August 18, 2015 – Today I added two names and found this, listing the names (and when available, photos) of 100 unarmed Black people killed by police in 2014. In one year.
Last weekend I attend a rally in Seattle where Bernie Sanders was to speak. As you might have heard, some of Seattle’s Black Lives Matter activists staged a protest, following up on the recent action at Netroots Nation in Phoenix in July. At that event, Sanders had complained rather than choosing to listen to and empathize with the activists. (Joe Biden did a much better job dealing with the protest during his speech at Netroots Nation 2014, which by the way is a CONFERENCE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVISTS and there is a protest pretty much EVERY TIME a politician speaks, so why Bernie didn’t see that coming I’ll never know.)
Anyway, BLM takes the stage, and cue the angry white people in the audience and on every social media network criticizing tactics as though their opinions matter one whit to Black people when deciding how to shed light on the crisis of Black lives lost every day to police violence. Angry white people claiming, as the privileged always do when they don’t like the “timing” or target of a protest staged by marginalized people, that this action “did more harm than good to the movement” as if they have the first clue about what the actual goals of such an action might be (hint: pretty sure it wasn’t to make white people like them more). Angry white people announcing that, as a result of one action they don’t agree with, that they would no longer support BLM. From the boos and fuck yous and outright harassment of the activists by white people at the rally to the privilege displayed by white and non-black people since, this has been a stark reminder for me and others that “progressive” liberals just keep earning the “fauxgressive” label, and that as far as we’ve come, those of us who are not Black have so much work to do within our communities to make non-Black people aware that listening to Black people—really spending some time listening to their voices and lived experiences—is the only way they will ever come close to understanding their lives, their struggles, their pain, and how we benefit from the very system that oppresses them. It’s the only way we can ever begin to know what it is to live in this country ruled by white people.
And it’s the only way we can begin to get that while we have a job to do in this movement (see above), it sure as hell isn’t telling Black people what will and will not win us as allies. Allies in a fight to save black lives should not have to be won. If something BLM does makes you turn away from the entire movement, you were not an ally in this fight, and the movement loses nothing. If your allyship requires polite protest aimed only at targets you deem correct at times you deem appropriate, what kind of ally are you, really? (Hint: You’re not an ally.)
Bernie didn’t speak at the rally, but he wasn’t “forced off the stage.” He left after declining to engage with Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford and the organizers decided to end the event. Bernie chose to spend his time out among the mostly white crowd shaking hands and kissing babies. I saw him and thanked him for coming. He’d been smiling, but glanced at my chest where my Black Lives Matter button hung, and his expression changed.
I’ll probably write more on the BLM Bernie Sanders action and rebut some of the white fragility, derailment, etc. I have seen over the past week. For now, suffice to say that I support Black Lives Matter because I love and support Black people. The rally was uncomfortable once BLM took the stage, but the reactions of white Seattle “progressives” made me far more uncomfortable than the protest or the interruption to my plans. And here’s the thing: if we’re dedicated to working for racial equality, I believe we have to be ok with some discomfort in the service of change, and we have to support those Black people doing this work who are brave enough to take chances and make targets of themselves even if we don’t quite understand their choices, motives, or goals. It’s not about us. It’s just not.
July 27, 2015 – Yesterday I added six more names to this list. Today I added one more. Since I wrote this post, I’ve added several. All are unarmed Black people killed by police or who died in police custody under circumstances that have caused many to question the official story (and this list is not exhaustive by any means). Sadly, this doesn’t generally include the media, who report as fact whatever the police tell them and waste no time in smearing the victims. And it doesn’t include a lot of ignorant people who seem to think that “Contempt of Cop” is a capital crime.
News Flash: It’s not illegal to be rude to a cop. There is no law that says you must be courteous. A police officer does not have the right to detain or arrest a citizen for talking back, and if one chooses to do so and that citizen ends up dead at the hands of police, the fault does not lie with the victim because they should have been more polite. If police can’t keep from killing citizens because they’re pissed off that said citizens aren’t showing enough respect, the problem is with police culture, not disrespectful citizens. When police kill Black people at a rate of two per week in the United States, and when so many of those people are unarmed, the problem is racism in police culture, not Black people talking back, running away, or being terrifying lethal weapons in and of themselves. And when white people accept this state of things—worse, when we defend it—we are participating in maintaining white supremacy. We are perpetuating the very system that privileges whiteness and tramples non-white people underfoot. And those who lose their lives as a result of this system we benefit from? Their blood is on our hands.
