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Friday, August 16, 2013

146

A Chat with Mikki Kendall and Flavia Dzodan About #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen

Early this week, Mikki Kendall started the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen as a way of calling out the imbalances in feminist online media that permitted the micro-infamous Hugo Schwyzer to "target" (stalk, insult, try to erase the writing of) women of color while keeping his place on major platforms at these women’s expense. Wanting to open up the resulting discussion, I talked to Mikki as well as her fellow feminist writer Flavia Dzodan. Mikki, this was your initiative: did I get it right, and what else were you intending to draw attention to?

Mikki: That’s partly it. I was definitely pissed and naming names. But it wasn’t just that after the first few tweets. The more I typed the more things sprang to mind because I’d been looking at a lot of major issues that just go unreported in magazines that were theoretically by women, for women. Somehow the survival, safety and security of WOC (cis and trans), of poor women, of disabled women, of undocumented women, of anyone that wasn’t a white middle class/upper middle class woman felt unimportant relative to creature comforts and makeup choices. Jill Filipovic probably feels like she caught some hell that isn’t hers and that’s true. I’m addressing the system that enables some and disenfranchises others.

Jia: I have to say that Jill was one of the very first people in media to reach out to me when I started writing online, and we’ve got zero network connections (I'd just started, and I don't live in New York and I’m not a white upper-middle-class woman). I think she in particular is very generous and thoughtful with her platform, but I understand what you’re saying. What do you each identify as the root of why online feminism would prioritize Schwyzer? The power that white masculinity still has in the media landscape and in America generally? An ethos in contemporary feminism that places easy battles above hard ones (an ethos that I espouse quite often, in many areas, myself)? A tradition of insularity that hasn't been broken yet?

Flavia: All of the above? I think the phenomenon around Schwyzer’s popularity should be looked at from a prism rather than a single lens. For a start we have what I call “corporate feminism,” which is corporate media that is more interested in page clicks and viral content than in long-term political change or political organization. This is a relatively new phenomenon (probably Jezebel was the first site to start this trend). Up to that point, feminist blogging was part of or a companion of political activism or people interested in women’s studies so there was always a political component associated with blogging/publishing.

With the advent of “feminist mass media” (meaning sites that use feminist ideas or politics but target a wider audience than the initial niche), the main goal was never change or political action but profits. Schwyzer fit very well in this environment because he was inflammatory and “polemic” in the sense that he sold himself as “controversial,” which is like the holy grail of page clicks and publicity. So of course these commercial outlets embraced him. It didn’t matter whether they agreed with him or not, he brought in page clicks and that’s their main purpose: to make money out of page clicks.

Second, he is white, cisgender, male and affluent. All of these conflate to make him the “expert” in whichever field he picks. It’s not just that he has the influence to insert himself into spaces but his entire culture socialized him (and us) to accept him as an “expert.” This is at the root of what feminism has ALWAYS critiqued, the patriarchy! He IS the patriarchy and he infiltrated feminism because we are socialized to accept that white men “deserve” to occupy spaces.

Mikki: I’m going to cosign Flavia’s answer here. I boggled at Schwyzer’s success for a long time because to me it was glaringly obvious he wasn’t the least bit genuine. That facial post? Look, if it wasn’t for white cis male privilege, the same people who posted that would have been screaming for his head.

Jia: What should have happened with Hugo Schwyzer from the beginning? It bothers me that his name is all over this because I find him more annoying than anything. Is it possible for the best-case scenario to occur, for this movement to shed him altogether and shift the discussion to a more productive one? Is that the best-case scenario? What do you hope comes from this conversation?

Flavia: I can only speak for myself here, but I wish feminist women would have denounced him. Why was it left to a small group of Women of Color (of which I was one) to loudly resist what he was doing in the name of feminism? And more than a year ago, when I first spoke publicly about him trying to silence me through backchannels, contacting people with whom I worked, etc: why wasn’t there outrage about that? I mean, I get that people might not like me personally so they might not feel compelled to defend me. I understand that. However, if you are a feminist and you claim you are “for women,” you don’t get to pick which women you stand up for. You don’t get to say “Ah, only the nice ones, not the angry Latina that yells on Twitter.” If you are for women, you don’t let a white cis man take the center of the stage at the expense of other women.

If you are a feminist and you claim you are “for women,” you don’t get to pick which women you stand up for.

The one thing I would love to see is a conversation about media accountability. I mean, the sites that made money out of selling us jizz in our faces as “feminist empowerment” should be held accountable. Using feminism as a product to push page clicks should, at the very least, involve some kind of accountability to the community you are directly harming.

Jia: Sure. Although I think Jezebel has full editorial integrity, I agree that the website agitates on a relatively narrow scope. But so: is the problem with mainstream feminist websites, or their writers, or the structure of a profit entity, or the audiences determining what content gets their vote? Not speaking for anyone or saying that Jezebel does this, but I actually do think a feminist website could prioritize pageviews over political activism—or prioritize both equally—and do it with a lot more inclusion and diversity and without Schwyzer-type things happening. I think we are approaching the point where everyone has taken in everything that can be learned from this giant Internet mistake and is ready to move on.

So let’s talk about the issues that remain beyond Schwyzer. I see this issue as one with race at its center and know that hashtags don't have much room for nuance, but the implication of an absolute one-to-one tie between skin color and social positioning that comes with #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen seems inadequate. Like, Aura Bogado tweeted something like "the worst part of all of this is that most editors will hire a white women to talk about it," and I thought yes, that’s probably true, and also thought about how I’m definitely no more qualified to speak about this than, say, Emma, who is white.

I guess I'm trying to say: what does white mean here, in practicality? Voiced, privileged? Gate-keepers? I loved this quote from your blog, Flavia: "Race is about being tokenized in spaces that are coded white but attempt to offer a veneer of inclusivity while pushing ideologies that perpetuate the very same white supremacy that leaves us out of the resource distribution." I get that and love it, but I also think that the code is “privilege” rather than “white,” even if the circles overlap closely.

