Race, Gender And Online Skeptic or Asexual Communities
I have read some writing from other writers who are either tired of hypervisibility in social media while having an identity that’s marginalized or tired of debating within what they view as a particular community. I mentioned "what they view as a particular community" because at times I am not so sure if what people speak of as a “community” is in fact just an institution. While people can be a part of both spaces, I don’t think both spaces have complete overlap. When I think of institutions, I think of that which has the support of the status quo. When I think of communities in a social justice sense, I think of self-selected groups that identify similarity and exist in opposition to the status quo, though because of the nature of oppression and how the oppressed internalize it, that community can also oppress and partially represent the status quo.
For example, I view mainstream feminism as an institution but I view womanism as a community, besides them being ideological frameworks themselves. People can be a part of both an institution and a community. While marriage itself is an institution, someone fighting for marriage equality might be a part of a particular LGBTQIA community. Thus, in this case, the posts I read sound like people tired of hypervisibility amidst social media as an institution (i.e. where people’s content being stolen and exploited should be “expected” and the media “owns” whatever we say) but also tired of debating in particular communities that use social media (i.e. atheists, aces).
I’ve written about my own exhaustion with hypervisibility (Hypervisibility and Marginalization: Existing Online As A Black Woman and Writer) and with institutions (The Price Of Rejecting An Institution), so this has been on my mind for a while actually. But upon reading people tiring of certain communities, I started thinking about my relationship to “community.” As a Black woman, I have always felt some sense of community with Black people and I don’t necessarily mean in the sense of fictive kinship because like Zora Neale Hurston let me know, skinfolk ain’t always kinfolk. This sense of community is not something to build from the ground up per se (though revolution from White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy would be rebuilding, in a way), because our culture has needed a sense of community for survival in a way that Whites have not needed in terms of race; power is ascribed upon Whiteness not Blackness.
To be clear, “community” does not erase the flawed humanity that everyone experiences. So when fellow Black people try to interchangeably use the words “community” and “unity” I kind of flinch, because this is what ends up being said: "why us Black folks can’t stick together" which really means "I’ve internalized an anti-Black frame of thought; I critique human behavior as ‘worse’ once Black people do it.” No one else is “sticking together” more or less than Black people are in terms of culture; the myth that other people are is based on anti-Blackness itself. This idea that other people of colour have more money and more opportunity seems to be based on the idea of the independent “flaws” of Black people versus how anti-Blackness works with capitalism in a White supremacist society.
The sense of community that I speak of is shared history, some shared experiences, the possibility of similar outcomes. Not always a shared sense of individual identity as Black people have varying identity facets beyond Blackness, but the fact that the former does impact individual identity. Culture, in essence. For better or worse knowing that so many things can make me different from another Black woman yet we are regularly in compassionate conversation and I have a greater sense of connection to them versus Black men and most definitely versus Whites, makes me think about how can I navigate communities not specifically connected to Black women or Black people, but can involve us because of other facets of our identities, our intersections?
What I’m getting at is that I find that I have a very difficult time with online communities that do not include Blackness as a central facet. Because of how anti-Blackness and White supremacy work, I immediately feel suspicious of and unwelcome in other communities. I try to put that aside and give things a chance. Talk to people. Read their writing. Peek at forums. Yet in the case of agnostic atheism and asexuality, two facets of my identity and politics, I find those communities to be centered on Whiteness almost to the detriment of the identity type itself. I alluded to this in previous posts: Agnostic Atheist, But Not Interested In White Supremacist Atheism, The Large Space That White Supremacy Occupies In Conversations About Sexuality and How White Supremacy Creates Paternalism and Violence In “Sex Positivity” Discourse. As I mentioned above, because of the nature of oppression and how the oppressed internalize it, communities can also oppress and partially represent the status quo, not to even mention the large space that White privilege occupies in the identities of White people in those communities. Ultimately these spaces feel more like institutions than communities when they are mainstream. And they become mainstream despite representing marginalized identities because of how White supremacy works. White supremacy is why the face of almost every marginalized group is a White one.
Thus, I have found reaching out to other Black people who are agnostic atheist, skeptic, atheist, or secular/radical humanist has been helpful for me. The same with Black women and occasionally other people of colour who identify as asexual. This is difficult because these people tend to appear less online because of the stigma associated with both identities, especially for Black people. I get way more emails from Black people who identify as either or both than I see tweets from them. Clearly this reveals that we exist but a lot of us are afraid of retribution from other Black people that we’d normally easily connect with otherwise (because of shared community) or especially from the White Gaze which impacts the perception that we “must” be theist and “must” be heterosexual while at the same time enforcing stigma for those identities (while both are privileged) as well because of our Blackness. But even so, these private email conversations that I have from time to time are so helpful for me. I suspect this aspect of community isn’t included when people speak of “community’ but it most certainly is an aspect of a commitment to wholeness for me and is womanist praxis.
I find that I don’t crave community as much as other Black people that I know (part introvert, part habitual institution rejecter), but I respect that our sense of community still exists amidst a culture where the worship of individualism through the nuisance that is meritocracy which obscures structural inequality, the imperialistic lie that is American exceptionalism and the ahistorical cruelty that is bootstrap theory remain center stage. For me to be a part of any community of any type means Blackness cannot be ignored or stigmatized. It really doesn’t matter what identity facet or intersection or interest it is about. I’m not interested in community where I have to ignore my race to make others comfortable. So if small chats online and private emails and reading the writing of other Black women/Black people/people of colour on these identities that truly sit at the margins is what I have to put together to form a tapestry of emotional community for myself, it’s what I will do. And though I wish these things were more visible since without visibility comes denial of existence, at the same time, being able to express what I think about agnostic atheism and asexuality outside of the White Gaze and at times even outside of what is considered “traditional” Black experience is affirming and healing.
This doesn’t mean that I reject someone solely for being White while atheist (though many White atheists are in fact racist and incredibly abusive) or for not being asexual (though some sexual people are in fact incredibly abusive and behave as if they’re "punishing" me for not being actively sexual and coupled, while some asexual communities know nothing beyond Whiteness and never heard of intersectionality), but it does mean that there’s aspects of my identity that I protect and don’t want harmed in the same way that I am protective of my Blackness, my womanhood, and my Black womanhood, specifically. It’s really what womanism is, where not solely is gender elevated, but every facet is; every intersection matters. Every “community” of these types must be ones committed to complete justice, or it’s not for me.