Brenna and Molly, a young couple living in Bushwick host an “all-female, politically minded meet-up” with their closest friends, which are mostly cis, white, lesbians. At the meet-up party, there were women decorating protest signs, making giant vaginas that have multiple vulvas out of fabric in “52 shades of magenta,” and drinking wine and beer. Brenna expresses to her wife her discomfort with the fact that the “safe space” she is trying to create lacks the presence of people of color. Molly understands, and says “if it doesn’t happen today, that’s okay, it’s only one time– wait who are you texting?”
Brenna decides to invite a few more people to the party, since there’s room for more. Soon enough, there’s a knock at the door, and it’s Dawnesha, Brenna’s yoga instructor who she hasn’t seen in some time. A little while later an Indian woman comes in, and a fellow guest asks how she knows Brenna. “Oh, we’ve never met,” she says. “We just follow each other on Instagram and she sent me a message. Asked me to come over.”
What sounds like an awful set-up for a story about someone trying to ease their white guilt, is actually a scene from the newest season of the HBO series, High Maintenance, a relatively woke show with some tangy humor and captivating storylines. I expected the episode was setting us up for Brenna to make some uncomfortable comment that would get her into a sticky situation with her guests, but in actuality, she succeeded at creating a very safe space and throwing a pretty great party. That is, until a giant snake appears in the living room and causes some chaos, but that’s a different blog post.
Brenna’s (well-meaning) intentions had me thinking about when people of color are used to ease guilt and to diversify themselves. What does it mean when people behave like this? Obviously, it’s not a bad thing that Dawnesha and her Instagram friend were invited to the party. But the intention behind it kind of makes me uncomfortable.
A few months ago, my work in my band was the subject of a research paper about art and political protest. In an interview question, I what it meant to be in a “mixed/black female body” creating the music I was making. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am half white and half Puerto Rican, as I kindly reminded the author. However, in the final draft of the paper, this correction was ignored. I was noted as someone who identifies as black and Latina.
In that moment, I couldn’t help but have this murky feeling that part of the reason why I was the subject of this paper was to help the (white) author feel like they were doing their part in being a diverse and proper ally. Because it became clear that it didn’t matter what kind of POC I was, it just mattered that I was one. I don’t know if my speculation is true or not, but it kind of doesn’t matter.
I always joke about how I’m going to book lots of commercials because I’m “racially ambiguous” and I’ll be able to save everyone’s ass. Like, I know that there are a lot of people out there who don’t really give a shit about curating content specifically for POC but they need POC in their content so they can stay up to date and give the people what they want, but at the end of the day it’s my Puerto Rican face is the one put on display. That can’t be a bad thing. Can it? I was asked to do a photoshoot because “my look” was really captivating to the photographer. But really, were you captivated by look, or my ambiguous curls and olive skin that are going to make you look like a diverse photographer? Regardless, it’s still my POC body getting out there. Or am I reading too into these things? Maybe these people really are dope, white allies and aren’t using me, but genuinely want to work with me. With us. Does it matter?
Am I making sense?
The big question that I’m trying to get at is: Should I be offended when someone uses me in their art and content for my race, even if the intention is good? Or not good? I don’t have the answer. Curious to hear your thoughts.