There has been a recent uptick in articles and public discourse around the topic of unpaid labor, mostly in the realm of internships, but also about creative work, writers being asked, again and again, to write for free (or as a labor of love), and nonprofits (and others) taking advantage of folks’ passion about a cause to exploit them for free labor.
Also appearing recently, are a slew of articles, investigations, and exposés about the way in which the American right-wing is funding local initiatives that, woven together, has become, as The Guardian said, a “US-wide assault on education, health and tax.” Also see the Center for Media and Democracy’s report, SPN: Right-Wing Stink Tanks Pushing the ALEC Agenda in the States.
Take the example of Hobby Lobby, an evangelical Christian owned chain of craft stores whose owners want to deny employees birth control coverage. They are working with a loophole in the Affordable Care Act (which shouldn’t’ exist anyhow) for religious organizations that believe birth control is against their beliefs to deny it to women who work for them.
Neither of these goings on are new; businesses and legislators have been trying (and too often succeeding) in denying women’s agency by creating barriers to and/or limiting access to birth control and abortion. But, these actions are definitely on the rise, and the right is no longer even doing this stuff privately. The general assault on the general public by the right-wing is heavily fueled by racist and anti-woman sentiment, just as much as by capitalist greed.
The continued devaluation of creative workers is fueled by both capitalist greed and general bad ethical practice, even on the Left, but also by the collective American idea that creativity, while publicly celebrated, actually undermines the power structure, whatever power structure is in question, whether it be corporate America or Mother Jones magazine. Creatively equals independent thinking and nonconformity, which most people don’t like, even though they like to say they do.
In this regard, I was actually told outright by a recruiter that PR agencies do not like creative ideas, they say they do in public, they advertise for creative workers, but choose the most closed-minded, boring folks to work for them. She said not to use the word “creative” anywhere in any cover letter or resume for any corporate job. I’ve also learned that nonprofits don’t like creative folks either.
Following is a roundup by journalist Sarah Jaffe of some recent and not-so-recent, but important works on free labor, References for “Labor of Love: How Unpaid Work Exacerbates Inequality”, for further reading.
I attended the annual CLAGS 2013 Kessler Lecture at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City last Friday. Poet, writer, activist, and long time Dean of Students at Rutgers University and founding director of the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian/Gay Concerns, Cheryl Clarke, gave a talk entitled “Queer Black Trouble: In Life, Literature, and the Age of Obama.”
Her lecture was a mish-mash of different stuff. She spoke a lot about black women and current black feminisms. Clarke mentioned black feminist scholar Alexis Pauline Gumbs, anti-racist feminist activist and writer Darnell L. Moore, and quoted the Crunk Feminist Collective.
Clarke also spoke quite a bit about second wave feminist literature and happenings. “Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology,” “This Bridge Called My Back,” and “But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women’s Studies,” a recollection of homophobic social workers conference, of Audre Lorde, Jewelle Gomez, Assata Shakur, June Jordan, and so many/much more were discussed and dissected, too
The next evening, I went to see Pratibha Parmar’s film “Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth” at the New York African Diaspora International Film Festival. The crowd was mostly black women, some black men, some white and Latina women, in particular lesbians, with a few white men sprinkled throughout for good measure. It was a different audience than the Kessler Lecture for sure, but the same feeling pulsed through both auditoriums. The importance of being seen and heard, of seeing black women on the screen or mentioned in a lecture was electrifying. Being reflected in a mirror of recognition and esteem is important for all of us, most of all for those who are not routinely recognized or acknowledged.
Which brings me to this article posted in The Guardian yesterday: The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women. There were many photos accompanying this article celebrating the brave new feminists of the “fourth wave”, the young “rebels”, but none of the images were of women of color. Apparently in 2013, some 20 years after “But some of Us Are Brave” was published, all the women are still white.
Luckily, a recommended article, a “companion” of sorts, to the aforementioned piece was linked on the side as an antidote to the liberal white-centric feminist hegemony of The Guardian: As a black feminist, I see how the wider movement fails women like my mother. However, this was in the “Comment is Free” section, not the general news/feature pages of the publication.
Black feminist writers as individuals (like black people generally) are still being pushed to the back of the bus…to the lesser- or non-paying sections of online publications. Black feminists as a group (like black people generally) are not even being seen by the one of most “progressive” publications of the so-called progressive media.
It happened, as it so often does, that I was reading an article a friend posted on Facebook, which linked to another story, which referenced another piece, which led to me reading the following article on RH Reality Check by assistant editor Regina Mahone: Eve Ensler Is Wrong That for Women and Trayvon Martin, ‘Our Struggles Are One’
I just learned Mahone lives in the neighborhood next over from me. I’ve probably seen her around the neighborhood(s) and not known she was a journalist, a feminist, or any other shared or common identification or experience. I’m a white woman and, from her photo on the site, Mahone appears to be a woman of color.
I am the first to admit I don’t have m/any close relationships with women of color. I’ve dated a few black women, I have one close friend who is Latina, I know and associate with a lot of queers of color in the NYC activist and arts communities, but that’s a quantitative familiarity of association, not qualitative depth of knowing and feeling.
I think about racism and racial justice a lot. I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where my neighbors are longtime residents of mostly Latin heritage with some other ethnicities thrown in the mix, mostly at the Southern part of the neighborhood bordering on Bed-Stuy. I’m well aware I’m an interloper, class-wise and in terms of skin color privilege. I understand that the recent neighborhood changes – the new upmarket bars, cafes and restaurants (and vintage stores!) – are mostly the function of white people, artists and hipsters, colonizing this area. And now, with young white heterosexual couples with babies, toddlers and dogs (all at once) invading the area, rents here have skyrocketed to the point the New York Times declared Bushwick too expensive and called out Ridgewood, Queens (where Regina Mahone lives) as the next neighborhood in the boroughs to be colonized and cannibalized, by a predominance of white New Yorkers.
There’s not much race/ethnic mixing here for the most part. I rarely see people originally from this neighborhood at the hipster watering holes. I do see several young lesbian couples of color around the nabe who are quite open about their queerness and involve themselves in extremely intense displays of public affection in a way my girlfriend (also white) and I would never dream of and have been afraid to do all our queer lives. And, we are especially afraid to be “too queer” in this neighborhood. Of course everyone on the block knows we’re dykes – we “look” like lesbians. The Latino kids in our building try to articulate it: “Are you two best friends who live together?” one asks us. Another little boy says to me, “You’re a woman, but you have short hair,” trying, I think, to make sense of something he perhaps doesn’t often see in his personal cultural milieu: androgynous women with crew cut-type hair
I posted Regina Mahone’s article about Eve Ensler, from July of this year, with a note that I was questioning humanity because of the comments, a lot of which were about men of color, the racism of white women, and how it’s inevitable that all white women cross the street whenever they see men of color in hoodies ahead of them. But, the comment that sent me over the edge, and made me share the article, was a comment from woman who exclaimed how could anyone question Eve Ensler’s commitment to and communion with people of color when she does work with sexually victimized women in the Congo.
White women have been “working” with women of color in allegedly woman-affirming, feminist-oriented capacities for a while now. But, it hasn’t changed the fact of white feminist racism and racist collusion.
I’m 50, so I know best the herstory of second wave white feminism. Some very committed black lesbians stayed the course for a very long time in the white women-focused feminist movement. Now younger black feminists are challenging the same “movement” that has to this day been dismissive of women of color and their specific concerns not only around white feminist’s continued racism, but also about brown-skinned women’s cultural and community issues, including those of men of color, and including the stereotyping/profiling of Black men as scary and violent.
This morning I saw the following comment posted on a different friend’s Facebook page: “Can we put Chris Brown and George Zimmerman in a locked room together for a few hours. Hopefully neither one will make it out,” with a link to this article: Chris Brown Gets Booted Out Of Anger Management Rehab After Throwing Rock Through Mom’s Car Window.
There were snarky remarks from other white women. I remarked that I was compelled not to make a snarky comment because it seems problematic for me as a white woman to comment on the aggression/violence of two public men of color.
I’m not willing to indulge in that (or any other) racist trope lightheartedly. What I can do, rather than resort to snark, is, as Mahone suggested, continue to examine my institutional racism as a white person in America and bring that discussion to the table.