Tag Archives: white privilege

Dear White Authors: Our Fantasy Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

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Hi friends! It’s been awhile. I’ve been focusing on fiction. The sequel to Panther in the Hive has been released, by the way!  (The Rooster’s Garden, here.) But I did write a blog this week.

Below you will find an excerpt to my latest, “Dear White Authors: Our Fantasy Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum” which has been published on Huffington Post. I encourage you to read it here.

You see, our fantasies don’t exist in a vacuum. Every character we create, every world we imagine, every king we conjure, and every centaur or alien or whatever we weave together with our words comes from somewhere. Writers, I know: we like to imagine our stories as apparitions that arise from magic or stardust; a miraculous creation that channeled through us from a mystic source. But that’s untrue: our stories come from us, and “us” is often problematic.

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10 Things White Privilege Has Done for Me in 10 Days

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Some of the things I write most about are racism, sexism, misogynoir, and inequality in American media and pop culture, specifically the underrepresentation of women of color in the aforementioned. The reasons why are many and complicated. Almost all of my closest friendships throughout my life have been and continue to be with black and brown women, and I have been a sounding board for their pain and disenfranchisement since I was very young. I went to Columbia College Chicago, my friends struggled to find art (literature and film) where they were not only represented, but represented in nuanced and thoughtful ways that went deeper than tokenism. As a white woman, I often stood by feeling helpless, attempting to educate white people (family, classmates, Facebook) about white privilege and the consequences of underrepresentation, both for the self-esteem of children of color and for the perpetuation of white supremacist ideologies. I’m a writer, so awhile back I took to blogging as a means of communicating some of these ideas, hoping to use my white privilege to reach people and change some minds.

But something has been bugging me lately, and I haven’t been quite sure what it is, until last week when a blog I wrote about the movie Lucy reached something like 230k people and the emails started pouring in. Not all of it was “hate mail” (although some of it certainly was): a lot of it was people of color writing to say, “Cool blog. I’ve been saying this for years and no one listens.”

That’s when it hit me, and it should have hit me a lot sooner, but this white privilege shit can really make you an idiot sometimes: by talking about these issues and finding an audience, I am exercising white privilege, and while I do believe that writing about the lack of representation of people of color in Hollywood and media can have a positive effect, it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time talking about the problems with the white supremacist system we live in, but not as much time talking about the ways in which I operate in that system. I try to keep my privilege in check—I’m not always successful—but since last week, I have been actively monitoring my daily life and watching the ways in which that privilege has benefited me when it comes to the blogging and writing that I do. So here it is, 10 ways in 10 days. (Note: There are definitely more than 10, and they obviously extend beyond my writing. See Peggy MctIntosh’s work for a better and more extensive list.)

1. People read my blog about Lucy.

Re-stating this one for all the folks who skipped the intro. I wrote a blog about being tired of seeing white faces on the big screen, dissecting the movie Lucy, and (white) people actually read it. I am not saying anything new in this blog that people of color haven’t already said a thousand times, since before I was born. And this is not to say that white people never read work by non-white people. But the emails I received from white folks saying “Wow, you really opened my eyes!” is telling.

2. Even though I take issue with the underrepresentation of people of color, representation of myself is not a problem.

Despite my anger about Hollywood, media, and popular fiction (including young adult fiction) erasing black and brown protagonists, it doesn’t mean that I am not still represented everywhere. This is one I have found I need to be really careful with, as being a guest in a community isn’t the same as being part of that community. The fact that I write about underrepresentation of people of color doesn’t mean that I am underrepresented: I turn on the TV and I see white women with skin and hair like mine. I go the movie theater and I am bombarded with men and women who look like me, not relegated to the role of servant, slave, or token. (I’m looking at you, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and well, pretty much every movie ever. See this great infographic by Lee and Low Publishers about the diversity gap in sci-fi and fantasy films.)

3. Some white people think I’m brave and cool.

I have gotten emails from white folks telling me that they admire me, etc. and that what I’m doing is important. Although I appreciate these emails, I can’t help but wonder if they are sending the same emails to women like @TheTrudz and @FeministaJones, black women who daily do far more important work than I and receive 100x as much hate mail. They are brave and brilliant. And so, so cool.

4. White people don’t see me as an outsider.

Granted, I’ve gotten quite a bit of nasty email and I have not even bothered to read the comments on the last several blogs I’ve written. (Sorry, folks: self-care.) But my criticism of Hollywood (and white people) does not hurt me on a grand scale, nor does anyone assume I speak for the entire white race. No one is reading my blogs and saying, “She’s just angry because she’s a [insert marginalized group here]. That’s how they all think.” I’m given the benefit of validity because I’m white.

5. No one thinks I’m selfish.

When people of color write about issues (in whatever arena or industry) that affect people of color, they are often labeled as self-seeking or only interested in causes that affect them, rather than being seen as valid providers of lived experience. So while people may read my blogs and say I’m a dick or that I’m missing major aspects of the way racism operates—both of which might be true—it generally doesn’t include the idea that I’m only in it for myself.

6. I can make punctuation and grammatical mistakes without people chalking it up to my race.

Hey, I make typos. We all do. But when people who are reading work by people of color and looking for a reason to discredit them, punctuation and grammar are often attacked as a way of undermining the argument. I can spell “platypus” like “plattapuss,” and people will say, “She can’t spell platypus. She’s dumb.” Not, “She can’t spell platypus. She’s dumb because she’s [insert marginalized group here].”

