On the expectation of free labor to diversify your spaces

[Copy/Pasted from an early AM twitter vent this morning 12/21/16]

I’m in a mood, and I’m irritated. I want to talk about value of work, specifically diversity work & people’s expectation of free labor. So I’m lucky, and in a good position where sometimes people come out the gate with what are your rates & fees? This does not always happen though, don’t get excited. Like I said I’m in a good position.

However…there’s the pervasive idea that we should provide our expertise, our skills and knowledge for little or no pay. How about no? A lot of places want to be seen as progressive, diverse and doing the right thing but they don’t want to invest time & resources. Or they think it’s as simple as invite a few brown folks and a queer person, give them top billing one year & we’ve done it! Uh no.

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See, we can see right through that bullshit. Especially when your convention committee doesn’t change, your policies don’t change. You can’t put the current hyper visible POC in your field up as your diversity! And expect us to flock to your event. Again, we see you.

Here’s my main gripe though. Reaching out to people to get help but not offering compensation at the same time.

It’s always “Let’s have a coffee, let me buy you lunch and pick your brain…”

This isn’t about greed either. This is about valuing someone enough to “pick their brain” but not enough to pay them.This is doubly true when you expect someone to help with event they may attend but won’t offer some kind of comps or payment.  Helping the community is great, but it doesn’t negate the value of that persons time.

Even asking someone to take the time to chat with you, have an email exchange or Skype call should be considered work.I think it comes down to people not seeing it as “real” work. Also, acting as if someone asking for compensation is wrong? Or insinuating they don’t actually care because they wanna eat?

Nah, we all got bills and if you want my time & expertise? FU Pay Me. Nobody expects teachers to work for free, or other laborers so why us? Because a lot of the work is emotional labor. To unfuck the ways that events and orgs have failed on representation is a lot hard work y’all. So stop asking for free labor under the guise of doing better. Improvement takes effort, time and money. Investment not hollow promises.

When you ask someone on how to do better, ask what their preferred compensation method is. Fucking pay people for their time.

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 Fuck You Pay Me available from Geek Calligraphy, purchase one for your workspace!

Last thing, think real hard on how you react to black Womens, lgbtqia & other folks asking to be paid vs whites.Look at all the extra shit people want from us to prove we’re worth the time, effort & money to support. Look at how angry people get when we dare to say our time & knowledge is valuable. Y’all have seen it, people bring accused of running scams, that we should help for $0.

However, white folks come up with the weirdest shit for a kickstarter or crowd funding that overfunds but we can’t make the minimum.So if I’m bitter? It’s with damn good reason. Tired of being told the work is valuable, needed but when we ask for help? Support is nil. TL;DR, stop asking people for free work. Value our skills enough to offer payment when asking for said work. Exposure kills, it’s not money, not valid currency anywhere.

It’s not the first time I’ve talked about this. It probably won’t be the last either. As long as people continue to undervalue, or assume no value for the hard work that is required to achieve better representation, more diversity and make it stick; we’ll keep having this damn go round and around until people get it.

Other writings I’ve done on this topic & related issues: 

You Wanna Diversify huh? That’s Nice, Pay Us

On paying black women for the work we do and the ways people accuse us of cashing in

Thoughts on diversity, conventions & cost

Emotional Labor, OT edition for POC, LGBTIQIA & others — Fandom edition

I’m fed up

I thought about writing out my thoughts on all the killings and shootings of our people instead of a long thread of tweets. However, I’m not doing that for two reasons.

One) it’s like the second I talk about one person’s murder by cops, another occurs in hours if not days and it’s exhausting emotionally, physically to wake up to the same news, same situation, same cycle of victim blaming of the newly murdered and sympathy for the killer in blue.

Two) When I share my thoughts, my pain without fail someone takes it as some academic lesson, some object lesson on racism instead of hearing out their friends pain about another black life taken. They share it as a lesson to other white friends who don’t get it. My pain is not a soundbite, it’s not a handy lesson to pass around to show how woke you are.

It also happens without fail someone will whitesplain back what I’ve said or try to play devil’s advocate when I speak from my heart. That usually happens more on twitter than here but it’s irritating and hurtful that people who follow me would rather turn someone’s very real hurt into an academic circle jerk on whether the things I’ve said are valid because they don’t see it in their lives.

I’ve got filters upon filters on Facebook, and a private, locked twitter. That’s where I’ll be having a lot of these conversations or venting going forward because my pain over more black murders isn’t there for people who don’t get it and thank me for sharing on breath, yet continue to be clueless and hurtful in the next.

My @WisconSF3 schedule

Have one handy guide to interacting with me at conventions, totally 110% free of charge.😛

Overall I am pretty friendly but I do not like strangers touching me, especially my hair. If you try to pet my hair or touch my locs without express permission or invitation it will not end well for you. So just don’t, especially if you like having fingers.

Revision: Due to the incident (being filmed w/o my consent with intent to intimidate) at PAX East, I am even more twitchy about interaction with people I don’t know at conventions.

If we are twitter/tumblr/online friends but have not met offline, feel free to say hello and if you ask first I’ll likely give you a hug/want a hug. I’m actually quiet and introverted in meat space so if you see me fleeing for a quiet space, it’s not  you I am just feeling overwhelmed and need some quiet time. I have a terrible memory so if we have met just once or twice at previous events I might not remember you immediately, please don’t be offended.

I like to take photos, but I will always ask permission before taking them and again before posting them on tumblr, twitter, Instagram, flickr etc. I don’t mind being in photos, but ask me first before posting them online.

