A Letter to My Tumblr, Ten Years Later

Header ID: This is a screenshot of my Tumblr microblog as of September 6, 2021, nearly a decade after I first made an account on the platform. The blog’s background image is the famous painting The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. The sidebar says “nerdy ass bitch from da souf” and has my name, pronouns, and age. You can see one post I have “reblogged,” or shared, which reads: “‘tumblr is free btw’ maybe for you. this app has cost me everything.” The post is by user 2007xbox360.

2021 has treated me pretty well thus far. I graduated from Georgetown University; I did a fellowship at UC Berkeley; I’ve been contracted to give workshops on restorative justice, disability justice, and anti-racism; I started grad school, pursuing an MFA in creative writing. At this juncture in my life, I find myself wondering: what were the formative moments that turned me into the person I am in now — a person some might call moderately successful?

ID: A photo of Jo at his college graduation. He’s standing in front of a banner with a picture of a statue. He’s wearing a purple dress, white socks, purple rain boots, and a black graduation cap and gown. He is looking down and adjusting the gown. Picture credit: Jacqui Brown

When I ask myself that question, my mind goes to my family; influential teachers I’ve had; VOX ATL, a teen media outlet whose staff I joined in high school; and the supportive and culturally rich Episcopal church I grew up attending. I think about the friends I’ve made, the opportunities I’ve had, the public libraries I practically grew up in…the list goes on.

I also think about Tumblr. I know that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that site — and I mean that both positively and negatively.

Tumblr is a microblogging platform, which means that your account — which users call their blog — shares characteristics of both a typical social media profile and a proper blog. Tumblr blogs can be customized like MySpace pages: you can choose and/or code your own theme, add music, et cetera. They can be accessed as their own websites if you type [your username] dot tumblr dot com into the address bar. You can create your own posts and “reblog” (share) posts from other users.

You can’t talk about Tumblr without discussing its culture. Its heyday was in the early to mid 2010s; the site’s popularity went down after the porn ban of 2018. Tumblr was the place to be for online fandom culture. (Fandoms are communities of superfans; they’ve existed for quite a while, but have really popped off with the omnipresence of the internet). There are fandoms for video games, books, celebrities, television series, and even for historical periods, such as the American Revolution.

Tumblr was also known for its social justice bent. I remember having a conversation with my sister Jheanelle when I was in high school when she was shocked that I knew the word “cisgender” and understood the difference between gender identity and sex assigned at birth.  Jheanelle is ten years older than me; by this time, she’d already been out of college for a few years. She said she didn’t learn these concepts undergrad or later, while I’d learned them from Tumblr as a teen.

This is what the Tumblr dashboard — affectionately known as the “dash” — looked like as of February 2014. The dash is the site’s timeline, from which users can create and reblog posts. ID: a royal blue webpage that shows options to create and share posts as well as user functions such as seeing your number of followers or your recent activity. Source: Amazon

I’ve been thinking a lot about Tumblr lately because I turned twenty-three in September. As I embark on my Jordan Year, I find myself reflecting on my adolescence — an adolescence which was primarily spent in an online world that I curated for myself. In that world — which revolved mostly around Tumblr — I made and lost friends, achieved mild fame, and even got death threats. Most importantly, I figured out who I was — who I am. It all started ten years ago, when I turned thirteen.

It was 2011 and I was in the eighth grade at The Westminster Schools, Atlanta’s premier private educational institution. Most of my classmates were rich and white; I was a Black scholarship kid who had to leave my side of town at 6:30 AM to get to school every day. Many of my classmates already had iPhones, but my trusty red LG slide-up phone didn’t have internet access.

In middle school, I ran cross country and track and was on the swim team. [Take note of the student in the top left of the image working on a silver MacBook.] ID: Jo at age thirteen, running on a red track. She wears a white singlet, green shorts, and gray sneakers. Behind her are people in the stands.

That year, each student in the middle school received a MacBook to use for our work. Westminster absolutely sucked in a lot of ways for me as a Black lower-income student, but giving me my own laptop is probably the most significant thing an educational institution has done for me.

Being middle schoolers, we did childish things with our newfound access to technology: we took silly selfies on Photo Booth; we played games during class; we passed digital notes, undetected by teachers. By the time we got our laptops, many of my friends were already thirteen, and some redshirted kids were even fourteen by then; they were eligible for social media accounts on many platforms. I was always younger than my peers in K-12, since my birthday is a couple of months into the school year. My slightly older friends would scroll through Tumblr during class, but I felt left out; so in September of 2011, as soon as I turned thirteen, I created an account.

I think I can safely say that that decision — seemingly minor at the time, and probably seemingly minor to most people — is what set the current events of my life in motion, probably moreso than any other thing I did of my own accord as a kid.

I didn’t find Tumblr too interesting at first. In fact, I barely used my account for three months. If you go back to the very last page of my blog, where the oldest content is, you’ll see that around my birthday in 2011, I reblogged posts about The Hunger Games and some cringey, early-2010s memes. After that, there isn’t much for a while. That December, Jheanelle came home for Christmas, and I told her that I’d recently made a Tumblr. Something about conversation made me decide to give the site another try; it was all downhill from there.

From that point — December 2011, when I was thirteen years old — until around my nineteenth birthday in September 2017, I used Tumblr nonstop. I’d access the site from my laptop in my childhood bedroom (and later from my first college dorm), the mobile app on my phone at school, clunky old computers at public libraries, a distant relative’s desktop in Trinidad, and in stolen moments when I had wifi while visiting family in Barbados.

Throughout my teenage years, I often used Tumblr from when I got home in the evenings until midnight, if not two or three in the morning. I only did the homework I had to literally hand in and, being a dorky teenager, I didn’t really hang out with friends unless we made explicit plans. I didn’t even read physical books after ninth grade unless they were for class (which, being the daughter of a librarian, is notable) — fanfiction served as my literary entertainment. I barely even watched TV and I didn’t have any video games (again, librarian mother), so that wasn’t part of my life either.

Weirdly enough, I was still a “good student.” (Before college, I was always that kid who didn’t have to try very hard to get A’s; this article about school-age girls’ typical experiences with ADHD does a good job of explaining why.) In eighth grade, I captained one of Westminster’s teams at the national quiz bowl tournament. (Quiz bowl is kind of like Jeopardy!, but in teams.) In the fall of 2012, I began attending Southwest DeKalb High School (SWD), my zoned public Magnet school; the racism, long commute, and lack of financial aid at Westminster made attending untenable. At SWD, I continued to be an active member of the quiz bowl team; I also won awards for mock trial, took AP classes, and participated in multiple honor societies, including being the president of one.

