Tuesday, October 11, 2011

They're Going to Laugh at You: White Women, Betrayal and the N-Word

Who spiked the Evian? Lately, there’s been a rash of White women using the n-word – including self-professed liberals and progressives. As if that were not bad enough, they act shocked, defensive and even downright nasty when told by women of all races that they should cut that shit out.

First example: a few White women made and carried signs that stated Woman Is the N***** of the World for Slut Walk in New York City on October 1st.

While some White women including those among Slut Walk NYC's organizers and participants have stepped up to condemn these actions, there are too many who have come to their defense, ranging from the naively privileged to the unapologetically hostile. I’m talking Facebook posts such as, “It is NOT racist, and anybody who thinks so is a fucking idiot” to a White woman telling an African American woman to go fuck herself. (I’d post links, but in no surprise to me, the posts have conveniently disappeared.)

A few days later, Barbara Walters used the word and then played victim when told by her The View co-host Sherri Shepherd that she was hurt by it. Acting as if her journalistic integrity was called into question instead of hearing the pain of her so-called friend, Walters exploited Shepherd’s struggle to concretize her discomfort with Walters’s use of the word and attempted to make Shepherd feel unreasonable for taking offense. (I’ll save my musings on why Walters will never have a woman of color – least of all a woman of African descent – who is capable and willing to hand her ass to her on The View for another time.)

Then last night I learned that at Occupy Philadelphia, two Black women were called n****** by volunteers. Now the actual details of the incident remain sketchy, but from what I understand, the fact that these women were slurred is not in dispute. Apparently, charges of racism against the organizing group predated the incident.

Many women of all races such as Stephanie Gilmore, Sydette Clark and the Crunk Feminist Collective have issued thorough, incisive and poignant analyses as to why it is never appropriate for a self-proclaimed White feminist ally to use this racial slur. There is little more I can add to the substance of these and other responses already made. Still I have a compelling desire (which I will hereinto unapologetically indulge) to contribute to the discussion by making an attempt to make White women perpetrators and their apologists viscerally understand what exactly is the impact of their use of the n-word.

Warning: it ain’t going to be diplomatic or pretty because we’re already far past that.

So to all the White women who think it’s cool to use the n-word, y’all seen the movie Carrie, right? Recall the pivotal scene where Carrie White’s nemesis Chris and her boyfriend Billy dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her. Before Carrie telekinetically wrecks shop, she stands there drenched in blood and humiliation as people laugh at her.

That’s how that shit feels when you use the n-word.

We’re Carrie White and you’re Chris Hargensen except Chris never fronted like she was Carrie’s friend.

A few of your apologists are Sue Snell, perhaps well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual and forever haunted by the damaged to feminist solidarity that you have caused.

But your most virulent apologists are bunch of Billy Nolans who pick up the havoc where you left.

Your use of the n-word is a huge bucket of pig's blood. When you use it and defend yourself, you’re Chris licking her lips as she pulls the cord. It’s a betrayal, plain and simple.

Stop with the defensiveness and rationalizations for just a minute and sit with that. If you're really 'bout it, just accept that already. Recognize that the mere ability to dig your heels in - telling us we don't get it, defending your honor like some damsel in distress (by the way, how are you OK with pulling the most anti-feminist of anti-feminist shticks), etc. - wouldn't exist without the racial privilege you think is somehow neatly tucked away in the folds of your gender identity. You really can’t get whiter than that.

And guess what? Recasting Black women who call you out as the threat to whatever image you have constructed of yourself got you looking really patriarchal right about now. You’re doing to Black women what men of all races to do to us all the time.

It’s a betrayal when you act as if you have no clue in 2011 about what feminists of color endure within our own community when we make the decision to trust in and build with White feminists. Patriarchal men and women of color are like Piper Laurie, doing everything to derail us whenever we align ourselves with you. When we throw on our jackets to head out to the meeting, they stand at the top of the stairs yelling, “They’re going to laugh at you.”

We have faith and show up anyway only for you to pull the cord on prom night.

(Side note to those anti-feminist people of color: now isn’t the time for you to say, “I told you so.” That’s when you go from acting like Carrie’s mother to making like her gym teacher. Instead of joining the laughter, you should be standing with us as we call out the racism rather than using it as an opportunity to gut check us on our feminism. Don’t bother if for no other reason than it’s just not going to work for you. All you do when you attempt to discredit feminism by throwing an instance of racist arrogance of certain White women in our face is play yourself. We’re just not that fickle. With few exception, we’re not going to come “home” like the prodigal Carrie White because, as you'll recall, her mother pretended to comfort her only to literally stabbed her in the back. Yeah, we're not playin' that.)

Now back to you n-word loving White women. You want to show how hip you are? Stop listening to Yoko Ono and Kreayshawn and read a book, read a book, read a MF book. Preferably one by a Black feminist such as Audre Lorde or bell hooks. One course in an entire women’s studies program doesn’t cut it.

What to show how down you are? Quit with the silly references to hip hop culture as some kind of permission. As mad as we may be at you, even we don’t believe you’re that dumb. You especially denigrate yourself with that one so stop it.

