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Feminist bloggers and racism
April 23, 2008 10:07 AM   Subscribe

This has not been a good week for woman of color blogging. About two weeks ago, Black Femi Power, a well-read woman of color blogger, resigned her blog in protest to an incident wherein Amanda Marcotte, a notable white feminist blogger, was accused of appropriating BFP's ideas. On the heels of the controversy that had reverberations in the feminist blogosphere which are far from forgotten, Marcotte is releasing and promoting a new book, with a new cover to replace the old one after outcries that it was racist.
posted by lunit (140 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can one actually resign one's blog?
posted by rhymer at 10:13 AM on April 23, 2008


Christ, people take themselves so seriously.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:14 AM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


Black Brown Femi Power

FTFY.
posted by cosmonik at 10:14 AM on April 23, 2008


It's actually Brown Femi Power.
posted by penduluum at 10:17 AM on April 23, 2008


Ooh, I just love a good tempest in a teapot!
posted by you just lost the game at 10:17 AM on April 23, 2008


It's actually a preview button.
posted by penduluum at 10:18 AM on April 23, 2008


oops. thanks.
posted by lunit at 10:19 AM on April 23, 2008


Are the sources of the alleged plagiarism still available anywhere? I can read Marcotte's article, but the blog that it allegedly appropriated ideas from is down now, right?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:21 AM on April 23, 2008


You've got to be kidding me -- at least some of this controversy has nothing to do with race, but a lot to do with a few bloggers' over-inflated sense of their importance:
And now, she is understandably upset that Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon has published an article that happens to make all the same points BFP has made time and again and her blog - and yet, at no point has BFP been linked. . . .

Intellectual theft is still theft - Marcotte is, by her own account a regular reader of BFP’s blog. Even if she genuinely believes she came up with the ideas in her article completely on her own. . . . she must realise the extent to which BFP was an influence, and at the very least should have made mention of the fine work BFP has done on this issue. . . .

[Race card played]
Since when did a blogger have a requirement to link anybody with the same ideas? There's no accusation of plagiarism -- of using the same words. There's just an accusation that the two bloggers had similar ideas. Do I need to link this comment to anybody else who has ever mocked somebody for complaining that their ideas are getting distributed "too far"?

These bloggers need to get down off their high horses and realize that no matter what color you are--black, white, brown or pink polka-dotted--you're just not that important.
posted by Leon-arto at 10:23 AM on April 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


Yeah that's pretty ridiculous. You can't "steal" someone's ideas, every idea is based on someone else's ideas. And you can't "own" topics in a way that requires you to be linked whenever anyone talks about it. If you think you do, you're pathetic.

Anyway, it's kind of funny to see Amanda Marcotte done in by the same kind of absurd hypersensitivity that seems to fuel that part of the blogsphere. I mean, a lot of this stuff just seems detached from reality sometimes.

One example would be complaints about an article about Hillary Clinton in TNR about turmoil in her campaign, and the headline was "The voices in her head". Supposedly, this was sexist, even though the article was written by a woman (apparently they didn't bother to read the byline)
posted by delmoi at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2008


Wow, I don't read these blogs for a couple weeks and look what happens!
posted by peacheater at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2008


True story: I stole most of my ideas about feminism from Marilyn Frye and most of my ideas about morality from John Stuart Mill.

OMG PLAGARISM
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2008 [11 favorites]


One example would be complaints about an article about Hillary Clinton in TNR about turmoil in her campaign, and the headline was "The voices in her head". Supposedly, this was sexist, even though the article was written by a woman (apparently they didn't bother to read the byline)
Or maybe they actually read the byline and thought that sexism is still sexism even if perpetrated by a woman?
posted by peacheater at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


I can read Marcotte's article, but the blog that it allegedly appropriated ideas from is down now, right?

Seems BFP's shot itsself in the foot. She could have at least left it up for people to judge themselves. I assume some extracts/mirrors must be around?*

This mentions that: "And now, she (BFP) is understandably upset that Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon has published an article that happens to make all the same points BFP has made time and again and her blog - and yet, at no point has BFP been linked." (Brackets mine).

Sounds like it'd be good to see what BFP said, compare it to Marcotte's piece...see if it's more than just regular blog circle-jerking. It's a fine line between 'influence' and 'plagiarism'.

*Waybackmachine last copied it August 2007. Google cache, nothing.
posted by cosmonik at 10:31 AM on April 23, 2008


You can't "steal" someone's ideas...