Here’s my Wiscon 40 schedule, full panel schedule is up online.

Friday, May 27th

HeQuisitor, SheQuisitor, TheyQuisitor: The Queer Gaming Experience 

Saturday, May 28th

Podcasts for Beginners

Sunday, May 29th

Women Can Be Evil Too

There’s No Such Thing as Aging Out of Fandom

I Need Diverse Games, Year 2

Queer Eye for Sci Fi

Guest of Honor Speeches & Desert Salon (Introducing Nalo)

Monday, May 30th

This Is Not a Petting Zoo: An Introspective Look into Black Women’s Hair

So you want to describe a POC character…

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Ok, so I get asked for advice and my thoughts on a lot of things relating to diversity and representation. Lately I’ve been getting asked about the proper/authentic/least offensive way to describe or write POC characters.

There’s been a tumblr post going around about not using food as descriptors for non-white characters. Some people don’t understand why this offensive and a racist action. There’s so much to unpack in why you shouldn’t use food words as a descriptor of POC characters, that this could be a long post; but here’s trying after a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to speak for all POC, all black people, all women. This post is informed both by my personal experiences as a US born and raised black woman who has spent a lot of time discussing, writing about, talking about race, feminism and representation. Do not take this post as your get out of fuckery free card, with the claim a black woman said X so it’s ok! I will not be happy with you at all and woe unto you if you do this and try to use my words as a pass to be wrong.

Take my words as you will, understand that I, as a marginalized person have experiences that you (privileged folks reading this) do not. This is not a time or a place for well, actually in the comments. Nor is it the time or place for countering with your one black friend said Y in response to my Z. So with all that being said, here we go.

So I often get asked about describing POC accurately, authentically and the like.  What follows is an excerpt of an inquiry, with no names attached as the net can be vicious. But I wanted an example. This is a great question, it wasn’t worded in a way that screams EDUCATE ME, (well not to me, but YMMV)

“…on the description of skin color/tone while avoiding anything that might end up being racist. For example, some sites I’ve checked have said to stay away from food related analogies (“caramel colored skin” for example) while others have said that describing it that way is fine. In the absence of using food related descriptors (unless that’s acceptable) what WOULD be acceptable? Or should you always stick to literal colors?”

So let’s break this down. First and foremost, do NOT describe people of colour with food words. Just no, not coffee, caramel, cafe au lait, chocolate, cinnamon, or other descriptors such as that. Let’s leave dusky off that list too, or tanned. We’re not tanned, sun kissed, toasted. We’re lovely, lovely shades of brown, you can use that word as a descriptor.

Why not you ask? I mean people like food right? Well, let me tell you a thing.

Well, to describe People of Color, going forward referenced as POC, emphasis on the PEOPLE part, at the least it is othering non-white characters in your narrative, and at the worst, you are fetishizing non-white characters by giving them exotic descriptors that don’t tell you anything about them besides they remind you of a favorite desert or your am cuppa.

It’s tied in to the dehumanization of people of color in media, in life and history. If you can imagine for a moment,   (assuming you are not a POC and reading this post) how would you feel if you were always described as milky, mayonnaise, mashed potato, and other kinds of food words as stand-in’s for your skin colour? You wouldn’t would you?

I know some white people get bent out of shape when described with such words, even as inoffensive as ‘mayo’. I mean mayo isn’t a great condiment, but no one has died from being called mayo-white. So consider the weight of words, the cultural ramifications tied to describing a POC as sinful as cinnamon, luscious as dark chocolate, or worse, tying food descriptors to moments of intimacy in a work.

I’ve seen too many people describe fair skinned POC (assuming they actually are writing them as a POC) as lapped up like cafe au lait, devoured like a chocolate bar, etc etc. Just stop. Additionally, it’s tired, it’s cliched and shows me you can’t play with words well enough to come up with a new way to describe people. It’s laziness, and if you as a writer can’t come up with something better, it makes me wonder about the rest of your word crafting.

Secondly, there are plenty of ways to describe POC with words like brown, dark brown, light brown, sandy brown, so many words that can be used to describe us that don’t need to be related to food, again it’s delicious but we’re not edible. We’re people, people! That would like some depth in our descriptions.  We’re not coffee brown either, considering coffee can be had from a milky white with enough extra cream to a very, very, dark black. We also don’t taste or smell like chocolate, coffee, or cinnamon. No person does, even if they work in a coffee factory with a chocolate shoppe across the way.

Third, and it might seem repetitive but this is important. Do the work, look to authors you feel have done character description well and learn from how they do it. Look up resources on writing the other, especially if you get a second or hell a third set of eyes on your work and get feedback on the descriptions. Or use Google, it’s there for a reason. It’s a SEARCH engine, so search things. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus bookmarked for your use.

That doesn’t mean use 10 dollar words and three paragraphs to lovingly attempt a non-racist description of your POC characters. A few words will always do instead of purple, flowy, overdone prose.  Lastly, ask a POC to review your work. If you don’t have any POC friends that’s another matter for a different post. But if you don’t have someone you can trust to review your work? Pay someone to do so, because this is one of those free emotional labor things we often get asked to do.

Speaking of resources, here’s a few to get you started:

10 Great Resources for Writing Cross Culturally (which has it’s own listing of good resources)

Relevant to this post: Writing with Color Tumblr: Description Guide, Part I – Food descriptions

Writing with Color tumblr: Description Guide, Part II – Describing Skin Tone

Writing the Other: A Practical Approach- Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward

Writing the Other workshops – Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford Brownpaper tickets. Check their sites for up to date schedule and availability

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