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The Canadian Media Guild Celebrates Black History Month
By  CMG  •  Posted on  February 18, 2015

In the spirit of celebration of the achievements and contributions of black Canadians to the vibrancy of Canadian culture, I would like to present this piece authored by Fonna Seidu about the trials and tribulations of being a young media worker in the precarious culture of freelance. She speaks to her colleagues Kim Katrin Milan and Kamilah Apong about the joys of being your own boss but also the frustrations of the “feast and famine” times of freelance. This piece is a snapshot of the reality faced by young black workers launching their careers and becoming the seasoned workers that tell the stories of all aspects of Canadian life. In the voices of these workers we find the common ground that we share in the media, and reinforces our sense of solidarity and pride in the work that we do.
– Terri Monture, Staff Representative, CMG

Fonna Seidu is a queer-identified photographer and community artist with roots tracing back to Ewe and Ilocano ancestry. She finds power in creative collaboration, (un)learning information, and documenting the progressive transformations of marginalized communities. In her free time she likes to attend conferences, practice various forms of self-care, and read politically charged conversations on tumblr.

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Essential Things For Surviving As A Young Black LGBTQ Freelancer

“And even on its worst days, freelancing is worth it. Even when you’re eating ramen at home in your underpants and you’re like ‘I don’t even know how I’m gonna get bus fare for the next week,’ … [freelancing has] still been better than being in an office with people that I don’t respect and who treat me really badly, and in a place where I don’t feel like my ideas are valuable,” says Kim Katrin Milan

By Fonna Seidu

Maybe it was quitting your day job like Kamilah did when she turned 23 or possibly you fell into it like myself. As freelancers, we all started somewhere and are pushing towards following our passions by chasing the next opportunity; It can be contracted work, a one-time gig, or a side hustle – freelancing isn’t for the faint of heart. Now to add into this pot of steaming potential, ta-da!,  the barriers of institutionalized oppression. I wanted to get the perspective of what freelancing looked like for two queer black women – one person who is new to the game and the other with over a decade of experience under her belt.

World Vision Artist Collective - Drake Underground - Photos by Fonna Seidu - 07

Kamilah Apong – unbuttonedmusic.com

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Kim Katrin Milan – kimkatrinmilan.com

Watch the full 50-minute interview:

*NB: Every single person pictured is a young (under 35) Black Freelancer.

Q.  What “stage” or part of the spectrum of freelancing do you fall into?

Kim – I think that someone who does equity work and human rights work, that’s not necessarily ever popular work so I don’t know if you ever get to a place where people are like “oh, I have such a great demand for you telling me how I confront my oppressing behaviour”, so that means something about how in demand you’ll be will depend on the political and cultural climate of what’s happening.

Kamilah – I guess I’ve been doing it for a long time as well but… I’d say I’m emerging. I wouldn’t say beginner because …I’ve been doing [freelance work] but someone never paid me or it was me just having casual conversations and I realized it was people taking my ideas or doing things that I told them about. So technically it has been happening but it hasn’t been branded as such.

When we do freelancing work, I also think of women who do freelance childcare, women who do freelance cleaning, women who run freelance cleaning services who clean apartments and houses and all that sort of stuff. That work doesn’t get considered under freelance…There’s so much to think about the term freelancer and who gets to claim that.” – Kim Milan

Kim – I’ve worked with a lot of young people around social entrepreneurship and one thing that we talked about was as a young person, growing up in the hood when you’re volunteering and taking care of kids and doing all this sort of work, it’s not considered volunteer work. If a white kid comes in from a university and does less work than what you were doing, they’ll get a credit for it…The way white work is valued more also means that white folks consider themselves freelancers earlier and they are able to charge for it earlier because they are more aware of the value of their work.

Q.  Nowadays, labour and work is really messed up: People of colour migrant workers, a boom of college and university grads working crap jobs to pay back debt (only to strive for “the american dream”), tons of unemployed black youth, and more. How has your freelance work/art-creation help shift systems and institutions towards unlearning and working in decolonizing contexts?

