Mikki Kendall, Writer – XOXO Festival (2019)


[Applause] [Cheers]>>MIKKI KENDALL: There was almost the Sally Field, “they like me, they really like me”
moment. [Laughter] Be happy I’m not performing that,
I totally have it memorized. [Laughter] Okay, so, my name is Mikki Kendall,
which you obviously already know. And this is about the internet, kinda. Just buckle up, it’s a little bit of a roller
coaster. In advance, if you just are like “I can’t
take this, I’m going outside,” I’m still not going to be offended if you leave right
now, or in the middle of me saying something. It’s cool. The name of this talk is Toxic. Some of you will remember that time I got called “toxic.” Hang on, we’ll get there. Okay, so blank slide, because here’s why. I have a reputation as being a fighter on
the internet, right? I’m going to tell you a secret. I actually hate fighting. I fucking loathe it. I don’t really want to fight. I do it anyway, right? Because not fighting doesn’t do me good, and
also, I hate bullies more than I hate not fighting. And sometimes, this is also going to shock
you, I know, you’re going to be astonished right now, sometimes I get really mad and
then I don’t really care that I don’t like fighting. I’m just swinging. Some of you will know that. I was that girl in grammar school who was
a nerd, my nickname was literally “Books,” but you remember the girl who you knew that
if you really pushed her, she would start crying and then you had to leave the room? She grew up. [Laughter] But this habit of fighting is why
I have big viral moments, and I’ve had a few of them. It’s also kind of how I ended up with a
writing career, but not really. So now comes the sad, abortiony part. We’re going to start here. In 2011, I went viral because I wrote about
having an abortion. And it’s sort of important that it was a
medically-necessary abortion, and sort of not important because it doesn’t really matter
why you choose to have an abortion, and you’re going to skip the thing where you tell me
you need a reason for an abortion. [Applause] But here comes the part about the
blood. A couple years before that, when I actually had the abortion, I started hemorrhaging. I covered the walls of my house in blood. So, to the hospital we go. This pregnancy is not viable and you need
an abortion. And what happens after that, which is detailed
in this article, sort of but badly, is I didn’t have a doctor who performed abortions at first. I’m on the L&D floor, I’m having a long miscarriage,
except I’m not miscarrying, I’m just bleeding, and the doctor says, I don’t do abortions. And a nice nurse called a doctor who wasn’t
on-call. And I don’t know why that doctor doesn’t do
abortions, I never did get an answer for that. That’s a separate conversation that involves
lawyers and an NDA. But I do know the doctor that came saved my
life, that’s the important part of this conversation. I got two bags of blood, emergency middle-of-the-night
surgery, and the next day I got up and walked out of the hospital barefoot because I could
not be in that building anymore. So it wasn’t that it didn’t affect me. It was just that I’m from the kind of people
where the fact that it affects you doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with it. It just means you deal with it and cry in
your house. You don’t cry in front of white people. Some of you will know that sentence, those
of you that don’t will figure it out. But, okay, a couple years go by and some guy
on the internet, whose name I don’t even friggin’ remember, says there’s never a reason to
have an abortion. Now remember the thing about getting mad? I got mad. So I write about it on Tumblr. I do not know, and you remember this, I do
not know in the moment that this thing is about to go viral, because going viral isn’t
a thing in 2011, right? It goes viral, and Salon asks me to run it. I write it, headline and the whole 9 yards… This was a mistake, for the record. This was a huge mistake. Because what I didn’t know was Salon had absolutely
no content moderation. None at all. I also didn’t know that hanging out in Salon’s
comments consistently on every abortion article, a thing they neglected to disclose, was a
group of far-right, disavowed by Operation Rescue, far-right anti-abortion activists,
right? I didn’t know that. This is, like, the dregs. I’m going to spare you examples of the messages,
the rape and death threats. I’m going to point out to you that if you’re
pro-life and your response to someone talking about an abortion is to threaten to kil them
and leave their children without a mother, you probably aren’t so pro-life. [Laughter] Also gonna tell you that if you
threaten to show up at my door and sexually assault me before you kill me and whatever,
