Now What ?!?

gapingvoid.com

An interesting reaction to one of my posts about rape and police inaction solicited a comment on stumbleupon complaining “once again nowhere to donate.” The comment made me think of my students who often look extremely depressed midway through my social justice courses. When I ask them why they are pouting, they always say “well, this class is great but the world sucks and what are we supposed to do about it?!?” It’s about that time I give them my “soft drink” talk. I ask them to look at what they are drinking, knowing that most are drinking a particular product because it pays pov u a lot of money to feature its products on campus (shhhhh!!!!). Then I tell them about all of the violence against women, children, poor people, and people of color that the particular company is implicated in around the world (shhhhh!!!!). As they stare at their drinks horrified and dumbfounded as to how this information could possibly help their depression, I tell them where all the alternative drink machines are on campus and tell them just by buying a different product they make a statement to the company about their practices. I draw a connection between those choices and anti-apartheid movements on college campuses started by students that ultimately caused the universities with the most to lose to divest from Apartheid driven South Africa. Then I remind them that school is about learning to ask questions you might not otherwise ask or even know to ask. It is about learning to be critical thinkers and taking responsibility for what thinking critical reveals about our world. Everyone has choices and everyone can make a difference regardless of their politics. It is also at this point in the class, that I challenge them to do what other students have already been modeling, get involved in our communities and bring in opportunities to be involved locally and globally to class. In other words, I reframe that old comic book saying about great power and responsibility to remind them that they can and do have power to change the world. Think of it as the With Great Knowledge, Comes Great Responsibility, model.

Why am I telling you all of this?

It seems to me that the internet is both a reflection of the hopelessness under the weight of oppression that so many struggle with and an amplification of it. On the one hand, everyone has felt confused about where to start or how to start or even if doing anything would help when dealing with inequality. On the other hand, the internet spoon feeds information to users. You don’t have to look up material anymore because we link to everything. You don’t have to sit with any information you read because we have distilled everything into 144 words. And now you don’t even have to think about how to get involved because we link that too. And so people, in general, have become extremely lazy about owning the power they have to become informed, get involved, and work toward change.

Example One:

Remember when I put up a post on intersectional reading material with the full citations a year or more ago? I did not link the articles because most of them were not available online and I knew that linking to incomplete sources would have led people to read the few pages available and move on. People spent months demanding I link to the material, literally calling me lazy and stupid for not doing “basic things” like linking to articles; the irony of their own laziness in refusing to look up the material with a simple google search or trip to the library and their own ignorance in demanding links to full material that was not available on the internet was lost on them. Then someone actually wrote a post claiming I had intentionally withheld the links to force people to think resulting in a bunch of people coming to the blog to go off about how “condescending it was” for me to withhold information and how it “completely undermine[d] [my] efforts” because “no one was going to look up the information”, so I “might as well have not written [the] post”. Again, they did not bother to read my post or any of the comments reiterating it’s point about some sources not being digitized, they just demanded to be fed information as if was their right to sit back and depend on someone else.

Like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, everyone commenting was capable of doing their own work or at the very least finding a way to get it. Unlike the plant in Little Shop, they were unwilling to work, to advocate for themselves, or even to consider how offensive it might be to demand that a woman of color provide every ounce of information on diversity readings to a mostly white, middle class, audience with more access to libraries, bookstores, good schools, and income needed to track down and/or buy the materials. In the midst of so many women of color and allies saying thank you for the resources, these readers collective opened their wide mouths and demanded “feed me” expecting blood if nothing else.

Example Two

While many of my posts do include links to organizations where you can volunteer, donate, or learn more information, my post on Antione Dodson did not. That post was about people’s reactions and inaction to issues of rape and sexual violence in poor communities, especially of color. It was not an activism post.

According to the 2007 National Crime Victim Survey, 500 people (.05% of them men or boys) were raped every day in the United States. That is roughly 20 people an hour. According to the US Department of Justice Bureau 2009 Justice Stats on Rape and Stalking, women between the ages of 19-24 make up the largest group of survivors. While my readers cross multiple identities, the largest group of people linking to my post based on an informal survey of links is female between 16 and 25; ie, they are roughly the same age group as the largest targeted population in the U.S. for rape.  1 in 3 women is a victim of domestic or sexual violence in their life time, since this post garnered 10,000s of hits per day for several weeks, that means that on average both the people linking or reading the post have some known relationship to rape survivors as friends, colleagues, or survivors themselves. Given this information, it seems to me that it isn’t too much to ask that people reading would be aware of rape, domestic and sexual violence, and either know the names of some of the organizations working on these issues in their area or how to look this information up with a simple google search. “Rape survivors + [city I live in]” yielded 5 helpful agencies, with addresses and phone numbers, and a law firm specializing in victim’s rights in the first 6 links on Google. “Women’s Crisis + [state I live in]” yielded a list of shelters, hospitals, and advocates in the top links. And so on. When you do the same thing using Dodson’s hometown, you find survivor support groups, AIDs hotlines, hospital advocates, and lawyers. It really is that simple.

