How The Meme Account @PatiasFantasyWorld Became a Central Voice in the Anti-Racism Movement

@PatiasFantasyWorld started as a space for sharing memes rooted in the black experience, and has evolved to be a central voice in fighting racism.

@patiasfantasyworld patia borja
Image courtesy of @PatiasFantasyWorld.

If you’re not already following @PatiasFantasyWorld on Instagram, you’re late. And if you’re just now noticing that the meme account has an activist agenda, you’re late to that, too. The account has always been radical, in its own way, whether that angle stemmed from calling out and naming abusers in the downtown scene or simply posting a found meme about the black experience.

Patia Borja is the founder and one of three administrators of the account (the other two are her friends River and Laina), which she runs while balancing school and exams. Some of the memes are explicit, many of them are relatable, and all of them are sourced from various other meme pages or Facebook posts. To put it simply, @patiasfantasyworld is chaotic good, and Borja has now taken it upon herself—catalyzed by the exhaustion she felt from witnessing black people suffer and die at the hands of police and racists and knowing that no white person was going to step in on her behalf—to create an accessible, continually updated master list of resources to fight racism and white supremacy.

The Fantasy World Master List of Resource on How to Dismantle Racism, is a comprehensive database, which includes a list of bail funds, resources specifically for teachers, resources for direct support of black LGBTQ individuals, mental health resources for black people, and even a handy guide directed towards her white followers who want to know how to start a conversation about racism with their white friends and family.

Borja spoke to W about the genesis of her account, why she created this multi-faceted database, and what she hopes to see come out of this moment.

I want to ask you about the master list resource guide, but I’ve mentioned your account on W’s site as a niche meme account to follow before and I think there are still a lot of people in that audience who might not be familiar with who you are and what you do with your Instagram account.

That was the whole gag when that came out. We were like, “Hold up?” [Laughs.] It felt like a surprise because I didn’t have that many followers at the time, and I noticed I was tagged and I was like, “What is going on? We’re going to be in Town & Country next.” [Laughs.]

Probably! People know you now. I saw Chloë Sevigny sharing your anti-racist resource guide on her Instagram yesterday, which is a pretty big deal.

Yeah! I started it on Sunday and wanted to put it out on Tuesday, because it’s going to be constantly updated. But then the black square situation happened and I was like, it’ll get buried. I had to make my voice on Tuesday about taking that shit down because of how the algorithm works. I still see a few black squares on my feed today, two days later. I only slept like seven hours total throughout that, and I had people helping me, but yesterday I passed out for like two hours and woke up to like Playboy, Chloe Sevigny sharing it. I was like, what is going on?

How did @patiasfantasyworld get started?

It started out as a finsta. I have a private account now and it’s less memes, but it’s the same kind of content, just more problematic, I’ll say and be honest about. [Laughs.] Then I went public because I was like, nothing on here is really private. I was never a selfie person and I always felt like memes kind of said enough about how I felt. I felt like a meme was my selfie. It had really slow traction. I started it maybe at the end of 2017 and it wasn’t that serious, and I really don’t know how I blew up.

Did you ever expect the account to get as big as it is now, with over 100,000 followers?

People always say I had the right people that followed it and those people have jobs at every one of these cool brands. I never paid attention to the followers, I just always noticed I had high engagement. People were interacting with me, trying to talk to me, which was weird because I grew up not social and now everyone’s on me. The one thing I always did that kept it relevant was that I always spoke up. I would call out abusers in New York, people who were rapists. I got a lot of heat of it, but it never affected my bills. At the end of the day, it felt good. If I had 10,000 followers and I was making a post about some clout chaser, I would do that and at the end of the day I’d get 30 DMs from different girls being like, “Thank you so much.” I was like, okay this is what I’m doing, because the memes are seen and then it’s also I have a voice of being like, I will call out what is wrong.

How do you curate the memes you post on the page?

There was no special way of curating it. If I saw something, I’d post it right away. But then I got my friends River and Laina to join me in December, because I couldn’t really stay on my phone. I was being really social last fall and winter, so they post. It’s kind of cool because they have their own voices, and I don’t think people realize it sometimes. Our voices are all related, but there are some individual things. In December, we had 20,000 followers and at that time I still didn’t think that was a lot. I think the basis is that it’s always been a simple account that was like memes and one selfie a month. There wasn’t a specific goal of making it a business, and I definitely didn’t think that I’d be doing this right now. When I launched the database, I didn’t think it would get that traction, even with having a lot of followers. I made the database because I was tired of echoing my thoughts, but at the same time I was like, people might not read this because people don’t like to read, and if people actually liked to read we would not be in this predicament that we are continuously in, you know what I mean? So many of my friends were like, “Of course it got a lot of attention, you have all these followers!” And I’m like, yeah but since the history of time, people do not read. People can like this today, but I’m more interested in how this carries on long term.

