Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Politics of Ganging Up On and Insulting One Individual Black Woman

NOTE: This post was edited and revised on 8 January 2011 in response to a critique of the original that I received by email. Thank you, to the sender of that email.

Black writers, of whatever quality, who step outside the pale of what black writers are supposed to write about, or who black writers are supposed to be, are condemned to silences in black literary circles that are as total and as destructive as any imposed by racism.
Audre Lorde

Black women are programmed to define ourselves within this male attention and to compete with each other for it rather than to recognize and move upon our common interests.
Audre Lorde

But the true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women.
Audre Lorde

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.
Audre Lorde

I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.
Audre Lorde

If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.
Audre Lorde

It's a struggle but that's why we exist, so that another generation of Lesbians of color will not have to invent themselves, or their history, all over again.
Audre Lorde

Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.
Audre Lorde

Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.
Audre Lorde

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.
Audre Lorde

There's always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself - whether it's Black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc. - because that's the piece that they need to key in to. They want to dismiss everything else.
Audre Lorde

We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of Black women for each other.
Audre Lorde

[source site for the quotes above is *here*]
This post consists of three parts: the quotes by Audre Lorde above; the main body of the post by me below; and an essay on this subject below that, with some closing thoughts by me.

There are a few occasions online, in the last weeks, months, and years, where various groups of people in the white male supremacist West have ganged up to very harshly criticise One Individual Black Woman. There have been many occasions, over the millennia, where this has been done in public places. This is always done at the same time that Black women as a group are ganged up on, insulted, and degraded. So the individual acts mirror the class-based acts. They are, structurally speaking, one and the same thing: oppressive to Black women and supportive of white and male supremacy.

In case the critics of "One Individual Black Woman"--countless individual Black women--haven't noticed, none of those targeted Black women have any of the social-structural-institutional power and privileges of any individual white person or of any individual man who has the ways and means to rally a mob-like group against anyone. And curiously it is disproportionately, if not only, whites and men who gang up on these individual Black women, protesting how "hateful" they are, as if Black women's hatred, or alleged hatred, has ever been the primary source of fuel running social systems designed and protected by whites and men. In case you choose to be so ignorant--whites and men--Black women's anger, rage, and hate has historically been most used against oneself and other Black women. But especially against oneself. To not know that is to prove your structural location as a white and/or male privileged person.

To be a Westerner and to target one Black woman as an object of inhumanity, while inhumanity is what Western Civilisation is founded on and thrives on, is an especially nasty strain of liberal individualism. Are the actions of any individual Black woman really so threatening to the masses that they warrant a response such as ganging up in mob-fashion and publicly insulting an individual in ways that are always consistent with how the group, Black women, is targeted generally? (I don't observe critics of an individual Black woman publicly critiquing her individual actions or views as whatever the critics feels they are. No. Their critique necessary and predictably goes after the humanity of of the person.)

I hear, occasionally, from whites and men: "Why aren't you speaking out against [so-and-so: the actions of an individual Black woman]?!" as if this blog was ever designed to target individual Black women as the source of ANY form of oppression known to the Western world, and the world beyond, imperiled as it is by white het male supremacy, now globalised.

This blog speaks out against systemetised, structural, institutionalised oppression, not hurtful things individual Black women do to a few individuals. I hope that's clear from the banner of this blog and from every post that's been put up here, now approaching 1300 in number. And, unlike many people, I don't use Facebook--that fucking putrid cesspool of anti-radical, anti-activist misogyny and racism, to express my views about individual Black women. Sorry. Naht-gonna-duit.

I critique the acts of some individual whites and individual men, here particularly, because their actions participate in white supremacy and male supremacy--those institutionalised ideologies of callousness and murder. If and when I challenge the viewpoints of any woman of color for being pro-white male supremacist, it's the viewpoint I challenge: I don't "go after" the person and don't rally "friends" to help me do so; I especially don't criticise her humanity.

The ways that whites and men gang up on an individual woman of color is life-threatening to women of color, in case you haven't noticed. The way some individual Black women do hurtful things to individuals who are white, men, or other women of color--because individual Black women are fully human and do human things like become hurtful to other people at times--is never accomplished in such a way that the critiqued people are threatened by multiple other people with all manner of systematised harm and institutionalised insult at their disposal, or with such systems and institutions "having their backs".

