How to Make A Difference

Two young black people are holding a large cloth banner which shows a fist rising in protest breaking through a green shape, the shards of which are books, keys, and paintbrushes. There are outlines of houses behind the fist. Next to the fist to the left in large red capital letters the sign reads FUND BLACK FUTURES. There are five white police officers standing behind the sign.

Photo ©2015 Sarah Jane Rhee, from

Yesterday the poet and artist Taylor Steele (who I’m fortunate enough to virtually know, and smart enough to admire fiercely) posted something that was like a fucking wake-up call. She pointed out, in a Facebook post inspired by Jayson Smith and Jayy Dodd, that the work of just surviving this world in a black body, much less thriving in it, creating, performing, and educating is immense, and almost always uncompensated. Because black people are subjected to unending violence, and then expected to also immediately do the work of trying to end that violence through education, resistance, and creation.

Taylor posted this on her Facebook (quoted with permission):

Hello non-Black ‪#‎Allies‬,
If you have ever wondered how you can help, the answer is resources. You have them. We need them. I need them.

You can send them resources here:$steelewriter

Often, I am writing/performing despite being triggered, despite trauma, despite mental illness and anxiety, despite self-care because the world is the way it is. Because being (a) Blk (artist) often means articulating yourself at the world and hoping your voice doesn’t land itself in a vacuum. That work is tiring.

So, if you have ever read and witnessed my work and felt moved/inspired/learned, know that that came from emotional labor that is not being compensated nearly enough to support myself and pay my bills.

Because when another Blk person gets killed, I get so tired that I can’t write for a week, so I can’t meet my deadline, so I won’t get paid OR
Because when another Blk person gets killed, I start trembling from anxiety and PTSD, so I can’t bring myself to cook, and I can’t afford takeout OR
Because when another Blk person gets killed, I don’t feel safe being outside, so I wanna take an uber home, but I can’t afford that OR
Because you haven’t posted a single thing about Blk death in the past 2 weeks, let alone ever, so let this be your first step in you becoming a better ally. Because talk is, quite literally, cheap.


I thought yes, I know that feeling (to some small degree) of needing resources to mourn and survive, and I had those resources.* And I thought, yes, I can share those resources. They’re limited, and precious, and I’m not one of the white 1%, etc. etc. etc. But I can do something with them, something right now. I’ve always believed in the importance of non-profit work, of community building, and I’ve built into my budget a certain amount every month that I donate to charity. Usually it goes towards Planned Parenthood or an animal rights organization, but why should that be the case? I don’t need the tax write-off. Why shouldn’t I use that money, even though it’s very small, to try to support the work of the artists and creators that I love, especially when their very existence in the world takes a kind of toll that I’ll never fully understand.

So, friends, if you think similarly, I know that there are several phenomenal artists who have ways to support them in an ongoing manner. $1 or $2 a month can really mean a lot!

Taylor Steele, fierce and brilliant poet and writer.

Carmen Machado, incredible fiction writer.

Jayson Smith, writer, educator, awesome.

Jayy Dodd, poet, writer & artist.

Melanie McCoy, scholar, organizer, activist.

Jack Qu’emi Gutierrez, writer, general badass afrolatinx boricua.

Erica Mena (that’s me, sorry for the self-promo but this work is work, too), translator, poet, and book artist.

I would LOVE to add my support to some other artists working at intersections of social justice and art, and would love to add them to this post. Tweet at me with links, @ACyborgKitty.


*I know this feeling from my own various experiences of marginalization and oppression. Especially after the #Orlando #Pulse shooting, which targeted queer latinx, and mostly queer Puerto Ricans like myself, I felt absolutely crushed in a way that I admit I don’t always feel in the face of other acts of racist violence. Because it was my community that was targeted. Acknowledging that I feel differently when it is my community I think is OK (though would welcome some correction or education on this point), so long as I don’t use that proximity and familiarity as an excuse for not mourning for, being angry alongside, or not working hard as an ally for other oppressed communities. But after the #Pulse shooting, I couldn’t leave my house for a few days.

I’m incredibly privileged to be able to say that. Here’s what that looks like. I live in a lovely apartment that I like a lot, one that I share with my husband, our roommate, and three cats. It has enough space for all of us, and even a small nook for my home “office.” It is generally quiet both during the day , and night in our neighborhood, which is important to managing my anxiety. I can afford to live in this kind of neighborhood because my husband (who is a cis white male) has a good job in education and is willing to subsidize my artistic pursuits. My husband has a good job in education because he went to Harvard, and he went to Harvard because we were able to take out a loan to send him there. He got into Harvard, and got this job, because he benefitted in myriad other ways over his entire life from his white male privilege (which he is super woke to). I, as a light-skinned, white-reading (sometimes) latinx have also benefitted from white privilege. When we went to see the apartment, and meet the (rich, white, cis female) landlord we were immediately welcomed. In fact, she liked us so much she even negotiated a cut in the rent for us (at a time when the rental market was at peak, and something like that was literally unheard of). So I have benefitted from my husbands privilege, and my own privilege, in having a safe, quiet apartment to stay in.

Not only that, I am able to work from home. I’ve had many many jobs in my life (there was a point in undergrad that I was working five part-time jobs and still not quite making ends meet), but I’ve had enough class privilege to prioritize my education (even going into debt to do so, and being given loans because I had enough class privilege to make sure that I was ‘creditworthy’ at 18). Throughout my education, though I worked retail and food service jobs, I was constantly “up-skilling” or learning transferrable skills in administration and office management, book design, technology, you name it. I was given these opportunities and had the time and energy to prioritize, unlike many other people in my situation who either came from a less well-off background or had darker skin. After many years of school, I was able to secure a job that allows me to work from home. When that job was no longer sustainable (for myriad reasons having to do with some intersecting oppressions), I had enough back-up skills and contacts that I was able to relatively seamlessly transition into other part-time freelance work. I had the economic security of my husband’s job as a safety net during that transition.

So after #Pulse I was able to disengage from the world while I took the time I needed to process and heal, to channel my grief and anger into something creative (a new collaborative project that I’m super enthused about). But having that space and time is in itself a privilege. I know that.


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