Open Thread: Preliminary Thoughts on Being an Anti-Racist, Anti-Sexist Ally

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The Psychology Today post yesterday, and the disappointing LACK of response from the feminist blogosphere got me thinking… What does it mean to be an anti-racist, anti-sexist ally in the blogosphere?

Tanya D has a round-up of posts. Note that the majority are from the usual suspects: Karnythia, who is ALWAYS AWESOME, ABW, and Racialicious. I saw a post on feministe, but haven’t seen ones on Jezebel, even though Satoshi Kanazawa received some criticism from them earlier last month for his misogyny (though you can see there’s no mention of his xenophobia or racism).

I think conversations like this demonstrate that women of color are often silenced in conversations about race and gender. And this is a symptom of a two part problem:

1. “Mainstream” feminist blogs have few WOC bloggers

2. “Mainstream” feminist blogs don’t consider themselves anti-racist allies.

The second point bothers me the most. I mean, it’s great to say you look at new media and popular culture using an intersectional lens, or to have tags about race and ethnicity on your sidebar. But, if you’re doing that and NOT acting as an ally (providing a space for WOC to speak, linking to WOC blogs, cross-posting, etc) you are NOT engaged in a politics of solidarity, and you are NOT acting as an ally. If you’re doing things like making your one or two WOC bloggers “handle” all the racist or xenophobic comments your blog receives, you’re not being an ally. If you’re using “feminist” as a codeword for “white, middle class women” and “race” as a code for “blackety black black stuff we’ll talk about occasionally?” Yeah. Not an ally.

The Psychology Today post was a clusterfuck. Even today, I’m still processing the concerns I have as a black woman and an academic. After all, dudes like Kanazawa will be my future colleagues in a social science landscape where WOC are often valued for their presence and discursive credibility and not their scholarship, research, writing, or quality of (professional) life. The MAJOR downer of this is that I’m realizing that this is similar to the feminist blogosphere, where the voices of WOC are only valued as imagined presences, not as valued colleagues or allies.

Comments

  1. says

    For me, I think there is also an element where– well, Satoshi Kanazawa is barking mad, & I wonder if there is just outrage fatigue? The way that not every Rush Limbaugh quote stirs up the blogosphere into righteous indignation. That being said “pick & choose your battles” often equates to “fight for the rights of rich white people!” all too often, which is a point well taken.

  2. Attackfish says

    This is part of the reason I don;t go on Feministing anymore, They’re really bad with the other isms, class, race, disability, religion… They’re sort of okay on gender nonconformity after having it knocked into them.

    The thing about Kanazawa is you’d think it would be an easy case. I often don’t want to say something about something I think might be racist for fear of making the situation worse, but Kanazawa is so obviously a bigoted asshole that you would think that fear wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t for me.

    And there’s always the “is the situation better served by me stepping back and letting a POC talk about this, or should I add my voice to the throng?” Since I rarely do any social justice blogging at all (bad girl) I mostly just get good at linking to other people’s posts.

    And of course there’s a lot of NIMBY for a lot of people. Which they need to get over now.

  3. luxdancer says

    Echidne of the Snakes mentioned it, and they’ve talked about Kanazawa’s work before. I swear there was a huge four part series on him, but I can’t find it right now.

  4. says

    There’s a fine line between being an ally and speaking over the marginalized group. It’s hard to know when you’ve crossed it and it can be upsetting to be told you screwed up when you were just trying to help. When I’m in that situation, I have to keep reminding myself, “It’s not about me.” Which means two things, that I need to step back and let other people speak for themselves, and that me screwing up isn’t personal. Having privilege is not a personal failure, it’s an institutional one. Accepting that makes it easier to shut up and listen.

    The best compromise I’ve come up with as an anti-racist ally is to retweet and reblog the words of POC. When I write about racism, I include quotes from POC with links back to them. In that way I’m not presuming to speak for them, but I am signal boosting what they’ve said. Besides, I don’t have first hand experience with racism and this method adds valuable content to my feed that I could never obtain myself.

  5. Shaun says

    I don’t think it’s fatigue. I’ve noticed the dogs of war are unleashed every time there’s an attack on white women or white womanhood–look at all the attention that Ultra-Orthodox Israeli newspaper got when it erased the photos of Hillary Clinton and another white woman. All well and good, except they did the same thing to Condoleezza Rice and another WOC years ago, and nobody said a thing, and I only learned THAT from a WOC blog.

    Apologies if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Jezebel the site that had an article about some guy who thought we needed to “tone down consent,” like the French do with their loose European women, in order to make better sex for Americans or some shit? Does that even count as a feminist site? >>

    As for the point of your post, I think a lot of this is white women assuming that their concerns are universal to women, and that racialized portrayals of women either do not exist or are secondary to their portrayals as women. Everybody wants to rank which oppressions are most important, and even being oppressed on two or more intersections can just lead to an environment where those are considered paramount.

    Apologies if any of this comes across as whitesplaining, I tried to speak in really really generalized terms because I think what you’re talking about is relevant to a pretty large discussion.

