Respectability has never saved us from abuse or police brutality. It’s never kept us from being disrespected or ridiculed, and it never will. We can code switch and change ourselves as much as we want, and it will all be in vain. Not even the best designer suits can save us.
If you follow out Rhode Island Senator Tiara Mack on social media, one will notice nasty hate-filled comments under her tweets and posts, calling her distasteful names including groomer, pedophile, or worse. In June, Options Magazine reported on how the right-wing target LGBTQ people for attack, it starts often by having videos of a person posted on the anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok along with text implying the video is about molesting children and is then taken by Tucker Carlson on Fox News to whip up legions of far-right extremists.
Last month, this is exactly what happened to Mack when she posted a video of her twerking on the beach with friends. Libs of TikTok, Carlson, The New York Post, and others have used the video to try to slander Mack.
“Groomer panic” is an alt-right tactic to imply that the LGBTQ community, their allies, and liberals are pedophiles or pedophile enablers. As a Black Queer person, Mack is the unfortunate perfect target of this alt-right agenda. This tactic is not only homophobic and racist, but it is harmful. It gives politicians cause to overturn or pass new homophobic laws. It also gives citizens an excuse to spread hateful information and harm those in the LGBT community.
Mack was targeted by right-wing conservatives due to her platform on teaching Queer inclusive pleasure-based sexual education to students. Now they are doubling down on their comments with the video going viral. Alt-right accounts are using the sponsored bill as reason to call Mack a groomer and pedophile, which tells us a number of things –– the main one being they did not bother to read the bill. If they did, they’d also know that while Mack did sponsor the bill, she’s not the only one whose name is on it. Yet, she’s receiving harmful abusive comments daily.
In the midst of all of these accusations and abuse, how does Mack keep herself so calm and grounded? “A lot of self-care. I go to the gym 3-5 times a week, I crochet, read, watch tv, spend time with friends and family and people who ground me,” she answered, “I try not to spend too much time on media.”
This kind of abuse could set anyone on a dark path, but Mack continues to be who she is, unapologetically. Senator Mack, I’m glad to see you being who you want to be. Every woman who’s ever had to question whether she should do something or not because people may criticize her, I encourage you to follow the example of Tiara Mack and do what makes you happy. People will talk and attack regardless, but at least you’re doing something that makes you happy and being your authentic self. Professionalism is a social construct, and your self-respect has nothing to do with how much or how less you show your body. Self-respect has everything to do with standing in your truth.
Many people are chastising Mack for being a politician and not showing professionalism. Some are using the video as fuel for the comments they’ve been making about her being a groomer. There have even been comments made about her body. Mostly, it’s been comments about how “unprofessional” she is and how politicians are not allowed to behave like this. I think the world is just now realizing that our elected officials are human. It must be shocking for them; to finally start learning that elected officials are not robots. They’re allowed to have fun, live, love, and yes, they’re allowed to twerk.
The far-right attacks her and get their followers to attack her every chance they get. Yet, we never see them talking about the elected officials who have been accused of sexual assault, assaulted their opponents on video, or have been elected president or appointed to the Supreme Court with pending sexual assault cases. Why is there not more uproar about that?
Mack lays it out simply: “Lots of people wanted me to feel shame instead of empowerment. The same level of professionalism they put on me doesn’t translate to my white cis male counterparts.”
There is a double standard when it comes to who is allowed to be themselves and who isn’t and it’s time we address that. All Mack is doing is calling out that double standard in her own way. Cis-white male politicians have been able to get away with whatever they please for as long as we’ve had politicians, but a Queer Black woman decides to have some fun on her day off, and suddenly she’s the voice of all Black women and making us all look bad. This is not how it works.
Black women can twerk, take things seriously, and be successful all at the same time. These things are not mutually exclusive. When the people in charge are overturning laws about our bodies, now is not the time to add more policing to Black women’s bodies.
