentioned when I discussed Lemonade), or Oprah, specifically. This rarely happens regarding non-Black people of colour who are celebrities. This almost never happens regarding White celebrities. (These types of conversations contain little nuance, but a lot of anti-Blackness.) A lot of non-famous Black people, especially Black women that I know, deal with online harassment from people obsessed with and even aroused by the notion of us experiencing complete deprivation, specifically because we are Black women. While I have seen hostile responses to things such as #GiveYourMoneyToWomen, which is for women in general, there is anti-Blackness that shapes a lot of "anti-capitalism" comments that I receive on Twitter and in response to Gradient Lair or any of my work. I have discussed this for years (even alluded to it recently on this blog) and face online abuse for years now because of such discussions (and for pretty much existing, in general, but I digress). Some people now simply parrot what I say on this topic and as long as they are not me or another unaffiliated Black woman, their point of view is engaged as truth on this. Many people on the Right are exceedingly anti-Black and aroused by the notion of Black people experiencing complete deprivation. Anti-Blackness is ubiquitous and not isolated to any part of the political aisle/spectrum, political party or location. However, I am discussing something specific here, a type of arousal over misogynoir as deprivation that I deal with from people on the Left, and have dealt with for years now. These people have a variety of backgrounds although they are usually (not always) non-Black; I mention "usually" since some fellow Black people, in addition to non-Black people, are also interested in Black women like me experiencing complete deprivation once they force assign me the "activist" label  (mule) or "educator" label (mammy).

There is nothing that such people say about Black celebrities and money that they do not say about me—a generationally poor, child of Black immigrants, descendants of enslaved peoples thoroughly dehumanized in the Caribbean, unaffiliated writer and independent artist—and my small comforts such as tea, wine, ice cream or a short trip for mental health reasons, to visit family or for fun/to heal. Yes, I have been attacked online about food/shelter, makeup, and even $3.00 packages of tea. Even drinking inexpensive tea is "too good" for the likes of me or proof that I am "the real oppressor." Their resentment of what they think is classism on my part is often resentment of my simple joy not even attached to any material consumption, per se. I never engage self-care as solely material consumption anyway, even as people regularly weaponize self-care discourse now. Some people have convinced themselves that their misogynoir is really anti-capitalism. The deprivation of material resources (i.e. money and basics needed to survive), attention or emotional resources (i.e. when people "like," retweet or reblog things that I say, comment positively on things that I write/create, speak highly of me, like me, or love me; this occurs while people conveniently ignore how abusive social media hypervisibility is), internal resources (self-esteem and self-love, which are always under attack), and pleasures (i.e. small and large comforts that they themselves consume/engage in, and have no way to individually alter how those things, if products, are systemically made) are unspeakably large facets of misogynoir and anti-Blackness. Blackness is engaged as the void, the absence of beauty, goodness, citizenship, humanity. (Scholars such as Saidiya Hartman, Frank B. Wilderson III, Hortense Spillers and Jared Sexton really delve into antiblackness beyond what I am discussing with specificity here; Antiblackness Is A Theory is a quality curation on this; I also wrote about anti-Blackness on Gradient Lair for several years.) 

People most certainly cannot handle seeing a Black woman have anything in the public way that social media now allows. Some people convince themselves that somehow superficially condoning exploitation of my labor while at a deeper level not challenging misogynoir and anti-Blackness is actually "fighting" the system. They do not see that they are in fact the system. They use misogynoir to replace examining why someone like me is a freelancer out of necessity, not pleasure alone, and why Black women in America have a median wealth of only $5.00. They would never suggest that the people who pay them biweekly at their traditional jobs are wrong. They accept every cent they are given in the academe, if it applies. They never suggest that people who are not Black women but do work similar to mine should remain unpaid. The desire to evade poverty, as a poor person, is not the oppression of those who have more. The fact that poverty exists and that the "more" is heavily and generationally shaped by race/gender etc. is the oppression. The fact that there are limited choices away from even consuming items that involve exploitative labor (i.e. electronics, clothing, produce) is a facet of capitalism. The irony is lost on some of the people who have more than me who judge me for consuming some of the same products that they do, even as they have more, as they actually engage in trolling and harm to directly impact my income, to guarantee my struggle. For other people, they are aware of all of this and are aroused—both non-sexually (some people find pleasure in their lot in life with "at least I am not a Black woman!" as the foundation) and sexually (there is a current of targeted misogynoir with a sexual context, primarily from White men, that accompanies some of the abuse that I get in relation to making a living as an artist)—to satisfy their arousal via misogynoir as insistence upon deprivation.

All of this informs how people engage with me as an artist, even from people who claim to be "fans." Some people state that what I write is superior to writing that they are assigned in their college classes, but they do not think that I should ever be paid for any of it or even cited properly for free. They state that my work inspired them to change a behavior/ideology (i.e. organization, diet or politics) or learn a new skill (i.e. research, blogging, writing or creating photography), yet I still should not be paid for it. They state that something I said or did has altered their sociopolitical path entirely, yet I should still struggle to be "real." Somehow they decided that Black women having material resources and surviving in capitalism makes Black women "the real oppressors." Somehow insisting on deprivation makes them a "good fan" on the surface and a "good activist" or a "good anti-capitalist" beneath that. All I see, however, are people taking me for granted at best, and being directly abusive/exploitative and misogynoiristic at worst. And while we are all participatory in capitalism and have varying levels of privilege and responsibility for consumption and exploitation, I do not see as many people who face attacks for simply making a living, to survive, as I see against Black women who are un-credentialed, unaffiliated, non-degreed, and/or independent artists/creators. (I do have college degrees, but the other categories still do apply to me.)

I hope that other indie artists understand the dynamics here. When are you valued as a hobbyist? When as a professional? What type of supporters—I mentioned that I am not particularly interested in "fans" in Social Media: "Fans," Supporters, Hypervisibility and Survival—are the ones that you really want? How do your own experiences and identities impact how people engage your art? I have learned to take quite a discerning approach with people who engage me and my art. A lot of this comes from experience and things that no book really would have ever taught me. Life. Living and creating art. Lived experience as knowledge. One thing that I learned for sure is that it is a myth that people who exploit independent artists, writers, creatives of any type are somehow "fighting" the system. They are no good for hobbyists or professionals. They moralize money in hopes that poor people will feel too guilty in activism, movements, or art to want material resources to survive. They exploit.

I wish that encountering people who do not want me to be paid for my work was a simple as them not valuing hobbyists but also not wanting to pay professionals. This is a factor, the constant cognitive dissonance by which people engage independent artists; I discussed this in People Who Minimize Hobbyists and Exploit Professional Artists. However, this is not the totality of my experience with the resistance and abuse that I deal with from people adamant about me never being paid. For them, it is not about the value that they think my writing or photography or any intellectual or emotional labor does not have. It is not about them perhaps being interested in the creative and sociopolitical work of someone else, another womanist or artist or writer or photographer. I can deal with someone not liking my work. I cannot deal with someone who insists upon attacking me for creating at all and/or insists upon abusing and exploiting me. Some people have decided that causing/defending the exploitation that I experience is "anti-capitalist." Anything except deprivation is "too much" for me. I must be "selfish" to exist in anything but the background, if at all. I am stepping "out of my place" by affirming my own needs and humanity. The reason why wanting to make a living to survive (and honestly, I do not always feel "positively" about living) is deemed "greed"—by misogynoirists, some "activists," and other people who reside on the Left as much as they do on the Right—is because I was never meant to survive. I do not know what "oppression" such people are dismantling; I simply know that their idea of "liberation" will never include someone like me. It never did.