Radio Silence: More On the Ethics of Pay and Publication in Disability Writing

A couple times a month, I get unsolicited* correspondence from someone who wants one of two things:

  • for me to guest post on their blog or Web site, or
  • to republish something I’ve already posted here on their blog or Web site.

I have never responded to these requests, but not because I have any policy against responding to cold calls.  Rather, I have never responded to any of them because every single one has left out a vital component: compensation.

Sometimes they fail to mention compensation altogether.  More often, they offer me “exposure” instead.

I’ve written before about the serious ethical problem involved in not paying writers, particularly when those writers are disabled and particularly when the non-paying outlet claims to champion disability-related causes.  At that second link, I specifically addressed problems with The Mighty’s model of soliciting unpaid labor from disabled writers, making money on ad revenues generated from that content and from investors using the site’s presence and reach supported by that content, and offering to donate any writer’s compensation to charity rather than simply paying the writer.

This was enough for me to speak up against The Mighty.  But The Mighty, at least, stops at asking for free labor.  The Mighty does not, as far as I know, go around copying other writers’ work without their knowledge or permission, posting that work to its own site, and making money off it.

Some outlets do.

Late last night, I got a Facebook message from a friend asking whether I had ever given permission to an Australian site called My Disability Matters or its adminstrator, Dale Reardon, to republish any of my work.

The answer is no.  Except for a handful of outlets I personally selected and approached about guest posting or sharing content, including Misandry Angie and The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library, I’ve never authorized anyone to republish my work.  When I do reach out to others about republishing my work, I choose them carefully: either these platforms can afford to pay me, or they understand that I’m offering them something of value, and they’re willing to offer their professional assistance in return.

The name of the site, its admin, and the fact that it was based in Australia caught my attention, though.  It did all sound familiar.  So I went looking in my messages.

Turns out Dale Reardon did contact me about publishing on My Disability Matters, by leaving a comment on my March 2016 post on eye contact.  In it, he states that he “was wondering if it might be okay to republish this article and any other relevant ones on our website, with appropriate credit and a link back of course.”  In exchange, I would get the site’s “help [to] spread your work and gain a wider audience for you.”

In other words, exposure.  In other words, nothing.**

Not only did I not respond to this comment, I never let it out of the moderation queue.  I view all requests for my unpaid labor as demands for unpaid emotional labor, so I treat them exactly the same way I treat all other demands for emotional labor I deem unreasonable: I ignore them.

I never said yes or anything that could have been reasonably understood to be a yes.  To put it in contract-law terms, Mr. Reardon made an offer; I did not accept; there was no meeting of the minds, and thus no deal to put my work on My Disability Matters.

Usually, when I don’t respond to unsolicited demands for my unpaid labor, that’s the end of it.  Most people understand that radio silence is a “no,” not a “yes.”

So imagine my surprise when, after my friend’s query, I searched the My Disability Matters site to find that well over half of my piece on identity-first versus person-first language had been excerpted there [pdf], either the same day or the day after I had posted it here.

My Disability Matters makes money off the work it publishes, as is explained on its About page.  The About page does mention a long-term goal of employing disabled people (other than the site’s founder, one presumes) and of reinvesting some of the profits back into the disability community.

It does not, however, mention paying writers.

In other words, the site was using work I had not given permission to be used, and keeping the money it generated, without ever mentioning to me either that my work was being used or that the site intended to keep the money my work generated.

Oh, and it got the name of this blog wrong.

My search for “autistic academic” on the My Disability Matters site turned up two entries.  One was for the aforementioned post.  The other was for a listing on the site map.

The site map, as it turned out, lists every “source” of the site’s articles, including several dozen I recognized – and several that are written by people whom I know share my (dim) view of exploiting writers in general and disabled writers in particular.  When I asked the ones I know personally about their involvement in or knowledge of My Disability Matters, they were as baffled as I was when my friend first asked me last night.

In other words, it’s not just me.  My Disability Matters is exploiting several of us.