7. I can reply angrily to nasty comments without people chalking it up to my race.

This is an extension of #6 but it deserves its own, because it’s something that I see women of color struggle with a lot, both in life and online/in social media. A troll leaves a nasty comment or sends a viciously racist tweet, and the woman in question will respond with something snappy, and the troll will then go on to say, “See, angry black woman. What do you expect?” I, on the other hand, can reply with all the nastiness in the world, and while my womanhood will likely be attacked (“bitch,” “cunt,” etc.), my race will not.

8. People buy my book.

I wrote a sci-fi novel for my two best friends (Hi Hope! Hi Tasha!) and so the heroine is a woman of color kicking ass in the apocalypse. People are buying it, excited about the prospect of a non-white character in this scenario. But many of them have never heard of Octavia Butler. Many of them have never heard of Nnedi Okorafor. My white privilege has made me and my work visible, and some folks wrongly think I am the first to do what I’ve done. I am not. I am not. Don’t get me wrong, I want people to buy my book. But what I cannot let happen is the erasure of women of color who have done what I’m doing first. (Note: this is not to say that I have sold even close to as many books as Nnedi Okorafor, and especially not Octavia Butler. But when we’re talking about literary traditions, the fact that some of my white readers have read my book but not theirs is telling and problematic.)

9. My writing isn’t limited by the market to tales of slavery and servitude.

Although a lot of my subject matter confronts issues of race, my white privilege is a bubble around me when it comes to my future in writing and publishing. Too many of my author and poet friends have expressed frustration about approaching agents and publishers with their books, only to be told, “Well, maybe if you centered the story around slavery or racism.” My writing isn’t required to focus on aspects of my race and cultural experience, where people of color are often asked to act as a spokesperson or historian with their work. I pitched a young adult fantasy series, and all I was told is “Cool.”

10. I can stop writing/thinking about racism and my life will not change much.

One of the things about white privilege is that it’s like a steam bath. If you get tired of fighting or exhausted from battling against racist institutions, you can sink down into the bath, relax, and let the steam cloud your vision. I can sit down and watch a movie with a whitewashed cast, turn off my brain, and enjoy images of myself reflected back to me. If I stopped thinking and writing about racism, my life wouldn’t change, aside from a few less emails in my inbox calling me a “race traitor bitch,” my life would continue unaffected. Such is white privilege. The ability to not think, to not be constantly aware of your race, its presence and absence.

This article itself is a manifestation of white privilege. I will post it online and people will probably read it, and this list will start all over again. But I think I need to keep talking about this stuff, because writing a blog about whiteness in Hollywood is not enough. Writing 100 blogs about whiteness in Hollywood is not enough. I hope this time that the emails I get from white readers are more than “You’re right, there is an overrepresentation of white people in Hollywood!” and venture into “You’re right, our own whiteness is at work in intricate ways.” Change starts at home, and the real place I live is in my body.

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Dear Forbes: This Is Why Iggy Azalea Doesn’t “Run” Hip-Hop

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The Internet is currently on fire following a piece on Forbes that was initially titled “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman” but was changed after the backlash forced Forbes to realize what an absurd claim they were making. The new title is “Hip Hop’s Unlikely New Star: A White, Blonde, Australian Woman.”

I’m annoyed for multiple reasons. Let’s discuss them, shall we?

First off, I wouldn’t go to an Iggy Azalea concert if it were happening on my front porch. While I understand (somewhat confusedly) that she does have something of a fan base, anyone who has any love for hip-hop is currently decrying the notion that this woman “runs” hip-hop. Or anything at all, really. But that’s why the article title was changed, right? Because it (as the update reads) “did not accurately reflect the content of the piece.” Nor does it affect, um, reality. So yeah, good choice, Forbes. But you’re not off the hook.

Let’s get into the article. Here is the author’s reasoning for what he calls Iggy Azalea’s “notable” “rise to prominence”:

Making a name for yourself as a woman and hip hop is laudable enough, forget the fact that she is a white, blonde, Australian woman. In a genre dominated almost exclusively by African American men she sticks out like a statuesque thumb.”

Yes, making a name for yourself in hip-hop as a woman is laudable. But lauding Iggy Azalea here is ludicrous. The author seems not to understand the fact that it is precisely because Iggy Azalea is white and blonde that she has “made a name for herself” in hip-hop. White privilege has successfully floated her to the top of a genre where black women have fought for decades to be represented: her presence (and success) in hip-hop isn’t a shining beacon for feminism, but for the power of whiteness and what it can accomplish.

The author goes on to say:

“While this is all happening very quickly for her in America, she has actually been honing her craft for a decade now, first rapping at the age of 14. In the ten years since, she has seen and been through all the trials and tribulations of the industry.”

Really? All the trials and tribulations of the industry? All of them? Black female rappers encounter a unique struggle in their journey to success in an industry bent on attacking (and exploiting) black female sexuality, not to mention the complex dichotomy of battling male rappers on their misogynist lyrics while also being pressured to support the genre of hip-hop as a whole. The experience of black women in hip-hop is nearly analogous to life outside of hip-hop: black women being asked to choose between supporting black men in the struggle against racism and supporting their own struggle against misogyny (and misogynoir.) Has Iggy Azalea had to make these choices? No. Rather, she is flippant about the subject of race, spitting this lyric in her song D.R.U.G.S:

 

“Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks

When it really starts I’m a runaway slave…master

Shitting on the past gotta spit it like a pastor”

 

“Shitting on the past,” huh? Bye Iggy.

