2015 Year in Review

As 2015 comes to a close, this is my take on the most important trends and events of the last year in the ongoing struggle against racism.

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Black Lives Matter

What started as a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2014, created by three Black, queer-identified women Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, has grown into a full-fledged social movement in 2015. The movement not only shows no signs of going away, it’s become a political force to be reckoned with.  Here, Shantel Buggs and Noel Cazenave wrote about the problems with the white counter-narrative of “all lives matter,” and Lessie Branchhttp://www.racismreview.com/blog/2015/09/06/elisabeth-hasselbeck-fox-and-hate-grouplabels/ wrote about the call from conservative media to have Black Lives Mattered declared a “hate group.”

 Racism on College Campus

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In March of this year, members of a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma were captured on video singing a racist chant. The fraternity was eventually closed and two of the young men in the video were expelled from OU. Here, Edna Chun wrote about the lower salaries for faculty of color.

In the fall of this year, we witnessed the spread of the movement to college campuses. At the vanguard of this movement were the students at the University of Missouri, who galvanized their campus over the fall semester, ultimately leading to the ouster of the chancellor and a dean. Similar protests emerged at campuses across the U.S., including at Ithaca College, Smith College, Claremont McKenna College, and Yale University. At the University of Missouri, the tipping point of the protests seemed to be when the football team got involved and said they would refuse to play until the chancellor stepped down (he resigned a short time later).

Here, Darron Smith wrote about the long tradition of black athletes and social protest.  Eduardo Bonilla-Silva wrote a short piece about the “racial innocence game” that is used by whites to defend against charges of systemic racism on campuses.

Police Brutality & Murder

US police killings by race 2015

(image from The Counted, The Guardian)

Much of the social unrest in 2015 was driven by the systematic police brutality and murder of black people, particularly young, black men. The U.S. government does not collect data on murder by police, so it is left to journalists and activists and data scientists to do this important work, through projects like The Counted from The Guardian and Mapping Police Violence,

The situation of police violence in the U.S. is so egregiously in violation of international human rights standards, that in 2015 the United Nations made dozens of recommendations for eliminating racial discrimination and tackling excessive use of police force, including the creation of an independent commission to prosecute racially motivated crimes (which the U.S. declined to do).

Here, I wrote about why grand juries fail to indict officers, the fact that police-involved killings continue with no end in sight and police continue to get rewarded for killing citizens and what no one will say when a cop gets killed.

Terrorism, Islamophobia & White Supremacy

Terrorist attacks in Paris – in February and then again in November – led the headlines of global mainstream media outlets and fueled Islamophobia here in the U.S. The response to the attacks in February, in which many rallied around the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’ (for the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that was targeted) drew a good deal of criticism. Here, Raul Perez and Sean Elias both offered critical takes on the whiteness of the Je Suis Charlie marches, as well as the racism of the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Je Suis Charlie protest in France

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Muslims of all nationalities are racialized in the U.S. lens, as Saher Selod explained here. This form of racism had deadly consequences for three Muslim Americans in , Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

As the Syrian refugee crisis worsened, the racialization of Muslims did as well, as Dr. Terence Fitzgerald explained here.

Overall in the U.S. and beyond, there was a reluctance by government officials and reporters to call any acts of violence “terrorism” that involved white men (yes, they’ve all been men) doing the violence. I wrote about this reluctance to name white terrorism in the shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Spring and the deep roots in white supremacy of such acts, back in November.

Mass Murder, African American Church Arsons

Perhaps the most shocking act of white terrorism in 2015 was the murder of nine people during a Bible study. The Charleston shooting victims – Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59 – are a painful reminder that the violence of white supremacy costs lives.

Here, Sophie Bjork-James wrote about the shooter’s involvement on the Internet prior to the attack, Terence Fitzgerald asked important questions about the denial of truths in South Carolina, and I asked why is it always a white guy, and made the connection to other acts of white supremacist violence, like the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President Obama looked for grace amidst the terrible carnage.

In the days following that attack, there were a string of arsons at African American churches.

Racism & Presidential Politics

As our first black president winds down his second term, Kimberley Ducey wrote about the persistent and pervasive racism that Obama faces. I wondered about racial justice after Obama. While his presidency has broken an important symbolic barrier, his policies have done little to address systemic racism in the U.S., and his use of drones for killing of those deemed terrorist threats is arguably one of the biggest drivers of global terrorism.

José Cobas has looked at how several of the candidates have responded to the issues and concerns of Latino/a voters, including Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Trump seems to intent on creating his own cottage industry of anti-Latino racism, and anti-Latino racism has very real consequences for housing, as Maria Chavez explained.  Cobas has also written about the bumbling mainstream media attempts at reporting on Latino/a issues and a failed attempt by NBC to meet with Latino leaders.

Cara Canelmo wrote about the appeal of Ben Carson, and I critiqued Hillary Clinton as good for white feminism but bad for racial justice at the launch of her presidential campaign in April.

Complicated Role of Social Media

There’s much to say about the complicated role of social media and racism. Whether you want to argue that social media is driving liberation movements like black lives matter or that trolls and racist commenters, and white supremacists find a resurgent purpose online, you are both right and wrong. The reality is somewhere in the messy middle of these two.

In writing about social media and racism here, Kishonna Gray wrote about the systematically embedded discrimination that black gamers involved in Microsoft’s Xbox experience.

Shantel Buggs wrote about the importance of race in online dating – and the fact that any discussion of it is missing in on the most popular sociological titles of the year, Modern Romance.

In Germany, the government reached an agreement with Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove hate speech online within 24 hours. When I called for similar response to hate speech online here in the U.S., it still gets pretty widely regarded as outlandish.

Barring the possibility of government action, the usefulness of posting racist videos and emails online for public view and as a strategy for disrupting white-only backstage racism is a source of some hope. Of course, this hope is tempered by the fact that many whites refuse to be shamed by such public disclosures.

 

MILESTONES IN 2015

As always, there were milestones this year – remarkable people and events that were commemorated.

As Sean Elias wrote in this salute, the still living and quite remarkable Rep. John Conyers was honored for his activism in the civil rights movement and his distinguished career in the U.S. Congress.

In March, President Obama and thousands of others marked the 50th anniversary of the march at Selma in 1965.

And, April 21 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, a leader of the struggle to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule.

This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report, a racist, poverty-shaming report, Susan Greenbaum called it.  Stephen Steinberg offered an in-depth analysis of the research behind the report and what got left out.

