Tuesday, September 16, 2008

No Really It's Not Me, It's You

Thoughts, ramblings and musings....Where to begin today.  As a blogger not only do I write Womanist Musings, I enjoy visiting other blogs.  What I have noticed is that some people (and you know who you are) love to derail a perfectly good post  by making it all about them,  or they insist on having some ridiculous point validated. that is not central to theme presented for discussion.  It's not cute, or amusing.  What it is, is classic  silencing behaviour.

It is quite easy to write a blog about basket weaving, or the latest recipe, but to truly engage with people and challenge their perceptions takes courage and commitment.  Society loves the conformist and blogging is no different.   We do not embrace originality in thought, or deed because we have embraced the cult of docility.  The status quo is safe and for those existing with social privilege it  is advantageous to maintain.

Time and time again when WOC attempt to engage in the feminist blogosphere, we are silenced.  When we dare to demand that our experiences be validated, our knowledge is discounted. We are held to a different standard with a larger requirement for factual data than is demanded of other bloggers.  Of course we are told that this is all about standards. 

The elusive standards...why is it that WOC never seem to meet the standard?  If you dare to speak about race, and what it means to your life, you are an ABW (angry black woman). If you speak about class, clearly you are not rational because capitalism is working so well.  If you dare to speak about women, well you don't classify as one.  To see oneself daily othered for the maintenance of privilege is a difficult thing for the heart to bear. 

The internet is supposed to be the great equalizer.  Everyone with a modem can potentially have their say...well you can have your say, but unless it is reflective of dominant social ideas you will be dismissed and discounted.  We are constantly lectured about our tone as though our anger, or thought process has no basis in reality.  It is not our tone that is problematic but our message. Even if I were to use the softest, most flowery language to articulate my point, the message would still be dismissed because to embrace me, or women like me, would mean owning your privilege and admitting the ways in which you profit from our social positioning.

When white women strip and loudly protest in the streets for PETA, they are not called angry women.  When white environmentalist tie themselves to trees to protest clear cutting. they are not called angry.  Anger is used against WOC as a means to keep us from articulating our point.

The other common silencing tactic is quite passive aggressive and could pass as the comforting words of the ally to the uninitiated. A WOC will invest her time writing a particularly moving piece. only to have white people relate it their lives, once again making their experience the referential.  You cannot learn to unpack your privilege if you constantly refer to yourself.  The only way to truly learn is to listen to the experiences of WOC and validate our truths.  When I wrote about black women and our hair, I was rewarded with a discussion of white people and dread locks.  There was barely any acknowledgement that this was counter to the topic at hand, or of the co option that had taken place.  Some people do not truly seek to learn, they seek to reinforce the audacity of whiteness.

I post this today not to point fingers, or make accusations.  It is simply a record of my observations. Just as in real life, the online exchange continues to privilege certain bodies.  Even those that claim to be liberal and progressive still actively seek to maintain the status quo.  They present themselves dogmatically with an air of didactic formality, however the real message is not in what is produced but how they respond to the writings of others.  Principles only mean something when you stand behind them in all circumstances.


20 comments:

SjP said...

Could not have said it better! You are so right! And what really gets me is that these same folks feel very comfortable with coming "to your house" like an unseen stalker leaving vile comments anonymously. That really bothers me because if your bad enough to say it you should be bad enough to say it to my face - so to speak.

UWMKatie said...

-delurks-

I just wanted to thank you for what you do Renee. I'm very sad to see the continuing antagonism women of color experience in the feminist blogosphere. As a woman with white privilege, I know it isn't the job of women of color to educate me, but rather my job to educate myself about racism. I truly don't understand why more women (especially feminist women!) don't understand this. Please, please keep up your work both here at Womanist Musings and in the broader blogosphere. Women need to know the experiences of all women!

AR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AR said...

Above post removed because a quote which was supposed to be a slight note in regards to the last sentence proved longer than the rest of my post, and could be construed as a thread-jack.

The internet is supposed to be the great equalizer.

