megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
I told myself I shouldn't/wouldn't post this, because I'm not looking to draw down wank or unproductive, spiraling conversations that amount to nothing and only make people tired and repeat the same old crap.

But then I thought, "No, I need to post this. If only for myself."

I am here to address a comment by a person I have no intention of engaging with, and that's not the norm for me. I like to try to give people a chance to respond because I do believe in the power of respectful dialogues, but in this case, I really don't see how any kind of respectful response is possible.

I do know that in this case, I'm not going to change this person's mind, I'm not going to persuade them of anything, and frankly, I'm not interested in trying.

I am interested in examining the comment (not the commenter, let's be clear on that) that was made because this person is not the sole holder of such beliefs, and it's something I want to address because it's something that I think holds back progress.

The comment in question is from Will Shetterly and can be found in the comments of this entry. ETA: The owner of the LJ in which this conversation took place has removed the comments. I unfortunately do not have screen caps.

This is the comment (in it's entirety)

Keep it simple: I'm the racefail asshole here. That I've been marching against racism since childhood in the '60s (when people got killed for it) to the recent march in Tucson against the latest stupid racist Arizona immigration law is irrelevant.

Out of curiosity, were you at that march? I didn't see you. But I'm sure your antiracist creds on the web are impeccable.




What is it that I am taking issue to, specifically. The question "out of curiosity, were you at that march?" and the later remark "I'm sure your antiracist creds on the web are impeccable".

Let's examine why I think these remarks are so completely full of fail that it stuns me.

"Were you at that march?"

The problem with impeaching someone's anti-racism based on attendance at a specific march or even public rallies and protests in general is that it assumes that a) attending such events is a more real, valid, and important means of expressing anti-racism than any other means, specifically online and b) that attendance is a feasible option for everyone.

Marching at a rally or attending a protest is all well and good, but it's not something that is an option for everyone. It's quite ablist to ask such a question as though the privilege of being able to attend excludes the antiracist work of those who use other venues.

A large protest of 7,000 people excludes a lot of folks who might very much want to attend.

Those with certain types of disabilities may find that it is inaccessible to them. I don't know the specific layout of the place where the march was held, but it's ostensible that it was not somewhere that would be accessible to persons with assistive devices ranging from wheelchairs to crutches to white tipped canes to even service animals (who are not devices, btw).

Oh, and for anyone looking to pull the "but I saw that guy over there in a wheelchair who was there" card, don't even bother. Using an example of one person who was ABLE to attend with an assistive device does not automatically invalidate the reasons others could not attend. Have two people in wheelchairs or two people with canes or with service animals or what have you does not automatically mean their circumstances and conditions are the completely the same and "if he/she/they did it, you should be able to as well!" is an argument I won't brook. Take it elsewhere to your own spaces, because I won't allow that sort of thing here in my space*.

There are also those with pain or fatigue disorders and disabilities for whom a march, rally, or protest are just NOT realistic. There are lots of folks for whom mobility is a big problem, or for whom the spoons to commit to such a march just aren't there because they need those spoons for such trivial things as self-care and doing laundry and eating and maybe going to work or school or taking care of others (partners, family, children, etc). I have a very, very good friend who has such a pain disorder. She has fibromyalgia as well as still undiagnosed joint pain and back problems. Standing without walking for more than fifteen minutes is hell on earth for her. Walking long distances without being able to take breaks just isn't something she is able to do.

Does this mean that people like her are automatically never able to be as antiracist as the OP because they can't join the march?

Let us also not neglect that many people have mental disorders, disabilities, and conditions that preclude such activities. A large crowd at a march could be uncomfortable or even traumatic for people with social anxiety disorders, people who are severely claustrophobic, people with certain symptoms of PTSD, or even those who have various types of autistic spectrum disorders.

Are they also unable to be antiracist and express that because they can't march in Tucson?

Of course, let us not forget that even for those who have what is considered a "able" body and neurotypical mind, such rallies might also not be possible. What about those people who fear the reaction from an employer or person in authority for going? What about those who fear for their safety from authorities because they've been harmed before, or know people who have?

Not everyone feels safe (and by safe, I mean, free from the risk of assault or attack not just free from criticism and other people's opinions) in such places.

A lot of folks - transpeople, LGBT people, fat people, women, the elderly - have very valid, real reasons for not feeling safe and secure in such a setting and those reasons are not excuses, either. Being in a place amongst many strangers, where the likelihood of encountering authority figures, the police, and the hostility others is often not safe for many. Yes, even at a march to protest Arizona's appalling immigration law.