To all you Sue Snells, when women associated with your movements ('cause that's what it's looking like right about now - YOUR movements -- now matter how many invitations you extend) tell women of color to go fuck themselves, call us idiots for taking offense, say they’re sorry if we’re offended as if our feelings are the problem and not the actions that triggered them and other such nonsense, how 'bout You. Just. Check. Them. Despite all the historic and ongoing treatment of men of color as menaces to White womanhood, feminists of color usually have no problem pulling a brother’s coattails when he comes for you, but y’all kinda drag your feet when a White woman does the same to us or our men. And that high school tactic of pleading, “It wasn’t me” doesn’t suffice. I don’t mean to get all vanguardist on y’all, but how about you bench these chicks when they come out of pocket? Seriously, where is the discipline in this movement? I’m not saying to immediately show her the door (although that just might be appropriate on occasion.) Struggle with her if you must, but there has to be serious and immediate consequences for racist behavior even if it’s sending homegirl to an intersectionality boot camp.

Stop confusing the fact that the n-word is still used by some black folks as license for you to use it. Many women including White feminists still use the word bitch, but I don't see you abiding for one second any man thinking he can do the same. In fact, if a man who identified as a feminist and/or ally still had the audacity to roll up to Slut Walk with a sign that read Rape is for Pussies, all his professions to solidarity, insistence that we focus on the “real” issue and the like wouldn’t have zilch currency for you so don’t act brand new.

And while we’re on the subject of Black folks who embrace the n-word, I don’t give a damn how many Black friends you have who don’t blink an eye or even think it’s cute when that word comes out of your mouth. You still don’t and never will have license to use that word. Accept that. If you can't stop insisting that you be allowed to use the n-word on philosophical grounds, how 'bout you just let it go on the simple fact that you will never win this one. Trust me on that. If any woman of color - friend, comrade, stranger -- tells you it is offensive to her, the only right answer of a true ally is to knock it off. This mounting any never mind excessive defense of the use of the n-word by you or any other White person then turning around and complaining that our expressing our hurt and anger is a distraction from the "real" issue at hand... how's that working for you? It isn't, and you know it.

And you know why despite your Cool White Chick status you weren’t at the meeting when your Black BFF was elected representative-at-large for the United Black Diaspora? It's because the election never took place and that organization doesn’t exist. They never did and even if they ever were to, despite your CWC bona fides, you still wouldn’t be invited. Trust me on that one, too. Until we make some meaningful progress in defeating racism, White anti-racists have their own lane. You truly want to be an ally? Stay in it.

Yes, this is harsh, but in addition to being furious at the recent number of White women who think they can use this word and still front like they are our friends, I’ve been spoiled. I have meaningful relationships with White feminists who get it, and they have set the bar high. Are they perfect? No. But unlike you, they listen. Perhaps that’s why you avoid them like the plague. If you were genuinely interested in dismantling racism and forgoing the white privilege that would require, you would spend less time on Facebook defending the indefensible and more live time with them.

And for God’s sake, stop watching propaganda like The Help.


Madama said...

I wish I could apologize for the stupidity of white people for not understanding and not taking the time to understand the issues you raise. I understand the betrayal you're expressing and I've also read Sydette's blog and get it. I also feel helpless in making this right--young feminists don't want to be schooled by old feminists. This is a huge loss for the movement, in my opinion. White feminists don't want to receive the rage of black feminists because they "didn't cause it." It's very painful for me. White people need to feel the pain whether or not they directly caused it.

I've read Lorde and hooks; both are lodged deeply in my consciousness. I also read The Hemingses of Monticello, which I think should be required reading in all U.S. history classes. Ahistorical stupidity reigns in this country. As a Jew who grew up with places we couldn't go, clubs we couldn't join, neighborhoods that wouldn't sell houses to us, I have some idea of being "othered." I've been exotic-ized as a lustier woman because of my looks, different in many ways from white women. One of my in-laws actually told me Jewish jokes because he thought I'd find them funny. He's a good man with a close friend who is Jewish, but I read him the riot act: only Jews can make Jewish jokes. Jews only make Jewish jokes among Jews. There is and always will be anti-semitism--the stereotypes prevail. Anti-semitism seeps out everywhere; it rips me where I'm already ripped.

But let me be clear that I'm in no way equating my experience with yours; it just helps me understand being a minority, being othered, being maligned, inheriting tremendous intergenerational woundedness.

But here's a fact about me: black maids saved my life with their love when my mother was unavailable emotionally, physically, and clueless. As a very young child, I depended on their kindness and affection. However, there was no happy ending for them. It ripped me up and down. That part of The Help was true for me--the generosity of severely oppressed black women, impoverished black women, toward white children who were emotionally adrift.

Anyway, one semi-white feminist apologizes and hears you. I'm so sorry and, for what it's worth, I care.

With love,

PidgeJen said...

I'm glad you're saying what you're saying and you aren't fixated on censoring yourself. I'm seeing people already coming against p.o.c that are speaking up about racial injustices amongst the 99% crowd, and they are reusing old ass arguments abut how if they speak up about the shit that is affecting them i.e being called the n-word by some volunteers in philly, then they are essentially ruining the "movement" by fractionalizing it and giving the media something to talk about. But if the movement only moves in the same direction that got us here int he first place, then I think it's time we say fuck that type of movement, and let's get down with a movement that blurs the lines and zig zags as it moves. one that gyrates and makes tangents here there and everywhere.