I’m gonna take it seriously, but also I was a combat medic in the U.S. Army. Knock on my door if you want to. [Laughter] [Applause] Good luck! There are feminists who are peaceful who never
fight, who don’t do— I’m not one of those girls. I grew up in the South Side of Chicago. [Cheering] Right! South Side, ride or die! [Laughter] So we fight. We fight whether we want to or don’t want
to, because that’s Chicago. So these messages aren’t important. I know some of you will be like, but what? You don’t have to open the lid of the sewer
to know the sewer stinks. I will tell you briefly, as a shining moment,
at the time this all happened, I worked for the federal government. This is an important part of this story. It won’t seem like it, but in a second you’ll
understand. So a man whose name I probably won’t repeat
but you can probably find it, only because he’s old and I don’t think his family
needs the trouble, had been sending me messages all day on Facebook. Remember Facebook’s real name policy? Okay, I want you to keep that in mind too. Now I’m going to tell you a fun fact. I worked for the Department of Treasury at
the time. It is a federal offense to threaten a federal
employee during the commission of their duties. He sent me messages on Facebook, over and
over, 9AM, 10AM, 2 in the afternoon, I don’t know what that man actually did, but he had
time. The problem with that, and this is an important
problem with that, is that technically that statute has a funny loophole, “during the
commission of their duties.” Well, if you work for the federal government
of the United States of America, do you know when you’re at work? 9AM, 10AM, 2 in the afternoon. And because of the position I had at the time,
I had to report it. It was important, I reported it. We have to tell people when there’s a security
risk. And the nice people were, like, huh. I don’t like him, or the chick he follows,
because they knew when I mentioned this woman’s name—I’m not saying her name because I refuse
to give her publicity. They knew, and the agent was like, I can do
that. I can deal with that. You go on back to work. I’m like, okay, this is a white guy in a suit. This ain’t, nothing going to happen. It turns out, knock knock knock, are you? Did you write? Apparently he cried. He bawled his eyes out. He didn’t want his life ruined, I guess. I’m not sure what he thought. Consequences. But like I said, it’s the sewer. You don’t have to open it to know it stinks,
so we’re going to skip that part. Here’s the weirdest part, though. In the midst of the harassment and the aftermath
of him getting in trouble, a new story starts: I wrote about my abortion to push my writing
career—my failed writing career—the one I had just started. I had done it for attention. Now some of you will remember that back in
2011, I wrote the occasional article, but not much because I had a full-time job, two
kids, I’m married, I was contemplating grad school, I was a little busy. A little busy. So there was no writing career, there was
me writing on the side as a hobby. But I had done it for attention, to get a
better writing career. There are easier ways to get attention, with
WAY less death threats, for the record. If you are at all planning to sign up for
six months and having to move, and all that? Don’t. And I’ll say this, as a solution to the
death threat parade, we were living in Tennessee, we left Tennessee, moved back to Chicago. A fun fact about white supremacists, which
is largely what you get into this end of this—they don’t like the South Side. [Laughter] They ain’t coming south of 35th,
we were on 90th. [Laughter] Those of you know who know about
Chicago and Roseland and the 100s right now are like, 90th and what, sis? [Laughter] The rest of that sentence is Parnell. Auburn Gresham. Right? Yeah, I don’t think them boys would get out
the car over there. [Laughter] But the writing career. So, you know what going viral at one of the
worst times in your life gets you? Nothing. I still went to work, I still had kids, I
still had school. I could have gotten on a stage somewhere to
talk about it, but let’s be clear here. I was terrified. Not so much for me, but for my family. I know what I’m inviting, I figured it out. But, hmm, 2011, so 8 years ago, so my kids
were 14? No, 12. The big one was 12, which means his little
brother was 5. That math, okay, great. Somebody sent me a picture through a scope. I was not happy about that. If I ever see that one, well, y’all might
have to explain why I need bail money. That’s fine. Or an alibi! [Laughter] Go with alibi. [Sigh] But here’s the thing about going through
hell, there’s nothing you can do but keep going. Really, seriously, there is literally nothing
you can do. I got internet famous for a while, got no
money, got no fame, got a lot of stress, some gray hairs, there’s some crying. And then the inside baseball of it all basically
