I feel a little guilty about this, because they aren't bad people. They just have one rule I cannot for the life of me keep:
NO UNPLEASANTNESS EVER.
Which would be fine and a noble ideal and all that, except that life is so often unpleasant, and then only when it isn't outright horrible. I'm not trying to be cynical; that's just facts. I have a relatively pleasant life, you bet, but my life isn't typical of the lives in this world and (this is important to get) if you have a secure roof over your head, nourishing food on your table, and relative health in your body, your life isn't typical either. I can't possibly proceed with this unless we're agreed on that much first of all.
There, that's one elephant of unpleasantness down: The unpleasant fact is that avoiding unpleasantness is a luxury most people don't have and as such, the desire to avoid unpleasantness is fairly reliable indicator of relative privilege. See, most people can't avoid unpleasantness because unpleasantness is SITTING ON THEM.
It's amazing how much damage you can do in the course of avoiding unpleasantness; the classic example is the parent who says "this hurts me more than it hurts you" while spanking a child. Spanking is unpleasant and the parent feels guilty for doing it, but hurts MORE? Could we put that to a vote, actually? We'll just get a dozen people together jury fashion and hit 'em with this survey:
Given the choice, I would rather:
1. Hit someone.
2. Be hit by someone.
I believe this option would cause me the LEAST pain:
1. Hitting someone.
2. Being hit by someone.
It hurts when you hit me.
1. I'll bet it does, but you deserve it.
2. Actually, it hurts me more than it hurts you.
I don't want to hear it from parents who spank, because you know something? If it really hurt you more than it hurt the kid, you wouldn't do it. Period. End of discussion.
There's this guy out there who likes to crab that I mention my boyfriend too much on this blog. Of course if I didn't have a boyfriend, or if I were lesbian, or if I had a boyfriend but never mentioned him, he'd be crabbing that I'm underappreciative of teh menz. You gotta know when you're in a no-win, is what I figure there.
Anyway, that fellow should look away now, because I'm about to credit my boyfriend with the astute observation that this whole "Elephant? What elephant?" business is usually called concern trolling when it appears on the internet.
Rather than talk about the unpleasantness honestly, a concern troll shifts the conversation to how concerned s/he is about the unpleasantness. Given even a smidge of an opening, a concern troll will then usually continue with a lot of nonsense about how concerned s/he is that all this unpleasantness could be avoided, or maybe even eliminated entirely, with more and better effort by all those other people, over there, who just won't stop being so unpleasant, for some reason?!?
I could do a whole flow chart up of this process, and with access to some flow-charting software I would do up a whole flow chart, because I'm obsessive and I really like flow charts. Luckily for all of us, though, an actual chart isn't necessary here. The concern troll flow chart can be effectively condensed to one main loop:
1. I am concern-trolling:
YES: Shut the fuck up.
NO: GOTO 2
2. I'm NOT concern-trolling. I'm just very concerned, as a member of Group M, that certain members of Group K are acting in a way that will ultimately prove detrimental to their interests. I am concerned about this, and I am going to keep sharing my concerns about this until you acknowledge the vast depth of my concern and pat me on the head for having it:
YES: GOTO 1
NO: GOTO 1 anyway, because I'm pretty sure you're really saying #2, even if you can't bring yourself to acknowledge it yet. I'm pretty sure of this because I have never even once seen a concern troll admit to concern trolling on the internet.
Sometimes if I'm partially awakened from sleep I curse at people, and never remember it the next day. "I was asleep," I say when it's brought up in the morning. "I didn't mean it."
"You told me to go fuck myself with a chainsaw!"
"I was SLEEPING!"
Then I get hurt feelings because I can't get the curse-ee to quit hassling me. Doesn't that person understand that I was unconscious? I can't be held responsible for what I do when I'm asleep! If this person could just understand that, then maybe we could proceed to a reconciliation of sorts--but how can I ever make amends if the curse-ee won't try to understand where I'm coming from here? Hint: I am coming from a state of previously BLISSFUL UNCONSCIOUSNESS. I literally did not know what I was doing.