April also marked the 23rd anniversary of the LA Riots, which many linked to the uprising in Baltimore.

 

This year we were also gifted by some amazing art, writing, and creative projects in the struggle against racism.  Art, as Edna Chun points out, can be part of the healing process.

AWARD-WINNING REPORTING ON SCHOOL SEGREGRATION:

One of my favorite pieces of work this year was the reporting of Nikole Hannah-Jones on school segregation now.  In addition to the magazine reporting she also collaborated with This American Life for a podcast series on the same topic.  If you haven’t listened to it, stop what you’re doing and go listen to it now. It’s so good – and so terrible.

DOCUMENTARY FILMS I WATCHED:

As per usual for me, I watched a ton of documentaries this year, and several of them are relevant for folks reading here and interested in racism. Stanley Nelson’s Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution, is excellent, if a bit skewed to favor the men in the party. It would make a wonderful teaching companion to Alondra Nelson’s terrific book, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

The Seven-Five, is ostensibly a documentary about police corruption in the NYPD, but my resistive read of the film is that it is all about a particular kind of white masculinity and the homoerotic bond between cops.

I also really appreciated, if not quite enjoyed, What Happened Miss Simone? as a kind of exploration of the madness that racism and sexism create when it crushes the spirit of a genius.

BOOKS I READ IN 2015 THAT STILL HAVE ME THINKING:

I read a lot this year, too, and several books have stayed with me:

Ta-Nahesi Coates seems to be everywhere this year and his Between the World and Me has received well-deserved praise. That said, I don’t think Coates is the next Baldwin (apologies to Professor Morrison), but that’s a subject for another time.  I was really affected by Claudia Rankine’s, Citizen: an American lyric, for the way it plays with form, it rests somewhere between prose and poetry.

For academic sociology books on racism, I found Paula Ioanide, The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in the Era of Colorblindnessto be a timely intervention into the current political landscape. The subtitle “how feelings trump facts” is not intended to be a play on the leading republican candidate, but it could very well be.

 

THANKS TO ALL OUR AUTHORS, COMMENTERS, READERS & SUBSCRIBERS

Standing with you in struggle.

 

Review: Trouble with White Feminism

Looking back on 2015, there was plenty of trouble for white women and white feminism. From HIllary Clinton to Rachel Dolezal to the film about the suffragettes to Hollywood taste-makers, there were new incidents, but old patterns.

"every woman is white" tweet about magazine cover

Back in January, 2014 I started a series about the trouble with white women and white feminism. Since then, I’ve written about 18 posts, for a total of around 35,000 words – or, half a book. Here, I’m collecting them all in one place and re-ordering them by theme. There’s more I want to say on this subject, but I wanted to collect the writing I’ve done so far into one post because people often request this, and because it’s another step toward crafting this into a full-fledged book project. As I continue to add posts to the series, I’ll include them here, so drop a bookmark on this page if you find it useful.

Introduction

I opened with something of a personal note, that some of my closest friends are white women. I, myself, am a white woman.  I have been helped in my career by white women, many of them white feminists. And, perhaps predictably, I come from a long line of white women ancestors, whose lives were constrained by gender. I found feminism and a way to a different life.  But what I observed at the outset is still true: There’s a consistency to the way white women behave and white feminists respond that is both troubling and requires critical attention.

Part I. White Women in the Early U.S.

In this section, I try to parse “white women” from “white feminism.” The overall point here is to look at there are ways in which white women have played a significant role in shaping white supremacy and benefiting from it. Sometimes, this is separate from feminism (by white women who don’t identify as feminist), sometimes it’s consistent with feminism. Not all white women are feminists, and historically speaking, feminism is an idea that early white women lifted (you could say “stole” and you wouldn’t be wrong) from Native American women.

1.     White Women and U.S. Slavery: Then and Now

2.     White Women & the Defense of Lynching

3.     The Racial Origins of Feminism

Part II. The Rise of the Professional, Managerial Class of White Women

The trouble with white women and white feminism is rooted in a particular class politics. There is a sociological literature on the rise of the professional-managerial class (PMC), as a distinct class position, which has grown significantly in the US over the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. These include jobs like teachers, social workers, engineers, managers, nurses, and middle-level business or government administrators, jobs where white women are disproportionately represented. This class position available to some white women overlaps with particular racial identity formation, in which “management” of one’s self, one’s body, one’s family is part of success. Taken together, these make a particular kind of feminism appealing to white women of the professional-managerial class.

4.        Learning to be a White Woman 

5.       White Women, White Motherhood

6.       The Second Wave: Trouble with White Feminism 

7.       Leaning In” to (White) Corporate Feminism

Part III. White Women + Institutional Racism

White women create, actively participate in maintaining, and benefit from, institutional racism. (This is easily the section I’d like to work on more, and there are bits of this in other posts.)

8.        White Women and Affirmative Action: Prime Beneficiaries & Opponents

9.        Hillary Clinton: Good for White Feminism, Bad for Racial Justice

Part IV. White Women in Popular Culture Representations

Representations of white women in U.S. popular culture are pervasive, problematic and largely lacking in a sustained critique. Here, I make an effort to launch such a critique in contemporary popular culture.

10.  White Women in American Popular Culture 

11.   White Women Warriors, Tourists and Saviors   

12.   Lena Dunham and the Trouble with (White) ‘Girls’

13.   Rachel Dolezal and the Trouble with White Womanhood

Part V. Contemporary Feminism, #Hashtags and the Continuing Trouble

Easily the most important contribution to the revitalization feminism in the last fifty years has been Kimberlé Crenshaw (and other black feminists’) idea of intersectionality. That is the notion that ‘woman’ is not a unified category in which all women share the same interests, but rather ‘woman’ is intersected by race, by class, and by sexuality and (cis)gender identity. Second to that theoretical and political contribution to feminism, the most important contribution in the last fifty years is arguably the Internet. In some ways, these two advances – – intersectional feminism and the Internet —  have been on a collision course.

14.    Roseanne Arquette’s Oscar Speech 

15.    White Feminism and V-Day 

16.    #Hashtag Activism and Viral Videos

17.    Slut Walk and more #Hashtag Activism

18.    Erica Jong + Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

One of the key themes that runs through this work is that white women occupy a particular structural position that enables them (/us) to access more resources (relative to women and men of color): education, jobs, houses, health care, leisure time. This structural advantage creates an affinity for ‘gender only’ feminism and a kind of dissimilitude with intersectional feminism.