is that life went on. My life didn’t significantly change all that
much. But the “keep going” part, that’s going
to be important. Remember it. So fast forward a couple years. I go viral again. Now this time, I really don’t know what I’m
getting myself into. [Laughter] Right? Because the thing about articles is not everyone
reads them, not everyone covers them. In 2013, Twitter wasn’t what it is now. We didn’t know yet. So I get mad. I’m defending my friend, Sydette. This is another “white people are pieces
of crap” kind of moment. Not all white people before you have a “not
all white people” moment. [Laughter] But like, white feminist media
has been backing this guy and I’m going to spare you the details, because again it’s
the sewer, but I’m going to point out that he wrote an actual article about jizzing on
someone’s face as a feminist act and leave you with that. Right!? Right? So this guy gets the exact moment that we
all are having. Great. So he targeted my friend, Sydette. Sydette is six feet tall and looks like she
could slay a dragon. The exterior of Sydette may be up to it. Inside, Sydette is soft as ice cream. She’s going to get really mad when she sees
this. [Laughter] She is. You go ahead, text her! [Laughter] Tell her she can’t rock with
me, she know! [Laughter] Sydette is very good at fighting
for other people. She’s terrible at fighting for herself,
and she is soft inside. Now, I’m older than the internet. So in my head, Sydette is a baby. Most of you are babies, some of you aren’t. And some of you… listen. Sunscreen and moisturizer. [Laughter] [Applause] So I get mad, and I’m
having a conversation with the white feminist who is telling Sydette that she had to protect
her community. And you can find out who it was, but like… I make this hashtag. This is not a good hashtag! It’s terrible. It’s not short, it’s not snappy, it’s
not anything. A marketing student somewhere probably went,
“What!?” [Laughter] But it goes viral anyway. Seven million people. Trends worldwide for a couple of days. Now, at this point, I’m in the deep well of
the deepest wells. Because… what the shit is this, right? I was mad, and then I went and got a snack,
and I came back… [laughter] Right? Here’s where I also confess that, you know,
when you run across this in classes later, the chick who sort of changed the feminist
conversation, yada yada yada, I think I was posting cat GIFs in between, at first, and
definitely eating ice cream. And so this happens, though. It’s a BIG deal. But this time, after the nonsense… I cussed up a lot of your ‘80s actress faves
on Twitter. I told a lot of people to go f- themselves. Because when white feminists said I was being
divisive and some other stuff… I’m going to tell you a secret. When the first time you go viral, there are
death threats, the second time when someone says I don’t like you, you’re like, bitch,
so what? [Laughter] You’re not going to beat my ass. [Applause] Right? You’re not going to pull up on me, and if
you are, girl, c’mon! You ain’t got hands. Many of your faves do not have hands. [Laughter] I’m just going to tell you the
truth. So they have this moment and, all right, part
of why this hashtag works is because white feminism sucks. And if you’re in your feelings about that,
tell Jesus. [Laughter] He might care! I don’t know, I don’t. [Laughter] If you’re mad at me by now, don’t
worry, there’s like a line, there’s a sign-up sheet, I’m not sure what you get. They might have t-shirts by now. [Laughter] I’m from the dark side, we have
cookies. You’ll be all right. But I go viral. Okay, fine. I got me something, a whole article in The
Guardian. Woooo-whee! It was a $150 check, I remember. Right? I write a couple times about the hashtag,
a bunch of other people wrote about the hashtag. But I’d been writing by then a little bit
more, and that scene at The Guardian was basically, I know you can yell at people, but can you
write? And in third-grade playground speak, that
meant, okay, what you got, Imma show you what I got! Some of you know this third-grade playground
speak. Some of you are like, I’ve never done that
but now I want to! [Laughter] So the criticism starts. I’m doing it wrong, right? I’m divisive, I’m wrong, I’m whatever,
but also, I’m not nice enough. I don’t know who told you I was nice. Whoever told you I was nice, I want you to
go back and tell them, Mikki Kendall said you’re a liar and she would like to see you
at 3:00 at the flagpole. [Laughter] So again, top of the sewer doesn’t
smell any better than the bottom, I had a whole thing going. I got canceled. I was toxic! Again, nothing really happens. I just go on about my business, right? People write about it, I had to answer questions
about my anger on NPR. Someone called me a bully. Right? I can tell you why I was a bully, I can actually