April 30, 2015 – Another day has passed, and another officer of the law has gunned down an unarmed Black person. And still white people argue that “it’s not about black and white” and “we need to focus on the real issues.”
The real issue is institutional racism, and you’re damned right it deserves our focus. The issue is that our justice system supports white supremacy. The issue is that cop culture teaches that citizens are the enemy and that some citizens are less-than-human and at the same time more dangerous—deadly weapons in and of themselves, with the ability to Hulk out when the need arises.
The list below—which includes men and women, adults and children—keeps growing. And as it does, so does the “unrest” among citizens who wonder whether they’ll be the next name, the next hashtag.
Meanwhile, white folks lament property damage and wonder why everything has to be “about race.”
#ChristianTaylor #s #SandraBland #JonathanSanders #KindraChapman #KimberleeKing #NatashaMcKenna #TerrenceKellum #FreddieGray #CarolineSmall #ErvinEdwards #EricHarris #TamirRice #AiyanaJones #MikeBrown #JohnCrawford #RekiaBoyd #EricGarner #DontreHamilton #TonyRobinson #YvetteSmith #OscarGrant #ShellyFrey #TyreeWoodson #WalterScott #TanishaAnderson #RumainBrisbon #AkaiGurley #KajiemePowell #EzellFord #DanteParker #ShereeseFrancis #VictorWhite #TarikaWilson #KathrynJohnston #JordanBaker #JonathanFerrell #AlbertaSpruill #PearlieGolden #EleanorBumpurs #SeanBell #AmadouDiallo #LarryJackson #DeionFludd #KimaniGray #TimothyRussell #ChavisCarter #SharmelEdwards #TamonRobinson #KendrecMcDade #WendellAllen #ManuelLoggins #RamarleyGraham #KennethChamberlain #ReginaldDoucet #DerrickJones #StevenWashington #AaronCampbell #KiwaneCarrington #VictorSteen #ShemWalker #DeAuntaFarrow #HenryGlover #RonaldMadison #JamesBrisette #TimothyStansbury #OusmaneZongo #OrlandoBarlow #TimothyThomas #PrinceJones #MalcolmFerguson #StephonWatts
The other day in the train station I chatted with a Black man who joked that a problem in our station would be solved when the white people complained about it. We laughed and shook our heads and sighed. We both knew he was right on the money.
Wake the fuck up, white people. It IS about race. And it’s not going to get fixed until the white people complain. It’s not going to stop until we stop it.
Note: I am adding names to the hashtag list as I become aware of them.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
I missed out on American Girl dolls, and somehow my daughter did, too. But for many women and girls in the US, they were and continue to be a big part of growing up. Their historical character dolls offer a glimpse into the lives of girls who lived through different times and also encourage a love of reading (each comes with a book detailing her adventures). Some characters get “sidekicks,” and each year American Girl releases a “Girl of the Year” doll. That’s a lot of opportunities to give little girls a chance to see themselves represented among other American Girls.
But the overwhelming majority of historical character, sidekick, and “Girl of the Year” dolls have one thing in common: they are white and able-bodied.
The line of My American Girl dolls, which lets girls order “dolls that look like me,” offers three skin tone choices: light, medium, and dark. There are nearly forty “My American Girl” models on offer to real American girls, but a look at the site reveals that girls who don’t have “light skin” get far fewer choices.
That’s twenty-eight eye color, hairstyle, and hair color combination choices for little white girls, including dolls with freckles, so if you’re a little white girl, you’ll have no trouble finding a doll that looks a lot like you. Little dark-skinned girls choose from four dolls (aka hairstyles). Little girls with “medium skin” have a few more choices when it comes to hair and eye combos, though all but one of these dolls uses the same face mold as the “light skin” dolls. No freckles for brown and black girls. And no “dolls that look like you” for little Asian girls. In other words, not much diversity happening here.
While you might conclude (as I did) from looking at the choices for these dolls that American Girl made only two molds and that was that, you’d be wrong (as I was). But I know way more about this than I did when I woke up this morning thanks to Sarah Hannah Gómez (more on why in a moment) and now I can tell you that there are apparently a total of seven face molds, most of which have been retired. The mold used in the “dark skin” dolls is known as the Addy Mold. There’s the mold created for Sonali (from the Girls of the Year graphic above). There’s the Asian Mold and one called the Jess Mold. The point is, it would be a simple thing for this company to do a better job representing the diversity of actual American girls.
“Have you looked around at the America you live in?” asks Sarah Hannah Gómez in her new petition on Change.org. “At the girls who were your first customers? 43% of us are nonwhite. And as for your current generation of customers? Of the approximately 22 million United States citizens under the age of 19, around 36% are nonwhite. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2042, whites will be the minority.”