In the end, the idea that Iggy Azalea’s fame is “unlikely” is equally absurd. Of course it’s likely. A woman who represents every patriarchal and white supremacist ideal of beauty—tall, slim, undoubtedly white-featured, blonde—finding success in an industry that champions these qualities is entirely unsurprising, especially in a genre that is, as the author says, dominated almost exclusively by African-American men.” Iggy Azalea is not a success story I wish to celebrate. To me, she isn’t a success story at all: she is a novelty, a tiresome example of white female privilege and the delight white culture finds in white people appropriating any and everything.

Lastly, I would ask Hugh McIntyre if he has heard of FM Supreme. Awkwafina. Dominique Young Unique. Rapsody. Jean Grae. 3d Na’Tee. Women of color in hip-hop who are making a name for themselves against all odds. They run hip-hop. Next time you’re feeling all gushy about women in hip-hop…maybe write about them.

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On the Oft-Repeated Lie That Racism on Social Media Isn’t “Real” Racism

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No one questions the power of social media when it’s used to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research and other causes. No one questions the power of social media when no-name YouTubers become famous overnight, borne along by the mighty Like button. No one questioned the power of social media when it was used to discuss Mitt Romney and his binders full of women, or to help elect President Obama. In general, it’s understood that social media is a powerful part of our lives today. We spend all day on social media: checking our Facebook, scrolling through our Twitter feeds, taking ridiculous-ass selfies on Instagram, sharing sappy inspirational videos. So why, when it comes to racism on social channels, does social media become “just social media”?

It’s a phenomenon I started checking for in late 2013 when I slowly realized that when I discussed the disgusting displays of privilege and racism that I witness daily on platforms like Facebook and Twitter with (white) people offline, there was a marked lack of interest and an air of dismissal. “Well, that’s just the Internet,” I have been told about a thousand times since I began noticing this. “Trolls love doing that stuff. They live for it.”

Ahh trolls. The bullies of the Internet. The Internet, while so often a joyous source of cat pictures and blogs so brilliant that they make your brain explode, is also a Petri dish of trolls and unchecked adolescent attitude. The dreaded Comment Section, where geniuses and bottom-feeders collide, is a no-man’s-land of insight and insult battling for control. In short, it’s terrifying. The Internet is terrifying and wonderful, but it’s also something else.

It’s real.

When are trolls not trolls? When do the people who pop up in my favorite follows’ mentions and demand to be walked through Racism 101 (and then disagree with every provided example) stop being dismissed as trolls and start being seen for what they truly are: real people who have racist and sexist opinions and are choosing to share them on social media. Because there’s a difference. There is. Trolls thrive on stirring up drama. They are generally anonymous or using a fake name, are sometimes paid, and spend their time spewing inflammatory, extreme garbage (whether they personally agree with it or not) in a deliberate attempt to piss the world off while delighting in the havoc they wreak. But what about the people who use their real names? People who tweet about football and politics and books they’re reading…and also derail critical discussions on racism with cluelessness, self-centeredness, deliberate obliviousness, and bigotry. What about them? I’ve got a name for them: regulars. Because the stuff they do on social media—the derailing; the pretend-curiosity where they ask people of color basic questions about racism that could’ve been answered with their own research and then dismiss all points made; the “but I don’t see race: I can’t be racist” stuff; the “but my boyfriend is black: I can’t be racist” stuff—is just that: regular. It’s the stuff so many white people do in the real world, on the regular. Not trolls. People. In real life.

@BeccaRum, for example, was not a troll. I say “was” because, after she dropped some truly classic white privilege nonsense onto Twitter bemoaning the restraints of her whiteness and how the reverse racism of Black Twitter kept her from being “included,” she deleted her Twitter account. Becca was not a troll. Becca, however misguided and ridiculous, was just a young woman with a severe case of white privilege and a deep lack of education on racism and intersectionality. When she tweeted about how unfair it was that Black Twitter excluded her from their conversations, she wasn’t stirring the pot and waiting gleefully for outraged replies to fill her mentions. She was just tweeting the regular stuff that I’ve heard many white people who are uneducated about racism and privilege say: “I have something I want to say about the way I think racism works, but because I’m white, black people don’t listen to me! It’s not fair. That’s reverse racism.” Never mind the fact that much discussion, research and writing has already taken place on the topic. Becca wanted to be heard, and her unchecked white privilege couldn’t handle not being heard. So…regular.

Or what about @GreenLiberation? Last week she took to Twitter to tell everyone that she was teaching the kindergartners she’s responsible for to believe that they are “beyond their race,” and that one simply has to claim to be “green” or “blue,” or whatever color they choose in order to transcend their race. Every notion of “colorblindness” that has been established as privileged and damaging, she employed. When she was criticized, she proceeded to tweet for days (in fact, she was still tweeting about it last time I looked) about how the people asking her to check her privilege were “a lynch mob.” (Really.) By claiming not to “identify with” white people, she says she therefore does not benefit from white privilege. [Insert guffaw.] She is not a troll in the way that “troll” is generally defined. She wasn’t actively trying to make anyone mad: she was just doing what a lot of regular, oblivious white people do. She has almost 10,000 followers, not a shady 51-follower profile with an egg avatar. She’s a real person.