To the extent that white women take up feminism to advocate for equality to white men, that feminism is consistent with white supremacy. For me, personally, it continues to be important to critique white feminism because I want to disrupt white supremacy in all its forms, including when it manifests as white feminism.

I also think it’s important to critique white feminism it harms other women and perpetuates racism (causing more harm). My critique is meant to interrupt the harmful cycle of ‘gender only’ feminism that replays in generation after generation of feminists. This cycle is a kind of ignorance that’s painful to other women, especially women of color, and also queer, gender nonconforming and transgender women of all races.  It is the antithesis of feminism.

 

 

 

Research Suggests Why Grand Juries Fail to Indict

Man holding sign with Tamir Rice picture

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Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, was shot and killed by police called to the scene by a neighbor. On Monday, a grand jury failed to indict the cops who killed Rice. The failure to indict anyone in the murder of a child is sickening, but not in any way surprising. The non-indictment of these Cleveland cops responsible for Rice’s murder stands in a long and depressing list of recent failures to indict: in the death of Eric Garner, in the death of Sandra Bland, in the death of Michael Brown.

Someone unfamiliar with the U.S. judicial system might glance at this string of failed indictments and imagine that it’s fairly common for grand juries to not bring indictments. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Grand juries almost always indict every case brought before them by a prosecutor. So why this succession of failed indictments?

There is a ton of research that suggests some explanations.

  • Police & Prosecutorial Dominance. “The house always wins,” and in police-involved shootings, the “house” is the police. Even in the rare cases when officers are indicted for shootings, such as in the killing of Amadou Diallo, the indicted officers are likely to be acquitted, restored to their jobs, and later promoted. This police and prosecutorial dominance is not merely a case of closing ranks behind a blue wall of silence, but part of the larger fabric of the systemic racism known as the New Jim Crow. The dominance of police and prosecutors is now, over the last 30 years, become part of the legislative and judicial system, as Michelle Alexander has detailed in her work.

michelle alexander - new jim crow book cover

(Michelle Alexander, author of New Jim Crow)

  • White Dominance of Police Departments. Throughout the U.S., police departments tend to be whiter than the general population. For example, Maple Heights, the neighborhood in Cleveland where Tamir Rice lived, went from being mostly white to nearly two-thirds black in the last few decades. But the police force there remains predominantly white, despite a 1977 affirmative action deal in which the city agreed to hire more people of color. Overall, in the U.S. the percentage of whites on a police force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve, according to an analysis by the NYTimes drawn from a government survey of police departments.

 

  • Whites’ Anti-Black Views Shape Policing. The perspectives of whites, as policy makers, police and as plain citizens who call 911 on a neighborhood boy playing in a nearby park as a cause for concern, shape the way policing is done in the U.S. Nearly half of whites believe “many” or “almost all” black men are violent. Whites overestimate the amount of crime, in particular violent crime, involving blacks.

graph - whites overestimate black part in crime

(image source)

 

When describing the events surrounding the killing of Tamir Rice, the prosecutor described a “perfect storm of human error.” It seems that the right to be a human being, is not one that Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, or Eric Garner, or Amadou Diallo will get.

Dr. King’s Sermon on Christmas

Reflecting on peace and goodwill this time of year, I often return to Dr.King’s sermon on Christmas from 1967. This morning, I was struck by his global scope in this passage:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

In this lecture, he explains that part of the reason people are so upset about riots that had happened recently is that these were attacks on property, which he says, “is symbolic of the white power structure.”

Many people forget (or never knew) how radical King had become, connecting the fight for racial justice to the anti-war movement and a global poor people’s movement.

This sermon was one of five he gave in the prestigious Massey Lecture series. He titled the series “Conscience for Change.” These lectures are compiled in both text, as a book, and audio format, as a CD) [The book was re-released as “The Trumpet of Conscience.”] The lectures were recorded almost fifty years ago and the use of “man” throughout can be off-putting, but otherwise, King’s words still resonate as we continue wrestle with the legacy of white supremacy.

You can also listen to the entire message here (about 1 hour in length and the site requires free registration).

Peace and goodwill to all of you.

White Terrorism: The White Supremacy of Anti-Abortion Extremism

On Friday, November 27, an anti-abortion extremist opened fire on a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, killing three people and wounding nine others. The assailant was arrested while still alive – even though one of the people killed was a cop. As lots of people have been pointing out, he survived because of the privileges of his whiteness.

Others have noted the gentle treatment the gunman is receiving from the mainstream press accounts of his background before the shooting. The New York Times originally referred to him as a “gentle loner”.  Then, in response to lots of push back on Twitter, the Times-edited out that word. Now, the piece refers to him instead as “itinerant”. (The NYTimes has not added an editorial note about this change.)

Still others have noted the reluctance of U.S. politicians, such as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) the head of the House Intelligence Committee, to name this act domestic terrorism. (There’s been a similar reluctance to call the white supremacists shooting of Black Lives Matter protestors an act of domestic terrorism – but more about that in another post).

White Supremacy and Anti-Abortion Extremism

The white supremacy of anti-abortion extremism goes deeper than this gunman’s deferential treatment by police, or politicians’ reluctance to speak plainly about what we can all see, or the mainstream media’s white framing of these acts of terrorism.

What I foWhiteLies_coverund in my early research of six different white supremacist organizations’ literature is that abortion is viewed as a form of racial treason (White Lies, Routledge, 1997, p.67-8). I analyzed hundreds of newsletters from these organizations over two decades (1970s-1990s) and found a consistent set of beliefs about abortion, anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism.

For white supremacists, the decline in the number of white births is directly tied to their fear of a decline in white dominance in the U.S.  In this worldview, fewer white births is due to two factors. First, they contend there are fewer white women are who are willing to become pregnant and give birth to white children. Second, they believe that white women are quick to have abortions (or easily persuaded to do so) and are nonchalant about them afterwards.

The apparent willingness of white women to have abortions is counterposed against both anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism. For white supremacists are convinced that white women are having too many abortions, but Black women are having too few. And, they believe that Jewish men (mostly as doctors) and Jewish women (as feminists and champions of abortion) are behind this as a form of racial annihilation. I saw this again and again in the text of the publications I analyzed, as well as in the illustrations.