Flavia: To me, white means owning, administering and supervising the means of production. In this case, the media that gave Schwyzer prominent spaces is white-dominated, white-owned and the people in positions of authority are mostly white. “Of color” in these environments means two things: 1) someone to fill in the inclusivity quota and 2) niche.

It’s a myth that on the internet you can “lift” yourself out of your niche or small audience. That’s some bootstrapping nonsense.

Here’s another insidious issue that creeps into this situation: on the internet, nobody prevents you from starting your own “media.” So, as a Person of Color, you can either start your own blog or associate with other like-minded individuals and run a collective, etc. “You don’t need gatekeepers,” they say. Still, because you are “niche,” you won’t get the same access or the same resources (either initial capital or subsidies or grants or whatever financial support) than these mainstream media organizations have. So, the “niche” is always perpetuated. It’s a myth that on the internet you can “lift” yourself out of your niche or small audience. That’s some bootstrapping nonsense.

Also, it is widely assumed that people starting out in media know how to pitch, who to contact, how to “sell” the product. That is not the case and I know for a fact that there are huge cultural differences and we do not all share this supposed “common knowledge.” So, if you were brought up in a culture other than white American or if you are working class or poor and you didn’t learn all this stuff, you can more or less forget inserting yourself into these white affluent dominated spaces.

I’ll give you an example. I was brought up to be “humble” about my work. “If you work hard, people will notice.” That was more or less the statement I heard all my childhood and youth. You weren’t supposed to self-promote; you worked hard, you would be noticed. Now, fast-forward a couple decades later and if you don’t self-promote or pitch, you won’t get anywhere. But nobody tells you this. You just hear, “You have to do it yourself” and you go, “Do what myself? I’ve been blogging for years, what more should I do?” Same with book deals or speaking engagements. The internet was supposed to “break” all these barriers, but that has simply not happened.

Mikki: I got noticed by a wider audience by chance. I was on Livejournal way back when, and we were having some of these same contentious conversations often enough that I created a community called sex_and_race so that we could have a safe space. Great discussions ensued, but there wasn’t a whole lot of info available about how to take it off LJ to any kind of larger platform. In fact, I don’t think we even thought of that possibility until much later when it became clear that our words had value coming from other people who did have access. So, when I started doing things in fandom, and made connections with people like Rose Fox at Publishers Weekly (who gave me my first big mainstream assignment), I wound up with a platform based on being a spec fic fan. Sure, I wrote about feminism, but for a long time I didn’t think of that writing as anything but me expressing myself. There is probably something to be said for how much exposure I’ve gotten via social media, which makes it easier for me to publish now, but at base the access is often about who you know, and like Flavia I didn’t know the right people.

And really let’s talk about what it means to do the work and get paid for it. A lot of feminists who aren’t pursuing pro gigs don’t necessarily know that those things can pay. We tend to get publishing offers that pay in exposure, and you can’t pay bills with that, so the activism has to come secondary to survival. Many of the WOC who we are talking about have full-time jobs, possibly families, and some are in school, too.

Jia: Yeah. But: a few of these issues are universal in a lot of ways, aren’t they? The writer’s marketplace requires so many people to write for exposure only (I basically did it for a full year, enabled only by my unicorn-like grad school program, which pays). And in terms of activism coming secondary to survival, if that’s a problem for women (and I think, of any race) whose publishing platforms are constrained by their economic situation, it’s also the issue that Flavia takes up with Jezebel, or could probably take up with The Hairpin, or any other site that is attempting to grow in the marketplace.

What would inclusive digital feminism look like? What would it mean in terms of editors' choices?

To me, the inadequacies of mainstream online feminism boil down to the same issues that produce a dozen "Can Privileged White Women in America Have Perfect Happiness In Every Area of Their Life" bait pieces every year: (1) people are selfish and we don’t like excess baggage on our way to the top, (2) people are superficial and we like to think about easy, sexy things, (3) being a woman is a loaded proposition generally (4) intersectionality is difficult for everyone because we all think our problems are the most important, and (5) America is stratified to the point where people who are privileged cannot understand at a gut level what life is like for people who are not. These seem like issues that we can acknowledge pretty easily, and work with. I don’t know, maybe I’m very naive! But to you: what would inclusive digital feminism look like? What would it mean in terms of editors' choices?

Flavia: I guess for me, it’d mean including writers of color not only as experts on racial matters. Because again, that perpetuates the “niche.” So, if as an editor or as a writer, you are writing about food (something I should write about more, because FOOD!) then quote Women of Color as much as you’d quote white food writers. Same with any other area, fashion, politics, travel, etc.

Jia: I agree with this, and I also think it sounds like the “inclusivity quota” that you spoke out against earlier. I guess the “quota” mindset is the ridiculous thing. We could lose that and still have inclusivity.

Flavia: Another thing I would like to see discussed is something Megan Carpentier has spoken about: the “friendship economy,” and how this situation was intensified because these networks are based on interpersonal relationships that can become very difficult to access. Friends publish friends, or so is the general perception, which I think also perpetuates the exclusion of Women of Color who are not necessarily part of these networks and friendships. So, I am interested in how feminism, especially vis-a-vis sisterhood and solidarity reproduces this exclusion by leaving out those that are perceived to not belong to the network.

Mikki: Exactly. It’s easy to plead a lack of knowledge when you don’t have personal connections with WOC, and you don’t go looking for their work either. But Google exists and will lead you to some great people doing great things. So if you’re publishing on gender issues and all of the people you choose to reach out to are white and/or cis, then you’ve contributed to the erasure of trans people, or people of color, and someone is eventually going to notice that maybe you’re not really committed to the advancement of all women.

