In the age of "create a social media account on a smartphone and now you are an expert on any topic," unsolicited advice has become a plague. In my past corporate jobs, many of which occurred before social media was as socially engrained as it is now, the most I had to deal with were a handful of nosy coworkers or a boss who loved micromanagement and microaggressions. Now, using social media as a tool for my independent work as an artist, there's an unsolicited advice proverbial clown car parked in my mentions and messages/email where each untrained undesired voice that pops out of the car that I dismiss is replaced by yet another. And another. And so on. Unsolicited means "not asked for" and advice means "guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative." Often times, people have a desire to be seen as "knowledgeable or authoritative" and do not care about what experience they have to ignore and what boundaries they have to trample over to be seen this way. So many people believe boundaries are for the "arrogant" and I must have an "ego" to feel that I have a right to say "no," especially since I am a Black woman. People (including Black people; we are all socialized in the same oppressive society) are socialized to believe that Black women do not have a right to say "no" to anything at all.
People with persistent unsolicited advice towards independent artists usually know nothing about the arts themselves. They know nothing about how people study these arts. They know nothing about social media strategies that independent working artists employ. Sometimes they know nothing about being abused online for both one's identity and being that identity while being an independent artist. They know nothing about the time management and project management that indie artists have to know and execute well. They know nothing about advertising, marketing, sales, invoicing, accounting and income taxes for this particular kind of work. They cannot see the big picture and do not know what has to occur before anything is published or sold. They use unsolicited advice like a stick and threaten to withdraw the carrot of being a customer unless artists tolerate the stick. I rather lose a manipulative "customer" (such people usually are not actual supporters, patrons, customers or clients, though they can be) whose "support" causes me stress and impacts my mental health (as people pretend repetitive pathological hourly/daily incidents like these are each "isolated incidents," so that they can deny the impact of hypervisibility and cumulative stress on my mental health) than to indulge them, while "hoping" for their "support." I do not need "support" like this. Below are eight reasons why I do not need unsolicited advice and unsolicited suggestions for my work.
I. I did not ask.
If I did not ask anyone a question about my work, there is no reason to provide me an "answer." Especially on my work that people either do not do (i.e. people who work in other fields) or cannot do (i.e. people who think their amateur or lukewarm personal interest in any art makes them authorities on the specific ones that I do for a living). Even if it comes from another independent artist, if I did not ask for advice or suggestions, back off. This is NOT the same as i.e. a customer asking me a question about something I created or a client wanting clarity on an invoice, which I gladly answer politely and expeditiously. Anyone who conflates actual customer/client to vendor/creator engagement with paternalistic unsolicited advice is actively and harmfully intellectually dishonest. Clearly, they are one of these carrot and stick people.
II. People do not actually care.
People who actually care have read my work over time (years) and/or respect my experience because they actually know what that experience is. None of this is hidden information. These are people who choose to see and engage the full me—versus pretending that I am a race fact™ machine (since I tweet about sociopolitical issues sometimes, as any human, citizen, voter, womanist etc. would do)—instead of pretending that they had "no idea" that I am a writer or a photographer even after following me not just for months but for years online. Years. So many people do not engage the truth of my work or my life, so why are they dispensing advice? They do not actually care. If a person has no emotional investment in the person that they are speaking to, do not care about getting consent from that person, and do not care about the outcome, why are they dispensing advice? To hear themselves talk and to sound like an authority on something.
Assuming the automatic inferiority of Black women's intelligence and skill—even in the face of years of consistent evidence of that intelligence and skill—is a facet of misogynoir, or how Black women experience misogyny. "Misogynoir" was coined and developed by queer Black feminist, educator and scholar Moya Bailey; I am responsible for the development of its lexical definition, framework development over time and colloquial multi-faceted application (i.e. on Gradient Lair and more; this extensive labor has been subject to continual and targeted minimization or total erasure, which I will elaborate on in an upcoming publication). Anti-Black ableism itself infers inferior intellect yet superior physical strength on Black bodies, which denies our intelligence, and suggests that we are not capable of experiencing physical and mental pain. Because this permeates society in so many ways (from healthcare to education to policing and more), it is impossible to ignore. This manifests uniquely for Black women who have to deal with general sexist assumptions against our intelligence as women, in addition to what we deal with as Black people in general, as well as what we deal with uniquely as Black women.