I’ve written before, in my comments on The Mighty***, how traditional excuses like “but startup costs!” or “but business model!” don’t fly as reasons not to pay writers.  I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly a decade now.  I’m currently the Legal Coordinator at Autonomous Press and the editor of the forthcoming anthology Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber from NeuroQueer Books – an anthology series that pays its writers.

I understand the costs of the writing and publishing professions.  I face those costs every time I try to publish my own work, every time I negotiate with my clients to be paid what my own work is worth, and every time I negotiate with potential AutPress writers to ensure we pay them what their work is worth.  I started blogging for pay back when Merriam-Webster was still debating whether “blog” should be added to their dictionary.  I’m a partner in a company that has compensated every one of its writers to date (with cash, copies of anthologies, or both).  “But startup!” is never an excuse for not compensating writers – at the very least, with a share of the ad revenue generated by their work.

And even if it was, it’s no excuse to copy-paste substantial portions of their writing onto your own site without their knowledge or permission in order to generate that ad revenue.

This is exploitation of disabled writers, and it needs to stop.  We get exploited enough by the rest of the world.  Don’t do it to one another.


*by definition, because I don’t solicit them

**The rule of thumb for measuring the value of “exposure” is this:  Any site with a sufficently high profile to offer you worthwhile exposure can afford to pay you.  That kind of high profile is worth money.  If The Huffington Post were to go up for sale tomorrow, its price tag would be in the millions, and a substantial chunk of that price would be based on its name recognition alone.

If the site claims they can’t afford to pay you?  They’re not big enough to give you worthwhile exposure.  You can get the same exposure by hustling your own brand.

That is, if you care about exposure at all.  What every one of these unsolicted requests for my unpaid labor has failed to understand is that I don’t.  I’m a professional writer.  Have been for years.  I’m exposed.  Offering me “exposure” instead of pay just tells me you haven’t bothered to learn who you’re talking to.

***published three months before Dale Reardon first contacted me, so it’s not like he didn’t have an opportunity to understand my position

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Practical Ways to Exercise Your Rights Under a Trump Presidency

We’re T+14 days from Donald J. Trump’s win of the Electoral College vote, and millions – literally millions – of us are still reeling, still worried, still wondering what’s going to happen to the United States.  To our rights.  To us.

The best way to protect your rights as a U.S. citizen/resident has always been to exercise them.  But how do you do that?  Here’s a practical guide to some of your most important Constitutional rights and how to exercise them in the face of an administration that is shaping up to undermine them.

1. Due Process

The right to “due process” is enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and it is absolutely fundamental.  Without it, your other rights wouldn’t exist – or, at least, you would have no way to enforce them.  But what the heck is “due process,” anyway?

Due Process = Notice + Hearing.

There’s more to it (including a whole world of “substantive due process” rights), but this is what’s at the core.  This is the part you need to remember.  Your right to due process is the right to notice of why the government is taking an action against you and a hearing at which you get the chance to argue why the government should not take that action.

Your due process rights apply when any level or agency of government attempts to deprive you of life, liberty, or property.  

How to Exercise Your Due Process Rights

a. Demand Notice.  Ask questions like “What am I being charged with?”, “Why are you taking my stuff?” and so on.

b.  Take the Hearing Opportunity.  Demand a hearing, and gather evidence in your favor: eyewitnesses or their statements, photographs, documents, etc.  Establish a timeline of events so you can show what you did or didn’t do in the time leading up to the loss of your liberty or property.

c.  If you can, work with a lawyer or a trained advocate.  Attorneys spend years learning how to navigate the process; trained advocates, while they can’t give you legal advice, can help you understand how the process works and prepare for it.

 

2.  Privacy

The “right to privacy” is actually a whole bundle of rights.  Some of them fall under the Fourth Amendment; others are part of the “substantive due process” bundle mentioned above.  Here, I’m going to focus specifically on your Fourth Amendment right “to be secure in [your] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” particularly when interacting with police.

