For My Fellow White People After Charlottesville

To my fellow white people looking with disgust upon the white nationalist rally and violence in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, know that the responsibility to address racism is squarely ours.

Go to solidarity vigils. Donate to Black-led organizations and follow their leadership. But most of all, know that some of the most profound activism you can do involves examining and dismantling your own whiteness and encouraging the white people around you to do the same. Your white privilege makes it more likely other white people will listen to you about white privilege.

So please, do the activism and the donations. But that does not absolve your responsibility to talk to your uncle about his racist joke or to challenge the white people on your Facebook feed who think racism doesn’t exist in their own communities. Racism is everywhere, and the responsibility for dismantling it is not just political — it’s deeply personal.

Advertisements

How To Stop Conversational Manspreading: A Self-Help Guide For Men

Manspreading is not just a physical thing.

manspreading on the subway

It’s a conversational thing. Conversational manspreading is when men dominate a conversation or insert opinions into areas they just shouldn’t comment on.

It sounds like men using a question and answer period to insert an opinion. It sounds like stating opinion as fact. It sounds like men challenging women on their own lived experience. It sounds like former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) saying Hillary Clinton should smile more, even though he is ‘with her’ electorally speaking. It sounds like, well, conversations with men dominating that happen in classrooms and workplaces every damn day.

Conversational manspreading is not the same thing as mansplaining, or men explaining to women things they already know, although mansplaining can certainly be a tactic in the conversational manspreading toolbox.

So often we see self-help directed toward women as a way to rise above sexist inequality. Women are told we are underpaid because we choose the wrong careers, or we need to find the self-confidence to speak up, or we need to learn how to negotiate, even though new research shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, women ask for raises as much as men — we just don’t get them.

In this spirit, I’d like to offer some self-help tips for men so that they can find a way to rise above the insecurity and awry feelings that lead them to take up more conversational space than they need. Here goes:

  1. Don’t tell a woman what she goes through when she has her period, or how she should think about her own anatomy or reproductive matters in general — just don’t. Ever. Even if you happen to work in the reproductive health field.
  2. Don’t comment on how much or how little others are eating or exercising.
  3. Don’t interrupt women.
  4. Do not “shush” women as you disagree with them, either with sounds and/or your hands.
  5. If you are answering every question or speaking to every point raised in a meeting, you are speaking too much.
  6. Don’t tell someone how to feel. Don’t tell someone to smile. Don’t tell someone to lighten up.
  7. If you are a man and dominating a conversation about feminism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
  8. If you’re a white person and you’re dominating a conversation about racism with your own opinions, you’re doing it wrong.
  9. If you agree with something someone else said, say so. Do not present their opinions as your own.
  10. Don’t respond to queries for questions with your opinions.
  11. If you don’t have the lived experience, spend almost all of your time listening.
  12. If you don’t have the lived experience, do not explain how those who do should respond to injustice.
  13. Don’t tell activists they are doing it wrong.
  14. Don’t respond to police brutality with a nervous call for everyone to calm down and remain peaceful.
  15. If you are all over a listserv like every other post, stop it!
  16. Don’t mansplain. Don’t mansplain what mansplaining means to the one woman sitting at your table of four (I sat next to that at a restaurant once and it took every fiber of my being to not whip out the video camera).
  17. Don’t say something flirty or cute to someone who works below you, ever. It’s not a joke.
  18. If you consider yourself a progressive man, all of the above still apply to you. Do not assume you are perfect.

Add in your tips for men to stop the conversational manspreading in the comments!

Feminism Must Be Anti-Racist

Recently, an acquaintance on Facebook upset several mutual friends with a post that started with an admission that every time someone says the phrase ‘white privilege,’ she laughs out loud. She went on to detail how, while she was a white woman, she has experienced a number of specific oppressions in her life and felt it was unfair to conflate her with white male bankers. She identifies vociferously as a feminist.

Also this week, I was pulled over for speeding (oopsie!) and waited in frustration as the officer spent seemingly forever in his car with my registration and license. When he came back, he gave me a warning and let me go. I’ll admit; I was a little frazzled. Earlier that day my daughter had fallen and hurt herself at school, and waiting in my car for the police officer meant I was getting more and more late to pick her up. I told him so, and he left me with a genuine expression of concern. His last words were, “have a better day.”

This, when women like Sandra Bland wind up dead in jail after a routine traffic stop. When some white people continue to defend the Confederate flag after the terrorist murders in Charleston. When people I know sully the ‘feminist’ movement with open hostility toward intersectionality and a self-aggrandizing desire to shout over the lived experiences of others.

I cried as I drove away.

White privilege is an institution that is scary for whites to acknowledge. Hardly anyone wants to be called racist, and just about everyone, white people included, can cook up some stories of how they overcame hardships and got where they are by dint of hard work. The institution of white privilege does not mean that every white person is inherently bad, nor that every white person lives a dandy oppression-free life, but it does mean that every white person doesn’t have to deal with the race-based economic, political, and social inequality people of color have to deal with every day. It also means that white people have a responsibility to listen, learn, and advocate for change.