This is not the first time women and girls have called on American Girl to do better. Sisters Eva and Melissa Shang created a petition that netted nearly 150 thousand signatures—and a fair amount of press—asking American Girl to consider a disabled Girl of the Year. The company’s response was fairly dismissive:
“We appreciate the enthusiasm and trust our fans have in us to create products and stories that speak to diversity and inclusion, and we applaud Melissa Shang for her amazing spirit and positive attitude … We receive hundreds of passionate requests to create a variety of dolls and books based on a wide range of circumstances, and we are always considering new ways to enhance our product lines.”
So, no plans for the Girl of the Year to represent a disabled child anytime soon. (Positive side-note: You can special-order a My American Girl doll with a hearing aid, and AG-sized wheelchairs are available.)
Sarah Hanna Gómez’ petition goes on to explain to American Girl how their lack of diversity makes an experience that should be happy—sharing something she loved as a child with a new generation of girls—into a painful one, instead:
You made us who we are. You made us readers; you taught us to delve into history; you gave us toys that encouraged imaginative and creative play.
But more important: we made you. It is because of our love for you that your brand still stands strong today.
Now, as adults, we have the chance to share American Girl with our younger sisters, nieces, and daughters. But much as we love nostalgia, there’s something that hurts us when we try to delve into it. You keep misunderstanding your own name – American Girl – and erasing us from the story of America.
Are you listening, American Girl? Because this is a key message companies like yours need to hear: lack of representation equals erasure. When you represent “American Girls” as primarily white and able-bodied, you participate in a system that a) treats people with those qualities as “normal” and thus b) devalues and dehumanizes those who don’t have those qualities and c) fails to tell their stories, erasing them from the narrative. As Eva Shang said,
“What makes girls love American Girl is that it’s not just a doll. It comes with a story. It’s compelling to Melissa because her own story is so unique. So what we are really campaigning for is that her story be told.”
And Sarah Hannah Gómez points out that there are two important sides to the representation coin—mirrors that let us see ourselves and windows into the lives of others:
Without mirrors and windows, white, able bodied, Christian children grow up thinking that they are the norm from which everyone else deviates. Without mirrors and windows, children of color, children with disabilities, or children of different religious backgrounds grow up thinking that they are less than, that they are other, that they are strange.
I highly recommend reading her beautifully written petition in full and, of course, signing and sharing it so that this company gets the message that they must do better when it comes to representing real American girls. (You can follow Sarah Hannah Gómez on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog.)
Bottom line: If you’re going to call yourself “American Girl” in 2015, you need to make it a priority to represent the wide range of girls who live in this Great American Melting Pot. Do better, AG, or expect to keep hearing from us.
Update: Soon after publishing this, I tweeted about it, tagging American Girl. Here’s what they had to say:
Well, that doesn’t answer the question, which was “Why are nearly all the Girl of the Year dolls white?” But since I didn’t actually expect an answer to that question (or any answer at all, truth be told), I’ll address the statement above. AG responded within an hour (and from a corporate account on a Saturday!) so I’m assuming they had this one canned and ready. This tells me they have to address this topic from time to time, so you’d think they’d do a better job of it. I mean, if the best you can claim is “one of the most diverse and inclusive” then obviously you can do better in this area, so why not at least go with the “we’re always considering ways to enhance” line they gave the Shangs? But to me it sounds like AG is pretty satisfied with the status quo, so no, they probably aren’t actually looking for ways to improve—just ways to respond to critics that get them to go away.
Update 2 (1/5/15): A live Twitter chat is beginning now (11:30 am Pacific time) on the hashtag #.
Note: As is often the case, I have made some post-publication edits for clarity.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger warning for discussion of the various types of abuse perpetrated by those humans known as “trolls” incuding rape and death threats and suicide.
Back in July, during Netroots Nation 2014, Zerlina Maxwell spoke on a panel about online harassment. I wasn’t there, but someone tweeted a quote that stayed with me:
“Don’t call them trolls. They’re assholes.”
I think this is important. By calling these people “trolls,” we are basically letting them off the hook. It’s a lot like the “boys will be boys” mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it’s also different, because boys are expected to be human. By calling these people “trolls,” we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don’t expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings.
So, who are these assholes? Well, the subset of the population we refer to as “trolls” is mostly (almost exclusively, in my personal experience) made up of men who—for reasons that range from angry entitlement to I-don’t-know-what—make it their business to perpetrate harassment and abuse on targets who are mostly not men.