I write a lot about white privilege, race, and racism, and I—like everyone else who writes about these issues—get a lot of hate mail, although certainly less than writers of color who write about the same topics. Daily I receive ignorant tweet after ignorant tweet, book-length emails telling me what an idiot I am, comments on my blog calling me a race traitor (yawn) and an ugly bitch (sigh), and messages to my fan page on Facebook calling me names that would make a pirate blush. It used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore. My block hand is strong (pow!) and my “Report As Spam” reflex is cat-like. But something else does bother me, and it’s that vast number of people who dismiss this online racist behavior with slightly exasperated statements such as “It’s the Internet,” or (the most common, given my favorite social platform), “It’s just Twitter.”

No, it’s not. This is the world.

When we say racist behavior on the Internet is “just the Internet”—“that’s the way it is”—we are not only justifying that behavior, but we are erasing the experiences of those who are on the receiving end of it. Why should racism be treated with any less seriousness because it’s in the form of a 140-character microaggression as opposed to an epithet hurled from a car window? Is racism not racism, no matter what form it takes? When this question is posed, the answer is inevitably: “Well…why can’t people just ignore it? Again, it’s just the Internet.”

Oh? How often do you have your Twitter feed flooded with people who think they aren’t racist but demand to be educated on the proof of racism’s existence, meanwhile becoming more and more irate and emotionally abusive with every tweet they send? I’m not even talking about my own lived experience, although I’ve experienced some of this. I’m talking about the stuff I see tweeters of color (ToC) experience regularly, experiences that are regarded with neutrality from offline observers and even the perpetrators: “I’m just asking questions! I’m asking you to educate me, what’s the big deal! How am I being racist when I’m just telling you that I disagree with everything you believe and don’t think your lived experiences are valid? That’s what the Internet is for! Discussion!” The anxiety (and annoyance) this kind of microaggression is as real online as it is in reality, so why the reluctance to relate these modes?

By dismissing online racism as “the way it is” on the Internet, by sweeping racist social media behavior under the rug, we are saying that ToC have to accept what they get on Twitter. ToC must be ready to accept abuse, this logic says, if they want to be part of the Internet that white Twitter users enjoy racism-free. We are allowing the “regulars” of the Internet to proceed unchecked in behavior that is demonstrably harmful and offensive to ToC, meanwhile mythologizing their hurt and normalizing racism.

You know who else I call “regulars” though? The people who do this dismissing. Because Internet or not, this is the same kind of excuse-making behavior I see in the “real world” when white people who are unaffected by racism and choose to remain unaware of white privilege are confronted with conversations about harmful behavior of white people. Dismissal. Excuse-making. Blame-shifting. The unwillingness to drop the r-word. The reluctance to hold other white people accountable. But racism on social media isn’t less real because it takes place on social media. Racist words aren’t any less racist because they are shared in the form of a tweet. What’s unreal about the Internet anyway? We use it to reconnect with old friends and new ones; get in touch with college professors; share our life announcements such as engagements and pregnancies; ask for help; look for jobs. I’m using it to fund my novel. Many of my friends use it to meet dates. It’s real. Our lives are wrapped up in it. We can’t acknowledge the successes that occur because of it while dismissing the failures—especially the harm that those failures cause.

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Open Letter to the Three White Students That Filed A Discrimination Complaint Against Their Black Teacher

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Hi guys. Before you ask, I’m white too. Someone wise said social activism tastes better when the waiter is white, and while this is unfortunate, you clearly aren’t listening to your professor, Shannon Gibney, so I thought I’d take a moment to clear some things up, mano-a-mano. You know, Caucasian-a-Caucasian.

Let me make something clear right up front: you have no real idea what it’s like to be discriminated against on the basis of race. Neither do I. You know why? Because we’re white. We’re white people in America, and that means almost every aspect of the country we live in is geared toward us: 99% of books, television, film, magazines, and even porn is made for us and represents us. Maybe you read (though for some reason I deeply doubt it) my article on the absurdity of #WhiteGirlsRock. It’s absurd because white people don’t need an extra reminder of their value…because it’s reaffirmed for them (for us) every single day by the people we see in the media, by the people that run this country, and yes, even by the people that act as our educators. American education has long been under fire by people who use their brains over the continued teaching that Christopher Columbus was a great dude and a hero and someone we should all celebrate year after year. But you probably still think that, don’t you?

Probably before you got to college, most of your teachers taught the version of American history that high schools are wont to teach: Columbus was like Mr. Rogers with a (crappy) map, the Pilgrims sang Kumbaya with the Native Americans, and slavery just wasn’t that bad. I imagine college courses might have been a bit of a shock for you, with discussions that maybe didn’t valorize violent colonization and actually shone a light on the perspective of people who weren’t white.

