It has taken me while to wrap my head around the concept of paying anyone for the posts and comments they make in a freely viewed space like Facebook or a blog. In the beginning, my thoughts were something like, “You want to get paid? Then why are you writing here?.” It wasn’t that I didn’t think their writing was good or valuable. It wasn’t that I wasn’t learning anything. It was my belief that anything put out on the Internet is given freely unless I have to pay in advance of reading or viewing it.
Over time, I began to recognize the particularly intense emotional toll writing about racism and white privilege takes on BIPOC. Sharing their experiences through the written word can be painful. But, much of the emotional labor comes from dealing with comments on their writings by “good meaning”/”good liberal” white people. Yes, trolls and outright racists are a problem. But it seems like the most harm comes in conversations with these “good” people. In the circles I’m in on FB, that often means white feminists and spiritual white women.
Too often, white feminists believe their proudly held label of liberal feminist immunize them against the possibility of ever doing anything harmful to a BIPOC. They think of racism only in terms of acts which are blatantly so. Many times they have not examined their own privilege and are woefully unaware of the many micro-aggressions they commit against BIPOC every day. And this plays out in their online comments.
Then there are the spiritual white women who come to these conversations with beliefs like “politics and activism are low vibration”; that properly practicing the Law of Attraction or some other manifestation principle can, on its own, overcome systemic racism; or that anyone who actually sees skin color rather than just seeing human beings is part of the problem. They haven’t examined their own privilege because that would be focusing on negative energy. As Layla Saad would say, they bring “Light and love without Truth and Justice.”
Both groups often hang on to their views so tightly that they can’t see their denial of privilege or harm brings more harm. There have been times when I was able to jump into the conversation and take on some of the labor of explaining and educating. And I will tell you it is exhausting! I am amazed at how deep the spiritual bypassing can run or how thick the lens of privilege can be. When I am in the midst of these encounters, I am amazed that BIPOC haven’t just blocked all white people from their social media accounts. And then I remember that option is one of privilege. I can just walk away from these encounters when I get tired. BIPOC are acutely aware that their freedom and liberation depends on the dismantling of white supremacy and systemic racism and that they can’t do it without white people in the trenches. So, they continue this work even when tired.* Once I understood this; once I realized that my ability to step into these discussion threads with any sense of what to say was due to what I had learned from “watching and listening”, I could no longer do so for free.
* This piece of writing has been in process for a while and recently I am seeing many BIPOC consciously decide to take care of themselves when it comes to this work. That means stepping out of these “conversations” when they are tired or drained or when it becomes obvious that the person they are talking to refuses to learn. I applaud their decision to do so. But, of course, this means those of us working to be allies need to step up our own game.
Change Your Mindset
I get 3 free online articles from The Washington Post and then I either have to subscribe or pay by the article to read more. Seems like The New York Times gives a few more freebies, but then I must subscribe or go without. I’m sure there are other examples of this model, but these are the two I encounter the most. Financially contributing towards the work of BIPOC is like buying a subscription to their work. This is a bit easier to conceptualize when the BIPOC writes on both a free space and behind a pay wall (like Patreon.com).
When the BIPOC offers all of their work on a free space like Facebook (Lace on Race does this), it seems a bit harder for people to grasp the concept of financial support. But, it is very much like The Guardian. Their articles aren’t behind a subscription wall. But at the end of each article a box pops up asking you for a donation. This happens every time. Yet, I haven’t noticed people being turned off by the request the way they are when a BIPOC has a Donate button on their FB page and ends articles with a reminder of its existence.
Of course, both of these examples lack the community building aspect that most BIPOC bring to their work and online presence. Even if you read the same news reporter’s column every day, it is unlikely you will develop a relationship with them. It is unlikely they will respond to your questions and consider your insights. But with the BIWOC (women) I follow and support, this happens.
That is why involvement in these online communities often becomes like taking a course from the individual you follow. You probably won’t get the kind of personalized teaching that you’d get in an actual online course. But you are definitely getting more personalized attention than when you simply read a book or a news article that came across your feed. You are getting their insights, their experience, and many times, their feedback on your comments. All of this means they are giving you their time and they should be compensated for doing so.
What Do You Value?
Maybe offering financial support to the BIPOC doing all this work requires you to shift your financial priorities around a bit. If all the white people following these folks would simply skip a fancy coffee every week and put that money into BIPOC accounts, imagine the difference these BIPOC could make. Maybe you aren’t a fancy coffee drinker. What can you forego to pay BIPOC for the work they are doing for us?
Please know I say this fully aware that not everyone is living an economic dream and that some here are struggling just to get by. But there are ways to contribute. Lace on Race posted a very thoughtful piece on this topic for her community just last night (link takes you to photo, click “See More” to get the whole post). If you are someone without financial resources, keep that in mind when you are in online conversation with a BIPOC. Their time is valuable. It isn’t fair to tie up their time (sometimes for an hour or more), if all you can offer at the end of a long interaction is a heart emoji.
The Bottom Line
If this is the first time someone is suggesting you compensate your online teachers of color, please also read, Pay Your Teachers by Threads of Solidarity: WOC Against Racism.
The bottom line is that BIPOC cannot pay their bills with our gratitude and cute emojis. We live in a capitalist society and that society has been built on the backs of BIPOC. If you still feel resistance in your mind, body or heart with the ideas suggested here, please take some time and reflect on that. Journal with it. Meditate with it. Pray with it. Whatever it is you do to help you think things through. And afterwards, please ACT.
Blessings on Your Journey Today.