The specific criticism of this post was that there was no “Donation” button or link to “do something about the issue.” Again, the ease with which we pass information on the internet seems to have stunted both people’s willingness to take charge of their own power to know and act, but also to engage in critical thinking about knowing and acting. Many people, especially in the radical woc, feminist, and dis/ability blogosphere have been deconstructing the idea of “donation culture” as social justice. In other words, we have been working within and expanding on existing critiques of who writes checks, who can write checks, whether check writing shifts thinking and commitment after the ink dries, and whether writing checks is a solution or a band aid. While I think most, if not all, of us understand that philanthropy is a critical part of keeping movements funded and operational, the idea is to do more than write a check through options ranging from educating yourself on the issues to organizing a group of people to get personally involved for the long term in the work of changing the system or aiding people. It is also about listening to communities and what they want, if they ask for money then money is the primary way to honor community need, if they ask for publicity and consciousness raising, then writing blog posts, writing editorials to your local paper, sending in emails to the national news about the issue, and talking about it with everyone you meet is the primary way to honor the community need, and so on. And no, honoring what the community says it needs does not preclude you from doing other things as well, it just makes their voices foremost and centered in your activism.

Getting back to the Dodson post, I specifically linked to a woc blogger who had listed all of the major players in the incident who had not acted on information about a serial rapist. She had phone numbers, websites, and action ideas in her post. Since my post was about perception, reception, and the failure of people who actually self-define as activist communities to act, linking to this information seemed more in keeping with the point of the post. So once again, no one bothered to follow through with the links I did provide because it wasn’t spelled out for them that they should click on the links. Have you noticed how we have gone from a digital culture that links to items to one that spells out explicitly why you should follow links with annotated bibliography type blurbs before or after the link? FEED ME SEYMORE.

(This is not a critique of the individual who said this but all of the people who thought it right a long with her and all of the ways that the internet encourages such thoughts.)

Conclusions

The way power works, is to convince you that power over people and things is normal and natural AND that you can do nothing about it. The people in power want you to believe that you are “just one person” and to constantly be asking “what could I possibly do to change things” so that you will give up. The practices of internet writing and activism are embedded in this system and potentially making it worse by making people passive consumers of information. According to recent research on brain development, the 144 word tweet culture is actually remapping pathways in the brain away from empathy and reflixivity. I want to encourage you to begin the decolonization of your mind by refusing to accept these easy constructions and expanding your information sources to a level that keeps your ability to connect and empathize with others intact. One person can and does change the world. One person can and has challenged the system:

Tiananmen Square/unattributed

You can start by being an active reader. When you see stats or other material cited or referred to, look it up. Ask who the source is, what is their theoretical and methodological training or usage, has the author of the post that linked to them accurately portrayed their content, etc. When you cannot find it online, go to the library or search around the topic, for instance in the Dodson case, look at information on the area, HUD and police stats vs. community reports, etc.  Once you’ve done that, consider how you can become involved in changing social inequality in your own communities as well as support those in other communities referenced in the article that got you fired up in the first place. Again, in the Dodson case that means looking up rape survivor advocacy programs and getting involved or making a donation (clothes, money, gas vouchers for volunteers to get to the hospital, etc.) in your own area and/or giving money to rape and domestic and sexual violence agencies in Dodson’s area, sending a letter to the police or HUD about your concerns over their seeming inaction about a serial rapist, or starting an online petition that would flood them with faxes or signatures saying we are all watching. And if you really can’t think of anything else to do but be depressed and hit the resend button (which is a start in and of itself) then talk to your peers, families, and educators about what they think you could do. Worst case, come back to the blog owner and ask, but if you ask me, I am going to suggest you do your own research first.

To end on cliche that just happens to be soooo true: Knowledge is power. What you do with that power is up to you.

(By the way, I have chosen these related articles for the ways that the critique, expand, or agree with the opinions I have expressed in this post rather than their take on the same specific topic.)