As a woman online, I’ve dealt with and watched others deal with all of these things and more:
Men who insist that we engage them because they disagree with something we’ve said.
Men who keep tweeting at us or commenting when we’ve asked them to stop.
Men who keep tweeting at us after we’ve told them in no uncertain terms we’re done and have blocked them.
Men who create sock-puppet accounts pretending to be women and use them to harass us, gaslight us, threaten us.
Men who haunt hashtags they disagree with so they can harass people who are not men who speak out about issues that matter to them.
Men who haunt hashtags about gender violence, sexual assault, and other painful topics and target the people there telling their stories.
Men who band together to create armies of sock-puppet accounts to harass us and discredit the work we do.
Men who reply to our stories of rape to tell us that it wasn’t rape. (And who are very likely defending their own behavior.)
Men who play devil’s advocate on issues that disproportionately affect people who are not men.*
Men who chime into conversations about sexual & domestic violence to speculate on what the victim should have done differently.
Men who attack those of us dedicated to fighting for equality simply because we fight for equality.
Men who call us “feminazis” and “white knights” because we identify as feminists and talk about feminist issues.
Men who use racist and sexist and transphobic slurs to attack marginalized people, often for months on end, with no consequence.
Men who send us graphic photos of everything from sex acts to gaping wounds in order to punish us for talking back.
Men who tell us all we need is a good fucking to set us straight.
Men who tell us we should get raped.
Men who tell us they hope we kill ourselves.
Men who tell us how they hope we die.
And of course, all of this is in hopes that we will simply STFU, or better yet, cease to exist.
I think Zerlina’s right: we need to start calling them what they are. Assholes, yes. But also, men who choose to harass and abuse others online, sometimes to the point of driving their victims off the Internet, out of their homes, and even to suicide. So, when you talk about these men, consider using words that describe what they actually do and are, such as “harassers” and “abusive assholes.”
These men are human beings who treat others as less than human—who purposely cause pain and suffering and sometimes even death. It is time we stopped letting them off the hook.
Note: This post has been updated to include the suggested term “harassers” per my friend Mandaray.
*Post pub note: The idea that I would include “playing devil’s advocate” in a list like this seems to have confused some folks, so I want to be clear about what I mean, here: There are people who innocently wonder about the other side of an equation and there are dudes who use “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” as an excuse to argue with women and other marginalize people simply for the entertainment value of engaging us and wasting our time and energy (and even when there’s no ill intent, it’s often really unhelpful and can even be harmful, such as when “devil’s advocates” engage in victim-blaming). Yes, there are degrees of trolling, and this is the least of what anti-feminist trolls do, but feminists—especially those of us who engage in online activism—must, on a daily basis, deal with a barrage of people who are primarily cis white males telling us what feminism really is or isn’t, what misogyny really is or isn’t, what street harassment really is or isn’t, what rape really is or isn’t, and “devil’s advocate” is one of the flags they wave when they’re reminded that they are being part of the problem, as though it excuses them. I hope this clarifies my meaning. Also, if you’re pulling this one item out of the list and ignoring everything else, you may be missing at least part of the point.
Oh, and just for good measure:
Trolls Harassers and abusive assholes who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
This is formal notice that I’m evicting you from my life. I’m utterly and completely over you. Your privilege allows you more platforms than anyone and ensures that your voice is always heard first and foremost. It lets you be pretty much anywhere you want anytime you want. But the one place you can’t be is in my face or in my life any fucking more because it’s my face and my life and I’m sick of hearing from you.
I’ve written about splaining and been splained at. I’ve written about privilege and been devil’s advocated at or simply ridiculed. I’ve talked about sexism and racism and been reverse-sexismed and reverse-racismed at. I’ve written about sexual assault and been gaslighted. I’ve attempted to talk about issues that affect me and other women and been barraged with comments from you, ESWDs, telling me how wrong I am (because what a woman really needs is for a man to tell her she doesn’t know what she’s experienced or what issues affect her life). You insist on our time, energy, and attention even when we make it clear we don’t want to engage and then you act as though the fact that we don’t want to engage with you means we don’t have the courage of our convictions (i.e., we’re full of shit). I’ve pointed out that it’s ALMOST ALWAYS you who does these things and asked you to please stop, and when I do, you show up in force to tell me I’m being divisive and women do it too and that I’ll draw more flies with honey.