Only if you remain anonymous. Then, the only thing anyone can consider is your argument. Indeed, even maintaining a persistent identity with no visible traits save a consistent name, as I do, destroys this effect, because then you have a reputation which, like any other personal trait besides you stance on the issue at hand, can alter people's perceptions of your arguments.

Consequently, any issue whose arguments depend on the identity of the speaker can not benefit from this. Some regard this as a good thing. Nonetheless, you can still benefit from the drop in price for communication and organization. It does help equalize in that regard, as have many developments.

White Trash Academic said...

Please keep posting here and I will keep listening. I was very concerned (and a little suprised, call me naive but I expected better from the readers of a feminist blog) about the way your posts specifically seemed to often derail into other discussions, however I have now read enough other blogs to notice a pattern.

On white feminist blogs it's tone, on non-feminist blogs discussions of race get derailed by focusing on problems with "how the discussion was framed." WTF?

Iris said...

Thanks, UMW Katie, you said it better than I could.

Renee, some of us are taking are shoes off at the door and listening. This is a very important blog. You *are* engaging and educating people.

harrietsdaughter said...

Hey, Renee - keep writing and I will keep listening and saying amen. I watched that thread derail... as I have seen many others do the same. Thank you for your commitment to post every day, no matter what.

ericaceous said...

Dear Renee,

I'm delurking to say thank you blogging here. I'm appalled and disgusted (but sadly not surprised) by some of the behavior and language I saw over at the feministe comments, since it's the same kind of stuff I see in large LJ communities when I dare to read the comments on something thought-provoking in a quasi-public community.

I do not usually even read comments discussions, partly to conserve my mental and emotional resources for other work, and partly because I feel like it's time for me to listen instead of talk. However, incidents like this make me think about a particular manifestation of my own privileges that I even have the choice to not engage.

So thank you again. Your work is deeply appreciated and very necessary.

seitzk said...

I want to second what everyone says. I was horrified by how you were treated at Feministe, and how none of the regular bloggers there seemed to give a shit. (That could be wrong, but that was my perception.)

Your writing is so important, and so important to me. I respect you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you do, how you do it.

tiggrrl said...

Wow, I just spent way too much time reading through all those comments, and all I can say is that apparently some people have way too much time on their hands and too much hostility that they need to work out by being obnoxious online.

No, you didn't deal with every aspect of breastfeeding or wet nursing history throughout all known time and space, but you weren't trying to! You were addressing one very specific manifestation of racism, and apparently people couldn't just deal with what you were actually talking about, but had to make it all about their angle on the issue.

I thought the community at Feministe was better than that.

Amanda Marcotte said...

I'm sorry you were met with hostility. If it makes you feel any better, a lot of people lurked that post because we didn't have anything to add. I thought it was thought-provoking and made me think about how taboos can function as class markers. I also wondered if milk banks are a way around the conundrum.

Renee said...

Well thanks Amanda, I appreciate your support as well of the support of everyone in this thread.

Anonymous said...

"When white environmentalist tie themselves to trees to protest clear cutting. they are not called angry."

These days they're called terrorists. Is that any better?

The Lizard Queen said...

tiggrrl: "No, you didn't deal with every aspect of breastfeeding or wet nursing history throughout all known time and space, but you weren't trying to! You were addressing one very specific manifestation of racism, and apparently people couldn't just deal with what you were actually talking about, but had to make it all about their angle on the issue."

Indeed -- and that gave the comments that insisted on widening the discussion to include all wet nurses, everywhere, ever, a rather "but what about meeeeeee??" feel -- only it was worse, it was "but what about my historical research." There are clearly ways of furthering the discussion with regard to the intersection of racial and class-based privilege without coming in and insisting that the original poster is utterly wrong and ought to change the original post accordingly.

And I appreciated the commenter who came in and said, hmm, how might sex work connect to this discussion of wet nurses, since both connect to women's bodies? I think that's a good example of bringing up another point to be considered without turning it into a question of who's right and who's wrong.

Renee said...

