Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ageism, Black Twitter, and Teen Spaces

I haven't felt completely comfortable on Twitter lately. A few days ago, a really prominent Twitter activist tweeted a lot of stuff at and about me. She said that I was probably a troll, because I used the word "misogynoir" in a tweet. She said that I was probably stalking another prominent Twitter activist, because I planned to launch an online magazine on her birthday. 

Basically, a bunch of people jumped in my Twitter mentions. I was asked why I would pick such a negative name, told that I didn't do any research, and that the website looked shady because I didn't had a lot of content, despite the fact that I hadn't launched it. I was told that I should've asked permission for using the word. I do feel like there was a gigantic disconnect, because it wasn't an open dialogue. Two very prominent women, I felt, came after me. If they hadn't had around 80k followers each, I would've felt comfortable talking with them.

Because, of course, I do not and did not want to steal from anyone. One of them said that I plagiarized, and I actually locked myself in my room and cried. I picked the name after lots of thinking and reading. I wrote a first post, which explained the history and meaning of the word misogynoir, and credited one of the activists, because she's played a large role in the development of the word. It didn't occur to me to credit her somewhere else on the site. 

I was told that I should've reached out to one of the women, for guidance. I did consider it, for a while. On her website, she stated that she didn't want to be contacted for projects where she wouldn't get paid - and I completely understood that. I've recently grown fed up with the idea of creating work for free, when I could be working on things that actually provide money for me. She also stated that she didn't want to be interviewed, so I didn't contact her for the interview series I planned. 

Now, it's not like I was a total victim. On the website's main page, I used a picture that I took off of Google. It belonged to another woman who I hadn't asked or credited. That was a really horrible move to make, especially since I was just going to benefit off of her work like I was the one who created it. She tweeted at the magazine's account, but I didn't have notifications set up, so I didn't see it until the day this all went down. 

What bothers me about the entire situation is how I was treated. It would be sucky to drag someone publicly if they were an adult, but the only reason why this prominent activist stopped is because she realized I was a minor. She didn't stop because she realized that there was a power imbalance because of her fans, because I wasn't given the chance to explain myself. 

She kept mentioning that I needed a mentor. There was a point where she said "you clearly didn't do any research." Since I had been following both women involved for a while, she found an old tweet where I said that one of them was "goals" (a compliment) and said that I should've asked for guidance, then paid a fee. It didn't make any sense to me - she was so into the idea that I was a teen. 

A lot of people are intrigued at my age, which I why I started off trying to hide it. When I queried, looking for an agent, I didn't include my age anywhere. There are still some people on Twitter who don't know how old I am. But even when they find out, most people applaud me and tell me to keep going. This interaction, with this activist I admired, was the first time I felt stupid for being sixteen.

There are groups of black women on Twitter, and I'm starting to see them as cliques. That isn't bad, exactly. I like to see black women who stick together, especially when they're in similar fields. Black female musicians are close, black female directors are close, and black female writers stick together. I've followed a lot of them long enough to know who is friends with who. 

I've longed for the day that I would get a book deal, so that I could wave it in their face and say "Look, I'm cool! Let me join your group! I want to be surrounded by cool black women!" I'd wonder if they'd notice me, follow me back, reply to more than one of my tweets. After all, these women are awesome. Not only do they do what they do, whether it be writing or dancing, they call out problematic foolishness on Twitter. 

Friendship goals, right there. 

That worries me now. I hate the idea that black sisterhood is something that I have to break into, rather than something that I'm apart of just by being black, successful, and supporting others. And yet, the same women who tweeted about me and let me be dragged by their followers had previously tweeted about black sisterhood and supporting one another.

Is there a special clause? When I expressed confusion, was told that there's an understanding that, even if one of the women didn't have a trademark on the word misogynoir, it's understood that I should give credit. But where is it understood? How was I to know if I had never spoken to one of them? These women are smart and blunt on Twitter. Was I supposed to expect that the same women who spoke badly about me before knowing me would've taken me under their wing?

Part of the reason why I still feel irritated is because I was treated like I didn't know anything because I didn't know how their world worked. They spoke as if I was trying hard to be like them, so hard that I ended up mirroring their own work, as if I don't have an agent of my own, a prolific list of work of my own. Why did creating a magazine for teen black girls mean I was trying to be just like them, and not like me?

I feel that there is an expectation that younger people want to be like those who come before us. And this is often true - people like Oprah and Ava DuVernay and Maya Angelou inspire me. There are tons of women on Twitter and in my life that inspire me. But there is a point in everyone's journey where they realize that they aren't going to be someone else. 

I once tweeted that I wanted to be the next Shonda Rhimes, and a friend tweeted back "You won't be. You won't be the Shonda Rhimes of TV or the Ava DuVernay of film. You'll be the Camryn Garrett of something else, and that's just as good." 

