by Jeremy Young | 4/14/2008 04:13:00 AM
(Cross-posted at The Wild, Wild Left.

Note: More and better coverage of this from Elle.)


They are all but invisible in the white blogosphere, but somewhere out there in the ether, there are some incredible blogging women of color. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly where they are. They are here and here and here and here and here and here, to mention only those I read most frequently. (And of course, there's our own Elle, who is always a must-read.) Out of sight of most white bloggers -- which is the fault, may I add, of the white bloggers, not of the WOC -- this community of enterprising women has produced some fabulous work over the last few years: intricately-researched articles, heartfelt meditations, helpful explanations, all tailored toward uplifting and revealing the needs of the downtrodden.

But there is a problem with these WOC bloggers: they are disappearing. First there was Nubian (Kortney Ryan Ziegler), whose BlackAdemic was a prime source of excellent writing until she shut it down in December 2006, citing both "rigorous coursework" and "racism". Others have threatened to leave over the past couple of years. And now, just this week, perhaps the most eloquent WOC voice on the Web, a tireless advocate for human rights and immigration issues whom I just this week nominated for an Excellence Award, the inimitable BrownFemiPower, has deleted her blog following a storm of controversy.

I'm no expert on WOC blogging, but I think it's worth inquiring into why this disturbing trend is occurring.



Since this is going to be a post where I have to tread delicately to keep from stepping on toes, let's start out by saying what I am not. I am not a woman of color. I am not anyone who should be considered an authority on women of color in any way, shape or form. I am, in fact, a privileged white man who didn't even self-identify as a feminist until around six months ago. So everything I'm about to say should be taken with a great, big, huge grain of salt. In fact, perhaps I shouldn't even be commenting on this whole brouhaha -- but I get tired of watching while WOC either talk where white people don't listen to them, or get dragged out into the open to be berated by superior-acting white people. If you think this sort of thing doesn't happen, just read the links that follow and you'll see what I mean.

As I said, I'm a privileged white man, and I have no idea how white bloggers should interact with women of color -- none. However, I like to think that I know some ways not to interact with them. For instance, I wouldn't publish a prominent online article on WOC immigration issues without citing BrownFemiPower, the foremost authority on such issues on the web -- particularly if I was well-known to be an avid reader of her blog. I also wouldn't respond to BfP's criticisms of said article by declaring archly, "If it's 'stealing,' you'd better prove it". As the editor of a white feminist press that's infamous for not publishing WOC books, I wouldn't charge onto a WOC's blog and declare that all WOC are "haters" who engage through "negative discourse", then return to my own blog and blast that WOC, then turn around and disappear the post. And finally, I wouldn't write up the Seal Press dustup in Salon with the opinion that "the tack taken by both sides has been counterproductive." (H/t BlackAmazon for these last couple of links.)

I wouldn't do those things because, you see, I naively assume that women of color bloggers are just like the rest of us: they want to be taken seriously when they have something to say, to be left alone when they want to muse to themselves or talk to their friends, and they want to be treated as people, as part of the discussion, not as "othered" outsiders banging unwanted against the door.

But, you know, as I've said, I don't know much of anything about women of color, and perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps women of color really are different from the rest of us; maybe the normal standards of human decency just don't apply to them. Come to think of it, maybe I should pay more attention to the white bloggers I linked above. Amanda Marcotte is a journalist and a noted feminist; maybe she's right that BrownFemiPower shouldn't care if Amanda appropriated her ideas in a major publication without so much as a link in her direction. Hugo Schwyzer, who's on my blogroll, is an eloquent male feminist and a professor with years of experience mentoring women of color; maybe he's right that an imaginary accusation of plagiarism directed at Amanda (an accusation which, by the way, I haven't seen made on any of the WOC blogs I frequent) is far more important than Amanda's consistent failure to help WOC voices be heard in the mainstream press. Brooke Warner of Seal Press is the editor of a feminist publishing house that dates back to the 1960's; maybe she's right that it's WOC's own fault that they don't get published by Seal Press, and that it's therefore her right to invade someone's blogspace and insult all women of color simply because that someone dared to make a disparaging comment about her organization. Tracy Clark-Flory is a writer for freaking Salon, of all places; maybe she's right that BlackAmazon is partly to blame for Brooke's incredibly insulting outburst.

Even if all these people are right, though, I'd like to hear a little from the women of color involved -- you know, just to give them a fair hearing. BfP took her blog down, but her post objecting to Amanda's article is still in Google cache. Here's a selection. My apologies for the long quote -- it was hard to figure out what to leave out, as I found the whole moving and eloquent.

I have made peace with the fact that I will never be mainstream-y publishable–but I have NOT made peace with the fact that the words and theories of women of color are stolen and not attributed or cited. I will never make a living off of blogging, I will never get a book deal off of blogging, I will never be on CNN or invited to be a part of a political campaign or have articles written calling me the new leader of the feminist movement–and I am ok with that. I am NOT ok with people who ARE posting on big blogs, getting book deals, doing interviews on CNN, being invited to work political campaigns, being called new leaders of the feminist movement etc–taking my ideas and using my ideas to continue the unexamined and unchallenged goal of getting book deals, doing interviews….

