Saturday, April 26, 2008

Burning Questions

Because I have random thoughts that shoot out of me, I am just going to keep one thread of questions that I update as the questions come.

How in the HELL does a "feminist" press claim "not thinking" when publishing a book about politics and include vulgar images of racism?  

Why do people think I have any idea of what a white feminist should do to unlearn her upbringing?

How do you offer yourself without putting your neck on the chopping board of privilege?

Is there a prescription for being an ally?

Is it just me, or are these latest debacles reminiscent of extended recess in 7th grade (girl's side of the fence)?

It's not getting better, is it?

Why is it that when a womyn of color has a complaint, she's a loudmouth meanie who loves the fleshy attacks at white necks, but when a string of white folks say Hey! it renders apologies and San Francisco diversity trainings? 

Do I really think, after all of that, change is possible?

Or, do I think community building is possible?

More importantly, do I want to?

Who do you build community with?

Who do I trust?

What would Gloria say?
Updated Lightning Questions and Random Thoughts

What should happen next?

A word on being my ally:
I don't know how other people identify an ally.  WOC are all different (newsflash) and expectations vary.

Allies aren't the ones who simply make room for me.  True golden allies are those who can temporarily excuse themselves to not only listen, but apply it into their own LIFE - not career, not social justice theory, not dissertation.  I know I am moving into a better allying space when I realize I am walking next to uncertainty but I trust the walking partner to take me there even though I'm scared as shit to mess up.  

 Being an ally is not as dramatic as people paint it lately.  I mean, how difficult is it to decenter yourself and your own life and absorb someone else's for a few minutes of your day?  Do you realize it's not just about you?  It's not just about YOUR definitions of what is an ally.  DO you know acknowledge the larger systematic boot of violence against womyn of color and the knife of economic violence that shoves womyn of color into corners of poverty, rape, and silence? (I mean, really acknowledge it.)   Being an ally is not ripping the mic from someone else and thrusting it in the face of WOC.   Because, in the end, fast forward 60 years from now, the only person who can answer if you led a life of transformation and solidarity is you.  Why ask me?  

I can share this - Writers and fems and people that I gravitate toward are typically the ones who fight from their life, their life story. One of the more finer lines of division in "feminism" are the womyn who write and fight from their souls and the ones who fight from their head. For me, the clearest indication of an ally is the one who can tell the two apart.  And then can articulate why that division exists in the first place.

And so, with that fundamental difference of online feminism, where DO we go from here?  Wait for another conference, agree to go and see if we can be in one room without killing each other? Have a radical carnival that features not just rwoc or just white fems?  Wait till everything dies down and then move forward when the next explosion occurs?  Blame the patriarchy?  Take a nap?

Why did I used to say that I was an "anti-racist feminist?"  Shouldn't have someone told me that I was repeating myself?  Shouldn't all feminists be anti-racist?  Or should all anti-racists be feminist?  Why do I feel the need to specify and spell that out to people?

If Stanton, Anthony, and even Friedan were reading the feminist blogosphere, would they apologize for their racist comments?  Were they even aware that their agenda was racist?  What is the difference between the agenda of the first "documented" US feminists and the feminist identified womyn today, minus the "waves" description?

If Lorde, Anzaldua, hooks, Smith, Zia were following the fem blogosphere, what would they advise at this point?  Is it better to continue to move forward with clearly different agendas and definitions of feminism and just continue to battle it out each time there is a clear conflict, or do we try and actually agree on a few things and move forward together -- is that "together" even truly possible?

Why do I feel more hardened than softened by feminism?  If the point was to  work for equality, then I assume that means that I would learn to better perceive others as equal and work through my own prejudices and obstacles...It'd make sense that that would soften me.  Instead, the roadblocks with the people who are supposedly "feminists" have angered me to the point of being a rigid rock wall rather than a rich ground of soil for grrls to learn from and grow.  What happened there?
Update 4/29/08
I just spent an hour reading posts about being an ally and I found it interesting how many good hearted folks are writing about their desire to listen to womyn of color.  A question popped into my mind.  Do folks realize that I am working through my own crap as well?  I mean, aren't we all?  Isn't that the point know, life?  To reach 28 and realize you must unlearn 27 years to truly move forward?  Allies keep insinuating and emphasizing that womyn of color have the answers.  Well, let me speak for myself:  I don't have the answers.  I just raise damn good questions.


