Luvvie and the Black digital intelligentsia I don’t trust

By Arielle Iniko Newton

Editor’s Note: If you’re not Black, this conversation ain’t for you.

Luvvie Ajayi is a popular online commentator who fucked up badly this week after she demonized poor Black activists who demand compensation for our labor.

In eight anti-Black paragraphs, she revealed why I am deeply suspicious of Black media professionals and the overall digital intelligentsia whose reformist, radical, or revolutionary ideologies extend no further than their Macbooks.

Luvvie’s remarkably tone-deaf and reductive comments were a white liberal’s wet dream. Not only did she shame those of us who require money for our work, she also accused us of not wanting freedom because the reason for our (current) work would suddenly cease to exist should Black Liberation someday come to fruition. Luvvie believes that our only significance is through our activism and organizing, and without it, we would be worthless bums with nothing to complain about or live for.

She then shamed us for not centering white feelings and intentions in our organizing. She chastised us for our unwillingness to show “grace” and patience to white folk who are unlearning their racism while police profile, infiltrate, and kill us because of the work we, BLACK PEOPLE, do.

She rounds out her demagoguery with some bullshit calling out mixed-race and biracial activists who are allegedly mitigating their proximity to whiteness by being BlackBlackUltraBlack.

The cognitive dissonance it took for her to write these violently incoherent words is astounding, especially considering she built an entire fucking brand trading off the very concepts and guiding principles she now dismisses. A short time ago, she rightfully told Black women to know our worth, negotiate, and demand equitable compensation.

But today, it’s “weird as fuck” for us to require payment when white people hop in our mentions and inboxes asking how they can be better allies after a police officer murders yet another Black person.

Girl. I’m judging you.

Just a few phone calls from Shondaland, and Luvvie is quickly rebranding herself to appear more palatable to white liberals who want to feel good, cool, and accepted by spunky Black folk. Luvvie is a tragic example of why I’m measured in my excitement when emergent Black voices are usurped into white corporate structures.

Luvvie is the latest example of the shortcomings of a robust, celebrated force–the Black digital intelligentsia. These are the social media savvy bloggers and academics who prioritize brand recognition and access over community organizing.

Their strong ass pen games have resulted in their spacious influence and covetable clout. They come through with the good Black word when called upon and have the public accolades to prove it. They are members of the pundit class, are regulars on the lecture circuit, and mainstays in our own personal conversations.

But they ain’t organizers and are barely activists.

They are an elitist bunch who demand we mortals prove our worth before we gain their respect. They look down on organizers and activists, yet take credit for our victories.

Under the white gaze, they sit on panels and in pundit seats analyzing the latest Black populist achievements. They pretend to know the intricacies of planning, marshaling, and executing mass mobilizations, and can speak convincingly.

They impersonate the role of skillful community organizers with deep sincerity, but yet their smugness completely detaches them from the grassroots. They are not in the weeds with us; they merely usurp our stories for their own personal and professional gains.

This is not an indictment against rising Black public intellectuals who use digital platforms to guide their thoughts, beliefs, and value systems.

This is not a diatribe against Black writers, journalists, and investigative reporters who work closely and build relationships with community organizers in ways that are genuine, intentional, and mindful.

This is not a tirade against Black media and academic professionals who lend their insights and resources when asked, and expect nothing or very little in return.

This is instead a repudiation of the emerging Black elite who leverage their online fame to build sizable and credible platforms, and then use their newfound celebrity to harm everyday niggas.

This is for Luvvie Ajayi, whose anti-Black sympathies she never publicly expressed before because she knew it would hurt her brand and bottom line. But now that she’s tapped into a higher echelon of celebrity, she feels insulated from raw grassroots criticism.

Capitalism and the politics of scarcity have us believing that there ain’t enough shine and coin to go around. The Black digital intelligentsia has cornered and monopolized a market, all to our overall detriment.

Fortunately, we are pushing back. Initiatives like Safety Pin Box show that direct giving to non-celebritized Black folk is a valid and scalable means to fight oppression, despite what the pundit class and nonprofit aficionados tell us.

Luvvie and the larger Black digital intelligentsia are dangerous and counterproductive. They discourage Black activists and organizers from Liberation, and inspire them to chase individual fame and fortune from white power. They reinforce respectability and funnel shared resources into their own crusty Black hands. They use us when needed, but abandon us when necessary.

Arielle NewtonArielle Newton aka Iniko is an editor at @RaceBaitR and an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives. She’s also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of As Head Girl of Ravenclaw, she is an unapologetic mermaid, abolitionist, and radical militant freedom fighter. 

Follow her on Twitter at @arielle_newton.

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