I deal with weeks, months and years of online trolling and abuse (per incident) any time I push back on people's paternalism rooted in misogynoir. Many people assume that I am "stupid" (about any topic, not just my own career) even after following me online for a month, a year, or many years. Nothing I say, write, photograph, create or do can alter their opinion since their opinion is rooted in bigotry not the truth. Ironically, some of these same people will tell others that they "like" and/or "respect" me though. Worse, some people know that I am not "stupid" yet try to advise me anyway because it makes them feel like an authority, as I mentioned above, and assuages their discomfort with their own insecurities in their own skill levels, art and/or labor. These are people obsessed with competition, when I am not (as I mentioned in There Is No Competition). To be clear, I am not talking about people who post general tweets, general tips and general non-insulting advice in their own social media spaces. I am talking about people who directly contact me. Anyone who cannot see the difference in these two statements is someone that I cannot trust to respect my boundaries let alone my work.
IV. Production requests are not compliments.
It is one thing for me to hope a favorite musician creates a new album, assuming that they have the time, the pay and that they want to. It is a different thing for me to repeatedly tag the musician in tweets while making the demands, contact their agents with emails, and/or show up in their website/blog/Instagram comments with the demands. The fact that people think the former and the latter are exactly the same reveals how people consume artists themselves as products. I am not a product.
"I look forward to your review" on a film that I did not consent to reviewing, am not being paid to review, and sometimes never even mentioned at all gets old. I get this reply a lot from people who do not even engage my existing published writing on Cinemacked. "You should watch 13 hours of a show that you never mentioned on your TV Roster, that I never read because I never visited cinemacked.com, nor read any of your writing there, though I will not pay you for those 13 hours, nor pay you to write the review that I expect to see published, which I will not actually read anyway" gets old. If people desire some form of production that I have not already offered, they should look for someone who does offer it and leave me alone. Respect what I create or simply disengage altogether.
V. People do not actually engage my work anyway.
My tweets that are viral are rarely ones of my actual writing or my photography, professionally, or any of my personal creative interests. (This is fine, I do not find any inherent value in social media virality. I regularly address the problems with social media hypervisibility without resources, such as in Social Media: "Fans," Supporters, Hypervisibility and Survival.) Some people request that I write a book but they do not even read my essays. People request that I "teach" them photography, but they have never bought any of my photography eBooks or viewed anything on Drift Sojourn. Some people expect "opinions" from me on every single celebrity utterance but have never read any of my past womanist analysis on pop culture on Gradient Lair, analyses that other people currently use to critique and conceptualize current issues while the former people will simultaneously suggest that I am "silent" on a current issue. (I recently addressed this problem of phony accusations of "silence" in The Social Burden For Politically Aware Artists on Patreon.) Some people are more likely to retweet a post if I use a URL shortener (i.e. bit.ly) than my native URL (thetrudz.com) because the former appears more "official" and thereby "more credible" to them. People value status over substance and only through mainstream approval or approval from someone with social status does anything indie that I do become substantive and valuable to them.
People do not read my "Artists Make Art" series to even know what I do, what I offer and where my time is already allocated, to already know not to suggest more labor to me when it is always something that I have already done (and they ignored), I am in progress of doing (which they are not going to support upon completion), or I have no interest in (and I previously stated so). How exactly can non-writers, non-photographers, non-designers, non-curators, non-creators advise me on what I do? How can people who fetishize indie work while actively refusing to acknowledge the difficult realities of being an independent creator while being a hypervisible Black woman online—something that I addressed in Abusing/Exploiting Independent Creators Is Not "Fighting Capitalism" and in I Am Tired Of Being Expected To Work For Free—advise me on my experiences? How can people who have literally never engaged my past and current work suggest what I should do in the future?