Anti-Blackness and Anti-Abortion

A drawing from white supremacist publication Racial Loyalty (published by Ben Klassen) highlights the anti-Blackness of their anti-abortion stance. The illustration is a series of four panels, in each one a woman enters a clinic. In the first three panels, the women are all global-majority women, and each enters a clinic designated as a “Birth Clinic,” while her numerous children wait outside. In the fourth panel, a white woman enters an “Abortion Clinic,” and the caption below the (Jewish) doctor reads, “In a moment, we’ll dispose of the child to be.”(from Racial Loyalty, no.59, 1990, p.12, cited in Daniels, 1997, p.68).

The message in this crude drawing is clear: the wrong people – white people – are having abortions. Anti-abortion extremism here is not about the protection of “all life” but rather about the protection of the white race.

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Abortion

WhiteSupremacy_AntiAbortionAn illustration from White Aryan Resistance (WAR – published by Tom Metzger), depicts the anti-Semitism of anti-abortion extremism. In this drawing, directed at white women readers of WAR, warns of who the real culprits are behind abortion:

“Did you know that most abortionists are Jewish or other non-whites…and that the pro-abortion movement is headed by unfeminine feminist Jewesses who counsel non-whites to not get abortions…and did you know that abortionists slaughter nearly one million white babies every year? Jewish ritual murder is alive and well in the United States of America …and is very legal!” (WAR, vol.8, no.3, 1989, p.4 – cited in Daniels, 1997, p. 130).

By characterizing “abortionists” as Jewish and engaging in “ritual murder”, Metzger and his ilk are invoking a centuries old form of anti-Semitism.

A bit of an aside here: another way that Jewish people, especially feminists (almost always and exclusively Jewish) in WS rhetoric are convincing white women to not have white babies is by persuading them to be lesbians. Got me there. Queer, check. No children, check. Persuaded by many feminists, some of them Jewish. Check, check, and check. But I digress.

The message again and again throughout white supremacist literature and ideology is that abortion is a racial crime. It’s wrong when white women do it (but not others), and it’s promulgated by Jewish people, and it’s intended to harm the white race. While anti-semitism in mainstream rhetoric is more coded, the use of the term “abortionist” (instead of “doctor” or “abortion provider”) is an indication of the deep white supremacy of anti-abortion extremism.

The Real Racial Gap in Abortion & Reproductive Health

As I did this research, I learned that the white supremacist rhetoric in these newsletters was often the exact inverse of the actual social facts of the world. This is true when it comes to abortion.

The reality is that overall number of abortions are trending downward in the U.S. for all women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 1.1 million abortions were performed in 2011, at a rate of 16.9 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, down from a peak of 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981. This downward trend is holds across all racial groups.

However, there is a racial gap in who gets abortions. But it’s the exact opposite of what the white supremacists’ fear it is. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 37% of abortions were obtained by Black women, 34% by Latina/Hispanic women, 22% by white women and 8% were designated as some other racial category.

Who-has-abortions

The reality is that an African American woman is almost five times likelier to have an abortion than a white woman. A Latina woman more than twice as likely to have an abortion than a white woman, according to the CDC. These racial disparities in abortion rates hold even when considering income differences, a study in a recent issue of the AJPH found.

The same AJPH  study also found that women of color may not have the same access to information on reproductive health and at the same time, experience pressure from their doctors to use contraceptives and to limit their family size. That is how subtler side of mainstream white supremacy works. It’s not a crude drawing about the “wrong” people having abortions. It’s a lack of access, it’s pressure from a doctor in a white coat, a side comment about family size, and an unsolicited prescription for a contraceptive. This contemporary racial gap in the use of abortion is tied to a legacy of white supremacy when it comes to Black and brown women’s bodies.

“The denial of Black reproductive autonomy serves the interests of white supremacy,” writes Dorothy Roberts, professor at University of Pennsylvania, in Killing the Black Body (Pantheon, 1997). Roberts documents this brutalization in great detail in her book, beginning with slavery and moving to the present day, Black women who were enslaved were viewed only in terms of how their reproductive lives might be profitable for their white owners. Later, in the first half of the 20th century, the eugenics movement turned contraception from a tool of (white) women’s liberation into a tool of control to cut birth rates among southern blacks, and as late as the 1970s black women were routinely sterilized by hysterectomies that were not medically necessary. More recently, Black women from economically impoverished urban areas have been routinely forced by courts, doctors, and health care organizations to be implanted with the Norplant birth-control device; doctors frequently refuse to remove it on request.

For Latina women, a similar but distinct pattern emerges that is tied to colonialism. In Puerto Rico, white researchers in sterilized as many as 35% of Puerto Rican women without their knowledge, consent or permission. In California, government officials sterilized some 20,000 people – mostly Mexican Americans under a eugenics law in effect from 1909 to 1979 (the year I graduated high school – not ancient history). While California did more sterilization than any other state, the number of eugenic sterilizations carried out in the United States in the 20th century totals roughly 60,000, according to research conducted by Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor at the University of Michigan. “Latinos were disproportionately sterilized,” Stern observes.

The real racial gap in abortions, the reality that it is disproportionately Black and Latina women who are accessing abortion services, is tied up in this legacy of white supremacy and reproductive health.

“Fringe” and Mainstream White Supremacy and Anti-Abortion Extremism

When I was doing this research into white supremacist newsletters and publications, I was sometimes shocked by the extremist rhetoric and images I saw. But at the same time, it was as if I could see many of these same ideas everywhere in mainstream culture, just dressed up in fancier clothes.

My research led me to conclude that “fringe” white supremacist rhetoric is really much closer to the mainstream discourse of elected officials, academics, and the mainstream media than most people would like to believe. This argument, which I first made in 1997, is still true and relevant for understanding anti-abortion extremism today, such as the shooting in Colorado Springs.

The mainstream political party with an explicitly anti-abortion platform in the U.S. is the Republicans, and the GOP candidates are lining up to condemn the shooting in Colorado Springs, but want to distance themselves from anti-abortion rhetoric.  The thing is, that’s a tough trick to pull off in an election that’s seen Carly Fiorina spouting crazy-talk  that precisely mirrors that of anti-abortion extremists.

And, then there’s Ted Cruz.

A Republican Senator from Texas, born in Canada to Cuban parents, has tried to distance himself from the shooting in Colorado Springs by spouting more crazy-talk about the gunman. Crazy-talk being a key GOP strategy.

(Image source)

But just last week, Cruz was touting the endorsement he received from Troy Newman, the anti-abortion extremist who leads Operation Rescue. Newman has a book that calls for the “execution” of all “abortionists,” a rallying cry that over 100 gunman – all of them white men – have taken literally.