tell you. Because I said that a white woman who said
that Simone Biles’s parents were bad parents, I said that I hope she cried because she was
so upset when people told her what an asshole she was. That was me bullying. I mean, I guess? [Laughter] I mean, all right. But then we really got into the depths of
this idea that me being angry was a problem. And I had ruined my writing career. Remember that writing career? Okay. So I broke it. I just absolutely set that career on fire. I was NEVER going to write anything, I was
never going to get anywhere, yada yada yada. Mind you, I still have a government job. If nothing else happens, I have a pension,
and food on the table, and a whole-ass family, and they love me. Cool! Except I killed my writing career! Remember the one I didn’t have that I was
trying to build? Well now, I killed it. Except, not really? So I started doing that. Now, if you’re thinking, Mikki, that’s a lot
of places! Damn, girl! What were you doing? [Laughter] I was writing. I was writing more, right? I was writing all the time. This is only a selection. [Laughter] I went out and I got 200 clips,
right? [Applause] Here’s where I tell you another
secret, this really a secret. I’m a beast, okay? I show up, I show out. So I did all of that. I wrote some comics, I wrote some short stories,
kept showing up in Twitter and then I started showing up in documentaries. And there was wailing, and sackcloth and ashes,
there may have been some gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. I was still a beast, because now we get to
the part where we really talk about why I’m here. Writing is one of these careers where you
hear “no” more than you hear “yes.” In general, it doesn’t matter what else has
happened. I’m a Black girl from the south side of
Chicago, born and raised, but I got a Master’s degree. Do you know how many times I heard “no”
between Chicago public schools and the Master’s degree? You know, I paid for that degree with the
Army. I was married, got a divorce, got remarried… That man heard “no” from me 287,000 times. I love you! [Laughter] But I was in no hurry. I was like, this divorce happened, I’m good. So I had a life outside the internet, and
I’m going to tell you another secret. When all of this was happening, when white
girls wanted me to get in front of Congress or on stages. Do you know what Black girls said? You need someplace to stay? My cousin and them, they got a piece of property,
they got dogs and guns, them boys ain’t coming down there. You good, you need some money, you all right? Here’s the thing, we’re talking about the
internet and harassment today, and it can totally feel like it’s ruining your life,
and I think it feels more like it’s ruining your life if you don’t have your own community. So you’ve heard the name Black Twitter… How many of you have seen black Twitter, wanted
to know what the password was, all of that. [Laughter] When’s the meeting? [Laughter] And I’m technically part of Black
Twitter, right? Well, I’m always Black on the internet,
but we’ll go with Black Twitter for a second. We’re all we got. You’ll see us say that, you’ll see Black
girls say, repeatedly, we’re all we got. You’ll see Black girl magic, CaShawn Thompson,
you’ll see us stand up together. And you’ll see people you don’t know slide
in somebody’s mentions, you’ll see me sometimes, hey! They really giving so-and-so the business. Go get her, let’s go get her. What that means is, we’re going to make sure
this doesn’t ruin your life, it doesn’t ruin your day, right? First of all, because fuck these hoes. [Laughter] Period, point blank. If I have upset you with that sentence, if
you have sent me an angry message and you would like to run up to the stage right now,
please do. I haven’t Sparta-kicked anybody in a while,
that would be great. [Laughter] Man! Nobody’s moving, damn it! I had been practicing my Sparta kick! Sorry. [Laughter] I’m silly, sometimes I’m an asshole
on the internet. I’m a mom, I’m a wife, all of that. But ultimately, I’m a person. And I have friends, I have a community, I
do stuff that has nothing to do with the internet. If you have ever sent me a message and gotten
mad because I didn’t respond to it, I probably didn’t see it, or I saw it before I went to
bed, or I don’t know you from a can of paint and I gotta figure out whether or not I want
to deal with you. Listen. Boundaries. I love boundaries, do you love boundaries? If you don’t love boundaries, please love
boundaries. [Applause] And with the internet? Jesus Chris, please get a boundary with the
internet. Buy a boundary. Take yourself outside, turn it off if you
need to. People are being mean to you on the internet,
those people aren’t your friend. Do you care what people who don’t like you,
do you care what they have to say? These are important questions to ask. And I know, I know! Sometimes people get canceled because they