SassyNOLa said...

Amazing. You said everything I've wanted to say in the most straight-forward (and very polite) way. THANK.YOU!

LouMac said...

Total respect. This white woman just discovered your blog and fricking LOVES it. Thank you for continuing to do the incredibly important work of speaking up and challenging unexamined privilege. I can't imagine how thankless it must be, especially nowadays when the white liberal elite thinks it "doesn't see race." We really do need to be reminded of the myriad ways in which our privilege is reinscribed every day, through cultural phenomena like The Help, as well as through the very privilege of being able to discount the testimony of people of colour by accusing *them* of being stuck on race.

Anonymous said...

Just so many props for using Carrie as an analogy for the failure of solidarity. Props forever.

Display Name said...

This is brilliant.

PapaRoc said...

Chiming in as a Black brother, I appreciate you speaking truth to power. I think we progressives and activists can often forget that working together to fight systems of oppression ain't supposed to feel good all the time. We need to call each other out -- foster accountability. We cry together, humble ourselves, and move forward stronger than before. You're helping that process. Nuff respect.

Cal said...

I completely get and respect the argument that no one should use the N-word. But, towards the end of the article I sense kind of a "you have to understand that your inherent white privilege makes it so that us black women are higher on the "marginalized peoples' totem poles, so step off and realize that" tone.

Is that part of your argument? Are you really creating a hierarchy of who is more oppressed right now? Just wondering.

Unknown said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments, stories and questions. The delay in my response has been due to a professional obligation that culminated last night. I'll be getting back to each of you,

Unknown said...


Thank you for the thoughtful response.

First, while it is appreciated when it occurs, I don't expect White women who understand to apologize for the transgressions of those who don't. We all have to take responsibility for our own learning. I have witnessed the intergenerational tension of which you speak. That's an ongoing issue across social justice movements and communities. Being the generation in the middle, one thing that I think would go a long way is each generating making an effort to understand the unique socio-political context in which each generation of activists is operating. Some principles and actions are timeless, and others must change with the times, so rather than say, "We did/are doing it better," we have dialogue about what's the same, what's different and how that impacts our efficacy.

Yes, no one of any privilege wants to receive the rage of a particular target group. We don't want to feel that are essential goodness is in question when we make a mistake. I actually don't believe that just because you're the target in a given situation, you get to rage against anyone and everything who actually has or even seems to have the given privilege that you lack. That, however, is not an excuse for us to defend, deflect, drop out or otherwise evade accountability when we do act out of our privilege and are held accountable for it. The best way, I think, to demonstrate our essential goodness is to be self-reflective, take responsibility, learn from the experience, and SHOW UP AGAIN, humbled, wiser and recommitted.

I took your sharing of your experience with anti-Semitism just as you meant it, but I do appreciate you taking a few word to clarify that you were not attempting to be dismissive of Black women's experience. I wish I could say that was always the case. More often then not, when people share such experiences, it becomes evident that the intention is not to draw parallels in strong and remain mindful of intersecting oppressions but precisely to play what is sometimes referred to as the Oppression Olympics.

Living in NYC, I see almost everyday the number of White children who practically being raised by women of color so I can imagine that your experience is one that is going to be true of many in the very near future. My overall contention with THE HELP is that we repeatedly see this narrative of the individual White savior of people of color. I want to see more and diverse stories of Black women by Black women writers and directors, more historic and imagined stories of people of color liberating themselves, and more stories of collective action rather than individual leadership.

I genuinely believe you care, Madama, and no apology is necessary. Just continue to show up and do your part no matter how hard it gets. That's all you can really do, and it does matter.

Unknown said...

Calvinaabisi, your question strikes me as rhetorical, but I will answer it anyway. No, that's not the argument I'm making. I understand that privilege is fluid and contextual. If anything that is precisely my point: White women who would use that word for whatever reason and their apologists (including those who would never use it themselves and wish their peers wouldn't yet still want to quibble when Black women express their hurt and anger) are essentially giving us the message that gender always trumps race, telling Black women that their access to the word is more important than Black women's feelings about it. Why can't they just let this go for the sake of multicultural solidarity instead of engaging in these rationalizations that insult upon injury? And since I'm speaking to two very particular offenses -- the use of the n-word and defenses for it - I find wondering about whether I take such a sweeping position as "your inherent white privilege makes it so that us black women are higher on the 'marginalized peoples' totem poles, so step off and realize that" simply from my tone quite a leap. My wonder: what's that about? Whether your question was rhetorical or genuine, thanks for asking so I can make that clear for anyone else who might read it that way.

Unknown said...

PapaRoc, thank you, brother. That was beautiful and truthful. This is not about expecting people to be perfect, but about people being willing to take responsibility and accountability when they do err.

Unknown said...

LOL with Anonymous. As a cultural activist, I believe in the power of popular media to promote social justice. I'm actually not a horror movie fan which is ironic when you consider how often the genre has been used by filmmakers to make social commentary. That said, CARRIE is definitely on my list of favorite movies.