Mack is keenly aware of this: “That is thinly coded and veiled racism. They’re not used to seeing Black people in positions of power. They’re not used to seeing women who are sexually liberated, who are comfortable in their own skin, who aren’t afraid to own their femininity and sexuality, but not in a sexualized way. Many people are just not comfortable or used to seeing that.”
Seeing our politicians being their authentic selves and living life freely is beautiful. We expect them to maintain an image that we deem “professional,” but professionalism and respectability come from a place of white supremacy. We have no right to force professionalism onto anyone, even politicians. Respectability politics are designed to “keep us in our place.”
We shouldn’t do this or say that in the presence of a particular company, especially if we’re Black women who shouldn’t feed into stereotypes. Who are we stifling ourselves for, and why? Black women are not allowed to be loud, colorful, vulnerable, or soft because those traits are not respected on us. Even when we are “professional,” we’re treated poorly and talked down to. Our success is questioned as if we’re not allowed to have the things we have.
Tiara Mack has been a State Senator in Rhode Island since 2020, and she’s been fighting for justice even before then. Mack has been working with Planned Parenthood, and Women’s Health & Education Fund since before she ran for office. She created a Tik Tok account soon after Roe V Wade was overturned and has been sharing facts about abortion justice through her videos. With the intent to go viral, she posted the twerking video and struck gold. The video has been shared worldwide and has got everyone talking- but not about the essential things. Now, people are starting to find out who Mack is.
What are you twerking for? Mack twerks for joy, abortion justice, intersex justice, trans rights, safe housing, black girl magic, and so much more. She lends a lot of her time to the community and endorses young People of Color (POC) to run for office, helps them, and provides them with resources on how to run as a young, Queer, POC person. Yet, through all of the backlash – which she receives daily – who would even know?
No one paid attention to issues Mack’s been fighting for since being in office, but now that a video of her twerking on the beach with friends has gone viral, people are paying attention. It’s the perfect time to seize the moment and start getting the essential things noticed. She has been trying to get bills passed her whole time in office. In fact, here are some of the bills she’s sponsored:
S2006 - Allows the DMV to issue driving privilege cards and driving privilege permits to applicants unable to establish their lawful presence in the US
S2246 - Prohibits employers from receiving any portion of the tips given by customers to their tipped employees, with limited exceptions for credit card service charges
S3022 - Senate Resolution Recognizing “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” On June 19, 2022
S2549 - Provide for abortion coverage in the Medicaid program and repeals the abortion coverage exclusion for state employee insurance plans
S2285 - Requires courses in family life or sex education be taught in grades 6-12 and be appropriate for students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds
More information on these bills and more she’s sponsored can be found here.
How can we support Mack and other Black Queer politicians who are going through similar things? “Call out the abuse.” Mack answers. “We can’t have silent bystanders anywhere – not online, not in person, etc.” With all of the attacks Mack receives being called a groomer and a pedophile by alt-right accounts, there are not many people coming to her defense. In times like these, we can’t stand by and watch it happen. Silence is deafening and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Mack also discussed how she has been treated by Senate leadership: “Since I’ve joined office, leadership has never been too kind about my campaign. This year, most of my meetings have been canceled, I had text messages ignored. I had bills that weren’t getting a hearing that had hearings last year. Messages that were about important bills were ignored by leadership so I have definitely felt intentionally left out by older white cis men and women who have no desire to create space for young Queer Black people.”
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” – Desmond Tutu
What Mack is doing is taking a big step into changing how Black women and elected officials are looked at. She’s letting the world know they will get all of her- Blackness, Queerness, and all the pieces of her personality. Mack is so much more than people make her out to be. She is the first openly Queer Black person elected to the Rhode Island Senate, an Ivy League graduate, and a Women’s Health & Education Fund board member who has been fighting for justice. Listen to what she has to say, stand up for her when she is being attacked, and pay attention the changes she is trying to make happen. Stop policing her body and put some respect on her name.
Learn more about Senator Tiara Mack on her website, and again, remember to call out the abuse.