Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My letter to Marcotte and Women of Color

The feminist community comes under fire enough from trolls and outside sexism, but nothing hurts worse than coming under fire in your own community.

That's why my heart aches for Amanda Marcotte. She's made her name in the feminist community, and now she's under some serious heat. But the more I read why, the more I see that she is the one who can get herself out of this situation and (mind boggle) she is choosing to ignore it... at the cost of many people's feelings. At the cost of the community at large.

For those of you who don't know about this situation. I'm giving a SUPER DUPER CONDENSED VERSION of the events as I understand them:

Amanda Marcotte, blogger at Pandagon and Alternet, wrote a piece where she heavily borrowed ideas already espoused by noted feminist bloggers of color. Marcotte did not reference any of these women or their work. And when the outcry began, she became defensive and sarcastic. As a result, a prominent member of the feminist community, and a women of color, effectively resigned from feminism and removed her blog.

It has gotten much, much worse because Marcotte has a book coming out and other feminist blogs are plugging it. Now they are coming under fire for supporting Marcotte and (by proxy) her inflammatory reaction to women of color's concern.


I get that many WOC are angry over this .... I clearly see it in comment after comment at Feministe and other threads. And I have to say, I think the anger is justified. The more I familiarize myself with the situation and other WOC issues with the community, the more I see that feminism has not been perfect (as I so wish it was) -- its like the day you wake up and realize your parents don't know everything and they're not perfect...and it breaks my heart.

My message to Amanda Marcotte
Please, if you're reading this, I had been a fan of your writing for a long time. People are asking for you to be open-minded and examine your privilege and some of the choices you’ve made. This community is too important to ignore any of its voices! These women are too important. I can understand feeling attacked because a lot of people have hurtful things to say (rather than critical, helpful things), but I think a great majority of us watching from the sidelines want to see this resolved and know that, as Jill said, “good people can be idiots sometimes.” Please help fix this. You have power in this situation to do real good.

But here's when I got mad. Someone at Feministe had this to say:

When it comes down to it, you white chicks, ya’ll really aren’t to be trusted.

Not only that, several comments following AGREED with that statement, saying it "said it all."

Really? THAT said it all? If we didn't have untrustworthy white women, feminism would be hunky dory?

I get “wanting” to say something like that when you feel marginalized or silenced. When I feel anger at the patriarchy, I’ve been tempted to type the same sentiment about men. But that’s not dialogue, that’s spewing bile into the world. And frankly, it’s prejudiced.* The fact that I’m a white woman does not mean I would stomp on the back of ANYONE to get anywhere. That’s akin to claiming that all men are sexist assholes not to be trusted.

Feminism is for everyone – men and women of all races.

The fact that BIG mistakes have been made is a problem. I see that we have a LOT of work to do here. I am showing solidarity with WOC on this. When I read that SEAL press (who published Marcotte's latest book) brushed off well known WOC bloggers saying, "A black feminist can’t sell" (seriously?), well quite frankly I could be sick.

Here's my message to WOC bloggers who've been hurt by this:
Plenty of us white, privileged bloggers are TRYING. I know I am. I want to understand better where WOC are coming from. I want to familiarize myself with any specific challenges you face so I know how to be an ally, not an idiot. I want to support you. I don't want to tear you down. I realize that I've been a white woman in the Midwest who (to be honest) has been surrounded by white people her whole life. I realize I have a lot to learn.

But I don’t want to silence any feminist. EVER. Please do not throw up your hands on all white women because some white people aren’t playing fair.

* Originally I called that 'racist' but I see now (thanks to the awesomeness of Daisy) that that word does not apply!

*Update. If you want a good staring point to understand this perhaps check the wikipedia article and its subsequent links.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your thoughtful effort on this, Tobes.

Tobes said...

Thank you!! This whole thing is so distressing. It's like you want to scream "GROUP HUG" but everyone is too hurt for that... and plus I've never met any of these people face to face....

It's just awful.

Moondancer said...