Some white meme accounts appropriate memes from black meme accounts, and often use the n-word, kind of like a form of digital black face. Was @patiasfantasyworld a way of taking that back?

I think that’s ultimately why I stayed public, too. If you’re black, you know where I get my content from, but you also know that that type of meme doesn’t have ownership. Some of the stuff I’ll post, I’ve seen that same meme 40 times with a different background and Android emojis. There’s no level of ownership because I think the black community is always about sharing. That also takes place on Facebook with the aunties and uncles posting this shit, and even Instagram. I think a lot of non-black people don’t understand that because whenever people ask, “Do you make the memes?” I’m like, “Why would I make the memes?” The memes are meant to be shared amongst black people. That’s why most of them have no credit on them.

You’re from Jacksonville, but you live in New York now. How do you feel about the ways in which people engage with your content here vs. down there? Do you have any idea where the followers are mostly located?

Most are in New York, which is crazy because it feels weird when so many eyes on you are in the city you live in. Sometimes I would be like, “Why would someone in Ohio follow me? Do they get what I’m posting?” And then I’m like, oh black is black everywhere. I had a few people from my hometown in Jacksonville say they’ve been sending it to their nieces, and even my friends here who aren’t from New York have been sending it to their family members back home. The database is very bittersweet for me because I did all this work. I had people help me, but I executed that in three, four days, and I put in the work. I put in the work because I was tired of people being lazy. I know that’s not something I should’ve done, but I was having a phone call with my friend Will, and he was like, “You can’t leave this up to white people to do.” That database would never have been created by anyone besides me. Because black people are tired, and white people can’t do the work unless you force feed it. And it’s clear that they can’t do the work because all these people went protesting just to post a black square, and it was like, “What are you fighting for?”

As you wrote in the introduction of your database, it’s not your job as a black woman to do this work for everyone and you deserve the time to recuperate because it’s taxing to see ignorance all the time. As someone who spent the time and energy to graciously put this guide together, what would you like to see in return?

I had a post last night that asked people “What did you work on today?” People were listing things from this girl Jasmine Mitchell, who has an anti-racism packet and one focus of it is how to talk to your black friends about what’s going on. People were telling me things that they read and I was like, “Oh, I didn’t even finish reading that.” Like, they actually clicked the link, went in on the first day. That was surprising. I’d like to see more of that. I’m learning people need to know what they’re fighting for. I don’t think racism ends at politics. There are some brands on my “proactive and inclusive” list, and people emailed me being like, “Oh, those CEOs donated to Trump.” I think white people find it easier to talk about politics than about racism. Sometimes it feels condescending when people talk to me about Trump, especially white people, because it’s like, you think I don’t know what’s going on? Trayvon Martin happened during Obama. George Zimmerman is still free. I’m not blaming that on Obama, but I’m saying I don’t think it’s right to right now turn it into a discussion about Trump.

Right, like the administration is one consequence of a centuries-long project of systemic, institutionalized oppression, and should be dismantled, but it’s not the only thing to point to right now.

Yes. I can look back now that I’m older and see that when I was growing up in Jacksonville, it’s a town where you really feel the systemic racism. I think in New York, white people haven’t been and are not willing to admit that they’re racist, because they don’t think they’re like Donald Trump. They think, “I have this education, I don’t talk like him, I don’t say openly racist stuff so I can’t be racist.” I think that’s a problem. These are the same people marching. And right now, people need to really reflect. I’d like to see people not deflect towards Trump right now. For instance, if you’re white, and at every job that you’ve had, the office was predominantly white, I’m 100 percent sure no white person ever questions that. In the end, that’s being complicit. The fact that you can’t be like, “Wait, our office is all white girls in Flatiron. This is weird,” is a form of racism. For black people, we feel that. Every job interview I’ve ever had, especially when I wanted to work for certain brands and walked in the office and saw the one black girl I was like, “Oh she’s just here to get the check.” And there’s this micro-agression where they’re looking extra hard at your resume, but you know that 99 percent of that office weren’t even qualified to work that job, but they felt safe enough to employ those people.