Hey guys, I just had a great idea! What if spacetime wasn't absolute and euclidean, but warped by what we call "gravity"? I'm going to publish a paper on this!
posted by DU at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


And I took so long looking all that up that, on preview, most of what I'd said was posted upthread.
posted by cosmonik at 10:32 AM on April 23, 2008


I'm left simply puzzled by this -- most people advocating some position or other are delighted to see the ideas spread. I'm trying to imagine Richard Dawkins getting angry at someone spreading the atheist viewpoint without crediting him. Or, if he's too white and too male, to imagine Michelle Obama taking offense that someone repeats an endorsement of Barack without giving credit that she said it first. Is it a question of power dynamics? Is it that when someone closer to the white/male/wealthy pole it seems to be theft, not so much of an idea, but of an opportunity to become to better known by being seen as the "owner" of an idea?
posted by tyllwin at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2008


Seriously. If I were a blogger, I'd be happy if other people were influenced by my ideas. That'd mean that I was successful at actually changing people's minds. If the only point is to collect links for the sake of links then it's just an attention-whoring contest.
posted by Leon-arto at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Umm, sorry, that was suppsoed to be " when someone closer to the white/male/wealthy pole repeats it, it seems to be theft"
posted by tyllwin at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2008


What is a "blog"?
posted by Postroad at 10:35 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I tried to read and understand these controversies, but I found myself unable to navigate through the dense fog of vague accusations and interpersonal grudges.
posted by brain_drain at 10:36 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, lunit; it's a window into a corner of the blog world I don't see enough of. I don't think anybody's a hero or a villain here, and it's too bad BFP felt compelled to take her valuable blog down, but on the whole I've got to side with the "women of color" feminists who have three strikes against them before they even open their mouths. It's always polite to indicate where you got your ideas from, but if you're getting them from someone farther down on the totem pole, it becomes a matter of simple decency.

Is it a question of power dynamics?

Yes.
posted by languagehat at 10:39 AM on April 23, 2008 [14 favorites]


Yeah that's pretty ridiculous. You can't "steal" someone's ideas....

Of course you can. It all depends on the specificity and originality of the ideas, though. As DU points out, these things can be pretty clear-cut in the sciences and mathematics. I think the same is true in most academic disciplines: you can't do a dissertation based on someone else's theory unless you add some original ideas that are clearly your own. I could see how the same would be true in the blogosphere.

It would be possible, for instance, to imagine a situation in which one blogger crafted a post which linked to the same articles, made the same arguments, and followed the same line of reasoning as another blogger's post. While this might not be plagiarism per se (but it might be...), it could certainly be viewed as fundamentally dishonest.

This is all very hypothetical unless we can view the alleged source material, of course.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2008


I think the same is true in most academic disciplines: you can't do a dissertation based on someone else's theory unless you add some original ideas that are clearly your own.

You're only going to do a handful of dissertations in your life, but you going to write a handful of blog posts a day. It would be impossible for people write anything if they had to analyze where every thought came from.
posted by delmoi at 10:46 AM on April 23, 2008


I think that the underlying issues of this controversy are really thought-provoking, but hanging them all on this one incident that involves a high-profile and controversial feminist blogger who already had a pretty strained relationship with a lot of WOC bloggers really obscured the issue. Unfortunately, I bet this FPP will suffer the same fate, devolving into snark and arguments about did-she-copy did-she-not-copy.

Basically, there are two separate but related issues that came up during this controversy:

1. The claim that Amanda stole actual pieces of writing from BFP (the plagiarism charge, made by one or two people, but not really supported from everything I read)

2. The claim that Amanda got paid to write a piece about immigration as a feminist issue, which has been written about extensively by many women of color, most notably BFP. Despite claiming that she was a regular reader of BFP, she failed to give credit for the really extensive analysis and writing that had already been done on this subject, and thus "appropriated" the ideas from a bunch of women who already face a lot of barriers in getting anyone to listen to them (the appropriation charge)

The second issue isn't really a legal issue or a question of whether she copied phrases from BFP's speech. It's an ethical issue, and one that I think most writers who see themselves as social justice activists should spend some time grappling with: if you are lucky enough to be born into one of the groups that has an easier time getting people to listen to you, what is your responsibility towards other writers/activists who are doing the same or similar work but having a hard time being heard? Do you have a responsibility to share your megaphone, and how do you do that without ending up a situation where people think you're publicizing your work?

It's ironic that one of the best metaphors I heard to describe this is one that a lot of women are familiar with and connect with feminism--it's like being one of the only women in a business meeting, suggesting an idea that gets ignored or shot down, then watching a man bring up the exact same thing but with different wording and suddenly everything thinks it's a great idea. It's frustrating as hell, and while some people may say that it's not the guy's fault who spoke up and got all the credit--it's the fault of everyone who doesn't pay enough attention to the person who spoke up first!--I think it's worth asking what the ethical thing to do when you find yourself in that position.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2008 [32 favorites]


Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon has published an article that happens to make all the same points BFP has made time and again and her blog

Isn't it possible that they share the same points because they are both feminist writers? I mean, I'm sure the color thing is vastly important and all, but if I, as a white writer of a blog on birdwatching were to share points with a black friend of mine who also has a blog on birdwatching, it wouldn't seem odd because they are both about birdwatching, right?