To deny that at this moment of crisis — when we keep seeing new videos and learning new names of Black people who die in police custody, when activists from the Black Lives Matter movement are tugging the strings of the nation’s conscience and doing the hard work to redistribute power where it belongs — to deny that automatically lands you on a continuum somewhere between ignorant and asshole.

Many of the best feminist activists, organizers, theorists, thinkers, and writers I know are women of color. For that matter, many of the best feminists I know who have told me they most struggle with the term “feminist” are women of color.

Because there is this baggage of white feminists who declare all women are the same, when we are most clearly not. Or things like Patricia Arquette’s exclusionary speech for ‘women’s rights’ at the Oscars.

What we don’t need is ‘unity,’ a phrase that is often deployed as a way for women with more power to get their way.

What we frankly need is to educate these women, or else.

I know many feminists who will rise up to defend why you need to support abortion rights in order to identify as a feminist. The same thing needs to happen with racial justice — if you are not willing to listen to others with different experiences and identities without putting yourself first, if you are not willing to look racism in the face, you really need to get the fuck out of the tent.

Long-Term, What Should We Take Away From L’Affaire Arquette?

For a second, it seemed like Patricia Arquette might be the new hero of the feminist movement.

After using her Oscar acceptance speech to call for equal rights for women, later that evening she expanded on her remarks backstage. “It’s time for all … the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now,” she said.

Look, the initial acceptance speech was not perfect — not all women give birth, citizenship is a privilege that many people don’t get to have, and “we” have not all fought for “everybody’s equal rights” that are currently being exercised and enjoyed — but it was an exciting moment for feminism anyway. The wage gap and equality for women should be mainstream issues.

That Arquette used her Oscar acceptance speech to call for political and social equality for women does not negate the harm of what she said backstage. By drawing lines around who is considered a woman (ostensibly, not gay, of color, or both) and insinuating that LGBT people and people of color (again, not mutually exclusive groups) owe something to those women who are white and straight and getting paid unfairly, Arquette set feminism back.

There are feminists and others who vehemently disagree with me on this; they think I am being too hard on Arquette or that I am demanding perfection of women who step out for feminism. Briefly, I understand it is difficult for celebrities to step out as feminists, and as, I have written before, I believe Celebrity Feminism Is A Good Thing. Nor do I think women and in particular feminists all need to be perfect. I’m not perfect and I’m not going to let that stop me from trying to advance equality for women and girls. These issues are not what’s at stake.

As a broader movement, feminism has a massive white privilege problem and exclusion problem. This is nothing new (racism has always been present in the women’s movement, with racist suffragists posing strong historical examples, and likewise Betty Friedan warned of the “lavender menace,” or the ridiculous idea that lesbians pose a threat to the women’s movement, in the 1960s), but Arquette tapped into it and reinforced it in a very public way.

If you think I am being “divisive” and ignoring that Arquette “meant well” and at this point wish to hit me over the head with a frying pan, I urge you to read Imani Gandy’s The Road to Structural Erasure Is Paved With Well-Intentioned White Ladies. (Seriously, though, if you hit her over the head with a frying pan I’m coming to get you.)

So now that all this has happened, what should we take away from this moment?

Here are my primary three suggestions:

1. Embrace fearlessness, rather than unity, as the rally cry for feminism. 

Women are not all the same and, as I’ve written before, it’s not helpful to speak for all women. Many of the people standing on Arquette’s side in this affair believe that women need to “stand together,” or strive for “unity.” The problem with this logic is that inevitably “unity” means quieting the softer voices in the room, or the people with less power. Calls for unity can be oppressive because, by drawing upon and reinforcing existing power dynamics, they can come to operate as calls to resist the inclusion of marginalized people.

Feminism is at its strongest when we embrace the reality that not all women are the same, and that women experience different oppressions on the basis of a wide range of identities and privileges. 

Imagine how strong the women’s movements could be if we embraced fearlessness rather than unity as the rally cry for our feminisms.

Let’s fearlessly examine how racism impacts life in America. Let’s fearlessly engage in difficult conversations with others. Let’s fearlessly remain open to changing our own views, and learning from others committed to human rights and social justice but with different perspectives. Let’s fearlessly speak up for the rights of all people — starting with but not exclusive to women. Let’s fearlessly embrace different people sharing diverse explanations of what conditions are required to thrive.

2. Criticism does not mean someone should go away, but Arquette should apologize.

It would be great if Arquette would apologize publicly for what she said, and such an apology would not be an admission of weakness but rather a representation of strength. The most feminist thing Arquette could do would be make an apology and commit publicly to growth. (While she has subsequently tweeted about the way the wage gap disproportionately impacts people of color, that is not a genuine “I’m sorry for what I said, and I will work to be more inclusive in my feminism in the future.”