Advertising for Traffickers

In 2008, one of my students in a global feminisms course I was teaching brought in a Google Ad for dating Indian women that kept popping up on her yahoo mail account. She pointed out how the ad capitalized on a generic image of Indian exoticism both in its images and text. She encouraged the class to consider what type of email they used outside of the university provided one because free email was being paid for through marginalization of women of color.

Bindi Girl Exhibit – Prema Murthy

(amazing feminist critique of exotic erotic images of Indian women)

We had just finished watching two separate documentaries on child sex workers in India at the time and one of the students asked if there was anyway to know whether or not the advertised “dating site” was involved in trafficking. My answer was to send them back to Google to do research. I told them to ask Google:

  1. how it screens its ads
  2. if there are any ethical standards related to safety (ie child safety, anti-trafficking, etc.)
  3. general questions about race and gender in its ads

The responses they received were fairly expected. Google does not screen its ads for trafficking nor check the background of the companies that place ads through Google. Their argument is that the volume of ads placed with them is too high to do the kind of individual human rights work implied by such a check. They also do not choose the ads you receive on your pages, so there is no standard form they could use to determine who sees what, ie boycotting yahoo would not stop those ad from showing up on other sites nor would everyone who used yahoo see those ads. Instead, Google uses a cookie system to track your internet usage that generates ads based on your supposed preferences. Since the program is based on a heterosexual white male model, that means if you spend a lot of time on sites about women, you are likely to receive dieting, shopping, and dating ads or if you spend a lot of time on sites about India or women of color in general, you will receive dating ads specializing in hooking men up with women of color. The assumption in both cases is that you are either a man, needing a heterosexual dating services, or a heterosexual woman needing a man, and therefore needing to meet beauty myth standards. To cover its basis it sends both kinds of pop ups to you.  As implied, these ads not only represent gender bias by centering both male needs and female insecurity but also implicate you in heterosexism and potentially racism, since the ads seldom include sites that are queer inclusive nor those that fail to peddle in exoticism assuming a white male audience looking for the “dark mysteries” of the “exotic erotic”.

Besides the invasion of privacy aspects, this makes Google seem fairly benign. Google does not make the ads nor determine who receives them based on any disregard for your politics or rights. However, the answer also reveals two key issue: (1) Google is primarily a search engine with both human and program-based web crawlers and (2) Google plants cookies to track usage. So why is checking basic information on the people who place ads too difficult a task? It seems that while people are not likely to be forthcoming about using the internet to traffic women, Google’s own search engines should be able to reasonably flag connections to known traffickers and subsequently deny advertising space. Given the volume of ads, it could not guarantee 100% success but it could be a step in the right direction.

The second set of questions has to do with general standards and modeling. There are a number of products whose dubious connection to human rights could easily be excluded from Google ads. While this leads to questions about market based freedoms and potentially freedom of expression that I think are equally important, exclusions have long been a part of advertising strategies for certain markets. A less sticky option, would be for Google to modify the programs that select ads to stop assuming a heterosexual white male norm. Thus when cookies reported you spent considerable time on pages related to women of color, it would trigger a subset of programs that would cross-reference that usage for things like “feminism”, “social justice”, etc. in the same way that it checks larger categories like “women”, “health”, “education”, etc. So that feminists and feminist web sites were not being supported by demeaning or potentially anti-woman advertising. By anti-woman advertising I mean, for example, ads that show large women as disgusting and then try to sell you dieting pills that we all know will likely be recalled the following year for causing all kinds of health problems and even death in users, or more benign ads that focus on a sexualizing gaze at various women’s bums in order to sell you shoes. Imagine these ads popping up on body positive websites.

Take for instance, this blog. I recently discovered that there are similar ads to the one my student brought into class on my blog! These ads show up on pages about women’s sexual freedom and global feminisms. At least one shows up on a post about rape as a war crime. So on the one hand, my text is discussing women’s rights, equality, and to respect women as subjects and on the other advertising is telling you to participate in international heterosexist digital dating which may or may not be implicated in larger trafficking issues. A simple modification to Google’s programming could prevent such things from happening. However, I suspect that these types of ads generate more revenue than an ad for Make/Shift would. (There are also ads for skin lightening cream and hair straightening gel on posts about black women and beauty …)

The discovery of these ads and their offensive and contradictory placement on certain blog posts on this blog brings me back to the larger question about the meaning of “free” raised by my student. I regularly ask my students to think about “free” and “freedom” in my classes. I teach unit on reproductive justice where I point out how reproductive freedoms in the Western world were/are based on reproductive injustices to women of color, incarcerated women, and women in purposefully underdeveloped nations. The speculum itself comes from a myriad of abuses perpetrated against the bodies of enslaved black women and girls. Many advances in certain medical procedures and medications for birth control have been gained through practice or testing on marginalized women with varying forms of questionable consent. My goal in this lesson is to move them past the discourse of reproductive “freedom” to a global sense of reproductive justice in which one woman’s freedom is not bought on the backs of another’s oppression. Yet, it never occurred to me to ask who pays for my free email account? Who pays for my free blog? Isn’t my free lunch free?

