This week it finally hit me like a piano out of the sky: nine out of ten* people who argue with me on points of problematic representations/treatment of women in the media and by society in general are…wait for it…dudes.
I’ve come to use the term “dude” (as in Those Dudes) ironically to mean men who are not trolls but are not my allies (though they may believe they are) and who tend to engage in a thing the Internet has come to call “mansplaining,” specifically in response to women speaking out about sexism and misogyny and anything related to it. They seem unable to understand the concept of differing experiences and perspectives or listening and learning from others, and if they disagree on a point, they a) feel they must convince you that you’re wrong or b) believe you owe it to them to convince them you’re right. Or both. Entitlement issues, much?
So here’s a note to Those Dudes. May they give it some serious thought over their next White Russian, or whatever Those Dudes drink.
To Those Dudes:
I’m writing to you today to ask a question and offer some information and advice I hope will be useful to you in your endeavor to be a decent human being.
Here’s my question: Why is it so difficult for you to understand that experiences exist outside your own; that your perspective is yours alone; that you can’t know what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin—a woman’s skin?
Because you just can’t. You can say that you empathize, but that only goes so far because it is actually impossible for you to walk in our shoes. And most of you wouldn’t if you could. (If you bristle at that, I dare you to challenge yourself to pass as a woman in public for 24 hours, because that’s as close as you’ll get, and I guarantee you it’ll change your life.) And because you can’t know what it’s like to be us, you’d think that logic (that thing you’re always telling me my arguments are lacking) would dictate that you cannot be an expert on us, on being us, on how to be us, on how things affect us, and all that stuff you always want to advise us on. I’m really hoping that if you give it some serious, logical thought you’ll understand how your telling us how wrong we are when we talk about how we experience the world doesn’t make a lot of sense.
And yet you crawl up out of the woodwork every time we speak to tell us we’re mistaken and misguided, that we’re not seeing things clearly, that our perspectives are out of true, that we’re far too sensitive and emotional and are just creating “drama”–that because you don’t see it the way we do there’s nothing to talk about and why do we make such a BIG DEAL out of everything.
This behavior has a name. There was a time when I didn’t use the name because frankly, I didn’t want people to think I’m one of Those Feminists who hates men. I don’t want to use gender-specific terms to describe bad behavior if I can help it. I’d rather just say “That guy’s a pompous ass.” But there came a day when even I had to admit there’s a damned good reason that term exists, and that’s because it’s a fucking problem. The problem I’m talking about is “mansplaining,” and the word describes what so many of you engage in when you try to sit us down and tell us how our experiences as women are not what we believe they are and that the issues we feel passionate about are the wrong issues and that we’re going about all this in the wrong way and that you’ve got all the answers.
So, here’s my advice to you, Dudes:
Stop telling women they’ve got it wrong** when they speak out about the problems they see in the world. Stop telling us we’re thinking, writing, and saying the wrong things. Stop telling us the things we see as problems aren’t—your belief is not required, and your disbelief doesn’t magically erase an issue from existence. Stop insisting on our time and energy like needy children—if you’ll read the fine print, you’ll find we don’t actually owe you a debate, a conversation, or even a hello. Stop pretending you have any idea what it’s like to be us, and for Petunia’s sake, stop whipping out your “woman-friend-who-agrees-with-me.”
Stop with the fucking mainsplaining, and I promise I’ll stop using the term. Until then, I’m going to call you on this crap, because I’m sick of dealing with it. Learn some listening skills and some humility. Put some skill points into Self Awareness and Tact and Not Being a Dick.
If you want to be an ally, you’ll take this to heart. If you don’t, you really ought to find another hobby.
*I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote “9 out of 10.” It’s honestly more like 99/100.
**(Added post-publication for clarity.) This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. There are ways to communicate disagreement that don’t include telling a woman she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (or implying you know better than she does) when she’s talking about woman things or her perspective as a woman. But do stop and consider whether your presence in a given conversation is necessary or you just want to disagree, because sometimes it’s just not. Read some of the articles below for tips. Also, because I feel I must say it: this article is directed at men who exhibit specific behaviors, not men in general.
- Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass (policymic)
- A Cultural History of Mansplaining (The Atlantic)
- #497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer (captainawkward.com)
- Men who explain things (Los Angeles Times)
- I’m Tired of All the Damned Splaining So Check Your Privilege, Please (makemeasammich.org)
- Dear Entitled Straight White Dudes (makemeasammich.org)
PSA: Trolls who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger Warning: Violence Against Women
Hi. My name is Rosie. And I’m a persona.
