Last week, I noted that BFP’s blog had been shut down. And I said that with regard to the situation that caused her to close it, I did not know what to say. Later on in the day, Holly put up a post on the topic. And after reading it, and reading the thread, I did know what to say.
And I didn’t say it.
A few months ago, I wrote an article for an anthology that is currently shopping around for publishers. It’s called The Importance of Allies: A Call to White, Straight, Middle-Class Feminists. It’s about just what it sounds like: the fact that the mainstream feminist movement has been overwhelmingly white, straight, middle-class, and though I do think that we’ve made progress, and though I do think that more of an effort is being made, we haven’t come nearly as far as we think we have. I think that a lot of the article is outdated now, and that’s a shame — not for me and the damn article, but because I gave us more credit than we deserved.
My eyes have been opened.
In this article, I provided a lot of very basic but clearly-necessary tips on being a better ally. As anytime there is an Open Letter to White Feminists, white feminists come along and ask “but what are we supposed to do?”, it’s sorely needed. I offered my advice — rather basic things, addressing the mistakes I commonly see made, spelled out very explicitly. The part that I emphasized most was the importance of speaking up. This is, after all what allies are for. If you hear something racist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/classist/etc., it is your job as an ally to say something, to fight back and treat that remark as seriously as you would if it was about you. When you see an ally being unfairly attacked, it is your responsibility to come to their defense.
And I have failed at my own advice.
Reading everything this week, there was much extended comment on the responsibility of “big bloggers” in particular. Joining Feministe, this is a strange time for me. I don’t think of myself as a big blogger, though I do admit that in the feminist blogosphere, I seem to be becoming more well-known than many. And there is absolutely no denying that I am now writing for a “big blog”. For this reason, I realize now that in the same way I cannot call out white feminists without taking a good strong look at myself, I cannot call out big bloggers without admitting or changing the fact that I am a part of the problem.
So far, I have been a coward.
I think that we are past the point of using pseudonyms. Though I know it’s what BFP wanted, and I wish we could have respected that, it seems rather silly to pretend that everyone does not know who we are talking about. And in any case, Amanda seems to want her name used.
I do not know either Amanda or BFP. I have had no more than a few brief exchanges with either of them. I am not writing this as either of their friend. I have nothing to gain here, and in fact do have something to lose. I’m not saying this because I want a pat on the back — I do not want a pat on the back, do not think I deserve one and hope that you keep that in mind — but because it’s the hard and unflattering truth. I hope that this will not put professional relationships on the line, and maybe I have been underestimating my colleagues. But I am disappointed in myself to say that this is why I have stayed silent — fear for my own ass. Battle lines have been drawn, as has been painful for me to watch, based on skin color and/or blogrolls. But (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) I am not on the side that I am “supposed” to be on.
I’ve been thinking about these relationships. And while I was reading BFP’s last blog post yesterday, I was thinking I should write about this, I should write about this, I should write about this. But I was still thinking about my goddamn self. And then I read this post by kissmypinapple. And something she said struck me very hard and it hurt (emphasis mine).
Anyone who paid attention to what BFP was saying would know the issue was responsibility and feminist community. We failed her. Miserably. And now there is one less brilliant feminist in the world. We turned our backs on a woman who needed us, choosing instead to give Marcotte a pass. I understand that Marcotte with the same publisher as a lot of feminist bloggers. I understand that she’s a colleague. But, why wasn’t BFP a colleague?
And I realized what a fucking ass I was being.
Anyone who knows me well can tell you that this is one of the hardest things for me to say about anything of importance. And you won’t hear it a lot. But I was wrong.
Amanda was one of the very first feminist bloggers I ever started reading. Before my blog reader expanded and I formed a handful of favorite bloggers, she was my favorite, my one and only. I have learned a lot from her, have referenced, used or built off many of her ideas — with citations. I have a lot of respect for her as a writer. If she’s reading this, that may end up getting lost. But this comes from a place much closer to love than hate.
Many have made this into an issue of plagiarism. It has been stated numerous times by numerous bloggers that plagiarism, at least in the sense of word-for-word copying, was not the original grievance. I don’t think that what she did constitutes plagiarism. From reading her final post, and from reading the one before it, BFP also does not think Amanda is guilty of plagiarism.
But that’s not the point, and we need to stop skirting the issue.