For those of you who do not know, unlike other blogs, wordpress places Google ads on free blogs without the knowledge or consent of the blog owners. They recently let this practice be known because of questions raised by bloggers. WordPress claims that these ads offset the cost of providing free services to its 300,000+free blog users. WordPress and Google share the profit from these ads, bloggers receive none. You can opt out of this system by paying $120/year for your blog. Even if you are not as concerned about issues of oppression as I am, umm skin bleaching cream on a black is beautiful post had better upset you, basic math should point out that bloggers are getting worked in this system. If each time an ad pops up Google and WordPress split $1.50 even if each blog only had one visitor a day, that means they are splitting a revenue of $450,000/dy based on our collective labor while we get $120/yr in the form of a “free” site.

So it seems whether you are concerned about women’s and human rights or the market, there is a major problem here with how Google Ads work and for whom they work. Discovering these offensively placed ads on my site has not only made me have to take a good look at my own decision-making but also at the sustainability of this blog.

Ultimately, there was no real resolution to my student’s question nor the research projects and activism that it inspired amongst my students that year. Google is ubiquitous on the internet and so it seemed incredibly daunting to try and fight them collectively. Instead, we engaged in individual choice making in the hopes of making larger change. One of those choices, is that I pass out a handout on how to make complaints about Google Ads. While the most effective way to complain requires a google account and a complicated process for locating the actual complaint area on the page, you can also send a generic complaint via this link. If you see an offensive or offensively placed ad on my blog, please complain about it to Google.

Maintaining this blog, on this site, is a choice and it is a choice that is becoming more antithetical to my support of decolonized feminism every day. If you have suggestions of other blog sites that you are using and happy with, please let me know.

What is the Purpose of Grad School Anyway?

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...

Image via Wikipedia

There is an interesting conversation about the role of faculty in the demise of academic jobs and commitment to graduate education going on at Historiann’s. The comment section in particular asks some pretty critical questions about the point of graduate school and the exploitation of labor that may supersede the needs of students. You can guess what my comments are but basically they go something like this: for most students who study diversity issues or come from marginalized communities academe has never really been a place they can count on for jobs or tenure. Most departments after all only have 1 woman, 1 person of color, 1 queer person (usually non-trans), and if they can get all three for the price of 1 they will. At the same time, these questions are relevant to all types of students because in this economy no one is really fairing well in the academic job search and some disciplines, including 2 of mine, are practically closed up when it comes to hiring. What does that mean for women and people of color who are entering the university at much higher numbers than others? What does it mean for the intellectual diversity of the university as a whole if everyone who cannot afford to spend 5-9 years on an advanced degree and go home happy they are smarter but unemployed stop attending or stop getting help from the faculty? These are huge issues and I think you all should wade into the water and see what washes clean. Read the post and especially the comment thread here.

CFP: Hip Hop Feminism

Rosa Clemente/former VP Candidate for Green Party/unattributed

There have been strong women of color at the center of Hip Hop theorizing since its inception. Many of these women have never received the recognition they deserve for their artistry or their profound critical feminist eye focused clearly on the experience of women of color at the margins and intersections of multiple identities. These artists have struggled to have their voices heard in and outside of Hip Hop even as they inspire, mentor, and help provide strength to face any number of gendered oppressions. Many of them have worked just as diligently at empowering young women and providing critical analysis of engendered experiences as they have at being the best at their craft. Often these things are inseparable. And yet, these women’s work has been overshadowed by the racist and racialized sexist discourses that only want to focus on the “video ho” until recently. (see my posts on Hip Hop for AfAm herstory and LGBT history month for more thorough posts and links to Hip Hop feminism and Hip Hop feminists.)

