Whiteness is always invested in taking up more space. As a result, white people often do everything in their power to make every space they enter into more comfortable for whiteness.
By Sherronda J. Brown and Lara Witt
Wear Your Voice is a small publication. We are run by just a few people, we have a small operating budget, and the nature of our work is quite radical, and therefore not palatable (nor is it intended to be palatable) for the white (liberal) gaze. We write for liberation—liberation from white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, and other forms of oppression. We publish emerging and established Q/T BIPOC writers, we publish works that make people uncomfortable and we publish pieces that affirm our experiences, perspectives, and lives.
The stated goals of our digital magazine have helped us find a footing amongst people who are looking to expand their politic beyond the liberal/conservative binary that is so deeply entrenched in the US (and western) political theater. So for quite a few years, our social media spaces were filled with people who were looking for a publication like ours. This was clear by who followed us and how they engaged with our work. The conversations following our pieces or in our posts were usually curious and respectful of our humanity as queer/trans Black and brown writers and editors. Our audience understood who we were as a leftist BIPOC-run magazine. That changed in the summer of 2020.
Following the state-sponsored murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we witnessed and took part in uprisings led by Black organizers across the nation. But, the fetishistic nature of how people engaged with Taylor’s death was striking, and not necessarily surprising. The commodification and meme-ification of her name—often only deployed in a jarring fashion in order to generate shares on social media—was abhorrent, but not necessarily unforeseen. It highlighted the willingness of many people to mine Black trauma and Black death at the hands of the state for their individual gain, for a few thousand likes and retweets. The treatment of Breonna Taylor was just one more escalation in the rise of the empty political gesture and—perhaps more evidently than anything else at the time—it helped to map what our future would look like, with these gestures becoming more and more prevalent, more and more devoid of any real meaning. Just people doing a lot of talking, posturing, and playacting without ever saying anything.
The words “Black Lives Matter” began to appear on street signs and banners and paved roads. Those who were too afraid to say it, those who called it divisive or even racist only a few years ago now felt safe enough to scream it. Now that Black activists had been targeted by the FBI and other entities following the events of Ferguson, now that Black activists had mysteriously turned up dead following the extrajudicial murder of Mike Brown. “Black Lives Matter” began to appear in more and more white people’s Twitter and Instagram bios in 2020, because it was easy, because it was safe, because the majority of the vitriol that the phrase and the politic behind it evoked in recent years has already been spent on Black lives, bodies, and minds lost.
Then came the black boxes, the epitomized empty political gesture. A literal empty space, a fruitless performative display that continued even as Black activists made clear that the black boxes and accompanying hashtags were disruptive and counterintuitive to the work they were trying to do on the ground. The performance—the sudden need to prove their anti-racism, or sort through their white guilt, or their feigned shock at the reality of anti-Black state violence—was more important than its impact. Spectacle is what truly matters in a culture that values empty gestures and hollow offerings.
And in the midst of it all, the white liberals flocked to Wear Your Voice in droves. They flocked to BIPOC creators, artists, writers, thinkers. They made our follower counts skyrocket, they flooded our inboxes with tears and newly-found passion to finally fix racism, they overwhelmed, they took up space, they demanded space. Our magazine was included in dozens of lists assembled by social media-savvy teams employed by brands and influencers who were keen to show “solidarity” with Black people being murdered by the state. We were featured alongside other “Black voices” with the ultimate goal for new followers to “unlearn” their white supremacy and “privilege.”
However, what was continually absent was a real and scathing interrogation of (loyalty to) whiteness, white supremacy, and white liberalism. From where we sit as editors and writers who have been at this for close to a decade, our impression was that our new audience is populated by white and non-Black people of color who followed us without wanting to think critically beyond accepted narratives. We witnessed a symbolic following with no real intention of absorbing what we produce and what the writers we work with produce. There is no real willingness to be uncomfortable with the perspectives of BIPOC writers who reveal ugly truths and intentionally buck up against established narratives of race, gender, class, politics, celebrity, and more.
This phenomenon is overwhelmingly clear under most of our anti-capitalist posts, or anything that critiques celebrity and politicians who also embody celebrity. Our pieces are often met with knee-jerk reactions and defensiveness ensuring that our comment spaces no longer center Black and brown leftist voices, but instead give way to reactionary whiteness, and defenses of the imperialist state and its agents. That is to be expected when representational politics, liberalism, parasocial relationships, and anti-Blackness reign supreme.
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Whiteness is ever-expanding, it is always invested in taking up more space. As a result, white people often do everything in their power to make every space they enter into more comfortable for whiteness, rather than doing any work to adapt to the already existing atmosphere of those spaces, particularly when they are created by and for racially marginalized people. The entitlement of whiteness shields them from the fact that their presence makes our spaces more unsafe and more hostile for BIPOC who are called upon to “teach” and “educate” masses of guilty white liberals. When white people enter our spaces, especially en masse, it inevitably means more labor for us, either to engage with white folks who are “just trying to learn” but refuse to relinquish their liberalism or to set necessary boundaries with them to prevent ourselves from becoming even more fatigued.
Wear Your Voice has been exceedingly clear about our politics, the things we want to dismantle, and the things we will always critique—and yet, we now have hordes of white (and non-Black POC) followers who continually expect us to take up more liberal political stances, spineless and toothless positions that serve whiteness but do not serve us and the communities our publication exists for. We are inundated by white people who hope to feel comforted by our content and continually react with hostility when they find that their comfort is not our concern.
We will reiterate as many times as is necessary that this is not a liberal space and cannot be made into one, no matter how uncomfortable that makes people. We invite people to either sit in that discomfort and learn something, or leave.
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