Shiftwork and Activism
From my Facebook Page:
I am going to make a request. While i have tried to be very vocal about this, and the majority of people are respectful, I need to make it clear:
I am a night shift nurse. This means I only work 2-3 days a week and occasionally have meetings at my hospital. This allows for a lot of time to organize and to go to meetings.
What it does not mean is that I can skip sleep to go to meetings. I cannot sleep for a few hours, then go to a meeting, and then go back to sleep. I cannot exist on less than 7 hours of sleep. It is not safe for me. It is not good for my patients. It is also not good for organizing because there is a big chance I will forget what we have been talking about if I have been up for 24 hours.
I work at least 2 weekends a month. I do not have a set schedule, and my work is scheduled 2-3 months in advance. Yes, this can be inconvenient. No, it is not unfair. Most nurses work at least every other weekend and many holidays. Many other careers have unpredictable hours. This should not exclude us.
A Monday through Friday, 8-5 job, is a privilege. It affords you opportunities shift workers do not have. When people ask that meetings be scheduled at more inclusive times, or if multiple meetings can be scheduled around one topic, this is an opportunity for inclusivity.
I love my job. I love organizing. I can do both.
As I have gotten more involved with activism online and out in the world, I have tried to make myself very accessible and available. It is time to set some limits. I will check phones messages, emails, tweets, Facebook updates, etc frequently if I am not asleep, at work, or driving. If I am doing those things, I will check in during my break, before I go to bed, and after I get up. I will no longer receive alerts for Twitter DMs on a regular basis. This is for my mental and physical health.
I know a lot of other shift workers feel this way. I would really appreciate if you are a shift worker and you have trouble with people respecting basic needs, that you post here and talk about it.
Decentering Whiteness in Activism
Somewhere around tumblr, there are posts arguing that the “A” in LGBTQIA should stand for ally, and not asexual. Over the years, I have seen people who identify as asexual mocked and discriminated against for their lack of sexual desire. The clamoring for inclusion of the term “ally” in the ever growing list of letters has always made me very uncomfortable. I have written about my discomfort with the word in the past. In short, being an ally very rarely entails the risk that simply existing as a marginalized person brings. An ally can always leave. An ally can always withdraw. An ally can choose to stop supporting a cause or go find a different group of people supporting that cause. A marginalized person cannot stop being Black, Brown, trans, a woman, or whatever it is that causes them to be marginalized. For this reason, I am very cautious of any male identified person who labels themselves a “feminist,” and yet does not use their platform to uplift women, but instead uses it to silence women who question why they have been granted a position as gatekeeper of feminism.
Last week, Coloradans for Justice, along with other groups, had organized a protest. The protest turned into a large, unplanned march. We marched in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. The march was largely successful, and sparked another smaller protest the next day.
After the first march, organizers of the previous night’s event were alerted to something that disturbed many of the protesters who were out Tuesday night. When protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” frequently, they heard the chant changed to “All Lives Matter.”
I was at the back of the group and we were chanting “Black Lives Matter,” but this was a large protest. I believe the many people who came forward to say they heard “All Lives Matter” and questioned the need for White allies to change the chant, especially at such a crucial protest centered on the lives of Black people, and the worth of their lives. In addition, I have since seen people admit to changing the chant and have even been told by one protester that another instructed them TO CHANGE THEIR PROTEST SIGN to “All Lives Matter.”
This sparked an intense discussion on the event page the day after the protest, when the second protest was being planned. Many Black posters gave reasons for how they felt changing the chant to “All Lives Matter” erases their blackness. Many White posters defended their choice to chant “All Lives Matter” for many, many reasons, in spite of being told in many ways by other protesters of many races that changing that particular chant in that particular way erases Black people, and indeed, the purpose of the protest.
Denver is a very diverse city and frequently when Coloradans for Justice has held an event, Kenny Wiley, one of our organizers, will say “Black lives matter, Brown lives matter.” This is because there are many cases of police brutality experienced by the Latino population. I’ve always felt this was a good way to acknowledge the oppression and injustice faced by the Latino community as well as the Black community. I’ve never felt the need for Kenny to throw in a “All Lives Matter” to appease White supporters.