kin4life/outhiphop.com

While this shift has been important, I think currently there is far too much mainstream attention to Hip Hop feminism as the *only* form of feminism(s) of color. On the one hand, the emphasis represents a needed intervention into mainstream discourse about the “video-ho” in which black men are seen as the most misogynist men in the world and women of color are internalized sexists needing rescue from their “culture of violence, sex, and drugs.” On the other, the slowly won recognition of feminists for whom Hip Hop and B Girls have been critical forms of expression, solidarity, and empowerment has come at the price of the recognition by mainstream of feminists of color outside of these stereotyped (tho not stereotypical) scenes. This is not the fault of Hip Hop feminists or people doing needed documenting work on their movements but rather the ongoing problem of tokenizing woc feminist contributions by mainstream academic theorists and educators. In the last few years, scholars like myself who work on race and gender have been introduced as or referred to verbally and in print as “hip hop feminists” or asked what we think or will we write an article about Hip Hop feminism in the same way we were referred to as Womanists when Alice Walker coined the term and still have to fight for the right to define ourselves and our affiliations. My concern then is that there are at least two camps here: (1) those who want to embrace, document, and explore the meaning, history, and empowerment behind Hip Hop feminism and (2) those who see it as just a new word for “black feminists over there”. One way to posit a counter-narrative to the latter is to keep writing, keep filming, keep talking about what Hip Hop feminism is and about all of the feminisms engaged in by women of color in which Hip Hop feminism is only one iteration.

La Bruja/unattributed

So I am publishing this call for papers on Hip Hop feminism to encourage the continued struggle to talk about feminisms by women of color in arena that often posits us as both singular (ie one kind of feminism) and perpetual victims (in this case the video-ho) in need of feminism. I do so out of solidarity with the project of naming, claiming, and documenting our feminisms and our activism but also with the caution to take on the task of clarity and specificity in your writing so that you lend to both the needed discussion of the specific feminism under discussion and to the larger discourse about the longstanding presence of women of color in activist, feminist, circles.

melange Lavonne/David Laffe Photography

Also I would encourage readers to consider some of the queer and/or differently-abled black and Latina Hip Hop artists highlighted on this blog or even in this post for your potential papers/presentations. Just as interventions need to be made in the way mainstream feminist academics are approaching Hip Hop feminism as the new Womanism, interventions need to be made into the ways scholars have often shied away from discussions of queer sexualities or assumed able-bodiedness or cis gender. There are sub-topics in the call specifically open to making this challenge, where you could take the advantage.

Please find the CFP below:

Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media

University of Texas at San Antonio – March 4-5, 2011

Submission: 500 word abstract to Kinitra Brooks and/or Marco Cervantes blackandbrownfeminisms@gmail.com on or before November 15, 2010.

Description:

Black and Latina feminist scholars offer multiple ways of understanding feminist cultures that transcend ideological borders and patriarchal conventions. More recently, Black and Latina feminists have negotiated the positionality of the woman of color in the ever-changing world of Hip Hop since its inception.  The Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference situates Black and Latina feminist theory in the context of Hip Hop representation to discuss ways Hip Hop music, film, and club industries fetishize, exploit, celebrate, empower and/or disempower Black and Brown women.

This interdisciplinary conference will feature unpublished work on women in
Hip Hop to exchange ideas, share research, and initiate a sustained conversation by and about Black and Brown women in Hip Hop media.  Vital to this discussion is attention to the blurring lines between Black and Latina feminist studies and a dialogue that attempts to understand an interweaving history of objectification, struggle, and potential for agency. How do we read Black and Brown women in Hip Hop culture? What readings of Black and Brown women other than conventional black feminist readings and Latina feminist analyses are cogent? What theories enable those readings? Finally, what would an investigation into autobiographical stories of video models yield? How would those narratives differ from that of more conventional readings?

A select number of accepted papers will be included in a one-day, academic
conference at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a part of UTSA’s celebration of Women’s History Month on March 4, 2011 with a Hip Hop performance from local Texas as well as national hip hop artists on the evening of March 5, 2011.  This conference will be an opportunity for presenters to share views and concerns on the growing intersections between Black and Brown women in hip hop culture.  Possible Panel Topics Include:

  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender and Race in Hip Hop
  • Colorism within Hip-Hop video culture
  • The New Female Entrepreneur
  • Negotiating Sexualities
  • Black and Latina Diasporas
  • Video Vixens or Video Models?
  • Female Rappers
  • Chicana/o Rap
  • Alternative Models of Black Femininity
  • Latinas in Video Model Culture
  • Intersections of Video Models with Youth Culture
  • Performing the Black Body/ Brown Body
  • Reggaeton
  • A Case Study of Karrine Steffans
  • Strip Club Culture
  • Confessions of Video Vixens
  • Eroticism vs. Pornography
  • Women as Exchange among a Male Economy


What I am working On

I am working on a post about women of color in graduate school based on an intervention we did with an old friend at our house this weekend. Unfortunately, it is taking longer to write than I imagined because

  1. I want to make sure the information does not glare like a neon sign pointing to her – though her experiences are so similar to most woc in school I doubt it will
  2. I want to include a list of helpful survival tips in the post for those of you struggling with similar issues

So what this means is that my quick post today has turned into a long and time consuming one.