You know what?--It's hopeless! You can't accept that I didn't mean any harm? You want to hold me responsible for causing you harm unintentionally? You think this is fair? Well, I think it's a no-win situation for me, that's what I think, so go fuck yourself with a chainsaw! And quit hassling me!
What do you mean, "blackmail?" Now you aren't even making any sense. I can't deal with you if you insist on being so irrational.
I was well into my 30s before I figured out that the only thing the person I cussed out wanted to hear was an abject apology.
"Really? I said that? That's horrible! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean it, not even subconsciously. I guess I'm just way overprotective of my sleep. But still--oh, I am so sorry! What an asshole thing to have said."
Funny thing: When I do that? When I take responsibility for the hurt I caused even though I never meant to cause it, was never even conscious that I was causing it?
BOOM! Suddenly, there's a huge drop in unpleasantness.
Here's the unpleasantness I'm avoiding right now: I am avoiding saying that I think someone is being either dishonest or dumb. I wish I could find a pleasant third way out of that dichotomy, so people would think I was a benevolent and compassionate person full of courage, someone with an ardent commitment to celebrating life, one who enriched all humanity with tender love and sweet knowledge. That would be much more pleasant than being a bitch.
Maybe if I said something vague, like, "Oh, well, so-and-so is just rationalizing unpleasant behavior, it's a natural human tendency, we all rationalize our actions to ourselves, it's how we make sense of the insensible--but mercy, that doesn't mean we're stupid and don't know better, and it doesn't necessarily make us dishonest. We're all just human! We're all learning and growing like weeds in the night, only smarter. Ah, that's all that's going on here: Just a few growing pains, just a few bends in the learning curve. Yes. So, so, tragically, beautifully human!"
But you know something?
If you post the same tired old crap I've been reading for at least a year now, it doesn't matter how you dress it up. It doesn't matter how many remarks along the lines of "I'm a little confused" or "I'm just thinking out loud" or "Perhaps I'm missing something (but here's four more paragraphs explaining why I'm not missing anything, really)"--it does not matter how many Uriah Heep "pay no mind to humble ol' me"-type concern troll disclaimers and disarmers and gee-golly-whiz obfuscations you shove into the same tired old crap. It does not matter; it's still the same tired old crap, and I can't be pleasant about it. I just can't--not when that same tired old crap hurts people I love.
This is crap. It's crap, and it stinks, and furthermore, the precise nature of the crap, as well as how to stop leaving it everywhere, and how to clean it up when you do leave it everywhere--everything there is that can possibly be said about this crap has been said and is normally ONE GOOGLE SEARCH or ONE BLOGROLL CLICK or ONE TRIP TO THE LIBRARY away from you.
So that's enough justifying the endless reposting of crap! Enough! I find it unpleasant that you are standing there wringing your hands over all this crap while protesting that you never meant to crap on anyone, honest; but oh, p.s., could the people you crapped on please try asking you to clean up your crap a little more nicely?
Okay. Here is the nice version:
It's like, fuck, just listen. Don't fill the air with your assumptions, just listen. Look for the answers, don't dominate discourse with your questions, and listen.
"But I think by talking!" Yeah, I've used that defense myself, often. But you can't listen as well when you're talking, and it's the listening that needs to be done now, desperately.
Not the thinking.
Not the wondering aloud.
Definitely not the crapping.
I seem to have gone from an elephant motif to a sewage one. Well, elephants poop mass quantities. That's how I'm rationalizing THAT.
The elephant I want to shoot next is the big one:
We, white feminists, do NOT treat women of color the same way we treat other white feminists. We treat them demonstrably, provably worse--and don't make me fill this post with links to prove it, because I can do that, but it's going to look simply awful all collected in one spot like that. Talk about unpleasantness! But I can if I have to. I am obsessive enough and angry enough to dredge up 90% of the ugliness that's gone down online between white feminists and women of color (and nearly all of that unidirectional; guess which direction?) THIS YEAR ALONE.
