I bleed for Samhita, for knowing she's in a lot of pain right now. Samhita writes:
. . . I am not a token. I am not here to talk about all WOC voices. My being here doesn't inherently fix or solve the white-centered nature of the political blogosphere (please believe). And my brown-ness doesn't make me the spokesperson for all things brown, and similarly Jessica or the other white ladies, spokespeople for whites only. To discount the contributions of all the women that write for Feministing, while upholding Jessica as the embodiment of all that is wrong with Feministing and feminism, erases our contributions and ignores the fact that we are all working TOGETHER. What does it mean when Jessica is singled out for blame for posts or threads that we ALL take responsibility for?
All of the women that write for Feministing, from DAY ONE, have incorporated an intersectional analysis (please go back to archives and read). All of the writers at Feministing believe that a race, class and sexuality lens is necessary to inform our feminist action and writing. It's an integral part of our work, evidenced not only by what we write and how we write it, but also by who we bring in to work with us and the connections and collaborations we seek on the ground. To argue otherwise not only feels dismissive to us, it feels intensely hurtful and wrong.
I can't imagine anyone is really unclear on this point, but I want to emphasize it anyway just in case: I would never label any woman of color sharing blog-space with white women a token, not least because it simply isn't my place to. As a white woman I don't have the right to apply that label, or even to hint that it might be applicable to someone.
Further, I'm generally uncomfortable with labeling of that sort in ANY instance. It would require me to assume too much about motives and means. I simply don't know enough about why someone's in this space and not that one, doing this but not that.
And finally, I just don't think it's helpful. When Samhita says it feels dismissive, I can't argue with her. That is exactly what the word "token" is designed to do. It's designed to dismiss. It's designed to silence.
Now if only anyone had actually called Samhita a token, we'd be in business.
I know it sometimes comes off as patronizing when a blogger resorts to riffing off a dictionary definition to explain herself. In this case I'm going to risk being patronizing, however, because I think it's important to define terms. So, from Merriam-Webster online:
Main Entry: 2silence
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): si·lenced; si·lenc·ing
1 : to compel or reduce to silence : STILL <silenced the crowd>
2 : to restrain from expression : SUPPRESS
3 : to cause to cease hostile firing or criticism <silence the opposition>
We can dispense with the first definition, as there's really no way for any blogger or group of bloggers "to compel or reduce to silence," though if my inbox is anything to go by lately, that doesn't always stop people from making the attempt. I hope we can agree up front, however, that short of hacking someone else's blog to take it offline or deface it, none of us really has the power "to compel or reduce to silence." This is not to say we can't try so hard that our target eventually concludes the struggle is not worth it. We can do this, and too often, we do. And then we say, "But gosh, no one made her quit." In the sense that no one put a gun to the ex-blogger's head, that's true, but it doesn't excuse us from examining our roles, if any, in her decision.
And although the third definition may also apply in a few specific instances, it's the second definition I want to focus on: "To restrain from expression: SUPPRESS." It is here that my sympathy for Samhita bleeds into exasperation, because I will not be argued out of the following:
When you respond to your critics without linking to their words, you are withholding information from your audience, information necessary for your audience to generate informed opinions on the matter. That is suppression. That is silencing.
And I'm seeing way too much of it lately. It angers me. It pisses me off something fierce. And my saying "I don't like this; it makes me angry," is not silencing. It's me expressing an opinion, an opinion you are wholly free to disregard.
And just to stop the noise before it starts, my saying "This pisses me off" isn't a personal attack, either. One thing I'm surer than ever of after the last few days is that we have all got to do a better job of distinguishing between "I don't like your actions" and "I don't like you." These two sentiments are not the same. I didn't like Jill's first post on Full Frontal Feminism, but I did like her second one. Now: What changed between those two reactions of mine as regards how I feel about Jill as a person? NOTHING. I respected and admired her before, during, and after. Doesn't mean I'm going to boogie down with everything she writes, and the beautiful thing is, she isn't going to do that for me either. Disagreements happen. This is the internet. We are all grown-ups, we know this, but in the heat of disagreement it's often easy to forget.
I have often forgotten it myself. The next time I forget, I'd be grateful if one of you would kick me in the pants and remind me to re-read this excellent post by Brownfemipower at The Silence of Our Friends*:
I also want to address the idea put forth by Samhita (and many many maaaany of Jessica’s supporters) that women of color bloggers are “hating” on Jessica.
I met Jessica from feministing and Amanda from pandagon at the NAPW conference earlier this year. I liked both of them a lot. Especially Amanda—who, for the first time, made me see why people think southern accents are sexy.
