It's rough, living in the Intersection. Especially when you feel like your allies are only allies sometimes, not all the time.
When I was first asked to write the inaugural piece for the launch of the RaceGender DiscrimiNATION forum by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse some time ago, I intended to clean up and repost a very old piece I wrote here called A Black Woman's Musings on Coffee with Dad, Racism and Barack Obama as an example of the frustrations and difficulties women of color have in communicating across the chasm of race about the unconscious nature of racism practiced by allies. The comments to that diary, and the somewhat delayed reaction of the diarist which was highly defensive and seemed to emotionally embrace that she'd been victimized by the diary, to me exemplified a phenomena that has been discussed here many times: the unconscious exercise of white privilege generally and by white women in particular. The reactions to that diary, which was about the unconscious racism that too many supporters of Barack Obama demonstrated in the arguments they chose to make the case for his presidency, were notable. Most of them really didn't talk about the substance of the diary, initially. Most were about how I should cut the diarist some slack (even though I never said a mean word in that diary) because she "meant well." Most of them contained the rhetorical assumption that, by "calling out" the well-meaning diarist's arguments to her father in support of the impending election of President Obama for what they were, I was victimizing her.
I thought then, and still do today, that the reactions to that diary were an apt example of the fundamental problem we who are Black women face whenever we try to discuss matters of politics across racial lines: expectations about our behavior that (a) dismiss the merits of what we are trying to say as secondary to "how" it is emotionally perceived and (b) presume that at any given moment, some poor white person is at risk of harm if we express frustration about the ongoing unconscious racism we see in allies, such that it is more important to "protect" them from us online and ensure that their "good will" is defended, without regard to whether that person's conduct is defensible.
I was going to write about that diary and the comments, in hindsight. However, two weeks ago an event occurred that eliminated the need for me to discuss that long-ago diary. Because we have a brand new example that highlights even more starkly the problem, and the challenge for this new Daily Kos series.
Follow me below the squiggly thing to understand why.
Last week saw the final part of the public meltdown of America's "most feminist male feminist", Hugo Schwyzer. Mr. Schwyzer had become quite famous in online feminist spaces because of his assertions of having been "reborn" into feminism, following a life that, needless to say, was misogynist, criminal and thuggish (for a white boy) beyond belief. Oh, he was also a stank ho, by all accounts, who seemed to believe that if you were a true feminist you'd understand the power of the "facial" (P.S. please no fussing here about my use of the word 'ho', dear "feminist" folks who refuse to accept that in the Black community it is a gender-neutral word.)
He was embraced by mainstream online feminist sites, Jezebel being at the top of the list. His online fame quickly led to his voice becoming one of prominence as an authority on "male feminism" in other venues as well. He was on TV, in print media, and ultimately elevated to the role of History and Gender Studies professor at Pasadena College where he could, apparently, bring porn stars into his class to teach.
Some feminist bloggers began questioning Schwyzer's bona fides early on, years and years ago. But hey-wait-a-minute drumbeat began in earnest early in 2012, last year, following a series of admissions by him to (a) trying to once murder his ex girlfriend and (b) sexting young women who did not invite such sexting even as he was decrying the imbalance of power inherent in age-disparate female relationships. Many of these bloggers were women of color in the diaspora and highlighted that for years Schwyzer had been saying racist things and defended for it merely because he was a claimed "enlightened" "reborn" "male feminist."Many rightfully pointed out that if a Black male had admitted to the things that Schwyzer admitted doing, not only would he NOT be given prominence on a feminist blog, he'd have likely found his ass under the prison. Their pieces were about white privilege as much as about the highly problematic nature of feminism embracing someone like Schwyzer as the public face of male feminism given his racism.
