Do you steal from Black people?

Do you steal from Black people? I imagine that if you are a white-bodied, regular reader of this site or you otherwise have a sustained interest in anti-racism work, you would probably say no. In fact, you might even horrified that, given all that you know, the question would even be asked of you.

And yet, I ask you to sit with that question. 

In the last decade, social media has allowed conversations about racism to become normalized. Conversations that once only existed in academic or activist spaces are now accessible to the masses. Yet do you ever stop to think about who is initiating these conversations? Who is doing the heavy emotional labor of opening the door to normalize white people thinking critically about racism and specifically anti-racism work? 

While you may be the proud owner of Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist, chances are high that your initial interest didn’t start with a book. It was probably through a blog post, a social media message or an article online—one that quite likely a Black person or other person of color wrote. Also a really good chance the author was a woman on top of that.

Given my actual job and adjacent work as a blogger and speaker, I am thrilled to see white people waking up. At the same time, there is a real disconnect in that waking-up process. The emotional labor is primarily carried by Black folks and other people of color, but amongst those who do the work professionally, it is still white folks (aside from obvious exceptions like Ibram Kendi and a few other non-white folks) who are earning the lion’s share of the money. Despite the very known fact that Black women and other women of color earn the least amount of wages, even compared to white women.

Do you know how many times I have been contacted for a speaking engagement, only to be told that my rates are too high? Despite the fact that they are below the rates of many white speakers in this same space. I know many women of color who do this work and are still offered mere pennies despite years of experience and depth of knowledge. But still we stay in the work. 

However, in recent weeks there were two specific incidents that have really made me think deeply about whether white people are actually invested in this work. 

Several weeks ago, a reader reached out to ask if they could use one of my posts for a local discussion. This isn’t uncommon. I have been writing this blog for 14 years now, it is well-known in certain spaces, and my work has been used in classrooms and other academic spaces. 

The reader asked if there was a charge. Technically, no, but I do ask that if groups of white people are using my work as part of their work, perhaps they can take up a collection to pay for my labor. After all, if you were basing your conversation on a book, odds are that you may have had to purchase the book. 

Anyone can read my work for free. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I don’t put any of the writings here behind a paywall. It’s a choice I grapple with. After all, if I put my work behind a paywall, I would deal with less trolls. That’s a fact. On the other hand, I know not everyone can afford to pay to read this work, so my business model is to trust that those who have the means will contribute at a level that is both meaningful to them and won’t break their bank—and will allow me to keep this space running.

To be honest, it isn’t clear to me that anyone in that group made a contribution, which was sort of okay until the next incident happened. 

It’s been about four years since I last upgraded the site. Given the state of the world and the technological changes in the last four years, it became clear that I needed to reach out to my web designer to discuss a redesign and sprucing things up. 

Turns out that it was time for more than a site redesign, Looking at the back end and the site’s overall performance, the site needs to be both redesigned and rebuilt to ensure it continues to work efficiently and securely (hacking attempts are still a thing here at the house of BGIM). I said “Sure, let’s do it.” Well it gets even better. It seems “BGIM has crossed the threshold into a highly trafficked website,” as my designer put it. So there are more back-end things at the server level that need to be done. 

All of those things mean more dollars spent, to the tune of almost $3,000. The upside is that by early May, there will be a lovely new site that is optimized for devices and runs faster and is safer. 

The downside is the realization that this site and our reach has grown far larger than I realized—but that has not translated into an uptick in folks supporting the work. To be honest, we are trending downward. Like everyone else, I live in the world. I know that inflation is real and people are feeling it. In the last several months there has been a steady stream of patrons pausing their support, often citing financial problems as the reason. I have sat with it and pretty much will only mention it publicly if we are in danger of not being able to keep things running. 

But this is different. We are growing. New readers are coming here regularly. They are on the BGIM Facebook page which shows a marked increase in folks reading the articles that we highlight in addition to our own work. But despite heavier traffic—despite people using this information more—there is no corresponding uptick in folks making a one-time gift or choosing to become monthly patrons. That means people are essentially stealing the labor of the BGIM team. 

I am also reminded of how it is far more common to see Black folks and other POC crowdfunding for their needs compared to white folks. In many cases, these are people who are known online for their work. Yet too many white people don’t see this invisible type of work as “legitimate” work, as my occasional cyberstalker has written repeatedly. Instead, they eagerly consume the labor of marginalized people and claim that it adds to their learning. But If you are being taught, shouldn’t the teacher be paid? 

The world of work has changed. A decade ago, it might have been unimaginable to pay someone for their labor online. But in today’s world, where traditional writing opportunities are still as hard to access as ever but pay even less. many are choosing to build their own platforms. That’s called entrepreneurship. To take the knowledge that one has amassed and make it accessible to the masses. The advent of payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo, and Cashapp make it easy to show your appreciation for the labor and the learning. 

Many Black folks and other folks of color have created accessible online spaces that have allowed white people to learn and develop an anti-racism framework. But if you are regularly consuming the work without ever paying something for it, what are you really doing? 

Many of those who have created such platforms have done so because they were shut out of mainstream pathways because of—well, whiteness. Maybe like me, you only have a master’s degree and can’t enter the university system to teach because you lack a Ph.D. Or you try your hand at serving as an adjunct, only to realize that after it’s all said and done, adjuncts in many cases are making well below minimum wage. I can tell you when I started this blog in 2008, the only books regularly published on racism were by academics, typically sociologists. 

By the time publishers did start publishing anti-racist books, the market became quickly saturated. Of course, the top sellers are Black men and white women. Of course, the ability to write a full-length manuscript and shop it around requires the privilege of time, something that, as an almost 50-year-old divorced mother, I don’t have. Even when I had an agent interested in my proposal, I simply couldn’t take the time needed to bang out an actual book with my day job and running the BGIM Media website and everything else in life. 

Many of you reading this are supporters of this space, and I deeply appreciate your support, whether it is the one-time gift or your monthly support. You make it possible for the bills to get paid, the writers to be paid, and to keep the work going. But many more of you are not supporters. While I understand that not everyone can afford to give $5 or $10 every month, how many of you can—but simply click past the popup that reminds you to support the site or let your eyes glaze over the notice at the end of each post? Or don’t bother to make a one-time contribution of, say, $10 every so often?

I am grateful for all who see the work of BGIM Media as being a part of their anti-racism journey. But as the youngsters today say, the math ain’t mathing. After the unexpected price of upgrading this site to accommodate the additional readers, I am asking that if you have the means, please pitch in. I would welcome your support today. Monthly support is best because it allows me to plan in advance, but if you can’t commit to a monthly gift there is, again, the option of the periodic one-time gift. It would be deeply appreciated. I also encourage you to support the work of other Black and brown folks whose platforms are also part of your learning community. 

We are the most impacted and the least paid. Please don’t steal our labor if you have the means to pay at least a little something. 

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support.

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Image by Samuel Regan-Asante via Unsplash