Unknown said...

SassyNOLa, I'm glad the post repped for you. That is a major reason why I wrote it -- to give sisters and their equally frustrated White allies a moment to exhale by cutting through all the BS "discussions" that at the core ironically are about shutting down discussions of race altogether.

But that's also why I wasn't polite at all. I usually err on the side of being quite diplomatic, especially when writing online where there are no visual cues. When I saw the vehement disrespect in some of the comments on Facebook, however, I was provoked to fight fire with fire. Women who professed to be about ending violence against all women where using some really nasty language.

But maybe I was still relatively polite. Some of these women were on some straight up, unapologetic, "Fuck you if you don't like it" shit. And as I angry I was at that, I still have yet to say in this post or anywhere else for that matter, "I'm done with all of you White women," did I?

Sadly, some women of color are saying just that.

Unknown said...

LouMac, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can imagine how incredibly frustrating, thankless and even painful it can be for you, too, to challenge other White folks on their racism, and yet justice demands this hard work. It takes tremendous strength, courage and resilience which is precisely why so few White people who claim to be anti-racist will do it.

Madama said...

One of the reasons I got off of Facebook with 2,000 "friends," was that anonymous venting taps right into the worst humans have to offer via the written word. There was no discourse--more like written drive-bys. I was pouring out my most thoughtful (and provocative) self and, although some people were appreciative of my voice, it was, imo, a ridiculous forum for real dialogue. I did not want to be a "performer" or an "educator." I wanted dialogue.

Some White women and some Black women HAVE said "I'm done with you." I think there's a lot of power in acknowledging that this happens, why it happens and where to go from there. So, yeah, I'll keep showing up when I have a clue where dialogue is the reason we're all showing up.

Please keep me on your short list of Semi-White Women who will show up for REAL dialogue. Just as you are from the generation between "young" feminists and "old" feminists, I'm between White and Of Color. I keep insisting on this place, because I see a bridge here...this bridge called my back...but I'm choosing to be a bridge...

I appreciate your expressive range, btw.

Unknown said...

PidgeJen, the funny thing is that 95 per cent of the time I am hypervigilant-- both in person and especially writing -- about my tone, vocabulary, etc. Generally, i believe that speaking your truth doesn't entitle you to say it any ol' way you want for two reasons. One, your pain isn't permission to hurt someone else, and two, it's just not strategic: we do have to be mindful of communicating in ways that we can be engaged since people will use the way you said it to dismiss WHAT you are saying. I usually err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt, avoiding tit-for-tat, being more compassionate towards the other even if they're not granting me the same courtesy, etc., because it's more important for me to be effective than it is to be right.

As you can see, I wasn't having it this time, lol. In addition to the egregious language of the unapologetic and the neverending defenses of the seemingly well-intended, I was very angry for all the women of color I know who lent their credibility to SlutWalk despite whatever reservations they might have had about the strategy of marching under that particular pejorative. They had their critiques of that strategy and reservations about the historical legacy and contemporary implications of literally putting their Black bodies on the line under that word, and yet they did it. They said, "Safety for all women regardless of race trumps my particular concerns as a woman of color." And for what? To not only experience this, but for it to be rationalized?

Nah, i couldn't be diplomatic anymore. Like I said, so many other women broke it down thoroughly and eloquently. And still the defenses continue. I figured if there's any time to take off the kid gloves and say it how it feels for what it might be worth, now was the time because diplomacy was being used to skirt the issue. It was time to make the response to the offense as visceral as the offense itself.

Now it's out here simple and plain: you cannot use this word or defend its use and expect me to trust you, and if I can't trust you, I can't build with you. You need to make a decision as to what is more important to you: access to this word or solidarity with me. There are no meaningful relationships without boundaries, and the boundary can be no clearer.

And as you pointed out, PidgeJen, because of many repeated incidents of this kind, many people of color have given up on cross-racial alliances. I'm not there yet. Ironically, the fact that I went in like this is my own way of saying, I'm not there yet whereas for many people this kind of tone and language is the way they say, "Goodbye."

Anonymous said...

I had no idea this was going on and I'm so glad that you wrote this. I am disappointed that this happened, and appalled that it was defended. I appreciate this awesome call-out of some horrible actions. You're amazing.

Charlie said...

Thanks for a great post. Clueless privilege is so frustrating, especially when it's around an issue that has been so well articulated over and over (and over and over). And like others, I love the comparison to Carrie!

Other Becky said...

Here from Shakesville -- thank you for saying this so clearly, without any dancing around the issues or trying not to hurt our poor delicate feelings. The Carrie analogy is a really good one.

As a white feminist, I can hardly freakin' believe this stuff. Seriously? In two-thousand-freaking-eleven, we still have to have this conversation? I mean, "white people should never use the N-word" is so far below 101 that it's approaching negative numbers. Being a feminist, or any other kind of social justice activist, doesn't change that. Not even if you're quoting a famous white dude and Asian woman.

And for the people who think it's "unfair" that white people aren't "allowed" to say it, I have only one question: why the hell would you want to?

heidi heilig said...