Still, even for those who are able and would feel safe, there's still barriers. What about those who can't take the time from work because they need every single cent they can earn just to be able to eat? What about those who don't have access to transportation to and from that part of Tucson, or Tucson itself?

Having the financial resources to be able to attend is a privilege. Not everyone can afford to do such things. Are they automatically less antiracist, is the work they ARE able to do automatically dismissible?

I wasn't at that march. I completely support protests against the absolutely obscene, horrible, unforgivably bigoted law that Arizona passed. I don't think I could quite accurately describe just how wrong, bad, and evil such a legislative measure is and how dangerous it is.

I wasn't at the march, though. I live in NYC, and a trip to Tucson right now? Not something I could afford. Nor could I take the time off from the job I just got after two years of unemployment to go.

Does that make me less antiracist, does this make the ways I express antiracism, the way I practice it invalid?

According to the OP, because I do a lot of this via the internet, yes, it is invalid. Or at least a much lesser form of antiracism.

Beyond the scope of just antiracism and into the realm of social justice and intersectionality, the internet is many times one of the only safe, accessible means people have to speak out, find connections, get help, build community, and do social justice work.

What happens in online forums, on social networking sites, on blogs, and even in comments sections on the internet does count.

I don't claim to be any sort of an expert on all social justice, because I am still learning about how privileged I am and the things I do, many times unthinkingly, that hurt other people. I am still learning how to de-center my privileges and my privileged mind-set so that I can better listen to those who tell me about their lived experiences, so that I can better find ways to STOP HURTING PEOPLE WITH MY PRIVILEGE. I all caps that, because for me, personally, that's what it amounts to.

What we read and who we interact with and how we interact with them, even through a computer, has a powerful effect on our minds, our mindset, and thus our behaviors and actions. So what happens on the internet is real life, because it is part of what we think and do, and thus is part of us. It is not vacuum or a separated other realm with no consequences.

Everything from true love to suicides have been caused by what happens on the internet. People have found soulmates (I did, I met my husband on the internet, thanks much), people have been bullied via social networking to the point that they self-harm or commit suicide. Of my five closest friends? Three I met through the internet. My current job, the one for which I am paid very real money? It takes place MOSTLY on the internet, most of the information, content, and interactions I deal with in that position are ONLINE.

So when I read a remark "I'm sure your antiracist creds on the web are impeccable", it is nothing short of a slap in the face.

Actually, no, it isn't. Because the OP is someone who's opinions I do not value enough to feel personally hurt (though many times I have been angered). But it is insulting to me that "the web" is spoken of with such disdain, as if these very large parts of my life - meeting my husband, my job, my friends, my creative work, my political beliefs are invalidated because of the way and location they took place.

What you say on the internet matter, what you read matters, what games you play, what sites you visit, what material you publish - it matters. So if you engage in antiracism work on the internet, it is real life antiracist work, and it matters just as much.

So don't pick a point in time and ask "where were you" as though that is the standard by which all others must measure up, because that in and of itself is another way to reinforce many types of privilege, to set those who may have access and ability to do or attend something above those who don't.

That's precisely what we don't need, because the thing is? That's sort of the root problem with racism, ablism, sexism, homophobia. It's about setting some above others, about making some more valid, more real, more normal, more centered, more important. And reinforcing that just reinforces the very thing you may say you're trying to combat.


*Just a note about moderation. I will unapologetically be moderating the comments to this entry closely and very stringently. I can and will ban people, freeze threads, and otherwise clean house if you cross a line. I don't care if you think this is fair or right or if you think I only want people who agree with me to be heard here. Don't like it? Take it back to your own blog or LJ or website or whatever is YOUR space (you're perfectly free to do so). But it won't be permitted here.

Respect your fellow commenters, listen to each other, don't derail, don't come looking for cookies, and whatever you do don't give me any cookies (I'm on a cookie-free diet, thanks much).

Also, it is always perfectly acceptable to disengage if it gets too much for you. And I personally do not think any less of someone who steps away from a conversation/discussion when they realize it is becoming unproductive and hurtful. Emotions run very high with this topic (and with good reason!). It's perfectly all right to step away and give yourself time to process and really think before responding. No, really. It's not only okay, it's recommended.

Date: 2010-05-29 03:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ithiliana.livejournal.com
Thank you!

