A Crazy 24 Hours

by Cara on April 25, 2008

in books, feminism, media, race and racism

I’ve been waiting to weigh in on the latest of the Amanda Marcotte controversies: the images in the book. I’m not going to rehash it all here; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link because Holly explains it all.

I haven’t read the book or even seen it in person. So, I was unaware of the images. As for my opinion, I agree with everything that Holly and everyone else who was outraged had to say. I noted my shock and disgust in the comments. And I didn’t anticipate writing anything about it unless there were developments.

There have been. Both Amanda and Seal Press have issued apologies.

And though I’m happy that they realize they’ve done something wrong, the apologies themselves do bring up a hell of a lot of questions.

First, Seal Press. Read the whole apology here.

As an organization, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings offered here in the Bay Area. We want to incorporate race analysis into our work.

In the meantime, please know that all involved in the publishing of It’s A Jungle Out There, from editorial to production were not trying to send a message to anyone about our feelings regarding race. If taken seriously as a representation of our intentions, these images are also not very feminist. By putting the big blonde in the skimpy bathing suit with the big breasts, the tiny waist, and the weapon on our cover, we are also not asserting that she is any kind of standard that anyone should aspire to. This 1950s Marvel comic is not an accurate reflection of our beauty standards, our beliefs regarding one’s right to bear arms, nor our perspectives on race relations, foreign policy, or environmental policy.

In these two paragraphs, more than one thing bothers me. First of all, there is some justifying of the actions. Not okay. Secondly, they really seem to focus a whole lot more on the sexism in the images than the racism. And the racism is the issue. We know that the images are sexist — they were supposed to be. Whether the kitsch of the sexism worked or not is up for debate. We do know that white women chose these images to put in a book written by a white woman. The sexism can genuinely be perceived to be ironic and subversive — the racism cannot. And I really feel like they’re avoiding that issue and choosing instead to zero in on something that exceedingly few people complained about.

And lastly, there’s the promise for “diversity training.” On the surface, this sounds good, right? But I don’t know that it is, really. First of all, it seems a bit like the standard “I did something racist, so now I’m going to do an arbitrary penance to get people off my back” type of move — the corporate version of apologizing to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. It’s fairly meaningless to people in the real world and acts as a substitute for hard work. Secondly, the answer is not to get someone into the office to talk for a couple of hours about how to not hurt the feelings of people of color. The answer is to start actively engaging with people of color — something that women from all over the blogosphere have been calling for, for a couple of weeks now. The idea doesn’t even seem to cross their minds that maybe in order to engage with race issues in an intelligent way, actually hiring a woman of color [EDIT: on the editorial team] would be helpful. There wouldn’t be any difficulty in finding someone qualified, and the question really ought to be why it seems that there are no women of color are working [EDIT: on the editorial team] at a feminist printing press, regardless of any controversy.* I understand that money there is supposed to be tight. I also understand that after everything that has happened lately, Seal Press might have a pretty damn difficult time finding a woman of color willing to associate her name with this publisher. But the fact is that this is not the first time Seal Press has been called out for racism — it’s not even the first time this month.

It’s interesting and kind of crazy that Amanda’s first book has been published by Seal Press very recently, and in that time both Amanda and Seal Press have been called out for bad behavior regarding relationships with women of color. The two seem to have nothing to do with each other, since neither controversy was about her book, both managed to dig their own holes, and a conspiracy theory seems pretty far fetched. And now this, the two of them called out together. I don’t really know what to say about that, except that it’s fascinatingly fucked up.

As for Amanda’s apology.

For what it’s worth, I did find Amanda’s apology to be very sincere. She didn’t try to make excuses. She said that there were none. After this morning at Feministe defending the fact that she did not choose the images, she seems to now realize that this was a reflection of her, as well — especially since she has had the book in her hands for so long, didn’t notice it and didn’t do anything about it. She welcomed feedback. She said that she respects and understands decisions to boycott the book. And I think that she is now taking this seriously and responding responsibly.

I’m not just ready to walk away and forget the whole thing. And these images certainly aren’t mine to forgive. But I do personally think that it demonstrates some promise.

