On #NotYourMule

Originally posted 2 March 2016

So, the Oscars happened however many days ago and, of course, the conversation about racism in Hollywood took center stage once again. Chris Rock’s opening monologue was one for the record books. But even after the verbal ass-whipping he handed the Academy and complacent individuals in the industry, there was another discussion going on on Twitter sparked by the infuriatingly common knee-jerk reaction to black hyper visibility. In the words of the genius Mikki Kendall (must be exhausting being so damn smart), black people are #NotYourMule
The hashtag is in reference to Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, wherein Nanny, grandmother of protagonist Janie Crawford declares:
“De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” (2.44)
That sentiment is extremely relevant to today, where it seems that everyone and their dog wants to take credit for or reap the benefits of the work that Black Americans do, particularly the work of black women. While it is true that the world views all black people in a negative light, black women are especially shit upon because we do not have the privilege of being white nor male, and so we exist within a very specific area of social consciousness that people take advantage of at almost every turn. Whether that be excusing the abuse we suffer because we “mouth off” too much or because we “look older” than we actually are, black women are expected to be everything for everybody while simultaneously being treated like we’re nothing.
When it comes to activism and movements being largely led by black women, a great many people expect us to take all of the risk. This is the primary idea that #NotYourMule is combating. It really started when HP LatinoVoices and Jose Antonio Vargas sent out tweets that insinuated that Chris Rock should have to also talked about opportunities for Latinx and other actors of color even though Chris Rock is black and therefore cannot voice opinions on the struggle of others.

not your mule 1


If Latinx people were so adamant about getting equal representation and opportunity, then where are the Latino celebrities and activists fighting for that change? Apparently to HP LatinoVoices and Vargas there must not be any, so the onus gets put on black people to do the work for them. Oh, wait, what was that? There ARE Latinx creatives and advocates who speak up about this issue and therefore these marginalized groups don’t need black people to speak for them? Who knew?!

The entire discourse around the Oscars and diversity in entertainment and the perception that black activism is maliciously exclusive of NBPOC – non-Black people of color, because POC is not synonymous with “black” – reminds me of a situation that I often found myself trapped in in middle school. Someone would have a beef with everyone in the group, but for whatever reason I always got treated like the messenger owl, running back and forth relaying what felt like 35,000 different messages related to beef that I had no business in. Meanwhile, my concerns went unresolved because I had to try and solve everyone else’s problems. I can’t resolve an issue that I did not start. I can’t provide a solution for everyone else’s problems. They’re not my problems!!! I don’t know all the details, I don’t understand the nuances, the problem does not directly affect me in any way, so what exactly does my opinion matter?

Same thing with #NotYourMule. Black folks can’t go to bat for everyone else, we can’t solve the world’s problems. We have our own that we’re trying to rectify, and anybody who claims that we’re being exclusive or selfish by not talking about everyone else’s issues are being absolutely ridiculous. You have mouths and hands and working vocal cords, so you can make posters, organize protests, create spaces for yourselves on social media and not rely on the work that Black Americans. NBPOC will sit back and watch us be brutalized and slandered all up and down Main Street but are so shocked and bothered when we don’t mention them every time we open our mouths.

But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Jaya Sundaresh, an activist and contributor to the South Asian culture website The Aerogram.

“‘We need to stop asking black people to lift our voices for us,’ Sundaresh said. ‘We need to be doing the work for ourselves.’” (CNN, Money)

She created the hashtag, #OnlyOnePercent, which specifically focuses on the lack of Asian American representation in media. Many of the conversations surrounding that tag have focused on why Asian parents don’t support their children’s pursuit of artistic careers and why Asians get stereotyped into certain roles. Asians having a conversation about issues related to the Asian experience!!! Who knew that was possible!!!

So, news flash to other marginalized communities: stop expecting niggas to all the work for you, do it your damn selves.

not your mule 5

Update 5/6/16

Since posting this, there have been a lot more hashtags started by other activists and members of other communities, and I thought I’d share them.


Response to General shit for brains Ted Cruz and Donald Drumpf’s statements about monitoring “Muslim neighborhood’s” for terrorist activities. People started posting pictures of themselves in their hometowns living idyllic, uneventful, not-at-all-threatening-to-white-people lives.


Started by comedian and actress Margaret Cho, writer Ellen Oh, and The Nerds of Color as a direct response to the recent cases of Hollywood’s long-standing tradition of casting white actors in role for people of color, with specific emphasis on Asian representation.


With Mother’s Day on the horizon, Native Americans took to Twitter Wednesday night to share their love for their moms and all that they’ve taught.


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I blog about things on this here blog that you're reading right now. Things like movies, food, anime, whatever grabs my attention. I'm big into pop culture criticism, so that's mostly what you're going to get here, but I also write short fiction as well as fan fiction, so I may share that with you all some day.

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