I have been arguing against the "if it's on the internet it's not real" position for years, years, and years -- for one thing, I began teaching almost entirely online in 2006, including graduate courses, about which my colleagues were dismissive (my favorite line from fellow teachers is "I can only ell if they're learning by looking at their faces." Well, bully for them, I can't -- I prefer to actually assess, you know, their work--I cannot TELL anything by facial expressions of a group of students sitting in regimented rows in a classroom -- and the fact that so many of our classrooms are set up in those rows and colleagues complain if the chairs are out of order has been going on since 1993).

Sorry, but this is one of my hobbyhorses!

Excellent deconstruction of why Will's statement is so ableist -- I'll also add that there's probably a square on the bingo card about "white person instructing other people on how best to combat racism" (which his friend [livejournal.com profile] medievalist hit a while ago by telling an American Indian that she should be learning one of the disappearing languages instead of blogging about (among other things) stereotypes in children's/YA literature.

Odd how these people spend so much time on the internet telling other people that they shouldn't be.....doing anything on the internet?

Date: 2010-05-29 11:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
Well, bully for them, I can't -- I prefer to actually assess, you know, their work--I cannot TELL anything by facial expressions of a group of students sitting in regimented rows in a classroom

This, right here. I've taken online courses or courses with a heavy online component and I have to say that often times I'm better able to connect with an instructor more than I would be able to in a large classroom (or even a small one), because a lot of the complications of face-to-face interactions are removed. Plus, there may be students who look like they aren't paying attention or who don't engage in discussion much in a meatspace setting, but who ARE really learning, but discussion in a classroom is difficult for them whereas being able to work online allows them be more comfortable and to be able to think of responses and questions when it's best for them.

Also, I kind of get uncomfortable when people heavily rely on just social cues for things like that or to judge someone without any interaction or input from that person. People don't always display social cues in ways that would be obvious or correctly interpreted by a college instructor or a neurotypical person.

Or: I am right there with you. I think we sometimes overvalue the presence of a butt in a seat for a set amount of time as though if they show up between 9:00 and 9:50 three times a week that's better and more valid or something. IDK.

I sometimes wonder if this urge to invalidate online work (either academic or social justice or otherwise) is due to the fact that it is something that can be used to level the playing field at times, to lessen or devalue certain kinds of privilege. Of course, having access to computers/the internet is its own kind of privilege, but there is that element. I think a lot of the "anonymous = coward" comes from an innate anger of a privileged person that they can't directly lash out or punish someone else for pointing out their privilege the way they could in a face to face interaction. They can rant, rave, and yell - but they can't impinge on personal space or really threaten them. They lose some of that power and that must gall them.

Or: the venues that those scary hordes of PoC and PWD's and women and oppressed people used obviously doesn't count as much as stuff that's most accessible for privileged people.

I'll also add that there's probably a square on the bingo card about "white person instructing other people on how best to combat racism" (which his friend [info]medievalist hit a while ago by telling an American Indian that she should be learning one of the disappearing languages instead of blogging about (among other things) stereotypes in children's/YA literature.

I saw that whole ugly thing and there needs to be a "Ways White People Instruct Others On Racism With Their Superior Learnings" bingo card all on its own. I did however preemptively ban a few folks for the crap they said during that discussion, because anyone who presumes to tell someone what they may and may not find offensive and what parts of their own lived experiences count and don't count and who wants to set standards for what is a valid expression of SOMEONE ELSE'S STRUGGLE? That's someone who I'm not all that interested in welcoming into my space.

Date: 2010-05-29 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] troubleinchina.livejournal.com
Certainly conversations I've had or observed over the past few years have made me stop referring to my off-line life as "real life".

Date: 2010-05-29 04:03 am (UTC)
ext_6167: (srsly?)
From: [identity profile] delux-vivens.livejournal.com
good post.

Date: 2010-05-29 11:38 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-05-29 04:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yeloson.livejournal.com
Imagining that marching is the most or only valid method of anti-racism is rather like imagining making slings for limbs is the only valid method of medicine...

You'd think someone who is a writer and supposed anti-racist would see the value in the work of W.E.B Debois, but I guess he didn't do enough marching to be worth reading about, right?

Date: 2010-05-29 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
Imagining that marching is the most or only valid method of anti-racism is rather like imagining making slings for limbs is the only valid method of medicine...

