I’m of the mindset that for any social movement to be effective, supporters– especially people who identify as a member of the group that is fighting for any kind of rights or better treatment– must be willing to educate the people whose support they would most benefit from. It helps absolutely no one to make every attempt to alienate anyone. A prime example would be the “groupthink” mentality of most groups– namely, modern feminism. With the language used on many feminist blogs and in many feminist circles these days, you’d almost have to assume that these “feminists” don’t actually want to further their cause, or achieve any kind of equality. They seem to go out of their way to make sure that anyone who could be of help to their cause (like the people responsible for perpetuating sexist behavior) are effectively removed from their realm of education and discussion.
For those of you who are not already readers of Feministe, they often have guest-bloggers who post for a week or so about various issues, from varying perspectives. It’s a pretty great idea, and usually works out well. I’ve touched on it a bit with Queen Emily‘s introduction/ensuing comment hell, and written a follow-up post about the way that commenters were treated by the regular commentariat and moderators, and how the general treatment– or even the allowance of those comments to be published in the first place– is problematic and ultimately detracts from the point at hand.
One guest-blogger, Miranda, caught my attention, though, as she’s pretty young as far as standard good bloggers/writers are concerned. She’s an excellent writer, and from what I’ve read, quite knowledgeable.
Some of Miranda’s posts have been related to youth- or teenage-centered topics, which is great, because we can talk about young women and issues they face all day long, but it’s far more valuable to have a (I am assuming) 16- or 17-year-old actually speaking from her perspective.
The other day, Miranda posted what seemed, at face value, to be a thoughtful post about womanism, and appropriate language for white feminist-identified woman to use to show their support for womanism. She used the blog’s wide readership to basically ask what kind of identifier would be most appropriate for her to adopt. Is it better to say she’s a womanist ally, a womanism supporter, etc.?
The commentariat did, of course, find several ways to tell her that she was very wrong in even posting that piece in the first place, and that it was a very glaring reminder of her white privilege. To be fair, there was some reading and effort needed that Miranda didn’t seem to get to before writing that post, but the comments nearly made that point completely irrelevant by turning it from a suggestion to a personal attack and insulting her intelligence and displaying blatant ageism.
…This isn’t just a rant about Feministe’s groupthink behavior or PCer-than-though attitude, though. This time, several people spoke up with thoughtful, arguably sensical complaints about the idea that people belonging to oppressed groups should never be expected, or even respectfully asked, to even minorly help aid in the education of a person who has more privilege than they do (in relation to the question being asked; in this case, race). For context, here’s what Miranda asks in her original post:
I want your insight on how we can acknowledge the ways The Feminist Movement has and continues to fuck up, while still identifying with its goals. Specifically, I’m wondering how I, a white woman, can acknowledge the dire need for womanism without stepping on the toes of women activists of color.
One question, for commenters of all demographics, with particular emphasis on WOC/self-identified womanists: is it fair to call myself a pro-womanist feminist, as a move towards accomplishing these goals? If not, how else can I humbly and respectfully identify myself?
There are a few suggestions and ideas, then Caoimhe Ora Snow responds to Miranda’s question with this:
Probably makes sense to ask the womanists you support, rather than here at a non-womanist site?
I’m just sayin’.
Miranda responds directly to this criticism by informing her that she has emailed two prominent bloggers, who are women of color, and asked them the same question. (Renee from WomanistMusings responded to Miranda’s email via a post on her own blog.)
Fair enough, right? Unfortunately, Caoimhe was wrong (according to other commenters) in instructing Miranda to ask anyone questions. No one calls Caoimhe out on this, though. My guess is that it’s because s/he’s already criticizing the original poster on her unintentional display of privilege, so she’s gained points within the community for calling someone out, and therefore is privileged enough to avoid criticism or her own call-outs. But the following comments take it from there, further criticizing Miranda for daring to ask women of color what they would feel comfortable with in terms of how she, as a white woman, identifies herself when it comes to being a supporter of womanism. Allison gently informs her that:
I know this might seem like a post that aims for nuance and complexity, but in asking for Renee or Tami to give you “input” — you are asking both of them to instruct you on language. It is not their job to teach you or provide you with a consise label for your activism.