This is appalling. I have white privilege and I am grateful that women like you are willing to take your time to educate me or else i would still be embarrassingly, overwhelmingly ignorant instead of on the path towards knowledge.

Thank you for helping unite us when so many seek to divide us.

Anonymous said...

"You still don’t and never will have license to use that word. Accept that."


This whole post is so full of winning. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

As a white feminist, I really feel shame and disgust that this shit happens on a regular basis. I hate that you have to write about it, but I will take it as a reminder to check my privilege.

LouMac said...

"...telling Black women that their access to the word is more important than Black women's feelings about it..."
is one of the most concise, insightful, well-expressed distillations of the problem that I've ever read.

You have a real gift for clarity, without ever sacrificing complexity. You summarise things in a way that makes me think "well, yes, that's it - why can't I put it like that!" It would be great if you wrote an anti-racism resource book. Maybe you have?

Anonymous said...

This article man me furiuos! seriously, I can believe people in the feminist movement woul even think of doing such things. I feel your rage, and I wish that somehow we could make people "get it".

That poster in the photo at the begining of this article is riddled with hypocracy. It's basically saying "Help me the innocent women who gets abused because of her gender... whilst I turn around and abuse others because of their race!".

You said everything so eloquently, and I really don't want to add to it because then I'll end up getting furious again and typing another sub-article, lol.

Nice work!

Lisa said...

Okay, I'm not even going to pretend to know what this freakin American society is like for women of color. However, I do have to think about it, because my daughter is brown. I completely agree with your take on the Nword. When I was a child that was the only word I knew for black people. To me this shows not only how fucked up my father was, but what the mood of the country during the civil rights marches was.

My incredibly racist (and bigoted) father is amazed that his children didn't follow what he was sure was the logic of the universe. We actually loved who we fell in love with.

There are many ways we cut ourselves down. Let's get rid of bitch too!

Stand together!!

(A lot of this article was about taking offense. If I have offended you please talk to me. We need to stand together. I have to tell you, there is absolutely no way I am anywhere close to perfect so please help me understand more of our lives on this wonderful and crazy world.) You can e-mail me even if you are not offended and just want to talk.
The world has gotten so large, and so small.

Lisa said...

Okay, I'm not even going to pretend to know what this freakin American society is like for women of color. However, I do have to think about it, because my daughter is brown. I completely agree with your take on the Nword. When I was a child that was the only word I knew for black people.

My incredibly racist (and bigoted) father is amazed that his children didn't follow what he was sure was the logic of the universe. We actually loved who we fell in love with.

There are many ways we cut ourselves down. Let's get rid of bitch too!

Stand together!!

(A lot of this article was about taking offense. If I have offended you please talk to me. We need to stand together. I have to tell you, there is absolutely no way I am anywhere close to perfect so please help me understand more of our lives on this wonderful and crazy world.) You can e-mail me even if you are not offended and just want to talk.
The world has gotten so large, and so small.

Pete Schult said...

Great post.

As for the song title these signs quote, I can only hope that if John Lennon were still alive, he would repudiate the song's wording.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I note that the controversy is still going on since John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote the song to which those white feminists refer.

Although I highly value freedom of expression - and have nothing against Lennons artistic creation - it seems ignorant and stupid to use the phrase in a demonstration and recuperate on someone else's misery.

To me there's a difference between those two (the song <-> the slogan in a demo).

But maybe people beg to differ. So I would welcome any opinion on this. My stance is that one may not censor art.

Boadie MacLeod said...

I understand what you're saying about how white people don't have the right to use the n-word, and I respect that. I have no particular need to use that word. I do not wish to be the one dropping a bucket of pigs blood on your head.

However, we white women were slaves as well. We were legally the property of our husbands or our fathers, who we were forced to provide free labor for, who could legally beat and rape us and force us to bear children against our will. We had no autonomy at all but were domestic prisoners. Most of us did not belong to the slave-owning upper classes. My ancestors were coal miners.

However, whenever I bring up the fact that white women were slaves too--the slaves of men--black women go nuts and tell me that I'm being racist. Why don't I have the right to speak out against my own oppression?

And let's not forget that women of all colors are still slaves within the global sex industry, which forces millions of women into sexual slavery either through trafficking or economic hegemony. But I have been called racist for merely using the term "sexual slavery," even though slavery is exactly what it is.

So I'm wondering, when is it ever OK for white women to speak up about what we and all women as women have been through, without being called racist?

Anonymous said...

O god Carrie yes. It's hard enough with some of the things women do to each other, purposely or unwittingly. This looks like a big F.U. in the face.

The feminism of women of color is pretty exciting to learn from for me ATM, I gotta say. Along with the rolling rage in these expressions I read, in these blogs, seminars, discussions, analyses, is a deep sense of heart, spirit, clarity of mind that I just want to breathe in. It's like a green thing that refreshes the world.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to publish and acknowledge the most recent comments. I'm spending time with family in town, but I will get back to the longer comments, especially Boadie. Boadie, what I can tell you is the timing of your conversations is critical. More later although I invite anyone else who is reading these comments to chime in and make this a dialogue. Thanks to everyone for reading and responding.