On the whole, this seems stupid and totally counterproductive.

Women of colour often have less access to the mainstream media


*blinks*

Uhh, isn't one of the most visible, well known, and well respected woman in the mainstream media a woman of color?
posted by quin at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uhh, isn't one of the most visible, well known, and well respected woman in the mainstream media a woman of color?

And Bill Cosby is a multimillionaire, so what? That doesn't make black people as a whole as wealthy as whites.

Fucking lottery thinking.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


a lot to do with a few bloggers' over-inflated sense of their importance

Isn't an over-inflated sense of one's own importance the thing that essentially defines what a blogger is?

I mean, other than having access to the internet
posted by psmealey at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uhh, isn't one of the most visible, well known, and well respected woman in the mainstream media a woman of color?

And the most popular daytime talk show has two more.
posted by Leon-arto at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2008


Uhh, isn't one of the most visible, well known, and well respected woman in the mainstream media a woman of color?

Some of the mainstream media's best friends are women of color!
posted by DU at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2008 [24 favorites]


It would be possible, for instance, to imagine a situation in which one blogger crafted a post which linked to the same articles, made the same arguments, and followed the same line of reasoning as another blogger's post.

It would be just as possible though, to imagine a situation in which two blogger who had been reading the same articles and shared the same influences came up with the same arguments and same line of reasoning independently of each other. It's certainly happened to me, and I'd be willing to bet it happens all the time.

Given that possibility, I'd have thought it would be nigh on impossible to identify someone who was genuinely engaged in the process of intellectual plagarism, provided they weren't just the sort of lazy fucker who steals the whole thing wholesale. Add a couple of extra cites/links, drop out one line of argumentation and add in a few others, and heigh ho, you've got a work of intellectual coincidence.

Of course, if someone is in the habit of doing this over and over again, then it becomes obvious and I imagine that their reputation would suffer, but for the occasional one-off? I wouldn't sweat it. Doing so could make you nuts.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:03 AM on April 23, 2008


Women of colour often have less access to the mainstream media

PG: Fucking lottery thinking.

Fair enough. But I neglected to paste the other part of that quote that bugged me:

making it harder for them to become known to a wide audience

I'm not suggesting that black people are nearly as well represented in the mainstream media as whites. Not by a long shot. But the way the article has it phrased it suggests to me that the opinions and views of black culture are unheard on television. That's where I called bullshit.
posted by quin at 11:07 AM on April 23, 2008


"Isn't it possible that they share the same points because they are both feminist writers?"

Sure it's possible. And if Marcotte and BFP were generating the same viewpoints at the same time, we might conclude that the is no controversy here. However, it seems that BFP put forward her analysis before Marcotte wrote her article. Further, Marcotte read BFP, and so cannot plausibly deny that she knew BFP's stance on the issue. It seems to me to be pretty clearly the case that Marcotte should have acknowledged BFP's contribution to the field. (I'm sure a footnote would have been fine.)

When you don't credit those who share your thoughts on a matter, you imply that your analysis is wholly novel. If you know that there is existing work in the field, and that you aren't the only person to reach your conclusion, then the suggestion of novelty is dishonest. In the case of Marcotte, it seems clear that she knew about the existing analysis, and still chose not to mention it. Is this plagiarism? Maybe, maybe not, but it is certainly disingenuous and unethical.
posted by oddman at 11:09 AM on April 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


It's my opinion that when you don't credit those who share your thoughts on a matter, you imply that your analysis is wholly novel.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


Some honest questions:

Should blogging now be considering "publishing" in the legal or academic sense?

Is submitting to academic or legal standards on this issue a betrayal of blogging itself?

When should you cite a blog (as opposed to a conventional publication)?

What should be the consequences if you don't?

Can there be a clearer standard than courtesy or decency?
posted by ducky l'orange at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you don't credit those who share your thoughts on a matter, you imply that your analysis is wholly novel.

This is a blog, not an academic journal. If you say that bloggers have to cite the entire body of literature before starting each post then you're going to get footnote-ridden blogs rather than the free-flowing discussion that characterizes the medium.
posted by Leon-arto at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2008


Never having heard of either of these women is my mechanism for maintaining my white male privilege.
posted by Naberius at 11:24 AM on April 23, 2008


Thanks, oddman, for the logical, non-racism based analysis because in this situation, it is the correct one. I don't see how race has anything to do with this. Good bloggers/writers (they're trying to be the same thing, right?) should cite their references. Period.
posted by hellslinger at 11:26 AM on April 23, 2008


I don't get what's so hard about citing things you've read that have influenced your thinking/analysis/writing. If you're not publishing an academic paper, it's even easier: You say, "I've been thinking a lot about what [name] has written about in [reference/link]. Using [name's] piece as a staring point, I'd like to address [blahblahblah]."