In twelfth grade, I was SWD’s STAR Student, an award given to high school seniors in the state of Georgia with their school’s highest SAT score. I am pictured with Donna Lowry, an Atlanta journalist, at the DeKalb County STAR Student ceremony. ID: Jo is wearing a navy blue dress and black-and-gray polka-dot cardigan. She holds a certificate and stands next to Donna Lowry, a Black woman with short, straight brown hair who is wearing a black dress and black-and-white blazer.

This is all to say that I have no idea how I kept up a “good” academic record, robust extracurricular life, and an all-consuming internet habit. (In my last semester of high school, I read a 123,000-word fanfiction over the course of about twelve hours. I stayed up until three in the morning two nights in a row to read it and somehow woke up at seven to go to first period calculus.) I’d talk about Tumblr sometimes at school, and some of my friends had accounts as well, but I don’t know that anyone besides my mother knew just how much of my life at that time was spent in a digital space.

To people who aren’t inclined towards social media like I am, the question is always this: what do people who spend so much time online actually do? Well, it’s not just mindless scrolling, and it’s not nearly as “antisocial” as many people tend to think twenty-first century technology is. My life as a teenager was heavily centered around the fandom communities; just as with IRL communities, sometimes they were healthy spaces, and sometimes they were quite toxic.

It took a while after making a Tumblr to really get into fandom culture. In April 2012, Jheanelle — a veteran fangirl — sent me a LiveJournal link with every video of One Direction (1D) from their time on The X Factor, including their auditions, video diaries, performances, and behind-the-scenes clips.

The very first post on my Tumblr, from September 2011. ID: a screenshot of my Tumblr blog with a post that says “6 more days until Panem October!” with a gif of Josh Hutcherson saying “Oh. My. God.”

As a teenage girl in America in the early 2010s, I was in the target audience for the musical group; however, I’d managed to miss out on the hype. That day, though, I devoured every single video on that webpage, sitting in my room and staring at my school-issued laptop the whole afternoon. I was immediately enamored with this endearing boy band. I knew there was a significant fanbase on Tumblr, so I started following 1D-themed blogs and reading (shitty) fanfiction on the site.

I was in the 1D fandom from April 2012 until early 2014, which covers my last month of middle school through my first semester of tenth grade and transitioning to a public high school. Fandoms — and, by extension, Tumblr — truly became my whole life with “bandom,” the mega-fandom for pop punk bands such as My Chemical Romance, Twenty One Pilots, and Panic! at the Disco.

I’d always liked this type of music because Jheanelle and our sister Jacqui were in high school during the golden era of pop punk of the early to mid aughts. In typical younger sibling fashion, I thought anything my sisters liked was automatically the coolest thing ever — including emo bands. After they went off to college, I commandeered their Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park CDs, playing them on an old Walkman that I found in Jacqui’s old bedroom — which, by that point, had become my bedroom.

In the seventh grade, a boy I had a crush on (one of the few Black boys in my grade at Westminster) texted me the following without context: “shut up and let me see your jazz hands/remember when you were a madman/thought you was batman.” I googled it and learned that these were the lyrics to a new My Chemical Romance (MCR) song. When MCR broke up in March 2013, I heard about it — through Tumblr, of course — but I wasn’t in the fandom just yet. I don’t remember exactly how I got into bandom, but by the end of May 2014, right after the end of my sophomore year, my blog had transitioned from 1D to being covered in gifs and pictures of pop punk musicians.

That year, I started joining “nets,” short for “networks,” which were small groups of Tumblr users who were connected by an appreciation for one random aspect of their fandom, such as the ever-changing hair of Josh Dun (the drummer for Twenty One Pilots) and Gerard Way’s (former lead singer of MCR) “Weekend Pancake Report” skit. Nets were essentially online social clubs; we’d have (virtual) movie nights, (virtually) play Cards Against Humanity together, and we’d always like and reblog each other’s selfies. I made a lot of my friends in bandom through the nets I was in.

I reached five hundred followers on Tumblr around Halloween 2014, soon after I turned sixteen. On a Sunday in February 2015, I was sitting in church when I got an idea for a playlist: upbeat pop punk songs that are perfect for singing along at the top of your lungs. I uploaded the playlist to 8tracks, a social-media-slash-music-sharing site that was all the rage with Tumblr kids in the mid-2010s.

A screenshot of the 8tracks pop punk mix that propelled me to mild Tumblr fame. ID: A screenshot of a playlist entitled “sing until your lungs give out” on 8tracks. The cover image for the mix is a picture of Fall Out Boy member Pete Wentz performing onstage.

I promoted the mix on Tumblr and it got…pretty popular. I started gaining an audience at a rate I’d never experienced. (Tumblr sends users an email whenever someone follows them; after posting this, I got an email just about every day with new followers by the dozen.) My post about this mix soon got to over four thousand “notes,” a combination of likes and reblogs. It had taken me over three years to get to five hundred followers, but less than six months to double that and reach a thousand. Relatively soon after, I reached two thousand; at my peak, I had over 2,300 followers. This is the biggest audience I’ve ever had on social media, and I was just a sixteen-year-old emo Black kid.

2015 was my Tumblr zeitgeist. In March, I made my own net: the Trohman Thirst Network, dedicated to Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman. By this time, I was fully in the “skeleton clique,” the 21p fanbase. I still remember when they dropped “Fairly Local,” the lead single off of Blurryface, their second major-label record; it was uploaded to YouTube with no warning late on a Monday night in March. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, celebrating the new era on Tumblr (in fandom, “era” refers to a specific album cycle) with my fellow members of “the clique.”

Soon, though, the cracks in my tenuous relationship to this mostly white fandom and musical genre began to show. Earlier, around Christmas 2014, a net I had just joined didn’t realize that I was Black and tried to call me out for using a variation of the word “nigga.” In April 2015, just as I was starting to stan the band All Time Low, lead singer Alex Gaskarth went on an “all lives matter” Twitter rant in response to the Baltimore uprisings catalyzed by the police killing of Freddie Gray. (Needless to say, my days of being an All Time Low fan ended then and there.)

