Marcotte’s Jungle: People Make Mistakes

We have such a deeply ingrained “gotcha” culture that the natural response to an asshole move, whether intentional or not on the part of the guilty, is to condemn that person as a whole and eschew their contributions entirely. This is a grave mistake to make, as it sacrifices what that person might have accomplished, but also our own integrity. Are we without awful mistakes?

I know I am not.

Therefore when someone makes an honest mistake, I am most likely to take a step back and consider it fully. When I read this over at Our Descent Into Madness, I was shocked:

Via Off Our Pedestals, this is absolutely unbelievable.

Let me just say, to the people (coughMARCOTTEcoughSEALcough) responsible for that particular bit of total bullshit: don’t you fucking dare claim ignorance of this one. This isn’t an oversight, this isn’t a failure to acknowledge someone. This is an obvious act of racism. Someone proposed this. Other considered and approved it. This is deliberate, or, if not deliberate, such a massive blunder that those responsible are as culpable as if it has been intentional. This is so blatantly racist, I cannot respect anyone involved. Ever. Again.

Thank you, though, for finally being upfront about the fact that when you say “women” you really do only mean “white women,” if not an even narrower group than that.

So I read. I read Jill’s take on Feministe, Amanda’s apology, and Seal Press’s Apology (emphasis mine):

We also extend this apology to the author, Amanda Marcotte, who did not select these images for her book. Writing humor is very difficult. While our intention was to complement your words, we see that these images have had the opposite effect, and for that, we are sorry.

I’ll say it right now, that Amanda’s book is too important a starting point to let fail because of a slip up like this. We need to be training each other to be more effective and aggressive in hostile environments to survive and thrive as progressives, as liberals. That said, the issues raised by this fuck up are as important to deal with as they are difficult (Karnythia, emphasis mine):

I’ve made no bones in the past about my feelings that feminism by and large has very little to do with actually helping all women and is really just for white women. Oh, I know it espouses anti-racist ideology, but it has never failed to escape my attention (or the attention of other WOC) that feminism has a distressing tendency to focus on the concerns of middle class white women while ignoring the realities of racism and colonialism and anything remotely to do with intersectionality between gender and race. It doesn’t help that I’ve seen white feminists assume a very paternalistic attitude with WOC particularly when it came to discussions about issues involving MOC while ignoring their own internalized racism.

I suppose that depends on which feminists we are talking about.

She continues:

So where does that leave WOC and feminism? Frankly we’re at a point where it’s time for feminism to either get it together, or for us to leave it where it is and continue on with our own progressive movements. There’s been some talk for years about how feminism is comprised of multiple movements and until now that’s been enough for me. But I think that I’ve been deluding myself by thinking that the behavior of the allies that do get it trumps the hurt spawned by the bigots calling themselves feminists. I can’t take calls for sisterhood or solidarity seriously from white feminists at this point and I’m sure someone is going to call that attitude racist. And that’s their lookout, but I can’t stand in sisterhood with someone that’s (maybe) willing to knife me in the back and it’s taking too much effort to try to weed out the ones that are really allies from the ones that are only claiming the title.

I feel like this is the wrong approach. Feminism shouldn’t become a dirty word because the final straw to break the camel’s back was a publisher including racist images in a book, and the author failing to catch it. Rather, this should be an invitation to open up those aspects of feminism Karynthia correctly sees as underserved. Pam writes:

Well since the train has already left the station — with Amanda’s forthright, all-laid bare apology already out there, all I can say is yes, those images are inappropriate, and certainly would have been called out if, say, someone on the right used them in a tome. The difference, since Amanda obviously wasn’t attempting to promote a white supremacy theme in the book, is the blind spot of white privilege, in this case Seal Press, which has an apology on its site.

Please know that neither the cover, nor the interior images, were meant to make any serious statement. We were hoping for a campy, retro package to complement the author’s humor. That is all. We were not thinking.As an organization, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings offered here in the Bay Area. We want to incorporate race analysis into our work.

As folks know, I discuss race matters a lot and this deserves some attention because this kind of blind spot occurs all the time, and it’s not only in the context of race (or, as we also see in the imagery, gender). The blind spot is that some white progressives, in their zeal to believe we are a post-racial society, in this case the publisher, just assumed everyone only sees camp in the images.