How would you want to see people using your database to fight racism without actually going out to attend a protest?

I’d like to see people be more proactive with reading even if they’re not protesting. I gave a lot of resources because I’m aware that some people are too scared to protest. It’s very physical. I’m not protesting because I don’t like crowds and I’m concerned for my safety as a black woman, and I’m also like, “I’m not fighting this one more time. I can fight this another way.” I’d like to see more people understand what they’re fighting for. Everyone clearly was big on quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X at the beginning of this, and it’s like, there are so many other black leaders. I was asked on a podcast about white people who say they don’t know how to find the words, and I said, the people who don’t know how to find the words on what’s going on do not care about black lives. And they haven’t. They have lived their entire lives not prioritizing black people and that is evident. Because there’s no excuse if you’re not black to not have the words. You can’t sit and be like, “Thoughts and prayers. I’m so distraught about what’s happening to the black community.” No you’re not, because you know it’s been happening, especially in America. This country is built on racism. That is why police brutality is allowed and is rampant. My favorite is when a white person responds to this with, “As a mother, I can’t imagine losing my son.” And it’s like, well your son is not black and we’re not talking about if he died in a car crash, we’re talking about racism.

How are you managing all of the messages coming in from people that recommend new information to add to your master list? That must be taxing and time consuming.

I slept for three hours last night and woke up to texts from everyone asking me if I slept and telling me I have to relax. I’m like, I can’t! I feel like the millennial Harriet Tubman right now. [Laughs.] I can’t stop. I mean I’m trying to. I’m going back to school next week and I have an exam to take today. It’s two hours long and I’m like, “Can I be away from this for two hours? I don’t know if I can!” Right now, I understand why all those leaders we were taught about in our history, this was all day and night for them. I’m not trying to be like “kumbaya.” My initial point of making the list was because I was tired of people DMing me asking “What can I do?” I was getting that DM probably 30 times an hour. It came from a point of being annoyed, not from a point of being like, “I’m going to help the society that we all live in.” I’m glad it’s helpful for a lot of people, but I want to be clear that I made that because I was fucking tired. And I was willing to be tired for three more days.

You get a lot of racist responses in your DMs and comments, and you have been getting those since long before these protests started, and you often air them out. How do you cope with that?

I’m very desensitized. It doesn’t bother me, but then when you think about it, it doesn’t bother me because I’ve gotten those so many times. And I don’t think people are mindful of what they post. Like the people posting 40 clips of themselves posting on Instagram Stories, that stuff desensitizes me. And I think that’s why I don’t protest, because I don’t feel anything, because I’m so sick of this shit happening over and over again. To see it 40 times on one person’s feed, I’m like, I know what a protest looks like and I know what crazy cops look like, I don’t need to see it 40 times every day. So I’ve had to mute a lot of friends, sorry to whoever’s reading. [Laughs.] I can handle someone being racist because I know when people say racist stuff to me, and not to be elitist, but they’re just not educated. Even though they might be, I don’t mean educated as in schooling, I mean they’re so unaware and basking in ignorance. But I’m not going to cry if 50 people DM me saying they’re going to lynch me. I don’t give a fuck. That’s how desensitized I am, which is crazy. I’m not surprised or shocked, but it’s interesting when I post those things and everyone else is like, “I can’t believe this disgusting behavior.” I’m like, girl I’ve been dealing with this since I was five. That’s just my reality. That’s why I kept posting when people said stuff because it’s important to realize it’s not just the KKK and police with this behavior. It can be the people around you. People constantly forget that. They think racism is like some rednecks running up to someone’s house and lighting it on fire. That’s their idea of racism and that’s what I’m trying to change. I want people to admit that they’ve been participating in a system that kills black people in all aspects. Like with healthcare, if a black person can’t get a job or they’re not getting paid enough, they can’t take care of themselves and get affordable insurance because they’re not getting paid enough because employers are paying their white colleagues more. That shit kills black people. You don’t put good grocery stores in black neighborhoods, so of course they get high cholesterol and all this shit. Black people die every single day at the hands of the system, and that’s just a fact.

How do you expect white allies, for lack of a better word, should be interacting with your memes? A lot of the stuff that you post is clearly not for them, but sometimes those are also the same posts that I see white people laughing at the hardest. What’s the difference between laughing at something that’s just generally relatable and funny, and laughing at something that is clearly a consequence of black trauma?