While there are certainly White victims of police brutality, there are far more Black and Brown victims. We have seen time and time again that even holding something that appears to be a weapon is enough to justify the death of a Black or Brown person. Holding a toy sword. Holding a toy gun. Holding a toy gun in the toy gun aisle of Wal-Mart. Doing these things while also NOT BEING WHITE is enough to get you killed and your killers will go home and sleep well that night. Not only that, but the mainstream media will jump to the defense of the police officer/s who shot you while your family has yet to see your body.
If you’re going to use the word “ally” and you’re going to show up to protest in solidarity with a group of marginalized, oppressed people, you need to be prepared to take a seat. Usually it’s a backseat. This should not be an issue. While your presence, the visibility of your skin and gender, can be a powerful statement, your words may not be needed. You are able to send a message just by showing up. This is also something a marginalized person cannot do. When marginalized groups show up to protest, the media is quick to say they are rioting, while when White people actually riot, it is called terms like “spirited.” Oppressed people destroy symbols of oppression. Non-oppressed people fuck shit up over a sports team’s victory or loss.
Decentering whiteness and working to dismantle White supremacy takes a lot of work, and to be honest, a lot of that work is learning to be silent or how to amplify the voice of the person you are supporting. It doesn’t mean your opinions aren’t valid, but they simply may not be needed at that moment. Save those opinions and speeches for when you are talking to another non-marginalized person who doesn’t believe what oppressed people are saying. Your words have power. Your words have merit. Use them when they are needed. White people, especially men, are used to being heard. We are used to having our opinions be given equal weight simply because it is a White person saying it. We do not realize this is a part of White privilege. A big part of White privilege is the ability to be ignorant that you have privilege. People of color are used to having to shout, and even then, have their voices ignored. White people who are unaware or still fighting awareness of privilege do not believe that people of color have to fight, because they, as a White person, do not have to fight. Please believe me, people of color have to fight.
I’m going to give an example of a time when I chose to stay silent in order to decenter my whiteness. I’m not doing this for activist cred, I am doing this to give White people an example of how to really support a person of color whose voice needs to be heard:
I was at the last Denver Sheriff’s Department reform meeting. These meetings are run on a tight schedule. Statements and questions are kept to under 2 minutes, and they only allow a certain number of people to speak at all. I had raised my hand and was in line to ask my question. Frankly, I already knew the answer to my question, but I wanted to get them to say it out loud. Two other people were set to follow me. A White man, and a young Black man.
The moderator announced that only the first two of us would be able to ask our questions, that they did not have time for the third person. Of course, this meant that a young Black man would not get to ask his question. I saw the young man’s shoulders slump. It was obvious he was very disappointed. When the moderator turned to me, I said “I’m actually going to pass, because I would like this young man to get to speak, because I feel what he has to say needs to be heard.”The White man in line also elected not to ask his question, in favor of the young Black man speaking. We had each given up our time in order to give a young Black man an opportunity to speak. By doing this, and not demanding we be heard, we decentered Whiteness from that conversation.
It was the right thing to do. The young man spoke of his mistreatment at the hands of the Denver police force, both as a young teen and as a young man. What he had to say went beyond what the other man and I had to say.
I didn’t know that young man, but I had a feeling in my gut that if three White people had been in line, all three of us would have gotten to ask our questions. Indeed, the look on the moderator’s face when two White people declined to ask our questions so that a Black man could be heard, was priceless.
After the forum, I talked with the other man who had elected to not ask his question so the young Black man could be heard. He was also an organizer who has done work against racism in his community in North Denver. I wasn’t surprised to hear this because it is always unusual when you see a White person step back to give a Black person a chance to speak.