“We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice,” Cruz said. Perhaps more than another mainstream politician, Cruz is directly linked with anti-abortion extremism and it is deeply rooted in white supremacy.

 

It’s important to call out the preferential treatment that the gunman in this case has received – from the arrest while alive, to the descriptions of him in the mainstream press. And, my research leads me to conclude that it’s also urgently important to understand the deep white supremacy of anti-abortion extremism. Only then will we really appreciate the scope of white terrorism.

 

 

 

 

 

What No One Will Say When a Cop Gets Killed

In New York City this week, an NYPD cop was killed and another man shot just a few blocks from where I live and work. Killed was Officer Randolph Holder who was a kind and brave man, an immigrant from Guyana, and his death is a senseless tragedy. This is what everyone will say now. This is what we are all obligated to say now.

(Randolph Holder, 33, NYPD, was shot and killed Tuesday, October 20, 2015 in East Harlem

Image source)

The man who allegedly shot the officer, Mr. Tyrone Howard, was in a diversion program – a kind of alternative sentencing program for those with non-violent, drug-related charges.  Mr. Howard, who was also shot and injured by Mr. Holder, had no history of violence, but instead had a series of arrests for low-level drug-related charges.

(Tyrone Howard, 30, accused of shooting Randolph Holder. Image source)

Mr. Howard, 30, had made bail in February for selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop in one of the NYPD’s buy-and-bust operations that serve as the daily machinery of the war on drugs, providing overtime pay for cops and locking up a huge swath of the citizenry. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin—acting within the law of the recently reformed harsh Rockefeller drug laws—decided Mr. Howard’s case should be sent to an alternative-to-prison system known as ‘diversion.’ There is lots of research that demonstrates these sorts of diversion programs are effective at reducing recidivism (e.g., Holly Wilson and Robert Hodge, “The Effects of Youth Diversion on Recidivism: A Meta-Analytic Review.Criminal Justice and Behavior 2013).

Almost before the bullets had stopped flying, NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned why Mr. Howard was not locked up to begin with. Then, a cascade of calls began that urged an end to any alternative programs began right away even though this shooting had nothing to do with the effectiveness of diversion, and Bill de Blasio (mayor of NYC) knows this.  Leading progressive voices, like Kassandra Frederique of Drug Policy Alliance, called for reason and urged New York to keep successful alternative-to-incarceration programs like diversion.

But, a reasoned debate about the merits of diversion programs has not been on offer in the mainstream, local news in New York City this week. Instead, we’ve heard a lot from Pat Lynch.

The mainstream media coverage here has been a relentless, 24/7 cycle of very narrowly focused coverage, prominent featuring interviews with Pat Lynch, the thuggish NYPD union representative.  Much of that coverage has included law-and-order headlines like this one from the New York Daily News:

Manhattan DA’s office ‘puts gun in hands’ of accused cop-killer Tyrone Howard

Pat Lynch

(Pat Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association)

“Too Soon”

Months ago, activists with Rise Up October had planned a rally for Saturday, October 24 to call attention for an end to the systematic policy brutality that takes the lives of a disproportionate number of black and brown people. They could not have known that a cop would be killed in New York just days before. What these activists were rallying to call attention to is the sustained and systematic way police kill black and brown people.

Nationally, the U.S. Justice Department does not collect data on the number of people killed at the hands of police (no federal agency does), but according to research conducted by the Malcolm X Grassroots organization, every 28 hours in 2012 a Black man, woman, or child was killed by someone employed or protected by the US government. In New York, according to the NYPD’s own Firearm Discharge Report, the overwhelming majority of those killed by police are black and brown people.

Who is Shot by NYPD

 

Yet, this systematic destruction of black and brown lives is lost in the media coverage that the rally was a “disgrace” and “too soon” following the death of a cop.

 

NYPost_Cover

(New York Post Front Cover, October 25, 2015)

Certainly, some of my fellow citizens are saying “f-ck you to the NYPD,” as the New York Post reports on its cover today. Activist and East Harlem resident Josmar Trujillo writes about the reaction to the shooting from neighbors and long-time residents in the area. “I don’t care about them getting shot because at the end of the day they don’t care when we get shot,” Trujillo reports one resident told him. He goes on:

The young woman [in East Harlem] I spoke to wasn’t even as blunt as local young people I spoke to that simply said “Fuck ’em” when I asked about the shot cop. What about the fact that the cop was black, I asked three young men walking down 119th street the day after the shooting. “It don’t matter,” they told me. “As long as he’s wearing that patch, fuck him too.”

It’s not surprising that in a neighborhood — and a city, and a nation — where black and brown lives are not respected by police, people have no respect for the police and are unmoved by their deaths. It’s also not surprising to me that people who live under police surveillance and under the constant threat of state-sanctioned violence by the police are hearing about the death of a cop and saying, “fuck the police.” This is something people are saying.

What No One Will Say

What no one will say, at least in public with a microphone, is that since Rockefeller Reform, the law-and-order crowd has been waiting for a cop to be killed to trot out their push-back on those reforms. Just a few years ago here in New York State a coalition of progressive activists got Rockefeller Reform passed. These reforms were part of what made diversion programs like the one Mr. Howard was in possible.

The coalition of progressive groups that fought for Rockefeller Reform have been noticeably quiet in the media since Mr. Holder was killed; and, who can blame them? There’s no winning a media cycle when the mainstream media is in lockstep about a cop who has been killed.

What no one will say when a cop gets killed is that this death is collateral damage in the trillion dollar failed war on drugs and its twin, mass incarceration.  In New York City what this means is 95% of the inmates in New York City jails are African American or Latino, while these two groups make up only about half the city’s population. A majority of those in NYC’s jails are there for low-level drug offenses like marijuana and these, too, are racially biased. U.S. government surveys have consistently found that whites use drugs, including marijuana, at higher rates than do African Americans and Latinos. Nonetheless, the NYPD arrests whites for drug possession at much lower rates than it arrests African Americans or Latinos, according to research by Professor Harry Levine. Mass incarceration and the war on drugs that fuels it, are part of the engine of white supremacy in NYC and the nation as a whole.

Tyrone Howard was a man with low-level drug charges who was being forced out of public housing because of those charges.  Randolph Holder was assigned to patrol public housing. A key part of his job was patrolling public housing for people with drugs or on outstanding warrants for drug offenses. Both men were cogs in the machinery of the drug war. If we want fewer cops killed on duty, we must stop the senseless pursuit of people for use, possession or sale of drugs, and tying every other human right – including housing – to those draconian laws.