Blurryface dropped the next month; one of the songs on the album, “Lane Boy,” included the lyrics “I wasn’t raised in the hood/But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness.” Many Black members of the skeleton clique, myself included, thought these lyrics were a bit weird, since both members of 21p are white boys who grew up middle-class in Columbus, Ohio; but, as stan culture dictates, we brushed it off because they were the “band that saved our lives.” However, our unquestioning loyalty to 21p — and my devotion to bandom and pop punk in general — finally shattered in June 2015.

21p has faced lots of criticism over the years, most notably for singer Tyler Joseph’s tweet in the riotous summer of 2020 where he mocked people who asked him to “use his platform” to promote racial justice. However, the aspect that most critics miss — which is imperative to understanding 21p and its two members, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun — is that they are both products ofwhite, Midwestern evangelical Christian households and are still heavily religious as adults. Christian themes are very prevalent in their music and can be most explicitly heard in the track “The Judge.”

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-gender couples could marry each other anywhere in the country, and many bandom musicians tweeted their support. However, the official 21p Twitter account and the members’ personal pages were silent. We were a bit suspicious given the band’s background in a religious creed known for its homophobia. Some fans tweeted at the band with their concerns; in response, Tyler Joseph posted some notes app statement that essentially said he didn’t have the capacity to publicly support same-sex marriage.

The ensuing fallout caused a mass exodus of fans from the clique, myself included. Everything that had bothered me about 21p — and bandom writ large — suddenly rose to the surface. Why was I spending my waking hours stanning a bunch of white men who clearly didn’t give a fuck about my identities as a Black, queer young woman? I sold all of my 21p merch through Tumblr, including a ticket I’d bought to see them live that autumn.

On August 31st, 2015, I started hosting “21p roast nights,” which is what I like to believe was the hallmark of my time on Tumblr. The skeleton clique is a rabid fanbase; any criticism of 21p gets you dragged. Since I had a large platform and was one of few visible Black people in bandom, I hosted these virtual roasts to give other critics of the band a safe space to air their grievances. It worked like this: a couple of times a month, people would send an anonymous criticism/roast of 21p into my ask box. The messages ranged from insults to disappointment to earnest questions about the band. I would post these messages publicly on my Tumblr, often with answers or commentary, sometimes without. That way, I could weather the flack from the clique, while people who didn’t have many friends on the site wouldn’t have to deal with it.

ID: A screenshot of an anon message I got on the first 21p roast night I ever hosted.

I had a ton of fun with these roast nights. I was utilizing my platform to help people feel more welcome in bandom. Even though it was mostly “anon” messages (because people were fearful to publicly criticize the band), it really felt like a community. It was in this, though, that I learned an eternal truth of being a multiply marginalized Black person on the internet: more visibility comes with more scrutiny and, therefore, more violence.

I got far more supportive messages than I did angry ones, but I couldn’t fully avoid the vitriol of the clique: more than a few people sent me (anon, of course) messages saying that I should kill myself since I dared criticize their favorite band. I learned something that continues to follow me in my life: to non-Black and especially white people, I’m always gonna be the “angry Black girl” that people either love or hate (and sometimes, they love me until I call them out on their bullshit, and then they hate me).

For a few months starting in late 2015, I floated around Tumblr without a fandom. Then, in February 2016, I went to Barnes & Noble with a gift card I’d gotten for Christmas and noticed that the soundtrack CD for Hamilton: An American Musical was on sale. The musical was just starting its cultural takeover at the time and, while I knew next to nothing about Broadway, it had also taken over my Tumblr dash. As a lifelong nerd for US history, I was definitely curious; so, I bought the CD.

I listened to the two-and-a-half-hour-long soundtrack when I got home and I was immediately hooked. The 58th Grammy Awards, where Hamilton took home the prize for Best Musical Theater Album, happened to be that night; actually seeing the cast perform a song from the musical with choreography and everything only made me love it more. Soon, I was deep in the “Hamilfandom,” and my Tumblr reflected that: throughout the spring of 2016 and into the summer, my blog was all Hamilton, all the time.

I remember thinking this exact thing to myself soon after I joined: “Wow, the Hamilton fandom is great! It’s not racist at all like bandom.” But, like with pop punk, the anti-Blackness of this fandom (and the anti-Blackness of the musical and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda) soon reared its ugly head. I’ve written quite a bit about how absolutely fucking racist the Hamilton fandom was, which you can read about here. The racism and other ridiculous bullshit of that fandom was just too much to bear and, by the time I started undergrad in August of 2016, I’d mostly left the Hamilfandom.

My mother and I at Georgetown University’s New Student Convocation in 2016. ID: Jo and her mother, both Black women with short hair and glasses, hug each other and pose for a picture. Jo is wearing a pinkish-red dress, a black graduation gown, and is holding a booklet. Her mother wears a monochrome checkered shirt and blue denim pants.

My very last fandom was also history-related: it was the fandom for the AMC television show TURN: Washington’s Spies. I wasn’t nearly as active in this fandom as I was in my previous ones. I shared fanart, followed the cast on social media, and liveblogged (the Tumblr version of livetweeting) episodes as I watched them, but after my bad breakups with both bandom and the Hamilfandom, I was pretty much over it when it came to fandom life. While I have been a superfan of things in recent years and dabbled in reblogging gifsets and fanart (like for Hozier or The Umbrella Academy) haven’t properly been in a fandom since TURN ended in the summer of 2017. With the end of TURN also came the end of my time on Tumblr — at least, the end of it being my entire life.

In mid-2016, a bunch of my friends from the Hamilton/history fandoms had started a group chat on Twitter, which they invited me to join. At this point, I’d had a Twitter account for a few years, but I basically never used it. Because of that group chat, though, I started using Twitter much more and have made quite a few friends on the platform. Twitter also allowed me to stay in touch with my friends from Tumblr after many of us, myself included, left the site over the course of the late 2010s.

Tumblr and fandom culture definitely changed my life; however, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. In addition to the racism from people online, my internet usage also caused a significant strain in my IRL relationships during my teenage years, particularly with my mother. While you’d imagine most teenage girls fight with their mothers over boys and going out with friends, my mother and I would fight about the fact that I was spending my adolescence cooped up in my room, staring at a screen. She often says that the laptop literally “felt like a wall between us.”