I’ll post a meme about chitlins and I’m like, “I know for a fact, you eat at Balthazar, you do not know about chitlins!” [Laughs.] I think the reason I blew up is because black people, who especially had power or worked in certain places, fucked with me. I don’t think I blew up because a white person put me on. I’m like, “What’s the funny part of this meme that you like?” I’ll see the same person who posted a black square and I’m like, but you laughed at something that wasn’t for you. It’s bittersweet. You know the Dr. Umar videos? There’s one that’s like, “This is an African people’s live, only.” [Laughs.] There’s another video where he pauses for a long time and asks, “Why is there a caucasian in here?” That’s kind of how I feel. [Laughs.] It’s hard to go through followers because there’s no real way of sorting them, but overnight I’ve seen so many brands following me, and I’m like, you don’t even cast black people, but now you like my database? You should be mad that there has to be a database for you in 2020, you should be upset. People have been PayPal-ing me donations, and I’m not calling companies out, but you got me fucked up if you’re donating $50 to me and you’re a whole company. I don’t go through each donation right now because there are so many, but some I’ve randomly clicked on, I’m like, you’re a whole LLC. I don’t want to say that white people can’t look at my memes, but I don’t know, I guess I already said it. [Laughs.] I used to get scared of saying shit like that because I had to deal with the white people I knew being like, “So, do you think I should unfollow?” I was like, oh my god, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t individualize yourself when I say “white people.” Anyone with two brain cells knows that when we say, “We hate white people,” it’s also representative of the white system and society. People want to point out that I have a white friend and I’m like, here y’all go, running from the problem. Yes, I have white friends, you know why? That’s how you got a “White to white conversations” slide in my database. Because I don’t know how to talk to y’all, so I had to have my white friends break it down. You wanted something for you so badly, you got something.

Where do you hope to see @patiasfantasyworld and the database go forward in the future?

My friend Walter Pearce and his friend Joe are from the casting agency Midland Agency. They’re working on a site right now. We’re prioritizing a mobile site first, so it’s just super simple drop downs. I can’t believe what I just took on. I did this and was like, “I’m gonna go to sleep for a week and catch up on my TV programs,” and now I’m like, oh this work actually doesn’t end. Our people have done it so it’s not something I’m going to complain about, I just did not think people would listen to me because people had never listened to me in the past. Which is something for people who follow me to reflect on when I say that, and the people I know. I never felt listened to, which is why I thought this would reach my downtown friends and the scene, but not really go outside of that. I hope to put more black people on, and call out businesses for being racist. I’m done with “open your purse.” Open your purse is over, now I’m gonna empty it. We’re emptying purses now.

People will likely look at your database, where it’s all spelled out for them, and still come to you and ask you what they can do.

To people who are saying, “What can I do?” you’re going to read and you’re going to donate. I’m not gonna tell people to protest, that’s your personal decision. I think white people should be protesting, but you have to be considerate of the fact that we’re in a pandemic. I’ve been thinking about this, would people still be protesting as hard as they are if they had jobs? Would someone quit their job to do this? Most of the time, the answer is no. And also people are happy to be outside. Would this still be happening if it was winter? I’m curious. It’s nice out so of course you’re going to be fine with walking from the Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square, I would do that too on a nice day if there wasn’t a quarantine. A lot of my friends have been very open about resources they can offer, so I want to plan things. I made the database because I wanted to do something angled towards people who are home, or maybe live in not a major city where there’s a protest going on. I’ve gotten a lot from my own friends even saying they don’t feel like they’re doing enough, even though they’re protesting and giving money. It’s not enough, so you can read before bed. I think people should also know it’s not about asking what’s enough, you should be able to gauge how successful you are in terms of what your goals are to dismantle racism.

And because it’s so comprehensive, there’s no way you can look at it and say you’ve done all the work in two weeks.

Right! There are so many free books people have uploaded, and I’m not even reading books that fast, so I know damn well there’s no way in two weeks people are going to be done with that. Which is why I made it a life long thing. The one great thing is I’ve gotten a lot of people telling me they’ve sent it to their employers and the places they’ve worked. That’s a great place to start because at the end of the day we all have to work. If we can at least make these companies aware of what they’re doing and how they can change their practices, that’s something good that will trickle down and people will be proud of where they get paid.

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