These attacks were directed at women like Flavia Dzodan, a Latina expat blogger of real fame. Like brownfemipower, whose internet bonafides should need no introduction. Like blackamazon, who just (I admit it) rocks my world. Naturally, in response Schwyzer retaliated, attacking each of these women, in response to them each highlighting various problems with Schwyer's schtick. What shouldn't have been natural, however, was self-proclaimed white feminists' response. Mainstream white feminism not only, by and large, fell for his schtick, they became attack dogs against women of color bloggers who were NEVER fooled by Hugh Schwyzer, and who routinely found themselves attacked by him. Feminist sites such as Jezebel went out of their way to dismiss, silence, or eliminate (apparently with Schwyzer's backing in at least one case) the voices of color. Feministe closed comments on the thread in which it was disclosed that Schwyzer tried to kill an ex-girlfriend well after the date he was supposedly "redeemed". Jezebel, which had made Schwyzer a featured writer, at one point allegedly went so far as to ban some of the women of color who were making clear that they thought Schwyzer was anti-feminist, racist and just overall bad news to boot.
This has gone on for years, largely under the radar unless you were following Schwyzer. Under the radar despite loud, Black and Latina voices constantly trying to be believed about what Schwyzer really is/was (despite what he said he was). As brownfemipower wrote before last week's meltdown, but after Schwyzer first claimed to having said the day before that he was "surrendering" to all those hateful "people" ("the takedown culture", which in context means "all those mean nonwhite women") who wanted him gone and who were "mean":
the whole point: feminists love to say “trust women.” but women of color have said that hugo is bad news since WELL before feminism as a whole decided hugo was horrible. women of color said hugo was bad news, posted critiques, challenged him in multiple ways at multiple times—and yet, he was the one who got speaking engagements, book deals, writing gigs, and feminist based defenses of not only his work but his character.
hugo now has multiple articles in multiple places written about why he is “leaving” (i.e. deflecting, ie. managing fall out), none of which mention the critique of women of color, or that how he treated women of color has been on display for all to see and that his treatment is NOT just some “old news” that years ago when he was heavily drinking he “made mistakes” and tried to kill his girlfriend.
hugo knows that the “women” he needs to treat well are white. . . .
feminists say “trust women”—but a white man knows there are some women that feminism won’t trust. those women do not get multiple media outlets calling them asking them to “tell their story.” those women do not get “poor woman” stories written about them. those women don’t get apologies. those women lose jobs, and people are GLAD (oh, cuz remember how concerned everybody was that poor amanda would lose writing gigs?).
that is feminism. that. white women nurturing spaces where men are believed.
Well, last week, in a Twitterstorm, Schwyzer admitted that those who had called him a misogynist asshole had it right. He admitted that, contrary to the redemption story, he'd been reveling in the attention he got playing white online feminism for a fool. He levied "apologies" to all the high profile white bloggers he'd duped over the years (notably, he has issued no apology to any of his WoC critics), claiming he just wanted "to be part of the community so bad. All those feminists who had rended garments over his departure had been played.
Or, as Malcolm would have said, they been had. They been took.
Naturally, as was their right, Flavia Dzodan, brownfemipower, and others all made a point of saying "We told you so" upon hearing of this confession. They also did something else: they noted publicly that Schwyzer's claims of being "bullied" out of the internet were directly related to the relentless efforts of women of color feminists to tell the truth about him over the years, his current insistence about a mean "man tweet" being lobbed at him as the reason being telling evidence of the dismissal of women of color feminist voices:
i think it’s important to ask WHY hugo says he’s leaving because of the tweet of a white guy—after years and YEARS of women of color challenging him.
white women are now all outraged that “he’s leaving cuz of a MAN when WE’RE the ones who..”
NO—women of color were the ones who.
and he didn’t leave after all this time that women of color have been challenging him because he KNOWS that women of color are not considered a legitimate threat. he KNOWS that white *F*eminists studiously work to ignore women of color. he KNOWS that unwritten code language that we’re all loud mouth trouble makers and so he doesn’t HAVE to even legitimize what a woman of color says by addressing them (YOU BETTER PROVE IT).
but when a white man says something…THAT is when he knows he’s on shaky ground.
As brownfemipower noted last week:
and to be clear, before anybody starts. what i said: hugo is where he is today because of white feminists. they created, nurtured, supported him. the relationship between them was mutually beneficial. this is a pattern of institutional feminism. friendship=solidarity through resource sharing.
i don’t care if it was deliberate. . .