There’s a lot of women of color (and men of color!) who have talked about immigration. There’s a lot of women of color and men of color who have examined how sexualized violence has been the foremost result of the “strengthening” of borders. There’s been a lot of us who have insisted for a long time now that immigration is a feminist issue, goddamn it, get your head out of your ass.

I even wrote a whole speech about it.

Which is why it was startling to read a recent article about how sexualized violence against immigrant women is directly linked to using dehumanizing terminology like “illegal alien” without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female, in the entire essay. There is even an earnest declaration about how paperwork is the true problem of immigration (bureaucracy of paperwork anybody?) coupled with a declaration that immigration is a feminist issue.

I do not accept that the author of this article made a mistake in not publishing any links to the work already being done by pro-immigration bloggers, nor do I accept that the author came up with these ideas all on her own. ...

Poof! Just like that, feminists of color are made invisible even as we are the ones laying our bodies down for the foundation of the communication between men of color and white women. ...

I see now that feminism is nothing more than erasure. A conversation between white women and men. A commitment to the safety and well being of people who are never women of color.

But all the while–even as there is a studied avoidance of the women of color in the room, the women of color are there nonetheless. They are working and agitating and moving and changing the world–and they are doing all this without money, without support, without mainstream media, without jobs, without praise and admiration. And to me, it’s a sin and disgrace to force such an unworthy label on them–they who wouldn’t steal food from a neighbor if they haven’t eaten all day.


Well, um, wow.

I hear a lot of things from BfP here. I hear Wrath, as chronicled by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of, righteous and rightful anger at the wholesale appropriation of WOC's work by whites. I hear sadness at seeing ideas about immigration which BfP championed nearly singlehandedly for years, suddenly break upon the national scene with no mention of BfP's yeoman efforts. I hear a cry for equality and belonging and respect.

But there are things I don't hear, too. What I don't hear is jealousy. What I don't hear is a desire for conflict for conflict's sake. What I don't hear is "negative energy." What I don't hear is an accusation of plagiarism (and Hugo, shame on you for suggesting otherwise).

But you know, maybe what I hear is wrong. Maybe my fellow white bloggers know more about women of color than women of color know about themselves. Maybe BfP feels erased because -- oh, I dunno, because she's some sort of drama queen. Maybe the blogosphere is better off without her full-throated eloquence.

Or maybe Amanda and Hugo and Brooke and Tracy are dunderheads who are more interested in maintaining their petty rights of privilege than in actually listening to those who are being denied those rights.

I'm just a lowly blogger; I don't know. We report, you decide.

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6 Comments:


Blogger Jeremy Young on 4/14/2008 3:20 AM:

I'm angry about this. But at the same time, I didn't think I was qualified to blog about it straight. So I'm hoping biting satire does the trick.

 

Blogger elle on 4/14/2008 12:46 PM:

I first read this early this morning when I was getting the kiddoes ready for school--I was too sleepy and had too many unconnected thoughts to post then. :-)

But I wanted to say thank you for addressing this. I still have so many thoughts, but there are a couple I want to put forth.

First, in one of the posts you linked (from me) I noted: I am non-confrontational; I disengage; I run when the fire gets too hot... You see, I have the courage of my convictions, but little courage in my words and beliefs on so many issues. My blogging has changed so much since then, due to my experiences with Radical WoC bloggers. At the top of that list are BFP and nubian. So when I read other bloggers/commenters who are so dismissive of BFP's decision to take down La Chola, I get so damned mad.

Mad because they don't understand the significance of BFP's work and of her as a woman who helped create community for a lot of people. I can't tell you how many blogs I've visited since she left and read that she was the reason someone started blogging, found their voice, cared about certain issues. And she **cared** in so many ways--this a woman that I have e-mailed over the last two years about everything from conference presentations to my personal relationships. She always has insight, advice, support and I know that I can still count on her for that.

But I will miss the everyday of her blog, the absolutely wonderful and amazing work she did--compiling, analyzing, distributing, giving voice to so many issues that affect our communities.

That's what my Deja Vu post should've said, but I was so damned angry at Hugo Schwyzer that I let that take precedent. The way he stepped in--f*cking scolding and and trying to intimidate WoC--the way, I should mention, that he always steps in--was so condescending and offensive and the fact that he refuses to see it--but that gets me off topic again, right? But Amanda's two most vocal defenders--Schwyzer and Beyerstein--have horrible track records with WoC and made an already volatile situation worse.

So many people have refused to do what you've done Jeremy, which is acknowledge their privilege. It seems Amanda refuses to do so and instead, turns it back on WoC whom she likes to constantly remind people "have multiple degrees" etc. And yes, I know, that as I sit here in front of a computer about to begin prep for a professional job which allows me a lot of freedom, I am privileged. But that doesn't mean that I can't be hurt, that other "multi-degreed" WoC can't be hurt. With or without those degrees, I am still a black woman from a lower middle class background--no "get out of racism/sexism/classism free" cards because I'm a professor as well.

