Why QPSC Exists : An Open Letter from QPSC’s Owner & CoFounder
Yesterday I witnessed racism rear its ugly head and invite itself into a public forum of creative professionals. A photographer came to a Facebook group of nearly 30,000 creatives looking for suggestions on how to handle a situation with an angry and upset bride who was dissatisfied with her services. Another individual decided to console her, but added that “every black female client” she’d worked with had “wanted a deal”, “wanted too much, their expectations were way too high but they didn’t want to pay for it”, etc. Typically these unprofessional comments would not be welcomed in any space, especially since they were highly offensive to other black females reading.
As more people (of all races) began to speak up and out for the distaste in those remarks, I noticed that the comments where people of color were seeking answers as to why this behavior was allowed were either deleted or further comments were being disabled. Another person of color had his comments deleted. And another. We (people of color) were being silenced!
Later, I received a call from the Founder of the organization after reaching out to her through different avenues. She informed me that the actions to delete comments were not driven by the leadership, but by a small group of volunteers who were helping to moderate posts. During our call, she relieved me of some concerns that I was having and assured me that those actions were not a reflection of the spirit of the group and even above moderation of the comments, that she genuinely wanted to seek change and show that her community was more inclusive to minority creatives than it actually showed. We discussed some solutions to reach that change and I offered my help to be part of the change.
This morning, I woke up to find the long awaited statement to address the happenings of the day before, particularly interested in the action plan to invoke change and build a more inclusive community with people of color. Instead I read an apologetic composition about how heartbreaking the tension was, and how their goal is to “create a world of community that [wishes] to see in the world around us”. Still searching for the action plan, I read on down to a bulleted list with specific, actionable items on how the group would be moderated that did all but address the root of yesterday’s problem.
That being said, I think what should be made known is the reason why QPSC exists.
Over the past few weeks one of the questions to some of our members has been “can non-African-American people join?” I would be remiss not to educate anyone as to WHY our organization exists before I answer that question. QPSC was borne after a Brown Girl with a Camera meet up. Brown Girl with a Camera was created because of the lack of women of color photographers being represented on a national and international level. You’ve probably heard the saying many times before, and it’s true: REPRESENTATION MATTERS*.
I strongly believe that you cannot have diversity where you don’t have inclusion. You will never understand the story of the underrepresented until you invite them to your circles, hear their stories with an open heart and mind, and (this is the most important part) drive actions to better those relations. The Queen PhotograpHERs of SC exists because no where else else do you see representation of women of color photographers of this magnitude in our state. Before Brown Girl with a Camera’s meet up in Greenville, I couldn’t count on one hand the number of women of color photographers I knew. A year later, our group is over 110 members strong and steadily growing. One of the praises that sums up the spirit of what we do is by one of our newer members, Demetria Moseley who said in a recent blog post, “I was craving a black creative space like this and I’m so happy I found it.”
QPSC offers resources in the form of mentorship, on the job shadowing, an open forum for questions, concerns, and outbursts, workshops, styled shoots, and informational meetings. Could our members find this elsewhere? SURE!? So why do they feel more comfortable in QPSC rather than larger, more established organizations? Because representation, that’s why. Because whenever a member of our community brings forth a concern, they’re not coaxed into hearing what they want to hear, then see that publicly their concerns are masked behind flowery language that makes them feel better. They’re not silenced because someone felt uncomfortable hearing a statement they disagreed with or couldn’t identify with. Debate is encouraged, not shut down.
Even more to this, QPSC is one place where we don’t have to worry about our race standing in front of us building a network to ultimately build our empires. Talking about race to someone who isn’t a person of color in America, to quote my good friend Forrest Gump, is like a box of chocolate: you never know what you’re gonna get. You may come across someone who is empathetic or you may come across someone who is dismissive. You may get someone who joins you in denouncing racism or you may get someone who just gets so uncomfortable that they just want you to shut up and talk about something else that makes them feel better. This is what I witnessed yesterday. To the latter person, I’m sorry to say but race is a difficult topic; there’s no way around it. But this is the reality of people of color. We can’t change the way we’re born, but we can help change the climate if we can agree that to do so, we have to make changes in spaces where we are underrepresented, IF AND ONLY, IF IT IS AGREED THAT DIVERSITY & INCLUSION IS A PRIORITY. If your priority is just to moderate a forum where everyone is happy go-lucky and never responds to controversial or offensive language with passion, then we can continue being a part of the massive 30k+ group.
I would not be as passionate about this had I not been given lip service of hope that the issues of a small percentage of a large community would be voiced so boldly. If we’re being truthful, I was beyond naive.
So, back to the question: can non-African-American women photographers join QPSC?
My answer to you is this: what can QPSC do for you? Our mission is to “provide a network for female photographers of color, local in South Carolina, of any level of expertise to share best practices, ask questions, plan meet-ups, network, and most of all grow.” How can this benefit you? What value does a network of women of color serve you? I would ask the same question if a black male asked to join. I welcome any and all replies to this question. Because the truth is, unless these same people are advocating for people of color, particularly, women of color in spaces where we are not represented, then I don’t see what value anyone who is not a woman of color would find in our community. As mentioned above, there are several other places where you can find the content we deliver and similar events we hold.
I stand by the vision of this community and appreciate my fell0w Co-Founder, all of our members, area leaders, sponsors for our workshops, vendors who contributed to our styled shoots, and even those who just offer encouraging words to let us know we’re doing a job well done. We’ve focused more on building each other up than having to combat negative comments and those who don’t understand why we exist, but in case the question was never answered, here you go.
It is with pride that I also announce that The Queen Photographers is expanding into North Carolina and Georgia. If you, or anyone you know is a woman of color (and this includes more than just African-Americans) photographer who operates in the states of Georgia or North Carolina, please email info@TheQPSC.com so that we can get you connected to our growing networks.
If you are a vendor or organization interested in partnering with The Queen Photographers in any of the 3 states above for a workshop, seminar, styled shoot, etc, please also email info@TheQPSC.com with your name, organization, and how you’d like to help.
If you are a product sponsor and would like to get your goods in front of our membership at any upcoming workshops, feel free to email us at info@TheQPSC.com with your name, business name, and contact information.
It’s time we become honest with ourselves, no matter the color of our skin. We either want change and deal with the growing pains of it, or we can be honest and say that we’re not yet ready to make it. Acknowledging it is the first step and I believe that takes the most courage. In the meantime, you will continue to see organizations emerge where people of color go to find a safe space with like-minded individuals. QPSC will continue to be that space until a radical change for women of color photographers in the Southeastern United States occurs.
Latoya Dixon Smith, Owner & CoFounder of The Queen Photographers
*Modern organizations formed due to representation NOT mattering: