Notes on Fostering Activism: Something to Ponder

by Guest Contributor Aaminah Hernández, originally published on Writeous Sister Speaks

“WANT.”

What does this mean and whose responsibility is it to make the want come true?

Such as statements like:

“We want to publish more women of color but they don’t bring us their work.”

“We want to have a more diverse staff, but those people never apply.”

“I want to be friends with non-white people but I don’t know any.”

“We want to make more movies with people of color, but the potential story lines have already been done.”

Just a few of the more obvious, glaring, frequently used statements.

See, in my experience, if I want something, I have to get it for myself. I want a candy bar; I have to get dressed and walk to the store and buy a candy bar.

I want a better job; I have to put together a good resume, apply for 100 jobs to get about 2 interviews, dress well and speak well at the interviews, make sure my references are prepared, etc.

I want to get published; I have to write something, shop it around to people who publish the kind of stuff I write, research who to approach and how best to do so, pitch it to them well.

For someone to say “We want to publish more women of color”, it implies that they have done their part. Have they created a safe space for women of color? Do they have their business sense together so they can provide the appropriate services to women of color (i.e. quality)? Do they speak to women of color in a respectful way? Do they allow women of color to speak for themselves, to tell their own stories their own way? Do they seek out promising talent and approach those women of color with a reasonable offer?

Or…

Do they try to tell women of color how they should sound? Do they create a phony way of talking to WoC, appropriating slang and linguistic tricks to try to sound like they know how to communicate with “those kind of women”? Do they talk down to WoC, tell them not to worry about the business side of it, tell WoC that “we’ll take care of you” like WoC are children or pets? Do they tell WoC that are great writers that “this just isn’t the direction we’re going in right now” and then pass the story idea on to one of their favorite white writers? When they do work with a WoC writer, do they try to “urbanize” the work? Do they speak in the usual stereotypes?

Perhaps this is lost on those women in their ivory tower, but for the rest of us we remember what “I want” means.

It means “I want your body, give it or I’ll beat you and take it anyway”.

It means “I want this land, give me the deed or I’ll take it from you one way or another.”

It means “I want a coffee, go get that for me, Cutie.”

It also means “I want to get rid of this stuff, I’m gonna bury it next to your housing development and you can’t say anything about your miscarriages.”

And “I want to have fun with my friends, so you serve us and ignore our obnoxious jokes and grabs, and then because I want to keep my money, don’t complain when I ‘forget’ to leave a tip.”

And “I want to be taken seriously, so you have to make me look good and let me take the credit.”

As someone else already pointed out, if you want something, it is on you to go out and find it. To do the outreach necessary to bring it to you. Not to sit back, offering nothing, and complaining about the ungrateful women of color who aren’t bringing you what you want.

See, what we want is to be treated with respect, to be allowed to create and express ourselves our own ways, and to have a safe place to share our work. And that is something that we are already building for ourselves. Because we know what we want and we are doing the work to get it for ourselves.