Is this where things started to get uncomfortable for you? I imagine the first lecture on America’s legacy of brutality and oppression left you in shock. Maybe you thought that particular professor was just a wayward nut job. But then another class discussed institutional racism, and another. And you began to squirm in your seat because whoa this wasn’t just one time where your whiteness—the thing that you might have squeaked by on for the entirety of your short life; the thing you’ve unconsciously relied upon to get you out of trouble with the campus police, out of detention and on the honor roll in high school; the thing that might have gotten you your consecutive summer jobs—that thing, that whiteness, is being criticized, not just once by one random professor who your privilege enables you to ignore, but more than once. You see petitions and articles on the Internet talking about racism and bias and…gasp…white privilege. And you’re sick of it, right? Because who wants to sit in a room full of people, people who don’t all look and sound like you, and talk about the ways that you are flawed? That’s uncomfortable. That’s awkward. That doesn’t feel good. It feels like being singled out; it feels like being held accountable for things you don’t feel responsible for; it feels like being defined by the color of your skin; it feels like being blamed; it feels like being…discriminated against.

But it’s not discrimination, boys. And here’s why.

Because this is one classroom in your entire life. One speck of discomfort in an ocean that is your life of privilege. Because white supremacy dictates that your skin—and let’s not forget your maleness—will make things fundamentally easier for you than for a person (and especially a woman) of color. That feeling of being on the spot? Of being defined by the color of your skin? Of being blamed for things that other people of your color do, even if you have not done them yourself? That’s not a classroom for people of color. That’s life. There’s no walking out of class. There’s no transferring to a different professor. There is only more of the same, with the hope that dialogue, education, and activism will pull the collective ostrich head from the ground, bit by bit, until that structural racism that you don’t like talking about is eradicated.

Look, guys. I see why you’re uncomfortable. You have been taught your entire life that white is always right. Your formal education has revolved around the valorization of colonization, the championing of racist brutes, and the marginalization of people of color. You have grown up insulated from racism and discrimination and what those words truly mean. You have been trained to see your whiteness as the norm, the default, the center of the world: you think that Other people have a race, but you are just…you. Your whiteness has been an invisible tool that you have wielded your entire life, mostly without really realizing it, but now that people are criticizing the invisible tool, you are pissed, defensive, and maybe even afraid. I would say that’s normal. Everything you’ve been taught is being contradicted, so a little discomfort is expected.

That’s what you said, right? That the discussion of structural racism made you uncomfortable? That you felt the classroom was hostile? That you didn’t like that “we have to talk about this all the time”? I have a simple question for you: how do you think people of color feel? What if that classroom that you felt was hostile was your world, your life? You have now filed a formal discrimination complaint with your college against your professor, which I’m sure in your mind is some kind of activism, but by filing that complaint, you are attempting to silence a voice speaking out against discrimination. It’s odd, you see. It’s odd that you want your voice to be heard and your pain acknowledged, but you don’t want to acknowledge the suffering of people of color. You want to talk about discrimination against yourself—but you don’t want to talk about discrimination against people of color. Interesting. Maybe if you’d actually paid attention in that lecture on structural racism, you’d have learned that discrimination in the context of 21st century America has political, social, and economic ramifications. Your hurt feelings, your 90 minutes of discomfort, are just not included in that, fellas.

Bottom line: I want you to be uncomfortable. It means you’re being challenged. And that’s what college is for, isn’t it? I’m not a teacher, but I know that mental growth, like physical growth, comes with growing pains. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. It’s going to hurt and you’re going to come out the other side bumped and bruised…but better. Shannon Gibney is trying to make the world better. She’s trying to make you better. What have you done lately?

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Why I’m Not Here for #WhiteGirlsRock

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The Black Girls Rock! Foundation was founded in 2006 as an organization dedicated to the empowerment of young women of color; a foundation committed to helping black and brown girls overcome the myriad of obstacles a misogynoiristic society places squarely in front of them. The Black Girls Rock! Awards are now featured on BET as a way of recognizing role models, encouraging teachings of self worth, and emphasizing the talents of extraordinary women of color who are otherwise unseen in American media.

Let me emphasize that last part. “Women of color who are otherwise unseen in American media.” We need Black Girls Rock! because black girls and women are almost invisible in American media. Because if you were a black girl growing up in this country, watching TV and movies and reading magazines like every other kid, looking for some representation of yourself as something beautiful or heroic, you would be sorely disappointed.

  • Black Girls Rock! is necessary because when you Google “beautiful women,” this is what you see.
  • Because when you look at the covers of Vogue, this is what you see.
  • Because when Vanity Fair printed their Hollywood issue, they put the black actresses on the back cover.
  • Because when a dark-skinned woman is put on the cover of a magazine, this is what is done to her.
  • Because Pixar has never made a movie featuring a black cartoon character.
  • Because a black actress has never won a drama series Lead Actress Emmy. (Although Kerry Washington will change that, I am certain.)
  • Because in 39 years, only three black women have been part of the cast of SNL.
  • Because, until Scandal, the only real place you could find black women in leading roles on television was Real Housewives of _______.
  • Because the “first black Disney Princess” was a frog for 95% of the movie.

I could go on. But I think you get the gist. What it comes down to is that black girls are missing representations of themselves in positive contexts. When they turn on the TV, they are missing. When they are looking at the cover of magazines like Vogue and Elle, they are missing. When they go to the movie theater, they are missing. For black women’s faces to appear in mainstream films, it seems they must be either wearing a maid’s apron or chains. So when Black Girls Rock! appears on the scene, ready to uplift and empower the girls who are so tragically neglected in American media, ready to showcase women of color who are smart and fun and beautiful and accomplished and positive, I am so here for it.