In fact, a project of roughly that sort is already in the works. Tell me: Is that project happening because white feminists treat women of color the same way we treat other white feminists? I don't think so.
We do NOT treat women of color the way we treat other white feminists, and no WOC blogger I've read has ever "made the mistake" of failing to understand that we do, because we don't.
We recenter every issue women of color raise onto ourselves. We talk about how important it is to interact with women of color--not for their benefit, but for our personal growth. Hell, I do that one too much, which is probably why this makes me wince right down to my toes.
We play the Nice White Lady who can Do Anything, including finding novel ways to "stop hurting each other"--as though the hurts experienced on both sides of the white-feminist/women-of-color divide were in any way near to equivalent, or as though we as white feminists were in any way capable of being neutral, objective, fair or balanced in that pursuit. But we have to try! We have to fix what women of color keep breaking! We have to have this dialogue. If you deny us this dialogue, that's silencing.
We say we're all in this together, and then we gripe that it seems SOME of us are more "in this together" than others. Coincidentally, I mean totally coincidentally, the some of us who are more "in this together" tend to share a common skin color, while the some of us who are less inclined to be "in this together"--well, like I said, it's just a coincidence. I mean, gosh, we'd love to all be in this together, but for some reason, Those Other People just won't join up.
And then we ask (and we're just thinking out loud here; please
And I do mean answerS, because the other thing we do is say "women of color" while appearing to address one undifferentiated great brown bloc. If we could just penetrate the mystery of that great brown bloc, we'd have The Answer to The Race Problem. But how can we penetrate the mystery when the bloc won't stop hollering at us? Never mind that we're the ones actually doing the hollering:
"Teach us, O Great Brown Bloc!"
"Excuse me? Were you talking to me? To whom was that addressed?"
"It was addressed to WOMEN OF COLOR! WOC for short!"
"Uh, which woman of color? Did you mean me, or were you talking to--"
"Why do you refuse us knowledge, Great Brown Bloc? We seek enlightenment! We come in peace!"
We talk about rather than to. We plead ignorance where ignorance is (again, demonstrably and provably) no excuse. We strive to include--but in our club, and we still chair the board, oh, you bet.
Listen, it's quite an honor that we even invited you at all, okay? We can't have you just storming in here and taking over. That would be too chaotic.
Hey, but my friends and I were just admiring your pet issues, how cute they are? No, really, they are so cool. So REAL, you know? Like in the 70s, when everyone was wearing ponchos and Afros? That was in the era BI, Before Irony. Ha! I LOVE the 70s. Everyone was so earnest back then. Earnestness is going to be the next big thing, seriously. It's like my friends and I are always saying: We have irony burnout.
Listen, though, we would be so stoked for you to teach us about your issues. We are so supportive of your--huh? 'Sat now?
Books? Oh honey, books are so whatevs. I mean, by the time you're done with grad school you're just over the book thing, am I right?
--Oh, I'm sorry! I always forget that your people were educated on the mean streets. You're probably super annoyed with all my fancy academic rhetoric, huh? God, I wish I could get my education on the streets. Or in the fields. I just think it would be so much more REAL to learn that way. I had no choice, though. In my family, in my culture, it was kind of expected that I would put myself $75,000 in debt to fight patriarchy? God, I know! The things we do for this movement, huh?
What was I saying before? Oh, yah, books: Books are finito, hermana. It's ALL digital media now, except when it isn't. Like, if we wrote books, that would not be whatevs; that would be MAJOR. You would support that, right? It's so important to support feminist authors! We have to make feminism accessible again, like it was in the 70s, but minus the ponchos this time.
So we can count on you? I hope so. We need to present a united front. A diverse united front, though--not like the Christian Coalition or anything fascist like that. See, I don't know if you can understand this, but it's like, right now, there are a LOT of young women out there who think feminism is so whatevs, and it totally isn't. That's just books. Oh, and herpes.
--All right, now I'm just ripping off that dude at Gawker who does the Underminer posts. But listen, when are we going to stop undermining women in this so-called women's movement? Can it be soon, please?