Have I seen some ugly attacks on Amanda? Yes. Have I seen people use the word “plagiarism” as an accusation? Yes. Have I seen some people who actually do appear to be engaging in “character assassination”? Sure. But none of them are the key parties in this mess. They were not BFP, and as far as I can tell from my extensive reading, they were not the other women who originally raised this issue. And I have seen far too many people fail to acknowledge that. I have seen far too many argue the exact opposite.
When I first heard about this and first read Amanda’s article, as someone who reads both bloggers that this was originally about, I too was struck by the similarity to BFP’s writing. I didn’t know whether it was on purpose or not; I hoped that it wasn’t and I still do. But I saw it. And I knew that it had the potential to get ugly. I hoped that it wouldn’t. I hoped that it would be addressed responsibly.
As a writer and as someone with quite an ego of her own, I also understood that the automatic reaction might be defensiveness. I would like to be able to believe that I personally would have handled this type of situation in a somewhat gracious manner, but I can’t say for sure. Like many other people, I understand and appreciate the situation that Amanda found herself in. But saying that — and meaning it — doesn’t erase the problem, and we need to stop using it as a justification.
I do not think that the reaction that ensued is justifiable. I cannot justify it. I cannot agree with it. I look at the thread on Holly’s post with horror and profound sadness. When it came to the original issue, I could see both sides even as I leaned towards BFP’s. Now, the reaction of the other side has been just plain wrong. This is where things got ugly, and this is where I got angry. I don’t think that I’m alone in that.
I am angry/upset about the accusations and vitriol directed at BFP, who took every single effort to keep this situation civil. I am angry/upset about what I perceive to be a purposeful denigration of her work. I am angry/upset about the allegations of jealousness. I am angry/upset about the comparison of WOC bloggers standing behind BFP to right-wing attack dogs, as though this was about bringing a certain person down by any means necessary, rather than a valid concern and justifiable anger — as though the criticism is coming from a place of privilege, rather than a demand to be heard in a community that would rather not hear it. I am angry/upset about the attempt to silence those with an honest grievance, because whether agreed with or not, it deserves to be heard. I’m angry/upset that the anger of those standing behind BFP has been misrepresented as hate and lies and therefore ignorable. I’m angry/upset that people who know their history, who are educated about racism within the feminist movement, who know better, seem to be making every effort to repeat all of the things we claim we’re past.
And perhaps most of all, I am upset about a lack of apology. I was hoping that after having time to cool off, there would be a retraction and a correction. I don’t think that “sorry I was being an ass” would have covered it at that point. But it would have been something. Instead, there has not even been a blog post. Instead, the behavior has been continued.
I’m avoiding using her name because though I am talking about Amanda, I’m also talking about many others. I am angry/upset at these members of the feminist community for their similar remarks. Some of the comment threads have been vile. I am angry/upset at us, white feminists, for not properly addressing this. Yes, I am upset and angry with myself. Because I know that I can do better. I know that we can do better. We are supposed to be in this together, and as BFP said, we have been actively ignoring and rejecting the responsibility we have to others. When we do that, we are no longer behaving in a way that could be called feminist.
And I do not think that this is okay.
I reread this post and realize that most of it is actually about me. It’s only partially about community building, a failure to women who deserve for us to work with them, or the silencing of dissenting and marginalized voices. BFP wrote about all of that and it deserves to be read and it deserves to be heard. This post is mostly about me because I feel that in my silence, I have participated in silencing. I feel that I too am responsible, and I want to own that. And of all the things we need to talk about, silencing is up pretty high on the list.
This post is also about me because I am desperate, like Holly (for whom the tactic failed, and so I don’t have high hopes), to make it clear that this is not an attack but a criticism that is made and needs to be made precisely because of my respect for the people involved. We all fuck up. When I fuck up, I don’t think that letting me get away with it is respect. I read somewhere earlier this week — and I apologize because I looked everywhere and could not find it again — that we need to stop looking at criticism and using criticism as an attack, and instead see and use it as love. And I think that love is precisely the right word to describe demanding accountability and improvement from your community.
Please. Let’s be accountable. Let’s be better.
I want to be a good ally. I don’t think that this post makes me one by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the difficulty in facing it has shown me how far I have to go. But without writing it, I know that I can’t even honestly claim that desire.
So here it is. This isn’t easy, and it’s also about as honest as I get. Do with it what you will.