If I am talking to other White people, I should talk about dismantling White supremacy and the need to decenter whiteness. I can talk about the centuries of structural oppression that has resulted in such high numbers of incarcerated and dead Black and Brown people in the United States. I don’t need to talk to people of color about their lived experience of oppression. If I am in a group where people of color are discussing race, I have already been given a gift. I have been given an opportunity to learn. They don’t need to learn about me. Generally, when this happens, it is because I am with people of color who know I will not insert myself into their discussion. As a White person in a Black or Brown space, I need to be aware that I am here to learn, and generally have little to teach.
What if you have questions? First, ask yourself, “Could I Google this?” if the answer is yes, don’t ask the question. This is especially important in online discussions because asking for an explanation while someone is already giving information can derail the conversation. If someone quoted someone and you didn’t catch the name and would like to read some of their work, then ask after the conversation has ended and if that person is open to questions. If the conversation was deep and the person you want to ask seems troubled or needs space, respect that. Their need for space is more important than your need for a quote at that moment.
I don’t call myself an ally. I will say “I support this cause,” and then do my best by showing up as often as possible and doing what needs to be done. A lot of my work with Coloradans for Justice is clerical and supportive. I get permit paperwork done. I make Facebook events. I write emails. I write press releases. I canvass. I bring snacks and I make sure the amp is charged and the bullhorns have batteries. I make protest signs with generic sayings for people who want to hold a sign. I bring supplies for people who want to make a sign. I take pictures and video, and then upload it. I tweet. All of these things are things that need to be done in order for protest events to be peaceful and effective. All of these roles are activist actions. This is a part of my activism, and I find it rewarding to see people holding my signs, making signs, showing up and knowing it’s because I talked to them online or in the street. All of this is a huge reward, even if it is not a public reward. It is all the reward I need.
When we are talking about Ferguson, we often say “this is a movement, not a moment.” In order for the movement to be maintained, there need to be more White people willing to take a backseat. To do the clerical and supportive work. To bring the activist cookies. There are a ton of things White people can do to further this movement, including talking to other White people. Black and Brown people do not need to hear about how oppressed they are and how much White supremacy sucks from White people. I promise you, they already know.
Why I Stopped Identifying With White Feminism
(Inspired by @SamAmbreen’s post here: We will not let white feminism divide and conquer us)
Today I’ve been talking with @HadleyFreeman about a series of posts she made to @JudeinLondon earlier in the day. Short story: Freeman wrote a problematic article, Jude discussed it on Twitter without linking to Freeman, someone emailed Freeman about Jude’s response and Freeman demanded, repeatedly, that Jude take the discussion offline. In my opinion, she abused her platform and privilege. She called Jude’s preemptive blocking of her account “childish” when it was an act of self care. Eventually, she used the same tone policing on me and I believe she has blocked my account, although I fully admit to blocking her and not checking back. Maybe later. It was yet another example of why I don’t belong in White feminism and why many other White feminists feel the same way. Today, @SamAmbreen asked for White feminists who practice intersectionality to discuss this, and after a lot of thought, here I am.
I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was a little girl. Poems, short stories, papers. I’ve edited papers for publication. When I used to perform poetry, I was often called a “feminist writer.” At the time, I really didn’t know what that meant. I was raised in a very anti-woman environment with more than a few religions. I shied away from the term “feminist” in direct conversation but that didn’t stop me from allowing the label to promote my writing. Few poets and writers have writing careers, and I am not an exception. I’m okay with that. As I have said many times, I love nursing, and these days, I find my energies are better spent in active campaigns, protests, phone calls and letter writing.
But then came the internet. I played with learning about feminism, and quickly found early online feminist communities to be battlegrounds. After witnessing a few virtual bloodbaths, I left the communities. I don’t like being flamed, I really didn’t like direct confrontation (but I’m getting better at it).
I read. I went to college. I started to learn more about feminism. But it was in a conversation with a women’s studies major that I realized I would never quite fit into mainstream White feminism. I’ll get into that. While women of color were happy to talk about feminism in class and online, recommending sources and books and Twitter accounts, White women were less welcoming. Still, I got involved the day Caroline Criado-Perez started receiving rape threats. It was too much. At the time, I had no idea how prevalent rape threats on Twitter were, but I found out, because I received my own. I quickly followed her account and my tweets in her support rapidly gained me new Twitter friends. FEMINIST friends. I was so excited. Finally I could learn. And I did.