SCEED/asu

Interestingly, it comes at the same time that a new study has come out showing that schools that have equitable graduation rates between white students and students of color have aggressive programs to recruit and support students of color.  In other words, instead of just claiming they “support diversity” or making inconsistent recruitment efforts when the diversity bug bites too hard to ignore, these schools have ongoing recruitment efforts that ensure that every class has a critical mass of people of color to support each other throughout their time in college. They also have programming that goes beyond “diversity week” or February, May, and August-September. Instead most of these schools have theme houses, regular events throughout the year like film series, symposiums, lectures, etc., that address intellectual contributions, new and hot research, and intersectional study rather than just “doing diversity” or “inclusivity”. This sends the message to ALL scholars that race is part of intellectual work and not just a PC endeavor. Both numerical significance of students and faculty of color and an overall focus on integrated knowledge or study makes these schools places where, at least in the aggregate, students of color and white students succeed at the same or similar levels.

This seems like information we should all already know. Yet the racial disparities in educational attainment speak to the fact that even if we do not it, we are not doing anything about making lasting change. While there are many factors that lead into limited representation and subsequent graduation of students of color in higher education that are beyond the purview of the university, the policies in the study certainly are within our ability to enact. And speaking as someone who went to an undergraduate institution that use to operate like those referenced above and then decided to focus on “increasing donors and funding”, aka moving away from diversity toward a model of courting white male old money as if somehow those students were not already at my institution, I can attest to how well they work and why some schools avoid them despite their success. Perceptions about import, exclusive education, etc are still very much tied into visible race and class differences and elitism is still the cache of many SLACs and Tier Is.

So what does this all mean for scholars of color, especially those from working class backgrounds? I suppose that depends on the willingness of those of us on this side of tenure to read the study and try even harder, now that we have national data to back us up, to make it happen and the willingness of those who say they “support diversity” or are “tired of diversity/victim stance” to look at the national data and finally cut the crap.

WordPress Wednesday

brittanica.com

Last week, WordPress Freshly Pressed highlighted a post written by a white female author about “turning Asian” in which she listed a bunch of anecdotal behaviors that highlighted the “strangeness” of Asian people. This post concluded with a reference to the way Asians speak English as “a special regressed level of English.”

It was the second time in less than a month that I had been deeply disturbed by what WordPress staff thinks is the best blogging WordPress has to offer. The first time, the highlighted post was written by a black woman excusing away black face in the fashion industry. Surprisingly, my twitter followers were more upset about the former than the latter even though both seem extremely racist, or internalized racist, to me.

When one of my twitter followers/blogging colleagues took the initiative to contact WordPress about their decision to highlight “racialized posts” on the Freshly Pressed page, the response she received was “what does ‘racialized’ mean?” In other words, not only are the people at WordPress picking posts with racialized and/or racist content as the best of the best blogs on their site but they are not educated enough about diversity to even name what they are doing and own, defend, or change their decisions.

So I decided to help them. Ok, well only indirectly. What I decided to do is document the disparity for all of you and to ask you to link to these Wednesday posts as a way to raise awareness about the problem. Hopefully, instead of getting further marginalized by my blog hosts, this will foster some learning and growth. If not, I’m sure it will make for great publication and presentation material the next time I am asked to present on social media at a conference or write about it for a journal or anthology.

simplyzesty.com

The Project: Every Wednesday I will present several stats related to highlighted posts on Freshly Pressed designed to show who and what is being valued and who and what is being erased.

The Method: The same questions will be asked of, data collected on, each Freshly Pressed post and the information will be made available here in both raw and analyzed form

While I have tried to remain consistent with the questions I’ve asked, the first week of collecting data has raised some important questions about unmarked distinctions in what I have been tracking. For instance do posts that have been marked as “white identified”, ie those that assume a white audience without racializing that assumption in offensive ways, always reflect race or does it some times reflect race and class together? Why did I choose to track sexism but not gender, when both of these seem like salient variables? And when a post is marked down as having photos of white people, should the number of photos be counted? ie if there are 12 photos and only one has a white person in it, then is it misleading to say this is the same as a blog that has 5 photos all of which are of white people? And should a photo be counted twice if it has a white person and a person of color (ie once for a white photo and once for a poc photo) or should there be a third category for mulitcultural photo? It seems to me that these distinctions matter when trying to quantify the identity politics, particularly racial ones, that seem to underpin the Freshly Pressed section of WordPress and ultimately the success of certain bloggers over others and the face of WordPress overall. So I;m still tweaking the questions/data collection process and it will likely look different from week to week until I am satisfied with a core set of questions. What this means is that some sets will not be comparable to others when all is said and done. For blogging purposes however, the key information will remain the same.