Jia: "Google exists" is actually a great reminder. My experience in the world of online editorial is very limited, but just to use The Hairpin as an example: our readership skews white and the writers who submit even more so. Emma and I have talked about the fact that it’s The Hairpin’s responsibility first to be a space for the overarching diversification (in terms of demographic but also form, topic, etc) that we would like to see, but it’s an interesting conundrum in practicality. Also, I am a non-white person who came into the fold with no connections, which isn’t to be like “These problems don’t exist” but to say, there is certainly some room out there, and The Hairpin would really like to be the kind of place that a trans person of color would read or write for, and maybe those pieces would be about identity and maybe they’d be about the fonts on street signs. Anyway. We're working on it. What are some of the best ideas you saw brought up in the Twitter discussion?

Flavia: One of the discussions I’ve been involved in was about reparations. Women like brownfemipower, Blackamazon, Amadi deserve to be heard about what they’d consider justice. This has been said on Twitter a lot. I was asked directly what I’d consider a reparation for his backchannels attempts at silencing me and I honestly have no idea. I think it’d be fair for the media that paid him to write to issue an apology and acknowledge the harm done, especially to the community and the politics they claim to represent.

Jia: (Belated editorial note that some have done this very wonderfully!)

Is it all about the money? No. But money helps encourage new voices to make time to pitch, to speak up, to do things in the public eye, and it shows an actual commitment to diversifying the face of feminism.

Mikki: I saw some mention of more signal boosting in the mainstream. Now that doesn’t mean white women writing about WOC in my opinion. It means WOC writing about the issues that impact them, and then the same websites garnering ad revenue off the posts like Schwyzer’s paying WOC for that work. Is it all about the money? No. But money helps encourage new voices to make time to pitch, to speak up, to do things in the public eye, and it shows an actual commitment to diversifying the face of feminism.

Jia: Cool. Yeah, so what is the role of a white feminist in the conversation that's happening now? What sort of reactions have you been encountering, and what do these reactions mean to you?

Flavia: I don’t want to take away from the work Mikki has done starting the conversation so I’ll let her answer this.

Mikki: I don’t want to give the impression that no white feminists are listening and learning. Some definitely are engaging honestly, some are busy being angry and telling me I’m divisive, others think their feelings should be my priority and are heartbroken when no scene from The Help plays out. Mostly I expect this conversation to be messy, because at base not everyone in it is invested in having it honestly. Some people really want this to be a flash in the pan and then back to business as usual. One of the things I expect from white feminists is an effort to keep that from happening: approaching random POC and demanding that they talk to you, rather than doing the reading, the listening, and passing the mic.

Mikki Kendall (@karnythia) is a writer and social commentator. 
Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) is is a writer, media analyst and marketing consultant based in Amsterdam. She blogs at Tiger Beatdown.

146 Comments / Post A Comment

stonefruit

YES! I'm so excited.

And now I'm going to go read this :)

Martha33

Ooh, I take it back that I have never gotten anything for free. I think one time at Subway the sandwich artist boy thought I was cute, and gave me extra bacon on my BLT without charging me. Attractive female privilege, bitches! But then again my husband once got extra bread for free at a local restaurant because the male employees liked his tattoos. @me

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jagosaurus

This is SO GREAT. Hooray!

supernintendochalmers

Thank you for covering this, Jia, and for giving Mikki and Flavia the space to speak. It's really frustrating to me that XOJane and Jezebel are two of the most popular feminist sites, yet they so often publish amoral, retrogressive work and take no responsibility for it. XOJane published a piece on the hashtag with no mention of Hugo Schwyzer or their involvement with him at all, and when people tried to call bullshit on it, the comments blew up with defenders. (I don't read them regularly, but I was curious if they covered it at all.)

*I had to edit this because I wrote something about being white and learning a lot from the hashtag but then I felt like I was looking for a cookie or something and got self-conscious. :/

packedsuitcase

@supernintendochalmers I'm with you in the I-learned-a-ton-from-this-hashtag camp, but I feel like you can acknowledge that you learned from something without being seen as seeking praise. (At least I hope, because I definitely posted something about this below.)

PistolPackinMama

@packedsuitcase Ja. Don't you feel like this is one of those times your comp teacher's line "don't tell me, show me" is particularly applicable to your sitch?

jenjenboben

@supernintendochalmers Jezebel also published a roundup of #solidarityisforwhitewomen tweets without any Schwyzer context. Jessica Cohen published a ridiculous piece that insinuated that Schwyzer just played her and she had no idea about all the shady things he had done. She did not name him, apologize in any way, or acknowledge that people in the comments of every single one of his posts were practically screaming the facts at her but she chose to ignore and delete them in favor of linkbait.

supernintendochalmers

@jenjenboben Wow. I mean, why even bother?

stonefruit

@jenjenboben AND the #solidarityisforwhitewomen post on Jezebel, in its initial form, carefully left out any mention of Mikki Kendall!

I MEAN.

Welp

@supernintendochalmers *sigh*
"With this piece, the context that I wanted to work with was the overarching, historical relationship between women of color and mainstream feminism, and how it related to me personally. While the context with Schwyzer is important, please remember that it's not the only context.

Distilling these centuries old grievances to specific interactions with one man ignore that this is only the latest in a series of similar, tiring events. It's the series itself that needs to be attacked."

packedsuitcase

@PistolPackinMama Absolutely! It's hard to show here, but the things I've learned will definitely stay with me and give me a stronger grounding in reality when talking about ways to combat oppression and a better perspective on my own privledge when doing so.

up cubed

I would also like to thank everyone involved with this posting. I know it is probably exhausting to explain this so many times, but I would like to request some follow up in the new few weeks.

I also really hope there will be more interest and comments here than about how a dog could direct a movie or what kind of restaurant you are.

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Judith Slutler

Whoa, thanks for this interview. It's awesome that you asked about specific things that media outlets could do to combat erasure, Jia.

I'd just like to add as Probably Not the Reigning Queen of Critical Whiteness, that I am glad Ms. Kendall and others on the hashtag made the decision not to spend a bunch of time trying to qualify "white" and explain that by "white" they actually meant CERTAIN white people, etc. Personally I think so much of the issue here is that white people are not used to having our cultural habits, foibles & faults racialized. We just think whatever we're up to is normal and part of the default. That causes us to miss out on really important truths. The discomfort of feeling included in "white women" once in a while is worth the learning that can come from it!