Here’s the thing: I don’t care what you think anymore. I’m not interested in your opinions because you’re not interested in mine, which is clear from the way you talk at and down to me, make proclamations tied to bullshit conclusions, and generally behave as though you’re the teacher and I’m the student. I’m sick of you thinking that every post you disagree with on social media is an engraved invitation and that the rest of us are just waiting to be enlightened by you. I’m not interested in your opinions because you seem completely unwilling to learn about the role you play and how you can stop making things worse and I’m tired of giving you the benefit of the doubt.
I am an opinionated woman and I speak my mind, so you may be wondering how what I do is different from what you do. The difference as I see it is that I don’t walk through life believing that everyone is entitled to my opinion on every subject even if they aren’t talking to or about me. I don’t believe that my opinion is so important that I must inflict it on other people and their friends at every opportunity. Because I was not raised in a culture that taught me that I am the most important person in the social hierarchy. (In fact, the same culture that taught you to be brash and opinionated taught me that I’m supposed to use honey and draw flies.) And because I wasn’t, it actually occurs to me that my opinion might not be required at all times—that other people might just want to be able to talk without someone disagreeing with them about every fucking thing. That people less privileged than I might like to have a conversation about how they see the world without me butting in to tell them how I see it differently because it turns out, it’s not about me.
I’ll tell you what I’d like to be able to do: talk about privilege without you showing up to wave yours around like a fucking flag you don’t even realize you’re holding. The problem is that even when we point it out to you, you still can’t see it. In fact, you absolutely refuse to see it even as you brandish it at us like a club. You refuse to see how that club you’re armed with creates a power differential that can’t be ignored. So you continue to ignore it and say things like “women do it too” and “stop making everything about race.” You become the perfect illustration of the problem that is you.
But here’s the thing: I know that not all straight white dudes are ESWDs. Many straight white dudes have learned that their privilege is something to be aware of and that awareness allows them to navigate the world without walking all over everyone else. And that gives me hope for you—each and every one of you—that one day you’ll pull your head out of that warm, wet place you keep it and realize that what you have been is part of the problem.
It’s the E that’s holding you back, ESWD: that sense of entitlement that is part and parcel of your privilege and your biggest weakness because it blinds you and keeps you from challenging yourself to truly do better by your fellow humans. Right now, you’re an Entitled Straight White Dude waving your flag and knocking shit over, and as long as you’re doing that I have no use for you. But you can choose to shed that E and join the ranks of regular straight white dudes who are out there working to make things better for everyone who isn’t a straight white dude, and if you do that…
Well, if you do that, I’ll be rooting for you.
- If You’re Arguing With Me Chances Are You’re a Dude (makemeasammich)
- I’m Tired of All the Damned Splaining So Check Your Privilege Please (makemeasammich)
Note to straight white dudes offended by this post: Is that your shoe?
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
I’m tired. So tired of all the splaining and the related derailing and domination of conversations about issues facing less privileged people by those who have more privilege in our society.
I have written about mansplaining before. Many men (who seem not to have read past the headline) get their feelings hurt by this because they automatically assume it applies to all men. If you do not engage in mansplaining, it does not apply to you. The same goes for what I have to say here: if the shoe fits, wear it.
All of us sit somewhere on a scale of privilege. Some are more privileged, some less. My wish is that when someone from a lower rung on the ladder of privilege speaks out about an issue that affects them, everyone above them on the ladder would take the opportunity to listen and learn and allow room for that voice to be heard. Too often what I see instead is the people from higher on the ladder jumping in to splain to the people on lower rungs why their perspectives are flawed. I see threads about women derailed and dominated by men. I see threads about People of Color derailed and dominated by white people. And it’s not cool.
I am tired of being splained and watching other people get splained. I’m tired of women never being able to speak out about an issue that affects them without half a dozen men jumping in to splain “it’s not just women” or telling us how wrong we are when we try to talk about our lived experiences and how we feel about them. I’m tired of seeing People of Color speaking out about their lived experiences and issues affect them only to have white people splain that “it’s not just Black people” and “that’s not racist.” I’m tired of straightsplainging and cissplaining. I’m tired of abandoning threads I started because even when I say I’m done arguing, the splainers keep on splaining (often becoming more and more condescending as the discussion “progresses”). I’m tired of dealing with people who are more interested in having their opinions heard and being right than in sitting back and listening to people whose lives and challenges are different from theirs and maybe learning something.