Your comments were well thought out, and I thank you for sharing them. I understand your frustration, just as I try to to understadn those who said less than kind things because of thier own frustration. Personal attacks on our allies will do nothing for the WoC (or PoC) causes as a whole, but people willing to listen of our concerns and admit when a mistake is made (as well as try to fix it)...these things will go much further to heal wounds.

PhysioProf said...

Marcotte was intellectually lazy, and when she was made aware of her laziness she petulantly refused to rectify the situation. Deciding whether she was guilty of “appropriation” or “plagiarism” is not the only relevant inquiry.

Anonymous said...

I am a WOC and this is just another example of a the white woman trying to keep black woman down!Marcotte is just another white woman with privelege trying to steal the black woman's ideas and take credit for it. Tobe's thinks that if she just tells us she feels bad and is trying to learn about WOC plight, we are supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Well, I have had it with you white women! I am going to affiliate with only black feminists from now on. Good riddens whities!

Brooklynite said...

Tobes, I think the healthiest way to read a comment along the lines of the one you quote is as a declaration of defeat.

When a person of color says that white people aren't to be trusted, you can read it as a bigoted generalization. Sometimes it was probably meant that way. But I think it's a lot more generous, and a lot more productive, to read it as a cost-benefit analysis.

Coalition work is work. It takes effort. And you don't need to be disappointed by every person you trust to conclude that extending trust is a mistake. You don't need to be burned every time you reach for a pan on the stove to decide to stop grabbing pans with your bare hands.

Daisy said...

its like the day you wake up and realize your parents don't know everything and they're not perfect...and it breaks my heart.

That's so sweet! :)

Regarding using the word "racist" about POC, please read, at your leisure.

"Racism" is regarded as an institutionalized reality, whereas the word you should probably use (if you are into being PC, and I admit, I am) is "prejudiced"--meaning simply to pre-judge someone based on stereotypes. WOC do not have the power to oppress you (i.e. racism), but simply have the power to dislike and pre-judge you.

No offense, saying this with love and to give you a heads-up... and to also explain WHY certain feminists of color won't even talk to white women. Use of words like that in such incendiary circumstances can be very distancing.

It's like there is SO much homework to do. And we don't go to another country without some kind of guidebook or translator first, or at least, I don't.

Thanks for a thoughtful post, and hope you will take my gentle criticism as an act of sisterly love!

Tobes said...


I cannot thank you enough. That link was great and the misuse of "racism" is so right on. Thank you for your help and for your kindness. I hope you come back often :)

Bianca Reagan said...

Where are the linky-links to the drama? Must I search on my own?

Meowser said...

Tobes, I have to tell you, yours is possibly the most clear-eyed commentary I've seen on this entire clusterfuck. I've been steering clear of commenting any longer on Feministe and the other larger blogs (other than Shakesville) because I've pretty much had it with the flamewars, but I wanted to thank you for what you wrote, because it's pretty much what I wanted to say and couldn't find the words to.

Anonymous said...

Tiffany In Houston said:

I am the person that posted that comment on Feministe about white women aren't to be trusted.

To be honest, I really don't care that you got mad. Perhaps you should have gotten mad about all this fucknuttery little earlier, a little sooner.

I posted how and I feel and that's my truth. You don't wake up every day inside my black skin and you certainly don't live my life just like I don't live yours.

I'm not going to let you diminish my truth because YOU got mad. Whatevs.

White chicks also need to get over themselves. I certainly have.

If you have any thing else you'd like to discuss, feel free to direct it to me PERSONALLY: tiffanyinhouston at yahoo dot com.

I don't say anything directed in anger at you or any other white woman. I'm just stating how I feel without rancor. I've lived my whole life like this. It's nothing new under the sun.

Tobes said...

