Racism, Privilege, and Blog Comments
Many of you have likely seen, or even participated in, the comments sh*tstorm happening on Jessica Yee's post on Native appropriation from earlier this week. If you haven't, trust us that things have blown up over there, and not in a great way. We are working on a response to this blow up, as well as a change in our comments policy and perhaps an upping of our comment moderation (your input would be helpful here). As you may know, we aren't used to getting tons of comments here – most of our posts average about 15 comments or less – so we haven't felt the need to moderate with an iron fist in the past. Unfortunately, an iron fist would've likely helped in this case.
For now, we'd like to direct your attention to a great post by Thea Lim from our friends at Racialicious that responds to many of the comments Jessica's post has received. An excerpt:
Racialicious considers Bitch a friend – all year Racialicious bloggers will be guesting at the Bitch blog. But when Jessica sent out an email to the team with a link to said Bitch post and its comments, we shuddered a long, sad, collective sigh. This kind of blowback is so depressingly standard, and calls immediately to mind the dozens of times we've received these types of responses when we've asked for ourselves, our cultures and our experiences to be respected.
Here is a longer excerpt:
The resistance Jessica got is so standard that we can categorise it into three, typical responses that entitled folks make when called out for their privilege. So here, organised for your reading ease, are some of those soul-scorching comments, and my rebuttals to their nonsense.
1. Why are you so angry? Don't you know that no one will listen to your cause if you're angry?
…Her defensive, hostile and generally angry tone does no service to the Indigenous community nor to her own self-claimed authorty as the arbiter of all things Native. Many of her points (Native women were the first to acknowledge that periods aren't gross?) fail to recognize that these same concepts are fairly universal and are held by the early peoples of pretty much every continent- including Europe. She needs to take a breath and get over herself…
It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.
if you dont like the ignorance people have of you then fix it! teach them the right way! dont get all huffy and upset and tell them to go away!
Note that the second comment suggests that Jessica should take a nicer tone if she wants to accomplish her agenda – without even knowing (or I guess, caring) what the agenda is.
This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour. In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks. Like everything else in the world.
Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.
Anti-racism is about carving out a space for people of colour; decolonising and reappropriating the spaces which have been taken from us by racism. So sometimes people put Mohawk stickers on their laptops (or wear yellow pride t-shirts or support black music) because that is a way for them to affirm to themselves who they are, within a dominant culture that tries to ignore and erase their pride in their own cultures.
While I personally often take a gentler approach to anti-racism (often because I have internalised messages that as a woman of colour I should not be pushy) I have many times over been inspired and moved by Jessica's power and fearlessness at calling people out on their shit.
2. Why don't you lighten up and get over it?
Oh please. This is like saying its not cool to eat pizza unless you're Italian. Or only the French can drink champagne. Learn to share your heritage. Stop holding on so tightly. My ancestors weren't even around before the 1900's. They didn't kill your ancestors. Get over it.
…But should racial sensitivity move all the way over to never watching a John Wayne movie ever again and seeing Italians poorly portray a "First People" (Bitch needs to check their AP style book *snotty wink*). Or a bunch of star fucking hipsters in headdresses coked out of their little American panties? It just seems like trite and really insecure whistle blowing.
…Health disparaties and poverty are worth more of everyone's attention than hippie fashion trends or things that annoy you about white people…
As a pop culture website, we get this response so often that we even have a policy to speak to it:
8. Don't respond to a post or comment by saying "why don't you focus on some real issues like the war/starving children in Africa/police brutality/etc." Newsflash: this is a blog about race and pop culture. If you're not interested in discussing the intersection of those two things, please go elsewhere.
Incidentally Bitch is also a pop culture site, so it kinda makes sense that Jessica talk about hipsters there. Bitch readers come to Bitch to talk about feminism and pop culture, but they don't want to talk about racism and pop culture?
The "get over it" defense is not hard to take down as soon as you realise that by "it" the commenter is referring to colonisation and genocide, the legacy of which continues to beset Native communities in the form of poverty, environmental racism, and health disparities (to recap some of the things Jessica mentioned in the original post).
The whole "but that happened 100 years ago!" defense is similarly dense: a brief look at who is poor and who is marginalised in the richest countries in the world should quiet that one down…though it often doesn't. There's no accounting for pigheadedness.
And beyond this? Racism manifests itself in a million different ways, from massive structural inequalities, to the accessories of that fashionable person on the subway next to you. And sometimes it is easier for folks to understand and tackle the small things; for me, it was a long journey to the admission that racism exists and impacts my daily life. Talking about pop culture was a baby step that I could take; it was also something that was familiar and accessible when I didn't really understand the academic language of postcolonial theory, or couldn't imagine that words like "double marginalization" "diaspora" or even "immigrant" could apply to me.
It's bossy to tell people which incidences of racism they should be discussing, and it also denies the insidious nature of racism. There's no global limit on how many racist topics we can discuss. If our bandwidth has room, we're going to decontruct it.
3. Why is this my fault? My family didn't do anything. And anyways, I'm poor/female/an immigrant (insert other identity) so that neutralises my white privilege – I don't have any.
…Am I immediately part of the problem because I was born into it? You assume I don't care or involved myself in Native rights and politics because I'm white? How easy it is for all you to dismiss the few uber-defensive Caucasians claiming, "What, I'm automatically racist because I'm [white]?" without reconsidering the allegation. Throwing around blame is not a solution…
…[from a commenter who identifies as a white immigrant] Though we fare better than many others…it's been a long struggle, especially since my parents' accents are much too thick for most American-born citizens to understand and has made jobs difficult to land. We are working class and could not even afford state university. Anyway, I wanted to say that it is interesting how homogenized white people are in this country. Our personal heritage is ignored, a Scottish redheaded regarded no differently than a deeply olive-skinned Sicillian, in the United States.
…my ancestors came from Ireland, i am only a few generations off the boat. and when the Irish came to America, they were looked at the same way that assholes look at immigrants today. by other white people…being poor pretty much cancels out all the benefits of white privilege, except for the whole thing about being "color blind." i'm trying to be more aware of this stuff…but here's the thing- my ancestors didn't kill your ancestors, and i don't really see what benefits i am reaping (other than the one i mentioned earlier)…
No matter what, denying that you have privilege because of other things going on in your life, shows that you have not really engaged with what it means to have privilege.
To anyone who ever asks why Racialicious is run solely by people of colour, or keeps such a death grip on the comments section, or runs content almost solely by people of colour – well, your answer is in the sample comments above, which in their own way are all saying: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. Even if they were written by well-intentioned people who did not intend to shut Jessica up, that is what they ultimately communicate.
The rest of Thea's post can be read here.
We want to thank the folks at Racialicious for jumping in (and for agreeing to blog for us in the first place), and we are taking steps to deal with situations like these in the future. Please let us know if you have any suggestions, but please DO NOT use this comment space to continue the arguments from Jessica's original post, or to leave comments that in any way fall into the three categories mentioned above. Seriously.
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