I exist to protect the person who hides behind me. I allow her to say things she has trouble saying with her real mouth, but I am her True Voice. Through me, the person who writes this blog has found a way to talk about her life and what it’s like to be a woman in what is still very much a man’s world in so many ways.
I can be a bit rough around the edges. Ranty, sweary, short-of-temper, unlikely to take crap. She’s like that too, but my knob is tuned way higher than hers. And I think that sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that the fact that she and I have strong opinions about things and fight for what we believe in means we’re super tough and impervious to harm. I think sometimes people have the impression we’re so sure of ourselves—this real-life-person and I, her avatar—so confident and secure, that words, judgment, implications that we are what’s wrong with feminism, that we see problems where none exist, that we’re too angry and intense and that we spend our energies on all the wrong things…that none of this gets through the armor of this persona and reaches the real person.
But she’s in there, and she’s tired and sad and it’s taking everything I’ve got to help her find the words to admit it. She has learned that life is different now and unless she’s willing to give up on the dream of making positive change, she’s going to have to get used to encountering resistance not just from the faceless Internet, but from friends and allies.
She’s sad and tired and sometimes she feels like giving up, but she’s got hope and she clings to it and it’s what gives me whatever power I’ve got to pull out words when all she’s got are tears. Hope that all this will end up being worthwhile (and faith that it must), and that those friends and allies who doubt and resist will let down their guard and trust that when she says “this hurts me” it does. Hope that the fact that she hurts is enough to make a thing—or even a movement—important enough to them that they won’t dismiss it out of hand or imply that she’s not seeing clearly or that she’s “too angry.” Hope that if they disagree, they’ll remember that it’s not philosophy to her—that it’s something she feels deeply.
Hi. I’m Rosie. And I’m here to tell you that activism isn’t fun. It can be very, very rewarding, but when one of us launches a campaign like the one I helped launched yesterday, we’re putting ourselves out there to be criticized by the whole entire Internet, and if you think I haven’t spent the last 24 hours second-guessing myself, alternately shaking with rage and crying tears of frustration, then you think I’m a lot stronger than I really am. I’ve been told I’m part of the problem and that my perceptions are flawed, that I’m wasting my time, and that I’m aggressive. None of these are firsts, but when every ping from your blog and social media elicits a moment of panic, you know you’re stressed. And when some of the doubt comes from within the tent, that’s particularly hard to take—but it happens every single time. And while it’s certainly healthy to entertain differing points of view, by the time I’ve gone all-in on a campaign like this, I’ve gone over and over it and I know how I feel about it, so the second-guessing is just a mind-game I play with myself. I’m in no doubt, for example, of how I feel about that hotel ad.
And that’s what I left out of my post yesterday: Me. Why this campaign is important to me personally.
When I was 20, the man I was with beat the shit out of me and promised me I would not live through the night. He smacked me around first, then gouged my eyes with his fingers (leaving scars I still see when I look at a blank wall), cut my face with a putty knife, then threw me across the room. Somewhere in there he told me he was going to bury me in a field where no one would find me. About half this he did in front of my two-year-old daughter. That’s just one of my stories of violence, but it’s the one that comes up like bile when I see this image.
A reader yesterday said the ad in question looked like slapstick to him. Someone else said she looked like she was just lying there—no violence implied. Me? At a gut level, without any analysis, I see a dead woman lying on concrete (I get “alley” or “parking lot”) at a glance. When I see this image, I see her story. The story this image tells me is of a woman to whom violence has been done (she didn’t throw that suitcase at herself) and who has been left for dead on a stained concrete floor. On closer inspection, she’s sprawled in a decidedly lifeless way (I now have a copy of the magazine and it looks like she’s in a parking garage—there are oil stains), her hand palm-up. She’s certainly not conscious—not struggling to get up under the weight of the heavy suitcase she accidentally dropped on herself. In fact, to me, it doesn’t look like she’s getting up at all.
And when I see that, I think of all the women who—like me—have had violence done to them but who—unlike me—did not survive it. And I feel sick. And I feel like this is a crass fucking way to sell a product. But at the heart of it, this image causes me pain and given the response I’ve received privately, on the post, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments section of the petition, I’m not alone.
