Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How to blog and comment on race, feminism and equality


So, the latest depressing blow up regarding intersection in the femisphere has me thinking about what I expect from myself as someone who writes about race, feminism and other equality issues on What Tami Said, and what I expect from the spaces I visit that deal with similar issues.

There are a few truths I hold to be self-evident:

  • Because online feminist spaces exist in the larger society, there is no "big feminist site" where I, a woman of color, will not have to struggle with race bias and erasure. The degree to which this is true varies, of course, but on the whole, the "big feminist sites" are not about me. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.
  • Because black blogs exist in the larger society, there is no male-run black blog where I, a woman, will not have to struggle with gender bias and erasure. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.
  • Because progressive blogs exist in the larger society, and despite what we have come to think of as leftist ideology, there is no progressive blog where I a woman of color, will not struggle with gender and race bias and erasure. This, too, is unlikely to change anytime soon.
  • Because I exist in the larger society, and despite my best efforts, I will never completely purge myself of the privilege and bias that comes with my class, education, physical ability, sexuality and cisgender. I will try--believe me, I will try. And I will get better. But some privileges and biases will be with me for a lifetime.
Given all this, here is how I can approach online dialog surrounding race, feminism, gender and sexuality:

  • I have given up trying to change certain online spaces. I have come to understand that certain places are toxic when it comes to race or gender and I have limited interaction there. It is not that I don't have a right to expect, say, a major feminist site to address the needs of ALL women, including ones who look like me. And it doesn't mean that I need be silent in the face of marginalization, but there is only so long I care to bang my head against a wall. And, in the end, the ultimate goal of my feminism or anti-racism is not to convince some commenter on Jezebel that it is indeed normal for a black woman to scan the crowd at the royal wedding to find faces like hers.
  • I spend my time in places where the writing demonstrates an acknowledgment and understanding of intersection, and at blogs where the owners make an ongoing effort to educate themselves on privilege and oppressions that aren't their own. I gravitate toward people who write like I exist. They don't say "women" when they mean "white women"; and they don't say "black people" when they mean "black men." I don't expect anyone to get it right all the time. That's impossible. I try to approach fellow bloggers and commenters with good faith and compassion. And I pick my battles.
  • But I have every damn right to call out ignorance, bias, erasure and rank racial stupidity. And I have a right to do this without being confronted by whinging and silencing language about "tone" or how justified criticism tears apart feminism or the black community and hurts feelings.
  • If I claim my blog is about equality, then I must moderate comments in a way that reflects the site's alleged values. I learned this the hard way as co-editor of Love Isn't Enough. Allowing people who, rather than discuss anti-racist parenting, want to play "that's not racism" doesn't achieve an open commenting platform as much as create a space where already-marginalized folks feel unwelcome and real discussion of race and parenting dies for lack of oxygen. I cannot claim to have progressive values while letting racism, sexism and other "isms" fester in the comments section without stepping in as the site authority.
  • I try to read a variety of blogs regularly, including ones not written by black, heterosexual, cisgendered, secular, liberal feminists. I go beyond the "usual suspects" and explore smaller blogs; sharing those voices with my readers through links and crossposts (need to do more of this). I also look for diversity in who I connect with through social media and--this part if important--who I connect with and what I seek to learn OFFLINE. 
  • I will not demand to be educated; I will educate myself. When I visit spaces that are not my own or when an oppressed person shares their lived experience, I will shut up and listen. And if someone graciously offers to educate me on their community, I will be grateful, knowing that they are likely asked to do this sort of thing far too often.
  • Despite all my efforts, I have to understand that I will undoubtedly screw up, especially when discussing areas in which I am privileged. I will have the best intentions, but my intentions don't mitigate the damage to someone who has to deal with, say, transphobia or ableism all the fucking time. That is not to say that everyone who calls me out on bias or privilege is right. But if I seek to be an ally (and I should never bestow that title on myself), then I need to avoid becoming defensive and spend some time reflecting on the charge. And I should do this realizing that my privilege gives me blind spots.

    When challenged, I will resist the urge to rally folks of similar privilege around me to tell me how I am right and how the oppressed person is wrong and mean.

    If I am wrong, I will apologize, ask how to make things right and then right them.
  • I understand that certain voices are privileged in the blogosphere and receive recognition in the form of speaking engagements, media appearances, book deals, etc. When I can, I will share opportunities for exposure with marginalized voices and support those bloggers in their growth and development.
If you were drafting a code of conduct of sorts for engaging on race, feminism, equality and intersection online--as a blogger and commenter--what would it say?


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