What no one will say is that Tyrone Howard’s life has ended now in a social death in our gulag of prisons as much as the physical life of Randolph Holder has ended in death.

What no one will say is the rhetoric of “blue lives matter” is white supremacy dressed up in the guise of public safety.

What no one will say is that even now, even when a cop has been killed, we have to continue to demand an end mass incarceration, and the whole law-and-order apparatus that feeds that beast.

On the very same day that the shooting in East Harlem happened, more than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs — including NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton — met in Washington, D.C. They met as part of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, a group of law enforcement officials who recognize from the inside that the system of mass incarceration is broken. Rather than focusing on law-and-order solutions to a host of social problems, this group steps forward to say that reducing incarceration will improve public safety because people who need treatment for drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues will be more likely to improve and reintegrate into society if they receive consistent care, something relatively few jails or prisons offer. Mr. Bratton said that New York State and city law enforcement agencies “were well ahead of the curve in understanding that you can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”

And, then, a cop is killed and the media narrative immediately shifts into high gear with its low key “blue lives matter” agenda. The abrupt shift reminds me of the capitalists that Naomi Klein describes who wait for a ‘shock’ of some kind to strike so they can implement their brand of disaster capitalism.

What no one will say is that a cop killing is just the kind of ‘shock’ that the law-and-order opportunists needed to push forward their agenda to lock up more people.

 

Columbus was No Hero, Let’s Stop Celebrating Him

It’s that time of year again.  In midtown Manhattan, people are gearing up for the annual “Columbus Day Parade” which will disrupt traffic along 5th Avenue from 44th Street up to 72nd Street.  I won’t be joining in the celebration.

Like most school children in the U.S., I was taught the lie that Christopher Columbus was “an explorer” who “discovered America.”  It’s a lie that conveniently leaves out much of the truth about Columbus’ crimes against humanity.  And, this lie continues to be used by advertisers to sell products.  The spam from one retailer in my inbox this week featured the subject line, “Columbus Discovered America, and You Can Discover Savings at Barnes & Noble.” Uhm, thanks but no thanks B&N.

While the local news stations here relentlessly refer to the parade as a “celebration of Italian heritage,” I think it’s long past time we reject the myth of Columbus “discovering America,” and instead, recognize the indigenous people who already lived in the U.S. when Columbus stumbled upon it.

 

Curley, member of the Crow nation

(Curley, member of the Crow nation: image source)

By celebrating Columbus, we replay the legacy of colonialism and genocide. Let’s be clear. Columbus was no hero and doesn’t deserve a celebration. The history of Columbus’ record of genocide is not in dispute. When he traveled to the Caribbean (he never stepped foot on the North American continent), there were something like 75 million indigenous people living here. Within a generation of his landing, perhaps only 5-10% of the entire American Indian population remained. When Columbus and the men who traveled with him under the Spanish flag returned to the area we now call the West Indies, they took the land and launched widespread massacres, including of children, a process they described as “pacification”. (For more on this history, see this, this and this.)

Yet, despite the genocide that followed in his wake, some see the embrace of Columbus as a national hero and the Columbus Day holiday as a response to racism and discrimination experienced by Italian immigrants here in the U.S.  Tommi Avicolli-Mecca writes:

I understand why Italian-Americans embraced Columbus. When we arrived in this country, we weren’t exactly greeted with open arms, any more than any other immigrants. There were NINA (No Italian Need Apply) notices in store windows, as well as lynchings in the South, where we were considered nonwhite.

And, like so many other holidays, this one is a bit misguided. In point of fact, Columbus is a man with a tenuous link to contemporary Italy.  As you’ll recall from the grade school rhyme, Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492; contemporary Italy wasn’t a country until 1861.

Still, I don’t think that means we shouldn’t be celebrating Italian Americans’ heritage and contributions to the U.S.  I just think we should be focusing on the radical tradition of some Italian Americans, such as Mario Savio, Vito Marcantonio, and Sacco and Vanzetti.

There is a strong, radical history among Italian Americans that has been largely forgotten.  In their book, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism (Praeger 2003), Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, help uncover some of this history.  Their edited volume shows that in contrast to their present conservative image (cf. Carl Paladino’s anti-gay remarks), Italian Americans played a central role in the working-class struggle of the early twentieth century.  Italian Americans were leaders in major strikes across the country—notably the Lawrence textile strikes of 1912 and 1919, the Paterson silk strike of 1913, the Mesabi Iron Range strikes of 1907 and 1916, and the New York City Harbor strikes of 1907 and 1919, as well as coal mining strikes. They also made important contributions to American labor unions, especially the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. At the same time, they built vibrant radical Italian immigrant communities that replicated the traditions, cultures, and politics of the old country.  For example, Italian immigrants formed their own political and social clubs, mutual aid societies, alternative libraries and press, as well as their own orchestras and theaters, designed to promote and sustain a radical subculture.

This radical subculture of Italian Americans was oppositional to both the hegemonic culture sustained by prominenti (the powerful men of the Little Italys) and the dominant culture of capitalist America. Yet, for the most part, this radical tradition has been set aside in favor of the hagiography of Columbus and, frankly, the valorizing of settler colonialism.

In recent years, several cities have begun to reject the Columbus Day holiday, replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day.

Protest against Columbus Day in Seattle

(Protest in Seattle, 2014: image source)

Berkeley, California, was the first city to do so in 1992. Seattle and Minneapolis followed its lead in October 2014, generating the movement’s current momentum. Since then, seven more municipalities — including Lawrence, Kansas, Portland, Oregon, and Bexar County, Texas (where San Antonio is located)— have joined their ranks.

Whether to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, or the radical tradition of working class Italian Americans, it’s time to recognize that Columbus was no hero. We should stop celebrating him.

 

Erica Jong and Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

I first read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying some time in the 1990s, way of out context from the time it was published. The novel recounts the adventures of Jong’s alter-ego Isadora Wing, who is on a quest to find meaning outside a deadening marriage. When the book was published in 1973, Jong was a relatively young 30-years old and the book, with its shocking-for-the-time embrace of the zipless f-ck and women’s (hetero) sexuality was a dramatic departure for mainstream understandings of feminism. Leading (male) literary figures at the time – like John Updike and Paul Theroux – said horrible, sexist things about the book, while Henry Miller declared it the “female equivalent” of his novel Tropic of Cancer. It was, for certain women, at one point in time, a revelation and a necessary intervention.  It’s hard to overstate the success of Jong’s first novel: it’s reportedly sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into 27 languages.