Hi. My name is Rosie. And I’m not as strong as you may think I am. But I’m not alone. For that, I’m more grateful than I can say.
The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women (makemeasammich.org)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger warning: violence against women.
TL;DR: Sign the petition.
UPDATE 8/29: Refocusing on DuJour
I have rewritten the petition letter to focus on DuJour, but have left The Standard as a recipient for now. This campaign is still getting press, and if the petition takes off, would hate like hell for them to miss out on all the fun.
Please continue to share the petition and contact your media peeps.
Thank you for all your help and support!
UPDATE 8/28: On Fauxpologies and Small Victories
In activism, we have to choose our battles often accept small victories when we’d rather announce that we got everything we wanted the way we’d like to. In the case of The Standard, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard all we’re going to from them unless we step this campaign up in a major way. (DuJour has not responded yet; more on that in a bit.)
In under 24 hours, we got The Standard’s attention and that of several media outlets, including BuzzFeed. (UPDATE: The Daily Mail apparently also picked this up yesterday, and Business Insider and The Daily Beast both covered it today.) This post has had over 2,600 hits, and has been reblogged many times. We got people talking about an image that for many of us produced a visceral reaction and sent a message that dead women make great advertising fodder. And we got an apology from The Standard.
Now let’s talk about that apology, shall we? Because it looks a lot like other apologies we’ve seen from entities in response to criticism of the type we’ve leveled at The Standard. I’ll break it down:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm.”
Translation: This is art, dummies. Blame the artist, not us.
This avoids responsibility for the content by branding it “art” and hopes, I think, to make us feel a little silly for making such a big deal out of it. I mean, we didn’t ask who the artist was, and the fact that it’s art is completely irrelevant. You spent exactly four sentences on this apology, The Standard. Did this really need to be one of them?
“We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence.”
Translation: We don’t see it that way, but we’re sorry you do, and if you do, it’s not really our fault.
Ok, look, I’m asking a lot here, I know, but couldn’t we get a “We’re sorry we did a bad thing?” “We’re sorry we used this image without thinking of the implications or the impact on survivors of violence?” No, we basically got “we’re sorry you were offended,” and that not only defers responsibility for the perceived “offense” onto us, the “offended,” but it declines to acknowledge that any damage occurred.
“No offense or harm was intended.”
Translation: We didn’t mean to do anything wrong, ergo, we didn’t and/or you should let us off the hook because our intentions were not evil.
Duh. You didn’t set out to cause harm to women or survivors of violence or anyone with this ad. You intended to get people’s attention and you didn’t think about what this image might actually say about your brand–what it might say to over half the population who, presumably, you’d like to attract to your hotel. You didn’t think about the harm it might cause despite your intentions, and now you’re not really admitting to any harm, just assuring us that none was intended.
“The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”
Translation: We were done with this campaign anyway, so here’s a bone.
Yes, I’m being extremely cynical, because we should really call that line a win, dog-boney as it is. We have (as the amazing Jaclyn Friedman (Women, Action, and the Media) kindly pointed out to me yesterday) created an “opportunity cost.” We have caused this company–and anyone watching, including DuJour–to take a look at the cost vs. benefit of using ads like this in the future. That is a GOOD THING.
So yeah, this was a pretty weak apology–but it’s still a win. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As for DuJour, they ran the ad apparently thinking it was acceptable, and so far they have not responded in any way to our petition. I would sincerely like to get a response from them saying they get it, but frankly, at the rate we’re gaining signatures on the petition, I’m not sure how long that will take or whether it will happen at all. As Jaclyn pointed out, there are many ads like this out in magazines around the country and the world, and we have to choose where to focus our energies.
Your Input Needed
What do you think, readers? Should we leave the petition up, removing The Standard so DuJour keeps getting emails when someone signs? Is it worth pushing for more signatures, more media coverage? Or is it time to call this a victory and move on to the next thing? If we had 2,000 sigs instead of under 200, this wouldn’t even be a question, but I’ve only got so much energy to spend and I want your input on this. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
UPDATE 8/27: The Standard Responds
Fewer than 24-hours after we launched our petition, The Standard posted the following response to Change.org:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm. We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence. No offense or harm was intended. The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”
I’ll have commentary on this soon. Meanwhile, let me know what you think in the comments section below. Are you satisfied with The Standard’s apology? Have they done enough?
The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women
Last week Daisy Eagan sent me the image below. It’s a partial of a full-page ad for The Standard Hotels in DuJour magazine’s summer issue. The ad contains no text—just this image and the hotel’s logo and a bit of fine print at the bottom.