As I wrote previously in Getting To Sorry: Why Apologies Matter When Someone Says Something Bigoted:

Feminism, as a practice, is not about gotcha and declaring some people good and other people bad. It is about eliminating bigotry from our lives — something all of us will have to work at — and moving forward in new ways that honor the full potential and human rights of everyone. So getting to sorry is a big deal, because it is that first step toward honoring people and making change.”

To be super clear, Arquette should not leave feminism, and her harmful words should not be used as an excuse for why others should not enter feminism. Should Arquette choose to handle the controversy with an apology, a little vulnerability, and an open commitment to expanding her practice of feminism to make it more intersectional, she could in fact give feminism a great gift.

Because lots of people will step in it. No one person can escape the thinking that underlies systems of oppression, even people who are committed to ending them in whole or in part. Social change agents will not succeed if they are not willing to change themselves.

3. Feminism must also mean listening to and elevating the experiences of women of color. 

Please stop reading my blog right now and read Jasmine Burnett on Navigating a ‘Crooked Room’: Reflections From Black Women on Their Experiences in Progressive Spaces. It is a disturbing, important, vital piece.

In Response To The Allegation That Pointing Out White Male Dominance Is Racist And Sexist

Is it racist and sexist to point out that white men are dominant? Since launching the Tumblr white guys doing it by themselves, I’ve been called a “racist bitch” and told I’m sexist, too.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to these comments because while they lack decorum, this strain of thought is out there in less aggressive forms and it’s important to address it.

No one is a bad person for thinking that it’s racist or sexist to point out differences between advantaged groups and disadvantaged groups. Rather, they are tuning into decades of right-wing messaging gone mainstream: That equality has been achieved, that racism and sexism are wrongs of the past and not the present, and that the true victims of racism and sexism are white men who are less likely to get jobs and all the other things they might otherwise rightfully achieve on this planet were it not for misguided affirmative action efforts. None of these messages are true.

In a hypothetical world, it could be racist to exclude white people in order to prioritize people of color. It could be sexist to exclude men in order to prioritize women. We do not live in a hypothetical world.

We live in a real world where white men are so dominant that it’s easy to overlook how often they dominate to the point of excluding everyone else unless it is pointed out.

Pointing out white male dominance is not an attack on white men. It is an attack on the centuries-old practice of racism and sexism excluding everyone but white men from the levers of power, and the invisibility that allows that discrimination to continue.

The ability to be taken seriously as a leader, as a white man, is a privilege. It is not earned, although many white men work hard and do good things on top of this privilege. With this unearned privilege must come awareness and responsibility among hard-working white men to insist others are included in discussions affecting all of us. This is why white guys doing it by themselves exists.

White Guys Doing It By Themselves

Follow my new Tumblr: white guys doing it by themselves.

From the House GOP conference live-tweeting its get-together during the shutdown under the hashtag “Fairness For All” to the school board in North Carolina that banned The Invisible Man, white guys doing it by themselves is a tribute to white men totally comfortable telling everyone else how it’s gonna be.

Don’t worry, erintothemax.com is still my blog-blog, so stick around here, too!

“Every Artistic Intervention Is A Political Act” – Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz spoke at the Arlington Public Library last night. Even the overflow room was standing room only. It was worth every swollen ankle moment for my pregnant body.

For those of you who don’t know Diaz, he wrote The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one of my favorite recent novels. Junot Diaz deserves his Pulitzer Prize so bad it makes you want to cry with enthusiastic happiness, like on the level if Miss America were crowned on live television and responded with: “But I’m smart. When are you going to give a shit about that?”

Junot Diaz

While not surprising, it was still delightful to discover that he grew up reading feminist, women of color novelists. Throughout his talk he slammed white patriarchal supremacy, telling us that culture tries to make artists and writers and everyone as white, male and straight as it can, with a message that if you do this, you will be loved. He talked about having his students at MIT look through The New York Times bestseller list one year and identify that an author of color was in the bestseller list only one out of 52 weeks. He spoke defiantly against rampant discrimination directed toward the Latino community, including the pressure to not speak Spanish.

He also spoke a great deal about the unquestioned status of capitalism in our society, and how it appears to be infecting children to the point that they display the pressure to specialize early in life. I enjoyed his comments about capitalism and art, in particular his view that writers and artists shouldn’t expect their art to “do something” (such as make money, or make other people happy), because we must create for the future and not the now. In other words Junot Diaz is a flaming anti-racist, feminist, unabashedly progressive, rebel artist dude. Which makes me want to read more of his books.

He’s brilliant and chill at the same time. I loved his self-deprecating, though not self-apologizing, style. One of my favorite quotes from the evening arose from a question as to why he named the title of one book, Drown, differently in the English and Spanish versions. He chalked it up to being stupid and in his 20s. Summing it up, he said: “It’s like you always have these great ideas as an artist, and then you execute, and then it’s super ass.”