How Getting Paid In “Exposure” Exploits Black Writers Like Me

POSTED BY DOMINIQUE MATTI · MAY 21, 2016

exposure

The second article I published went viral. I wrote it after some micro-aggression sent me over the edge. It was a running list of all the many ways I’d been mistreated as a Black woman, a protection of my right to be angry. I left out hundreds of examples. I didn’t expect anyone to see it, I had self-published it on Medium with only 5 followers. I had just quit my job as a room service attendant at a luxury hotel, because my hours could no longer accommodate childcare (and I couldn’t afford daycare, anyway). I had hoped (and promised my husband) that in between the last and the next underpaid and soul draining position I took, I could make money writing freelance. I knew that I was good enough– I just needed someone to see me. And then my article went viral without any marketing. Overnight, I watched it jump from 30 views, to 3k, to 300k. I was elated. The official email I had made for writing gigs (the one that would have had cobwebs were it a physical space) was filling up with comments and inquiries. Someone wanted to incorporate my piece into a short film. Someone wanted to use it in a seminar they were teaching on race. Someone wanted to interview me on their podcast.

And then the publications started contacting me. First, Huffington Post came. I immediately said yes. I called my family to brag, making sure to include the fact that they asked me. I left out the fact that they told me that they had “no budget for republishing.” Later, when they gave me access to publish through their backstage channels as a “HuffPost Blogger,” I bragged about that too—I put it in all my bios. I thought it made me seem official, despite the fact that they had no budget for publishing my original work, either. Despite the reported $10.33 they charge advertisers for 1,000 page views, and despite the fact that one of my articles brought in hundreds of thousands of page views—they offered me not a dime. Instead, they offered me exposure.

But it was fellow Black writers and readers who kept me going. They assured me of the importance of my writing. They assured me that they got the same awful responses—that it wasn’t my capabilities, that it was my Blackness that trolls had a problem with

Exposure was just what I thought I needed. I believed ability plus audience equaled success. But what it equaled for me was a week straight of anxiety attacks—and rent I still struggled to pay. When Huffington Post published my article, the content of my email inbox changed. It wasn’t letters of appreciation and acceptance anymore. It was 1,200 word inquiries about my mental state, personal attacks on my motherhood, racist rants, and threats. Hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of emails like this. I was scared and I was overwhelmed. My phone was buzzing nonstop, and I checked it like a tick, my disposition darkening each time I read a comment or message. The articles I proudly shared directly from Huffington Post’s page on Facebook became humiliating , family and friends called to tell me “not to read the comments” and to check on me. “I’m fine,” I told them, but my stomach did backflips for days. click to continue

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