Lots of teens don't know this - lots of adults don't know this. And even if they do, it's one of those things that sticks in the back of your head for a while before becoming truth. There are still times where I compare myself to other people, wondering why I haven't been as successful as Tavi Gevinson or Zendaya so young, before I catch myself. 

It sounds horrible, but I think there are some adults who don't want me to catch myself - not right now, anyway. There are many adults who speak about wanting youth to succeed, wanting to embrace those of our future. The thing is, though, they aren't expecting us to start when we're so young. They aren't expecting us to be good. 

Look, I know I'm not the best writer, but I'm better than the forty year old dude the next state over who is just starting, because I've got six years on him. But this fact is ignored by lots of people who are older than me, because I didn't come up the same was as them.

Lots of successful people, especially successful black women, have to fight and kick and claw to get to where they want to be. Even when they get there, they have to guard their spot from racists and other haters who don't want them to succeed. They expect that those younger than them will have to do the same. If you haven't, they don't think you're legit. 

Of course, these women weren't obligated to send me a private message to tell me that I should take down the photo. They weren't obligated to give their guidance. But, for people who talk about sisterhood, I would've expected them to. It gives them another reason to push me down - she doesn't know what she's doing - instead of helping me get to their level. I haven't paid my dues, and they aren't just going to open up to me. 

When teens come along, adults get mad. They get scared and worried. They don't want things to change, and teens are full of change. We change our minds and come up with new ideas and we're hard to predict. Adults get irritated. I see it in the articles about millennials ruining the Olympics, in the articles questioning why millennials aren't buying diamonds. I see it in the people who came to the conclusion that Tavi Gevinson wasn't writing her own blog, because it was too good for a teen.

I see it when websites like Teen Vogue and MTV and Seventeen are only written by adults. MTV has a section for teens, which is great (I've written there are a lot and I enjoy it), but you don't get paid. I didn't start getting paid for my writing until this year, and I've been writing for publications since I was thirteen. Most of the content marketed toward us is written by adults. 

Now, this is most likely because it takes a long time to get good at something, and teens are doing other stuff - watching Scandal or playing sports or going to school - that takes up our time. But I'll be totally honest and catty here: I have more experience than some of the people who get paid to write things that I'm supposed to read. There are adults who get paid to stalk teens on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and try to sell the stuff back to us. If we don't like it, we get a reputation for being difficult. 

A very, very recent example - the VMAs were yesterday night. I personally didn't start watching until Beyonce came on. Beyonce has been making music consistently since I was younger. Lemonade just came out, and I loved it. I connected to it. She was amazing. Right after her, Britney Spears performed. I did not think it was good.

I was surprised to see a lot of tweets, all from adults who were teens when Britney was popular, saying that she did a good job. They said that we should respect Britney for going on after Beyonce and that she was fine. It was weird to see how angry they were getting because people didn't like her performance. In my head, you can't compare the two. Britney has released a few popular songs since I've been a teen, but that's really it.

And yet, she was at the show. She was hyped up at the show. Adults were tweeting about her - which is fine, have your fun - but they were expecting others to like her. There was this understanding that I didn't get, because I was five years old when Britney was popular. The VMAs obviously aren't only for teens, but I wish people would stop pretending that they are. 

I wish they'd stop pretending that spaces adults present to us are supposed to be for us, since most of the time, it's stuff that they've decided on our behalf. We have less experience most of the time, yes, but we aren't stupid. We know what we like and what we don't. And if we don't like what's available, we'll create our own - how can you fault us for that? 

I'm not saying that content produced by adults is horrible, because it isn't always. Like, pretty much all of my favorite books and movies and TV shows were created and produced by adults. But teens write books, and they're great. Teens make music, and I love it. Teens make films and tell jokes and we dance and we do gymnastics and maybe we aren't as good as adults who have been doing it longer than us, but we'll get there. Simone Biles is definitely better than gymnastics than Tim Gunn, because she's been doing it longer. That's not eradicated because of her age. 

When I received private apologizes from the activists I mentioned earlier, I wanted to reply for a moment. They spoke of the reasons why they had jumped on me so quickly - namely, because of abuse that they face on Twitter - and I understood that. But there was a part of me that wondered if they'd listen to what I had to say, or if they'd sweep it under the rug. Maybe we could have a great conversation, but I feel so vulnerable now. As another lady on Twitter said, "You can't unring a bell."

I'm not saying that guidance from adults isn't important, because it completely is. I'm where i'm at today because of guidance that I've received from people older than me. But I wish that there were more people like them around, open to young people and open to lifting us up. 

I don't really want to continue with my magazine, even though I changed the name and paid for a new domain. I feel wiped out. Even before I started it, months ago, I worried about the amount of work that I'd have to put in. And I did put in a lot - I saved money from my summer job to purchase a logo and domain, I made schedules, I did interviews and wrote questions, I edited posts and created a website. 