It also must be noted that this apology does nothing with regards to the other problems. It’s true that all three complaints — the AlterNet article, the response to criticism of the AlterNet article, the racist images in her book — are related to racism and the shitty treatment that women of color often get from white feminists. But an apology for the last does not constitute an apology for the other two — and I don’t think that Amanda was in anyway indicating that it did, or that she wanted it to.

Where does this leave us? I don’t know. I would like to hear your thoughts and your opinions of the two apologies. I’d like to think that since Amanda seems to be giving herself a good hard look right now, she might take the time to reflect on the past few weeks. I don’t know if she will and I don’t particularly expect it, but I hope. Because she does seem to have shown today what I believed all along but was rapidly losing faith in: that she can do a hell of a lot better than she has been lately. If you’re reading this Amanda, please keep it up.

I’m posting this here instead of Feministe simply because I can’t handle much more of the yelling. It has been absolutely exhausting to me, and just from following all of the conversations, I’ve gotten so very little done this week. I feel drained, stressed out and depressed over it. Nothing particularly productive seems to be going on in the comments there, anymore, and I think that everyone is shouting so loud that no one is being heard. Also, in a very large part I think that this post is just trying me to work out my feelings because I’m not 100% sure how I feel yet. I do know that it would be really fucking nice to be able to write about something else and give it the same close and serious consideration that this has been given.

But if you’d like to discuss here in this smaller setting, please do. As I said, I’m interested in what you think. But I do ask that this discussion remains as one consisting of women of color and allies to women of color. I’m already really depressed to see that several Pandagon commenters are making light of the situation, trying to dismiss it as unimportant, and calling irrational those who are not willing to forgive and forget at the drop of a hat. Even when the woman who people are pissed off at is not. It’s not going to happen here; please don’t make me have to actively enforce that promise.

__

* EDIT: My bad. I remembered from reading this post that there were only two women who are on the editorial team at Seal, and that they are both white. My mind interpreted that for some reason as them being the only actual two Seal employees, with the rest technically working for the new parent company. That’s my fault and I should have double-checked it. So, apologies. For more on this particular aspect of the issue, see prof black woman’s comment. Thanks to Roy for the head’s up — his info came from Andie East on this comment thread, at 4:18 on 4/3.

UPDATE: As Astraea notes, Seal has updated the apology . . . in a manner that is totally useless and kind of makes me question why they bothered. *very big sigh*

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{ 14 comments }

1 punkrockhockeymom April 25, 2008 at 9:52 pm

This is a very nicely done post about the apologies.

I think the apology was fine as far as it went. I would hope to see some introspection from her now about how all of these incidents relate to each other.

The comment thread on her apology is impossible and frustrating. I had to abandon it right away.

2 Roy April 25, 2008 at 11:31 pm

There wouldn’t be any difficulty in finding someone qualified, and the question really ought to be why it seems that there are no women of color are working at a feminist printing press, regardless of any controversy.

For the record: There’s at least one woman of color currently working at Seal. Of the three people that I’ve read who’ve spoken and admitting to working at seal, one was a woman of color.

I’m not sure how I feel about it, yet. Given that Seal is no longer an independent publisher, it may be the case that hiring and firing people isn’t completely in their control anymore. Diversity training does seem to be the solution of the day, but the fact that it’s sometimes/often used as a cop-out doesn’t necessarily mean that it always is. I’d like to see more engagement, as you point out, with the community, which would go a long way to showing that the diverisity training is more than just words on paper, but a first step towards trying to correct an obviously flawed understanding of the community and a really bad way of engaging with women of color.

The controversy around the book images was only one more in a long line of issues, and, quite frankly, AM apologizing for that doesn’t get to the bigger issue at all. And, honestly, given how completely blatant the racism was, I’m not sure how she could not issue a statement. The problem comes, for me, in the consistent refusal to engage in the bigger issue. This particular apology was necessary, but it’s not sufficient, I think. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I just don’t think that staying silent on the other issues is the best way to get to it.

3 Cara April 25, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Hmm. I read something different. I’ll look into it in the morning and make a correction as necessary.

4 Justin April 26, 2008 at 12:16 am

Your comments and posts about this have been great. I left a comment on the I’m Sorry post at Pandagon explaining my take on the illustrations and the appropriation mess. I’m reprinting it here. You can delete it if you don’t think it’s appropriate.