Then one day, I saw a heated, excited Twitter conversation. Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) had written a blog post at http://www.redlightpolitics.info, and one line kept ringing throughout the discussion. “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be BULLSHIT.” At the time, I thought a different Twitter user had coined the phrase. This is important later. I knew nothing about intersectionality. In fact, most of the books on feminism recommended to me were written by white women. I was also ignorant of how readily information was available. I asked a close Twitter friend, @judeinlondon what intersectionality was. Jude gave me a brief explanation and told me to check Wikipedia. I realize now I really should have gone to Google myself. Jude, I love you and I thank you so much for your direction and that we are such good friends.
I read. I realized ~ MY FEMINISM WAS “BULLSHIT.” It wasn’t intersectional. Intersectionality is really a simple theory and easy to understand if you want to understand. My feminism wasn’t transinclusive. My feminism didn’t recognize the different struggles faced by women of color, women in poverty, sex workers, or even the struggles I faced as a disfigured woman with a disability. I began to see feminism in a new light. I began to see where I might fit in as a feminist.
Eager to learn about trans issues, I went to Google. I read GLAAD’s page on trans terms. And I followed a few Twitter accounts run by trans individuals. And then something happened. I began to see drama. I hate drama. I really do. The drama I saw was linked to a couple of terms I had never heard before. TERF, SWERF. This feminism was “bullshit.” I started tweeting about it. I started talking with trans individuals, and one day, my follower count dropped by about 20 people. All white feminists. Mainly British white feminists. I was really hurt, but I quickly learned I wasn’t alone.
I mentioned talking with a women’s studies major. This is important because it was this young White feminist’s opinion that because I chose a female dominated field and not something else, I was supporting the patriarchy and had no place in feminism. I didn’t talk further with that young woman because her feminism wasn’t open and inviting and uplifting. She was kicking down. I realized her feminism was “bullshit.”
One day, I was tweeting along and I incorrectly credited Flavia Dzodan’s (@redlightvoices) now famous quote to Judith Wanga (@judeinlondon). Someone told me I was wrong but I was quite certain I was correct. I could have easily verified it but I was lazy. Flavia let me know how wrong I was. I deserved it. I apologized. In talking to Flavia, and reading her blog and Twitter, I realized how much education I was losing. But I didn’t want to impose upon her. So one day, I asked her if I could follow her. I reiterated my apology, and the most amazing thing happened. Flavia forgave me. She followed me back. We have had a few very enlightening and uplifting conversations. She doesn’t kick down.
I’ve screwed up several times. initially, apologizing wasn’t a skill I had. I got into an incredible, damaging argument a few years ago with @amaditalks and we blocked each other on my primary account. I still followed her on my nursing account and eventually I began to feel very guilty and intrusive about following her when she didn’t know who I was. So I brought it up. I apologized. And we are friends. We are good friends. If I had not apologized, my life would be poorer. Amadi has taught me, along with others, how to more skillfully debate. She has reminded me to use inclusive language and given examples of what this is. I was wrong, so wrong in our argument, and while Amadi had forgotten it, I never had. Because I was wrong, and I knew it.
So here I am. In intersectional feminism, I have found a place. I have come to terms with my own gender fluidity. I am out to my husband and online and I will never deny my queerness or gender fluidity in person. I have learned about White privilege, and learned to check it. I have become a better person. I have become a better nurse. I have learned to confront people, first online, and then in person. Thanks to Ngọc Loan Trần, I have a new method of calling out problematic behavior. in their article Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable, I learned a way to call out bullying behavior without crying and shaking. It has made work easier.
I don’t fit inside White feminism’s neat bubble. I’m not going to take extra classes when information is so readily available. I do not need a women’s studies degree to practice feminism. I need my brain and my heart, both of which are currently functioning. I’ve been called “divisive” by White women when I back up women of color, primarily when I back up Black and Muslim women. It’s pretty obvious. I’ve been told that feminism needs to focus on the needs of ALL women instead of subgroups.