I figured that it would be worth it, if other black girls found this space, but I'm not sure how I feel. Places that I started out writing, like TIME for Kids and Huffington Post, did not pay me, but I don't know where I'd be without them. And yet, I don't know if it's fair for me to expect people to create content for me without payment. Moreover, I don't know if I'm ready to enter beside this clique of black female writers on Twitter. They'll be expecting me to plead to join them, and if I don't, will there boy more drama? 

I appreciate the work women like them do, but there's a difference between calling out an unapologetic or privileged person for being problematic and striking down a person who has the same barriers as you, but less resources. I don't want another girl to feel the way I do. I don't want someone to have to explain what happened to their mother in between tears, or to hesitate before replying to tweets. As it stands, I don't really feel like I have the voice I thought I did. 

But maybe, when I do, I can use it to boost up a girl like me. 


Camryn Reads Maya Angelou

Note: This is an essay that I'm turning in when I go back to school as part of my summer reading project, so if I sound like I'm reaching at any point, that's probably why. I'm so awkward when it comes to school essays, guys. But I thought I'd share, because I think Twitter is impressed with me. 

I absolutely loved this book. I had been hoping to read it for a while, but held off because I hoped that I would read it as part of a school assignment. For the past few years, I’ve been challenging myself to read more books by black authors like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou was closer to my heart.

When I was younger, I didn’t have any clue who James Baldwin was, but I knew about Maya Angelou. I’ve heard people like Serena Williams recite Still I Rise, one of her poems, watched her receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, and noted that she was good friends with Oprah. I was devastated when she passed, not because I knew her personally, but because I hoped to. Reading this book was my chance to know her, to learn from her, even if it was a side that thousands of other readers had already met.

This book is an example of both feminism and fighting racism, all from a woman who didn’t seem like she would make something of herself when she was younger. Stories like hers, while I’m no stranger to them, always inspire me. Black women dealt with so much, and continue to do so, but it gets a little easier each generation because of the strength of those who come before us. I think this is a theme that’s also displayed in the book, because Maya and her brother, Guy, received strength and much of their sense of self while being raised by their grandmother.

Even though there were many times that this book was depressing, like when Maya recognized the racism that she lived through and the sexual assault she was faced with, I was surprised that the book was funny. I don’t know how she was able to find places to insert humor. When I first started the book, I expected stories of living in a segregated area and having to work as a made to white families in the south. What I didn’t expect were the stories of con men, wild parties, and sex.

I think that Angelou included bits of humor for the same reason why she probably searched for them in her actual life. It would’ve been impossible to live through all of the things that she did if she hadn’t been able to see the positive aspects of life, and I think that it’s the same for someone reading her story. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to read the book so quickly if it had just been a memoir of all of the horrible things that happened to her. Maybe she included these aspects because she recognized how much these memories hurt her. I’m not quite sure, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about.

I can’t help but feel that Maya Angelou was inspired by the times in which she wrote this book. By the time I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X had both been assassinated. At the same time, the feminist movement was kicking up. I feel like that’s why she was able to talk about sex so freely. She doesn’t pull punches when talking about the racism that she faced, either, and I’m grateful. It’s important to know what people went through, so that we don’t forget.

There are some aspects of Maya’s story that I could relate to, despite the large period of time that separates us. Maya explored the self loathing that she felt toward herself and her appearance, wishing that she were a white girl with blonde hair. When I was younger, I also felt the same. I hated how dark my skin was, and wished that I were lighter. I begged my mother to straighten my hair, and when we finally did it for my fifth grade moving up ceremony, it poofed right back up because of the heat. I wanted to be a white girl so badly, because I knew then that I would truly be beautiful.

Often times, when I read the works of black people who have come before me, I expect that I won’t be able to relate to them. Each time, though, there’s always something (usually multiple somethings) that I relate to. I wonder now if some aspects of black life are just universal, or if these aspects of life are symptoms of racism that still haven’t been eradicated. On one hand, it’s comforting to feel connected to the characters in A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, or even characters in the sitcom Good Times. I feel connected, like I know these people, and it creates a sense of community. However, I’d rather feel connected to other black people because of other things like hair or skin.

Being able to connect because of our life experiences is often what brings people together, but most black people are sharing stories of hardship and trying to find small pieces of happiness within them. At the end of this book, Maya is sixteen, single, and pregnant. She’s content with where she’s at, especially since being a mother means that she’ll receive the love she hasn’t felt throughout the novel. However, it’s difficult for me to overlook the fact that she’s going to face more hardship. It makes me feel better that she ultimately was able to rise up from where she started, so high that she probably didn’t expect it, but I worry that suffering is doomed to be part of the black identity for years to come.

Overall, though, stories like this one makes me believe that things will be better for each generation to come after. I don’t think that we can say that black people, as a community, are where we should be at all. But I do think that, because of people like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and even Oprah, roads have been paved for young women like me. My only hope is that I’ll be able to do the same for the girls who come twenty years down the road.

I'm pretty dramatic. Meh.