Note the anti-radical, anti-feminist, pro-racist location of the politics of whites and men not ever taking the side of any individual Black woman, especially including by bothering to find out the whole story. Note the anti-radical, anti-feminist, pro-racist location of the politics of whites and men insulting and degrading the humanity of any individual Black woman who speaks out in whatever way she chooses--when she speaks out at all, when she isn't being systematically silenced by white and male supremacy and its enforcers. And that doesn't mean I haven't and don't call out individual Black women who do things that I view as racist, misogynistic, heterosexist, or transphobic. I just won't do it PUBLICLY. And I name my own issues with the particular action or actions, I don't call into question the full humanity of the person I bring an objection to.

I don't hold individual Black women to be saints or sinners, holy or heathens, gods or monsters. I use the phrase "Lorde knows" because I think Audre Lorde was fully human, not fully "divine". I use the phrase precisely because her humanity was as good an example of complexly divine humanity as any that of any white person or any man who has been termed "holy" or "god-like". If Jesus (the fully human, not fully divine, man), or Gandhi (who abused women), or Martin Luther King, Jr. (who used women), can be made into various forms of gods, so too can Audre Lorde and any number of other brave, brilliant Black women.

If U.S. white male presidents can be regarded as [cough] Great, for committing, promoting, and permitting genocidal murder, for engaging in military warfare, for never ever declaring rape to be an egregious and entirely preventable atrocity men must work to stop, then I can declare "Great" any woman of any color for standing up to men in whatever ways she determines to be useful and necessary; and I can declare any Black woman "Great" for standing up repeatedly to misogynists and racists who come in all shapes and sizes, who go on and on and on and on about how "dangerous" an individual Black woman is.

To the critics of the One Individual Black Woman:
Spare the world your "concern" for humanity because One Individual Black woman appears to be "out of control" to you. Yes, you do get to find anyone of any color or gender "hurtful" or "offensive" or "disrespectful". But when you find allies with whom to gang up on one individual woman of color and publicly go out of your way to call her all manner of misogynist-racist terms in retaliation as if "this is war", you are doing the White Man's work. And the White Man's work is what this blog is designed to call out and name as atrocious, in case you haven't noticed.
I hope this blog supports more individual Black women, and women of any color, to take action against the evils of institutionalised whiteness and patriarchal manhood. More power to the women who do so. And if I see any whites, or any men, ganging up on ANY individual Black woman, publicly or privately, and attacking her humanity, and insulting her being, I may well call those actions out here on my blog. Because that CRAP is racist and misogynistic to its core. There's nothing anti-status quo about whites and men insulting and degrading Black women, even if it is done one individual Black woman at a time.

For more, please read this (please click on the title to link back to the source website):
An Introduction to a Feminist Perspective on Prejudice and Racism (64)

By cobras

In defining racism, Beverly Daniel Tatum turns to David Wellman’sPortrait of White Racism. According to Ms. Tatum, Mr. Wellman defines racism as “a system of advantage based on race.” (pg. 360, Women) In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh refers to racism as “invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance.” (Pg. 426, Women) In “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde writes of “systemized oppression” (pg. 427, Women) and of “the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance” (pg. 428, Women) when characterizing racism. Each of these writers stresses that the nature of racism is systemic and, as such, cannot be perpetrated by a lone individual. Each writer correctly makes a clear distinction between simple-minded personal bigotries and institutionalized wholesale racism.

“Prejudice,” Beverly Daniel Tatum points out, “is a preconceived judgment or opinion, usually based on limited information,” (pg. 361, Women) and goes out of her way to disagree with most people’s tendency to equate prejudice with racism. Ms. Tatum sees racism as extending well beyond the boundaries of personal ideologies. In effect, she understands prejudice to be a mere subset of racism, and believes that people often benefit from (and contribute to) racism without being overtly prejudiced. She sees racism as a system of oppression involving established cultural and institutional standards as well as individual behavior and beliefs. Racism is “prejudice plus power.” (pg. 362, Tatum, Women)

Peggy McIntosh agrees and further elaborates by comparing racism to a double-edged sword; on the one hand it disenfranchises and puts at a disadvantage one segment of the community (people of color), while on the other it confers “unearned advantage” (pg. 426, Women) and privilege to another (whites). McIntosh refers to the advantages she, and other European-Americans gain from racism as white privilege, and writes that this “privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” (Pg. 424, Women) It is important to note that, from her point of view, white privilege is as much a part of racism as is cross-burning at a Baptist church, and she goes a step further. She echoes her colleague Beverly Daniel Tatum’s opinion that anyone enjoying the fruits of white privilege, willingly or not, consciously or not, is a racist.