Things I find undermining in this post:
1. It begins by classifying its remarks as "meta-feminist." Puzzlingly, then,
2. It frames the debate around a point that has never, to my knowledge, been seriously contested on any feminist or womanist blog: Shouldn't feminists retain their humanity (and thus the respect we owe fellow human beings) as they become better known and more successful? (Yes, they should, and nice strawman.)
3. It references "for some background" a thread largely dominated by white women arguing about breast implants (not that that thread wasn't as entertaining as a hammer to the skull), all in order to
4. Express ostensible confusion about "what some WOC and their allies are upset about."
You have got to be fucking kidding me. But it doesn't stop there. Does it ever?
5. The post then proceeds to explain that mistakes were made--
6. By "those WOC bloggers and their allies."
7. These "mistakes," by those WOC bloggers and their allies, included
a. Assuming, or OVER-estimating, the ability of white women to "get something deep about what it means to be a WOC in our society."
b. "The second crucial mistake they made was to not recognize how female white blogging rhetoric works."
Get. The fuck. OUT.
This is how white feminists treat other white feminists in general, which IS not very nicely, I'll agree, but still jarringly different from how we treat women of color:
* We assume good faith initially. We assume that in time any trolls, like murder, will out; until then, we generally begin by treating each other as reasonable, good-faith opponents. We assume women of color who disagree with us are just jealous, just expect too much of us, or just have trouble comprehending our grossly overeducated rhetoric.
* We acknowledge, name, and link to specific posts by specific people with whom we disagree. We excerpt specific parts of those posts. Our opponents have names. We don't say "some white feminists;" we say "Molly" or "The Happy Feminist" or "Natalia." We LINK. We QUOTE. We NAME. We substitute links to white women, or just the shorthand "WOC," or maybe if we're really being careful the shorthand "some WOC and their allies," where links and quotes and names of women of color should go.
* When one white feminist makes a particularly good point, other white feminists don't go run it by a man to get his stamp of approval on it. When a woman of color makes a particularly good point, we run it by other white feminists or, worse, our sympathetic friends of color, to get a stamp of approval on it.
* When one white feminist makes a particularly stupid point, other white feminists don't go run it by a man to check whether he'll agree that this makes us stupid as a group. When a woman of color makes a particularly stupid point, she turns out to be a white woman we've assumed was a woman of color, and then we blame all women of color for her stupidity anyhow, because close enough..
* When a men's rights activist, an antifeminist, a misogynist, or Ann Althouse says something (or several things) silly, we do not use their remarks as a launching pad to critique other white feminists. We do not, in general, blame each other for the words of those known to be hostile to feminism, nor do we stress to each other the importance of stifling intrafeminist debate because The Man is watching. But we tell women of color to shut up and be team players so reflexively, we might as well make a macro for it.
Aunt B., you can't tell me you treated women of color "the way we treat other white people" in those two posts. You just can't. This has got fuck-all to do with academic rhetoric, or class loyalties, or any of that other elephant shit you're flinging around like a meth-loaded circus roadie, albeit an awfully pleasant one. I can't believe you're this dense and I won't believe you're this inured to the stink. Kai is right about what this has to do with.
I may not be treating you very nicely--I definitely am not--but I'm linking you, I'm quoting you, I'm NAMING you. I'm addressing YOU, Aunt B. the human being with whom I'm personally a lot disgusted right now, but thanks to whom there are perhaps larger points to make, so maybe I should try making them. I am addressing Aunt B. who blogs at Tiny Cat Pants, which I earlier tonight referred to as "Tiny Cat Piss" because you know what, I may have cried over the way you disappeared me here (that thread was so mean to whom now? I'll ask it again: That thread was so mean to whom? Can you read?), but that hurt I could mostly keep private.
That Blackamazon is shit-talked at least every month and sometimes every week by one white feminist or another, and that she's mainly known among white feminists for her responses to those outrages, instead of for the sparks that fly out of her head and thankfully onto the internet, as would be right and just--that all this goes on and yet she is never named or linked or quoted, NEVER has her humanity acknowledged, even as you fret over the supposedly, in-what-universe-is-this-happening, threatened humanity of two white women--THAT I can't suck up. THAT I can't bitch about privately in email and resolve to "move on" from. That injury, heaped upon hundreds of other similar injuries, is not mine to forgive.