PistolPackinMama

@Judith Slutler Yup. The defensive "but but but" in response just sounded like a whole lot of "I don't understand that if it's not about me, then it's not about me, so don't make it about me."

(Hint: unless you are the exception to the rule, if you are a white woman, on some level, that hashtag was about you. Unless it wasn't. But it probably was.)

roadtrips

@PistolPackinMama I agree - and I'd up your "probably" to "almost definitely." As Flavia pointed out, the hashtag is about exposing systemic privileges and power structures, and that implicates practically all white women, full stop. I think Jill Filipovic's response (which Jia linked to) is a really excellent example of someone who the hashtag was maybe more explicitly about responding in a way that addressed her complicity with her privilege. The hopeful thing about this conversation is that it gives an opportunity for white feminists to examine their complicity and hopefully critically reflect on it. It can allow white feminists (as I am one) to recognize our mistakes and (this is so important) expect no accolades or sympathy for doing so. We're all human, and we all do things that we later regret. But part of owning that regret is realizing that there are some things that apologies won't "make better" and that part of moving on is not waiting for someone to thank you or to tell you that your apology somehow makes up for the pain you've caused.

Mae
Mae

@Judith Slutler This is SUCH a good point.

MarilynCrabcakes

@Judith Slutler I read Paula Giddings' book When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America and it was enlightening to me as a white woman and a feminist on how white feminists threw WOC systematically under the bus.. Amazing book. http://books.google.com/books/about/When_and_Where_I_Enter.html?id=HWLwdOmdy9sC

catsjimjams

@Judith Slutler Woah perfectly said! I want to memorise this paragraph.

packedsuitcase

Oh, thank you for this! I love it. I feel sad that it was so eye-opening, but that hashtag was really informative and is making me re-think a whole lot of things.

PistolPackinMama

This is great. I am so glad to see this here, thank you so much.

This!!: I’ll give you an example. I was brought up to be “humble” about my work. “If you work hard, people will notice.”

Where I work, all the white students here are running around using the resources and working their legacy networks and accepting mentoring or whatever. But aside from some students who come in through a particular leadership program, our SOCs don't do that much. (And that program is an out-front program, it's not like a golf course/ coffee date influence network.)

I swear one feature of this is, it's because not only did they hear "your merit will show, if you work hard enough and do well." They also hear "if you do it any other way than by the strictest interpretation of the book, you will be seen as a moocher."

If they were encouraged/were able to act with a tenth of the entitlement many of their white peers had, they would still look like not-very-entitled-feeling students.

Because there is a real attitude of "our students are so entitled OMG" around here, we don't do a good job of reaching out to students who don't expect and aren't ushered into networks that help them out. Ugh. No, not good.

Judith Slutler

@PistolPackinMama GAH I just read about a related phenomenon in Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele (really great book about stereotype threat, I recommend it to everyone here). A study followed kids who were taking calculus at some Ivy League school, a course that can really influence whether or not you can get into med school etc. depending on your grade in the course.

Whereas the white kids would often feel comfortable realizing that they needed to drop the course and take it for a grade later in their college careers, black students tended to redouble their efforts and feel that if they couldn't power through it now then they probably just weren't good enough. To drop the course would be like letting down a cause. They felt like they simply couldn't ease up on themselves.

PistolPackinMama

@Judith Slutler Oh yes. That makes perfect sense. There is no do over when you've been getting just one shot your whole time in school.

chickpeas akimbo

@PistolPackinMama Yes. The kids who grow up in these wealthy white networks just like... know how to work the system, the way that I know how to, I don't know, buy groceries. I work at a Big University Whose Name You Would Recognize and it is just astonishing to watch these kids use their connections, completely shamelessly. I was a not well off white kid who grew up in the woods and then went to a prestigious university and I was just completely blindsided by the whole thing. Where do they learn these things???

roadtrips

Thanks for posting this, and thanks to Flavia and Mikki for their insight and gracious answers. Flavia's blog post on the HS fiasco is also a worthwhile read, and quite beautiful considering the subject matter: http://www.redlightpolitics.info/post/57329483311/h-is-for-hubris-hugo-s-is-for-sordid-schwyzer

Tuna Surprise

Great interview, as always!

The Hairpin has gone through some changes in content and tone in the past bit and I love to see it head more in this direction.

sunflowers

@Tuna Surprise Me too! I especially like that it's been able to have these more serious and vital conversations while keeping the respectful, supportive commentariat that is one of the reasons I love this place so much. There are a lot of feminist spaces online where the comments section is a hostile, scary space - especially, I think, to WOC, trans* women, and (on a different level and for different reasons) young women who want to learn more about feminism but lack the knowledge and context needed to really take place in these discussions.

roadtrips

@sunflowers Thirded.

zamboni

I just want to check up on my reading comprehension re: the last sentence--she's saying that white feminists should do the reading, listening etc. and NOT approach random POC and demand that they talk to you. Yes?

roadtrips

@zamboni YES! For the record, racismschool.tumblr.com is a great resource, and explicitly a place to ask questions (after you've exhausted the resources offered by the site). Crunk feminist collective and Black Girl Dangerous are other great sites with well-written articles by and about queer and trans folks and WOC.

zamboni

@roadtrips Thanks! I read Crunk Feminist Collective but am not familiar with the other ones yet.

Bebinn

@zamboni Definitely read the blogs linked in Flavia's mentions of reparations, too.

Romie Faienza@facebook

Some time back, on Tiger Beatdown, Flavia wrote a post around the mantra "my feminism will be intersectional or my feminism will be bullshit." I couldn't say why that sentence has been so galvanizing for me. My own feminism is not distinct from my committment to social justice, even though that social justice is often not exclusively or even obviously for women (and may sometimes, for instance, be focused on black male incarceration rates), but it has been hard for me to articulate why I think of that as part of feminism. Which I do.

zamboni

@Romie Faienza@facebook I hadn't seen that but I also think it's really really great, and yes, galvanizing.

wee_ramekin

First of all, THANK YOU JIA. I'm stoked that you had an interview with these ladies, and the conversation was really complex and interesting.