Perhaps this is why not one of the mainstream feminist blogs--Jezebel, Feminist, xoJane, none of them--has apologized for their support of Schwyzer against the many women, of color and non-, who pointed out in particular Schwyzer's racism. Instead, there have been a variety of pieces by prominent feminists making excuses, largely about the "power of redemption narratives".
With nary a word about the fact that mainstream online feminism had completely dismissed the voices of women of color who were right along about Schwyzer.
. Excuses for his his self-asserted bipolar disorder, about his admitted stank-ho cheating behavior and abuse of women
. All attempting to generate sympathy for him, literally contending that confused about why it wasn't OK to feel sorry for Schwyzer
even if one was upset about Schwyzer's treatment of WoC bloggers both on and off blog. Minimizing the harm he caused to the online feminist cause because, even if he was a dick, he was apparently sincere
Because women of color generally don't fail to notice when their voices have been dissed and dismissed in a backhanded fashion any more than they fail to notice the overt diss, they reacted, badly, to all this excuse making about Schwyzer (and about how he treated women of color bloggers) merely because he'd been a highly public voice for feminism all these years.
Thus, as part of the fallout, and in the face of the silence from mainstream feminist bloggers about the wrong that womanists had been done, a serious Twitter discussion began under the hashtag "#SolidarityisforWhiteWomen". It raged for several days and is still active. It's a theme: that whites, but especially women are only sometime allies when it comes to feminism (especially when making money is concerned.) That even in feminism, race trumps gender and a white man who admits to being a horrible misogynist will get far more traction than women of color.
This, of course, merely caused Schwyzer to pull out his racist freak flag as it relates to his sense that he gets to say what it is legitimate for women of color to think/feel/discuss again, white-knight defending the white feminists blogs that had defended him in the past and insisting that "A mistake in judgment is not a call for a summit on race relations."
(WoC bloggers have rightfully basically told Schwyzer to kiss their ass and STFU in response.)
But that's not all. Once word about the "#SolidarityisforWhiteWomen" hashtag got out, the other predictable part started: defensiveness. Myriad expressions by white feminists of "confusion", of feeling hurt, and of feeling attacked, because they had supported Schwyzer in the past. (One, the editor of Jezebel who has so far remained silent about her complicity in elevating this misogynist to a position of honor and silencing voices of color in opposition, went to the well of snarky, dismissive insult.) Indeed, as noted by several, for most white feminists reacting to this situation Schwyzer was a known "authority" on feminism whereas those female voices of color who had been calling him out for years were "nobodies" and this played into the legitimization by online feminism of not only misogyny through a white man's voice, but racism too:
the most discouraging and upsetting thing in wake of all this crap to me is how many people have said “who are those people?” (that is: blackamazon, brownfemipower, flavia) and what happened?
i really hope people use the “opportunity” to interrogate why nobody seems to know about the history of women of color in the blogosphere. . .why don’t you know our history as it exists outside of the relationship with white supremacy? how often does this lack of knowledge/historical awareness happen throughout US feminism? from the beginning of the US in that damn senneca falls meeting?
. . .why was hugo so aware of our presence, but so many white feminists are just confused right now? (or “behind the curve”?)
The most recent salvo? A diary written by another prominent feminist blogger that does not mention either Schwyzer or women of color bloggers by name--but nonetheless is calling for "politeness" in feminist dialogue.
Here's the thing that I, as a Black woman, really resent. Mr. Crazy-as-a-Bedbug Schweyzer was a high profile, paid contributor on the issue of "feminism" including at sites whose entire bread and butter is Feminism: Feministe, Jezebel, xoJane, you name it. His credibility, as a claimed-redeemed male feminist despite him having admitted to having tried to murder his girlfriend before he was "enlightened", was established on their backs.
In case it isn't clear, here's the plain truth: nothing about bipolar disease justified Schwyzer having been a fierce attack dog against female voices of color. Nothing about it justifies or excuses mainstream feminism's taking his side over and over again against womanists who valiantly tried to bring the truth to everyone's attention--and been vilified and shut out of prominence in feminist circles for it.
