On relinquishing what does not belong to me

Today I’m writing about why I will not be styling myself a feminist marketing consultant any longer.

To get context for understanding the first part of this post, you will need to catch up a bit by reading two posts by Alexis Morgan: The Faceless: On Whiteness & Emotional Assassination, and On The Saga Of Kelly Diels: Straight, No Chaser.

After the culture makers group was archived by Kelly Diels and I began to search for what had happened — which I found, when Alexis Morgan wrote her initial piece — I have been sitting with and discussing in multiple conversations the ways that I, as a white person, both contributed to what happened and can learn from it in order to do better.

I realized while reading Amy Walsh’s piece on how her work was appropriated that I have also appropriated the work of others in the online marketing space, for at least as long as I have been doing business online.

My understanding of how to market, especially in the early days of getting my web design business up and running, was to observe what others were doing, and mirror those efforts inside my own brand. This led to me trying on any number of different kinds of marketing, list-building, launching, and copywriting techniques.

I always worked very hard to be authentic, not to lie, not to promise things I couldn’t deliver. I still ended up falling down, especially on that last thing. I had to make a mountain of mistakes to gain a fundamental understanding of what my ability to do work actually WAS, and how much capacity I actually had. Furthermore, I was attempting to build a business during a four-year abusive relationship, and the missed deadlines, less-than-my-best work product, and refunds (when I had the money to refund) put a pretty big dent in my momentum.

After encountering my internal racism and the white-centric culture I was raised in, during the summer of 2014 when Michael Brown was shot in the street in Ferguson and left to lie there, I had to put down my marketing because I no longer trusted myself to say things that were meaningful or useful except to a cross-section of white love-and-light spiritual people. The pain I finally saw, reflected in Twitter threads and live-stream video from the Ferguson protests, spilling out of mouths and eyes, painted in patterns of blood and bullet holes and layers upon layers of injustices done over hundreds of years, stopped me from speaking because I had nothing to say. Listening was my job. Shutting my mouth was my job. Crying my white tears and processing my fragile feelings in private was my job, so that I could learn how to show up and accept what was truth and stop making everything about me.

In the meantime, because I no longer had a language I could trust to speak about my own work; or an understanding of what my work was even for, I put it down and got a part-time job, and then a full-time job.

Amidst all of this, I embarked on a two-year-long saga (still ongoing) of pursuing the right level of care for my mentally ill teenager; I met and married my spouse, while discovering how extremely and deeply queer I am in the process; and I began study in a lineaged tradition that requires my best discipline, my deepest introspection, and my strict dedication to the work.

Earlier this year, I found enough words to begin talking about what I was doing and what I wanted to be doing. I knew that I wanted to offer my work in ways that were accessible for others who were bootstrapping their way through without actually having boots or straps. I knew that I wanted to address anti-blackness in myself, in my own business practices, and in the ideas, copy, and practices of the people who might become clients of mine.

I knew that it was not for me to position myself as a resource for black entrepreneurs, although I hoped that I was doing enough of the work to be a trusted resource where I or my perspective or ability were needed. I knew that I had a lot more to learn, and that I would need to remain open to both seeing and owning my mistakes, and doing work to change and repair harm.

I’d been using the phrase ‘intersectional feminist marketing’ because the understanding of the interconnectedness and overlap of all the ways a person shows up spoke to me. However, it was pointed out that the definition and use of the term intersectionality rightly belongs to KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw, and to the P/WOC it was meant for. (Note: I saw the term P/WOC on Alexis Morgan’s site, and because I am mindful of the gendering of language, I wanted to use this term as well so that what I write here can be as inclusive as possible.) And so I removed that language from all the places I had been using it around the internet, and I posted about why I stopped using it as a way of being transparent and in hopes of demonstrating a way of taking criticism without centering my experience of being criticized.

There is still so much more work to be done in myself. I am beginning to understand that, in the words of Dorothy on Twitter, “diversity and inclusion” is a neoliberal value. I am digging into an understanding of decolonialization and how to do that work. I am looking for ways to make reparations and acting on the opportunities that I am able, with my resources, to take.

In the meantime, I have read more of Kelly Diels’ words about the shitstorm she brought on herself: and the juxtaposition of her reclaiming the term she uses for herself, “feminist marketing consultant,” while many P/WOC in my Facebook sphere are saying that this term is at worst insulting and at best not useful, means that I am going to relinquish that term for myself as well.

I am a marketing consultant. I am feminist. But what I really want to talk about is not feminism or marketing exactly: I want to talk about truthfulness. I want to talk about communication. I want to talk about the impact of our words, our choices, and our business structures on the communities we live in.

I want to talk about how to create sustainable business practices that do not further harm the people we claim to love, or ourselves, or our communities. I want to talk about using words in ways that include and affirm and call in.

The vehicle this is wrapped in is, in the end, marketing: because marketing copy and graphics and sales funnels come directly out of our understanding of what we are doing in our work and how it affects what we want to affect. Understanding what we are affecting, and having a practice of questioning what we are doing so that we discover what our underlying assumptions, biases, and ideologies are so that we can intentionally affect the world is of vital importance.

I will forever be learning, and that is okay with me. Learning and putting those new understandings into practice are honorable. I accept that I may fail, but I ask to be held accountable and I ask to be called in; and if I will not be called in, call me the fuck out.

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