You know what? When people less privileged than you are use their voices to talk about an issue they face, it really doesn’t matter whether the issue also affects you. The point is that it affects the less privileged group to a (chances are much) greater degree, and they are trying to talk about that, and it is not helpful or wanted for you to splain that you were once poor or that you got sexually harassed one time so it’s not just them. In fact, when you do that, you take up room in the conversation that really ought to be reserved for other voices in the less privileged group who want to discuss the issue. What would be helpful would be for you to listen and learn about how other people experience the world—other people who do not benefit from the privileges you enjoy—and the challenges *they* face. Consider whether your opinion is required on every topic on which you feel tempted to comment, or whether you are simply exercising your privilege when you and people like you end up dominating a conversation that wasn’t about you in the first place. Consider how your privilege allows you to feel comfortable doing that.
Your privilege means that your voice carries more weight in almost every situation. Do you really have to chime in on every single thread on which you have an opinion? Must your voice be heard, possibly at the expense of others? Want to talk about an issue that affects you? Maybe go start your own conversation rather than taking over one a person on a lower rung of privilege is trying to have.
If this pisses you off, then maybe ask yourself why, and consider whether you’re actually willing to allow less privileged people to talk about issues facing them without splaining how it’s “not just X” or how their perspectives are flawed. Consider whether you are willing to make room for voices that carry less weight in our society. If you’re not willing consider these things, then you are not being an ally to those less privileged than you are.
I’m tired of all the damned splaining. And I’m about to start culling my social media feeds to reduce the amount of it I have to deal with in my life. I have already revised my comment policy here to reflect the fact that I’m not nearly as tolerant of various flavors of bullshit as I once was. This is one of my least favorite flavors because people who do this are often unaware of what they’re doing and consider themselves to be allies, which means that people like me end up wasting a lot of time and precious energy trying to help them understand. False allies are worse than trolls because at least they seem like they have good intentions, but what they end up doing is sucking all your energy as you try to engage them when ultimately, they can’t see past their own privilege to actually listen. They end up dominating conversations instead of learning. And the less privileged end up leaving these conversations because we’re tired of arguing with people who have no intention of hearing us, and so our voices we are effectively silenced. False allies are people who think of themselves as “progressive” but behave in ways that become part of the problem.
If you want to be an ally, learn how to be a good one. If you want to argue about this, go argue with someone else. And please stop splaining.
Because I’m so fucking tired of it.
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
- If You’re Arguing With Me, Chances Are You’re a Dude (makmeasammich.org)
- Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes (makemeasammich.org)
- Managing Privilege (robot hugs)
- How to Avoid Whitesplaining Away Your Racism (lizzness.com)
- Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass (policymic)
- On Whitesplaining, Mansplaining, And Why The Majority NEVER Gets To Tell Minorities What Is Offensive (What a Witch)
- What is Whitesplaining? (fusion.net)
- A Cultural History of Mansplaining (The Atlantic)
- Whitesplained and Mansplained (Bina Shah)
- #497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer (captainawkward.com)
- Men who explain things (Los Angeles Times)
8/23/2015 – In the two years since I wrote this post, racism—especially racism resulting in brutality and/or murder perpetrated by police (and police wannabes like George Zimmerman) or lethal neglect by same—has finally been recognized by many as the crisis it has been for as long as any of us have been alive and so much longer. Social media has been a big part of shining a spotlight on the issue—specifically Black women on Twitter, who have been responsible for creating trending discussions on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to #BlackLivesMatter, a movement created by three Black women after the Zimmerman verdict.
Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
Over the past two years dozens of Black men, women, and children have been murdered by police. And yet, fewer white and non-black people than I’d like have risen to the challenge to see outside their own gaze, their own experience, and attempt to truly gain an understanding of how our privilege blinds us to so much. Too many default to defensiveness, anger, and intolerance when faced with the truth that when they are not actively part of the solution to the problem they benefit from, they are the problem. The problem is white supremacy (not the ideology, but the system) and in the simplest and most general terms, it means the darker your skin, the harder life is going to be for you in the U.S.
I spoke with a white woman friend the other day who reminded me of a time when she and another friend of mine “fit the description” (something that happens to Black people regularly) of a couple who had just pulled off a robbery. She described how terrifying it was to see the cops coming toward her with their hands on their weapons, ready to draw in a heartbeat. And we talked about the tweet I read a year or so ago in which a Black man talked about how surprised he was to learn from his white friends that this was not something they experienced every time they encountered law enforcement. For him, that was just what cops did.
Below is what I had to say two years ago about the Zimmerman verdict. Below that are some words about what it means to be white in a country that treats white as the default and treats Black as less-than. And a challenge to white people sitting on the sidelines to actively work on shifting their perspective and hopefully, become part of the solution. Here’s another one: if you want to be part of the solution, talk to your white friends about this. Here’s one person’s advice on how to do that.