Kim – I know people say that the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house but the master’s tools are not the master’s tools in my hands. We are not doomed to commit the same sins that our ancestors have committed and constructed when creating this system. One of the best things that we can do is to confront the kinds of ageism that plays out. I feel like I’ve had adults talk about the ways that the younger generations are so de-politicized and it’s actually quite the opposite. The younger generation is … so willing to take up this fight to change the world and make sure we are leaving this world better off than the way we found it.

“Also, Canada is a country where a lot of our food is grown by migrant workers who have no status, who are kept on compounds that are completely cut off from the rest of Canada and they’re not even able to afford the food that they’re producing for us. Even people who report this idea of being vegan, because I’m like ‘it’s great that you’re a vegan and you care about animals but do you care about the migrant workers as well?’” – Kim

Kamilah – [Youth of colour] aren’t afforded the time to be like “let’s think about ourselves,” not until maybe when we get older. I see a lot of reflection-type retreats, and I think it’s so important for young people of colour to have that when we are young…I always wished that I had someone to talk about self-reflection and self-love and looking at yourself positively. So my freelancing experience is around that and around youth work.

Q.  When pitching, booking, confirming, and/or completing a gig sometimes we experience roadblocks. Do you mind sharing an experience where someone cancelled your gig or underpaid you because of one or more of your intersecting identities?

“I was assaulted and I was also underpaid and nobody wanted to do anything about it so I got fired instead of the person who assaulted me getting fired, so like stuff like that I’m realizing is pretty rampant [in the music industry]. “ – Kamilah

Kim – I think as a product of doing the work that I do, everywhere I go someone will tell me a new story about literally just existing and being policed for just existing…I’ve been doing this work for a long time and I’ve had this conversation a few times. My IQ test is at a genius level, I’m literally absolutely a genius, but I’m constantly undermined and disregarded because I like to wear short skirts and makeup as though that has anything to do with my capacity or what’s coming out of my mouth.

Q.  Imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery. In many cases, imitation of queer black women’s work often leads to other people profiting off their work, their credit being lost in the theft of an idea, and completely skewing the original purpose behind their creation. One example that’s very urgent at the moment is the co-opting and distasteful changing of #BlackLivesMatter campaign to things like #AllLivesMatter. Can you share with us one situation where you weren’t given credit when it was due? How did you get that back, if you did? Do you have tips for upcoming queer black women specifically but other black indigenous people of colour freelancers to protect themselves against theft?

Kim – It is important for me to write down everything. There has to be a paper trail of every single thing that you do at all times, including your invoices, any contractual agreement, anything…I think that’s why social media is also really important… you publicize and you document your own work and your own achievements because no one else will do that unless you do. Nobody is gonna know exactly what you achieved unless you tell them… and so many people would say that that’s messed up, but as a black queer woman, who is reporting on (our achievements)? Zero people, zero people.

“We do a lot of work and spit a lot of amazing knowledge as black women and queer black women with all of the experience that we’ve been through and think of and know of…It’s okay to be like, ‘you know this is my time that you are going to use in your work can we talk about maybe paying me a fee or like if I’m going to help you do research I need to have my name in there,’ you just can’t ask me this crap and run off and finish whatever project you’re working on, that’s not fair.” – Kamilah

Q.  Do you have any last things that you wanna mention?

Kim – I think it’s important to develop a relationship with other freelancers who share a similar intersection of experience…I think it’s good to start to think about the ways that we can share infrastructure. With my husband who also does a lot of freelance work, sharing an assistant, or finding ways of sharing that kind of collaborative effort so that you can amplify your work.

Kamilah – For anyone looking into freelancing and might be listening or reading this, just [remember] that you deserve this and you should go for it.

I just want to mention other young black LGBTQ freelancers. Without them believing in me and vice versa, we wouldn’t be the beautiful community that we are today:

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