I just got this terrible mental image of a clinic that works JUST like that. "But, doctor, I have cancer!" "Never mind that, just put your arm in this sling and don't move it for six weeks!" "How is that suppose to treat my cancer?" "..." "Well?" "But that's how medicine works. You're just arguing with me because you don't really want to be healthy. I don't even think you're really sick!"

Your metaphor is about as apt as a metaphor can get. Because it's precisely like that.


You'd think someone who is a writer and supposed anti-racist would see the value in the work of W.E.B Debois, but I guess he didn't do enough marching to be worth reading about, right?

Totes. Now, if he'd really been a true anti-racist, he would have found a way to make the U.S. renew his passport, come back from Ghana, and lived long enough to march beside Will Shetterly or at least somewhere that Will Shetterly could see him. THEN he really would have done something.

But, alas, no. He just sat around writing stuff and being an intellectual leader and producing the thousands of essays, articles, and books he wrote that had a profound impact on so many. He wasted all that time thinking and writing and influencing others when he should have been marching.

*shakes head*

Date: 2010-05-29 01:27 pm (UTC)
chomiji: Akari, the shaman from SDK ... more to her than you might imagine  (Akari - autumn colors)
From: [personal profile] chomiji

Good post. Great coverage of the many aspects of the subject.

BTW, the OP has removed all the comments there.

Date: 2010-05-29 06:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] annaham.livejournal.com
I seriously do not have any words other than "This is a great piece." As an activist and a PWD, I thank you for so cogently picking apart exactly what's wrong with the "well, where were you at x or y event/protest/ etc.?" argument.

Date: 2010-05-29 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bassline.livejournal.com
Really excellent post. That's about all I'll add because most of what I'd say has been covered already.
From: [identity profile] avalon's willow (from livejournal.com)
It's interesting to me, that if I were to say, in response to that comment; "Have you lived your life as a minority in the US or elsewhere? Do you know what it is to walk down the street while black or brown (or wearing a lamda/rainbow flag, or using an assistive device or assitive animal)? No, I don't think so, I don't see that truth in your eyes."

I would be told I can't expect all anti-racists (or social justice activists) to be minorities, that some white people have good hearts and while they may not know the experience personally they want to handle prevent it from happening.

And yet, only people who show up to a march, are somehow truly against racism and have NOTHING TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR OWN PRIVILEGE or the OPPRESSION OF OTHERS.

Oh circular privilege logic - it's always going to be 'I'm better than you because I did xyz and I count xyz as more important than you'.

Also it is very interesting to me, and a sign of that continued navel gazing selfishness that this is also part of that statement:

"against racism since childhood in the '60s (when people got killed for it)"

Because 2009 and 2010 haven't had racial hate crimes, oh no. Certainly no one just died in Arizona self for being a damn Mexican who wouldn't go back to Mexico. A little girl (Aiyana Jones) didn't just die because cops didn't blink at potentially harming black children. No, people died before and in the 60's because of racism; it was BACK IN THE DAY, people died for it.

Only then.

Ugh, yeah, I'm irked as hell that there are people who subscribe to that particular aversive-think. You made valid points [livejournal.com profile] fiction_theory, but before I could even look at the ablism in that statement, everything else jumped out at me.
From: [identity profile] fiction-theory.livejournal.com
Ugh, yeah, I'm irked as hell that there are people who subscribe to that particular aversive-think. You made valid points [livejournal.com profile] fiction_theory, but before I could even look at the ablism in that statement, everything else jumped out at me.

There are about fifty distinct layers of rancid wrongness in his comment and I only went into about three or four of them in this post and there are probably a lot that even now I'm missing/less aware of because of my own privileges.

I could probably do an entire blog SERIES on the stuff that's wrong with those types of statements, the way they privilege the work of the privileged above the work of the oppressed, and the way that it pretends as though so many problems aren't "that bad" or "used to be worse".

Because like you so aptly stated, people are still getting killed for it.

Date: 2010-06-01 11:22 am (UTC)
vi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vi
Ah, I've had a close variant of this thrown at me once in real life (and only once, because that was the only time I dared speak up to that person): being told that writing things about race on the internet is "not the way to deal with the problem of racism", but face-to-face communication is. The goal posts are ever-shifting! Not everyone has the privilege of remaining safe or having the ability to carry out a certain course of action.

Thank you for dissecting this sort of derailing comment; it's made me feel clearer in my head about it, and moreover for pointing out the ableist aspects of it as well. (I hope you don't mind that I'm subscribing, as I've certainly appreciated some of your past posts.)

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