White women are a subgroup of feminism. It is true that placing the focus of feminism on subgroups is divisive. This is why White women must learn to stop crying for “unity” (Adele Wilde-Blavatsk) and realize that women of color, trans women, trans men, and others are moving on in unity WITHOUT us.
Am I going to screw up again? ABSOLUTELY. That’s the thing about White privilege, it doesn’t go away because you start recognizing it. You have to actively work to be a better person. You have to actively work to change the world. I doubt I’m going to change many minds with words, but I hope I do so by actions. That is the inspiration behind my @TransDyingYoung project, and my tentative decision to focus my NP on care of the transgender population. This is work, and with work comes mistakes. But I have learned to apologize. I have learned to Google. These are not difficult things to do with practice.
I don’t believe mainstream “White feminism” wants to change. Instead, it will die a painful death by attrition. A few days ago, I tweeted that White feminists are angry because they didn’t come up with intersectionality and make it about white women and I really believe this is true. I have seen White women say “we have to come up with a better term.” This rebranding of intersectionality is nothing short of plagiarism and theft of its founder, Kimberlé Crenshaw. It wasn’t a White woman’s idea. It wasn’t about White, cis gendered women. This is appropriate. This isn’t “bullshit.”
I want to thank so many people, mentioned in this post, and unmentioned, who have let me learn, who have told me when I was wrong, and who have taught me what my White, racist parents never told me: it is okay to be wrong. Apologizing doesn’t make you weak. Learning new things makes you stronger, and we will come through this with a more unified feminism.
Dealing With White Guilt
Today, thanks to Meniere’s Disease, I am confined to my bed. My husband is here to help me and I’m going to be okay, if not miserable.
By now, most of us have already read the piece of clickbait that was Jen Caron’s: It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Class and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It. (Clicking these links will not up their page counts). This piece was wrong in so many ways. Most likely, the unnamed black woman (because they are always unnamed, see Eve Ensler’s article on “Congo Stigmata“).
Now, I’ve been told repeatedly that white privilege does not exist. This argument pales because I see it on a daily basis. Getting served first. The extreme politeness of POC towards me when I’m at the grocery store. Often, I want to to stop and say “I’m not one of THOSE white people, please just act normally.”
But I don’t. There are reasons for this.
I use my white privilege when it is helpful to me or my friends. Indeed, when I helped @Suey_Park with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, I had several people accusing me of abuse of white privilege, even though AAA has a policy dealing with gifting accounts instantly. Many people assumed that because I was white, I was able to do things a person of color would be unable to do. In that circumstance, my knowledge of AAA’s policies was what was useful. I had learned about them while working in Customer Service.
Honestly, I wasn’t using white privilege at that moment.
Times I have used white privilege? When I’ve seen a POC being treated poorly at the hands of white customer service agents. When I see a POC being treated poorly by another nurse. When I’ve seen a Hispanic person clearly struggling with a language barrier who needed help with translation. My college education is a form of privilege. I am determined to use it where ever I can to pull people up, not to bring people down. This is how I use my white privilege.
There are other times White Privilege has benefited me without my intent, so many circumstances I will never know. Other times, I become aware of it as it is happening, and I try to stop it. When I see a white person invoking their privilege, I try to say something about it, if I am able. I do not have Male Privilege, and I am aware there are times when speaking out could cost me my job, and I really need my job.
But how did I become aware of this privilege? Slowly, very slowly. I was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, very close to the projects, and until I went to a private high school on scholarship and my mother scraping by, I went to schools where white people were a minority. Still, I had white privilege.. I wasn’t aware of it, but I was given opportunities black people were not. Classes for the gifted. Extra time with teachers.
I am smart. In some situations, such as memory and language, I have been called “scary smart.” Still, this didn’t earn me additional time with teachers. Indeed, I should have been okay if left alone. So why did I receive so much attention from white teachers in a mostly black classroom? White privilege.
