Our advice columnist Zahira Kelly specializes in the jolt of recognition that comes from rearranging or inverting mainstream hierarchies. In this month’s column, she dissects the costs of online fame and upholds the dignity of speaking differently than the ruling class.
Sometimes I wish I had the following you do and then I see all the shit you catch. Is it safe to say social media popularity for WOC is a double-edged sword?
Ay. I want to do the sign of the cross like my Tia-Abuela and pray that you never have to shake with anxiety and fear opening your inbox and mentions because you know there’s going to be a dogpile of hate messages. They call them fans in denial but :/ maybe I’d rather not be on your mind?
This has been my life since I started a Tumblr blog where I openly questioned the social structure that erases and marginalizes me. With a bigger following comes more sharing of your content and more possibilities for people who will miss your point and decide you deserve abuse or threats to find you. Yes, you may reach lots of people who love what you have to say, you will be able to connect with amazing people doing amazing work. You will also reach people who will obsessively stalk and hate-follow you so they can have material to insult you about, so you can be on their mind and keep them up at night tossing and turning. These people are a bit masochistic, if you ask me. If you don’t like what I’m saying, just don’t look?
They will send the most disgusting dehumanizing messages at 4am when they should’ve been sleeping soundly and instead were raging at the fact I have the nerve to exist visibly and not even care what they think. Others send support, love, and fan mail. They engage with honesty and integrity and share their own struggles. There’s the benefit of community with likeminded people. That is the only thing that makes it worth it to me. But online fame is also a cesspool of resentful souls who really have way too much to do with me when I don’t know them from a can of paint and they have way too much time on their hands. They are a relentless gang of angry white bros and a smattering of people of all colors and genders from all over the political spectrum and world, who hate ratchet Black women all the same.
Depending on how much whiter or respectable or white-pandering you are, or how much less womanly you are read as, you will incur less wrath and find more routes to flourish. If you cannot be or do not want to be “pleasing” to the status quo but are still interesting and draw an audience, you will be co-opted, siphoned off, vilified, surveilled.
It will not be easy. They will mock your pain and joy and rejoice when you fall ill. They will do their best to hurt you, threaten you, insult your children and even try to find where you work or live to take their anger out on your body and that of your kids. They may doxx you (dig up and release your personal info and that of your family without your consent) and break into your apartment. They may call your job to try and get you fired. I only tell you because this has all happened to my femme friends and I.
So be careful what you wish for. The internets are a savage lawless jungle for those of us with less structural protection.
I have been made fun of for not speaking or writing the same as more educated people. For using dialect more common where I’m from. How do I shake the feeling of inferiority? How do I defend myself?
In a perfect world there’d be nothing to defend. You’d be accepted as a worthy human regardless of your dialect or level of education or literacy.
The emphasis on standard written and spoken language forms is ultimately used for imperial, elitist purposes. It undermines contexts like my own, where I learned Black vernacular English and Dominican Spanish, which is AfroIndigenous. It undermines Native oral traditions and the narratives of people who cannot emote in standard ways because of disability, and systemically leaves the most vulnerable, maligned people out of global and local historical narratives. It devalues the history of your own dialect and context. In my case, to shun AfroIndigenous Dominican Spanish is to shun our cultural retention and adaptation through hundreds of years of brutal colonization. It is erasure of our roots and glorification of the same white standard Euro language speakers who enslaved us and stole our land.
To ridicule people for lacking “proper” language is also to ridicule them for lacking access to basic resources, for being of another race and context or ability set. Education and literacy are important but they cannot even be absorbed effectively if children aren’t properly housed, fed, and loved, if children’s context, individual abilities and history aren’t respected.
It’s not like marginalized people can just waltz into great free schools that will teach them about themselves and build on that. Even if they do somehow go to a so-called “good school,” the school will try to mold them into a facsimile of the ruling class.
You don’t have to prove anything to anyone who’s worth a damn because they will know. It takes a lot of entitlement and detachment from the state of the global majority to use language and education as a reason to devalue people, and yet we are raised to see that as fair. It is not. It’s cruel and out of touch.
All of these are reasons you should never blame yourself or be ashamed of who you are, regardless of the status quo. You and your dialect are perfectly valid right here and now.