BBHMM: Why White Women Should Pay Up
I was listening to an episode of the podcast Codeswitch yesterday, and it got me thinking. The topic of discussion was allyship, and lead producer Juleyka Lantigua-Williams said something that really struck me. Concluding that the term "ally" isn't useful due to its passiveness, she echoed my favorite quotation by trans writer Casey Plett: "being an ally requires giving shit up, which most people are not prepared to do." Lantigua-Williams compared anti-oppression work to athletic training: "if it doesn't hurt, it doesn't count." That's a powerful way to think about doing anti-oppression work, and racial justice work in particular, as a white person. As an upper-middle-class white woman, I learned early on that it doesn't take much work to be charitable enough to be considered a good person. I should give some money, when I feel like it, to those Salvation Army bell-ringers or those white-run 501(c)(3)s. I should give a dollar to a homeless person every once in a while and pat myself on the back for my generosity.
No one ever told me to pay the fuck up.
No one ever told me that some measure of pain, of real material sacrifice, is a prerequisite to my work for justice.
No one, that is, until I started following women of color on social media. An article in Bitch magazine about Chicana communities on Instagram was my gateway, and once I followed a few handles, I found entire worlds of artists and activists on the platform. Then I got a Twitter account and found more. I was pretty self-satisfied for a while, pleased that I had found a way to gain insight into the perspectives of women of color without invading their spaces. I figured that as long as I didn't ask for anything, silently liking and retweeting their posts, the relationship between these media curators and me was mutually beneficial.
Then I started seeing cash.me links in their profiles. Invitations to support them through Patreon. Posts asking for financial support for their work. And, perhaps most importantly, Rihanna-esque demands for payment in exchange for emotional and intellectual labor. At first I was surprised, and then it hit me. I was surprised because I didn't recognize their labor as something worthy of payment. I gleaned a great deal of value from their posts, but it had never crossed my mind to substantiate that value through payment, because I am conditioned to take that labor for granted. White women are quick to declare our own worth, to ask for that raise, to "go for it, girl!" but we rarely (if ever) acknowledge, let alone compensate, the women of color who made it possible for us to work in the first place. I'm only taking my first steps in this regard, but a few concrete things I've done are 1) supported my favorite creators through Patreon 2) sent cash to activists whose work has benefited me and 3) started shopping at Black women-owned businesses.
White women, I know you love Rihanna. I've seen you grind to her on the dancefloor and sing along to her in the car. I'm sure you've heard her iconic song, "Bitch Better Have My Money." In case you haven't seen the music video, we're the Bitch in the song title. And it's time for us to pay up.