Anyway, this they want to be taken seriously when they have something to say, to be left alone when they want to muse to themselves or talk to their friends, and they want to be treated as people, as part of the discussion, not as "othered" outsiders banging unwanted against the door is so true, Jeremy. Does it seem like a lot? To want your ideas and work respected as your ideas and work and not part of some ephemeral, inspiring abstract zeitgeist? To want your damned humanity/personhood respected? To want the little space you carve out for yourself respected?

Again, I read somewhere where Amanda commented to the effect that multi-degreed intellectuals should especially understand the seriousness of some of the claims. And I wanted to point out, as a historian, of course I do. But Jeremy, you know how we have to cite everything :-) No way could I present a major argument in any part of a paper without giving credit to one of the major figures who presents similar arguments. I remember when prepping for my comps, one of the things my committee tried to ensure is that I didn't miss significant contributions to my fields--my work would have been incomplete, less informed, and I would've come across as less than meticulous (okay, maybe I am that). If I heard about the importance of the historiography one more time as a grad student, I might have shriveled up and died.

But the fact is, if I knew the work was out there, I had to engage it, cite it. Even when I didn't know the work was out there, I had to always be looking to see "what had been done." So yes, I understand the seriousness of appropriation charges, but I am in a field in which I also understand the importance of citing and sourcing.

I know this is too long and not well-connected, but this is a safe space for me to put out there what I've been thinking. So many places are not so safe--commenters on "allies'" blogs can be so disheartening, disrespectful, and filled with enmity that I wouldn't dare wade in--I should mention that I'm grateful to Melissa McEwan as well.

And Seal Press? My God!

 

Blogger kiita on 4/14/2008 1:00 PM:

"But you know, maybe what I hear is wrong. Maybe my fellow white bloggers know more about women of color than women of color know about themselves."

This is brilliant. Kudos to Elle and to you.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 4/14/2008 4:06 PM:

I thought the sarcasm was pretty on-target. I stopped reading Schwyzer a while ago when it became clear that he was going the Kaballah route while maintaining his evangelical Christianity: his defense of people appropriating culture and arguments, and downplaying objections and concerns of minorities is entirely consistent with his past behavior, as is his self-justification.

I'm always a bit concerned when people take down blogs that have been part of ongoing conversations. I can understand closing comments and stopping, but the deletion of a body of work troubles me as an historian and as a blogger.

That said, I understand the reaction and the impulse, and the desire to find private spaces with better-behaved and better-defined communities. In history, except in rare cases where a few people really are working on very similar projects, there's not a lot of danger of misappropriation of new ideas or arguments, but in theory and sociology and politics, it's quite plausible.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 4/14/2008 5:04 PM:

Ahistoricality, I agree with you that BfP was wrong to take down her archives, but I also don't want to condemn her too strongly for that, given the situation. I also think the content is still there, though hidden, and what she's done is fixable, though I'm not sure about that.

As for Hugo, you're right about him, but I continue to read him because his comments about discovering male feminism are important, challenging, and valuable for me as a man newly awakened to how far he falls from actualizing feminism. He continues to be useful to me, but at the same time, perhaps it's time to take him off my blogroll.

Elle, thank you for your beautiful comment. I'm a little hesitant to take credit, though, for "acknowledging my privilege" -- not that I haven't done so, but that I've done so so recently. Is six months of humility a long enough time for me to declare myself superior to the likes of Hugo and Amanda? I'm not sure it is, which is why I wrote this as satire rather than straight-up. Granted, I'm a lot younger than either of them, but who's to say they can't change too? I hope they can.

It doesn't seem like a lot to apply the golden rule toward wmen of color, but it is a lot when you're in denial that the golden rule is not being applied. I've been there, on the other side. My freshman year of college, I sat in a women's studies course and declared that feminists were "hammering on a nail that had already been hammered in." I'm terribly ashamed now, but at the time, what I was saying felt absolutely true. It must be particularly hard for someone like Hugo, who's come so far with such humility through so many levels of sexism, to be told that, well, he's still sexist.

What I don't understand is how he can read BfP's post, or Sylvia's, or Sudy's, or BlackAmazon's, and not feel the pain that so clearly emanates from these cries for justice. That to me goes beyond denial of one's own biases and enters a kind of denial of others' humanity. When you're staring someone's pain in the face and simultaneously kicking them in the stomach, something's seriously wrong, and you need to step back and examine yourself very carefully.

As for this being a safe space, that's all on my commenters -- unfortunately, given my own policies about banning, I probably wouldn't delete racist comments unless they got really overt. I'm blessed with a commentariat that is uniformly respectful, thoughtful, and intelligent, and I have no clue how that happened. Thanks, guys!

Again, thanks for commenting, and I'm glad the post came off all right.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 4/17/2008 12:09 AM:

Ahist, BfP has offered some additional comments that relate to your criticism of her.