Here’s what you need to know.

a.  If the police are asking you if they can search, say no.  There are three legal methods by which the police may search your home, vehicle, or person: 1. with a warrant, 2. when an exception to the Fourth Amendment applies, and 3. when you give them permission to search.

If the police have a warrant, they won’t ask for your permission.  If they believe an exception to the Fourth Amendment applies, they won’t ask for your permission either.  If they are asking for your permission, it’s because there is no way for them to legally search without it.  Don’t make it legal.  Say no.

If the police have sufficient evidence to get a warrant, make them get one.  If they don’t, don’t do their job for them by consenting to a search.

b.  If the police start searching anyway, ask if they have a warrant – or if you are under arrest.  There are over a dozen exceptions to the warrant requirement, but the most commonly-invoked one by far is the “search incident to arrest” exception.  In other words, if you’re arrested, the police can conduct a search of your person and the area around you – no warrant needed.

You may not be able to stop a search if you ask if you’re under arrest or if the police have a warrant.  But you can make it clear that you intend to protect your rights.

 

3.  Self-Incrimination

What does it mean to “plead the Fifth”?

The short version is in the Miranda rights you hear recited in every “cop show” on television: “You have the right to remain silent.”  This right isn’t just available during a trial; it’s available as soon as the police start talking to you.  Exercising it is a little more complicated than “just shutting up” – but not much.

a.  If you’re arrested, say only one sentence: “I’m not talking to you without a lawyer.”  Once upon a time, actually not saying anything was considered sufficient notice to police that you intended not to say anything.  Not anymore.  In 2008 and again in 2013, the Supreme Court held that in order to use your right to remain silent, you actually have to say that you intend to use it.

If this sounds backwards – you have to speak up in order to remain silent – it is.  But that’s the game.  Exercise your right to remain silent by saying “I’m not talking to you.”

b.  Shut up.

After you say the above sentence, don’t say anything.  If they don’t need your confession, the police will likely not talk to you much at all.  If they do need a confession, they’re going to try to get it – by threatening, cajoling, or anything in between.

They’ll tell you this has probably just been a misunderstanding.  They’ll ask what your mother or spouse or kids would think.  They’ll tell you they can and will put you away for the rest of your life unless you tell them what “really” happened.  In other words, if they think you’ll bite, they’ll say it.

Don’t bite.  The moment you start talking – even if you say things that aren’t related to the questions – you’re putting your Fifth Amendment rights in jeopardy.

 

 

 

4.  Constitutional Rights Combo Platter: The First Amendment

I saved the First Amendment for last because it’s a bundle of five of the most important civil rights we have as Americans – particularly in the face of a President-Elect who has already announced his intention to curtail these rights where he can.

Your First Amendment rights include:

  • freedom of speech
  • freedom of the press
  • freedom of religion
  • freedom to assemble peaceably
  • freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances

You can, of course, imagine potentially endless ways to exercise these rights.  Here are some of the easier and more powerful ones.

a. Speech

Speak up.  Talk to friends and family about what’s going on politically.  Oppose, in the strongest terms possible, the unconstitutional and dangerous appointments and policies the President-Elect has proposed.  Make the bigots you know feel so uncomfortable that they silence themselves.

Oh, and make fun of him.  Call the President-Elect creative names (check out the Scottish response to him on Twitter if you need ideas), mock his overinflated ego, point and laugh at his petulant Tweets, share Saturday Night Live videos and similar parodies.  No regime can stand long against the power of satire.

b. Press

If you’re the type who writes, start writing.  Make Facebook posts, start a blog, send letters to the editor of your local newspaper.  Start printing a zine in your basement and leaving copies in public places.

If you’re not the type who writes, support the press.  Pay for a subscription to newspapers, magazines, or other outlets you trust (I am forever a fan of The Nation).  Buy books on how to resist fascist regimes, on how to make the world a more just place, on how incredibly awesome it is to have all these rights.  And read.  Really, you can’t read enough.

c.  Religion

The First Amendment freedom of religion is two-sided.  On the one hand, Congress “shall make no law…respecting the establishment of religion.”  On the other, Congress “shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Exercising your freedom of religion starts, of course, with practicing or not-practicing your own religion or non-religion: honoring whatever deity(ies) you do or don’t follow with whatever rituals are or are not prescribed for such things.  But it goes further.