DuJour is a new fashion/lifestyle magazine published nationally with localized issues for major cities. The Standard is a “boutique” hotel chain with locations in New York, Miami, and L.A. The image above looks to be taken from the NYC edition (based on the small print on the facing page). Somewhere in the offices where each of these companies does business, one assumes that entire teams of people looked at this and thought it was ok. At an ad agency hired by The Standard, some bright young creative type came up with this ad* in response to the challenge to market a hotel chain to rich people, a group that must certainly include many, many women. All three of these companies made the decision to use violence against women to market a product. Apparently, this isn’t the first time The Standard has been criticized for their advertising choices. Claire Darrow, creative director for Andre Balazs Properties has said these choices amount to “surrendering our ads to art, so to speak…We want to contribute to the magazines…We don’t just want to advertise.” (Update for clarity: This piece is part of a series by Erwin Wurm called “One Minute Sculptures”)
I know I don’t have to explain to most of you why this particular ad is (no, not “offensive”) damaging, but I really have to spend some time talking about how, like recent pieces by The Onion (more info here and here), this ad trivializes violence against women, once again using victims of said violence as bait, once again for the purpose of profiting from our pain. I need to point out for anyone not clear on the concept that by using violence against women for something as crass as attempting to lure people to your “boutique” hotel chain these companies are helping to perpetuate the cycle of violence. They are normalizing it—treating it as something trivial, not worth taking seriously. Treating it as a joke. That teaches everyone regardless of gender that violence against women is No Big Deal. These messages in our media teach women to expect violence and teach men prone to violence against women that what they do is socially acceptable. And apparently The Standard Hotels, DuJour, and the as-yet unnamed advertising agency behind this ad thought that this was the right message to send to potential customers.
Daisy blogged about this ad last week asking her readers to contact The Standard and DuJour and ask them why they think this is appropriate advertising. She had this to say about it:
Dujour magazine ran an ad in its summer issue for The Standard hotels clearly meant to warn women to steer clear of the hotel or face violence and/or death.
I’ve ordered a copy of the Miami edition which should arrive soon, and since TSH has a location in Miami, I assume the ad will be present. When it comes, I’ll update this post with a full image of the ad (now available here thanks to Daisy) and any other information I can find—hopefully including the name of the agency that designed the ad.
We’ve started a petition to let The Standard Hotels and DuJour Media know what we think of this ad and the message they’re sending about violence against women. Please sign and share so we can get their attention (tweets have so far had no effect) and make sure they understand that ads like this are not acceptable and that they do harm.
You can also write to the parties in question directly. Thanks to Daisy for finding this information. (If you decide to do this, I’d appreciate it if you also signed and shared the petition, which goes directly to their email. Numbers matter. Thanks!)
Andre Balazs Properties
23 E. 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
You can also help by alerting media folks about this campaign (especially local media if you live in NYC, Miami, or L.A.). Bad press is often what penetrates otherwise impermeable entities.
Let’s make some noise.
Hotel Pulls Ad of Crushed Woman (The Daily Beast)
The Standard Discontinues Ad Accused of Promoting Violence Against Women (the fashion spot)
Stop Violence Against…Everyone (Stuphblog)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.
This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”
I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:
Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body
When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.
Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.
The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.
Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.
As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?
Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.
And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.
Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.
You can contact The Onion at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.
On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:
Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.
Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.
I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.
Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.
And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.
Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).
The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.
- Chelsea Manning, media bias, and cissexism (canada.com)
- Earlier today, The Daily Beast published a rape apologist, homophobic, transphobic article on Chelsea Manning. (jezebel.com)
- The Day The Onion Died (makemeasammich.org)
- Internet Finds Onion Rape & Incest Story Deeply Unfunny (theatlanticwire.com)
PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
8/23/2015 – In the two years since I wrote this post, racism—especially racism resulting in brutality and/or murder perpetrated by police (and police wannabes like George Zimmerman) or lethal neglect by same—has finally been recognized by many as the crisis it has been for as long as any of us have been alive and so much longer. Social media has been a big part of shining a spotlight on the issue—specifically Black women on Twitter, who have been responsible for creating trending discussions on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to #BlackLivesMatter, a movement created by three Black women after the Zimmerman verdict.
Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
Over the past two years dozens of Black men, women, and children have been murdered by police. And yet, fewer white and non-black people than I’d like have risen to the challenge to see outside their own gaze, their own experience, and attempt to truly gain an understanding of how our privilege blinds us to so much. Too many default to defensiveness, anger, and intolerance when faced with the truth that when they are not actively part of the solution to the problem they benefit from, they are the problem. The problem is white supremacy (not the ideology, but the system) and in the simplest and most general terms, it means the darker your skin, the harder life is going to be for you in the U.S.
I spoke with a white woman friend the other day who reminded me of a time when she and another friend of mine “fit the description” (something that happens to Black people regularly) of a couple who had just pulled off a robbery. She described how terrifying it was to see the cops coming toward her with their hands on their weapons, ready to draw in a heartbeat. And we talked about the tweet I read a year or so ago in which a Black man talked about how surprised he was to learn from his white friends that this was not something they experienced every time they encountered law enforcement. For him, that was just what cops did.
Below is what I had to say two years ago about the Zimmerman verdict. Below that are some words about what it means to be white in a country that treats white as the default and treats Black as less-than. And a challenge to white people sitting on the sidelines to actively work on shifting their perspective and hopefully, become part of the solution. Here’s another one: if you want to be part of the solution, talk to your white friends about this. Here’s one person’s advice on how to do that.
8/18/2003 – It’s past time I spoke about this. I’ve said previously that my words seem lost, but I’ve got to find some that describe the dark pit that opened up in me the day the Zimmerman verdict was announced. I’ve got to find words to talk about the fact that racism is my problem. Our problem. It’s not going away until every one of us says that to ourselves—claims it, takes it on as a very real part of ourselves and recognizes it to be a slow-growing cancer eating us alive.
I sometimes feel the need to assert that this blog is opinion first, and journalism second or third or maybe not at all. I do my best to be informed about the topics I’m writing about, but I have accepted the fact that I can’t know everything and sometimes I have to write from my heart. From my gut. I just have to write.
This piece is pure opinion. I don’t watch television. I’ve read about the case, but I can’t claim to know the nuances, and I certainly don’t know Florida law or what limitations the jurors were up against or anything like that. But there are things I know in my heart. In my gut. And I have to say them.
I believe Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. I believe George Zimmerman is a murderer. I believe that George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated. And I believe the circus that surrounded the trial—even viewed from afar by someone who doesn’t watch tv and catches up in dribs and drabs via social media and the web—points up in no uncertain terms the fact that the United States of America is in a crisis of racism that threatens to tear us apart.
I don’t think Zimmerman woke up on the morning of February 26, 2012 with plans to find and murder Trayvon Martin or anyone else. But I do believe he was “on patrol”—out looking for trouble, and for George Zimmerman, a young black man walking in his neighborhood spelled it out in all caps. I believe that in the 911 clip most of us have heard at least once, George Zimmerman whispered not “fucking punks” as he claims, but “fucking coons.” And I believe that when Zimmerman stopped his truck, got out, and confronted Trayvon Martin, that Martin was probably terrified and very likely defended himself. Who the fuck wouldn’t? And maybe Zimmerman was in fear of his life at that point. Maybe he wasn’t. I know for sure that if he hadn’t had a gun in his hand, that boy would still be alive. I know for certain that if he had listened to the dispatcher who told him not to follow, that Trayvon Martin would never have felt the need to defend himself. I know that if George Zimmerman had not been the AGGRESSOR in this situation, no aggression could possibly have taken place between them. None. Because Trayvon Martin was not trouble in all caps or lowercase. In that moment, Trayvon Martin was a teenage boy on his way from point A to point B to enjoy a can of tea and a bag of candy. And in that moment, George Zimmerman was the boogey man—a guy following him. A guy who stopped his truck and got out and harassed him. A guy who shot him dead.
I’ll say it again in case I wasn’t clear: Despite what that jury found based on whatever broken excuse for a book of laws they’ve got down in Florida, I believe George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and I believe that racism led him to the choice do so.
George Zimmerman is a murderer. And a racist.
Now let’s talk about Rachel Jeantel. What more proof do you need that the default setting for media viewing is WHITE than the disgusting reactions to this woman as she took the stand and told her story. Self-styled critics took to Twitter to ridicule her speech and mannerisms. Some thinking themselves especially clever referred to her as “Precious.” Memes sprang up calling her “retarded,” and making Fat Albert jokes. When I searched for an image of her, it was difficult to find a shot that wasn’t a still grabbed from video in order to capture a strange expression and then use it to further the “retarded” narrative. And this is not the worst of it.