Besides contributing to emotional distance between us, she was also worried about what I was up to online all the time. I have two older sisters, but they went off to college in the mid aughts; they didn’t have the unfettered access to technology that I had as a minor until they were well into their twenties. While I am my mother’s youngest child, she has expressed that she essentially had no idea how to raise me in the technological landscape of the time. She told me that she felt like she had “relinquished parental control” and even felt as if she “could no longer be a proper parent.”

Earlier this year, we had a long conversation about her anxieties related to my usage of technology as a teenager, and she revealed quite a lot that she had worried about telling me earlier. She told me that she had “no idea” what I was doing online all the time and just had to hope that she raised me with enough sense that I wouldn’t do anything to put myself in harm’s way; despite this, though, she said that as a parent, “when you don’t know something, your mind goes to the worst place.”

She thinks that it’s probably easier to raise kids now than it was to raise a child my age — those of us born on the cusp of Millennials and Gen Z — because omnipresent internet and social media wasn’t as brand-new as it was when I was in middle and high school. Us “Zillennials” were on the “front lines” of figuring out now only how to balance our IRL and online lives but also how to balance privacy with being yourself when the whole world could be watching. To her, kids around my age “were the guinea pigs” for a life of ubiquitous internet access.

With all that in mind, I can’t change the past. My teenage years were shaped by and around Tumblr and my experiences on the site, and I have no way to alter that fact.

I learned who I am on Tumblr. I learned I am a person who loves being online. I learned that I am queer and gender non-conforming from Tumblr. I learned that I don’t fuck with capitalism or US imperialism on Tumblr. Ultimately, I learned that this world is much larger than my family or my school or my hometown; this world is much larger than me. I learned that I will never be alone if I just look hard enough — that there will always be people who can relate to my experiences, even if, on the surface, we seem totally dissimilar.

I met some of my closest friends on Tumblr, people who remain best friends to this day. (Harry and Tessa, whatup!) One person I met through the Hamilfandom has sent me a Snapchat nearly every day at 4:20 PM since we were both in that fandom back in 2016. (I send them a snap at 4:20 too, at least on the days that I remember before the clock turns to 4:21.) I still make many of my friends online today, even though I barely use Tumblr. Many of the people I talk to every day are people I initially and/or mostly socialize with online, whether through Twitter or Instagram.

Today, I am a burgeoning communications professional, having had multiple internships and jobs related to strategic communications and social media — I learned those tangible skills on Tumblr. (Deadass, I took a single one-credit social media workshop my sophomore year, and it was all things I already knew from being online all the time as a teenager.) My mom speaks highly of my skills in comms, and I always have to remind her that those skills came from the same internet usage that caused most of our fights when I was in high school.

Being a Tumblr kid also prepared me for the (physical) social distancing of the COVID pandemic. I’d been socializing with people across the country and the world since 2014, so I already knew how to maintain friendships with people when we couldn’t be in the same room. While my extroverted friends who only ever hung out with people IRL were left floundering in March 2020, my social life continued apace, practically unfazed.

Lately, though, I’ve been nostalgic for my Tumblr days. Last November, “Destiel Putin Election Night” happened on Tumblr, where memes about the show Supernatural, the 2020 election, and Vladimir Putin’s rumored resignation all converged, making for the literal funniest thing I have ever experienced. When it came time for my final winter break of undergrad this past December and January, I got back into Tumblr for the first time since September 2017. Unlike my teenage years, though, I just use Tumblr a few times a month when I feel like it for less than an hour at a time; it doesn’t take up my entire waking hours.

I might be the type of person some people would call “chronically online,” but TBH, I want to reclaim that label. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything else; I love who I am. To my internet friends, to my teenage self, and to Tumblr, I say: thank you. Thank you for helping me become Jo. I wouldn’t be myself today without y’all.

It’s Time to Replace the Phrase “White-Passing”

I’m real tired of the phrase “white-passing.”

I’ve been over it for a long time. It feels like a lazy shorthand for an experience that should be discussed specifically and in detail. Besides that, people are using the idea of “passing” incorrectly and extrapolating it to other identities when it has a very specific origin.

The concept of “passing” was created during chattel slavery in the land now known as the United States to refer to mixed-race people with Black heritage who could move through the world as if they were white. People who passed received legal, economic, and social rights that were warranted simply by being white in America. Black people who were unable to pass could not access these rights or even a level of humanity that came with being perceived and received by society as white.

Passing as an idea specifically concerns Blackness in relation to whiteness. There was no such thing as any other race “passing for white” and there was no such thing as Black people “passing” for any other race. Passing for white had not only social benefits, but also institutional benefits: people who successfully passed could vote, own property, and even be presidents of “elite” universities.

However, passing had a negative side. The “tragic mulatta” archetype was a literary trope created during the antebellum period. A tragic mulatta (or mulatto, if the character was a man) was a mixed-race woman with Black heritage who successfully passed for white. However, this character would inevitably lead a life of despair and catastrophe because she could never fully make peace with her Black heritage. You can learn more about this archetype and read about examples of it here.

It’s more than fine with me if Black people continue to use the term “passing” — after all, it has a very complex sociohistorical significance to us. And, in my opinion, we are the experts on what “passing” means — each part of the process — and what it means when you don’t pass. However, if you’re not Black and talking about Blackness — yes, both parts — keep the term “passing” out ya mouth. It don’t make sense for anybody else to use it any other way.

Not to #gatekeep, but the nature of passing — as a word, as a process, as a social experience — is very particular to the construction of Blackness and Black people in the present-day United States relative to whiteness. It simply doesn’t make sense when people generalize it to other identities.

I understand why people have attempted to extend the concept of passing to other racial/ethnic identities (such as Latinidad or the myriad of groups from the SWANA region, which stands for Southwest Asia and North Africa) and social identities (such as “passing for cisgender” or “passing for nondisabled”). We should have language to discuss what it means for a marginalized experience or heritage to not be recognized by society. However, the word “passing” is not the way to do it. I don’t have the solution for talking about that experience with other social identities, but using different terminology is possible: for instance, the use of the word “masking” in the autistic community.