Secondly, would anyone like to talk more about #solidarityisforwhitewomen as a general idea and not directly in response to this specific post? On the original post, I was part of a really awesome comment thread with some Pinners who really wanted to delve into the issue, but I think we started chatting too long after the post went up.

I wanted to speak with Pinners of color and ask them about their experiences with feminism. Do you feel like you can be a feminist and a person of color? What have your personal experiences with feminism been like? This article makes some great points about feminism and exposure on a larger level; on a personal level, what would you like to see more of within the feminist movement?

j-i-a

@wee_ramekin FORGOT TO SAY, shouts to @judithslutler for putting this idea in my head on that original thread

wee_ramekin

@j-i-a Yes! Shout out to @JudithSlutler!

PS - I know that this request is along the lines of what Flavia said not to do ("One of the things I expect from white feminists is an effort to keep that from happening: approaching random POC and demanding that they talk to you, rather than doing the reading, the listening, and passing the mic").

I don't want to demand that Pinners talk at me, but I would like to open up a space to share these experiences if folks are amenable. One of the things that I learned from @hurts in the discussion that I linked to above was that she often felt left out of feminism by default because she didn't see anyone else like her participating. She said that if she had seen white women explicitly taking interest in her point-of-view, she would have felt much more comfortable participating in the discussion and movement.

up cubed

This topic has been very thought provoking for me as a mixed-race WOC whose mother is a white feminist. Most of my childhood friends were either mixed race or adopted into families where not everyone was the same race. My mother always practiced feminism in a way that covered intersectionality and privilege, and this is the lens I tend to have. The women in my father's family (of color side) were less interested in the politics of feminism, because they didn't think the label did much for them (while being BAMFs who "Lean In", before that was a term).
I did attend a women's college where I experienced a lot of culture shock, mostly via "othering" from white feminists.

However, as much as I might be "allowed" (I don't know what word to use here) to have this conversation as a WOC, I also understand how much harder it could be for my voice to be heard if I didn't have the privilege of a (white) feminist education and a white mother who prepped me with a different perspective.

Judith Slutler

@j-i-a O M G

I am just pleased as punch to hear that! <3

baby crow

@wee_ramekin the responses you got in that other thread really resonate with me. I find it hard to articulate the exact problems I have with mainstream feminism and usually don't speak up about it for that reason, but I'll give it a shot because I think these are interesting and good questions.

I don't feel 100% comfortable calling myself a "feminist" without qualifier because I'm too aware of the history of the movement's exclusion of women of color, extending pretty much back to its roots, and (also important) the tendency of modern feminists to be completely unaware of that history of exclusion. all of that together has given me the overall sense that feminism is not "for" me, even though there are some components of it that I can benefit from / am also working for.
I do feel a general sense of... being in another group's space, so to speak, when I'm on the hairpin (which I'll focus on since it's the main feminist space I regularly visit online, and also we are here). like, I can come here and be entertained and feel somewhat understood, because we are all women and people here are great at knowing their feminism shit and making it funny, or relatable, or insightful. it's by women and for women but it's not one-dimensional. at the same time, when it comes to my identity as a woman of color specifically, I personally have never seen myself reflected in these pages. there's not a literacy of the issues that women of color face unless those issues are also faced by white women. so we can't get to those same multi-dimensional discussions of it, where it's not simply like "ah now, here are some Women Of Color, let's talk about being Women and Of Color" but instead more like, this is just one common thing that brings many of us together, let's talk about this and also about other things.
the relative lack of voices of women of color here is just really, really noticeable to me. I think the recommendations given here (hire more WOC writers, beyond a "niche"; find them even though it's harder and you don't personally know any) are great for that and pretty straightforward, but maybe it is easier said than done, I wouldn't know.

I would love to encounter more white feminists who are aware of my history and who don't act paralyzed with guilt or defensiveness every time a discussion of white privilege comes up, and who don't make a huge deal about either of these things. who are capable of talking about issues that people of color face even if they're not, on the face of it, "women's issues" -- because they ARE issues to subsets of women. honestly, it can sometimes be as simple as seeing a black author portrait thingy, to make me feel more included, which might seem silly, but. it's easy to feel invisible in a space where not only does no one look like you, but no one wants to talk about it.

simone eastbro

@wee_ramekin I would love to encounter more white feminists who are aware of my history and who don't act paralyzed with guilt or defensiveness every time a discussion of white privilege comes up, and who don't make a huge deal about either of these things.

Yes.

@wee_ramekin Do you feel like you can be a feminist and a person of color?

I think the thing to remember is that there are theoretical and active alternatives to mainstream white feminism, but white women don't know anything about womanism or its relationship to black liberation theology etc etc. Just because someone doesn't identify as "feminist" doesn't mean they don't/might not also identify as womanist.

Simtow

@wee_ramekin I'm still here. :-) My notifications still aren't working, so I never know when to come back to the thread, but I'm down (and will check in more frequently!).

wee_ramekin

@baby crow ..."honestly, it can sometimes be as simple as seeing a black author portrait thingy, to make me feel more included, which might seem silly, but. it's easy to feel invisible in a space where not only does no one look like you, but no one wants to talk about it."

I think this is a really important point. I'm white, and I often make the mistake of assuming that most other Pinners are white because the only faces that I tend to see on the site are white ones.

For example, I read (and liked! w0ot!) your comment on my thread about The Male Ego on last FOT (AGH THE MALE EGO), and it never occurred to me to think that you might be anything other than another white internet lady.

Part of that is my own brain reflecting my personal social life to me (most of my friends are white), and I think part of it is that if you look around, the site does seem "peopled" by a lot of white ladies. A lot of the articles are written by white women, so a lot of the actual faces of the people we see on this site are white faces. That, in turn, seems like it might lead people to assuming that this is a primarily white space, which then perhaps centers discussions of white culture while making women who aren't white feel like their voices are few and far between.