Since I am an indie artist and at times get gifts (from readers), donations (from people who support indie artists, womanists, Black women etc.), sales (customers), and requests for photographs/writing (clients), through social media platforms like Twitter, I have a cash.me link in my bio for easy access for people. I also have PayPal for Business and Stripe on the back end. The latter are usually viewed as more "official" than cash.me. To some people, cash.me is a sign of poverty. Though I address generational poverty and labor openly, and people insult me over this, some simultaneously decide that I am monied because my Twitter account is verified, which is contradictory and nonsensical. Even so, to them, poverty means "stupid" and therefore "needs unsolicited advice." I never said that being an indie artist made me rich. Never happened. However, not being rich does not mean I am not skilled or I am not intelligent. Since I use platforms like Tumblr and Squarespace, people invalidate my work because the platforms are not White enough (despite both being majority White companies), expensive enough, elite enough. The actual quality of my work itself is deemed "poor" based on where it is housed online and not based on the actual work itself. This is something that I addressed in the past in Design, Platforms and "Status".
Some of this classism intersects with misogyny/misogynoir (as many people are adamantly against indie/unaffiliated women, especially when they are Black women, being paid outside of any traditional job) and whorephobia (as a lot of the abuse over cash.me and similar links in bios was targeted at sex workers first; #GiveYourMoneyToWomen addresses this and more). Nowadays, it is common to see cishet men—the primary people who abuse women over #GYMTW (but not the only people; plenty of other women, even feminists do as well) and any other discussions about unaffiliated women and labor—drop a cash.me link at the end of their own Twitter threads filled with sociopolitical scholarship that they learned from women like me in the first place. Many people, especially "activists," are actively rewriting history in regards to cash.me and similar links for themselves, while years later still trolling and abusing women over #GYMTW. Even worse are the men who expect payment after a singular viral mediocre often plagiarized joke tweet, after celebrating their "fame" and "platinum tweet status" of course, but spent years slandering unaffiliated women like me who use cash.me or traditional PayPal (as many people still have no idea it is used for business as well). These are the type of people whose advice I should value? Advice I did not even ask for?
Now, some independent workers of a variety of types, freelancers and especially entrepreneurs are classist and elitist as well and disrespect traditional workers. However, what the fuck does this have to do with me though? I have never insulted people for the sheer act of working traditional jobs and I openly discuss my labor experiences of the past twenty years, which includes traditional labor. I have done so in collections of my work like in the Twitter Moments titled #BlackWomenAtWork: Misogynoir and Labor. Even so, the main people who harass me about my work are in fact traditional workers, and of them, primarily Whites/men of any field and primarily people of colour who are "activists." The latter are often (but not always) at least a decade younger than I am, and if Black, clearly never learned the saying "stay outta grown folks' business" from their older generations. (Social media flattens generational differences and experience levels to where even literal high school students think we are "peers.") Traditional workers are not helpless victims dealing with unilateral abuse from independent workers. Many of them paint this victim narrative while insulting, plagiarizing, and exploiting independent creators in particular. Capitalism. Fun times, right?