Still, it was years before I learned about white privilege. I credit @judeinlondon with so many things, and through reading her tweets, I learned about white privilege . I also saw Jude say over and over that it was not her responsibility to educate. I googled. I learned some more. I was horrified. All this time, when I thought what had been achieved on my own merit was probably influenced by white privilege. Was I even equally qualified for my job? (After a great deal of thought and introspection and looking over the lives I have saved, I believe I am completely qualified and very good at my job).
Then I did an Ancestry.com search on my family. It wasn’t particularly easy, but eventually I came upon what I didn’t want to see. My distance descendants were slave owners. While I had been told, repeatedly, I was descended from Native Americans, I couldn’t find written proof of this (I have been told by Native Americans I have distinct Lakota features, but I do not know how distant the relationship is). There are several pictures of Native women owned by my family, and I have been told they were my great great great grandmothers, but there is little proof. Definitely not enough proof to claim discrimination due to my ancestry, as many white people do.
The facts, staring right at me, were sickening. I am the descendent of slave owners, which means, like many white Americans, I am unknowingly complicit in the horrible treatment of African Americans and other people of color. I closed the program. I was nauseated. I opened Twitter. I needed to talk to someone. But who? Who would be the right person to talk to? I was very close to tears. I felt sick. But I remembered the words of so many black women, that it was not their job to comfort me, and I decided to respect that. I had never harmed them, but by asking for forgiveness for crimes I personally did not commit, I could become a vehicle of harm.
I closed my computer.
Discovering white privilege and distant relationship with slave owners is painful, but it is not the duty of black people, particularly black women, to comfort us. @TheTrudz has spoken out many times on Twitter about the tendency of white people to seek out comfort and forgiveness from black people when the first pangs of white guilt hit our hearts. This morning, we had this exchange:
Trudy has made herself very accessible online, and paid a heavy price for it. Here is my point: It is not the job of black people to comfort us. For the most part, they do not want to comfort us. The desire of white people to have forgiveness from black people from things done hundreds of years ago does not require white people to “prostrate” themselves to black people. What it really indicates is a desire to have the love and attention of the “Mammy” figure.
@TheTrudz has suggested this article: 28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors That Indicate a Detour or Wrong Turn into White Guilt, Denial, or Defensiveness. She also has multiple articles at her blog, Gradient Lair that are very useful. I have never read an article by @TheTrudz and not learned something valuable. She also suggested this reading: Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Tatum. It contains step by step instructions. I have started reading this book and found it powerful. Unfortunately, my tablet is dead and I’m waiting for it to completely charge.
Mammy is long gone. Yes, black women can be incredibly nurturing and kind. So can all women, should they choose to do so. But black women are no longer obliged to give us comfort. To expect comfort for your white guilt from black women or other women of culture IS AN ABUSE OF YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE. This is why I don’t just come out and say “I’m not one of those white people.” Instead, I use a different tactic. If there is someone I want to be friends with, I gently approach them and over time they will see I’m not one of “those” white people, and if they are willing, and like me back, friendship will grow on it’s own. There is no need to force it.
Still, I see people, hundreds a day, coming into the mentions of my black friends on Twitter, demanding education. They refuse to read links, valuable links, that could educate them. They will only take education from a black person, THIS black person, as a matter of fact. THIS IS AN ABUSE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE SO OBVIOUS SARAH PALIN CAN SEE IT FROM HER HOUSE. If she weren’t so blind to white privilege herself.
So here is my proposal. If you are feeling a big dose of white guilt, come talk to me. You can reach me at @grimalkinrn on Twitter, and I will be happy to talk about your feelings. These feelings are a part of growth. They are valid, and they are necessary. What is not necessary is burdening women (or men) of color with your feelings. If you need privacy, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter (though you will need to let me know you need me to follow you back ). Needless to say, trolls will be blocked.
If white people talk to one another about our white privilege and white guilt, we will be better prepared to use our white privilege to the advantage of others, and not just ourselves.