So Here is the raw data for week 1:

Every week there are 11-12 posts highlighted per weekday on Freshly Pressed. On the weekend 1-2 new posts maybe added to the highlighted posts for Friday, knocking off 1-2 Friday posts. The number of bloggers and blog posts available to choose from varies but on average there are between 277,000 and 278,000 bloggers and 300,000-360,000 posts from which to choose from. The number of bloggers of color, queer bloggers, female bloggers, etc. is unknown however several of the more recognized blogs from perspectives written by traditionally marginalized authors as well as academic blogs are housed on WordPress.com or wordpress.org vs alternative sites.

Race

When the racial identity of the author was unavailable, it was not recorded.

  1. pictures of people of color: 4
  2. pictures of white people: 29
  3. authored by person of color: 4
  4. authored by white people: 58
  5. colonial gaze: 4
  6. white normative but non-colonial: 7

Gender & Sexuality

  1. reference to wife/husband, kids, boyfriend/girlfriend (hetero): 13 – this item only counted 4 days
  2. reference to partner, bf/gf (same sex): 0
  3. reference to same sex attraction or queer identity: 0
  4. sexist content: 2
  5. image of big women: 1
  6. feminist: 1 (this post was about correcting disparities in women driving stick not a self-identified feminist post)

Content

This category includes data collected specifically because it violated the rules established by WordPress to qualify for Freshly Pressed status. These rules include: original photographs or properly cited and correct use of grammar.

  1. uncited or improperly cited photographs: 12
  2. grammatical or spelling errors: 14
  3. activist posts: 1
  4. product review: 6
  5. travel: 13

Other

This includes things that we found interesting because they stood out from other posts

  1. second reference to “real Africa” in less than a month, this time positively deconstructed
  2. “I was taught the laws are there to protect our freedoms” example of white normative but non-colonial/non-racist stance
  3. posts with pictures of older people: 3

I don’t have enough data yet to make conclusions. However, as you can see, it is pretty clear that the majority of wordpress posts highlight white, heterosexual, authors over the wide range of authors present on the wordpress format. I am also hypothesizing that the preference for artfully illustrated food blogs, travel narratives, and expensive product review tips the scales toward white and upper class authors and that all though today’s Freshly Pressed included a post railing against the baby products industry that there is an overrepresentation of young, urban, white, parenting authors as well. While I expected to see regularly offensive posts based on my random glance over the Freshly Pressed blogs over the past year, which included racial over tones and sexist images, I was surprised to find far less colonial gaze, outright racism, and outright sexism in collecting the data so far.

A Little Peace

Chris Clinton/Getty Images

Last night, I attended a dinner with at least 6 people with whom I do not get along. This situation was rare because it is still technically summer which mostly means I get to be more choosy about the company I keep and that in the waning days of Dr. Crackhead (she’s begun talking retirement), dysfunction in at least two of my Departmental homes is at an all time low. Put another way, for a surprisingly long time now, must of us at Pov U, have all gotten along quite well. Even the divas in our prospective departments have all been making an effort to hold up less meetings, growl at fewer Juniors, and stop yawning with menace at every tentative change in direction we discuss. It’s been a blessing that has formed many new and productive collaborations, funding deals, and exciting changes in the curriculum and type of students we have been able to retain.

As one of the more radical people on our faculty, you can imagine what went through my head when I looked around the room at last night’s dinner and saw people whose intellectual and political commitments include derailing the funding and mentoring of graduate students of color, the nearly successful attempt to return the “Great Books” to the core of the curriculum, and the intentional destruction of important global studies research and study abroad opportunities that were once envisioned as a cornerstone of our little U’s rebirth.

peter j wilson/2007

In sitting with people more radical than I, yes that’s what I said, those folks are the bada– that make giddy with the stupid when they get to telling stories of their “pre-ivory tower days”, I began to feel that familiar rumble. Like a volcano warning all life that had been living peacefully on its terrain, there was heat, electricity, and the promise of devastation lurking just beneath the surface of our pleasant little planning meeting. Soon Bambi would not know where to run to shed those big, big, “I’m innocent and their scary” tears. And the people in the middle would be seeking shelter in the no man’s land sprung up in the devastation.