It's interesting, because Ms. Jia points out that the 'Pin receives so few submissions from women of color, so I can see how this becomes a situation that perpetuates itself.

Okay, I've gotta quit the internet for a bit: my lady-friends are coming over and we are going to try making this recipe (also, I apologize for linking to that lady's site because I read her 'About' section and it makes me want to rip out my retinae)! But I'll check back over the weekend to see if there are any more responses.

@Simtow My notifications aren't working either! I think Emma said that there is something wrong with the system, so it's not just you!

E
E

My mom works for non profits and she told me how she'll get into some meeting to help the board brainstorm about new members and they'll be like, "how about a lawyer, how about a business owners, etc" and she'll be like, "how about someone who isn't white?" and then she usually has a list of names of people she's met who she thinks would be good. And she said, "it just never occurs to people to ask. if you ask them they won't feel like they're excluding anyone, but since they're going to reach out to the people they know well, they won't end up reaching out to anyone from other groups." So she tries to actively curate names of people who she thinks would be awesome on boards, and have that alternate list, and its been going pretty well- I get the sense that that invitation has started to create some more integrated boards.

And I think that's what needs to happen online. Your Jessica Valenti's and whomevers when they get a phone call to write about Trayvon should say, "That's a great idea for a piece, I know a woman who is perfect for this topic, let me call her and introduce you." The hairpin should be like, "we want another comic strip. Lets go looking for a comic strip by a black woman and see if she wants to come on board." This would require willingness to share pieces of a pie that isn't huge, and I think that's where a lot of it comes in. There's a default to lazy atlantic article feminism like Jia said and there's a territorial aspect (much less so here on the hairpin than in other places!)- if you are trying to launch your career its not like you want to give up any paid gig even if you hear that tiny voice saying your voice isn't the one that should be speaking.

simone eastbro

"@wee_ramekin I'm white, and I often make the mistake of assuming that most other Pinners are white because the only faces that I tend to see on the site are white ones. For example, I read (and liked! w0ot!) your comment on my thread about The Male Ego on last FOT (AGH THE MALE EGO), and it never occurred to me to think that you might be anything other than another white internet lady."

AAAABsolutely not trying to harsh on you in any way, but I think this reaction has way more to do with internalized white privilege and white supremacy than you think it does. It's not an accident that we're surrounded by and privilege the narratives of white people. Nor is it an accident that you (and I--I am not saying I don't do it to) assume that the people you interact with must be white. Has much to do with self-identification and white supremacy, and our surroundings are in no way neutral. I know that doesn't feel good to admit in any way, but I would suggest trying to find a way to talk about the assumptions you make that takes some ownership for/of them.

simone eastbro

@simone eastbro also, @baby crow, i totally improperly attributed your comments above: "I would love to encounter more white feminists who are aware of my history and who don't act paralyzed with guilt or defensiveness every time a discussion of white privilege comes up, and who don't make a huge deal about either of these things." sorry!

wee_ramekin

@simone eastbro Don't worry, Eastbro, I do not feel harshed on!

As I said in comment, I know most of that is on me. I'm a white lady who grew up in a very rural, white area. I went to a very small, mostly white college in a very white state, and though I now live in a diverse city in a much more diverse state, most of my friends are white people. When I think of myself as being a person surrounded by others in a social setting, my brain defaults to "mostly white people".

That dynamic has, for me, played out similarly on this website. Out of the many Pinners that I have become close to on and off the site, only 3-4 of them have ended up being Pinners of color. When I have attended Pin-ups here in Austin, I believe that almost all the Pinners in attendance have been white. As @baby crow was saying, and as Jia said in the main article, it seems like a lot of the contributors to the site are white.

So, yes. It is definitely a problem that I usually assume other Pinners are white. To me, it seems like a lot of that assumption comes from growing up in, and still currently moving among, a pretty racially homogeneous group of people. That's an assumption I obviously need to work on; I'm on The Internet, and it's a much more diverse setting.

I'm curious about how to talk about that experience in a way that takes more ownership of it. What do you think I should say, or realize, that I haven't said? (That's a serious question, by the way, and asked in an honestly inquisitive manner.)

simone eastbro

@wee_ramekin I guess what I mean is, it's not an accident that you grew up in a rural white area, either, you know? Like, it's not anyone's "fault" in an individual sense, but a huge range of systems--how land is commodified and sold, how schools were and were not integrated, POLITICS, whatever--all produced the kind of environment that you grew up in and made it largely white, in the same way that those systems produced the largely-white environment I grew up in (a semi-rural Rust Belt suburb). Likewise, there has long been a set of social norms, tied up in a very long history that is not/is only recently or sort of past and that is invisible to you and me, because we are white, that directs us toward building relationships with other white people. I guess what I'm saying is, we live in a society that has trained our brains to default to "mostly white people" and assigned a lot of value on doing that. That our lives are the way they are is not an accident or politically neutral, and that they are not different is, I think, a symptom of our privilege.