  1. I don't get the "we weren't thinking" excuse either. These women are meant to be intelligent and they are meant to be feminists. How can they think that saying "we weren't thinking" will wash? It is a total cop out. Isn't this the sort of thing they should be thinking about? Isn't this the sort of thing they are meant to be encouraging other people to think about? To be in a position of power (such as they are being a publishing house, to do what they have done and then to say "oh we weren't thinking, we are going to do a cultural awareness course" is just pathetic. Yes it is great they are going to do the course but hell, surely this sort of issue has come up before? Surely you can't think (or not think) the way they do/have and get to where they are now without any issues ever arising before now. I refuse to believe this is the first instance of racism (this meaning the book, the response to BA and all the recent events) that those two particular women that make up Seal Press have perpetuated. You can't be as blatantly racist as they have and expect people to believe you have never been racist before. It just does not wash.

  2. Well...
    ...may I contribute that one reason for allying is the terrible atrocity of ____ist people not listening to the people they're oppressing?

    Of course, I try to mix my echoing of what a person of color is saying so that a white person who's being racist will finally hear the point (which is what you're saying "resulted in SF diversity trainings") with simply telling white people who listen to me, "I refuse to translate. Go listen to this person of color I 100% agree with about this point." In other words, I try to mix transliterating with referrals, hoping that not only will I get points through to those who are being racist, but also undo some of that atrocious "I'm not listening to people of color!" racism that exists out there.

    But...*sigh*...I hate that that atrocity should exist in the first place.

    Nevertheless, as long as it does, I'll still keep trying to be the best ally I can be...and thank you for reminding me to work to undermine not only "racist action of the day" but also the very racism of not listening to anyone but allies. You've reminded me that it's important to keep pressing on action #2.

  3. I don't know what Gloria would say.

    I say fuck it.

    Seriously. Too much time, breath, energy wasted.

  4. Anonymous12:18 PM

    Thank you, Sudy. You give me a lot to think about. This captures pretty perfectly how I feel:

    "I am walking next to uncertainty... I'm scared as shit to mess up."

    I don't know if that's the right, or a productive way to feel. But there it is. Thank you for your post. For your words.

    Is it okay if I link?

  5. Anonymous1:46 PM

    "what would gloria say?"
    I say we make some buttons of this for AMC.

  6. hey there ICO - no need for permission, but thanks for asking -- link away!

    I'm thinking about my own work in being an ally to other womyn of color, my mother, trans folks, disability issues.

    I'm thinking about relationship of power and transformation and relationship.

    This is going to sound nuts to some, but I don't freaking care.

    Walk barefoot outside. Forgo the shoes and walk barefoot, not on the grass, but in the pebbles, potholes, and cracked sidewalks.

    There's nothing more powerful for me than to be reminded how sensitive my bare feet are without the protective layer of shoes. It wakes me up.

    I lived in Nicaragua for a few months and one of the things I noticed was how the shoeless children played with me over slabs of concrete called playgrounds. Their skin was unbroken and so tough. The bottoms of their feet felt like leather and mine was as plush and soft as a pillow.

    I tried walking on their pebbles and couldn't stand it for more than a minute. The rocks retained the heat of the sun, the dig of the sharp teeth made me wince. There was no pity party. No self-hatred. No apologies to these children laden with my useless guilt and desperation.

    I couldn't even walk next to the ones I was trying to learn from. I felt like an oversized oaf.

    Do something that wakes you up. Regularly.

  7. Anonymous7:32 PM

    A great post with some amazing questions. Ones I wish I had all the answers to. Though I'm going to take a stab at a few.

    "How in the HELL does a "feminist" press claim "not thinking" when publishing a book about politics and include vulgar images of racism?"

    I don't presume to know those two women, and I don't mean to be insulting, but from what I have read from both of them, I think this has a lot to do with a large amount of naivety, and a much smaller amount of world life experience. I really think they sincerely believed that racism is dumb white people in silly white sheets who it is easy to cal out and admonish, because they are "nothing like us". Seeing the concept of racism as something inherently more gray and not all that difficult to define was a wake up cal that seems like it is occurring for the first time.

    I also do not mean in any sense to excuse it, or to suggest that it is not often used as a way to avoid what is hard work, but in this case I really do not think they knew better. That really saddens me as it shows how far we are from where we need to be.

    "How do you offer yourself without putting your neck on the chopping board of privilege?"

    To some degree I don't think this can be avoided. Racism is so ingrained that to actively challenge it, never feels like a good fit. It's defensive, it's guarded, and the majority of those who you attempt to teach will usually look at you with suspicion. That can be lessened by establishing a network of support and like people / friends, but it is never going to be an experience that is blissful at its core. The results of the work when it's effective however, are a different story!

    One thing I see as very key to being an effective ally, is to make it personal. If there is no person of color in your life, either as a friend, a partner, anyone whom the investment is more than theoretical, than you will only engage this issue so far. Making it personal makes it easier, and it makes "anti racism" go from a theoretical construct, to an actionable reality.

