Yesterday I got schooled by two feminists of color on twitter, @NanticokeNDN and @thetrudz. It was kind of like being workshopped at life. You get a ton of criticism really fast, and it stings going down, and some of it’s useful and some of it’s not. Thinking through that critique, and implementing it, is helpful and important.
See, I didn’t get it. I had engaged @thetrudz on her critique of Eve Ensler’s HuffPo piece about–“about”–Trayvon, which compared Trayvon’s fear walking down the street to women’s fear walking down the street. There were a lot of problems with Ensler’s piece–one, as Trudy said best, was that it was ultimately “an ADVERTISEMENT” for Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign. Ensler also didn’t acknowledge ways in which white women and black men (and she totally omitted mentioning women of color) are unequal, how privilege distinguishes them. But in a limited way, I thought Ensler made some moves for a white woman audience who wants to empathize better with Trayvon – for example, the 5 white female jurors on the jury that acquitted his murderer. Trudy made the point that empathizing shouldn’t be such a chore. I insisted that for some people, it might not be a chore but empathy is certainly a cognitive task.
Apparently that is “whitesplaining.”
Trudy and PhillyNDN engaged me for a while before I realized they were pissed–I thought it was a conversation, and if they were responding that meant they were down. But ultimately it seemed they felt I was forcing them to educate me when they were off duty, that I wasn’t listening to them, and that I had hijacked their conversation. I was defending Eve Ensler for what was truly an act of exploitation.
Couldn’t I just leave them alone?
It was when I started backpedaling that I really got in trouble. Luckily @NanticokeNDN took a screenshot.
God, seeing them all together like that, it’s really bad. I experienced this exchange as a dialogue. But since these women don’t follow me, all my comments just showed up in their mentions. And in a whole block like that…yeah, I’m embarrassed.
I can’t find the image, but one of the things Bad Philly NDN posted that affected me the most was a quote that said something like, Privileged people can be nice because they have other people to enforce their privilege. Marginalized folks have to struggle. It’s not being rude, it’s being assertive.
And it’s true. I was raised to think I could nice myself out of everything. I would’ve come off way better yesterday if instead of all those weak apologies, above, I’d said something like, “Dude, if you’re annoyed, why are you engaging me? Just ignore me and I disappear.” or “It’s Twitter. It’s a public forum” or whatever.
This exchange really rattled me, and it was supposed to. Whether conscious or not, @thetrudz and @NanticokeNDN were making me feel what they have probably been made to feel many times before: that my voice doesn’t matter, that there is a space in which I am not welcome, that there are boundaries I am not permitted to cross.
Experiencing this made me really feel my privilege. Yes, I felt indignant. I don’t usually get talked to this way. Yes (real talk here) I felt an urge to call up colleagues of color and say, “But I’m not racist, right?” Yes, I felt an aggression, a desire to be flip, to flaunt my privilege, to say, “Well I’ll just go have a glass of wine and watch Orange is the New Black now.”
I like to say that when the revolution comes I’ll also be fighting in the streets, but for lots of folks the revolution already started and they’re in the streets without me. Not on twitter, not on their blogs. Folks are literally in the fucking streets, protesting, and I’m reading. I’m in the classroom. I’m at my computer.
I learned yesterday how it feels to be told to shut the fuck up, to have people talking about you in public like you can’t hear them.
I still don’t accept that my role as a white woman is to stay silent. I teach hiphop studies. I am aware after my PhD I will apply for a job and if I get it I will beat out candidates of color. For that person it won’t matter if I mentor students of color or teach anti-racism in my course. If advocacy is a zero-sum game, then when I speak, someone else can’t. I’ll always do my best to highlight my sources, but it’s true that in a white supremacist country, I’ll have more opportunities while saying the same things as women of color.
I talk about race and class and gender because I live in this country with open eyes and these are my truths too, even if they hit me differently or not as hard.
On Sunday night my boyfriend and I spent a long time talking about white privilege. Like a lot of other anti-racist white folks in this country, in the wake of the Zimmerman disaster we were sort of wondering…what to do. There were protests going on in San Francisco and Oakland, but we didn’t drive over to them. We just felt awful and then got in bed and watched TV.