At the conference, I joked with Jessica about the size of her boobs, talked at length with Amanda about Texas/Mexican border issues and living on farmland—I liked them both a lot, and was really happy to that I met up with them.
And then I got back home, and continued blogging and continued to be pissed off by Amanda’s analysis of X and Jessica’s understanding of Y.
Disagreement happens. Disagreement happens even when we really, really like each other. The problem isn't the disagreement, which is inevitable, and the disagreement isn't silencing! As a link piny included in one of her recent posts states:
15. If we attend to your work closely enough to engage in angry, detailed criticism, don't take this as a rejection, crankiness, disordered ranting and raving, or the effects of testosterone poisoning. It's a *gift*. (And it's praise: there must be something we value about you to bother to engage you, especially since such engagement is often painful, as well as time-consuming, for us.)
(Emphasis mine.) And I wasn't the only one who recognized its applicability to recent discussions; in the comments to piny's post, Nanette says:
I was thinking of writing almost this very thing earlier, just for people to keep in mind, but I came across someone who put it better, in piny’s link to the trans how-to piece[.]
Lest anyone remain unclear: "Angry, detailed criticism" is not silencing. PERIOD. I swear, if I see "criticism" equated with "the suppression of criticism" one more time, I'm going to flip the fuck out and quit myself, because I have reached my saturation point with this stupidity, so much so that I wonder whether terming it "stupidity" isn't actually being too kind; stupidity arises from ignorance, and I'm no longer confident that ignorance is the real problem here. "Deliberate obfuscation of the issue so as to promote one framing over another," which I hope I don't have to remind you is another suppressive and silencing method, might be the more accurate description of this bizarre phenomenon of equating "criticism" with "silencing."
When I see people I respect reacting to only one side of the story, as Scott Lemieux does here:
Fundamentally, there's no line of argument stupider than alleging that women of color are not "real" women of color, and that goes triple when people make this offensive argument in order to support a fact-free a priori narrative about a site's content.
--my first reaction is to get angry at Scott. But then I realize, I don't actually disagree with anything Scott said! And then after that, I groan at "fact-free a priori narrative about a site's content," because what Scott's responding to is at best a fact-deprived a priori narrative about what Samhita's critics have actually said. And the blame for that, I'm afraid, lies squarely with Samhita:
In light of the conversations surrounding Jessica's book, I just wanted to touch on some of the issues that have come up. I am going to admit first and foremost, I haven't read all of them and I am not going to cite any people, just some themes that are coming up and the feelings they are bringing up for me.
The problem with this approach is it allows the author free rein to interpret those themes for her audience in any way she sees fit, and someone as hurt and upset as Samhita is currently may naturally be expected to interpret them to paint herself in the best light possible and her critics in the worst. "They said this"--and how is anyone reading supposed to know who "they" is, or whether "they" really said "this?" One must either take Samhita's word for it or make fumbling search attempts using Google.
Or you can be an unfeeling bitch like me and go to the source. Despite Samhita's claim in the comments that she was wounded by "conversation all over the interwebz about Jessica's book, our comments policies and how we lack intersectional analysis at Feministing," found in "some of the threads at Feministe," I'm dubious that Feministe is the real culprit here, not least because I find, at last check at least, no mention of "how we lack intersectional analysis at Feministing" in any of the Feministe threads on Full Frontal Feminism.
So regarding intersectionality, at least, I suspect this thread is more likely the source of Samhita's pain. Some excerpts:
Samhita! Don’t go away! Talk. I love your contributions but other people seem to have a problem with it. They made me think deeply about it and they we feel you can be more hardcore about it. You don’t stand alone. Im kind of hardcore about it but I’m just a commenter.
It meaning intersectionality. And Feministing has been talking about intersectionality since the first page in 2004. You always talk about it but talk about it more as in don’t back down from being hardcore.
Samhita, TONS OF PEOPLE and WOC read you. It’s shocking to hear you feel alone. Just don’t back down.
Very hurtful. Very silencing! But that isn't to say there wasn't some anger expressed to Samhita:
I want to tahnk you for finally showing up to Sylvias place to throw yourself a YOUVE WOUNDED MY FEELINGS PARTY. while sitting pretty motherfucking silent while it happened to us.
BUt shit your voice erasure is more important than ours, your inability to read the fucking posts is less important than how wounded you fucking are cause we really are doing this while we cry and comisserate and weep and desperately try to get some attention to our life and death situations .