Erica Jong

 

(Erica Jong, image source Wikimedia)

By the time I read Fear of Flying (1973) some twenty years after its publication, it didn’t have much urgency for me, mostly because I’d decided by then that I just didn’t share Jong’s enthusiasm for the male member. (No offense intended to those who have them or enjoy them, but it just wasn’t my thing, so to speak.) I was also put off by the racism in the book, but to be honest, I’d forgotten about that until the people began writing (and drawing) about the book again recently.

Jong_ArabsOtherAnimals

(Image source)

Since her first novel, Jong has gone on to publish lots of other books  in a range of genres including poetry, fiction, non-fiction. She’s back in the news – or, at least, in my newsfeed – because of a conversation with Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, at a recent book festival. I’m writing about it here because it refreshes the need for a sustained critique of white feminism.

First, a bit of background on Jong, in case you’re not familiar.  She is the child of “wealthy and bohemian”  parents. She went to Barnard and Columbia, where she studied English Literature. She now lives in a high rise on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She’s been married four times, and has one daughter and one grandchild. All of which is to say, she’s fairly typical for a woman of her class, region, generation. I’ve encountered her on the street, in passing, the way one does in New York, and she fits in her milieu.

What distinguishes her is that in 1973 she wrote a book that became known as “groundbreaking” text for feminists. “To be identified with having written a groundbreaking book is a particular kind of death-mask. I think any writer who becomes famous for one thing feels that way from time to time,” Jong has said of the book’s success and her conflicted relationship to it. 

The Decatur Book Festival

It was this outsized success of Jong’s 1973 novel, along with the release of a new book Fear of Dying, that got her invited to be the recent  Decatur Book Festival,  Jong was billed as the keynote speaker. Gay, an associate professor of English at Purdue University, joined her as interviewer and host, fielding questions from a near-capacity crowd and answering some questions herself. This conversation was meant to celebrate feminism” but according to multiple reports, the format eventually evolved into a casual exchange that became  “testy,”  “awkward” and “uncomfortable”.  That awkwardness is worth exploring for what it reveals about white feminism and why it requires critique.

Jong_Gay_DecaturBookFest

(Erica Jong, Roxane Gay at the Decatur Book Festival, image source)

These days, Jong likes to call herself a “defrocked academic” by which I can only surmise she means that she was once in a PhD program. Her use of the word “defrocked’ suggests that she was forced out of the program (or academia), but I find nothing that confirms this. She’s also fond of saying that she has “partly returned to her roots as a scholar.” Again, it’s unclear what she means by this.  Whatever she may mean, her “return” to her scholarly roots has not meant delving into black feminist thought  or  “intersectionality”  among the most important develops in feminism in the last twenty years. When Roxane Gay mentioned the word intersectionality in passing, Jong interrupted to ask “What’s that?” 

Jong also seems to be under the mistaken impression that no one knew about abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth until Gloria Steinem starting writing about her in Ms. Magazine.  

She is simply wrong about this unless she means that “no one” in her social circle knew about Sojourner Truth until then. As Gloria Steinem tells it, they were originally going to name the magazine “Sojourner” but this was perceived to be a travel magazine, so they chose ‘Ms.’ as a shorter, more marketable title. Beyond Jong’s factual error, her re-telling of it in this particular way overlays the accomplishments of a white woman (Steinem) on top of the achievements of a Black woman (Sojourner Truth). This both diminishes Sojourner Truth’s position within feminism, while is elevates Steinem’s. It also re-writes the ways that Steinem herself has tried to work in solidarity with black women, including Dorothy Pitman-Hughes, Flo Kennedy and Alice Walker. Steinem recently acknowledged “black women invented feminism.”  Jong seems to have in mind the iconic image (below) in her vision of feminism. But, even if we only take the second-wave of feminism into consideration, that image of Gloria Steinem and Deborah Pitman-Hughes is more aspirational than reportorial. And, it’s an image that represents a very narrow view of racial diversity, and reinforces cisgender women’s place at the center of feminism.

 

Steinem and Pitman-Hughes Fists

(Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman-Hughes,
images: left – 1971, Dan Ragan; right – 2014, Dan Wynn)

 

One of the reports on the exchange at the book festival attributed the disconnect between Jong and Gay (and the mostly Gay-supportive audience) to the “generational, cultural and racial divides” within feminism. While it’s true those differences exist and were evident in their conversation, the characterization of these as a series of “divides” situates Jong and Gay equally, on opposing sides of something (generation, culture, race) neither controls. What this talk of “divides” misses, of course, is power. Jong and Gay are not situated equally. Jong is white, wealthy, well-known; Gay is black, not wealthy, and becoming well-known. These are important dimensions of power that are overlooked in the simplistic language of “divides.” Both Jong and Gay can be feminist though they come from these different positions but what an intersectional feminism requires is some self-reflection on how one’s place in the world shapes one’s need for, relationship to and practice of feminism.

This is Roxane Gay’s genius in Bad Feminist. She tells us where she is in the world and how that shapes her relationship to feminism.  

The characterization of the book festival exchange as “testy” “awkward” and “uncomfortable” trivializes the difference between Jong and Gay as an interpersonal squabble between two women. This is an old strategy for dismissing feminism. “Oh, just a bunch of women, arguing…who cares?” When this sort of “testy” exchange happens between a white woman and a woman of color, it’s the woman of color who bears the burden of the conflict. Given the powerful stereotype of the “angry black woman,” the onus of the way this exchange was reported implicitly falls on Gay, and her supporters, even though all reports indicate she and the audience exercised a great deal of restraint.

In her report about the Decatur Book Festival, Cristen Conger writes that  white feminism and privilege oversight is still alive …it’s high time white feminists face and own up to this unsavory past and present.”

But why is it ‘high time’ for such a reckoning? Many people object to this kind of critique because – based on what I’ve been able to glean from readin  the comments on this piece (g-d help me) and reading the comments I’ve gotten on my series about white feminism – the thinking seems to be that this is being needlessly divisive. Can’t we all just raise our fists in sisterhood and solidarity? Doesn’t the patriarchy (if we’re still using that word) win if you’re critiquing white feminism? I don’t think so. 