Protect this right by protesting, in the strongest terms possible, any attempts to limit this right for other people – not just yourself.  Demand that Muslims in the U.S. be given equal treatment.  Argue against laws that seek to enshrine a particular religion’s values, such as laws allowing companies or individuals to discriminate against LGBTQ folks, Muslims, or other groups on the basis of “religion” or “conscience.”

You don’t have to be any religion other than the one you choose – and neither does any other American.  That’s the deal.

d.  Assembly

The right to assemble covers the right to protest – but it also covers the right to do things like join a campaign, work with a non-profit or a lobbying group, or even get together with a couple friends at the local coffee shop for advice on how to talk to your racist uncle this Thanksgiving.

Those are all, by the way, excellent ways to exercise your right to assemble.  If you’re going to go for something more formal than consciousness-raising over coffee, however, remember that the government can require you to get things like permits or to keep your assembling confined to particular hours or places: anything that is a restriction on “time, place, or manner.”  They can also ask you to break it up if you’re becoming a health or safety hazard.  Keep this in mind as you plan.

e.  Petition

Our President-Elect got where he is today on a wave of people asking, “What the hell has government ever done for me?”

Well, what have you asked them to do?

The right to petition the government for redress of grievances is a big one – it covers lobbying and all sorts of activities – but it starts with a super-simple thing most of us have never done: writing to or calling your elected representatives.

If you’re not sure how to contact your elected representatives or even who they are, Common Cause has a handy form that allows you to find out who represents you at both the state and federal level.  The “Contact Page” link will take you right to the representative’s email, phone, and postal mail contact info.  If your representative has a “Homepage” but not a “Contact Page” link, click that – most if not all representatives have a big “Contact” link front and center on their Web pages.

What’s the best way to get heard?  Opinions vary.  When I spoke with several Michigan state legislators in 2004, they said that handwritten letters were the most likely to get their attention, followed by typed letters, phone calls, and email, in that order.  Things have probably changed in twelve years, but the important thing is to use the method that ensures you actually carry through.  There’s no point in promising you’ll send a handwritten letter if you never actually do it.

These are, of course, not all of your rights – but these are some of the biggest ones, and the ones most commonly neglected by folks who have never had the chance to learn concrete ways to enforce their own rights.  But knowing how to exercise your own rights is arguably more important today than it has been in our lifetimes.  Use your rights or lose them.

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“Implicit in the Concept of Ordered Liberty”: Not Going Backwards

Like every U.S. law student, I read Korematsu v. United States in my Constitutional Law class.  It’s the 1944 case in which the Supreme Court decided that the Japanese internment camps of WWII were Constitutional.

We were, of course, expected to understand and be able to deconstruct the reasoning behind the majority’s opinion in the case, as well as the concurrence and all three dissents.  That’s standard operating procedure for the reading of cases in law school.

We were also, however, expected to understand that Korematsu is a terrible anomaly.  That it, along with Dred Scott v. Sandford, represented an absolute nadir in U.S. jurisprudence.  That the Korematsu court not only got it wrong, they got it so wrong – so entirely contrary to the fundamentals of ordered liberty on which the United States is based – that that one decision made it our responsibility to question the legitimacy of every decision issued by that particular court.

Legitimacy, when it comes to Supreme Court decisions, is a huge concern.  One of the things that made Justice Scalia so adamant about his “originalist” approach was that he firmly believed his approach was the only defensible one in terms of legitimacy.  The question of whether his Court’s opinions will be considered legitimate hangs heavily on Chief Justice Roberts*, who was appointed by a President who was arguably appointed by the Rehnquist court.

And if that question weighed heavily on Roberts before the 2016 election, it has to be crushing him now.