  8. Anonymous7:27 PM

    "Is there a prescription for being an ally?"

    Dang I want to make a joke about Xanax so badly right now.

    I like that you are asking all these questions (and posting so many posts recently), that you continue to provoke. I love that you write.

  9. "Why did I used to say that I was an "anti-racist feminist?" Shouldn't have someone told me that I was repeating myself? Shouldn't all feminists be anti-racist? Or should all anti-racists be feminist? Why do I feel the need to specify and spell that out to people?"

    YES. YES. YES. Word to everything in this post.

  10. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Stanton, Anthony, Friedan were creatures of their time - radical or reformist for their time, but of the time concerning race.

    Same with many white feminists today, concerning race they are of their time, nonreflective, passively carried by culture - but the "time" is better than in 1848 or 1963.

    I realize your question, about difference in agenda of Stanton et al vs agenda of today, is rhetorical, and you mean "agenda re: race". All but the most radical white abolitionists considered blacks to be inherently inferior. Stanton seemed to be ok until the vote was given to black men in Reconstruction era and she was told that half a loaf is better than none, and wait for your half. She started using the tag, if an illiterate black man can vote, why can't an educated woman vote? White suffragists took a strategic choice to dissociate from black suffrage allies, including the various women's groups. I'd say the current dissociation is based more on class, than race per se.

    What does an ally need to do? Well, I am at the stage that I just read and learn.


  11. Anonymous4:45 AM

    Allies keep insinuating and emphasizing that womyn of color have the answers. Well, let me speak for myself: I don't have the answers. I just raise damn good questions.

    That's a great way to put it.

    I wrote something once about how men need to do more to stop rape. A couple of guys commented, respectfully enough, and you could tell they were trying to listen, but they kept doing this one thing that about drove me around the bend: They kept asking ME what they should do to stop rape. And how the hell am I supposed to have any idea? I'm worrying about how not to BE raped.

    I don't want to insinuate that women of color have the answers. That's dehumanizing in its own way, like you can't just be a person, you have to be, what, some sort of magic oracle? Who needs that pressure?

  12. Anonymous2:23 PM

    "Same with many white feminists today, concerning race they are of their time, nonreflective, passively carried by culture - but the "time" is better than in 1848 or 1963."

    Okay, this is one thing, and I can honestly buy this excuse for some white people/white feminists who have never had any major exposure to race.

    But Amanda Marcotte has been through this before. When she Photoshopped a burka onto Jessica Valenti, there was extensive discussion of racism and racist imagery on her blog. When the first cover of her book was released, there was extensive discussion of racism and racist imagery on her blog. She was involved with similar conversations when Jessica's book came out and countless other conversations, and she actively reads blogs (or at least comments on) blogs that discuss racism.

    If, after all of that, she is still passively and non-reflectively thinking about race and just -missing- the racism in images of "jungle savages" attacking white women, I have to question if she ever actually reads any of the conversations she participates in, or just throws out the standard "You're jealous and trying to ruin my career" bullshit and moves on, learning nothing and stagnating completely. And if that's the case, I think it's really sad that a "leader" of the modern feminist movement is not expected to learn and grow.

  13. Anonymous3:00 AM

    Good points, Vox. And I think you're right, it does appear to be stagnation on the author's part (that goes for any other involved players as well). This opinion comes from what I've read on a few blogs anyway. These blogs are all new to me and I'd never heard of Amanda before last week, so...take it for what it's worth.

    It's tough to figure out how we, collectively, are to handle this situation. Personally, I'd recommend a boycott, but that's just how I solve problems. Some say that's too harsh, by why support ignorant agendas? This isn't directed personally at anyone, but if a person or business fucks up and behaves in a socially irresponsible manner, I avoid purchasing their wares. Followed up with telling my friends and audience on relevant blogs and sites about my decision and why. That doesn't mean slandering and demeaning that person's character but explaining why I've chosen not to purchase their product and/or continue affiliation. It is a reasonable action to take, I feel, and more likely to raise awareness than some of the other actions taking place surrounding this issue.

    It's not about trying to ruin someone's career, but it is very much about not contributing dollars and unwarranted positive attention to the person/business in question. Not necessarily punishing, but certainly in no way rewarding either. If the person/business in question wants to appear progressive then it needs to appeal to its progressive readership/clientèle.

    Sudy, once again, thank you for the thought-provoking post! You're blog is quickly becoming one of my favorites. ;)

    I will be addressing one of your points above on my blog soon so as not to disrupt your comment thread.


Hey there,
Before you leave a comment, just remember two things:
1. You are taking responsibility for a public comment
2. Anything that resembles racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, or anything based from religion, citizenship, or ethnic bias - don't bother commenting, you'll be deleted.