really did something wrong, and they’re a threat, and all of that. This advice is not for those people. This advice is for the people who had a fight
with a friend, and now your friend group wants to ostracize you, or the internet is mad because
you said something 10 years ago. If you still believe the thing from 10 years
ago, well okay, now you’re an asshole, you deserve the swerve. But if you’ve apologized for the thing 10
years ago, repeat the apology, go on with your life. There’s not much you can do, do your best
to make amends. Sometimes people forgive you, sometimes they
don’t. Sometimes there’s nothing for you to be
forgiven for. I’m not going to tell you I’ve been perfect
on the internet, I haven’t been. Again, I’m an asshole. I’m an asshole with a temper, probably been
awful. But I try not to pick on people who have less
than me, I try not to make people’s day harder. Now if you started with me, you made the decision,
choices were made… [laughter] Oh, the places we will go. [Laughter] But otherwise, you need to have
a community. And also, for the love of God, get a group
chat. [Laughter] You don’t have to say everything
out loud that you are thinking. [Applause] I am in a group chat with someone
in this audience, I’m 100% certain that later the group chat will, A, hear everything, and
B, whatever I got wrong, she’ll tell me about it. This is the other thing. Sometimes the things you see on the internet
have nothing to do with what’s going on off the internet. I know I’m telling you wild, wacky things
here. Wild things. But, once upon a time, we closed the internet
and we went places together, or did things, or we called people up on the phone when we
were upset with them. And I’m not saying the internet is terrible,
sometimes you have to say some shit in public on the internet. Lord knows I do. But sometimes you have to stop, catch yourself,
is this really what I need to do with my time today? Is this something I need to let into my space
today? Because the people in your phone? They’re not going to beat your ass. And if they CAN come beat your ass, well listen,
first of all we’re going to talk about self-defense classes and some other things, and second,
why do they have your address? If you are Ubering to fight somebody over
something on the internet, you have deeper problems. [Laughter] If you’re meeting in Temecula… [Laughter] Okay, so some of white people didn’t
get that. Just look up “Meet Me in Temecula.” T-E-M-E-C-U-L-A. It’s an entire thing. [Laughter] I think I killed a section of this
room. This baby looks like she’s crying. She’s laughing so hard. Ooh, your nails are cute.[Laughter] Sorry,
I have ADD, don’t expect much. But at any rate, so I started writing. About that career. So, “Amazon, Abolitionists, and Activists,”
this is a shameless plug. November 5, okay? “Hood Feminism,” February 25. [Applause] I’ve always been a writer. I wrote in grammar school, that’s why my
nickname was “Books.” I finally accepted it and got myself a lovely
tattoo. Because that’s ultimately who I am. The internet did a little something. It certainly helped boost the number on the
check. Thank you internet for that. [Laughter] Thank you. I appreciate you. My student loans appreciate you. My hungry-ass children really appreciate you. For those of you who don’t know me from the
internet, unfortunately, I have giant children who eat all my food. [Laughter] I like to climb mountains and trees,
okay? And I have the children that result from being
from someone who has a height restriction, it’s my fault. I say that that way because there’s literally
a friend of mine who is in a group chat with me, who is currently like, this is all your
fault. I told you about the tall people. [Laughter] She’s rude. [Laughter] I’ve known her since kindergarten,
she’s rude. And she feels like she can tell me anything. Damn it! But all right. So nothing’s going to change the fact that
I’m a writer. The fact you wish I’d shut up? So what. The fact you wish I didn’t get those book
deals? Who cares! There’s a woman who sends angry emails to
every editor of mine. She’s done it for years, it’s great. I’m going to name her, actually. Her first name is Nancy. [Laughter] Listen, she writes angry blog posts,
and the best part of this is that she’s mad at me because she’s Barbara Streisanding
herself. And for those of you who don’t know what
that means, she said something racist on the internet and someone named her name and talked
about her racism in 2012 or something. I don’t friggin’ know. I didn’t say the thing, I didn’t have anything
to do with the thing, but the person is someone I know and I reblogged on Tumblr their post. Now anyone who’s ever used Tumblr can tell