8/18/2003 – It’s past time I spoke about this. I’ve said previously that my words seem lost, but I’ve got to find some that describe the dark pit that opened up in me the day the Zimmerman verdict was announced. I’ve got to find words to talk about the fact that racism is my problem. Our problem. It’s not going away until every one of us says that to ourselves—claims it, takes it on as a very real part of ourselves and recognizes it to be a slow-growing cancer eating us alive.
I sometimes feel the need to assert that this blog is opinion first, and journalism second or third or maybe not at all. I do my best to be informed about the topics I’m writing about, but I have accepted the fact that I can’t know everything and sometimes I have to write from my heart. From my gut. I just have to write.
This piece is pure opinion. I don’t watch television. I’ve read about the case, but I can’t claim to know the nuances, and I certainly don’t know Florida law or what limitations the jurors were up against or anything like that. But there are things I know in my heart. In my gut. And I have to say them.
I believe Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. I believe George Zimmerman is a murderer. I believe that George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated. And I believe the circus that surrounded the trial—even viewed from afar by someone who doesn’t watch tv and catches up in dribs and drabs via social media and the web—points up in no uncertain terms the fact that the United States of America is in a crisis of racism that threatens to tear us apart.
I don’t think Zimmerman woke up on the morning of February 26, 2012 with plans to find and murder Trayvon Martin or anyone else. But I do believe he was “on patrol”—out looking for trouble, and for George Zimmerman, a young black man walking in his neighborhood spelled it out in all caps. I believe that in the 911 clip most of us have heard at least once, George Zimmerman whispered not “fucking punks” as he claims, but “fucking coons.” And I believe that when Zimmerman stopped his truck, got out, and confronted Trayvon Martin, that Martin was probably terrified and very likely defended himself. Who the fuck wouldn’t? And maybe Zimmerman was in fear of his life at that point. Maybe he wasn’t. I know for sure that if he hadn’t had a gun in his hand, that boy would still be alive. I know for certain that if he had listened to the dispatcher who told him not to follow, that Trayvon Martin would never have felt the need to defend himself. I know that if George Zimmerman had not been the AGGRESSOR in this situation, no aggression could possibly have taken place between them. None. Because Trayvon Martin was not trouble in all caps or lowercase. In that moment, Trayvon Martin was a teenage boy on his way from point A to point B to enjoy a can of tea and a bag of candy. And in that moment, George Zimmerman was the boogey man—a guy following him. A guy who stopped his truck and got out and harassed him. A guy who shot him dead.
I’ll say it again in case I wasn’t clear: Despite what that jury found based on whatever broken excuse for a book of laws they’ve got down in Florida, I believe George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and I believe that racism led him to the choice do so.
George Zimmerman is a murderer. And a racist.
Now let’s talk about Rachel Jeantel. What more proof do you need that the default setting for media viewing is WHITE than the disgusting reactions to this woman as she took the stand and told her story. Self-styled critics took to Twitter to ridicule her speech and mannerisms. Some thinking themselves especially clever referred to her as “Precious.” Memes sprang up calling her “retarded,” and making Fat Albert jokes. When I searched for an image of her, it was difficult to find a shot that wasn’t a still grabbed from video in order to capture a strange expression and then use it to further the “retarded” narrative. And this is not the worst of it.
It’s tempting to write off these tweets and memes as representing a small segment of society that doesn’t really count–to label the people writing and making them as “just racists” as though the word describes other people—not people we know. Not ones we hang out with. And yet, if you pay attention, you don’t have to walk far to encounter someone who isn’t afraid to show that side of themselves to the people they trust, and from there, a couple of steps will land you face-to-face with someone who hears the things that person says and lets them pass even though they don’t agree. Turn around and you’ll find a child listening, absorbing. Follow that child outdoors and listen as she repeats the racist’s words to her friends.
It’s a virus in our heads, and we aren’t doing enough to fight it. I’m not doing enough. Talking to some teenagers recently about racism and privilege I found myself getting discouraged as their eyes glazed over, my words seeming to pass through them like atoms. But it’s them we need to reach. This fear of the Other is taught. Put a group of children together, and they may notice differences—may even ask questions about them—but the fear comes later. It’s learned. And it can be unlearned.
