Advice is a strange practice, halfway between pedagogy and friendship. We ask for it because we want to hear our own thoughts reflected back, but it can unexpectedly jolt us into new understanding. Artist and writer Zahira Kelly specializes in this jolt of recognition on Twitter and Tumblr, where she throws out daily analyses of white supremacy and ideology as casually as she discusses fashion. Against those who understand social media as an exercise in alienation, she exemplifies its educational and collectivizing powers, its ability to connect our multiple lonelinesses.
Like the early advice columns of the 18th century, like the agony aunts of the advice column’s mid-20th century heyday, the wise women of the Internet specialize in a very femme form of critique and guidance that soothes the pain and cuts the bullshit, knowing what the world is and what it should be and the ache of the gap in between.
Here, in a special advice column for the New Inquiry, Zahira Kelly answers readers’ questions on white Latina privilege, gentrification, and escaping abusive relationship dynamics.
I recently moved to a cool neighborhood where there are mostly people of color and I don’t want to be a bad gentrifier, but I feel like my neighbors aren’t being inclusive and friendly toward me. I’m worried it’s because I’m white. How do I address this?
Every time this comes up, I gotta ask, Are you sure it’s not all in your head? You been giving people attitude perhaps? Maybe if you just think positive and watch The Secret and wish upon a star, you will realize it was your own negative vibes? Isn’t that what you tell people of color? It’s not like you’re at risk for racial profiling by cops, or your ancestors arrived in the country at the bottom of a slave ship. Something tells me you’re gonna be okay.
Your neighbors were already inclusive in letting you be around them in the first place. Same can’t be said for the majority of this nation’s white neighborhoods. Racism means you are able to move among whatever color of people you please, while people of color are often denied entry into white neighborhoods.
Rather than get mad at your neighbors, you should consider apologizing. The presence of your body alone probably set off a chain of price gouging that will affect them all and eventually drive them out of their own homes, while you brag about being an urban pioneer and your friends follow you, as if you are arriving in the barren wild west and not communities that have existed for decades before you. You get to be a pioneer only if you discount people of color’s existence and humanity, much like colonizers disavowed native people’s existence when calling the west “wild” and barren.
Racism is you thinking your neighbors owe you something when for them you often represent the beginning of the end, to be honest. It’s not something you will ever face because you are white. It is institutional and systemic, and you are still the better paid, more protected, more valued citizen there to the state and world at large.
Try not being a pompous ass and maybe smiling, offering to do nice things for people, you know, acting like the kind of good, friendly neighbor they’d want to be in community with. Either way you will live without being offered Doña Petra’s habichuelas! You aren’t owed entry into cultures that aren’t yours, where you hold institutional and historical power over them. You would prolly prefer some nasty unseasoned gringo black-bean burger anyway. If your neighbors ignore you, it’s for the best, b.
Your Twitter convos on #abuserdynamics helped me get out of a relationship and recognize the harmful patterns in my own family and upbringing. I feel like I don’t have a framework for what love is anymore, because all the “love” I’ve ever known has been wrapped in abuse. As a black woman, I was told to take whatever I could get and be happy it wasn’t even worse. My question is, how do I build a new idea of what love looks like?
Sending you all of the hearts, love. So many of us struggle with this. Healthy love is a basic resource that’s up there with food, water, health care, safety, education, and shelter. It’s divvied up just like the rest of resources, with the most marginal having the least access to healthy love and support. And in a postcolonial world, for subjects of colonization, love is especially muddled and riddled with messages of “take whatever you can get and be grateful even as we crush you.”
For black women in particular, images of us being loved, cherished, protected, sought after are rare in the media and all but absent in cultural narratives. Even chivalry is racialized: The same men who hold doors open for nonblack women literally slam the same doors in our faces. (It’s happened to me and my friends.) For every 98,787,845 romcoms revolving around loving white girls, there is one movie with a black girl and she’s probably shown to be miserable and suffering through bad or no love. “Damsel in distress” is a problematic trope but even that would be a relief to black women who are never deemed worth protecting in the first place. There’s a whole lot stacked against us in terms of seeing images of what love looks like for us, period. Much less the healthy kind.
These days, I try to remember if someone is not being loving, it is not love. This seems very basic, yet it is not the norm for all of us to receive functional, nonabusive love. When we take into account that love and support are basic resources allotted according to proximity to power structures, we can see that receiving healthy love is an aspect of privilege. So, as people who get less access to love, we are taught to forgo our instincts and stick around when people do not treat us lovingly, when care and concern is denied to us because this is often the only kind of “love” we get.
The protocol for black women is to give everything and get very little, if anything at all. Ideally, love is mutually conscious, caring, and ultimately dedicated to loving you how you want and need to be loved. Even if none of us is perfect, at minimum the love you get should involve being fair and appreciative of you and your time. Loving takes effort and it is not supposed to be manipulative, mean, or about ego. These are essentials you deserve and should never have to settle for being without.
As black women, we are told we cannot have gentleness and love, that it’s for other women. But we are women too. We do deserve it. Remember that. While being more sure in that won’t prevent you from being mistreated, it will help you to better discern it when you experience it and guide you in what to discard or remedy.
I am a Latina who passes as white sometimes. Some people even doubt I am Latina. I feel unaccepted and underrepresented among other Latin Americans!
While I am sorry people question your identity, I have to scoff at you, as I am an Afro-indigenous Latin American and deemed a mythical creature whose existence is purely speculative. But you … you are underrepresented among Latinos?
Why was white Sofia Vergara, one of the highest paid TV actresses in American television, already famous for being white in Latin America before she crossed over to the U.S.? Why did people love the fuck out of white Portuguese-born Carmen Miranda and make her the face of Latinidad to the point where people still ask me to wear a fruit basket on my head with maracas like her? Keep in mind that although she tried to dress and dance like poor Afro-Brasileras, as a white woman she never would have had to carry a fruit basket on her head. Her entire career was a white body in blackface yet she was deemed the picture of Latina authenticity!
Whiter Latin Americans are a minority among Latinos yet are by far the most affluent, represented and politically powerful. Why were the few Latinas who were in the Forbes most-powerful-women list all whiter-looking? Can you explain why the few Latinos who get top-ranking positions in American companies and organizations are mostly on the whiter-looking side? Have you ever wondered why Latin American cinema mainly features whiter Latinos?
Do you still think whiter Latin American people are underrepresented and unaccepted? Then you’re greedy. The only way you could get more representation among Latinos is if you finally finished erasing and pushing everyone else the fuck out. Do you need 900% of everything to feel all is right with the world? That’s mighty white colonizer of you! Coincidence?
People who look like you are already all over Latin American TV, media, magazines, when you are a minority in Latin America. And judging by Sofia Vergara’s aforementioned success, it’s easy to surmise you’re also preferred in the U.S. over brown and black Latin Americans. How often do you see indigenous people starring in Latin American media and plastered all over magazines? And how often do you see AfroLatinos representing Latinidad? When was the last time you gave a fuck about how the people ruling Latin America are on the whiter side while the indigenous and black people who built it and keep it running live on scraps?
Have you ever taken even the slightest look beyond your own nose? Do you live in another dimension? I sure hope so.