In that, Flavia Dzodan (who, even though she is retired from online blogging, has been inundated with requests for comment ever since the Schwyzer meltdown) speaks for all Women of Color bloggers about the fundamental problem with online feminism as it has become represented today:
In the past week I’ve gotten half dozen or more media requests about Hugo Schwyzer. Did I have something to say? What did I think about him quitting the internet? I wasn’t even aware he had quit until the emails started coming in. . . And then, I started to frantically search for the apologies, the accountability, the mea culpas. I searched in vain because I am not interested in his apologies or his accountability (LOL as if there was going to be any to begin with). No, I wanted to find the apologies from every editor in a major publication that gave him a paid gig so that he could become the “Hugo Schwyzer brand” (LOL again, he called sexting and dick pics “off brand”). I wanted the media that celebrated all the page clicks his filthy faux feminism brought in to publicly acknowledge their role in creating the toxicity that enabled his rise to fame. I wanted Jezebel’s Editor in Chief, Jessica Coen, to acknowledge how she contributed to this disaster every time she banned commenters protesting his presence. I wanted her and his editors at The Atlantic and Jane Pratt from xoJane to look at us in the metaphorical eye, and say “I am sorry”. I was expecting some sort of ethical acknowledgement of the role that the media they manage played in his systematic abuse of any dissenters. Women like Blackamazon, like brownfemipower and countless others he systematically belittled and demonized deserved the public apology. The women, and it is no coincidence he systematically picked on Women of Color, whose lives he insulted and put down deserved this apology. Even I deserved better considering how he went through back channels to have me removed from blogs and publications where I contribute to because I dared criticize his posturing and tales of redemption. . .
I despise his ideology. This is no news to anyone. However . . .I despise the TMZ of feminist media that “reports” our issues and sells us a lip gloss version of our politics and gives space to people like him so that he can shit on us and tell us how we should take it in the face while he puts Women of Color in “their (our) places”. This is how White Supremacy works and I am pointing all my fingers at Jezebel and xoJane and The Atlantic and every other publication that paid him to publish his repulsive opinions. . .The shame is on every editor that thought selling women like Blackamazon or brownfemipower (or even my fucking self) for page clicks was a worthy trade off. Each and every one of those editors that knew what he was, how he acted and how his misogynist racism operated behind the scenes has played a part in this. And you get to “represent” feminism. . .And don’t say you weren’t warned. Countless others aside from myself had extensively documented his antics, his skeevy politics, his racism, his misogyny. But he brought the page clicks. At our fucking expense. Sisterhood! Yay!
Herein lies another problem with this toxic media environment that supposedly represents feminism: if you protest too loudly or not using the right platitudes or if you go after the gate keepers, you can forget to be included. . . The fact that Hugo Schwyzer, white knight extraordinaire, defender of the likes of Amanda Marcotte against a “horde” of mean Women of Color was paid to write about feminist issues while someone like brownfemipower was confined to the category of “trouble maker” is testament of these dynamics at play. I insist, the media that paid him to write, plus every gig, speaking engagement, interview, authoritative quote, TV appearance he did on behalf of feminism is a slap on the face of every Woman of Color he belittled and worked against.
There is no justice in him leaving the internet (LOL as if, mark my words, he will be back and probably with a book deal). . . It would have been justice if, instead of giving him a space, those publications would have hired Women of Color to amplify the voices he worked so hard to silence. . .
I stopped blogging a couple of months ago because I felt like a merchant of pain and death. I can only write about those topics that I know first hand and they almost always come with pain. . . Now, I write this and realize that Hugo Schwyzer’s popularity is a direct cause of our pain. He got to be a protagonist in the history of feminist blogging, even celebrated by some; Women of Color get to fill the supporting role of killjoys and discontents. His leaving the internet (no matter for how long) is no justice for us because our lives, our pain and our dead are still not honored.