I wasn't sure whether I was going to post this. I'm not convinced you're worth the bother, and I know you aren't worth the shit I'll get. But then I read this:
I am angry because no matter what I write now, it has to be written in a defense. I’m sick of defending who I am. I’m sick of defending why I write, I’m sick of rehashing what I write because people can’t be bothered to try to see what I’ve done (and I understand blowing up my last blog kind of negates this point for me, but I’ve seen it with other bloggers too and they probably feel the same way), and I’m sick of being angry and sick from doing something I enjoy.
--and that's heartbreaking enough all on its own, but she also wrote that she isn't angry at you. Maybe your thoughtlessness has already begun to blur into the other 8900 times she's been smacked in the face with the brutal truth about how she's seen through the white lens (that would include: indistinctly, peripherally, and reductively, to name just a few). Probably she is better than I am at recognizing the "systemic" in "systemic racism:" Why single out any one mole in a game of Whac-a-Mole? They all need a good whacking. So many moles, so little time. So many dumb white folks, so few mallets. I don't know.
But I'M angry at you, because your precious need to think out loud was so much more important to you than maybe taking a few minutes to click around and CHECK whether your out-loud thinking was really as necessary to get out there as you thought it might be, or whether it was simply the same tired old crap that's been hurting people all year long plus infinity. Sure, you keep going on and on about how important it is that we all stop hurting each other. You keep going on about that, and while you do, I'll be over here making that smarmy little jack-off gesture while muttering "[cough]bullshit![cough]" under my breath.
I am distinctly unpleasant that way, in part because I learned this summer that you really DON'T fuck with the pink mafia, they really WILL fucking cut you, they really DO consider that horrible pack mentality a selling point (!) of whatever-wave-this-is feminism--and frankly, it's nitwits like you who enable them to keep on cutting without the least pang of conscience. It's nitwits like you always looking for some shiny new speck of intellectual whimsy that will finally, finally make it clear to everyone that our whitefeminist It Girls are actually right even when it looks as though they could just possibly be wrong.
You're always looking for a fresh way to "humanize" them, but you idiot, they HAVE their humanity. They are linked, they are quoted, they are named, they are engaged, they are respected, they are published and they are read. Meanwhile all you have to offer "WOC and their allies" (no names! No names, please!) is worthless advice about how to get into a worthless whitefeminists club, and they never asked for that, PLUS they've seen it already and know that it sucks. But Sylvia never asked for that. Blackamazon never asked for that. They're not even interested in that! They do other things. They have other projects. They write other posts. They have interests beyond white people, can you believe???
No, they never asked you or your precious darlings for a fucking thing except their due, and that they didn't ask for so much as insist upon--but you, you'd rather humanize those who refuse it to them. Oh, good JOB. Oh me, oh my, if only there were some New and Exciting way we could all learn to stop hurting each other! Well, I'm sorry, Great Healer, but there are only Old and Boring ways we could all stop hurting each other, such as (1) not hurting each other, (2) apologizing when we hurt each other, (3) apologizing even and especially when we never meant to hurt someone. Really, it's basic. Not much call for thinking outside the box with this one.
No. No, no, no. No more erasing my friends. No more bedazzled baffling bullshit. You cram that right back where it came from. Then maybe we can talk about stopping the hurt, but it won't be pleasant. It will be worth it a thousand times over, yes, yes, yes, but it will not be pleasant.
It is worth it to me to be unpleasant if even one white feminist who was thinking of posting, "What is the damn deal with women of color? What are they so upset about? You know, this is where I think they screwed up," stops for a second, just long enough to take this advice to heart:
Shut the fuck up and listen. Shut the fuck up and read. Shut the fuck up and think--quietly, to yourself.
That is as pleasant as I can possibly be about this under the circumstances.