Does that make sense? Like I think you could say, and it would probably be true, and different from sort of passively describing your background, "I have surrounded myself with white people."

baby crow

@simone eastbro great point about there being alternatives! I think that contributes to the feeling of, well, why even bother with the white feminist spaces at this point. these alternatives exist, so many women of color are reluctant to go out of their way to be included in a space that doesn't welcome them -- hence doing away with the feminist identity altogether and creating others.

also, given that those alternative spaces definitely exist on the internet, intentionally adding some of those voices to the blog roll could be a good way to begin to widen your perspective and break out of the "everyone is white" mindset, until those voices perhaps are included in places like the hairpin more often (if that ever happens!). as you said @simone, many white women are unaware of the work that women of color (and other marginalized/underrepresented women) are doing, which I think is a large chunk of the problem. it all contributes to separation and a lack of understanding.

and yeah, I actually also assume that people on the hairpin are white-until-proven-otherwise. I wouldn't do so in other places, but I perceive this as being a predominantly white space, perhaps even moreso than it actually is. and have to remind myself sometimes that it's an anonymous forum and people generally don't preface their comments with their racial identities.
I think the white-as-default is an idea that sneaks into most people's consciousnesses (in the U.S. at least). but whereas for a white person they identify with the default and feel that they are "normal" or regular, for a person of color there's this moment in life where you learn that you are not that. you are not the default, you are the "other". it's definitely a disorienting disconnect and probably more conscious than it would be for many white people who don't ever have to think about the assumption.

simone eastbro

@baby crow you are right on, especially that last paragraph about racial consciousness/default. @wee_ramekin: so yeah, the fact that @baby crow assumes 'Pinners are white, too, is what suggests that it's an inherited or learned bias, that expectation, not that we/everyone "naturally" expect the world to reflect whoever we are.

simone eastbro

@simone eastbro also, i just want to be clear that i am as fucked up as other white folks. i think about this stuff a lot, but i make plenty of mistakes and have plenty of unexamined privilege. (haha, email me if you want to read my blog about privilege?)

Judith Slutler

@baby crow I really like what you're saying here(specifically your last comment). It gets into the basic issue of, why should women of color even be interested in movements like feminism? Because of the access to resources? Because of "solidarity"? All too often I think whites' answer consists of "because we are super nice people" or something about the inherent virtues of integration, but I can see how that's just not enough of an incentive for women of color to want to deal with all the BS that comes from white feminists. For me, it's super important to understand myself to be someone making a request that may be kindly answered, not the person doling out resources or making demands. That is an unusual position for whites to be in, I think. We aren't that good at it.

One other thing that drives me NUTS about these discussions is how when people of color dare to present themselves as an interest group with specific demands for a piece of the pie - just like any other group would - the response can be so racialized. I have to admit that it seriously took some reading about the Civil War and Reconstruction for me to understand just how far back the whole "bootstraps" thing goes. It's ridiculous. I feel like it's probably something whites need to work out amongst ourselves.

Anyway, thanks to Jia part of what I've learned from this is that if I ask for certain content and mention the names of specific women I'd like to hear from, sometimes that actually happens! So that's kind of cool.

Chesty LaRue

@wee_ramekin @simone eastbro @ baby crow @everyone, I guess

I am also someone who grew up in a predominantly white community and moved to a much, much more diverse one. I basically work with all Asian women right now, one Asian man and one Hispanic/Indian man, and I've never really thought about it being a big change. I mean, it's probably a combination of me being too lazy to think beyond my own experiences and expecting a ton more diversity that has lessened the impact of being the only white person who works her e(I actually never realized it til just now), but I don't feel like an outsider in any way. It's a very weird thing when racism/othering happens to you, because it's like, if I worked in an office and I was the only POC of 7 people, would I feel like an outsider? Probably. I don't know how you wouldn't. I am privileged, and so don't feel different among a group of people where I am different. Because, you're right, I think of the things I'm feeling as "normal," and I'm not sure of how much of that is just being a human and how much of that is the deep-rooted privilege of being white.

I'd love to talk to some of the girls at work about some of the things they face as WOC and (I assume I guess) feminists, but in a work environment, is there a place I can start? I don't want to be That Person who just randomly starts asking questions of a POC, but I really really DO want to know about their experiences! I brought up this article to one of the girls, and was saying I am totally one of the white women they're talking about, and she was just like, "haha, yeah." So, I guess I just leave it at that and now that she knows I have some interest in the subject, she can talk to me about it? Or should I ask her if she has any thoughts on it?

It's really jarring to realize I'm a product of a racist society, and by not thinking about these things, I am part of the problem. I mean, I have non-white friends here, but it's not something I ever thought about until now. So I've definitely not surrounded myself with white people, but it wasn't a conscious thing.

I'm totally just rambling at this point, but man, this article and the other one have given me a lot to think about. Awesome, Jia and Mikki and Flavia, and thanks for jolting me out of my lazy worldview.

roadtrips

@Chesty LaRue Here are a few things that come to mind:

1. Listen, don't ask. People will share their experiences if they want to. If someone does share with you, don't say, "I know! A similar thing happened to me." Because it's not the same. Don't minimize someone's experience by saying "I'm sure they didn't mean it" or "that doesn't sound that bad."

2. Let things come up naturally - by specifically bringing up an article about white feminist privilege and then identifying yourself in relationship to it in a conversation with your co-worker, you are putting her on the spot, with an expectation that she'll either respond "oh no, you're not at all" or "Yeah, now that you mention it..." Or even that you expect her to educate you on how to do better. Like any work relationship, it takes time to get to a level of conversational intimacy - a place where people share things other than work related matters. Maybe you've already reached that place - in that case, she'll talk to you about it if she wants to, and won't if she doesn't.

I don't want to make you feel bad, and I should qualify this by saying that I am white and (as Simone pointed out earlier) certainly not immune to participating in and benefiting from systemic and institutional racism and privilege. However, if I have one piece of advice, it would be - DO NOT ask your co-worker if she has thoughts on the article. That puts her in a really shitty position. She might not have read it, or have an opinion at all (I'm assuming you don't work at, for example, a feminist blog, in which case she would almost definitely have an opinion). If she does, she might not want to share it with you.

I'll just finish this (very long comment) to say that I think there is a fine and difficult to see line between creating a safe space and listening and being genuinely interested in someone's life and experience OR asking invasive questions and making someone uncomfortable. I personally always err on the side of courtesy - if you are already in a conversation about race/privilege, ask questions cautiously and judiciously, and allow the conversation to end or shift. Don't press it. If the topic isn't already raised, don't raise it. Create a safe space by doing your best to be self-critical, and to call out racism when/if you see it. Earlier in this thread, I recommended the racism school tumblr, and it really is a great resource if you're interested.

