April 14, 2008
Thinking, talking, blogging about race
I don’t know what to say about, as Melissa put it, “the fissure happening in the feminist blogosphere right now between some prominent white feminists and feminists/womanists of color.” I read Pandagon and had just recently started reading La Chola (Brownfemipower’s blog), but fell behind in my blog reading in general over the past few months (personal stuff), and ended up not learning about the events that triggered this fissure until well after they’d happened (at least in blog-time), and in general I just feel really ill-equipped to comment on those events in specific.
However, I did want to address some of the issues that this fissure points to. I’d like to think of myself as I want to be an ally to women of color (and people of color in general). I read posts like the Angry Black Woman’s “Thank You, White People” (follow. the. links.) and agree with the whole damn thing, and want to bang my head against the desk when the Nice Whites (à la Nice Guys) show up in the comments and go, “But I’m not a racist! And my family totally never owned slaves! Why do you hate me so much?” I hear celebrities of color say things like “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,”* and think “too damn true.” I look at the way my friends and colleagues of color are treated, the casual racism and essentialism they have to face every single day, and it hurts me. It makes me angry. I want to do what I can to combat that racism.
But knowing that I have indeed benefited from racism gives me pause when the issue of race comes up, at least insofar as blogging is concerned. I worry about being thought a hypocrite. That time when I overheard my landlord telling the person with whom I lived at the time that he was glad we weren’t like the other people in the neighborhood — in fact, I think he specifically said something about being glad that, with us around, his wasn’t the only white face in the building, something like that — I didn’t rush out of the bathroom, pants around my ankles, to chastise him. Indeed, had he said it to my face, I don’t know what I’d have done. What do you say when your landlord, someone in a position of authority over you, says something so blatantly racist? I guess maybe you move out, which we did, but for other reasons. I was less aware then, less active, but still.
And then I think sometimes there’s a fuzzy line, or maybe some people just perceive the line to be fuzzy, between, as Holly put it, “stand[ing] by those who aren’t called on” and appropriation, or at least pretending one understands another’s pain when that’s simply not possible. I remember seeing, a few days or maybe weeks after the Katrina fundraiser, a woman — pale white skin, red hair — wearing a shirt proclaiming “Kanye was right.” I wondered about her motivation for buying and wearing that shirt. And then I wondered about my wondering.
I haven’t come to any conclusions. I do, however, think the resolutions in the letter at Shakesville are a good place to start. I can “write about, discuss, advocate, and recognize as integral to the central tenets of feminism/womanism issues our sisters of color bring to our attention.” I can link to women of color. I can “endeavor always to be aware of [my] privilege, and, in moments of failure, …remain open to criticisms and suggestions, resolve to think twice before responding defensively, and apologize when [I] fuck up.”
And I can listen.
*And I think it’s telling that that one phrase is all people remember about what Kanye West said that night. “Nevermind all that other stuff he said — he called the President a racist!! ZOMG!!!11!”