Unknown said...

One more aside to Lisa before I get back to my family. I had mixed feelings about publishing your comments because you included your email address. That is a surefire way to get bombarded with spam. I decided to publish your comment because the only ones I reject are those that are clearly spam. I hope you'll consider resubmitting your comment without the email address so I can post it, delete the above and you can limit the amount of solicitations you get in your inbox. :)

Unknown said...

"Typical American sectarian identity politics. Laughable and pathetic," was a reaction I got on my wall.

The writer (he is Belgian, so am I) posited that a lot of militants of smaller groups - how legitimate they are on themselves - which are part of a bigger movement are particularists.

Without a universal, fundamental outlook to fit all of them in, you get these kind of situations, a total lack of seeing things in perspective.

The argument is that it is clear that the N-word was used acknowledging the fact that it was/is an insult against our black fellow man and it was used as a metaphor to compare the subordinate position of women.

I've been thinking about this the last couple of days and I tend to agree.

Unknown said...

Damhert, I won't pretend to know the first thing about Belgium. Your post has me wondering how monolithic it is or isn't, how race functions there both historically and contemporarily, the history of social movements and the role of cultural activism in them, etc. My gut, however, is that the charge of American sectarianism might be oversimplistic. Not without truth, mind you, but maybe a little to pat to be fair or accurate. The bottom line is that it is irrelevant that those who made the sign did not intend to use it as a slur. It's that the people who have been maligned by that word do not want people who have not been targeted by that word and claim to be in solidarity with us to not use it at all. Even if the intent behind the word might not racist, the insistence/defense of it -- even by those who claim to deplore it - sure does smack of, if nothing else, racial arrogance. There's this ongoing notion that there is nothing that a White person should not have access to which also begs the question, "Why would the hell would you fight so hard for access to a word that you admit is egregious if you're NOT racist?"

Unknown said...

Other Becky, it can all be boiled down to that simple question, can it? Why the hell do you want access to word that you readily admit is detestable? Embedded in privilege -- especially but not not limited to white privilege - is the notion that there is nothing that should be off limits to you. Hence, I'm leaning towards the conclusion that what rubs these folks the wrong way is the mere notion that anyone can suggest that there is something they cannot have even when they claim they don't want it. Eventually, it seems that to such people, access to this word is more important than solidarity with people of color. If that's what it is, so be it. I just wish they would stop faking the funk then and demanding OUR bodies in THEIR movements.

Unknown said...

Boadie, having not been privy to your attempts at these discussions, I do not have the full context to tell you if and where the conversation went awry and where the accountability for that lies. It might have been you, it might have been them, it may be a little of both. Nor can I give you hard and fast rules about how to manage these discussions because there's so many variables involved including the nature and depth of your relationship to the women of color of which you speak.

The only thing I can do is urge you to be mindful about your timing. If women of color are specifically talking about their experience of racism -- even in the particular institution of slavery -- if you bring up the slavery of white women as your first response, nine will get you ten that you're going to to draw ire despite any veracity your statements may have. It is rarely going to be taken as you wanting to make a point about gender. It is going to be taken as you deflecting a conversation about race. Depending on your timing, it sounds like, "You think you got it bad? Enough about you. Let's talk about me. and I'll tell you who really has it bad."

I also wonder if part of what grates these women is any implication that because white women were enslaved to white men, they never had positions of power particularly over enslaved Black women and men. If you're talking about the time of the institution that was chattel slavery in the United States, do you acknowledge this? Failure to do so is going to anger people, and they're anger is justified.

I'm not going to pretend that there are never instances where people of color may see racist slight where there is none. But it is the default stance of most White people to derail conversations initiated about race by in some way -- overt and subtle -- denying that race is an issue at all, and that is infuriating to people of color, and it particularly hurts from someone purporting to be a comrade.
A common tactic by White feminists is to plead ALL women whenever women of color want to talk specifically about their experience of racism or racism and sexism. What they fail to see is that (1) they are not the spokespeople for ALL women and (2) a woman's experience of any kind gender oppression -- slavery, sex trafficking, rape, domestic violence, etc. -- is shaped by other social constructs such as her race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, class status, national origin and so on. In other words, their experience is not the defining experience of all womanhood. Even among White women, there are so many differences, that I cannot understand why so many have failed to adopt an intersectional lens for their own sake.

Question: have you ever tried having this discussion about how to have these conversation with other White women? I bet if you asked, you would find that some have learned effective strategies they would readily share with you. If you do, I invite you to come back and share them here for any readers with the same question you posed.

Unknown said...

Another response to Boadie since I could not fit it all in one attempt.

Perhaps it will help to use a parallel situation. Ever be talking to a man about rape or domestic violence and then the first thing out of his mouth is something like, "Well, men can be raped, too," or "Women beat men, too. My sister-in-law is vicious to my brother..." If you haven't experienced that, well, imagine it (and recognize that you're extremely fortunate!) Now there's no denying that men can be raped and that some women are violent toward their intimate male partners. But the veracity of that does not erase the fact that the majority of the time when rape or domestic violence occurs it a man violating a woman. Whether or not it is conscious (although most of the time it pretty much is), comments about violence against men in this particular instance are often made to knock down the severity of violence against women a few pegs. It's not that there isn't a place to talk about (female) violence against men, but if made in immediate response to someone shedding light about the systemic violence against women and the misogyny inherit in that, their intentions can be rightfully held suspect.