Rather then condemning allies for having a blind spot, we ought to be pointing it out:

What’s most important is that people need to keep discussing race in an open and honest way, instead of sweeping it under the rug or automatically running to defensive corners.

When it comes down to it we are allies, all of us progressives. We are here to strengthen each other and aid each other in making the world a more just and compassionate place. Jill hits on the same point Pam makes (emphasis mine):

When that didn’t happen, she should have listened to the valid concerns of women of color instead of coming in with her dukes up. The initial article could have shared the wealth of such a wide audience by spreading the word about the WOC-run organizations and the WOC-penned articles and ideas that have laid the foundation for this work; after the article ran and concerns were raised, they could have been responded to with care, not anger and defensiveness.

Amanda Marcotte is a person of rare strength and good character. She is not defended lightly or reflexively. I’m standing in her corner because of that character and her work, and what it means for the progressive community. But I am also doing so to warmly invite further discussion and analysis of the problems our community as a whole has with issues outside our direct expertise or even interest. If we can figure out that balance between inclusiveness and focus, and use this as an opportunity to grow closer together as a movement, then we’ll emerge stronger and better prepared to affect change. I sincerely hope we can do that.

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11 Responses

  1. I think your position on this is a fairly reasonable one, Dan, but it’s not one I think I can take. This comes not just in the middle of a crazy battle about Marcotte writing about immigration without giving so much as a nod to the people of color who’ve been saying what she said for years, not only in the wake of a series of bizarre and extremely rude interactions from Seal to various bloggers, mostly women of color (not to mention the history here, i.e. FFF), but also after the issue of racist imagery has already come up once with this book — the original cover was the same racism-posing-as-irony situation, neither Seal nor Marcotte saw anything wrong, people complained, it got changed. This exact fuck up, with the exact same people, has already played out at least three times… Oh no wait, remember “burqagate”? Another case of racist imagery as ironic humor? So that’s four times. How many chances should she get before it’s clear she’s not interested in learning, not interested in feminism being a movement for women (not just straight white middle class able-bodied US-American women)?

    Also, as an exercise, compare and contrast Amanda’s apology with Jill’s.

  2. I’m standing in her corner because of that character and her work, and what it means for the progressive community. But I am also doing so to warmly invite further discussion and analysis of the problems our community as a whole has with issues outside our direct expertise or even interest.

    There is something serious wrong with our community if people of color and anti-racism are “outside out direct expertise or even interest.”

    It’s sort of like, if you remember some of the complaints with Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism: yeah, she made en effort to “include” poor women and women of color and queer women. But if it’s a straight white able-bodied middle class US-American ladies club, and everyone else just gets invited over to the table by that group, there’s something — those people should already be at the table. Those people should be part of the conversation, not outsiders getting invited in.

    If we can figure out that balance between inclusiveness and focus

    See, that’s just it: why would including women in the women’s movement be something we need to balance with maintaining focus? Only if the focus is really on one teenie tiny sliver of women. If it’s on all women, then racism is a feminist issue. Classism is a feminist issue. Etc.

  3. Hi Daisy,

    Wow. I have to admit I didn’t know the same fuck up had happened before. If it had, why not just quickly scan the whole book for the same issue? That is bullshit.

    I think she is interested in learning and growing as a feminist and a person, and I am loathe to condemn her because of it. But Your points are dead on. I can easily see how you stand by your position, and you are doing so in a way that is definitely causing me to evaluate my own more harshly.

    What struck me about Amanda’s apology, aside from the sincerity and directness of it, was that it was short, and didn’t raise any of the issues Jill’s waded right into. I think that was ok for the apology, but to regain and establish trust, as well as heal a growing divide within feminism, I think she ought to jump into.

    When I said “outside direct expertise or even interest”, I should have been more specific. I was thinking of criticisms (such as Michael D’s “what about the homeless? Gay rights aren’t as important!” comments), and openings for criticisms (such as divergent goals and pet protests during war protests). Both the left and the right struggle with playing the unity game, but how well we play it ultimately decides our power base in elections and applying social pressure. Issues of racism, gender identity, and in general the politics and sociology of power are central to feminism. But for people who focus on one particular aspect of feminism, I think it is wiser to find a way to unite with those who have similar interests and goals, rather than divide ourselves along our differences.