It’s tempting to write off these tweets and memes as representing a small segment of society that doesn’t really count–to label the people writing and making them as “just racists” as though the word describes other people—not people we know. Not ones we hang out with. And yet, if you pay attention, you don’t have to walk far to encounter someone who isn’t afraid to show that side of themselves to the people they trust, and from there, a couple of steps will land you face-to-face with someone who hears the things that person says and lets them pass even though they don’t agree. Turn around and you’ll find a child listening, absorbing. Follow that child outdoors and listen as she repeats the racist’s words to her friends.
It’s a virus in our heads, and we aren’t doing enough to fight it. I’m not doing enough. Talking to some teenagers recently about racism and privilege I found myself getting discouraged as their eyes glazed over, my words seeming to pass through them like atoms. But it’s them we need to reach. This fear of the Other is taught. Put a group of children together, and they may notice differences—may even ask questions about them—but the fear comes later. It’s learned. And it can be unlearned.
I remember when, as a child of three or four, a friend of my father’s came to visit. He was the first black person I’d ever seen, and I thought he was beautiful. I loved the way his smile seemed to shine so brightly–and he was always smiling. I asked my mother about some of the differences I noticed, and she answered, giving me no sense that my questions were wrong or made her uncomfortable in any way. But when I asked him why the palms of his hands were lighter than the rest of him, it was as though all the air went out of the room. My parents hissed something at me about being impolite, but the man just laughed. I was a child, and I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to understand.
As a white person, I believe it is my job to help end racism. People who say we should be colorblind miss the very important point that people are different in all sorts of ways and ignoring those differences honors no one. It erases cultures. It makes everyone white. Colorblindness is not the answer. Understanding and compassion are the answers.
I’m challenging myself to reach out and find ways to end racism in my lifetime. I’m working to increase my understanding and compassion around racism, and through that understanding and compassion, I hope to reach others. I’m talking to people about racism—especially young people. I’m becoming aware of the programming in my own head, noticing the white gaze through which I have learned to see the world and through which so much media and art is presented to us—presented as the norm, just as the male gaze is presented as the norm.
Guess what? They’re not. White isn’t “normal” any more than male is. Normal is a world full of people from all walks of life. Normal is cultures upon cultures, each one more fascinating than the last, and many of them living and thriving within the mostly white one some of us think of as the “norm.” Normal is pretty much anyone and everyone you meet when you walk outside your little bubble, put your smart phone away, and look around you.
There’s a world of color out there, and it’s time white people woke up and tuned it in. It’s time we actively took control of our gaze and shifted it to include everyone. I’m calling on all of you to challenge yourselves–notice the programming and change it. Help others to change theirs. We have to do it. We’re the only ones who can.
It’s worth noting that when I checked the WordPress thingy for related articles, one option was something about GZ’s “media lynching.” I seriously have no words. I keep typing and backspacing. Just…ugh.
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My bloggiversary came and went back in late June while I was attending to other things, and while I’d love to do a clever recap of the year, I’m afraid I just don’t have the energy right now. Instead, here are a few things I’ve learned this year as a baby blogger/activist right off the top of my head:
- Blogging is fun! And sometimes hard. But mostly fun!
- I love my readers. The ones I love, that is. You know who you are. Especially you.
- Some of the coolest people in the world are bloggers, and a bunch of them are now my friends. (An alarming number of them are Canadian for some reason. I blame Le Clown.)
- Trolls are really sick and sad and I wish I had a superpower to defend the world against them. But as long as they exist, they serve a purpose in the fight against them, so I’m learning to live with them the way I’ve learned to live with the fact that bacteria grows on my teeth while I sleep.
- When people care enough about an issue, when we join our voices and demand it, change happens.
- This blog is whatever it is, critics be damned, and I love it more than I ever thought possible. (See “I love my readers.”)
- I’m grateful to everyone who was a part of this first year (even some of the trolls, though I’m not grateful for the way they treated me and continue to treat women on the Internet).
Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. Thanks for reading even if you don’t ever comment. Thanks for commenting even if you don’t agree (this goes to those of you who do so politely and thoughtfully–everyone else can fuck off). It’s been a particularly rough year, and this blog has been a huge part of getting me through it and helping me to work out where I’m going from here.
Oh, and before I forget: Thanks. :)