But let me tell you what I’m not here for.

I’m not here for #WhiteGirlsRock. The hashtag appeared on Twitter in an apparent response to Black Girls Rock! that aired on Sunday night with typical nonsense such as:

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And

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Let me tell you something, white folks. From one white person to another.

You are in everything. 99% of Hollywood movies feature your faces. 99% of magazine covers are covered in you. The Emmy Awards and Oscars are almost entirely you. If you Google “beautiful people” the screen is covered in white faces. Black girls (and boys) are taught from birth that there is one version of beauty, and it is you. Many black girls go their entire lives thinking they are ugly, thinking they need to be lighter, straighter, whiter in order to have value. Everything that you see every day that reaffirms your whiteness; every commercial that has a nice white lady embodying the perfect “mom;” every magazine that has blue eyes and bone-straight hair; every Hollywood blockbuster that has a leading lady with skin never darker than Halle Berry….all of these things are reinforcements of your identity that you take for granted.

You may be fat. You may have hair that curls up at the ends. You may even have acne. But your face is everywhere. Your people are everywhere. What in your heart recoils when you see Black Girls Rock? What bone in your body sees empowerment for black girls and thinks “that’s not fair”? Where is your bitterness rooted? What do you think has been taken from you when women of color are uplifted?

All of the things you take for granted are what you’re protecting when you shout down Black Girls Rock: your whiteness, the system that upholds your face as the supreme standard of beauty, your place in the center of a culture that demands people of color remain hidden in the margins, present but only barely and never overshadowing the white hero/heroine. Your discomfort with black girls who rock tells me that you prefer the status quo: you prefer for black faces to remain hidden, you prefer for America’s heroes to have white faces, you prefer for black actresses to wear aprons and chains.

This is not to say that white girls don’t rock. I’m white. I kind of rock. But this conversation isn’t about you, it isn’t about us. Why must everything always be about us? It doesn’t have to be. And it shouldn’t be. From one white person to another….please sit down. Queen Latifah is on and you’re blocking the screen.

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The Black Girl Who Was Mean to You in 7th Grade Was Not A Reverse Racist

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Occasionally I witness something enough times that it registers on my radar as being something that 1) is a “thing” and 2) needs to be written about. This is one such “thing.”

The “thing?” White people (men and women) who compare bullying they experienced from black peers in middle school and high school as “reverse racism” and “oppression.”

If your face just did this, then you have just had the same reaction as I did. But I’ve heard this one a lot. I’ve seen it in tweets, I’ve read it in comments on blogs, I’ve overheard it on public transportation, and I recall hearing it when I left my mostly-black public high school and entered my almost entirely white private high school as a teenager. This is a “thing,” ladies and gentleman. Now let’s talk about why it’s dumb. This should be easy.

Your feeling belittled for a few years in your adolescence is not the same as the systematic discrimination that black and brown people experience in all aspects (economic, social, interpersonal, etc.) of life, and have experienced for generation after generation.

Not easy enough? Let me break that down.

  • A black girl telling you that your shoes are ugly is not the same as the massive wealth inequality in the United States, in which whites have claim to 22x more wealth than blacks.
  • A black boy threatening to beat you up after school is not the same as a black boy being gunned down in his own neighborhood and his (nonblack) killer not being arrested for weeks.
  • A black girl calling you names is not the same as the President of the United States being called a “nigger” and being told to “go back to Kenya.”
  • A black boy calling you names is not the same as fraternities and sororities on university campuses across the United States—including Ivy League schools—hosting parties in which the attendees dress in blackface and throw up what they believe to be gang signs.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, this eagerness of white people to attribute individual suffering to systematic injustice, especially in the context of the following observation about the perception of said injustice that white privilege provides: White people want to be judged solely based on their individual actions and not be held accountable for the actions of other people of their race (including their ancestors), yet insist on viewing the actions of black people as attached to their race as a whole, holding an entire race responsible for the actions of individuals. This phenomenon can be applied neatly to the discussion of bullying at hand. No one wants to say that the white children who alienate and marginalize the lone black student in their midst are miniature racists. “Kids being kids,” perhaps. “Kids don’t understand racism fully. They’re just doing what their parents taught them.” I have heard these excuses with my own ears, and perhaps the latter is somewhat valid. However, if it is valid, it must also be valid for black students who “pick on” white students. Kids (of all colors) are cruel. Don’t we all know this? Then why are black children vilified as perpetuators of “reverse racism,” tiny thugs picking on their blameless white peers, whereas white children are given the luxury of being clueless kids? Again, this is an instance in which whites are granted individuality, and blacks are regarded as a whole: one black bully and suddenly there is an institutional problem in which white children everywhere are the victims of mass injustice.

Look, I went to a mostly black school. I was in classes where I was one of maybe two or three white kids. People picked on me, sure. (Hi, Denise!) Black kids picked on me, sure. But you know what? Those black kids picked on other black kids too. And you know what else? White girls were meaner to me than black girls, and I guarantee you that some of the adult white women I’ve heard complain about the treatment they received by black girls as a kid were also picked on by other white girls. Yet for some reason those white Mean Girls aren’t targeted in the memory the way black Mean Girls are.

