Sage Self-Care Advice from a Black Woman:
‘Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz:’ Calling Out the Deformation of ‘Merit’
In the last several years, I’ve more seriously considered the benefits of self-care for people of color (POC) in a white supremacist world and have stumbled upon sage advice from several black women, including Marley K. on Medium.
Through research, I discovered Koritha Mitchell, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University and a black woman with the courage to speak truth to power in honest and straightforward ways. She recommends an approach to self-care for black women which I, as a non-black mixed POC, find extremely helpful.
Ms. Mitchell recommends that ‘Know Your Place’ aggression, which characterizes white rage and the backlash to any forward movement by black people in society (and to a certain extent by all POC), be dealt with on an honest basis such that POC can protect themselves from the deployment of these lies. I’ve called the same behavior ‘Always First in Line-ism’ which is a self-deceptive phenomena whereby white people insist that, regardless of how much higher is the performance of the POC, since ‘we were here first,’ (yet another profound distortion of reality), the fact that they are of European descent will trump reality, merit, any sort of ACTUAL performance, and any contribution which will jeopardize their unearned standing by illustrating their subpar-mediocrity.
Project MUSE - Identifying White Mediocrity and Know-Your-Place Aggression: A Form of Self-Care
By voting for Donald Trump, sixty-three million Americans communicated their belief that successful people of color…
“‘Know-your-place’ aggression is a continuing American tradition, so I always strive to equip marginalized communities to withstand the hostility that never fails to accompany their victories… I vow to continue to make a priority of
1. identifying know-your-place aggression and:
2. highlighting how often white mediocrity is treated as merit. Violence is done whenever there is know-your-place aggression, no matter how subtle, and whenever whiteness is treated as if it always signifies merit.” Koritha Mitchell
Furthermore, Ms. Mitchell recommends that POC self-care through affirmation of these facts, emphasizing that we must remember authentic merit is often NOT displayed by these white men in positions of power. I would extend this to include white women, at least in the more recent past and as evidenced by corporate publishing, where white women dominate just as white men do in most other corporations and favor each other in the same ways.
My friends and I practice this method of self-care through the acknowledgement of a process we called ‘PLOP,’ much as Mitchell recommends it as a general self-care approach to the lack of actual merit inherent in a system in which the powerful players deceive themselves into thinking it exists. This sort of deception, AKA ‘white psychosis,’ is part and parcel of the tactical psychological strategy required to maintain power in the absence of intrinsic value, achievement, or contribution. This self-deceptive stance seems less and less tethered to reality as time passes, because as POC’s achieve more, a higher degree of deception is required among powerful white people to convince themselves they aren’t being bested by ACTUAL higher-level performance in the face of what is their commonly subpar-mediocre performance.
“If Juanita or Fatima has a job, even one that others don’t want, she can be considered a threat. Her success at simply securing a position inspires aggression. What makes this possible? The fact that she isn’t considered white.” Koritha Mitchell
PLOP means that the reward others are working hard to earn simply ‘plopped’ into the white person’s lap indiscriminately, proving once again that whiteness is the primary determinant of ‘success’ and that authentic merit has been all but completely macerated.
PLOP means that even if white people refuse to acknowledge their massive privilege, we as POC’s are showing each other that we are all, to some extent, subjected to this farcical set of psychologically distorted conclusions.
PLOP means that we are constantly aware that the US is a patently unequal society which benefits white people at POC (in particular, black people’s) expense, and that something critical MUST change in our society in order for it to ever be truly democratic.
PLOP means that POC actual hard work, authentic achievements, merit, contributions, etc are at least acknowledged by somebody else — even if all of us are subordinated in some fashion, and even if we are ignored by a group of white people primarily focused on maintaining their collective power and buffering their weak egos at the expense of POC benefit to the entire human race.
“When I look around my campus and the profession more generally and ask myself, “Would that person even be here if they weren’t white?,” I most often find myself answering, ‘Nope!’” Koritha Mitchell
PLOP means that POC’s are stating to each other in no uncertain terms that, when a white person steals our promotion, award, publication, opinions, prize, job, etc — the list is lengthy as well as long-standing, to the tune of 500 years — that this is the same as STEALING OPPORTUNITY, and stealing is a FELONY. In summary, this means that all of these things PLUS the money and prestige that come with them are given to the lower performer while the POC is deprived the reward which was ACTUALLY EARNED by him/her/them.
PLOP, most importantly, means that the entire world is deprived of that higher level performance and the contribution that the POC could have made had his humanity and contribution been acknowledged in REAL terms. Unfortunately, the world is deprived of these very real contributions when mediocrity is labelled ‘success’ and, in fact, there is a paucity — or even a dearth — of ACTUAL value.
PLOP is the way white people shift, steal, justify, self-deceive, and otherwise enact forms of violence upon POC. Thus, the success and the subsequent acknowledgement and money this should afford the POC’s who earned it instead plops into a white lap. This approach is always negotiated with a near-shocking degree of self-deception — some of my favorite repeat great hits are: ‘there are no good candidates (of color — yes, only white people are worth considering!); he’s not a ‘good match’ (circular argument — they already decided only white’s a good match!) or the always-handy dog whistle ‘he’s not quite articulate enough,’ which does double white duty by damning people who ‘sound black’ and immigrants who ‘should just speak English.’ We often wonder, in response to the latter, how people who don’t know what the one-syllable words ‘earn’ and ‘work’ even mean in the one language they do know feel they have the right to criticize anybody’s language skills! Due to a high degree of privileging, white people don’t expect as much from themselves. As expected, they don’t deliver as much either.
“American culture must manufacture merit for white people because whites are considered good without reference to actual standards. If Americans asked whether an individual contributes to a societal good, then they would have to admit that many white people don’t measure up and don’t even try, because they are not expected to.” Koritha Mitchell
Plop, Plop does not give any relief to POC’s: it not only maintains the onerous reality of racial fascism known as worldwide white supremacy but also allows white people to deceive themselves, attributing to themselves ‘merit’ where in fact there is mostly — if not only — ‘whiteness.’ Merit is INTRINSIC success, and whiteness is a variant of a free ride, a PLOP: it is EXTRINSIC. But generally speaking, though there may be a few genuine white anti-racists, most are simply allowing their brains to convert what is obviously the result of EXTRINSIC privileging into some variant of ‘merit,’ thus distorting its meaning. None of us — Chinese-American, Iraqi-American, African-American, Nigerian immigrant, Indian immigrant — have noted any significant effort of white people to acknowledge the ‘PLOP’ and, more importantly, shift the success to its properly meritorious owner. ALL of us have noted that we work harder for less because we are NOT WHITE.
Thus, our option is to proceed just as Ms. Mitchell recommends in order to negotiate the fact that our rightfully earned rewards PLOP into white laps, usually unearned: PRACTICE SELF-CARE.
Mitchell says it best:
“[N]oticing white mediocrity is a form of self-care…Because American culture has never encouraged white people to hold themselves and each other to higher standards, merit is manufactured for them all, and innocence is manufactured for white people who don’t even have the decency to be mediocre.”
…and that’s the real ‘fizz-fizz:’ our ability to remember to self-care, to remind each other of the PLOP, and how much damage it does to the entire planet by elevating mediocrity.