  6. says

    Shaun,

    You are indeed correct that Jezebel ran an article from a guy who’d been to France and reported back that a French woman told him to date rape his drunken crush, so it was totally cool and feminist! It was ripped apart in the comments but that’s small consolation.

  7. M.C. says

    I think it’s awful that people still think that you can be anti-sexist without being anti-racist. Because there is no such thing as sexism that is not in context of a particular race, class, ect. An able-bodied bisexual cis-gendered upper-class black woman will experience a different kind of sexism than a straight transgendered working-class white woman with a disability.
    If you think you can be anti-sexist without being anti-racist then you are either uneducated, stupid, or a lying piece of shit that enjoys their race or class or whatever privileges too much to give a fuck about other human beings.

  8. says

    I’ll be the brutally honest white apologist for a moment here – I think it might be helpful if I’m really honest about my own thought processes in coming to understand this stuff much better than I did 6 years ago.

    I was suffering from some white privilege when I started this site and didn’t know it. I remember one day having a revelation about intersectionality: I’d been discussing with other writers that the focus of Hathor should be womanism, not racism. I had interpreted that as meaning we shouldn’t talk about other isms. Then Revena finally got it through so me: but some women are also of color, gay, etc.

    I had it backwards: the only way to fight for women in general is to VISIBLY fight for various sorts of women. It’s not enough to say “Go, you!” to your monitor when bloggers of color tackle something like yesterday’s article. You have to show that you identify at least somewhat with women of color and disabled women and all types of women without implying you know what they feel. That is a slightly tricky line to walk, as Sylvia talks about, but it’s not that tricky. If you fancy yourself a writer, you had better be able to pull it off, right? And basically: you identify with them as a fellow human who is outraged when people are mean to one another. That’s it! It’s not that hard.

    But figuring it out takes some work. Privilege makes it as if you are stupid. The smartest person alive can struggle when privilege is insulating her from recognizing something. Your ego takes a few hits when you realize privilege has made you think like a fool AND not be helpful to the cause you meant to serve.

  9. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Jennifer Kesler:
    And basically: you identify with them as a fellow human who is outraged when people are mean to one another.

    That’s the only way to go really. Because what is a “woman”? Every human society until the 17th century knew that there are more than 2 genders. Only in the last few centuries the dominant western society has deluded itself into thinking that there are only “men” and “women”. But it’s so ridiculous once you look at the bigger picture, at all the different gender expressions and sexual preferences that are out there.
    What is a woman? Someone who doesn’t enjoy gender privilege. But what kind of gender privilege? That of a white able-bodied male? That of a black able-bodied bi-gendered male?

    Remember how the USA armed forces started recruiting more and more women in the 1970s? One of the main reasons was to avoid a “black army”, because so many black men were joining. What did the idiots in charge happen to forget? That not every woman is white. And now about 48% of female US soldiers are black (or at least they were in the early 2000s since I don’t have the current numbers).
    What does this little story tell us? You can’t be sexist without also being racist ect.

  10. Casey says

    Shaun,

    I’m a fellow white person, so feel free to disregard this, but I don’t think what you said was whitesplaining at all, I’ve read the exact same sentiments expressed by Renee of Womanist Musings and you’ve hit the nail on the head, really. This WoC erasure in (mainstream, well-to-do White woman) feminism is an issue I’ve been thinking of A LOT after going on massive “binges” reading all the articles/blog posts on her site, like, since I don’t really do any social justice blogging, IDK what to do besides maybe get off my dead ass and start some kinda tumblr that signal boosts this sort of stuff. I also think someone (maybe me, why not?) should start a WoC trans-misogyny watch site, chronicling all the instances of prominent (and not so much) WoC getting trashed in the media (I too am deeply alarmed at white feminists rushing to always defend Hilary but they never seem to give a shit about Michelle Obama).

    Er…that was a gibberishy tangent. >_>V

  11. Maria says

    mordicai,

    I don’t think it’s outrage fatigue — I think it’s energy co-optment. Like, if you look at the contributions of WOC theorists (like the muddy citational history of “intersectionality” as a concept or the clusterfuck where Amanda Marcotte stole brownfemipower’s work (http://inastrangeland.wordpress.com/2008/04/), you see that white feminist writers are EAGER to take ideas and contributions from WOC bloggers and scholars, AS LONG AS white womanhood remains central to the conversation. As soon as those WOC bloggers are like, Oh crap, some shit’s going down about Michelle Obama and monkeys, those false friends disa-fucking-pear.

  12. Maria says

    Attackfish: often don’t want to say something about something I think might be racist for fear of making the situation worse,

    Can you say a little more about what might be making the situation worse?

  13. Attackfish says

    Maria,

    I mostly worry that if I get indignant and start talking, it’ll end up being a fight between white people about POC, and that instead of helping their fight, I’m taking it over.

  14. Shaun says

    Heh. Your first link about woc being silenced in conversations about race/gender is kind of illustrative in a roundabout way. If you can actually manage to get through the white supremacy in some of the comments (what appears to be one really active troll) there are several woc commenting that they were at Toronto SW (which the OP wasn’t) and it did include them, but those women don’t really look like they’re being responded to. I’m getting the impression the media portrayal is a bunch of white women too.