So the same thing is usually going on when a woman of color is speaking the truth of her racialized experience, and a White woman's knee-jerk response is to say anything that attempts to trivialize or squelch talk of racism. She may think by focusing on gender she is emphasizing a commonality they share for the purpose of bonding. But the actual effect is telling the women of color, "Since I can't relate to that since I'm White and/or don't want to consider that in some circumstances my racial privilege might indeed mitigate or even trump my gender disadvantage, I am changing the trajectory of this conversation to a topic where I am more comfortable." The effect is anything but bonding.

Unknown said...

It seems weird to me, the notion of people who have access to words and people who are prohibited access to words.

On a side note, I observe how a patriarchal system of suppression and segregation ironically seems to have succeeded in maintaining this rift between people of different ethnic backgrounds but of the same race - since there exists just one human race - in this case by their use of a slur specifically intended to dehumanize a particular group of our race, which now in some cases in popular culture is used as some sort of honorary sobriquet by the targeted group (which is not abnormal, it happens often and everywhere around the world) and in other cases is considered as a kind of acquired good (cf. the N-word now seemingly to be placed on some strange kind of pedestal in a morbid kind of chapel).

I just remembered President J.F.Kennedy in front of the Brandenburger Tor proclaiming "Ich bin ein Berliner" and the bullying I endured at school for some typical external characteristics I have. So, after comparing a similar kind of scenario to my situation then, the thought came to mind: imagine J.F.K. stepping up next to Martin L. King telling the citizens of the U.S., replacing Berliner with the N-word: "For those who are calling my brothers N***, you're calling me a N*** too." Just as he did in Berlin: identifying with a victim to emphasize solidarity.

But to come back upon the first two alinea's. I was wondering if there exist words which are only politically correct to be used by humans of white or other ethnic backgrounds? Never the less, I feel the prevailing belief that the N-word only can be used as intended to be a slur or in racial ignorance or arrogance by other ethnicities. No matter what the context.

I do hope that there are some talented stand-up comedians of all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds over there who can do some creative work on this and related issues. Especially because they're line of work is all about boundaries and taboo's.

But I understand the sensitivity.

And also, although Slutwalks are also an attempt to subvert the meaning of the word slut, next to raise the problem of rape, stigmatization of women etc., not every woman agrees with the idea of the use of slut in that context. Or feels comfortable with it.

LouMac said...

This is a great and important discussion. I've been thinking a lot about Boadie MacLeod's question, and Damhert's points (particularly the whole universalism-versus-particularism thing, which is something I've worked on in Francophone contexts and is hugely controversial), and I'd love to write more. I will, when these busy few days are done with.

In the meantime, I'm struck by how hard it is for White people - myself included, of course, - to just shut up and listen. I mean really, profoundly listen, and put our own experiences on hold for the duration. We love to feel solidarity - nothing is more ego-fluffing for us progressive whites than to imagine that people of colour respect us as fellow oppressees. So we listen up to a point, but then we can't help ourselves, and blurt out something like "but I was working class!" "I'm queer and I was bullied" (I've used both of those myself). I'd suggest, as a starting point, that we need to STFU about our experiences for a while, until people of colour feel like they are really starting to be heard. And even then, we still don't get to make the conversation about us.

Oh, we want to feel a connection, we want to prove that we're not the problem, we want it as much as a smoker wants a cigarette ... but instead of reaching for that story about how oppressed we are/were, just put it away in a pocket and listen.

Work calls, alas, but I'll be back. You're my new blog crush.

Anonymous said...

@black artemis...

FYi: here is the context to Boadie's verbal diarrhea: http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/i-saw-the-sign-but-did-we-really-need-a-sign-slutwalk-and-racism/

Read it and weep, it is beyond disgusting that she can come here and proclaim some sort of confusion and frame her nonsense in innocent question asking.

She is not looking for engagement, she is looking to be right and to centre the debate around herself.

In her head she seems to have forgotten that black people can be women and female to at the same time.

She seems to have forgotten that white women abused black women during slavery
and yet after being told several times she refused to examine how own flaws and has simply gone to diff blogs posting the same thing.

Anonymous said...

@black artemis...

FYi: here is the context to Boadie's verbal diarrhea: http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/i-saw-the-sign-but-did-we-really-need-a-sign-slutwalk-and-racism/

Read it and weep, it is beyond disgusting that she can come here and proclaim some sort of confusion and frame her nonsense in innocent question asking.

She is not looking for engagement, she is looking to be right and to centre the debate around herself.

In her head she seems to have forgotten that black people can be women and female to at the same time.

She seems to have forgotten that white women abused black women during slavery
and yet after being told several times she refused to examine how own flaws and has simply gone to diff blogs posting the same thing.