..and is very gracious in providing several links where she feels Miranda should have consulted instead. Restructure! finds it appropriate and useful to inform Miranda that:
I got here via twitter expecting something insightful, but I find a white woman’s mini biography. The part about actual womanism is quoting a random Womanist Musings post, which I’ve read before, a long time ago.
Allison further explains that
It is a function of privilege to request someone’s input, knowledge, and experience to serve as your guiding post for philosophy.
ZC uses the “insults and ad hominem attacks work better than constructive criticism” method, complete with patronizing reassurances about eventually learning how to be a real, smart person when she calls Miranda names:
Well, Miranda, sometimes it sucks being young and dumb, but fortunately we got to read some great links as a result of you sticking your neck out, including the fantastic We Don’t Need Another Racism 101. That’s it. Labels don’t matter, actions do. Live your convictions whatever the hell they’re called and learn from everyone. I stopped calling myself a feminist a long time ago, and decided to BE one instead.
The blatant contradiction that ZC has posed, where s/he states that it’s not important what you call yourself (since we are constantly inundated with new, more appropriate things to call ourselves), can be left for later.
There are, of course, many more ways in which Miranda is criticized for asking how to be respectful toward people over whom she holds privilege, but I don’t want to copy and paste the whole post, so I’ll get to my point:
None of these comments suggest an alternative to Miranda’s supposedly disrespectful and problematic questions other than “read.” No one even went so far as to let her know how it is that she should be expected to know what to read, and where to find it (although a few did provide a couple of links that they themselves were already familiar with fr one unknown reason or another– prefaced by a snarky remark about how easy it was to Google it). Fortunately, like a breath of fresh air, we see several commenters sticking up for her (in indirect ways) by intelligently and clearly critiquing the expectation that privileged people should automatically be aware of their privilege, be okay with being considered an ass hole by everyone all the time, and not ask questions. Manju, who is presumably a woman of color, counters:
of all the new-fangled anti-racist rules out there, the one that leaves me the most gobsmacked is the “don’t ask POC for instruction” or its many variants.
its totally counter intuitive, to the point that anyone who’s outside the narrow echo-chamber of the radical left would find it preposterous. And i suspect that includes the vast majority of POC. Has there been some survey indicating we find this offensive? normally asking for instruction is a totally respectful thing to do
Shah8 is very insightful and makes many good points when s/he says,
While I understand very much about the whole privilege of asking for the signposts as if you were tourists asking for assistance from the native guides, I think this issue can be abused the other way around. I think that context and judgement is really important in deciding how to handle n00b questions.
I hate insular behavior, and creating “safe spaces” gives you the right be *curt*, not abusive.
We should always judge whether the n00b is an asshole, rather than assume so. The latter is treehouse politics.
Tumbril says it well with:
All these syntax games and competing to see who can be the most sensitive, and of course, call out others on their insensitivity, making you their moral superior and in a position to lecture them, are really unhelpful. Do we want people to know what we’re talking about so we can affect change, or do we want to impress each other with an ever-expanding plethora of labels and sub-categories that mean absolutely nothing to anyone other than us?
(again, emphasis mine)
I’m happy to see that, while it’s important to be inclusive and respectful in language and considerations, people are finally speaking up in larger numbers about being consistently expected to grovel at the feel of anyone over whom they hold any kind of privilege, to beg forgiveness for merely existing. Miranda is clearly not an asshole, and should not be treated as such unless (not until) she proves herself otherwise. Who wouldn’t expect that treatment?
Piny from Feministe wrote a quite controversial post challenging a trans woman of color who was notorious around her circles for being unreasonably rude, mean, and insulting to everyone, and using her oppressed status as an excuse for that behavior. The comment thread ended up ripping Piny a new one in several ways, but ultimately, Piny had the guts to come right out and call a woman out for using her oppressed status to abuse other people. While it angered many people, it’s clear that it also got a lot of other people really thinking, and potentially reconsidering their propensity to be loud-mouthed assholes to everyone without considering whether or not they actually deserve it.
I’m glad to see that some people are really embracing the idea that groupthink just isn’t a very good idea.