Thursday, May 24, 2007

Clarifications

Just clearing up a few things here and there, some totally unrelated to each other, but all stuff I missed during all The Excitement:

The Girl From Marz was awfully kind to me here. Thank you, Girl From Marz! And thank you for reminding me of this conversation at Fetch Me My Axe. In it, Sara from F-Words astutely observes:

I don't think the "don't identify with the assholes" model really is very helpful, since we're talking about a lot of unconscious and inadvertent behavior here. I could just start to ignore anything that makes me uncomfortable, because I get to think, "Well, it's not me that's doing racist thing x, phew."

This is true, but I must say it was very mean of Sara to tap into the heart of my angst about that post having so many links into it like this. Meaning: Its chief feature, which I think is that it's conversational in tone and structure, and therefore easy to read, is also its chief flaw. My boyfriend and I have known each other going on eight years now, and like all longtime couples do, I suppose, we talk to each other in a sort of shorthand you wouldn't observe between people who had only recently met, or even people who had known each other six months, a year, etc.

So in the discussion, when we get to this bit:

"A lot of the guys written about on feminist blogs do things I would never do."

"Then don't identify with them. It's not about you! You stand to pee, they stand to pee, beyond that, what's the commonality?"

--what he realizes, which Sara reminds me the reader may not realize, is that I am absolutely not giving him a free pass to stuff his hands in his pockets and walk away whistling that, yay, he's not the problem at all, ever! As Sara says, a lot of this stuff is unconscious, so to overcome it, first you have to recognize it: "Oops. I'm doing that thing, that asshole thing, again." And if your sole response to reading about racist or misogynist acts is, "Great Scott, what is wrong with these inhuman monsters? I would never," etc., you risk exempting yourself from self-examination where it might be desperately needed.

I could go off on a long tangent here about how there are still-to-this-day left-leaning political blogs that I won't read, because the focus is too much on Those Inhuman Monsters with Whom We Have Nothing, NOTHING in Common: Republican Voters. Instead, I will go off on only a short tangent:

Notice I didn't say "Dick Cheney" or "David Horowitz"--I'm fine with demonizing public figures nine times out of ten--but when it bleeds over into these asinine How Evil is Half the Country Anyway, Huh? discussions, I'm out. Because--and this was equally true for me when I was coming at this from the opposite direction, as a Republican--I'm still related to Republicans, just as back then I despised "Libruls R Traitors"-style blogs because I was still related to Democrats.

If you think Americans who vote Democrat are wicked traitorous monsters at heart, fuck you: That's my aunt we're talking about. And if you think Americans who vote Republican are vile capitalist pigs at heart, fuck you again: That's my mother we're talking about. Either way, I'm not down, and I sometimes think that the shorthand definition of feminism, that it's the radical notion that women are human beings, needs expansion, because I'm not sure we've even grasped yet that human beings are human beings.

End tangent. For more in that vein--not that specific vein, you understand, but on the general notion that humans is human (crazy talk!)--I'm going to direct you back to Belledame's for this. That woman's been on a roll lately. Much respect, Belledame.

To bring it back around to race for a minute, though, one more thing I appreciate about Sara's remarks is that, well, she's right: Too often the horrified gasps of How Could They? are not followed up with any introspection at all, i.e. "Wait, wait: While maybe I personally would not ever do such a thing, can I at least see (1) how someone else could and (2) what societal forces might influence them to do so and (3) what part, if any, I play in shoring up those forces?"

And here I just deleted a recent example of this dynamic at work because I'm in enough trouble for now, but read this post of Sylvia's about recent events in Jena, Louisiana, and, damnit, pay attention here:

I also encourage you to stop yourself before distancing away from Jena and painting it as a special place with special problems. Our actions affect others’ realities. It is highly likely that if the school officials took decisive action after the nooses were placed on the tree, the resulting incidences would not have occurred. Perhaps I should say: we need to pay attention to those small matters and discuss them seriously before they escalate.

Because that's it, exactly. That's what I'd like to see more emphasis on in coverage of racial hatred: How are we as a society contributing to it, and how do we stop? Throwing up our hands and saying "Oh, well, what will you? It's The South," is inadequate.

When I started this post I was certain I had somewhere to put this post at Tiny Cat Pants, also via Belledame. Now, of course, I can't remember for the life of me how I was planning to tie it in. Read it anyway, though. Especially:

Look, I wrote a nice post on the spiritual implications of mythological and fairy-talish women who come in sets of three. I even used the term "we" without bothering to say, "We folks of European descent from a Christian/European pagan background." Three's an important number for us. It doesn't have the same importance to other cultures or, if it is important, not in the same ways. But I threw "we" out there like my audience all shares my same traditions, even if they don't practice them in the same way.

Is that racist? Yes. Is it the end of the world? No. Am I wrecked with guilt, as so many assume all good liberals are? No. But it is what it is, me forgetting that my experiences aren't standard.

It might not seem like the most insidious form of racism, but it is--because it's so easy to slip into, it's such a difficult habit to break, and it's hard to fight against.

And that brings me to my next clarification, which I'll save for its own post because I'm still working out the kinks: I owe Rachel of Rachel's Tavern a response to some questions she had for me at Feministe, questions prompted by my inept babbling upthread (and no, I don't know who the hell I think I am either). Apologies, Rachel! Threads the last few days have gotten away from me faster than my youngest cat trying to make an escape. Since the thread's gone stale I've been trying to sort out what I want to say and to an even greater extent, what I'm even thinking to begin with. I'll try to sort that all out and have something up here in the next day or two.