Perhaps this is a symptom of years of cultivated white privilege. White people—even as children—expect everyone to cater to us; serve us; be nice to us; tolerate us. When the world—and its people—are unkind, perhaps it is a system shock: “But I’m white! I thought everyone had to be nice to me? Why are these black kids picking on me? I’m supposed to be better than them!” This is one of the nearly infinite problems of white privilege: what does raising a white child to believe that they deserve special treatment teach other than how hard the ground is when the reality of non-white experiences bursts that fragile bubble? That being said, some white people live their entire lives with that bubble intact: a white supremacist culture makes this possible. For all the complaining white people do about “the race card” being pulled, they certainly keep it close to the top of the deck themselves. A kid is mean to you in high school. That’s life. They’re not hazing you with a noose on your locker. They’re not making these videos. They’re being mean-ass kids. That’s life. But white privilege teaches white kids something different about life. That’s not life, we tell them. Not for you.

One thing that always shocks me when I see/hear/overhear these anecdotes from “victims” of juvenile “reverse racism” is the complete lack of willingness to regard those black kids from their past as humans. You know, other thirteen year-olds going through puberty, getting their hearts broken, being frustrated with their lack of a boyfriend/girlfriend, struggling with grades, being slighted by friends—all the things that makes being a middle/high schooler so abominably difficult. And in addition to all those “kid” problems, other, bigger problems. In the case of my friends in middle school, dealing with violence at home, drugs in their neighborhood, gangs on the walk to school, racism from the very teachers who are supposed to be helping them succeed. Maybe the black girl who “bullied” you in 7th grade was going through some shit. Ever think of that? Yet these white “victims” can’t find it in their heart for one moment to look back on their adolescence and not only forgive a black child who caused them pain, but empathize with what that individual might have been experiencing? Things worse, perhaps, than the momentary shame you might have felt when she called you fat in the lunch line?

I could go on. I’ve already gone on too long: this is supposed to be a micro-blog, after all. But I feel strongly about this one. I’ve heard it too, too often: white women and men looking back into their childhood and seeing, instead of the tough middle school years that everyone had, a deeply unfair system of reverse racism in which twelve-year-old black kids are equivalent to Al Capone; chalking up the meanness of a few to the flaws of the whole.

No. The girl who was mean to you in 7th grade was not a reverse racist. She was a 7th grade girl. And I think it’s time you got over it.

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Justin Bieber, Trayvon Martin, and Kittens

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Today Sharon Osbourne said this. Gather ‘round, children, and let me tell you why it’s bullshit.

Justin Bieber, to date, has spit on his fans, smoked marijuana, and urinated in buckets in public—on camera. You know who is to blame for these acts? Justin Bieber. You know who is not to blame for these acts? Black people.

Sharon Osbourne is an idiot for a multitude of reasons, but the glaring one here is this: implying that Justin Bieber’s bad behavior is somehow the result of black culture’s influence and not the result of, oh, I don’t know…unchecked white privilege, unchecked arrogance, poor parenting, limitless financial resources, armies of Yes Men, and well, a shitty personality, is not only deeply ignorant, but deeply racist.

Prepare yourself for a list of rhetorical questions:

  • Why is bad behavior associated with blackness?
  • Why are faceless, nameless black boys held accountable for the actions of a young, white, male celebrity?
  • Why does Sharon Osbourne “feel bad” for this asshole of a kid?
  • Why does Sharon Osbourne associate “bad boys” pissing in a bucket with blackness? Is this something that “bad black boys” do? Piss in buckets in public? Nah.

I can’t help but be reminded of the public’s reaction to the possibility that Trayvon Martin had been smoking marijuana on the night that he was killed. He was transformed into a dangerous, drug-running addict: a 17-year-old hurricane of chaos and violence. No one said he was lost. No one said he was a “little kid with a huge dream,” “cute,” trying to be a “mean boy” but “mean as a f*cking kitten.”

Why is Justin Bieber a kitten? Why was Trayvon Martin not?

Sharon Osbourne says Justin Bieber is lost. If he is, it’s not from following a map penned by black youth. If Justin Bieber is lost, it’s because he’s followed the path laid out for him by privilege, entitlement, and white supremacy.

Maybe he can be found. But I tell you what’s not going to bring him back to humanity: excusing his bullshit actions and blaming black boys. I can tell you that for sure.

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Sagging Pants and Pointing Fingers

ImageSince Don Lemon’s statements about sagging pants being the reason black men can’t get jobs, continue their education, stay out of jail, etc., I’ve witnessed a flurry of white fists in the proverbial air, mobs of white commenters on various blogs and forums saying “See? See? What I’ve been saying all along.” Torches and pitchforks. Pointing fingers. Sighs of relief as their own opinions—held however secretly—are given breath by a black man; the token voice they need for “permission” to air out their often ill-concealed dirty laundry.

This topic has been written on extensively. I have little to contribute. Lemon’s equation of fashion choices to the grossly disproportionate numbers of black men who are unemployed, criminalized, and institutionalized is almost laughable. But I do want to ask you this, Mr. Lemon.

Would you say the same about victims of rape?

If a woman is wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top and is the victim of sexual assault, is she to blame? When police officers arbitrarily dismiss her allegations as uncredible; when courts lambast her supposed promiscuity and wardrobe choices; when she is called a whore or that she was “asking for it”—is it her fault?