Despite its historical significance, I believe that the term “white-passing” has lost its utility. In my opinion, words and phrases that were coined for a specific reason — even when they were created and/or embraced by marginalized people themselves — can and usually do become outdated at some point. This can happen for many reasons: co-optation; misuse; the loss of need for such a phrase; general changes in language and terminology.

One notable example of a term losing its utility is the word “tr*nsvestite.” It was embraced by many people who, in the present day, would be referred to as transgender or gender non-conforming. The organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was founded by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two prominent nonwhite self-identified drag queens; they provided resources to homeless queer and trans people in New York City. While Rivera and Johnson embraced the word “tr*nsvestite” as members of the community, it is now widely understood to be offensive.

“White-passing” is in a similar boat — while it isn’t considered offensive, it certainly is no longer useful. First and foremost, it’s not descriptive enough. What does it mean to pass on different levels: individual, interpersonal, and structural? Second, the phrase is reductive of the experiences of people who physically appear to be white but have a non-white parent or parents. It collapses many different experiences and relationships to both whiteness and non-whiteness under one (very flimsy) umbrella. Lastly, it’s an incomplete phrase. What are the effects of being “white-passing” for that person themselves and what are the effects of the existence of “white-passing” people for the world around them — including both white people and the nonwhite community they come from?

People do not consider what it means to be “white-passing” in different settings. Folks tend to think that if someone is white-passing in one place, they will always have a certain experience of race and ethnicity. However, what constitutes race — on all levels from individual to systemic — varies with context. Being “white-passing” means different things to different communities in different places.

Earlier this year, I interviewed my friend Gia for an assignment. Gia is biracial, with one white parent and one Black parent. From kindergarten through eighth grade, Gia was the only Black student at her school; due to this, she was always seen as Black, despite her very light skin. She said that while she is “white-passing in some instances, [she] was not white passing in this instance.” She explained by saying that “My Blackness depends on the amount of whiteness around me. Compared to their whiteness, I wasn’t the same type of white as them — I experienced racism because it was in comparison to whiteness.” During our conversation, she said that being white-passing is “contextual” and discussed the significance of hair, particularly to Black women. She said that her “biggest indicator of Blackness is hair” and that changes to her hairstyle — such as having braids versus straightening her hair — often changes people’s perception of her race.

In the present day, when it is said that a person “passes for white” — or any identity, for that matter — it is implied that these identities are absolute and immutable. (This is because we have divorced the context of “passing” from its roots in chattel slavery, when it was known that to “pass” was the result of deliberate and tangible actions.) Many identities that we consider central to our existence are constructed and vary depending on context. What constitutes who is “disabled” is constructed, just as what constitutes a “woman” is constructed. Racial categories, however, were even more deliberately constructed than other identities. Whiteness was created during the era of colonization and chattel slavery to be the default, the norm. It meant having access to opportunities, citizenship, and, ultimately, power. Race, and especially whiteness, are not grounded in science or reality; they were invented by humans to provide legitimacy to the oppression of those deemed nonwhite.

[I would like to make it very clear that I am not saying that race simply doesn’t exist; as sociology’s Thomas Theorem says, situations that are defined as real are real in their consequences. In this case, though our conception of race was and is constructed, the consequences of race are very real.]

The phrase “white-passing” also locates whiteness and its privileges squarely within the individual rather than incorporating a lens of how it operates in our wider society. When we say a person is “white-passing,” we are saying that their whiteness travels with them from situation to situation; it ignores how a person’s whiteness can fluctuate with context, such as in Gia’s story. We have to recognize that, for many people with nonwhite heritage, they may or may not be received as white depending on the conditions at hand.

A man may appear to be white upon first approach by a law enforcement official. But if that official asks for his identification, and that identification displays a name such as “José García,” Mr. García may no longer be “white” to that official.

A woman may appear to be white while exercising in an all-female gym. When putting back on her regular clothes after her workout, she also puts on a hijab. To many people who see her wearing her hijab while outside the gym, she may no longer be “white.”

A student at a high school that is >95% Black is thought to be white by their peers, the vast majority of whom are Black. When they go on to attend a predominantly white institution (PWI) for college, their peers, the majority of whom are now white, correctly assume that the student is biracial. In a majority Black environment, the student was “white”; however, in a majority white environment, the student was no longer “white” to most of their peers.

Let me give a real-life example. At a meeting for a community organization which I was a member of, we were dividing ourselves up into small discussion groups based on racial identification. There were groups for white people, Black people, and non-Black people of color. One member was having trouble deciding whether to join the group made up of white people — which, if solely based on appearance, they could have joined — or the group made up of non-Black people of color, which, if based on certain personal experiences, they also could have joined.

At some point, this person began to cry as they told us about the racism and Islamophobia their family — which is from the SWANA region — faced when they were a child, which deeply affected and traumatized them. When this person is with their family, they are not perceived and received as white. But, now an adult with their own life, they would appear to be white while going about their day, on public transit or at the grocery store. However, that doesn’t wipe away the experiences they carry with themself. While this person does have skin color privilege, they still have emotional trauma due to negative racialization that would not immediately be recognized just from looking at them at that particular moment.

There is quite a bit of discourse on social media, particularly on Twitter, about “white-passing” people like the folks described in the previous examples. Many people who participate in this conversation say there is “no such thing as being white-passing.” I generally agree with them, for the reasons I stated earlier: the phrase “white-passing” is ambiguous, unhelpful, and has been divorced from its historical (but still relevant) origins. However, I halt when they say that people who would be called “white-passing” are “just white.” There is a difference, even if it is contextual and, at times, seemingly trivial. We must be precise with our language if we are to have conversations about race and find solutions to racism that really work.

In general, I’m just tired of people who do not have the experience of being Black in America utilizing the concept of passing. When non-Black people talk about “passing,” they’re just talking about the physical appearance of an individual. They typically do not consider the interpersonal experiences of that individual and how structures and institutions treat that individual. Passing is deeper than how one looks; it’s about your treatment by society and the things you receive as a result of that treatment. It’s about access.

I believe that the term “white-passing” has reached the end of its utility. It’s time to say what we really mean: access to whiteness.

What does it mean for an individual to have access to whiteness? First, instead of saying that whiteness is a fixed characteristic within an individual, it tells us that whiteness is a socially constructed mechanism. It also tells us what happens when a person can be read as white: not simply that they are “passing” for white, but that they can access and therefore utilize the powers and privileges of whiteness. Lastly, it implies that an individual’s whiteness isn’t a constant, but rather, it fluctuates; they may or may not access whiteness depending on the situation.