Finally (did I say "finally" already? Well, this is the REAL "finally," then), and this is not so much a clarification as a gush of admiration, Magniloquence of Feline Formal Shorts puts Chris Clarke through the mixer. Results are vastly more fabulous than frozen margaritas. Check it out!

9 comments:

Rachel's Tavern said...

Take your time. I just wasn't sure what you were saying. I did unleash a long typo laced post. LOL!

And honey, I don't even know how many million posts have been put up in the latest blog war.

Andrew said...

"I sometimes think that the shorthand definition of feminism, that it's the radical notion that women are human beings, needs expansion, because I'm not sure we've even grasped yet that human beings are human beings."

Can I get a "Yup?" This ties in with Rachel's post at Alas a year ago about the lack of empathy in racism.

KMTBerry said...

There were no comments at the post where you analysed Samhita's response, and I just wanted to say that your analysis was brilliant and really helped me to understand.

That was a very helpful critique.

Deoridhe said...

If you think Americans who vote Democrat are wicked traitorous monsters at heart, fuck you: That's my aunt we're talking about. And if you think Americans who vote Republican are vile capitalist pigs at heart, fuck you again: That's my mother we're talking about.

I'm not Christian, but sometimes I wonder if this was why Jesus (or whoever wrote his copy) put so much emphasis on getting to know the oppressed and despised - once there's a face to that name, it's a lot harder to "other" a category of people.

I have faces - faces I like - for an incredibly wide range of people with often overlapping minority statuses. I find that this tempers a lot of my knee-jerk prejudices because my reflexes are all poised for the jerk and then I think of someone who it would apply to and stop myself.

There's something to be said to having a variety of friends - not as check-mark tokens but as reminders that humanity doesn't look like you.

Twisted Ovaries said...

I agree to some extent with what Rachel said in her comment/questions-in some cases, different approaches are needed. I thought that was very level-headed and I agree.

It seems like every post I follow in the hyper-links uses the term "Shut the fuck up." It's a tough fight. It's like Christmas for the swear words.

thegirlfrommarz said...

Sorry about the swearing at my post, Twisted Ovaries - I don't usually use swear words (I don't really know why - some dimly perceived idea that "formal" writing doesn't include swearing at your audience), but because I quoted Chris Clarke, I wanted to echo the phrase from his post. Hence the f-word.

Thanks for linking to my post, Ilyka - lovin' your work!

On your main point, there's a line than can be drawn between people who think of other people as equally valid human beings and people who think of other people as objects or cardboard cut-outs, and that seems to cut right across political affiliation.

Chris said...

Oh, so now I'm a bad influence. Great.

magniloquence said...

I agree to some extent with what Rachel said in her comment/questions-in some cases, different approaches are needed. I thought that was very level-headed and I agree.

It seems like every post I follow in the hyper-links uses the term "Shut the fuck up." It's a tough fight. It's like Christmas for the swear words.


Different approaches are good, of course. I think (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) what Ilyka was reacting most strongly to in the comment thread wasn't the idea of tailoring one's approach to a situation, but rather the way that a lot of that advice tends to come across as "what you should do" (which has all these 'forever and only' connotations attached to it).

That actually seems to be a similar statement to youur second bit... that the "Shut the fuck up" theme isn't the right approach for you, or isn't an approach that you think will win people over. That's an acceptable criticism.

I think, however (at least in the case of my post, the Girl From Marz's post, and Ilyka's reference), that there's a specificity to that particular theme that is often overlooked. As I was pointing out to someone at my blog (actually two longtime friends/commenters who both expressed that their silence was, in part, due to their desire to follow that directive)... that advice actually comes with some fairly specific qualifiers:

"In short, if you’re interested in quibbling with the data or suggesting alternate interpretations […] and your goal is not to be a flaming asshole, shut the fuck up." - Chris Clarke's original post

That is... the people who need to shut up are the ones who are being jerks. Even if they think they're being dispassionate (which, as he points out elsewhere in the post, they aren't, actually), they really need to just step away from the conversation.

It's not aimed at the people who want to have real conversations. It's not aimed at the people who want to help. It's aimed at the jerks.

And yes, it's not always and forever the right choice, even for the jerks... but it's one of those 'shedding privilege' things. Realizing that even if you share some identity markers with the people getting called out, it's not necessarily about you.

Kali said...

I was just thinking about the "don't identify with the assholes" bit, and I'm wondering if it isn't very simple. To the extent that you identify with the assholes, you are one of the assholes. So, any guy who can read a thread at Twisty's and not get even slightly uncomfortable at the comments about "men"-- that guy does get a Free Feminism Pass, because it's safe to assume he gets it. But the guy who reads a thread about gang rape and can only focus on the fact that women are getting angry-- that guy needs to examine himself.

I know I can't read some of the race discussions without getting uncomfortable at the anger. I'm assuming the very fact of my discomfort is a sign I've got work to do.

OK, this rule probably doesn't work for sociopaths or people who are unusually emotionally dishonest. But those people aren't the ones who are genuinely interested in learning anyway.