    (The whole idea of inclusiveness and focus makes the most sense in terms of war protests. We want to include everyone, but focus on the task at hand (namely the war protest).)

  4. Rather then condemning allies for having a blind spot, we ought to be pointing it out

    Yeah, the problem with this statement is that it has been pointed out to these “allies” multiple times over many months and, perhaps, years, and yet this crap keeps happening therefore, the onus is no longer on Women of Color to be patient with white feminists. You talk about this incident as if it happened in isolation – no, my friend, it did not. perhaps you have a short memory, or perhaps you haven’t been paying enough attention to WOC bloggers. This has been an issue since the day I first started my blog some 3 years ago, and even back then the conversation was pretty old.

  5. ABW,

    Does it keep happening with Amanda Marcotte specifically? Or is it one white feminist after another making the same mistake?

    I would say I need to pay more attention, definitely. Do you happen to have specific posts in mind that might make a good read/post about?

  6. Yeah, the fact that it’s happened again and again is really the key point here. I would never write someone off for one mistake, even if it were a pretty bad one. But making the same mistake — after so many people have already been so hurt by previous iterations, and such great effort has been made by so many to speak out, to explain what was wrong… That gets me. The apparently willful ignorance tehre gets me.

    To draw the parallel again, it’s like when that horrible FFF stuff went down, and then not a year later Valenti issued that call for submissions that was riddled with the exact same bias. How can someone not absorb any of that? Someone who is supposed to care?

    What struck me about Amanda’s apology, aside from the sincerity and directness of it, was that it was short, and didn’t raise any of the issues Jill’s waded right into. I think that was ok for the apology, but to regain and establish trust, as well as heal a growing divide within feminism, I think she ought to jump into.

    My impressions exactly. I don’t know whether she’s taken that next step — I’ve de-blogrolled her, for whatever that’s worth — but I very much hope she has. And if not, everyone’s worst suspicions have been confirmed.

    Thanks for the clarification re: inclusiveness. I see where you’re coming from there.

  7. Daisy,

    Shit. Dammnit. That gets me too.

    That’s a good question. (I’m actually not familiar with the FFF controversy, although I did read some interesting stuff about controversy surrounding the controversy over at Zuky. I do know that some “feminist” criticism of Valenti is utter bullshit).

    Were your follow up comment (and ABW’s comment) leave me is in a necessarily uncomfortable place. In this case we have a writer whose work I’ve followed for years now, whose politics I identify with and whose ethics I admire, who clearly repeated a hurtful mistake. Looking over the (now) 390 some comments to her apology post, Karnythia’s popped up:

    Where exactly is the outrage that WOC are dealing with racism inside the very movement that’s supposed to be welcoming us? Where is the acknowledgement that WOC are not having the same experience as white women? Or the recognition that white privilege is a blanket that covers white women too? Oh wait, I know what’s happening here, I slipped up and believed the hype about sisterhood and solidarity when the truth is that feminism was never really for or about WOC. It’s all about white women having the right to be oppressors too. Don’t believe me? Just look at the art that Amanda found ironic and Seal Press thought was a perfect fit for her book.

    I don’t know if Amanda will respond to this with a post of her own delving into issues of race and privilege. I hope she will, because I think it will help, and in general is a useful thing to do. Perhaps I can fire one off myself. One of the comments over there just sparked an idea for a post.

    Thanks, btw. For writing the initial post (I’ve been so busy lately I might have missed it otherwise!) and for both you and ABW taking the time to discuss the issues raised.

  8. […] Comments Dan (Fitness) on Marcotte’s Jungle: Peopl…Daisy on Marcotte’s Jungle: Peopl…brian on Insanity on Obama, Fox, Clinto…brian […]

  9. Hey, I couldn’t be happier to discuss these issues with someone who wants to listen! That’s the whole thing that’s missing.

    : )

  10. A good discussion … Dan, in retrospect, what do you think of your original post not that you’ve got some additional background about the pattern of events and reactions?

  11. Daisy,
    Thanks 🙂

    jon,
    I feel like I still don’t know enough about the issue, and I have some difficult questions to ask myself about privilege. Specifically straight privilege, and white privilege. There’s a lot more below the surface here.

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