A veteran activist was kind enough to speak with me the other day about antiracist work and we both agreed that we were both dissatisfied with what we saw as an overemphasis on education and training. Personally, I have long thought this was not an effective strategy – only useful if augmenting more radical changes that start with the people in the room and the power structure they operate within. (In my experience, you need ~50% BIPOC in a white dominant organization at ALL LEVELS of decision making power in order to start seeing meaningful cultural changes.) In this activists’ experience, she said she saw real change and empowerment by shifting her focus from educating people about racism and finding allies to reaching out to the people most affected by racism, teaching them how to navigate racist environments (for example, how to prepare for filing a grievance with one’s union) and building a community of support.
I think creative people can make this decision too. Are you going to place your work with certain publications, publishers, galleries, and organizations that are considered prestigious in white dominant industries or with smaller, more politically radical venues that do not command the same level of resources?
First things first – for writers at least, prestige publications do not necessarily pay more. And we know from examples like the Bon Appétit fiasco (which, btw, ripped off David Chang’s Lucky Peach, which in turn appropriated Black culture), that these companies are less forthcoming with funds when it comes to BIPOC. So this is not always a question about income; sometimes it’s more of a question about superiority, credibility, visibility and status.
I still see value in antiracist education and training and I still see immense importance in having diverse staff and creators in mainstream, corporate publications and other arts and cultural orgs. But representation only gets you so far when much of it is easily absorbed, white washed and produced for white audiences who are positioned as “universal.”
There are different kinds of empowerment. It works in the interests of those benefiting from dominant power structures to convince you that the only valid kinds of power are the powers they can gatekeep and police. As well as to downplay, dismiss and denigrate the kinds of powers they cannot surveille and control. Like the activist I spoke to, I want to see more investment focused on building up those who are most marginalized. Groups that are trafficking in very different kinds of power.
Anyways, since I joined the TCAF board, I’ve been staying away from comics writing just to get way clear of any potential conflicts of interest. But I got the itch to write again and last week, my article, Rebranding Mary Jane: The Gentrification of Cannabis Culture in Lingerie was published in The Lingerie Addict. I wrote the pitch specifically for TLA because I knew from reading its articles over the years that I would not be asked to “tone down” the politics of this article. The editor of this site is a queer Black woman who wears her politics on her sleeve. I’ve watched the site grow over the years and seen just how long it has taken for it to reach the level of mainstream visibility it commands today. It stretches the adage “work twice as hard for half as much” to extremes.
Sometimes I come across this idea that smaller publications and creative groups that focus on BIPOC are not up to snuff. It reminds me of this seemingly objective idea that diversity hires are somehow of a lower quality and an organization should just focus on performance. This ignores the fact that systemic prejudice holds diverse talent to a higher double standard and ignores the understanding that our society as a whole makes massive, systemic investments to support some groups of people and that investments are also being made to oppress other groups – and in some cases, push them closer to death.
Yet despite this, people resist and persist. I’m so grateful to the diverse editors I’ve worked with and publications like Loose Leaf Magazine, Leste Magazine, and The Lingerie Addict that keep building up community and showing us there are many other kinds of power out there…