Patia Borja: "Sometimes we want to laugh rather than Instagram be a triggering thing"
The creator of @patiasfantasyworld and that infamous database of BLM-related resources discusses the state of our world, performative activism and learning to organise IRL.
Patia’s story originally appeared in up + rising, a celebration of extraordinary Black voices, and is the first chapter of i-D's 40th anniversary issue (1980-2020). i-D chronicled over 100 activists and artists, musicians and writers, photographers and creatives, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Minneapolis, LA, London, New York, Paris and Toronto.
Patia Borja is tired. Firstly, because it’s 10am in New York. My call woke up the owner of the most irreverent meme account on Instagram, @patiasfantasyworld. Secondly because it’s been a long, draining summer thanks to a perfect storm of a pandemic, a renewed civil rights movement and the general onward collapse of Western society as we know it. Still, she says, laughing in her earthy drawl, one good thing has come out of the Black Lives Matter movement already; formerly stingy rich friends have started paying for shit. “I’ve had so many people pay for my dinner,” she grins. I ask if they think it’s reparations. “Oh yes!” Borja exclaims. “And I’m taking full advantage of it”.
This ability to err on the darker side of the laugh line is what’s made @patiasfantasyworld one of the funniest new content hubs online; a space that holds a “funhouse mirror” up to the world, as GARAGE put it. Patia knows it; she calls the account, which started life as a private finsta between friends, an “escape into a terrible reality, a reminder that we’re all broke, we’re all getting played but we’re also all trying and just doing our best. We’re in this together”.
Although Patia’s name is the one crowning @patiasfantasyworld, she’s not the sole brains behind it. She and three friends all hold the logins, alternate with posting memes (sample: “Even if we can’t be together, I’m glad I sucked your dick”), all of them Black creators who have what Patia calls “real lives” working in fashion and music. Their content is political without being preachy, using wicked humour to get their message across.
But there’s straight up activist work mixed in too; earlier this year Patia and her friends spent five sleepless days creating an exhaustive database and guide, offering everything from links to libraries of free Black literature to every bail fund for protesters arrested during Black Lives Matter demonstrations. At the moment, Patia herself is “barely posting”; real life has interrupted the fantasy.
This summer’s been a mad one. Has the pandemic and the renewed Black Lives Matter movement had an impact on the content you post?
I think we keep it steady. One reason the account is so big is that it hasn’t changed; it’s always been the same content, the same amount of uploads throughout the day, not too many sponsored posts. Obviously with BLM we posted stuff on our stories and created the database but we wanted to maintain a sense of laughing through dark times. Everyone who posts on the account is Black and sometimes we just want to laugh rather than every single post we see on Instagram be a triggering, depressing thing. There are information accounts out there and they’re great but I don’t want to be that. It’s a huge responsibility, keeping people updated 24/7.
Is it strange finding yourself called an activist?
No, I mean I would call myself an activist. I do a lot of offline work; something I’ve learned for myself this summer is dealing with performative activism online, especially in New York. It makes me question myself when I go on Instagram and see certain people posting pictures of themselves doing quote, unquote, activism work and I’m like ‘Wait, am I doing enough?’ because I’m not posting where I’m donating or giving my labour to. But I’m working on finding that validation in myself and not getting blindsided with what’s being put on Instagram stories.
What have you been up to offline?
Lots. At the moment my friends and I are distributing printed versions of our database to different restaurants, stores and brands in New York. The idea literally came from me being like ‘Imagine you’re a white girl ordering from your favourite Lower East Side restaurant and you get a pamphlet on defunding the police with your food’. So my friend said, ‘Wait, let’s do that’. We had four restaurants signed up by the end of the first day.
So you’re converting your online platform into IRL action…
Yes! I’m always thinking ‘What else can I do?’ I got a lot of DMs this summer from people being like, ‘I don’t know what to do’. I think when you introduce something tangible [like making physical copies of our resources guide] that keeps the conversation going. It’s also made me realise like, Oh my god, this is what people did in the 50s and 60s — handing out pamphlets and so on. I think it’s hard folding three fucking pieces of paper, so I respect people organising so much, online and offline. Even when we made Instagram infographics, people around us helped but organising is hard; people come to you and offer you resources and their assistance and you have to keep track of everything. Finding time is the hardest thing; my friends and I are all working class people who have jobs and whole lives outside of social media. We’re not getting paid to do anything. So it’s a struggle co-ordinating.
As a young Black creator working with no funding, how does seeing ‘influencer’ activists like Shaun King who’ve been accused of ‘profiting’ from Black trauma make you feel?
It’s fucking annoying. I made a lot of posts explaining why people like Shaun King are toxic and it’s crazy because I still see people putting him on their stories. People do not read. They still upload videos he shares of Black people getting shot. We do not need to see people dying on camera. I wouldn’t want the platform those people have. I can barely deal with a weekly DM calling me a racist. Besides, it’s tacky. Who wants to get popular off that type of content?
Right now you’re taking time for yourself because the world is so much. Are you feeling optimistic for the general future?
The sky is red in California right now… so much is going on. I don’t think we’ve ever lived in a world where there’s been so much that’s unknown all at once. We’re all taking it day by day. But I’m hopeful in a sense that something has to change, to give at least. I think the main realisation of this year is how much corporations and the wealthy dominate things. People knew this before and were fine with it but the pandemic has really made it hit; it’s been crazy to see it play out.
You’ve said @patiasfantasyworld is a finsta that blew up and you still sometimes see it as a private account. Is it strange people are now coming to you in the wake of BLM as a voice representative of Black creators?
It’s kind of crazy. It’s cool when magazines do it but it’s also funny because in real life, I’ve always been the person to analyse people’s microaggressions. And I was always told I was overreacting; being the dramatic Black girl. But now because of recent events, people have come to me and said ‘You’re right”. So it’s bittersweet to have the platform grow in this way, although now all those people who never gave me a chance will read these magazines and I can be like “See!” Basically: don’t fucking be scared to say what you think.
Photography Lacey Lennon
Fashion director Carlos Nazario
Hair Latisha Chong using Oribe.
Make-up Jamal Scott at the Teknique Group using Barbara Sturm Cosmetics.
Photography assistance Genesis.
Styling assistance Raymond Gee.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Casting assistance Alexandra Antonova.