Let me be clear that I’m not saying white people — white people with two white parents, white people who would never, ever be [negatively] racialized — should start using “access to whiteness” as a euphemism to describe themselves. Y’all just white, hun. Don’t try to gloss over it.

I am also not saying that people with access to whiteness do not have to reckon with their skin color privilege (not to mention their privilege under texturism and featurism, too). Our communities still have to do the work of unlearning eurocentric standards of beauty, which affects not only who finds you attractive, but also systemic processes such as school discipline and sentencing in a court of law. People with access to whiteness must always be cognizant of their privilege and ensure they’re not taking advantage of it to contribute to the oppression of people darker than them.

“Access to whiteness” is a better term because, unlike the concept of passing, it can be extrapolated to non-Black racial and ethnic groups. It at least begins the conversation about the effects of being perceived and received by society as white. The phrase also talks about whiteness rather than being white — that is, it demonstrates that whiteness is a constructed, subjective concept rather than a fixed characteristic. In addition, “access to whiteness” locates racial categorization (and the benefits that accompany being categorized as white) within social structures and processes instead of a singular person and their physical traits.

“White-passing” is the past; leave it behind. “Access to whiteness” is my proposal for the language we need in order to have conversations about how to bring about a more equitable future.

Jo can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

Y’all are Mean as Hell to People You Don’t Find Attractive

Header image description: a rectangular graphic that reads “your desirability should not determine your access to love.”

I’ve noticed a theme in the social media posts of certain marginalized and multiply marginalized people on social media regarding their social lives. (I’ll define “certain” in a bit.) These posts are usually along the lines of “Fuck [privileged group], I’m only dating/hanging out with other [identity I have] people from now on.”

So trans people might say “fuck cis people, I’m only dating/hanging out with other trans people from now on,” while disabled people might say “fuck the ableds, I’m only dating/hanging out with other disabled people from now on.” I often hear nonwhite folks say “fuck white people, I’m only dating/hanging out with other people of color from now on.” Most common on my social media timelines is Black people saying “fuck non-Black people, I’m only dating/hanging out with other Black people from now on.” You get the gist.

It’s very true that being in relationship — any type of relationship — with people who have a type of privilege that you don’t can be incredibly draining, and I applaud people for setting the boundaries they need in order to thrive. However, sometimes these people look down on their fellow marginalized folks who don’t set the same boundaries for themselves.

Besides being wrong — not everybody needs or even wants the same boundaries as another person — it’s also misinformed. They assume that everyone who shares a certain marginalized identity has the same amount of choice when it comes to their social, romantic, and/or sexual lives. The fact of the matter is, not all of us do.

I’ve noticed that most of the people who post those kinds of statuses benefit from desirability politics. They’ll be light-skinned Black people, or thin disabled people, or “pretty” [read: having European features] nonwhite people, or “high-functioning” disabled people [read about why functioning labels are harmful], et cetera. The fact of the matter is, some marginalized and multiply marginalized people don’t benefit in the same way.

Image description: a rectangular graphic that reads “your desirability should not determine your access to friendship.”

I know so many marginalized and multiply marginalized people — particularly those of us who don’t benefit from desirability politics — whose friends and/or romantic interests are primarily people with different identities than ours. We can’t limit our options for who we socialize with because most people limit themselves so that we are not an option in their social lives.

My friends often poke fun at me for having “bad taste” when it comes to romantic interests. The people I find attractive apparently aren’t all that good-looking to the average person. Apparently, being attracted to people who aren’t the most conventionally attractive is embarrassing.

Apparently, believing that people who don’t fit racist, ableist standards of beauty and comportment are deserving of love is something to be ashamed of. It’s something I deserve to get made fun of for.

Like I said before: some marginalized and multiply marginalized people don’t benefit from desirability politics. Some of us feel unlovable.

Due to our world’s intersecting, overlapping systems of oppression — including, but not limited to, colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and misogynoir — some of us may quite literally be unlovable to most of the population.

And it’s the rest of y’all’s fault — because y’all prioritize a person’s desirability in determining whether they deserve friendship, love, and compassion. Y’all prioritize a person’s desirability in determining their worth.

It’s to the point that I get really upset when my friends talk about their romantic and/or sexual relationships around me. I shut down and turn inward, the same way I do when I have a panic attack. I get jittery; my breathing gets shallow; I don’t interact with the people around me or the conversation that’s going on. I start to reflect on the fact that I haven’t had certain experiences — the fact that I am not afforded certain experiences — because I am average-looking, “weird,” awkward, and neurodivergent.

Image description: a rectangular graphic that reads “your desirability should not determine your access to compassion.”

I’m still relatively privileged when it comes to desirability politics. I’m not dark-skinned. I’m skinny. For the most part, I can pass for neurotypical/non-disabled. But as soon as my mental illnesses decide to go H.A.M., people — generally white/non-Black, neurotypical, light-skinned, and/or conventionally attractive people — drop me quick as fuck. Y’all put up with people like me until you remember that we are unable to live up to those racist, ableist standards of beauty and comportment that y’all value so highly — that y’all value over the fact that everyone, every damn person, deserves grace.

I don’t want a bunch of comments on this post that say “But you’re beautiful, Jo!” or “You are lovable, Jo!” This is not me fishing for compliments, or even trying to boost my self-esteem (cuz no matter how close we are, y’all can’t do that for me). This is me asking y’all to really evaluate why y’all are willing to be kind to some people moreso than others. This is me asking you to examine who you are in relationship with.

Who have you found yourself attracted to? Who do you do favors for? Who do you spend time around? Whose GoFundMe campaigns do you share? Who do you extend grace to when they’re being “difficult?”

Are they all white or light-skinned? Are they all non-disabled? Are they all skinny? Are they all around your age? Are they all conventionally attractive? Are they all “charming?” Do they all enjoy doing things like going to clubs, being in large crowds, or other activities that are inaccessible? Are they all “talented?”

Who do you find yourself getting annoyed with? Who do you find yourself ignoring on social media or on the street? Who disgusts you? Who do you find yourself cringing at? Who are you short with?

