I received a comment recently that has been published and responded to at the prior post *here*. You can click on the "comments" link at the bottom of the post to see the rest of the conversation to date.
Below is that most recent comment and my critique of it, revised for this new post. (A post-script has been added at the bottom, on 6 January 2014.)
On Thursday, December 26, 2013, enchantedghosts said...
It's been a few months, but I am interested in this question. With a background in psychology, my first reaction to the question of why no one stood up for the panelist is The Bystander Effect. With so many people in the audience, there is a general diffusion of responsibility. Everyone was just waiting for everyone else to take a stand. It's also interesting to note that the moderator (a position that comes with some sense of authority) was the only one who made any real verbal attempt to mediate the situation.
I also think that this particular situation, where a Black man is threatening a Black woman, is one where many White people feel uncomfortable intervening, for fear of "not doing it right." I think the fear of looking like someone who is trying to play the White Hero overshadows the feeling of responsibility to help out a fellow human being.
I will admit that I feel terribly out of place to offer any critique of feminism. So take this as an outsider's non-academic opinion, please. But it seems as though at least part of the problem is that people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing or making the wrong move. There is a fear of being labeled as racist or sexist-- so in defense of one's ego and sense of their own moral goodness-- people choose to not act at all.
This seems to stem from a very closed, angry and unforgiving conversation about these topics. A lot of judgement is thrown around, with very few people willing to extend any understanding towards the fellow people they are supposed to be engaged with. Instead of conversation and dialogue, there is an attempt to prove oneself right at the expense of shaming someone else.
I don't know how much of this is simply because the internet is a forum which tends to bring out the worst in people's ability to engage in dialogue. Again, this is not my academic field and I am more familiar with what is available via the internet, while acknowledging that this is in no way a forum which speaks for the entire discipline. However, I do believe that if real, social change is something that people want to see happen then there needs to be space for people to make mistakes.
I don't mean that people engaging in White Hero behavior (or any sexist/racist behavior) should be ignored or encouraged, but that gentle critiques may be better than constant shaming and anger in certain situations. Human beings can only take so much.
Most whites are still hostile to or disdainful of any efforts to weaken white power. And most whites in the U.S. reluctantly endure "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day". Just YESTERDAY--no joke--I heard two whites being irritated that he has "a Day" at all. These two people also agreed Abraham Lincoln was far greater for freeing the slaves, which shows how whites rewrite history to rewrite and rewhite his/story. Lincoln's role in freeing slaves was far less arduous and brave than was Harriet Tubman's. Or the other hundreds of slaves who resisted and fought for freedom.
People's ability to engage in dialogue about racism and sexism is far more impaired by racism and sexism among whites and men than it is by anything else. Our reluctance and resistance is evident ubiquitously, in white families, majority-white places of worship, in the white-ruled educational system, and among white psychotherapists, to name but a few spheres of white power-protection.
When I see conversations between whites and POC online, what I see time and again is whites wanting always to be seen as earnestly intending to be good, and becoming defensive or hostile when they are called out--appropriately--for being racist. I've seen how some POC will far too calmly and patiently attempt to get some white person to see things from their point of view, identifying some interaction or statement by the white person as racist, only to have the white person claim the person of color is wrongfully judging them, as if the white person's character was ever the issue. The same with men. Having their behavior called "sexist" or "misogynistic" becomes something they pretend is a personal attack. A grievous "attack". And they don't see their own defensiveness and/or hostility as any form of attack at all.
Oppressors are always trying to control the behavior of those we oppress, including by telling them how we might best be able to learn from them--if they'd only speak the way we demand they do. But however gentle it is to our ears, we don't hear it because we don't want to or don't have to; so what usually happens is the behavior becomes a tad less gentle. But the behavior I'm talking about isn't that of the oppressed; it's that of the oppressor, who is behaving violently all along but is denying it at every turn. Telling someone you're oppressing to challenge you in a more gentle way is a verbal version of a batterer telling the person being battered to resist in a less aggressive way. Making the oppressed person's allegedly ceaselessly shaming behavior or apparent aggression appear to be "the problem", as you do at times, is a form of violence never called violent by those who do it.
6 January 2014 post-script:
I am thinking now of how any interruption in collective silence may serve to empower others to speak out as well. In the auditorium in which the abuse happened (in the story linked to initially in the last post), just one white man speaking out in any way, even in problematic ways, would likely serve, at the very least, to make space for others to speak out, perhaps more responsibly.
Breaking silence when abuse is happening in front of us, in other words, is often useful in and of itself. That may be so even if it isn't done using the most appropriate or useful language. This is to say, "too little" might be just enough for more to happen. Any individual's action opposing and interrupting abuse in a social space can at least open that space to more challenges of that violence. I think part of the 'white/male hero' phenomenon has to do with the alleged hero wanting all the credit for rescuing the abused person, ignoring how historically and inherently collectivist anti-oppression and anti-abuse work is. There's never a lone hero in such work and any attempts to narratively manufacture or highlight one is usually done to mis- and over-represent the work of one or a few whites and men.