Chesty LaRue

@roadtrips Oh, I was not planning on being like, I read this article, and it applies to me! What did YOU, a person of color think?? I guess I wasn't clear when I said I brought it up, she asked me what I was reading and I told her.
But thanks for the reminders about listening and being conscientious, and especially the tip about letting the conversation flow and/or be led and/or end with the cues of the person whose experiences I am trying to learn about. I... can be a bit of a dominant conversationalist, so great advice, specifically for me.

roadtrips

@Chesty LaRue Ah, cool! I really hope I didn't sound patronizing! This just happens to be something I read/think about a lot and also I am constantly checking myself in conversations!

Chesty LaRue

@roadtrips You're good! I just read your comment and reread and I was like, Oh god, I sound like a turd! I promise, I'm not/trying my best not to be :)

selenana

@wee_ramekin So I'm here, and I've been reading this site for a few years, and commently verrry occasionally (but not enough to be part of the cool kids) and while I really appreciate so much! of the content here, it does often really feel like a exclusive space to which I don't always belong. I feel like a lot of (a majority?) of the contributors and commenters are white and fairly privileged. It feels like pretty much everyone has been to grad school and went to fancy colleges. And it often feels like the default expectation is set on those things: white, privileged, educated.

I love reading smart discourse and I really appreciate the tone of the comments most of the time! I do sometimes wish it was a little more inclusive and less set to those defaults. I appreciate the effots Jia and Emma are trying to make though and I notice every time there's a piece by a POC or a story that's not built as much around privilege.

straw hat

Thanks to everyone involved for this interview! I'll read it carefully over the weekend, but in the meantime before everybody leaves I just wanted to say that I'm so glad to see this here!

frigwiggin

Wonderful--I am so happy to see this kind of thing on the Pin, and I don't have the brainpower to say anything smart or valuable right now, but I do want to voice my support of thoughtful intersectional work around these parts.

or Elsa!

But money helps encourage new voices to make time to pitch, to speak up, to do things in the public eye, and it shows an actual commitment to diversifying the face of feminism.

YES. Thank you, Mikki Kendall, for such concise description of a way forward.

Springtime for Voldemort

So, how do you hold websites that exist first and foremost to get clicks accountable? Because, when Jezebel was publishing Hugo, you could go into the comments and find tons and tons of people pointing out his bad history. Hell, he probably could have published something we all actually agreed with, and he would have still been great clickbait just because people were so pissed off. But then it only fueled the clickbait machine, and Jezebel seemed to publish him more. And then by *not* clicking on his links, and telling people about the shit he'd done, yes, Gawker Media didn't get money from that, but it could also be taken as acquiescence and neutrality instead of a deliberate freeze-out, and didn't help newcomers know what was up.

Quinn A@twitter

Thank you so much for this, Mikki, Flavia, and Jia. I really appreciated it.

Simtow

I'm so excited to read this here! I've been a fan of Mikki since way back, on SWPD, Ankhesen and Witchsistah's blogs, etc., and I'm glad to see the Hairpin centering the voices of these two women.

 clara morena

Thank you hairpin for producing such great stuff!
While I do see and call myself a feminist. I find myself very critical of how feminism overlooks white/upper middle class privilege. In many cases when race is mentioned there is denial of the the relevancy/importance the race of a woman. Issue like colourism, class, colonialism is are ignored in in feminist discussion (well, in places like Jezebel)

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If "I learned a lot from this hashtag" is asking for a cookie, I don't know what this will come out like, but please take this as sincere.

I have just been hired to teach Middle School English, and as it is a private school for almost entirely quite privileged kids, I want to introduce them to the other side of life in some way through essays and the stories we study (I get to pick all of them). Does anyone have a good 7-8th grade appropriate essays or fiction for that matter on the topics discussed above?

janeeeee

Thank you for this excellent interview and thoughtful discussion. There has been a lot discussion on Jezebel and xoJane in the last week or so about where the commentariat who can no longer stand those sites' hypocrisy and bad faith might take our clicks and contributions. I know now where I'll be going.

alex123

The more I typed the more things sprang to mind because I’d been looking at a lot of major issues that just go unreported in magazines that were cover letter editor theoretically by women, for women.

MatildaBear

I know it’s kind of late to chime in, and I usually just lurk, but I feel like I have to speak up and say that I was really disappointed to see those vignettes on poverty in South America reposted here from the Billfold the other week. I love The Hairpin, and I know that it's not my place to try and police what is published here. However, I and several other readers of South American origin pointed out how demeaning it was, and I'm surprised it wasn't obvious to everyone.
My dad is Ecuadorian, and if you saw me in person you would know that I am somehow "exotic." Sadly, this brings on a whole lot of ill-informed and self-involved Eat, Pray, Love ramblings from people who have traveled to Central and South America, along with a fair amount of gross attention from guys with a thing for girls like me. I find both of these situations depressing as hell and equally disgusting. When I get this kind of othering treatment from women whom I respect and trust or in environments where I feel comfortable, it's especially hurtful. I know, I know: that essay wasn't sent directly to my inbox, but it really bothered me to see it taken seriously on a blog about the realities of personal finance, and then reposted on a feminist blog without anyone who wasn't South American batting an eye (save for a lone Peace Corps volunteer).
That being said, I absolutely loved the first installment of An Experience Definitely Worth Allegedly Having, and I am not saying that it's impossible for a white person to write something meaningful about South America or that the topic should be avoided altogether. It’s great to see you guys talking about solidarity and being more inclusive. When it comes to writing about other cultures, however, I would like to see no more lazy, cliched, deadline-inspired Thought Catalog bullshit, and more of the clever, thoughtful writing that is usually here.

selenana

@MatildaBear I'm not South American and I batted an eye and I can't remember if I commented. Sorry if I didn't. But I do recall there were a good number of comments there calling the article out. I remember commenting on stuff I found racist/borderline in the past and got very little support, which was frustrating.

so what?

I'm still absorbing a lot of from this interview and thoughtful comment thread, but I just want to say that I hope to see more pieces and discussion like this in the future. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.

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