you that a Tumblr reblog with 19 notes disappears into the ether. Unless you’re Nancy and you link to it. And my name. Every day. For years. She would like that not to be top in her Google
results. She emailed my friend, Tempest, about the
same thing. Tempest, being nicer than me, tried to explain
to her what was happening. And then Tempest called me and said, the fuck? [Laughter] I was like, the internet is a cesspool. That’s what the fuck. But Nancy has upset herself. Right now, Nancy is probably going to send
me an angry email, it’s going to be fine. And in the angry, rage-y internet when you
want people to shut up, and some people need to shut up. We’re talking about fascists, neo-Nazis,
neo-Confederates, all of them, please shut the hell up. Please. [Applause] But if it’s just someone who
said a thing you don’t like, or criticized something you like, a movie or whatever, your
chances of getting them to shut up are non-existent. If your hope is for me to shut up, buddy—bigger,
badder, better than you have tried. And, well. I’ve broken the same ankle three times,
and it’s still flapping around at the end of my foot. I got that reversed, but you know what I meant. The internet tried to ruin my life. It didn’t work. Okay? Didn’t kill my career, do you — does it look
destroyed? [Applause] That writing career? The internet made it easier for me. I will tell you another secret, because the
Streisand effect is a thing. The people who hate my guts and will angrily
tweet about this speech, thank you! Please link to this slide. [Laughter] But the thing is, I use the internet
for my purpose. We all live in the internet, and a bunch of
us are doing things on the internet that really don’t have very much to do with the internet,
except the internet is a great platform to put your stuff out. But, yeah, I see you, and you better be picking
up everything I’m putting down, because you have four whole books, don’t MAKE me walk
you up on this stage. [Laughter] Ask people if I do that, because
I do. [Laughter] But the internet is a great place
to publicize what you’re doing, it’s a great place to make friends, all of that. Now I’m going to tell you another secret. When this book comes out, Amazons, Abolitionists,
and Activists, someone’s going to cancel me. I will tell you that in advance. I argue that trans women are women, and that
they’ve contributed to the history of women’s rights. [Applause] I argue for disabled women, labor
activism, I argue a lot of things. And by argue, I mean I just use history. [Laughter] Right, this is not a big thing,
like, literally, I appreciate the applause, but also, really, honestly, it’s just facts. It’s literally just facts. And so someone’s going to cancel me, and
someone’s going to be mad, and somebody that’s a TERF is going to say something to
me. I might use my Sparta kick then. I’m really looking for an excuse. Ever since I saw that movie, I just wanna—mmph! So here’s the thing, you’re not going to
stop being in your purpose, if you know what you are, and what you want to do, and you
can absolutely have a community that helps you and protects you, and it doesn’t mean
they’re supposed to tell you when you’re right when you’re wrong. Because trust me, Tempest is going to send
me 52 pages of notes, probably about body language or something. [Deep Sigh] Or my lipstick. Is my lipstick okay?>>AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s great.>>Oh, yay! A Tempest lipstick moment is very important,
don’t you understand. But I’m still in my purpose. I’m a writer, I’m always going to be a
writer. The fact that I’m a writer on the internet
or not on the internet, whatever. But the internet can’t kill your career,
the internet can’t destroy you—unless, of course, the internet IS your career. Then we have to this complete separate conversation,
which is longer than this 20-minute talk. But what the internet can do is make you sad,
it can make you mad, it can make you feel a lot of things. And there is nothing wrong with your feelings,
but please be kind enough to yourself to recognize when it’s toxic. When it’s actually bad for you. This is the equivalent of “stop poking yourself
in the eye,” okay? Remember that game? “Why are you hitting yourself? Stop hitting yourself!” Stop hitting yourself if you need to. There’s nothing wrong with self-care. There’s nothing wrong with being like, I
can’t do this right now. There’s also nothing wrong with realizing
that the fact that people are mad at you is ultimately meaningless if you’re doing the
right thing. Right? Fuck these hoes. Literally, what are they going to do? What are they going to do? They’re going to be mad at you. Someone who was never going to buy what you
create is now not going to buy what you create. [Applause] All right, so like, I think I’m
technically over time. But, buy my books. [Laughter] Be kind to each other. Thank you for having me. [Applause]