I remember when, as a child of three or four, a friend of my father’s came to visit. He was the first black person I’d ever seen, and I thought he was beautiful. I loved the way his smile seemed to shine so brightly–and he was always smiling. I asked my mother about some of the differences I noticed, and she answered, giving me no sense that my questions were wrong or made her uncomfortable in any way. But when I asked him why the palms of his hands were lighter than the rest of him, it was as though all the air went out of the room. My parents hissed something at me about being impolite, but the man just laughed. I was a child, and I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to understand.
As a white person, I believe it is my job to help end racism. People who say we should be colorblind miss the very important point that people are different in all sorts of ways and ignoring those differences honors no one. It erases cultures. It makes everyone white. Colorblindness is not the answer. Understanding and compassion are the answers.
I’m challenging myself to reach out and find ways to end racism in my lifetime. I’m working to increase my understanding and compassion around racism, and through that understanding and compassion, I hope to reach others. I’m talking to people about racism—especially young people. I’m becoming aware of the programming in my own head, noticing the white gaze through which I have learned to see the world and through which so much media and art is presented to us—presented as the norm, just as the male gaze is presented as the norm.
Guess what? They’re not. White isn’t “normal” any more than male is. Normal is a world full of people from all walks of life. Normal is cultures upon cultures, each one more fascinating than the last, and many of them living and thriving within the mostly white one some of us think of as the “norm.” Normal is pretty much anyone and everyone you meet when you walk outside your little bubble, put your smart phone away, and look around you.
There’s a world of color out there, and it’s time white people woke up and tuned it in. It’s time we actively took control of our gaze and shifted it to include everyone. I’m calling on all of you to challenge yourselves–notice the programming and change it. Help others to change theirs. We have to do it. We’re the only ones who can.
It’s worth noting that when I checked the WordPress thingy for related articles, one option was something about GZ’s “media lynching.” I seriously have no words. I keep typing and backspacing. Just…ugh.
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I want to apologize–for so many things. For myself and for the culture we live in. Because we are failing you and girls like you and we have to do better.
I’ll start by apologizing for myself. I’m sorry for not knowing until now what to say about the way Seth MacFarlane and the Onion treated you on Oscar night. They singled you out for a laugh never thinking of what effect that might have on you. On a night when they should have been celebrating your achievements, they commodified you. They used you in a way that comedians and satirist use lots of people, except that children ought to be exempt. Especially on what is possibly the biggest night of their lives to date, when they’re sitting right there in the room listening attentively. And I was outraged, and I said so, but only in passing. I didn’t feel equipped to deal with the complexity of the racial side of this (if it can even be called a side–maybe it’s the whole thing). I felt as though it wasn’t my place. And I read what other people had to say and I asked questions and I learned. And now I know that my silence was perhaps interpreted by some as acceptance or at the very least, complacency, laziness, and lack of concern. I realize that if you or any young woman of color came to my blog, you would find that I’d dedicated exactly zero time and energy to saying (here, where I talk about things that matter to me) that they treated you badly, that they were wrong, that this is a symptom of so much of what is wrong with us as a society, and that it’s important to understand that race is a big part of the equation because of the way black girls and women have historically been treated–and exploited–in this country.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané, that I didn’t write about this before now.
Now I want to apologize for the culture that allows this to happen, because I know I have been part of the problem and because I own that each of us (adults) is partly responsible for allowing it to be this way. We raise our girls to believe they are somehow less than boys, and our boys to think that the worst possible thing someone can say to them is that they’re behaving like (or running like, or throwing like, or crying like) a girl. We reward young men for the “conquest” of having sex, and shame young women for being “sluts.” We create and consume media that sets unattainable standards, reinforces harmful gender and racial stereotypes, and perpetuates rape culture. This culture we have created and continue to allow to thrive is what made Seth MacFarlane believe it was acceptable to use you for a laugh. It’s what made some fans claim that our outrage over that and the Onion’s ill-considered attempt at satire are because people like us “have no sense of humor.” It’s the reason hundreds of people retweeted the Onion’s tweet.
I’m sorry, Quvenzhané. I’m sorry we aren’t living in a post-sexist, post-racist society by 2013. I’m sorry they couldn’t just let you have your night in the spotlight and celebrate your talent and your achievements and the fact that you made history. I hope the night was wonderful and that none of this spoiled anything for you.
I learned to pronounce your name partly because I was so angry that people who make their living talking to and about celebrities on television did not take the time before meeting you to do so, but also because I wanted to know how to say it. Now I find myself saying it over and over again: Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané, Quvenzhané…because it sounds like a song. Those people who didn’t bother to learn your name really missed out–they could have done their jobs and had the joy of saying your lovely name out loud.
I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Update 1/12/15: It has been nearly two years and they are still mispronouncing her name.
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