The Difference Between “Cutting Down” and “Calling Out”
I’ve been very public about my feelings regarding Ani DiFranco, her “Righteous Retreat,” its cancellation and her short apology she made earlier this week. I have been going through my own process while I try to decide if DiFranco’s apology was sincere, if she is living her words, and if I can continue to support her label.
Tonight, at the New Orleans House of Blues, DiFranco made the comment “”It’s an upside down world, when your sisters cut you down and Fox News defends you.”
It’s making the rounds and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another apology from DiFranco in another couple of days. Maybe the quote is out of context, but it’s hard to imagine what context it could be in that didn’t involve some sort of self righteous anger. It’s a sign of the times. A decade ago, a statement like this would have gone unnoticed. Thanks to social media, it is everywhere.
I am a white woman. I have a lot of interracial friends. This doesn’t mean I don’t screw up. I am very lucky to have friends who will call me out when I say something racist. It’s not always gentle, but it is always needed, and when I look beyond my initial shock, I always learn something. I try never to make that mistake again.
Ani DiFranco didn’t get “cut down.” She got called out. Fans of all backgrounds called to her and asked that she cancel the retreat and apologize. When she cancelled the retreat and offered and explanation but not an apology, we continued to tell her, Ani, it’s not enough. Finally, she issued a short apology, stating she was “digging deeper.”
Getting “cut down,” “dragged,” and other terms are when people put you down without reason. Without caring about you.
Getting called out is different. When you say or do something racist and your friends of a different race call you out on it, they are taking the time to offer you education. It’s not their job to educate you, but if someone is taking the time to do it, you should appreciate it and reciprocate by trying to learn the lesson they are trying to teach you. Getting called out can hurt, sure, it can hurt like hell, but we have to ask, do I hurt because I’ve been wronged or do I hurt because my ego is wounded?
Ani DiFranco is many things. A songwriter, an activist, a feminist. She has this image of a kind, crunchy, kick ass artist. I don’t believe she is a racist at heart but I do believe a person who is not a racist can do racist things. This is when the people who love you call you on your shit.
I’ve talked about white privilege and the fact that while white people may not be aware of its existence, they sure as hell get mad when people refuse to extend it. I think DiFranco is unaware of the amount of privilege she is currently demanding.
I don’t know Ani personally, though like many of her fans, I have always felt a connection through music. This connection is why I’m writing tonight. I know she’ll never see this, but I feel the need to write about my feelings. This entire week has been a process of learning to let go of someone I always saw as a role model. I know she’s not perfect. It’s not a lack of perfection that is making me angry. It’s the clear abuse of privilege. DiFranco has a lot of privilege, built from years of hard work, and I think she believes she deserves to be sheltered.
DiFranco may have apologized, but she appears angry. Statements like the one from tonight make it seem like she personally thinks she did nothing wrong. From her statement tonight about living in an “upside down world,” she is not taking the change in her status very well. DiFranco has always been someone who has managed to not do racist things in the public arena. That changed. She made a mistake. I feel like a lot of us wanted to forgive that mistake, but we cannot accept her apology if she is not going to live her apology. She could have said “I fucked up, I was wrong. I could tell I was wrong because Fox News was defending me but my own sisters weren’t.” There are a lot of things DiFranco could have said, but what she did say tonight shows me she is not living her words.
It’s not enough to apologize when you are called out. You have to make a conscious effort to change the behavior that got you called out in the first place. Perhaps DiFranco needs more time to change, but for now, the effort she has made is simply not enough.
White Feminism and the Denial of Privilege – or – None of us are buying your book, Robyn
The first time someone told me “check your privilege,” I was incensed. I didn’t have privilege! I am a woman! I have been oppressed. Everything I had learned from feminism told me so. I was hurt and confused and I refused to back down and quite frankly, I made a fool of myself. A friend blocked me, and didn’t want to hear from me again. I was absolutely certain I wasn’t guilty of the “privilege abuse” practiced by men. I was trying to learn more about feminism, and I honestly didn’t see (at the time) how I was being intrusive. I was reading a lot, but I was reading white feminists, and there was NO mention of racial disparity in those books.