It is with this recent event in mind, as well as recollections about the comments in reaction to my long-ago "Black Woman's Musings" diary as well as other diaries I have written focused on feminism from the perspective of Black womanhood, that I post this diary with hopeful trepidation. I have real hopes for the series, RaceGender DiscrimiNATION. Else, I would not have agreed to participate. Yet I worry, already, whether it too will fall victim to the phenomena that devalues Black perspectives as having value, that fails to see that it is impossible for Black women to be "outside the Intersection" of race and gender (it is not something most of us want in any event) and that this intersection, sometimes, gives us a greater clarity of vision than we are given credit for.
Even though he was a man writing to ministers, not women, in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed up the dilemma that many of us who are WBoC (Women Bloggers of Color) face in trying to have an honest dialogue about the best methods to further the larger, global, cause of liberation for women:
I must make two honest confessions to you. . .I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
. . .I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension. . .is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. . .We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
Dr. King's dilemma when faced with the demands from the white religious community is the same as the dilemma of Womanists. We may be fighting for the same objective cause of "equality for women" but we are fighting from different perspectives, and for different end games, always aware that in just a heartbeat, everything we stand for can be dismissed outright, even if it has been cooptated before. Just because of the differences in how
we speak to those who, deep down, still insist in practice upon the deference to their authority based upon race that they insist in theory they have rejected.
If we speak as Black women, from the Intersection in which our race can never be separated from our gender, we are accused of being divisive. Of being angry. Of being shut out. Of having the majoritarian condition of "politeness" imposed upon us externally as a condition of having validity of voice. Even in circumstances where, as is the case of Hugo Schwyzer, nobody should be worried about being "polite", but instead about what the embrace and historical defense of such a racist, such a misogynist, human against WBoC that were all saying, "this man is some bullshit" says about the mainstream feminism, and about mainstream feminism generally. And what it says about the role of women of color in it.
There is some reason for hope. It's reflected in pieces like "We Need to Talk About Hugo, Race and Feminism", written by Bitch Media in response to the Schwyzer debacle. And in this piece, "Now Collecting: Hugo Schwyzer Apologists", posted at the White Feminist Collection Agency. They get it. How serious this episode is, and the crystal-clear window it opens upon both the need for an intersectional of feminism and for accepting as legitimate (as the first order of business, not only when left with no choice) the voices of women of color.
Hopefully, this series, which will cover many things about race and gender from many perspectives other than mine, will help others get it, too. Because as Shanelle Matthews aptly said it in her piece on the "#SolidarityisforWhiteWomen" dustup:
I was reminded that traditional feminism is not inherently intersectional – the liberation of women of color was an addendum to the narrowly constructed philosophy. And, that when there are “systems” involved, nobody is to blame for the continual abuse and oppression of people of color, specifically women of color. Therefore no action is necessary, no lessons are learned and we recycle this precarious vortex of shit over and over again.
Allyship (being an ally), a subjective concept that plays out differently for everyone, culminates with the act of “showing up.” Showing up means very different things in the contexts of various situations but the general idea is that if shit goes down you have my back. The devil’s is the details and in the feminist sphere we’ve long struggled with engaging privileged white feminists to show up for women of color – in policy, academia, leadership and often in the media. The operative word in yesterday’s hashtag was solidarity, which is the meat and potatoes of being an ally. While it isn’t my responsibility, nor the responsibility of women who look like me, to coach white feminists on how to show up for us, I’ll hint that negligently perpetuating the systems that oppress us and then opting to be silent about your complicities is the opposite of solidarity.
RaceGender DiscrimiNATION is new Daily Kos Series, starting this Sunday, August 18 with Shanikka posting at 11 am Pacific Time
RaceGender DiscrimiNATION is a group focused on the historical and contemporary issues of prejudice, discrimination and hate based on race and gender as well as the intersection of race and gender. We will discuss the impacts on our rights to equality and fundamental human rights and freedoms in all aspects of our lives, including political, social, cultural, educational, personal and economic.
Editors: Aji, Avila, BroadBlogs, dopper0189, GenXangster, Glen The Plumber, hepshiba, JekyllnHyde, mallyroyal, Nulwee, Ojibwa, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, rb137, remembrance, rserven, shanikka, Vyan and tim wise.