  15. says

    This is an interesting story in light of what we’re talking about.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/05/16/Zwerg.freedom.rides/index.html?iref=allsearch

    As a young man, this white man rode with some black students in a peaceful protest to end segregation. He was beaten to within an inch of his life. A nurse at the hospital sedated him heavily the first night because a lynch mob was coming for him, and if they got him, she wanted him to be unconscious of whatever they did to him. His parents never forgave him for what HE saw as his very best expression of the Christianity they’d instilled in him, but what they saw as putting them through misery for no good reason. His remarks years later upon seeing the photos of himself after the beating on a museum wall at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Museum in Alabama:

    “I looked at it, and what it brings back to me more than anything else is that I got so much notoriety because I was white,” he says. “I looked at that picture and I thought of all the people that never get their names in a book, never get interviewed but literally had given their lives. Who the hell am I to have my picture up there?”

    He was suddenly flooded with guilt. He started bawling during the ceremony as startled people looked on. Then another Freedom Rider veteran, a strapping black man named Jim Davis, walked over to Zwerg.

    Zwerg’s voice trembles with emotion as he recalls what Davis said. “He said, ‘Jim, you don’t realize that it was your words from that hospital bed that were the call to arms for the rest of us.’ “

    Zwerg certainly deserves credit for being a good ally, but he’s right: this plays like he’s getting credit for being an exceptional white. The message is that it was above and beyond for this young white man to fight white oppression, but it’s just expected that PoC should, as after all they have a vested interest in that outcome, right? Not fair. ANYONE who put themselves on the line like this deserves recognition.

  16. Shaun says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I read that. It’s kind of messed up that, in the article about him, Zwerg doesn’t think they should be centering him because he’s white, and yet CNN, while reporting this, doesn’t even name all the other people involved. It’s not as if he just died and they’re honoring him–my guess is the article’s up because it’s the 50th anniversary, yet the actions of everyone else aren’t considered as noteworthy.

  17. Attackfish says

    Maria, Jennifer Kesler, Shaun,

    See, this is what I’m worried about doing more harm than good, being the Noble White Crusader, and that if I speak up, people will hear me instead of the POC talking about the same thing, and talking about it better.

  18. says

    Shaun, exactly! I was sort of “whu…” at the end because I thought it was so clear the black man was just trying to comfort him. The fact that what Zwerg did was good really has nothing to do with whether or not black people who lost their lives are to be remembered or forgotten, but that sailed right over CNN’s head.

    Attackfish, that’s always a possibility. My theory on it is: if you speak up, and people start treating you like the great white hero, you have two options: pull an Amanda Marcotte and take a bow for someone else’s work, or take it as a chance to highlight the writers – via names and quotes, maybe – who have expressed the same or similar ideas better.

  19. Maria says

    Attackfish,

    I’ve been trying to think of a way to respond to your comment about fear in a way that’s compassionate and tactful, and haven’t been successful. So, I’ll be honest: to me, that’s an explanation, not an excuse. If we were activists together, and I observed that about you, I’d be saddened to learn that I couldn’t rely on you to confront your fear when I needed you to.

  20. Casey says

    Maria,

    Yeah you’re right, fear of coming off like a (LITERAL) White Knight (who may or may not end up dominating the conversation and inadvertently erases the voices of W/oC) is a stupid thing, and the flimsiest fear/excuse for anything I can think of…says a lot about my White privilege (that I need to continue to examine/dismantle) that I think such a fear is “okay”/”understandable” ‘cuz I struggle with it too, when I wouldn’t give men of any stripe any leeway in regards to rape culture.
    Er…I’m just rambling some more.

  21. Attackfish says

    Maria,

    I explained a fear, not that I give into it. If I have it, it means other people have it, and many of them probably do give in to it.

  22. Attackfish says

    Maria,

    The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and making things worse is a close cousin to the one that makes some authors say about writing characters of color/queer/disabled/female/etc. characters “well, if I do it wrong, people will be mad at me, so I’m just not going to do it.” It;s wrong, it’s cowardly, and it props up the status quo, but it’s there. It’s only wrong if you give into it.

  23. says

    When I first started pointing out racist and other -ist stuff that didn’t directly affect me, I felt the fear Attackfish is talking about, and like her I didn’t want to give in. But I also didn’t know how to proceed. Very often, I’d instinctively feel something was racist, but I couldn’t distill it into words. So I’d search online and find someone else’s explanation.

    I adopted the strategy of simply saying: “This is really racist – here’s a link to [PoC blogger] that explains why better than I could.” By highlighting the issue, indicating I cared, and then pushing new eyeballs to someone who knew firsthand about that form of oppression, I was at least doing something.

    Later on, I gained confidence as I read more (both from bloggers of color AND from white allies whose remarks seemed to be appreciated), and now I feel I can explain some instances of oppression that don’t affect me directly (not all). But even if I’d never gotten to that point, I think the above strategy would be a fair compromise for an ally who can’t overcome the fear that her own words will do more harm than good.

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