Well in the end someone determined that I had "lost" because to disengage. My feeling is that continuing to comment on a thread that was so derailed was enabling the derailment. I personally can only tolerate so much twisting of an argument before I say enough. The fact that a choice to disengage could be seen as a loss instead of a valid decision is once again privilege but hey it seems some people are all about expressing that.

iamthelizardqueen said...

Also, I was struck by the idea that writing about the way things are or were for women in North America or in the post-colonial world is writing from a position of privilege. And it made me wonder: how would one define the territory between erasing the experiences of others, and appropriating those experiences? (And I don't mean this as a rhetorical question: I'm curious what people around here think!) Had Renee brought up the fact that privileged Chinese women exploited poor Chinese women, not only would it have been... well, if nothing else, it would have brought the post into territory better covered by a long essay or book than by a blog post, but also it might have been a subject that Renee doesn't necessarily have any expertise on, thus sort of just mentioning them for the sake of mentioning them.

To broaden it somewhat: when a blogger from North America centers a discussion on the experiences of North Americans, is that privilege, or is it simply writing about what one knows? Or does it depend?

(Hopefully that makes some semblance of sense; I've been trying to write this comment for nearly an hour and I can't seem to make it come out right.)

dollyspeaks said...

"Even if I were to use the softest, most flowery language to articulate my point, the message would still be dismissed because to embrace me, or women like me, would mean owning your privilege and admitting the ways in which you profit from our social positioning."

Slam, Renee. That's it. And we white women should know better.. while I don't want to equivocate racism with sexism, white feminists do know what it's like to be deemed "angry." White guys don't like having their privilege or their sexist behavior addressed, whether white feminists are "sweet and polite" about it (*cough* feminine *cough*) or assertive and unrelenting. Instead of learning from that though we seem to replicate the behavior when it comes to WOCs. Nobody, it seems, likes to own up.

But I think your post clarifies why it IS so important to own up, even when it's hard. These problems are bigger than our personal feelings. We have to recognize that putting an end to racist behavior (such as the derailing of the thread you mentioned) takes another brick from the layers of privilege and prejudice... and that is about 100x more important than our fee-fee's.

Lisa said...

I have a question for Renee or anyone who is interested in addressing it. First, I will say, though, that I think you did a really good job guest blogging on Feministe over the past couple weeks and you've got me thinking about privilege and racism a lot lately. My question regards your comments about how white feminists derail threads that are written by WOC when they interject with a personal narrative of their own. I myself am TOTALLY guilty of doing this in all kinds of scenarios - with all people, of all colours, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc...(although I have never thought of it as derailing a conversation) I have always thought of it as a way of relating to other people - in a way that is not condescending, but shows genuine interest in what they are saying, their lives, etc...and shows the ways that experiences of different people are linked. Obviously, this works better in a conversation that is face to face because there is more opportunity to actively listen to what other people are saying, while also sharing. So my question is: Is it not possible to support and affirm what a WOC (or whoever) is saying and acknowledge it's significance, relevance, whatever...while also sharing (what the reader perceives to be) related experiences? Please read this as my genuine interest in your thoughts about this - because it is.

P.S. I think you are spot on about WOC - especially Black women - being labeled angry. White women who don't tow the line, on the other hand, are usually dismissed on the grounds that they are irrational and emotional.

Renee said...

@Lisa thanks for your question. I am actually really glad that you asked it. Here is where the problem for me. Let's say I initiate a conversation like the one I did about black women and hair. It becomes derailment when the conversation shifts and we find ourselves focused on white people and their hair issues. Relating it to your personal experience is not necessarily a problem for me (bare in mind I speak only for myself). It becomes and issue when suddenly when the referential becomes the dominate subject matter.

Elaine Vigneault said...

"When white women strip and loudly protest in the streets for PETA, they are not called angry women. When white environmentalist tie themselves to trees to protest clear cutting. they are not called angry."

Uh, actually, we're called "terrorists." Look it up. It's called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and it labels all us bunny-huggers and tree-huggers terrorists.

More: http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/green-scare/