McIntosh’s and Tatum’s opinions may seem harsh and extreme to some, but as presented by them, make good sense. Humanity long ago reached an evolutionary status that affords each of us a level of understanding that precludes any valid excuse for the persistence of racism. No one may justly plead ignorance. As is often the case, ignorance in this instance, is simply a matter of convenience. “Most talk by whites about equal opportunity,” says McIntosh, “seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.” (Pg. 427, Women)

What these ladies have written is insightful and true. Prejudice is carried out individually; racism is a collective effort. Oafish racial prejudice may be ugly and undesirable, but it cannot be compared to the pervasive cancer of racism. One individual’s narrow-minded and exclusionary outlook may hurt those immediately around him. The damage may even spread somewhat beyond that individual’s scope of influence and life, but it will certainly not alter for the worse the wellbeing and evolution of entire cultures, generation after generation. Prejudice cannot subordinate one race to another. Only racism can enslave a race. Prejudice cannot threaten the very survival of an entire race. Only the virulence of racism has the capacity to wipe entire cultures off the face of the Earth.

And it persists. “Black women and our children know the fabric of our lives is stitched with violence and with hatred, that there is no rest…violence weaves through the daily tissues of our living—in the supermarkets, in the classroom, in the elevator, in the clinic and the schoolyard, from the plumber, the baker, the saleswoman, the bus driver, the bank teller, the waitress who does not serve us.” (Lorde, pg. 430, Women)

White women must deal with racism also, but on a whole different level. Audre Lorde warns that white women must guard against “being seduced into joining the oppressor” (pg. 429, Women) in the hopes of sharing the oppressor’s power. Tatum insists that white women “intentionally or unintentionally…benefit from racism.” (Pg. 364, Women) This is not to say that European-American women are immune to racial hatred. White women are victims of racial prejudice. I have met people who openly profess their hatred of whites simply for their whiteness. This, however, does not constitute, by any stretch of the imagination, the methodical assault upon and oppression of a people of the sort referred to by Lorde when she says to white women: “You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they are dying.” (Pg. 430, Women)

Works Cited

Kesselman, Amy, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, eds. Women: Images and Realities, A Multicultural Anthology. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill, 2003

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If you're still note clear on what's fucked up, racist, and misogynistic about what some whites and men are doing online and offline, to target and demean individual Black women, please read Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde, cover to cover, and anything else by her too. It's not that I believe she speaks to and for all Black women. It's that I believe her words--all of them, if carefully listened to and taken to heart and mind by whites and men, will humanise every reader, to some degree. If you're still not clear about what's wrong with targeting individual Black women, online of offline, then I'd say you're being willfully ignorant in ways your raced and gendered privileges support and encourage. Before you criticise, demean, or degrade another individual Black woman, ask yourself this: is she exactly as human as you are? If your answer is "no", then read more by Audre Lorde, as many times as it takes to "get it" that no Black woman is less human that any white person of any gender, or any trans person or man of any color. -- Julian Real


ChildfreeSoulSista said...

"In case you choose to be so ignorant--whites and men--Black women's anger, rage, and hate has historically been most used against oneself and other Black women. But especially against oneself. To not know that is to prove your structural location as a white and/or male privileged person."

Black women are only powerful when they align themselves with the powerful, and that's white and male people. The only time a black woman will be taken seriously by those with real social power is when she goes hard on another black woman. And a sista who has already been branded a "A Psycho Bitch Cunt" by white and male supremacists is a convenient target for her to unleash her internalized misogyny, racism and insecurity.

Distinguishing herself from another sista is a way to be validated by those with the real power to dish out real punishment for whatever transgression is cooked up in minds of rejected and exposed dudes with a misogynistic AXE (Literally! LOL) to grind with a sista! In other words a woman's "pimp hand" is strong only when her job is the "psycho bitch cunt bashing" of another black woman.

White male supremacists will appear to cheer on and twist whatever private personal drama that exists between black women into something that will justify their racist sexist agenda.

"But when you find allies with whom to gang up on one individual woman of color and publicly go out of your way to call her all manner of misogynist-racist terms in retaliation as if "this is war", you are doing the White Man's work."

Unfortunately many black women are ready and willing to do the white man's work because we've decided another black women is a threat to us because of her voice, her age and her looks.

Julian Real said...

Thank you, ChildfreeSoulSista, for bringing your insights to this post.