Thursday, April 17, 2008

White Privilege and Responsibility, Pt. 1

It's amazing how much this topic has come up in my life lately. I mentioned in the previous post that I ended up talking about white privilege and responsibility at a recent dinner party, and just last night at work, responsibility was the watchword again. A coworker of mine is in a same-sex relationship, and she said that she can't be angry anymore. That if she spends all of her time fighting people who treat her as though she is something horrible, fighting people who want to keep her from being able to enjoy the rights that those in opposite-sex relationships enjoy, fighting people who would stamp her out of existence if they could, then all she will do is be angry all the time and it would destroy her. This came up, because I was talking about it being a responsibility to confront "isms" when they meet you, and I then had to clarify. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed group to do the confronting. They hold up that end every day by simply being who they are. It is the responsibility of the group in power to speak up and stand up. Silence is alliance. Pure and simple.

Today, Brownfemipower posted this, which I think sums up my feelings on the Marcotte debacle:

white feminists bear a responsibility (that they are NOT accepting and in fact are actively rejecting) to negotiate power and create spaces (while working alongside or a step behind marginalized communities) in which power is de-centralized

Of the blogs that I love, very, very few of them have responded in a way that I think comes close to addressing the issue here. Feministing has to be my favorite blog ever, and I was crestfallen at the response by the bloggers over there. By continuing to focus on plagiarism, which was never, ever, the issue, they dodge any real responsibility. Is Marcotte a plagiarist? No. Was that the problem? No. Anyone who paid attention to what BFP was saying would know the issue was responsibility and feminist community. We failed her. Miserably. And now there is one less brilliant feminist in the world. We turned our backs on a woman who needed us, choosing instead to give Marcotte a pass. I understand that Marcotte with the same publisher as a lot of feminist bloggers. I understand that she's a colleague. But, why wasn't BFP a colleague?

I also have a lot of trouble with all of the patting on the back that white feminist bloggers are getting for half-assed non-responses that were posted after the fact. BFP has pointed out that without community, there is no movement. When you don't stand by your fellow feminists, when you don't take on the responsibility to back the underdog, you collapse any sense of community there was, and you collapse the movement. I see here that we are repeating the same mistakes that we call earlier generations of feminists out on and it's heartbreaking and embarrassing. I can't imagine the level of betrayal felt.

If I haven't said it enough: Responsibility, Responsibility, Responsibility. If you have power. Any kind of power. And you don't use it to stand in solidarity with those who don't? You are a coward. You uphold racism. You perpetuate it. You reap the benefits of it. I'd like to echo Melissa McEwan here: You can't shirk this responsibility and be progressive. And you damn sure can't shirk this responsibility and be a feminist.


Cara said...

KMP, thank you for this post. You're right.

I wanted to ask, because I know how contentious this issue is and because I know the kinds of traffic it could bring you, if it is okay if I link to this post. I'm writing a post on this very topic right now, though I don't think that it will go up until tomorrow. And of course, I have no idea how it's going to go down, but I can imagine that it might not be pretty. But this post is what inspired me. So regardless of your answer, I wanted to say thanks.

kissmypineapple said...

I emailed you, too, but yeah, I would love it if you linked to me, and thank you so much for reading and responding. Most of the time, I don't mind that I'm sort of writing into the ethos, but this was really important to me, so it's nice to see that someone else thought it was important, too.

Al said...


Came over from Cara's site and was pleased - as well as relieved - to see your post. It definitely is not the majority opinion, or at least the one being vocalized anyway, but it is none the less the only ethical one. It makes me angry to a mind numbing degree that this issue is thought to be in any way complicated. It's not. Really, it's pretty basic and comes down to what you said; responsibility.

In a movement that has many aspects of it steeped in some very involved and ambitious theory, this is not one. Hopefully people will start doing the right thing.

Bianca Reagan said...

I get tired, too. I'm glad that someone has recognized that it isn't only one person's responsibility to fight. It's everyone's responsibility.

kakodaimon said...

Man, I knew there was something wrong about Feministing's response, but couldn't identify it until now. Yes. OK, now you have five readers (since you said you have four). :D