Everyone’s life should be an evolution, and one day, mine came. Feminists on Twitter were going as fast as they could, and they were talking about something called “intersectional feminism.” I messaged @JudeinLondon, who gave me a short explanation and suggested I check google. Suddenly, everything made sense. Intersectionality was the missing piece that I needed. The more I researched, all online, the more I understood. The next time someone said “check your privilege,” I knew what they were talking about, and could examine what I’d said. I was still hurt, inside I felt defiant. But I apologized, and asked what I had done. They were absolutely right. I learned, and I grew from the experience.
I’m not perfect. I want to jump into conversations where I don’t belong all the time. I get excited about trending hashtags, and I want to share my opinion. Maybe if I think of something witty, it will be okay. It’s not okay. Hashtags like #solidarityisforwhitewomen by @Karnythia and #notyourasiansidekick by @Suey_Park are not intended for everyone to be included. They were created for and by women of color for feminist discussion. A lot of really amazing discussion has happened and there’s been a lot of opportunity for learning, because unlike having a closed door meeting, we can all see what is going on. This is good and bad, because there’s been a lot of trolling of the hashtags as well. This is where white people CAN be allies. Call out the the trolls. Report them for their spamming of the tags. Use your tweets & account as a shield so the discussion can continue.
This morning Huffpo posted a blog post by Adele Wilde-Blavatsky: “Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity, Not Division.” and the nonsense that has been her Twitter mentions has not stopped.
After a discussion about white privilege, today, I made this tweet:
I then talked to a user who was convinced white privilege doesn’t exist and gave me the “white women are oppressed, too!!!” line. I tried. I failed. I blocked.
A couple of hours later, I got a response from @TeamOyeniyi:
After a bizarre conversation, I thought she’d gone away. But she came back again. And again. And then she left this post in my mentions (Trigger Warning: Racism):
On Feminism and White Privilege
In her blog post, Robyn Oyeniyi attacks the use of the term “white privilege,” and claims it ignores matriarchal societies and that use of the term “white privilege” actually oppresses women of color. She talks a lot about Yaa Asantewaa, a woman who led the Asante people in rebellion against the British. She also claims we need to get rid of the term “intersectional.”
This is my comment to her post:
Yaa Asantewaa remains a figurehead to her people, but Yaa Asantewaa died in exile, under British oppression. While white women certainly have been and continue to be victims of oppression, they are also in many circumstances the oppressors.
Being told to “watch your privilege” is not the same as being oppressed. Women of color discussing their shared experience have the right to request that white women back out of or stay out of the conversation. Because we cannot share their experience, what we’re really doing when we try to join conversations about shared racial experience is hijacking their conversation and appropriating it for ourselves.
Cries of “telling me to check my privilege is oppression” actually furthers white oppression of women of color because you’re literally telling them they have no right to request a conversation remain among women of color.
Refusal to self-check our own white privilege is why many women of color want nothing to do with feminism. Feminism is so focused on white women that women of color feel they no longer have a place. If we want feminism to be an ongoing movement that includes all women, we need to check our privilege. Knowing when to be silent is a powerful gift that you not only give to yourself, but a gift you share.
I feel like all day long I’ve been told by white people that white privilege isn’t a thing. That it doesn’t exist. Yesterday, I was told that the DC area is a magical land where racism does not exist. At the same time, I grew up in the South, I witnessed oppression, I’ve seen men use their privilege and I’ve seen the wealthy use their privilege and I’ve seen white women use our privilege. I’ve seen a lot of people use their privilege in good ways, but usually, it’s people who aren’t aware of their privilege. We are so steeped in privilege we just expect it to happen and when it doesn’t, we (white people) are shocked and offended when people of color aren’t surprised at all.
My fellow white people, we do have privilege. White women, we are oppressed in many ways by a society that favors white men over us. But we are still privileged. When someone says “check your privilege,” they are not necessarily calling you a bad person. They are asking you to examine what you are saying so that you can be a better person. Of course, if you are a bad person, or refuse to acknowledge your privilege, you probably deserve the smackdown that’s coming.