“Yes, it is awesome when you catch yourselves perpetuating racist fuckery and you call each other out on it. Good on you. But can we take the drama down a few notches?”

Lisa, that was truly the best line I’ve read and I think I’ve read a couple of thousand posts on this at this point.

I think that Amanda’s apology is appropriate and necessary considering the images that were used. I must admit that truthfully I had no visceral reaction to the cartoons whatsoever. I wondered why and after some thought realized that I looked at them, got the point, which I believe was a humorous take on the chapter, and stopped analyzing right there. I think that’s white privilege in action. I didn’t identify with anything in them and there was nothing I found personally insulting. I do understand that they are insulting, I don’t doubt that for a minute. I think though that, that requires explanation if you’re white. Because when you’re white a whole lot of this stuff just isn’t that big a deal. But I think part of being a good ally is being willing to listen and understand when something is hurtful to the people you want to ally yourself with.

I think that in the charges of appropriation, which I take seriously and believe are absolutely reasonable that it’s very much the same thing. I think that part of what’s happened is that yes, that charge ended up mixed in with charges of plagiarism and Amanda reacted in a knee-jerk reaction that definitely made the situation worse. When I read what BfP had written my own take was that yes she was pissed, not necessarily directly at Amanda, but about the fact that something she and many people of color had been trying to bring to the forefront was finally getting attention that was well deserved, but that these people who worked so hard on the issue were being disappeared. I don’t think she blamed Amanda directly for this, I don’t think she thought Amanda had done this deliberately. She went to great pains to neither mention her by name or accuse her plagiarizing.

I would hope that Amanda would look at what happened with the illustrations in her book, at how easy it was to only read the images to the point of “these are funny and they illustrate the point”, without being conscious of the fact that the further context was racist and wrong, and realize how easy it is to appropriate something with the thought that it’s in the zeitgeist and something worth writing about, and make the people who’d been pouring their hearts into the issue disappear. Not deliberately, not with malice but simply by not realizing that the privilege that she couldn’t even see made her unaware of how this would feel to people who felt shunted aside.

5 Justin April 26, 2008 at 1:01 am

This writing stuff, it is hard.
I didn’t say and I meant to, is that I think what the women of color bloggers was asking for was in all truth SO not a big thing. I mean what I kept hearing was that the people who were angry didn’t want her to stop writing, or talking, or working on the subject. The request was to acknowledge that there were others who had done the heavey lifting on the subject and deserved some credit. That really didn’t seem like much and if that request had been honored it might have completly avoided everything that followed.

6 prof black woman April 26, 2008 at 7:53 am

Thanks for linking back to my “don’t mess with feminist press” update to the Seal Press thing with this one. If you hadn’t sent the ping, I would have sent people here to read this. It is very thorough.

Three things tho:
1. according to Brooke Warner, Seal Press is not a feminist press and since this is being used to justify why we should not be questioning them, I think it is important to make that clear
2. The Editorial Team is two white women, there are no woc on the Editorial team even if a woc works there.
3. Brooke says they cannot afford to hire right now and that they have lost several positions during the transition to Perseus Group. At the same time, and I say this in my follow up post “why seal press is off the syllabus pt. 2″ she uses this as an excuse to make no commitment to diversity hiring in the future – which is what I called for.

I for one am a little tired of the “I didn’t mean it” excuse and I suggested to Brooke on my blog that she read an article about why that excuse upholds racism even when it is true. I have an even harder time swallowing “I didn’t mean it” when this is the third book cover that has caused controversy, and where multiple meetings were called to discuss changing the cover because Amanda was finally responding to feedback that it was offensive.

Anyway . . . thanks for the ping and the link. I know my readers will want to read our post.

7 Astraea April 26, 2008 at 9:13 am

Seal has posted a second apology after getting criticism on the first. But they didn’t even acknowledge the problems in the first apology nor have they acknowledged their real issues. I don’t think Seal Press has done anything except damage control. And while we really need feminist publishers, we don’t need them at the expense of WOC.

Personally, I’m done with Pandagon. I do hope Amanda makes an effort to reach out and genuinely engage the entire issue. Right now the least I wish she’d do is make it clear on her apology post that all the people continuing to be hostile to people who called out the images are NOT helping. It’s ugly over there, and that has confirmed my decision to discontinue reading at Pandagon for now.

