Monday, April 28, 2008

Recognizing Our Own Limitations, Mistakes, & Needs as a Movement

I wasn't going to touch any of this. I really wasn't. For lots of different reasons that ranged from being scared to feeling like it wasn't my place. Scared not in the physical sense but rather that someone would find fault in what i say. Also scared that i wouldn't be able to do it justice and wouldn't be able to find the right words to say what i mean. Then i read two things that made me change my mind and search for the words, even if they are flawed or naive.

First i read Latoya's post in which she wrote "Now, I am sure that some non-allies are confused at this one. They are neutral. They can see both sides. They want everyone to just come together already and fight the real problem, not realizing that their silence is part of the real problem." Then Sarah's, "And at the same time we all need to know that there are times when I do need to shut up and listen. There will always be people whose lived experience gives them a right to speak out about racism and homophobia and transphobia and poverty and many other things that I have simply never experienced." Sarah ended on the note which i'd like to start, "Those voices are not more important because they are white. They are important because they are making that chorus louder. If there are enough of us, we WILL be heard."

Latoya talked about exactly what i was doing. Staying neutral, waiting for all this to pass, and hoping for everyone to work things out so that we could all once again come together and fight the real enemy: patriarchy. But then i remembered two things, with the help of several very smart women: 1. sexism isn't our only enemy and 2. feminism isn't without faults and the feminist movement is historically notorious for excluding nearly as many people as patriarchy itself.

And although I realize i'm not a mainstream blog and definitely don't have as much readership and traffic as many of the women i admire, i do have a voice and a place in the blogosphere. People are writing about this and it's a conversation that needs to continue. So i too will speak up, because i shouldn't be scared to or feel bullied out of it (even if my fear is unwarranted or misperceived, it stems from somewhere).

I realize that lots of people who read my blog do so because they know me personally, rather than because they are involved in the feminist blog scene. For those people i will quickly summarize what's been going on. For my readers who are here because of the feminist blogosphere and know what i'm talking about, please excuse the entirely too abridged version of past events.

Basically, the feminist movement continues to be flawed and has difficulty acknowledging the racism within. I doubt many people will disagree with me there. It all blew up a few weeks back when BrownFemiPower took down her blog as a reaction to Amanda Marcotte's article for the Alternet in which Amanda used many of the same points and thoughts that BFP has written. Amanda is white, she also has a book deal. This is important because it got discussed a whole lot during the controversy. But it's not the point. Or at least it shouldn't be. More importantly is that BFP, a powerful, thought provoking, WoC, was no longer comfortable and able to share her voice with us. Fast forward to the past few days and the racist images in Amanda's new book. Now BlackAmazon has also left the scene. Amanda apologized about the illustrations in her book. She said, "I didn’t pick the offensive imagery... but I should have caught it sooner than now" Really?! How the F did you not notice it? As a self proclaimed feminist writer, and a feminist publisher, how can you miss something that obviously racist? Here or here for more. The issue (IMO) isn't the conflict between Amanda supporters versus WoC supporters, it's that WoC don't feel like they have a place within feminism. That right there is where we have all failed.

Like i said, really really abridged.

How in the world did Amanda not notice the blatant racism until so late? I'd love to accept her apology but i'm really struggling to understand all this (the current situation she's gotten herself into as well as numerous others). It's gotten equally as difficult to accept her words as it is to identity with the same feminism that she believes in.

Also, I understand it's frustrating and down right infuriating to tolerate racism in the name of education, and no, it isn't solely the responsibility of WoC to educate white feminists in how to be feminist. It's all of our responsibility. Not to police each other but to challenge one another to become stronger, more enlightened, to value each other more, and to become more united in the end. Again, i'll echo Sarah's words "if there are enough of us, we WILL be heard."

All that said, this open letter to white feminists also got me thinking. Mostly because it said everything i wish i had thought to and linked more people than i ever could.

When anyone (including but not limited to WoC) is pushed out of the blogosphere, silenced, or in any other way oppressed, we as a movement have failed. The moment feminism discriminates, we as a movement have failed. The instant someone no longer feels comfortable or able to speak up, we as a movement have failed. So what does this mean? Should we all pack it in? Well no, i don't think that's the answer at all. In fact, i really really hope that more WoC don't do that. It serves no purpose to the greater good at all. I understand it may serve them a purpose of self-preservation but as far as the greater good, i don't see quitting as the answer at all. I think that we, as white feminists, have to recognize not only our privilege and our responsibility but also our limitations. Although i don't believe you have to directly experience oppression to fight against it, sometimes realizing that we may not understand the whole experience is crucial in providing the ability to listen. We desperately need not only to listen to each other but hear one another. We need to ask questions, continue dialog, and learn. Silencing ourselves and each other serves no purpose. Rather listening, challenging, and communicating teaches us all important lessons.

Gender and race intersect at many points. Just as gender and sexuality do. Finding the ability and creating the opportunity to listen to and learn from those who directly experience the oppression we write about (even if we may or may not experience it) helps create the unity we need to challenge oppression as a movement. Also, white women should not be the face or voice of feminism. White women should especially not react so violently and defensively to criticism. How can we begin to learn from one another when we can't chill the fuck out and listen? I understand that personal is political and i even understand how difficult all of this is for so many highly intelligent and currently frustrated people but we need to unite as a movement and regain our focus.

I'm not saying disregard all that has happened. Not at all. In fact, i'm saying we should use this as a catalyst to tackle the racism within feminism and make the movement stronger. We should all continue to challenge ourselves, admit our mistakes, learn from them, and unite.


Erhart said...

Well said. I believe it is important to see the strengths and weaknesses in all that you do. Rather than hiding your weaknesses, do what you can to acknowledge them and build them up.

You'll be a good leader someday for your beliefs.

Sarah J said...

Yes ma'am.

You said it.

Lindsay said...

Crazy small world! Yeah, that'd be lots of fun to meet up at some point. It's finals right now so I'm a little short on time, sleep and saneness, but the middle of May is pretty open.


Kandee said...

Wooo hooo! Well said.

Facing our weaknesses and working on them only make us stronger. As you said, being defensive does nothing. I think that's why this situation escalated so quickly and people felt excluded. I think I'm beginning to find my voice as well, so the catalyst is working for me.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Like you, I had a hard time with AM's apology. She didn't directly state why the images were bad, and that sorta made it feel like she still wasn't listening. Like you, I wondered how she managed to 'not notice' - is that to say that she saw the images before the book went to print and approved them?

So... now I am left with the question... do I take Pandagon off my blog roll or not? What does it say about me if I leave it up? What does it say if I take it down?