VII. People have no proven proficiency in what they try to advise me on.
Not one professional photographer of my skill level or greater, of my experience level or greater has ever offered me unsolicited advice about my gear, what I should photograph next, what products to make, what to design next...nothing. I cannot recall a single time that this has occurred in my entire career. Many years ago before Twitter and even Facebook were popular, I ran a photography group on MySpace and photographers consented to sharing insight, tips, portfolio critiques and more. Since this consent was there in the context of a private group of 200 photographers, we shared tips and advice openly. We all knew our fields as professionals, or as hobbies, in the case of hobbyist members, and showed some mark of proficiency in photography in order to be able to advise on anything. We were invested in each other's growth and not just trying to hear ourselves talk and look important online. This is a very different context versus dealing with people who think all photography post-processing techniques are "Instagram filters" (and declaring "no filter" is proof of their wisdom, even as they can barely figure out how to use their iPhone cameras) trying to tell me what do with my work as a professional photographer, when I did not ask them shit in the first place. (I addressed this in detail in 5 Uncool and 5 Very Cool Replies I Get After I Publish Photographs). People who have never built a functioning professional-level indie space on a platform and only value professional writing published in mainstream spaces, and are not even writers themselves, can keep their advice on how I should build and maintain my indie spaces.
VIII. People think "buying from me" means that they "bought me."
A common myth that prevails in social media spaces is that establishing boundaries and requiring respectful online engagement with one's art and oneself means "risking potential customers." I do not care. I am not so interested in money that someone buying a $5.00 eBook from me can now tell me what to photograph, how to photograph it or can make additional unpaid labor demands on me. I am not so interested in money that I would be pleased by someone throwing in fictive kinship with their unsolicited labor request—or how "thrilled" they would be to "potentially" pay for some future labor or product that I never offered and they demand from me because I am a Black woman and they are Black too—yet they cannot produce any evidence of their support for my existing work. Even becoming a supporter, patron, customer or client does not mean that people own my decisions or own me. I genuinely rather go without than to deal with people's control issues rooted in a false sense of ownership of independent creators. I have experience with good supporters, patrons, customers and clients, so I know when someone is not a good one. Any person who requires the space to be demanding or abusive is not a "potential" anything.
When I want advice, I ask people that I trust, that are invested in my well-being and work, and that are actually more skilled than I am in the fields that I work in. I am always a student, in essence, but no, random mouths yapping online are not automatically my teachers. I do not have all of the answers and I do not know everything. I am learning everyday. However, I get to determine what I want to learn and how. I get to make those choices for myself. When I want to learn something new, I research, I study, I practice, I fail, I do it again, I fail, I do it again, I learn, I get good, I get better. When I want input from people who actually support me—without gaslighting me on my experience, without trying to control my production yet know they are not going to support the very same products that they demand I create, without insulting my intelligence, without willfully ignoring what I have done, am working on and will do next, while offering ignorant suggestions that reflect that they have no real engagement with my work over time—I ask them and they usually respond extremely respectfully.
For example, I did a survey to see what interested people would want from me on Patreon and they responded well. I then took those responses and used them to shape my Patreon profile and what I publish there. I got to determine the parameters and determine when and how I wanted input. If the only way that someone can be "interested" in my work is by ignoring my experience, insulting my intelligence, and providing unsolicited suggestions and unsolicited advice that quickly reveals their own lack of proficiency, lack of engagement with the breadth of my work and/or lack of any respect for independent artists in general, I do not need their "interest." I will manage without. I have been through so much in 38 years of life so I am sure that I will manage somehow without social media asshole number 23193593 not being interested in my work unless they can be paternalistic and controlling as well.
I am really grateful for thoughtful and respectful supporters, patrons, customers and clients. While I do not like the circumstances that my work has to occur in—using social media, as many non-famous independent artists do—I like writing, I love photography, I am invigorated by being a creative. I think about how difficult it was working in corporate for over a decade and it was still easier than this though. It truly was. The cumulative stress of dealing with unsolicited suggestions, unsolicited advice, paternalism and even ableism (especially from "activists," but not only from them) on a daily and at times hourly basis has impact my mental health for years. Interestingly enough, I support many independent artists without directly telling them how to do their work or demanding more labor from them any time they share their existing work. However, what I give I clearly cannot receive in return. I wish that the respectful and kind people that I deal with were enough to offset the disrespectful, paternalistic, ignorant, passive aggressive and ableist people, but unfortunately I am not so lucky and neither is my health.