Are most of them Black? Are most of them fat? Do they “behave oddly?” Are most of them autistic and/or neurodivergent? Are most of them dark-skinned? Are most of them “ugly?” Are most of them disabled? Are most of them elderly? Do they have access needs that you don’t have?

Are we just too “difficult” to be around?

This post is me saying you should interrogate your proximity to desirability and change your socializing habits accordingly. This post is me saying you should interrogate who you find worthy of grace. Do that shit, immediately. Because right now, y’all are mean as hell to people you don’t find attractive.

Image description: a rectangular graphic that reads “your desirability should not determine your worth.”

Don’t Forget About Us — A Disability Justice Review of Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Rating: 3.5/5 stars (but still worth a read)

Short version: While the book provides novel insight into how we can care for people instead of utilizing shame, its core principle hinges on a myth that indirectly says that disabled/ neurodivergent people cannot be nurturing in the way the author outlines as the “right” way. If readers utilize a disability justice lens and additional readings (provided at the end) about disabled wisdom and diverse manifestations of emotional intelligence, I believe the book can still be helpful in learning how to be more nurturing both individually and as a culture.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars (but still worth a read)

Short version: While the book provides novel insight into how we can care for people instead of utilizing shame, its core principle hinges on a myth that indirectly says that disabled/ neurodivergent people cannot be nurturing in the way the author outlines as the “right” way. If readers utilize a disability justice lens and additional readings (provided at the end) about disabled wisdom and diverse manifestations of emotional intelligence, I believe the book can still be helpful in learning how to be more nurturing both individually and as a culture.

Ableism – which can be defined as disdain or outright hatred for disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill people – is present in everyone and all aspects of society. No person or group, no matter their identities, is exempt from recognizing and unlearning their ableism.

All too often, disabled people are left out of social justice work. Somehow, because we have more or different access needs than “the average person” and we (rightfully) become frustrated if those needs are ignored, we are unable to do “the real work” of activism. Because we aren’t “normal”  – because we can’t be out in the streets for hours or we’re unable to complete a task as expected due to a flare-up, we aren’t “good activists”. Of course, this is bullshit.

The core concept I have learned from disability justice is simple: every person is different. Not in the trite, “we’re all the same on the inside” way – I mean that no two bodies or minds are the same. We all have different needs and methods of approaching tasks and challenges. We all understand and express things – such as emotions or frustrations – differently. We are all different, and as long as they aren’t harmful, all of those differences are valid.

However, we tend to stigmatize people whose differences are more apparent than others. Nora Samaran’s book Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture makes it clear that the author not only believes in, but actively perpetuates the idea that there is a “normal” and “right” way to approach the work of transformative justice and making our world a more caring, nurturing place. This hinges on an ableist belief that is repeated throughout the book: that the ability to be nurturing relies on “attunement” to “subtle, nonverbal cues” (pp. 27-28). Again, this is bullshit.

There are many neurodivergent people in this world who are not attuned to “subtle, nonverbal cues” who are still incredibly loving, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent. There is a prevailing belief that autistic people cannot empathize with others because they do not understand common nonverbal cues in the same way as neurotypical people. On the Autism FAQ section of their blog, Lydia X. Z. Brown answers the question, “Do Autistic people have empathy?” Their answer perfectly sums up my issues with Samaran’s assessment of what qualifies as nurturance.

One of the…characteristics of Autism is a deficit in the ability to understand nonverbal forms of communication — including tone or pitch of voice, word choice (such as idioms, colloquialisms, and metaphors), facial expressions, body language, and other subtle communications…most Autistic people have a hard time accurately expressing their own thoughts, feelings, or opinions using nonverbal forms of communication. We also have trouble identifying the emotions of others based on subtext or body language.

Lydia X. Z. Brown

The inability to produce and interpret nonverbal cues does not prevent someone from having emotional intelligence; insisting otherwise is ableist, full stop. So long as we continue to prioritize “subtle, nonverbal cues”, we will ostracize autistic and other neurodivergent/ disabled people and perpetuate the ableist myth that someone must produce and read a certain type of body language to be able to communicate well with others.

Clinging to socially accepted nonverbal cues also adversely affects nonwhite people in the West. In many other cultures, it is offensive to look elders or superiors in the eye. Speaking as a Black person, our cultural idioms and body language are often read by non-Black people as “aggressive” or “threatening”, even though it’s how we’d interact with loved ones.

Prioritizing “subtle, nonverbal cues” hinders the development of the ability to make explicitly clear our feelings, frustrations, and discomfort. Being able to communicate these things in a way that everyone can understand is far more important than producing them in possibly unreadable ways. Being able to tell someone – in language they understand – that they’re harming you or making you uncomfortable is a very important part of emotional intelligence. Insisting that someone communicate in a certain “normal” way is not empathetic or emotionally intelligent.

In Chapter 3: “Turning Gender Inside Out”, the author presents a dialogue between her and Serena Bhandar, a transgender woman. Bhandar critiques parts of the book by saying “we reproduce this assumption that there is a cis[gender] audience that is primary and a trans[gender] audience that is secondary. We should be prioritizing them differently.” (p. 53) Mainstream society reproduces the assumption that there is a primary able-bodied population and a secondary disabled population. This is demonstrated when organizations ask people to convey their access needs after the event is already planned, or when we refer to certain methods of communication used by disabled people as “augmentative and alternative communication.” Augmentative and alternative in relation to what? Why are we saying that ablebodiedness is “normal” and that anything else is an “alternative”? Why do we ostracize certain ways of existing?

I want to give the author the benefit of the doubt; I really do. Disabled people are often perceived as “unlikeable” for pointing out everyday ableism like what I have pointed out in this review. On page 106, Samaran asks: “How long…would you retain your sanity while speaking kindly and asking for harm to stop and having it seem as though you had not spoken at all?” I’d like to flip that question for able-bodied/neurotypical readers: how long would you continue to be “likeable” while asking people to stop being ableist and they make it seem like you’re being disagreeable? How long would you keep being “likeable” if your identities weren’t even an afterthought – if they weren’t a thought at all? How long would you try to be “likeable” if people acted like you were an asshole simply for existing?

I believe that if someone were to read this book and implement its practices without the knowledge and lens of disability justice, they would inadvertently reproduce ableist maxims about which methods of communication are “normal” and “right”. They might think a neurodivergent person is harmful because they cannot read and reflect their nonverbal cues or because they communicate in scripted phrases, repetition, or “abnormal” physical action such as stimming.

