The issue of showing pride in your work when you’re Black
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Recently I talked to a sister. She has an excellent blog that combines culture, conceptual art and lifestyle. The blog has a large following and much media coverage. Lately, an evil rumour turned up (coming from one guy) that she were all “uppity” and “showing off”. She knows the rumour is bs, and those who read and enjoy her work, can tell that actually the opposite is the case, but it struck her at a touchy point. It struck me at a touchy point, too.
I had to think of Toni Morrison’s wise words:
»The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work... It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being…«1
When you gain attention, rumours are unavoidable. We all know that.
However – there is a certain kind of rumour reserved against independent Black women*, and it goes: you’re not staying in your place. You being openly active and positive is uppity. Return to serve my interests. Normality must be restored now.”
As Black girls*, we learn that we need to make sure not to “embarrass” (read: outperform) anyone (ok: boys) by openly showing excellence. Because their egoes are more precious than ours. We’re taught to be careful not to appear “too” skillful, so we practice diplomacy and reserve. These are good traits, if they’re practiced out of free will, not out of fear of getting abused and/or excluded.
And you know where this ‘socialized enforced modesty operating system’ is especially fatal?
When you run an online business.
Think about it: for the first time ever, those who had no chance passing the oldschool (read: misogynist, racist) gatekeepers, now can and do thrive by publishing their own services, art, philosophy or literature. If we get the word out, we can find the people we resonate with, and create for them. This is powerful. But we can’t find our folks if we don’t promote our stuff.
The insinuation of being uppity, too bold, egotistical, too much, too present, self absorbed etc. aims at inhibiting the attitude one needs to perform successful online marketing: showing that you’re proud of your products, that you hope many people will like them, that you enjoy what you do. Reminding people. Offering your work freely. It’s vital to have this attitude and not hold back on your positive feelings about your work/products when your business is online based.
“Don’t you show off” translates to “You shall not be a professional and successful business person”.
There’s another issue behind this, and it’s engrained in the German culture: any initiative involving a possibility to earn money must be mistrusted. Persons who want to earn money, are of low moral fibre. Who offers you something they created with a price tag must have some kind of catch hidden up their sleeves. Marketing is immoral. Financial success is not cool and certainly not something one should aim at.
I get where this kind of thinking comes from. It’s when (justified) critique of capitalism is parrotted instead of understood and thus perverted into the actual oppositie of what it was initially aimed at. When the result is that society’s most vulnerable are reprimanded for being “uppity” once they are excited about their products or work, this ‘philosophy’ simply fails.
In the world of arts and publishing, the outcome of this kind of colonial “reasoning” is that only people with rich parents can be real artists(tm) because in a twisted classbending stunt, they are perceived as not inflicted by money issues and therefore to produce art that is more “pure”. (I know. Don’t get me started on irrelevance bubbles and cognitive dissonance).
It’s easy to show off monetary minimalism when your Daddy pays your rent. .
This is damaging art production per se. Having to witness how the most notorious artworks are spectacularly irrelevant ain’t pretty.
But back to topic.
When applied to independent productions, generalized marketing negativity also ignores a simple fact: a broader audience for a good thing – is a good thing!
White supermarket owners (/ painters / directors /…) and Black entrepreneurial Sisters* aren’t held by the same standards. There are different sets of rules about how much pride we get to show in our work and products, how ‘elegantly’ modestly we’re supposed to communicate our hopes, aspirations and success.
This helps me remember that it’s important not to comply with this twisted ‘societal rule’.
Will a lack of modesty turn me into a Godzilla-size threat?
Some may subjectively feel that way. Some already lose their nerves when a Black woman isn’t downplaying herself in anticipary obedience. I’m all for a less racist future so I really don’t care.
I’m not in the will-never-intimidate-entitled-folks business. .
It’s my business and my responsibility to thrive and to empower. To open up new options by doing new things.
Sisters*, let me know in the comments or on my Facebook page how you experience cultural sabotage and what helps your entrepreneurial emancipation.
Here’s a letter of affirmation, meanwhile.
because it feels good to move.
you have nothing to prove
– Alexis Pauline Gumbs
1 Toni Morrison 1975 http://www.goddessblogs.com/2014/08/toni-morrisons-1975-lecture-on-race.html
* All of this certainly applies even more to Black people who’re read as trans* and inter*! But I can’t speak for them.*