Just over a week ago, U.S. voters handed the electoral college – if not the popular vote – to a man who ran on a platform that is actually unconstitutional in many respects.  As the President-Elect chooses his staff and gears up for the job that starts January 20, both his written plans and his spokespeople continue to push their unconstitutional rhetoric and proposals.

And I don’t mean “unconstitutional” in the sense of “I have reasonable, informed opinions about substantive due process minutiae.”  I mean unconstitutional on their face.  Consider:

  • At a February 2016 rally, then-candidate Trump said, “One of the things I’m going to do if I win… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”  Overlooking the fact that media outlets can already be sued if they “write purposely…false” articles (see Hustler v. Falwell), Trump’s statements indicate an intent to undermine the First Amendment’s freedom of the press if elected (see Hustler v. Falwell).
  • Shortly after the election, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said, of Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s comments condemning some of the President-Elect’s staff picks, “He should be very careful about characterizing somebody in a legal sense. He thinks — he thinks he’s just being some kind of political pundit there, but I would say be very careful about the way you characterize it.”  Far from being “just being some kind of political pundit,” Sen. Reid was engaging in the very type of political speech that is most strongly protected by the First Amendment (see Buckley v. Valeo and Meyer v. Grant), and the type of speech which the Court has agreed on numerous occasions that it was the specific intent of the Founding Fathers to protect.  (Conway backpedaled when asked if her comment should be understood as a threat of legal action.)
  • The President-Elect’s “100 Day Plan,” laying out his “Contract With the American Voter,” contains several proposals that violate the Constitution on their face.  These include his proposal for “a hiring freeze on all federal workers” (the President has no control over Article I or Article III agencies or courts), “a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated” (the President has no control over Article I or Article III agencies or courts), term limits and restrictions on lobbying by former Congressmembers, and his promise to repeal federal funding (funding bills must originate in the House of Representatives, per Article I).

It’s hard to say, at this point, how much of this the President-Elect is actually going to attempt to do.  It’s easy to say, however, that if he tries, his efforts are going to land his administration in front of the Supreme Court.  (The American Civil Liberties Union has already promised to take these policies to court.)  And, if that happens, Roberts has to tackle the question of his Court’s legitimacy head-on once again.  And again.  And again.

But, ultimately, the question is not about Roberts, or his Court, or even the President-Elect.  The question is one of the very legitimacy of the United States as a nation.

When the United States was founded, it was unique: a nation-state that exists not because thousands of years of fighting or a shared culture had created the sort of custom and acceptance that defined its borders, but because a group of people got together and agreed that they would run a country based solely on their continued acceptance of a set of shared principles.

And the United States only continues to exist because we continue to adhere to those specific founding principles.  The relative inflexibility of the Constitution is one of them.  Limits on the power of the Presidency are another.  The legitimacy of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and the laws made by our Congress (and the legitimacy of that Congress to make those laws) is a third.  That all of these founding principles are intended to outlive any particular partisan fear or external threat is yet another.

Decisions like Korematsu and Dred Scott are condemned not (merely) because they suck from a human rights angle, but because they run so contrary to the founding principles of the nation that they are, by definition, un-American.  Maybe they can happen in other countries without undermining the understandings and agreements on which that country exists.  They can’t happen here without undermining what it means for the United States to exist.

So when the President-Elect’s people claim that the Japanese internment camps provide sound precedent for a plan to register U.S. Muslims, we should all stop in our tracks.  The precedent they invoke for their plan is one that flies in the face of the founding principles of the nation, that directly opposes those rights “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”  A plan like this doesn’t (merely) harm those who are forced to register; it undermines the existence of the United States itself.

Awesome.  Wow.


*(Don’t believe me?  Look at his deciding vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius and his decision to vote with the majority in King v. Burwell.  Remember that the Chief Justice always votes last, which means Roberts already knew how everyone else fell down before he chose his side.  Remember, also, that the Chief Justice is the one who assigns the writing of majority opinions, which meant that Roberts could choose to write them himself if he sided with the majority.

Then look at the way he threads the needle in both opinions.  Roberts understands that U.S. politics, from the moment he took the bench until today, threaten to devastate the legitimacy of his Court unless he can demonstrate a keen understanding of those politics and the Court’s place within them.)