We need to keep in mind that disabled people are not harmful simply because we move through the world differently than most people expect. Disabled people have a culture all our own, complete with the expectation that communication styles work for everyone, or as many people as possible. Saying that our methods of communication are not valid or emotionally intelligent is not nurturing – it is ableist and harmful. In social justice work, we cannot leave anyone behind; disabled people must be included and listened to in bringing about the emergence of nurturance culture.

Supplementary readings:

  1. Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, (2018).
    1. Chapter 2, “Crip Emotional Intelligence”, pp. 69-73 (can also be read here)
    2. Chapter 7, “Cripping the Apocalypse: Some of My Wild Disability Justice Dreams”, pp. 122-135
    3. Chapter 8, “A Modest Proposal for a Fair Trade Emotional Labor Economy (Centered by Disabled, Femme of Color, Working-Class/Poor Genius)”, pp. 136-148
    4. Chapter 17, “Protect Your Heart: Femme Leadership and Hyper-Accountability”, pp. 213-224
  2. Brown, Lydia X. Z. “Ableist bullshit targets nonspeaking autistics/autistics of color. Also, the sky is blue.Autistic Hoya. (29 April 2017.)
  3. Berne, Patty. “Disability Justice – a working draft.” Sins Invalid. (9 June 2015.)
  4. Sequenzia, Amy. “Non-speaking Self Advocate on Communication.” Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. (2 August 2012.) 
  5. Brown, Lydia X. Z., et. al., eds. All the weight of our dreams: on living racialised autism. DragonBee Press, (2017).
  6. Mingus, Mia. “Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice.” Leaving Evidence. (12 April 2017.)

Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

Romeo and Juliet, Prologue

Racism and racial tension are the undeniable issues at hand in Spike Lee’s seminal feature Do the Right Thing, which culminates in a race riot between Black residents of a Bed-Stuy block and a white business owner in the area. Much has been written on the more blatant displays of these themes, such as police brutality against residents of the block or hostility between non-Black business owners and their Black customers. But what about more subtle interactions which heighten racial tension and eventually lead to the film’s violent climax? A flirtatious exchange between Sal, the Italian-American owner of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, and Jade, a young Black woman and sister to the only Black employee of Sal’s, is one such subtle example.

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

As a rich jewel in Ethiope’s ear.

Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene 5

The Bed-Stuy block which serves as the setting for Do the Right Thing is a veritable hurricane of activity. A cast of characters with larger-than-life personalities, funny names, and signature habits lend the neighbourhood its rich, if eccentric, personality. Jade – sister and sometimes sidekick to protagonist Mookie – is the tranquil eye of this storm. It seems easy to overlook her stability; after all, she is one of few “normal” people in the film. However, Jade’s apparently straightforward character does not make her flat – in fact, it makes her a force in and of herself.

Jade seems to serve as a foil to her older brother; she rarely and briefly takes center stage. One such instance is when she pays a visit to Sal’s: Mookie’s place of employment and the only white-owned business viewers see on the Black residential block. She dresses for the oppressive heat of the day, wearing a pink wide-brimmed hat and a brightly colored sundress. When she enters, it seems as though (almost) the entire establishment breathes a little easier – especially Sal, the restaurant’s white, middle-aged owner.

Thy beauty hath made me effeminate

And in my temper softened valor’s steel.

Romeo and Juliet, Act III, scene 1

Sal is more than a little hotheaded. He harasses Radio Raheem about his omnipresent boombox and gets into it with Buggin’ Out over the restaurant’s all-white “Wall of Fame”. He keeps a baseball bat behind the counter, yells at his sons-slash-employees to complete tasks, and speaks sternly to Mookie about slacking off on the clock.

When Jade enters, Sal’s rough exterior immediately softens. In the screenplay, it says that “a very noticeable change comes over him”. He stands up straight, his voice gets quiet and calm, and he speaks graciously of Mookie as an employee. Sal, who up until this point remained unfazed in the face of the block’s oddities, cannot seem to hide his infatuation – and the entire shop notices.

As Sal talks to Jade (“I’m gonna make you somethin’ special, somethin’ very special”), Mookie and coworker Pino share an exasperated side-eye; it seems that this flirtation is a pattern. Pino, Sal’s violently racist son, has been at odds with Mookie (and every Black character) throughout the film. Here, though, they are united: this little romance violates not only moral, but racial boundaries; it cannot and will not happen.

We eventually see Sal sitting in a booth with Jade, where he compliments her on her eyes. (From the screenplay: “Vito, Pino, and Mookie look on, watching Sal have the time of his life.”) After a while, Mookie grabs Jade and all but drags her outside and around the corner, where he tells his sister that he doesn’t want her in Sal’s anymore. She insists that her interactions with Sal are “completely innocent”, and Mookie responds with “All Sal wants to do is hide the salami.” Much like a Shakespearean play, desire is a point of contention and an exacerbation of existing tension that leads to the climax. In Do the Right Thing, all interactions are racialized; it is only natural that desire is racialized as well.

O me, what fray was here?…Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.

Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene 1

White people love to claim that their romantic/sexual desire for or relationship(s) with nonwhite people makes them progressive and anti-racist; however, Sal’s thirst for Jade is an exemplary refutation of this claim. Sal still calls Black people “nigga”, antagonizes Black customers, allows his son to be violently anti-Black, and is friendly with the white cops who aggravate the block’s tensions. Sal, despite being mostly genial, is still unquestionably a racist white man.

Every interaction in the film is portrayed as a splash of gasoline on the neighbourhood’s unrest and therefore as another reason for the eventual race riot. At first glance, the interaction between Sal and Jade seems like a random, relaxed interlude in an otherwise uneasy atmosphere. Upon further study, it becomes clear that this scene is much like the others: a compounding factor in the racialized disquiet of the block.

In media about racial tension, interracial desire is often utilized as a catalyst for racial violence. How is the exchange between Sal and Jade any different? Their flirtation may not have caused the riot that left Radio Raheem dead and Sal’s Famous Pizzeria a burned-out husk, but it certainly did not help the existing tension that manifested itself as uneasiness at best and outright hostility and physical violence at worst. The dalliance between Sal and Jade was a minor scuffle, yes; but it was still part of the larger war.