I am discussing a system of blame in which an oppressed group bears the brunt of its own brutalization; in which petty justifications like sartorial decisions are gestured to as the root of all said group’s misfortune. It reminds me of something… It reminds me of a boy who was wearing a hoodie on a rainy evening while walking home from the store, who was seen as dangerous, threatening, suspicious, out of place. A boy who was murdered as a result of it.

Is your memory so short, Mr. Lemon?

This is a society that would rather criticize hems and pants than its own distorted lens of bias and blame: its systematic inequality and inherited poverty.

A society that would rather point at hoodies as the problem rather than address its prejudice toward the skin of the hoodie-wearer.

A society that has a finger pointing solidly at the black boys with their pants riding low, steadily unaware of the four fingers pointing back at itself.

Black boys are being gunned down in front of their homes, and we’re talking about pants? We’re talking about PANTS?

Enough, Mr. Lemon. And enough, America. You need an intervention.

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One White Woman Looking At Another White Woman

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I have been angry for days. For those of you who follow me on Twitter or know me personally, this comes as no surprise. But this has not been my usual anger––the daily anger that is generally bubbling under the surface as a result of reading the news, reading comments by trolls, witnessing and experiencing microaggressions, battling internet racists, etc.––but a tight wire in my heart that has been clanging since the verdict was read, since 5 white and 1 Hispanic woman in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty after he stalked and murdered a boy of seventeen.

I watched every second of the trial. I seethed at Don West. I cringed at the 911 tapes. I cheered for Rachel Jeantel. And the whole time I felt my hope struggling with my pessimism, heard myself say “These bastards will probably let him walk,” while being conscious that I was saying this in an effort not to get my hopes too high. But they were high. Even in the face of grossly unjust convictions like Marissa Alexander’s, I thought, “There’s just no way. They can’t. Not this time.”

But they did. They let him walk, and are even giving him the gun back, the one he used to take the life of an innocent black boy. A bloody souvenir.

In the days since, I have engaged in vicious debates, some with people I formerly respected. One in particular stands out in my mind: a white man told me that we shouldn’t be angry at the jury or vilify them: we should be angry at the laws that “forced their hand” to acquit. Out of all the debates I’ve had, this is the one that irks me the most.

Yes, the laws need to be changed. Stand Your Ground needs to be smashed. But you know what else needs to be smashed? The racist ideologies that cling to the hearts of white Americans, proven by the fact that Don West could enter a trial with the strategy of “Scare the white ladies with tales of a big bad black thug” and succeed; proven by the fact that Trayvon Martin, in death, was on trial for his own murder; proven by the fact that white Zimmerman defenders have said over and over that Trayvon should have identified himself (Freedom Papers?); proven by the fact that despite our teaching our children to run away from suspicious adults who might mean them harm, Trayvon Martin was somehow wrong wrong wrong for trying to protect his own life.

During the trial, there was speculation that the jury would convict because all of them were mothers. Although white, it was said, these women have children of their own and would see through Zimmerman’s elaborate circus of lies in the pursuit of justice for a child. Those speculations were wrong. I have quoted a poem by Ai many times in my ongoing fight for equality, and I’ll do so again here:

 

“what can I say, except that I’ve heard

the poor have no children, just small people”

 

This is how these jurors—and, indeed, much of White America—see black Americans. How could this jury of 6 non-black women see Trayvon Martin as a child, when to their eyes he was a man? And not just a man: a black man. A dangerous man. A threat. A pestilence. A thug.

Last night I listened to Juror B37 during her CNN interview, her face in shadow, while she said “them” and “they” and “sorry” and “Georgie.” I listened to her implications of Rachel Jeantel’s inferiority and her disgraceful deference for George Zimmerman. And I wanted to scream. Cry. Break things. I wanted to burn the world down. She essentially admitted that he committed manslaughter, but that “his heart was in the right place.” In these words I heard her complicity with the murder of black children in Florida and everywhere. However terrible Zimmerman’s actions, his heart was in the right place. Why? Because a black child is dead. And how could that be wrong?

This is what we’re up against. By we I mean everyone who believes that justice was not carried out; who believes that black children matter; who believes black lives matter; who believes as long as people like Juror B37 exist, our work is not done.

There are many problems with this case, with Florida, with the United States, with this world that puts blackness on par with ugliness, danger, and ignorance. But of those problems, which one glares at me, twanging the wire in my heart? Whiteness. Whiteness and its lack of empathy, its refusal to take responsibility, its ego. Its inability to see a black boy as a black boy, to equate that black boy and his marijuana with your own white son and the pot you know is in his backpack. Whiteness and its refusal to sit down, shut up, listen, help. Whiteness and its blindness; its stuffy, raging defenses and finger-pointing. Whiteness and those—like B37—who wield it as a shield, then, behind that shield, attempt to write books and profit off a death that you blocked justice for.

We shouldn’t be angry at the jury? I am angry. I am one white woman looking at another white woman, who—along with her peers—saw a black child’s death laid out before her and chose to turn her back. I am not turning my back. Not on Trayvon. Not on Michael Griffith. Not on Marissa Alexander. Not on Jordan Davis. Not on Emmett Till. I empathize. I organize. I’m angry.

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