African American women are the “mules” of social media.
Black women are expected to carry the emotional load of race reconciliation in the United States.
In countless think pieces, Facebook posts, Tweets, we bear the burden of having to explain America’s Original Sin as if we committed it — as if we lashed our own backs, hung our own black bodies from trees, segregated our own public spaces, flooded our own communities with crack cocaine, refused our own entrance to colleges and universities, denied our own loan applications to start businesses or to own homes, flashed the blue and red lights behind our own cars, or waited for our own deaths at the barrel of a “frightened” white person’s gun.
We did none of this and yet we are expected to carry the guilt, privilege and rage of white people. We are supposed to endure their anger, insults, willful ignorance, “love and light”, and misunderstandings with a patient, indulgent smile. We are supposed to explain one more time for the white woman in Ohio who is “trying to understand” and the bro in Boston who “doesn’t see color.”
How many years of freedom and we’re still expected to be an emotional mammy?
Toi Smith, a “writer, foodie, mother, and never-giver-upper,” described in a recent Facebook post the emotional landscape of African American women in these social media streets, as a deeply divided country avoids coming to terms with itself.
“Yes, we get tons of shares, and likes, and new friend requests, and when people ask for recommendations on people they should follow — our names are listed.
But we aren’t compensated.
And the reason this is so important is because when we do share we are the ones who get trolled and harassed the most. We are the ones with both white men and white women leaving vile comments and vile personal messages anytime our voices get amplified.”
When my friend Ericka Hines, a social change diva, shared Smith’s post, I was stunned by Smith’s audacity. It was the first time I heard a black woman boldly declare that we should get paid for the work we do educating people who just “can’t imagine what it’s like to be a black person,” but can easily insert themselves in multitudinous plot lines among seven dynastic families battling for control in a fictitious medieval setting.
Smith announced she was moving her daily, long-form posts to Patreon, a platform on which her work would be compensated, seen by like-minded people, and not be trolled. Her solution seemed so daring, outrageous, and simple.
The idea is controversial. No one wants to be seen as profiteering from the corpses of black bodies that seem to pile up everyday via a bullet, incarceration, driving while black, apathy, or the accumulated result of vicious, racist policies that limit access to decent health care, nutritious food, or a sound, basic education.
That is not what Smith is suggesting. However, her announcement raises a provocative question — why should we give our stories away, even if they help others heal?
Cell phones, in some ways, make our lives easier because we are able to communicate with our loved ones in an instant, but no one expects to receive free cell service. The latest summer blockbuster may entertain us for a few hours, but we don’t expect to enter the movie theater for free and pay nothing for the large popcorn with extra butter.
We pay for these things because they have value. And so do our stories. They enrich and educate a nation in search of its own soul.
Like Smith, I am ending the practice of posting long-form content on social media. I will continue to use those platforms to share articles and bits of interest. I’m sharing my work on platforms like Medium, where it can be widely read and on my website, www.kerrabolton.com, which will ask for a subscription to read certain posts.
This is about more than “reclaiming my time.” It’s about reclaiming my voice and my story. It’s about the right to self-determination. It’s about not being a “mule of the world,” but rising as a beautiful, black phoenix who knows the value and power of her story.
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