Pettiness As Political Power
In the upcoming weeks in between the memes about this being “the last time I can confidently sing ‘My President is Black,” and pictures of Michelle Obama’s iconic fashion moments, I’m thoroughly prepared and already annoyed for the article shares that mention that its “bad feminism” to make fun of Melania Trump, or Megyn Kelly, or insert any other offensive anti-Black conventionally attractive white woman.
The articles shared will predictably discuss that misogyny against women you don’t like is still misogyny, a point that I’ve discussed in past articles, and how you can’t Photoshop Melania Trump’s Face into a Milli Vanilli meme. I’ve never actually seen a meme like this before, but now that I think about it, someone create that meme!
I mean, in a perfect world, people would not make fun of Melania Trump’s inability to stop copying Michelle Obama. In a perfect world, people would not bring up the fact that offensive feminist sweetheart Lena Dunham unfortunately bares an uncanny resemblance to Little Critter. In a perfect world, I would not argue with a White girl on Facebook and ask her to please attain some lips before coming for me, and I wouldn’t have just sent out a tweet referring to the cast of The L Word as a bunch of “mayo whiny babies,” but we don’t live in that world people.
We live in this world. An anti-Black, racist, transphobic, homophobic, classist, and overall messed up world and in this world I’m going to venture and say that pettiness is not just hilarious.
I think that pettiness is resistance.
I preface the rest of this article with acknowledging the fact that I’m undeniably petty. It’s as though it’s in my bones. Every other word that comes out of my mouth is shady, and my face is stuck in a perma- eye-roll. I’m a member of three group chats that contain the word Petty in the title. I’ve mellowed out in my old age, but I mean if you ever need me to drag someone, I will.
It wasn’t until the crap-storm of 2016 that I started re-framing how I thought of pettiness. My thoughts on the issue were sparked when a close friend wrote a status about how we shouldn’t say that white women age poorly. I mean, just like the Melania Trump articles, it sounded good in theory.
The articles typically emphasize that we shouldn’t make fun of White women’s appearances because it feeds into an overall system of misogyny, something that I am oppressed under. We also shouldn’t imply that a woman’s worth is based on her appearance. I kind of agree with those articles. I don’t want some crusty liberal man calling a woman a slut, and feeling as though that’s okay.
(Except, I want to acknowledge that there’s a difference between a white man calling me a bitch, and black women saying a racist woman has a flat butt.)
But then, the petty in me started to think. Should we also be pretending that melanin doesn’t protect people from the harmful rays of the sun? Also, where is the line between protecting White fragility, and advocating for feminism across the board? Would these same White women defend me if they got online and saw someone being anti-Black towards me, and calling me a monkey? Also, would these same White women also be able to acknowledge that while making fun of their wrinkles is “mean” it doesn’t have the same impact or amount of violence that is directed towards Black women DAILY in our society?
The answers to these questions are tricky and messy, and they’re precisely why I still share memes of white women with wrinkles in my Black Femme groupchat.
If you think about it, I mean really think about it. What exactly are these women losing? Is Melania Trump going to go online and see me making fun of her, and is she going to be upset? Also, when I make fun of her, it’s not like some other skinny white woman model on my friends list will suddenly see it, and then feel worthless. And, if that were to ever happen, it’s not like she couldn’t just shut her laptop and re-enter the real world where she’s heard and appreciated.
I mean, White feminist women frequently share memes about men being trash. They talk about men’s inability to please them sexually, or their lack of hygiene. They are able to acknowledge while doing this may not be “nice,” it’s their way of coping with a system that values men. Their feminism isn’t ever called into question. In fact, they’re seen as cheeky and funny.
So why am I not afforded the same opportunity to make fun of White women? Why must I then pretend that there’s some unspoken bond between us, and that we are all fighting hand in hand towards the same goals. Why must I pretend that White women don’t still benefit from White supremacy, and why am I supposed to pretend that a meme calling out their complete lack of rhythm doesn’t make me laugh on my lunch break. These are the same White women who shared memes calling dark-skinned girls roaches in middle school, the same White girls who said the n-word in high school, the same white women who laughed at my passion for social justice until they read BossyPants from Tina Fey, okay I’m sorry I’m just a little bit bitter yall.
Why are we fighting to make conventionally attractive white women feel comfortable about their appearance, sexual exploits, and bodies when society as a whole does that for them hardcore? Why are we rushing to make sure that Melania Trump isn’t called a slut, but not checking our allyship towards trans women in our life? Why are we so outraged about a meme saying that Taylor Swift kind of looks like a crab leg, and not the fact that we are perpetuating ableism in our movement? This goes for white people as well. People love to call me mean and heartless, yet cant even acknowledge that you’re going so hard for a White woman married to a WHITE SUPREMACIST (making HER a WHITE SUPREMACIST), yet aren’t checking your fatphobia towards white people in your everyday life.
We have fallen into White fragility again, insinuating that me saying that a girl’s lips looks like a paper cut is the same as actual racism and systemic harm. We have put the burden on ourselves to be nice, forgiving, and “the bigger person,” in the face of our oppressor. We have created a false equivalency by pretending that all of my organizing is diminished because I laughed at a video of Kendall Jenner doing the chacha slide.
The thing about being petty, is that it’s often used to fight up. I’m never petty towards those who are more marginalized than me. I’m petty towards those who have the systemic power to oppress me. Being purposely petty has given me the power to heal. It’s given me a chance to feel as though I have more control over what’s done to me. It’s allowed me to acknowledge that my feminism, just like everything else in my life, is messy. Pettiness is part of my writing, part of my personality, my organizing. It’s what makes me who I am.
In addition, I feel as though pettiness is a bonding tool. It makes me feel closer with my Black Queer friends. There’s a sense of humor that we have, that you can’t really understand from the outside looking in. People will often imitate it from mis-using the word “shade,” to “read,” but we just do it better.
So you know what I’m sorry. I know I’m not saving the world when I get on twitter and tweet about the white girl that cut me in line at Starbucks. Maybe it’s not nice to say that Miley Cyrus kind of looks like a rabbit. However, I think they’ll be okay.
Everyday through organizing, writing, and direct service, I’m helping create the world that I want to see. Unfortunately for some of you, that world just happens to be petty.