But I just wanted to eat my veggie rolls in peace and get on with the 3.5 hours of boring presentations we had to sit through before we could vote.

And that is when it happened. I saw woman whose feminism means everyone but her can get out of the way or be called sexist who had single-handedly driven out an entire cohort of students of color from our department one year and instead of sucking my teeth from the tenure porch, I said hello.

I think I startled her.

I think I startled everyone.

In the hush that followed, I asked her how she had enjoyed the first several presentations on mundane drivel that keeps the uni running that we had been subjected to before “dinner.” Never one to think her opinion is not central to the inner-workings of the universe, she warily began to wax poetic about her thoughts on new heating coils for the gym. In the 20 minutes that ensued, we discussed both the mundane and the surreal that is part of life at Pov U with more than a few overlaps in opinion. To her credit, she only made one disparaging remark about non-gender specific identity studies and the scholars who engage in it and only one barbed comment about me personally. It was a record for her. And in exchange, I did not exploit her fears of women of color and sense of inadequacy around people who know more about certain subjects than she does. We both considered the conversation a fair exchange. When she left, she left smiling and nodding at me like she’d finally realized I was human. And I smiled back, hoping that this rare moment meant that maybe we could forge ahead with less conflict in the future.

At our conversations end, I noticed that others who had often been on the other side of major political battles at Pov U had drawn close to our conversation and were now jockeying for similar attention. More than that, I noticed the radical colleagues with whom I was eating had let the call of the thunder and lightening lull to a threatened of slight drizzle. It was odd and yet wonderful. Somehow, I thought we could keep the peace and the Golden Age of collaboration could continue.

But then I realized my naivete. The people crowding near our conversation did not want to discuss mundane Pov U business as a metaphor for working together and committing to decrease oppressive behavior on campus.  The woman who had tried to deny my tenure on the basis of … blackness… and who had made a career of encouraging students of color and queer students in her Department to quit school all together or “for the love of g-d, transfer!!!” stepped in front of me and painted a clearer picture with her broad smile and barbed opening, disparaging my intelligence and my outfit all in a single flick of her tongue. Her smile said she expected pleasantries and her demeanor said she’d beat them out of me if necessary because she too wanted a public chat in which everything seemed friendly and nice to observers.

Suddenly, I felt like an overwrought Priest during confessional.

Sorry lady, this chapel is closed.

Not every space has to be transformed into a war zone between the people clinging to power and the people exploiting their clinginess to wrench it from them. Sometimes, everyone is just grateful to keep eating. More than that, in a moment in which so much good is coming out of our ability to cooperate it would be a mistake to let people who tear things down have a forum in which to justify it. I understood this when I made the gesture to a woman I’d rather did not work here and she understood it when she took the offer from me, a woman she wished did not work at all.

And yet, even with this most fragile peace, there is always someone who wants to exploit the very well-defined boundaries to their own ends. If I had let her, the second woman who wanted to talk, who intentionally blocked my path to back to my table, would have torn the whole social treaty forged just 20 minutes earlier to pieces. And for what? She was not looking for a chance to chat with me anymore than I her. What she wanted was what all unrepentant guilty people want, a public absolution to go wreak havoc another day. In her arrogance and her sense of single issue victimization she believed such an absolution was her due and that my denial of it would be more proof that she was the radical and I the interloper.

Roger Corman/1962

This, by the way, is why people do not try. As long as the people with entitlement issues and privilege-evasive blinders think themselves the victims due apologies all the while oppressing everyone around them, their intended victims will always prefer attack or disdain over peace or learned alliance. After all, these are the colleagues who bring eggs and throw them, then complain about having to walk on eggshells whenever they are near us.

The impending conflict ended when two extremely Senior male colleagues got between us with the proverbial “Girls, you’re both pretty.” As she stalked away in a feminist huff, taking no responsibility for the problem but only marking the sexist way in which it was ended, she looked over her shoulder at me and said “Well, I guess we’ll have to talk later when you have time to be around the women of the college.” Score one for [single-issue] feminism or not.

The women back at my table simply laughed and asked if I enjoyed my turkey and pumpkin pie.

And so that little peace was shattered. Our Golden Age tarnished. Even now, my phone is ringing with colleagues wanting to gossip about the unmitigated gall of academics who see themselves as saviors because they occasionally mention race or class before reverting back to their navels. And I know exactly what was gained by the other side, because when we don’t work together then Pov U has little chance of moving into this century intellectually, economically, or with regards to diversity and that makes it easier to revert to conservative arguments about what needs to change and what does not. Score one for delusional bigotry.