8 GallingGalla April 26, 2008 at 10:03 am

I gave up on Pandagon nearly a year ago. During the year that I read her blog, she was called out on racist statements / assumptions three or four times, and each time, she got defensive and accused those who called her out of personally attacking her, and commenters would gang up on the person who called her out. If that person was a WoC, inevitably some white commenter(s) would throw out the “Why do you have to be angry all the time?” crap.

And, then, I also realized that in Amanda’s little world, there’s no such thing as a trans* person. If it weren’t for Pam Spaulding’s cross-posts, I doubt that the word “trans” would have even appeared once on her blog.

So, yeah, “How dare you question my awesomeness and magnanimity? … Trans people – what’s that, someone on a high-fat diet?”

Her apology doesn’t mean much to me, nor does Seal Press’s. The loss of Brownfemipower and Black Amazon from the blogosphere means a lot more.

9 Astraea April 26, 2008 at 11:24 am

GallingGalla, her history with racist comments is a point that keeps getting lost. Especially with people who are new to this or haven’t paid much attention. They seem to wonder why all this fuss over one thing. I remember a recent call-out on Alas about her using the term “ayatollah” as stand in for “worst religious misogynist boogyman evah”.

I have other issues with many things Amanda has done which just reinforce my lack of support or belief in her good faith, but I don’t want to use Cara’s post as a place to air all my grievances.

Point being, her blindness to privilege is not a new thing or a one-time thing, and while I may keep an eye out for her to learn something from this, I don’t feel any inclination to support her.

10 Cara April 26, 2008 at 11:29 am

Astraea, I agree.

11 Justin April 26, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Well I checked back on Pandagon this morning just to see what had happened since yesterday. Apparently nothing. I don’t think I can read there anymore. I stopped reading Andrew Sullivan a couple of years ago for similar stuff. I’d really hoped the apology meant there’d be some sort of movement forward. I no longer believe there’s any hope of that. Oh well I did learn about some great blogs with really interesting content from all this.

12 Ashley April 26, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Personally, I didn’t find either apology satisfying, as they didn’t address anything about brownfemipower (and now BlackAmazon). Or about larger issues at stake here. But then I find myself wondering… What if they did apologize, in a way that addressed everything, that didn’t make any excuses, that talked about both larger issues of privilege and personal responsibility? What would I do then?

I personally don’t find satisfaction in getting “revenge” on people for doing shitty stuff… But at the same time, I think a lot of people are hurt. Bad. And any kind of positive response to Amanda and Seal Press rubs salt into the wound. So I think my response will be based on what the people cut deepest by this want… and I’m pretty sure that’s not just forgetting about what has happened in the past couple of weeks.

13 Jessica April 26, 2008 at 9:11 pm

I don’t know, I’m relatively new to the feminist blogosphere, and an even newer reader of the more prominent WOC blogs, so I don’t have a deep history of readership or knowledge of anyone involved. All of these recent events have been difficult for me to follow (although I have managed to piece things together through links and searches, and readings of the original posts where things started).

What I will say is that the Seal Press apology was meaningless in my opinion. The fact that they felt it was necessary to excuse themselves by pointing out the sexism in the images was pathetic. And whether they meant it as an attempt to excuse their actions or not (as noted in their “update”) doesn’t change the fact that yes, it was functioning as a type of excuse.

I didn’t know much previously about the opinions and work being done on immigration as a feminist issue, but from what I’ve read, Amanda misappropriated the work of women of color, and that deserves its own, separate apology. In fact, it deserves more than an apology, since more and more people are pointing out that this is an endemic problem in the feminist community. This problem deserves attention, critical analysis, and activism to counter it.

If anything good has come from this, it’s that the recent eruption of these issues has provided an opportunity for many white feminists to reflect on their own white privilege, and how ignoring racial privilege is antithetical to the goals of feminism. I can honestly say that in my recent immersion of the feminist blogosphere, I have seen very little acknowledgment or discussion of this outside of WOC blogs, so the prominence of these recent issues has really given the a bigger stage to discussions of racism within feminism. I would say that’s long overdue.

14 Kristen April 27, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Great post.

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