 

Why Critiquing White Feminism is Necessary

White feminism is a set of ideas – an ideology – a way of advocating for gender equality without attention to race or class. It’s not simply that there are a ‘few bad apples’ (i.e., racist white women) within an otherwise trouble-free feminist landscape. White feminism is a systematic way of looking at the world; it’s often promoted or practiced by white women, although it’s not exclusive to white women. This short video by Zeba Blay and Emma Gray is a good primer if you’re new to these ideas.  You can also go back and read the series about white feminism starting here.

For me, personally, it’s important to critique white feminism because it harms other women and perpetuates racism (causing more harm). My critique is meant to interrupt the harmful cycle of ‘gender only’ feminism that replays in generation after generation of feminists. This cycle is a kind of ignorance that’s painful to other women, especially women of color, and also queer, gender nonconforming and transgender women of all races. It is the opposite of sisterhood, the antithesis of feminism. 

It’s possible to see what’s at stake and why we need a sustained critique of white feminism in a recent review of Erica Jong’s work.

Reviewing Fear of Flying on its 40th anniversary in 2013 (“Is the sexiest novel of the 1970s still relevant?”), Katy Waldman mentions the racism of the book, but then buries that critique by including a defensive quote from Jong about the chapter title mentioned earlier (“Arabs and Other Animals.”). Waldman then writes: But I am underselling this novel, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month with a reissue and has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.”  So, not only is the racism of the text set aside as unimportant or irrelevant, but we’re reminded of the novel’s successful sales.

Part of what’s at stake here is that Jong’s voice is amplified globally- 20 million copies in 27 languages –  in a way that other feminist writers and voices are not. That’s an enormous power. And, it has an impact. In the same review, Waldman writes about literature and how people wrote novels differently in the 1970s (hoping to produce One Great Character), then she writes this:

“For as much as Fear of Flying is about producing that One Great Character, it is also about understanding womanhood circa 1973.  [emphasis added]

In fact, Erica Jong’s writing tells us about a very, very thin slice of wealthy, urban, white, American, Jewish, heterosexual, thin, cis-gendered womanhood. And yet, her voice, her writing, is held out at offering us an understanding of WOMANHOOD. This is the quintessential move of white feminism, and it’s important to critique it in order to recognize that what it means to be a “woman” encompasses multiple lives, experiences, and perspectives. This form of ‘gender only’ feminism erases all those other experiences and flattens into one, that looks like Isadora Wing/Erica Jong.

While Jong’s conversational missteps at the book festival can be partially attributed to coming from an earlier era of feminism, she continues to speak out in ways that are harmful to other women. In a recent ALL CAPS post to Twiitter, she had this to say about sex workers:

There is lots of smart, feminist writing out there about women and sex work, like Melissa Gira Grant’s  Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (2014), but Jong has apparently not read any of this, it seems. Her tweet struck me as an odd reaction – “strange smelly bods” — from someone whose writing is so explicitly and enthusiastically involved with “bods”.  Perhaps this is related to the way Jong equates rape with sex work and the reaction to her first book, she said in an interview:

“It was sort of as if I was a prostitute available to everyone because I’d written freely about sex; that happens in a very puritanical culture.”

Jong’s brand of ‘gender only’ white feminism doesn’t have room for women who are sex workers. Although she was an early and avid adopter of the overshare about her personal life she is somewhat paradoxically not given to self-reflection about how her pronouncements on sex work and feminism and ‘womanhood’ might be damaging to some women.

That’s why it’s important to keep critiquing white feminism, to undo some of the damage of this set of ideas.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, am I saying that wealthy, white, Upper East Side ladies can’t be feminists? No. That’s not it at all.

The conversation at the book festival between Jong and Gay could have gone much differently  if a couple of things had shifted. First, if Jong hadn’t been so defensive and a little more self-aware about her position, then a different kind of conversation might have been possible. And, if Jong had been more well informed about the history and scholarship of white feminism, another kind of encounter might have happened. Instead, it just replayed old scripts of white feminism in a way that was hurtful and left many women, including queer, gender nonconforming, and transgender women of color, out of the conversation.

If these things had shifted, then the exchange could have been an actual example of intersectional feminism. But it didn’t. It ended with Erica Jong saying something about it was going to “take a lot of work” to get a more inclusive feminism. And Roxane Gay clarified: “The work of fixing racism isn’t something that we, people of color, have to do. We don’t have the problem. We’re good.” 

Let’s be clear where the work need to happen: with white women who are the most frequent purveyors of white feminism.

 

 

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In Delivering Eulogy for Charleston Shooting Victim, Obama Finds Grace

The funerals for the Charleston shooting victims – all nine of them: Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59, – continue with regularity, each one a painful reminder that the violence of white supremacy costs lives.

President Obama stepped to the podium and into this difficult moment in US history to eulogize Rev. Clementa Pinckney. And in delivering the eulogy for Rev. Pinckney, Obama found grace. If you haven’t watched the whole speech, you can here (37:58):

The transcript is available, but it’s a speech that is better viewed than read.

In his analysis of the speech, John Dickerson, writing at Slate, had this to say about the President’s theme of ‘grace’:

This was not a rhetorical exercise, or not merely one. It was a demonstration of the power the president had found in the example of the people of Charleston—both the living and the dead. He wasn’t just telling. He was showing—the power he was trying to summon in this speech came from his own feeling of gratitude and obligation to serve as an example of grace. Even if you didn’t agree with any of what the president said, the distance the president traveled in this one week was a kind of testimony of its own. By the end of his oration, the president was leading the congregation in an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

There was something incredibly powerful and moving in the choice of ‘grace’ as a theme to tie this speech together, and perhaps one of the elements that so resonated for me is the way that it reframed the talk about ‘forgiveness’ of the shooter. In his analysis at The Atlantic, James Fallows takes this up when he says:

It allowed him to recast one part of the shooting’s aftermath in the most glorious way. When the families of the nine murdered victims told the killer that they forgave him, one undertone of their saintliness was that we might be in for another “noble victim” episode. Black people would be killed or abused; they would prove their goodness by remaining calm; and in part because of their magnanimity, nothing would change.But by characterizing their reaction as a reflection of grace rather than mere “forgiveness,” Obama was able to present it as something much different than patient victimhood…”

Fallows has a long, section-by-section break down of the speech if you want to know more about the way the speech worked, which is interesting if you’re interested in how speeches work.

If you’re still just trying to come to terms with the awful events in Charleston, have a listen to President Obama’s speech and find some grace.