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How Finishing a Novel Changed My Writing

I finished and submitted the draft of my first novel a few weeks ago.

Since then, I’ve written several blog posts, about a dozen legal documents of various kinds, and my usual 20,000 words a week of paid freelance writing.  I’m currently working on a chapter for the upcoming Monstrosity and Disability anthology (Palgrave, sometime next year?).  And my understanding of writing has changed completely.

1. I only have one job.

For years, I’ve described my work to people as three or four separate jobs.  I’m a freelance copywriter.  I’m in-house counsel for an independent (actually, an Autonomous) press.  I’m an academic. I’m an author and an occasional poet.  I’ve always thought of these as separate spheres.

They’re not.  They’re different tasks I do in my one job, which is to put funny little marks on paper (or pixels) in ways that change actual human behavior.  That’s what I do.  I sit here, rattle my keyboard for a few hours every day, and actual things come to exist in the world that change what y’all do.

PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER

ITTY-BITTY LAPTOP SPACE

2.  I have no idea what counts as a “short” assignment anymore.  Or a “long” one.

A confession: this chapter draft I’m currently working on is due in two weeks.  I had more than a year to write it.  I started writing yesterday.

Another confession: my word limit for this chapter draft is around 10k to 12k words.  I have 8000 after two days of writing.

Before I finished the novel draft, 10,000 words on a single topic was dang near insurmountable.  In grad school I counted on coming in 20 percent short on every paper.  Professor wanted five pages?  I had four.  Ten pages?  My final draft would be eight.  Twenty pages?  Sorry, I’ve got sixteen.  And on and on.  This didn’t actually hurt me – in fact, I got praised for being able to say so much concisely – but it was a constant struggle.

I’m still that concise.  I can just be that concise for a lot longer.  Having once sustained a narrative arc through 70,000 words, I have absolutely no trouble thinking in a manuscript of that size – in any genre.  My problem with this chapter draft, actually, is keeping myself down to 10,000 or 12,000 words.  I could go on forever, but I’m not allowed to.  (Also I would be repeating a lot of what’s already been written, which is emphatically not the point of this piece.)

3.  I needed all that writing time.

I have nothing but bemusement now for the kind of folks who sit at their perfect desk in the perfect corner of their perfect room, sharpen their perfect pencil, open their perfect journal, and wait for Inspiration to stream in on a beam of perfect sunlight and turn them into authors.  I have the same bemusement for people who sit in Starbucks wearing their smugness hats (excuse me, “fedoras”) and announce to anyone who will listen, “I’m writing a screenplay.

Cool.  What are your rates?

Seven years of writing for a living, thirty years of journaling, nine years of post-high-school writing-intensive education, teaching writing, communicating primarily by writing: none of it was wasted.  All of it got me to the point where sustaining a narrative arc for 70,000 words was something I could do.

Until I actually finished my first novel draft, I didn’t know that.  I really believed that all that other writing was a “waste.”  Sure, it earned me degrees or made me money or whatever, but it didn’t matter because it wasn’t The Novel.  *heavens open, angels sing*

[cat hairball noise]

It’s all writing.  Sure, only writing on your novel draft will result in a finished novel.  But banging out 10,000 words a day of copy, ranting in my teenage journals, producing massive briefs detailing every one of the 26 ways in which the plaintiff does not have a case?  It all made writing that novel draft possible.  It’s all valuable.  The only way to write regularly, consistently, and cleanly is to do it all the damn time.

4.  Writing now involves zero anxiety.

Well, near-zero.  I still have moments in which I get stuck, or I realize I should have made a point three paragraphs earlier, or that I shouldn’t make a point until three paragraphs later.

But it’s no longer a mountain.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind now that when I sit down in front of the keyboard, something related to my intended topic is going to fall out and that something is going to be workable.  It won’t be a polished final draft; it rarely is, unless we’re talking about a sample of the most basic type of copy I’ve written every day for seven years.  But it’ll be something I can use.  Something relevant.  Sometimes, it’ll even be something that surprises me.

tl;dr I am Alexander Hamilton.  Just you wait.

