These Hands Are All I Have

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Image Credit: Gaian Bird

“Consider the holiness of your hands. They are how you do your work on this earth; they are a microcosm of the hands of the Goddess, and can change the world as easily as hers can.” ― Dianne SylvanThe Body Sacred

From my About page:

“For better or worse we live in a consumer capitalist society. I didn’t create it, but I do have to navigate it. I didn’t put a monetary value on my intellectual and emotional labor. Your ancestors did that. To that end, I believe in reparative justice and compensating Black Womxn for the work we do in all forms. Compensation for my writing is encouraged and appreciated.”

This is not a writing about Capitalism. Though the ground that we walk on was built on it there is something deeper that is at work between Black Womxn and white people, especially white women. My own internalized oppression had made me feel ashamed to even want to be compensated for my work. I was early on socialized into the understanding that white people are entitled to not only my body, but my labor in any form which they choose to avail themselves. In my young life this mainly played out  in my white friends using my presence, my intelligence, my humor, my personality as a primary source of free entertainment. They also used me to benefit themselves to appear non-racist, liberal, cool, and hip. Adult white people used me in the same way, but demanded that I produce more tangible goods. I had to read poetry at white women’s club meetings, or perform in skits. In my teens, I was a server at a prestigious white women’s club for affluent white socialites (such as they were in my small Ohio town).

No one ever asked me if I wanted to do these things. It was always assumed that I would. Because my mother was raising me to assimilate and crave a close proximity to whiteness, she always answered these command performances with a happy “yes”. She considered it a gift that I would be given a meal as part of the bargains she made and she thought these white people were of the best sort–the kind I should always try to be like. In her mind, it was more than enough that they wanted me to work for them in whatever capacity. If white folk wanted you, that was reward enough. My mother was a pragmatist. She saw white people as an unavoidable obstacle to negotiate.

In an effort to erase the present, white people love to erase the past. “Slavery was so long ago. When will you get over it?” “My family didn’t own slaves. Why do I have to be responsible for what other white people did?” “Many slave owners treated their slaves well. Not all of them were cruel.” All of these statements and all of the other ways that white people engage in bypassing their responsibility to dismantle white supremacy sidestep the simple fact that the past is not past. The original entitlement to the labor of Black people has morphed as the needs of white supremacy have morphed, but it has never ended. Why? The ownership of and entitlement to the bodies and work of Black people, Black Womxn, especially are rooted in the construction of a system designed to benefit those who claim whiteness, and to commodify those who are not white. With this premise at the core of the systems of oppression, the means of maintaining the system will always shift to keep the status quo.

Carefully constructed from the beginning, the systems of oppression are written into amerika’s most treasured document, the Constitution, where no less than 10 articles determined that Black people were not, in fact, people, but property. We are embedded in the amerikan collective mind as consumables, not persons who should be compensated for services rendered. Because our labor was an entitlement of being a white person, it is very difficult for white people to shift their view to one in which we are on equal footing for our work no matter what that work comprises.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship between white women and Black Womxn. In the white imagination we are, historically and presently, the embodiment of every need that whiteness has.  We have mothered you and your children, grown your food, sewn your clothes, dressed you, fed you, entertained you and counseled you. We have borne the shame of your men’s desires and deviancies. I am telling you this not as an indictment; this is not personal. That is a burden I choose not to bear. I want  you to open your eyes to what lies beneath the carefully constructed layers of your whiteness, your perfectly normative and unaware whiteness.

That any Black Womxn can do the work of holding space for white women to unlearn their complicity in white supremacy is nothing short of a miracle. That we have to go through the humiliation of convincing you that our labor, our time, our talents, our intellect is worthy of compensation is shameful.

You routinely ask to “pick our brains.” You cherry pick our concepts and ideas, our style and our swag as though we have laid out a smorgasbord just for your perusal. You regularly profit from our pain. Rose McGowan and the hijacking of Tarana Burke’s #metoo movement is just the latest example.  The fact is that many white women feel that paying us for our work in social justice, or anywhere for that matter, is a kindness akin to charity extended to a less fortunate soul.

A few months ago I was an educator in an online unpacking racism group. The single most challenging and constantly recurring issue was compensation to educators for emotional, physical, and intellectual labor despite specific and continually repeated parameters for how compensation should occur. It didn’t matter how many times and how many ways it was outlined, white women (who were the predominant membership in the group) could not seem to comprehend what we were asking for. There was pernicious push-back, and persistant feigning of confusion about compensation that became an exhausting sinkhole for the energy and time of the educators to the point of not being able to engage in meaningful unpacking work for days at a time.

White women, you NEED to do better about this. If you are serious about this work, the first thing you are going to have to do is to push through your blindness, your reluctance, and your indoctrinated confusion about investing your money in the work of Black Womxn. I write to stand in my truth, yes. But do not be misled about the value of my words. If you follow me, you need to understand that the choice to benefit from my writing is to commit to letting go of the old paradigm which tells you that I do this out of the goodness of my heart because…Kumbayah. I get it. I believed it too because I was socialized to believe that my work has no value outside of the white gaze, and that the white gaze was sufficient and money was not necessary.

What I produce here is my work, the work of my hands, my heart, and my soul and it is a holy thing. The lived experience I bring to this work is a crucible in which my Ancestors have given me purpose, being, and movement through this world that they suffered and died for. I OWE them a healing. And you OWE your Ancestors and yourselves not only healing, but reparative justice to the ones still being harmed by their legacy.

I studied, trained, and earned my degree. I work at my craft and my words hold gravitas and verity. I am my Ancestors’ dreams. I do what I do in service to healing the legacy of pain they were given. You must do your part to heal the legacy you were given from your Ancestors. When you set aside the voice that tells you whatever it tells you when a Black Womxn expects to be compensated for her work, you are breaking the legacy of white supremacy. When your immediate response is the urge to question, to push back, to make excuses just…don’t.  Tell that conditioned response to go sit the fuck down and then make a breakthrough. If a sistx has a paypal link, hit it. If she has squarecash or venmo, go there. If she is on Patreon, become a patron. Do as much as you can as often as you can. Do it for one reason and one reason only. It is the right thing.

COMPENSATE GAIAN BIRD, WRITER

 

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