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.