Sorry Bianca -- good call on the no-linking. This is the thread on feministe where I got involved:

But there are more out there...

sadie said...

generally when I hear a comment like that, when I hear a woman of color say, "white women aren't to be trusted," I figure it's based on a LOT of experience. I don't take it personal, even though I'm a white woman, unless it's a response to something I was involved in. It's got to be taken in context, the context of generations of white women, white feminists, betraying our sisters of color when push comes to shove. What do we do about it?

I am not entitled to women of color's trust. But maybe I can earn it.

and getting caught in a comment like that, getting indignant about it, maybe taking it personally, kind of obscures the larger issue. The issue is not how women of color respond when white women fuck them over. the issue is, why do white women fuck over women of color over and over, and what can we do about it? We being, white women?

belledame222 said...

What Brooklynite said.

I can't say that I don't feel a twinge of defensiveness when I read "white feminists/women/people aren't to be trusted." But you know what? I'm a fuck of a lot angrier at -all- the white people who've driven Tiffany and/or whomever else to finally get to that point.

You know, you can be against the "all men suck" sentiments; I'd probably even agree that in general they're not terrifically helpful. I'd also note that there's a wide range of motivations for saying such a thing, ranging from a few very hardcore people who genuinely express outright (if usually mostly impotent) rancor toward men, all men, to a -lot- more women who just get frustrated to the point of needing to say, oh fuck this shit really, enough, I'm tired of having the football yanked away from me again and again and again by self-declared "good ones."

You know, trust is a thing that's earned. As a member of a group (like it or not, I am), white women/feminists, on the whole, we've not earned that trust. Do I exempt myself personally? Not really for me to say. I'm not going to self-immolate because some random person on the Internets has written off my affinity group in a moment of (well-earned) disgust. But I'm also not going to get all defensive and butthurt about it.

Because, first of all, WoC in general have been asked, are being asked, to go the extra mile, to do the work. I don't blame a lot of them at all for saying "you know what, fuck this." If white women really want a "bridge," a genuine connection or work together, what you will, and not just a "please absolve me of my feeling that I may be a Bad Person," then it's time they/we did more work. Even if -it isn't fair.- Because, it's ALREADY not fair. See.

And, meanwhile, you know what, Tiffany is Tiffany. She's speaking for herself. A lot of other WoC may be feeling similarly and/or saying so, but you know, they're each speaking for themselves; and really, do you, do we, have to be -liked- and approved of by everyone at the end of the day? Maybe so and so isn't gonna like or trust you no matter what you do. So be it. World's a big place, you know? Life, she goes on. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Daisy totally misunderstood the FAQ she herself linked to. D'oh!

Anne Onne said...

I think your post on this issue is very thoughtful, and hopefully won't get involved in a huge flame war.

I can understand why many WOC bloggers feel very disappointed, hurt and angry. It's not helpful to label all of any group inherently anything, but given the circumstances, we can't make the situation better by asking them to immediately forgive and trust when they've been burned. Yes, it hurts my pride as a whitish (I don't really believe in a strict white/coloured duality) feminist that other feminists are, with reason, suspicious of me because of history, and my privileges. But what has happened to them, and continues to do so hurts them more. I want to earn their trust as an ally by listening to thier voices, even when they say something I can't easily deal with. Hey, I would expect the same from men as a feminist, so I know I need to allow them to work out their anger and their frustration without demanding that I be exempt.

Just like when we tell men 'it's not about you' when we rant about misogyny, so we as white feminists need to take it that it's not about us, and if we are really trying to be allies, then it doesn't apply to us, therefore we should not be offended.

I find it harder to deal with the cracks in the feminist movement (that WOC feminists are so marginalised many choose a different label, for example) than to deal with misogyny, because we're on the same side. No matter how much I disagree with an individual feminist's point of view, we are trying to work towards the same goal, and we need to focus on that, and try not to get defensive about our flaws.

My aim as a feminist is to be as much of an ally as I can be, even when it means confronting feelings that make me unfomfortable, and trying to strengthen the bonds between different feminist spheres. It's more than any one person can do in a lifetime, but that's what feminism needs, too.

Tobes, I think we really need that group hug. :(