 

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Two Letters in the Wake of This Election

Dear People of Color:

I owe you an apology.

I have been one of the white people who bit my tongue and stayed friendly to family members spouting racism and bigotry. I have convinced myself they were still “good people,” if “a little misguided.” I have accepted their invitations and acknowledged their milestones and kept my own queerness and disability in the closet so they would feel comfortable.

And they got so comfortable, they felt safe electing a proud KKK-endorsed racist to the presidency.

Would my taking them to task and shunning them have helped? I don’t know. We never will know, because I did not step up when I could have. When I should have.

I fucked up, and I contributed to fucking us all over. I apologize.

I’m stepping up now.


 

Dear White People:

I am a direct descendant of William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Plantation. I am also a direct descendant of a Scottish man named Harold Kennedy. You may not have heard of him, but in the 1690s, he claimed to own most of the Miami Valley.

I can, if I wish, claim membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Mayflower, and the First Families of Virginia. My ancestors have been here, in what we today call the United States, for over four hundred years. Not only did they benefit from the concept of Whiteness for that entire four-hundred-year stretch, they were instrumental in establishing “White” as a separate U.S. race. That’s right: my family helped invent Whiteness.

Understand where I am coming from, then, when I say: White people, you need to do better. You need to BE better.

If I can work every day to lay down four hundred years of unbroken, pedigreed ancestral privilege, so can you. If I can do better, you can do better. There is no excuse.

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In Case You’re Wondering Why I Just Blocked My Entire Family on Facebook

“Are you brave enough to love?”
Are you brave enough to keep your mouth shut?
Shock yourself into compliance?
Keep the closet door shut?

Are you brave enough to keep your mouth shut?
“Whoever you voted for, we can still be friends-”
But keep the closet door shut.
Friends (until the jackboots find your queer-ass face) forever.

“Whoever you voted for, we can still be friends-”
Good boys and girls maintain the status quo.
Friends until the jackboots find your queer-ass face, forever,
if you’re brave enough to stay hesitant, convenient.

Good boys and girls maintain the status quo.
Shock yourself into compliance.
Be brave enough to stay hesitant, convenient,
If you want them.  They’re not brave enough to love.

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A Sestina: Forbidding Morning

I have only ever used the sestina as a political form.  Poetry is political.  Politics are poetic.

I’d ask, “America, what happened to you?
Are you joking? Are you high?”
But I know what happened.  It’s morning
for your bigotry, the end of a race
in which race was your primary beef.  Be better,
I implored you.  You fucked me.  Accept?

I’m fighting mad.  I refuse to accept
the closet, the chain gang, bare feet.  You
asked for this.  It gets better?
Fuck you.  You want us to die.  You fill your high
offices with your hate, condemn us on race,
on sex, and on dreams.  What’s better this morning

is bitter.  You adore our mourning.
If we cry hard enough, take our slaps and our shocks, we’ll accept
our place (last) in your race –
lie down and die, let you
play King of your molehill (how high!),
believe that of the world’s best-laid plans, yours are better.

I’m sure you feel better.
Why not?  It’s a new dawn, a new day.  It’s morning –
that’s a line you’d be happy to claim for “high
art.”  You know who I mean.  You don’t accept
theft, you ignore it.  You earned it.  You
own it all.  The master race.

Call me bitter for losing a race.
A harpy, a faggot, your bitch – even better.
It is for you
The Lord made this morning.
Embrace it.  But accept
this: it’s a temporary high.

Remember the high
praise: “she doesn’t quit.”  We know the race
doesn’t end while we live.  So do you.  We accept
the battle.  You still try to kill us.  We fight.  Better
suit up.  We’re fueled by our mourning,
dark-skinned, queer as fuck, and we’re coming for you.

Go high, my loves.  You’ll see better.
The race has a new course this morning.
It’s time to accept that they hate you.

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