Anonymous said...

and lest we forget.
The 'upper class' rarely got their hands dirty except for 'sport' (sic).
The lower class did their bidding.

and from her pen to your blog: http://planet-mantis.blogspot.com/2011/10/open-letter-to-black-feminists.html#comments

To her, nigger = slut. She delights in saying it and repeating it over and over again.

Then she launches into white women were slaves just like black people were.

Menelik Charles said...

The women in the picture are merely quoting John Lennon who used the phrase over 40yrs ago!

Unknown said...

Menelik, if you truly care about this issue, then I suggest you Google and read the numerous essays in the blogosophere that articulate why your comment is a problematic response. I'm not going to entertain it here. The only reason I published it was to show how even after so much thorough discussion, people will still feel fit to lean on such a simplistic and dismissive "explanation" almost two months after the incident.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think it's a bad thing to make a word so taboo that you can't even use the word when you're talking about when it is and is not appropriate to say the word in question, particularly if you happen to grow up in a community that uses that word reflexively, in a variety of different ways, particularly when referencing/quoting a poem, book, or a song that uses that word, or talking about the harm that that word causes to people or historic usage of the word (see how awkward this is?). To paraphrase Louis CK, when you say "the N word" you're putting that word in my head anyway, why not be a grown up and actually say it? In my experience it is white people who don't know any black people and have no black friends who are the most offended by usage of the word "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" - I mean, "The N Word" (sorry, that was a joke, I know you don't think it's funny and I know there's no comparison between a fictional genocidal wizard and a real word of oppression, dehumanization, & enslavement). Frankly, women are the oppressed-&-often-enslaved-&-harmed-with-rape-&-violence-&-torture-&-murder-minority-seen-as-less-human of the world, and a journalist does have a right to use the word "the Holocaust" to talk about the Holocaust and not say "the H word". It gives the word much more power to make a taboo of it, it allows racists to continue to use it as a slur, which is why I call myself a "queer" even if that bothers other homosexual & transgendered people. And honestly, sidebar, you could have addressed this issue in a less racist way (yes, making assumptions & generalizations about white people is also racist, yes, I know it's not the same as a long history of dehumanization and oppression beginning in slavery, but it's still racist and undermines your point). -HelFKiernan

LouMac said...

Anonymous 6:21 - really? It's mostly White folks with no Black friends who take issue with the n-word?? Did you not notice the part in the original post where the author, a Black woman, says that hearing the N-word is like having pig's blood dumped on her? Was that not a clear enough statement of the horrific affect produced by the word on a Black person? Not on *all* Black people. She never claims to speak for all. But this particular Black individual has told us what it's like for *her*, and it's up to us to listen. Your lofty notions of the politics of power in language do not trump her right to not feel doused in blood.

And crying "racism" because a Black person dares name the continued entrenched privilege of Whites is just silly. It smacks of the naive talk about "reverse discrimination" - as if the playing fields were equally level for majority and minority alike, and the terms were simply reversible. Google "reverse racism doesn't exist" for some great analyses of this insidious tactic, and start educating yourself.

Yeah, I'm queer too. But straight folks who aren't very close allies absolutely do NOT get to call me that, and I respect LGBT folks who see no honour in the term and refuse to identify with it. I refer to them the way they prefer. And I'd never use that part of my identity (or my womanhood) as a direct stand-in for the experience of racial discrimination. Intersectionality 101.

Unknown said...

Anonymous, you sure make a lot of presumptions about my personal and political relationship to the word. You don't know how I grew up, if I ever I use the actual word, and if so in what context, what I think is funny, etc. Had you genuinely asked, I gladly would've answered. Judging by your condescending tone, you really don't care.

You can call yourself what you want. You have a relationship to the words used to malign your communities, and therefore I respect your right to determine if, when and how you use those words or not for whatever reason. Regardless of what I think of them, not being a member of your community I wouldn't deign to question them nor would I think that your comfort with it makes it OK for me to use it. As a CIS-gendered, heterosexual woman I have no place dictating to you how those words should or should not make you feel and/or lecture you on your strategic use - or lack thereof - of language used to dehumanize you. If certain words don't bother you, if their prevalent use dilutes their negative impact on you, if in calling out others who use it and shouldn't, you prefer to employ it yourself, more power to you. I'll still pass because I don't need 'em. THAT'S grown up.

And the holocaust analogy is freakin' ridiculous. The word Holocaust obviously evokes the Nazi genocide of Jews whereas the word holocaust can and has been used generally to describe the distinct phenomenon of mass murdering people. Consult any dictionary if you doubt me. There have been multiple holocausts in the history of humankind in every continent, all equally tragic and heinous and THAT'S the reason why people do not refer to it as the "h-word." You cannot sensibly liken that particular generic term to distinct slurs with their specific targets and history.

And evoking your experience as if it were the ultimate source of some indisputable truth is a classic derailing tactic.

Finally, calling my approach to my blog racist doesn't bother me in the least. Reread the post. While you're at it, read the comments, and my responses to them, too. There are no generalizations here. I talk about particular white people engaged in a specific behavior. We're having a nuanced discussion across race. I even acknowledge allies. It's too bad you value the use of slurs so badly that you conveniently overlooked that.

planethalia said...

The only situation where a white person can use that word is when they're explaining to their children why they should ever, ever say it.