We’re doing it to piss you off.
THATS THE ENTIRE FUCKING REASON
(Blackamazon's last two sentences are meant sarcastically, just in case that isn't readily apparent.)
Radical? You? Where were you when that bullshit was pulled on Nubian? You and the other “WOC” there let it ride too. The least you could have done is smacked down the racist and white privilege comments there, if you even recognize them, and I seriously doubt that.
It's Samhita who interprets the above as an accusation of not being a "real" woman of color:
Donna, you are trippin. Am I not women of color enough for you?
And this is met with several responses, among them, Brownfemipower's:
samhita, if you recall I DID come to your defense, do you recall that?
or am I not women of color enough for *you*?
how many times have you come to *my* damn defense? how many times have you commented on *any* of our blogs?
And also, Blackamazon:
And somehow your writing about it si teh same fucking thing as actually engaging about wit which never seems to happen until you want to come up into OUR spaces to tell us how wrong we done ya.
YOU must be out your mind.
You can’t even bring u p any damn facts or specifci posts jsut your hurt feelings like me Sylvia PP DOnna BFP etc etc haven’t been basically jumped for teh past four fucking days lumped in with everyfucking body and called covertly or overtly fucking stupid.
I tried real hard to be polite but I’m fucking done with this shit.
But while there's a lot of (to me, perfectly understandable) anger expressed in that thread, there's also a lot of reaching out to Samhita:
Samhita, don’t get defensive, just let the sense of the comments penetrate.
The reason for the anger is patiently explained:
samhita, I have never and will never comment on your site because of all the reasons that have been laid out endlessly. it is a site that is patently unsafe for any type of thought that does not fall right into line with what all the rest of the mainstream feminists are saying. bint, amazon, nubian–they all represent a perspective that I am in tune with an identify with and they have all been attacked mercilessly on your site.
Again, and again:
christ, samhita, YOU have been attacked on your site, and where the hell are your own co-bloggers????
if you can’t feel safe on your own blog why in the holy hell do you think any of the rest of us are going to go over there?
You’re awfully slow if you don’t already know that you tell the white women what they want to hear there or get trashed. How very supportive of Jessica! We figured it out long ago and that’s why we aren’t there. If they treated us like we have a brain in our heads we would be there, we would see these threads you are talking about and defending you along with the rest of the readers, even the white ones, because that is the kind of atmosphere they would have cultivated. Instead they cultivate one where WOC are hung out to dry if they get uppity.
Reassurances are given that this isn't personal:
Even though we don’t like your shenanigans, we can still like you as a person and stuff.
samhita gets severely trashed on her every other post by racists because she is a woc.
samhita, remember it’s structural, not individual. take these criticisms constructively. and remember, nubian stopped blogging.
And this just plain makes no sense coming from a would-be silencer of Samhita:
samhita, i’m so glad you’re here and read this blog regularly.
I had an email request today for a show of solidarity for Samhita. I regret only a little that I cannot grant that. I don't stand with dishonesty. I don't stand with "shenanigans" of this sort. I don't stand with suppression of dissent. I don't stand with silencing.
To the extent I am permitted to, I stand with her. And her. And her. And her. And her.
That's who has my solidarity. That's who has my respect. That's who has my support.
For what it's worth.
UPDATE: And, especially, her.
I don't know how you do it. I hate that you have to do it. I hate that your allies have let you down. I hate that the people who keep this going do so by covering up what's really going on in favor of an increasingly ludicrous persecution narrative that simply doesn't hold up once you have all the facts.
I hate that posts are linked to which endeavor to be fair to both sides, but go unread. I don't have time to respond to everyone.
I hate that arguments are made and promptly turned to straw. But of course no book could be everything to everyone.
I hate that feelings are being hurt right and left, but only some feelings matter. These attacks on Feministing are unfair.
Most of all, I hate that the so-called attackers are seldom named, never linked, never responded to directly. They're just jealous. They're not worth responding to.
Here's an idea: If they're not worth responding to, then shut the fuck up. This "I'm not going to link to it, but SOME PEOPLE have said--" gambit is foul. It's dishonest. And if that doesn't get through to you, let me remind you that it's also a favorite conservative tactic.
When I wrote this, I worried afterwards that the comparison I made was unfair. Now I'm convinced that it is unfair--to antifeminists.
This has to stop.
*Another good reason to bookmark this one: If, like me, you aren't always sure what people are talking about when they reference "intersectionality," I think you will find Brownfemipower's explanation, especially as it relates to the concept of inclusion, very helpful.