Altruistic Violence by CVG (Expanded-Original)

In 1962, the classic Black girl group The Crystals’ released the controversial hit He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). Decades later in 2014, Lana Del Rey released a re-imagined version called Ultraviolence. Both profoundly resonated with me. It got me thinking about another concept that’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore. I call it altruistic violence.

As a woman of colour, constantly fighting against silence and exploitation, even trivial or backhanded tokens of attention and affection can feel like you are finally being seen.

Over the past eight years in music media, I have experienced more than my share of erasure and silencing – even online stalking and sexual harassment at shows I attend to do my job as a journalist and help shine a brighter light on artists that are often ignored or underserved.

But nothing has irked me more than a style of tweet from writers and editors that started circulating over the last five years or so. “Looking for BIPOC and women writers,” they say. “Get in touch!”

Time and time again, well-meaning white allies have thoughtfully replied with my name on these tweets – I never do so myself – yet what I have never shared with them until recently is that not one of these editors behind the request has followed up with me to ask if I’d be open to lending my voice to their outlet. One editor kept me on her tweet spin cycle – continually tweeting at me while outright ignoring my emails – until I finally asked her to remove me from any communications and blocked her account.

I’ve experienced outright silence by outlets who posted requests for Black and BIPOC writers during the 2020 George Floyd protests. In one instance, I opted to confront the outlet on their Instagram page under their cute pink Black Lives Matter post. They were quick to DM me with apologies and excuses about “missing my email.” I spoke to numerous other BIPOC writers who had also responded to the post, and their emails had also mysteriously gone missing.

Altruistic at first sight, these call-outs set up a dynamic where BIPOC writers must publicly vie for attention from white editors (and sometimes even BIPOC editors) who should be doing the work by reaching out to, or at least responding to, us themselves. These “we’re all in it together” posts simply re-centre whiteness in its position of power and decision-making without any fear of accountability. If legendary models can be discovered in a random cafe, editors – no matter the colour or gender or political perspective – should be able to cultivate a diverse roster of creators that actually reflect our country.

It’s become terrifying to pitch a piece about BIPOC identities to a white editor here in Canada that you have not previously worked with or do not trust with that level of vulnerability. 

My term for this type of benevolent-seeming gesture is altruistic violence. It’s also the name of a multidisciplinary project I’m working on as part of my Master’s degree. I define it as a gesture disguised as generosity with no genuine intention or actions behind the words. 

Altruistic violence is a lot of things. It’s the calls for panels and interviews many BIPOC artists get only after a Black or brown person has been murdered – publicly – by police. It’s the assignments that only give BIPOC writers opportunities to talk about things deemed Black or brown, but not the full spectrum of artists outside of our “race.” It’s the gaslighting and impatience many BIPOC artists experience after being asked to join a project only to be told they’re being “too sensitive.” It’s the tokenism that decides what is the appropriate kind of Blackness, Indigeneity, multi-racial or trans identity to champion in media outlets. It’s the innocent “can’t we all just get along?” joke that effectively silences BIPOC people by making us feel “over-dramatic.” It’s the paltry pay that barely leaves you enough to live and create.

It even comes out in pop culture. A stunning and blatant example of this is the recent Super Bowl commercial for M&Ms starring the loveable snob Dan Levy of Schitt’s Creek. It was Sister Wives, a long running TLC reality show that I’ve faithfully watched since its debut, and a telling timeslot to air this commercial, that tipped me off that the tried-and-true re-imagining of white supremacy was in the works. [Note: the original commercial received a sanitized edit weeks after it aired]. In it, a series of people apologizing for things like a gender reveal party that started a forest fire, mansplaining, even revealing too much in a confessional booth. A Millennial-aged white woman also apologizes to her baby boomer white neighbor for calling her Karen – turns out Karen is actually the woman’s name. It’s a simple example of erasure – whiteness asking forgiveness from whiteness, not those that white supremacy actually harms and kills. It makes the “Karen” phenomenon – a characterization of micro- and macro-aggressions manifested in white supremacy – seem like a simple 2020 misunderstanding.

If the past five years have taught us anything – thanks 45 for taking your timely and revealing reality show on the road – it is that while some pray others plot. That no neighbourhood, despite the thin guise of class and race, is immune to hate and violence. That “This is not America or Canada” cliché has been a lie since both countries were violently stolen from its Indigenous peoples. That the “we must get on with living” mentality is the gaslighting equivalent to Hollywood’s “the show must go on” sentiment, which callously shoves traumatized communities from crisis to crisis without space for catharsis or solutions. We are human and we must feel the pain in order to heal it, yet we are rarely given the support to do so.

During a pandemic that has seen BIPOC communities hit hard – financially, socially and spiritually – we are now reaching toward each other for healing and support. So following that talk, I was inspired to reach out to fellow BIPOC artists, activists and media workers Tarun Nayar, Kimmortal and Kyla Pascal to continue the conversation. Below, they each share their own personal experiences with altruistic violence. 

Continue reading at NOW Magazine.