Really not hard. And a lot of bloggers already do it, so it's not even unusual.
posted by rtha at 11:30 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Starting point, that is. Not staring.
posted by rtha at 11:31 AM on April 23, 2008


This is a blog, not an academic journal.
No it was not a blog post, it was an article written by Amanda Marcotte for Alternet.
posted by peacheater at 11:32 AM on April 23, 2008


Uhh, isn't one of the most visible, well known, and well respected woman in the mainstream media a woman of color?

Well, there is a huge difference between one particular person and a whole group of people. But whatever you say about the MSM, the blogsphere is different. One of the most popular liberal bloggers, Digby, posted for a long time without revealing her gender. I was surprised when I saw her on video, since I had no idea she was a woman, even though I read her blog all the time (which says just as much about my biases, I guess)

Blogs text blogs are really a medium where ideas and only ideas (plus marketing, effort, etc) make a difference in how popular you are. If you right well on interesting topics, you'll get traffic. Although, obviously some things have solidified over the years and some bloggers are just coasting on traffic by linking to interesting stuff.

Amanda Marcotte is where she is because she is an entertaining writer for a lot of people. As a guy I find a lot of her stuff off putting, so I don't read her very often. But her caustic, sarcastic tone resonates with some people. I think that has a lot more to do with her popularity then her ethnicity.
posted by delmoi at 11:32 AM on April 23, 2008


About two weeks ago, Black Femi Power, a well-read woman of color blogger, resigned her blog in protest to an incident wherein Amanda Marcotte, a notable white feminist blogger, was accused of appropriating BFP's ideas.

This alone made me laugh out loud.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


"This is a blog, not an academic journal."

Two points:
1) Marcotte made the points in an article, not a blog. So, she is indeed burdened with a higher standard.

2) I've seen authors acknowledge others who did nothing more than make a good point in conversation. (I've done it myself.)

So, if a person has staked out a position on an issue, is well known for having said position in the field, and was an influence in helping you form your position, then it seems clear that the person should be acknowledged. The way in which you came to know the person's position has nothing to do with.
posted by oddman at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2008


Is there a link to the original book cover?
posted by Juicylicious at 11:36 AM on April 23, 2008


Caustic is dead on, as far as Marcotte is concerned. I picked up her book after a reading a positive review, and found it to be way too knee-jerk to be of any constructive value. It was funny enough, I suppose, but I was anticipating something that would be helpful in day to day life, with a title like " The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments".
posted by redsparkler at 11:39 AM on April 23, 2008


@oddman -- I stand corrected regarding the blog/article distinction. In that rat's nest of cross-linked blogs I lost track of which was the "original" thought and which was the copycat and which were the people commenting. Thanks.
posted by Leon-arto at 11:40 AM on April 23, 2008


I stole most of my ideas about feminism from Marilyn Frye and most of my ideas about morality from John Stuart Mill.
What a coincidence. With me, it's vice-versa.
posted by joaquim at 11:41 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


A final statement from brownfemipower, since I didn't see it linked above and it clarifies some of the issues that got distorted in the joy that is a blogstorm.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:41 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Brownfemipower made it clear in her final post that the issue she had brought up was NOT simply the question of this article, but the entire dynamic by which work - important, necessary work - is done by women of color and then that work is appropriated into the mainstream discourse with no mention made of the original investigators/theorists. The question is one of erasure of intellectuals who are not white, just as white women's accomplishments were/are subsumed into the works of male writers. This has been an ongoing dynamic in feminist discourse for a very long time and bfp, who is a thoughtful, inspirational, remarkable writer, was pointing out that dynamic. Other people ran with accusations - bfp's original entry was about the phenomenon as a whole.

This issue is far more complex than 'Blogger X took material without credit from Blogger A's research'.
posted by winna at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


"Isn't it possible that they share the same points because they are both feminist writers?"

Yeah, as others have pointed out, the main issue is that it wasn't just two random blog posts from two different authors at around the same time. BFP had been writing about this stuff for months, and had a body of work that was fairly extensive by the time that Amanda wrote the Alternet piece.

So, just given that, there's two different ways that Amanda could have written the piece and failed to acknowledge BFP. The first is that she was unaware that BFP had been writing about this stuff; while that's in and of itself not terrible, it does raise some long-festering issues in the feminist blogosphere about why white writers don't seem to read or link to women of color bloggers. Amanda has one of the most high-profile feminist blogs out there, and for her to not be aware of the work of BFP, who I would probably put in the top 2-3 high-profile non-white feminist bloggers, seems to speak to some underlying problems in how the feminist community is choosing to define "feminist issues" and whose interests those issues really represent.

The other possibility is that Amanda had been aware of BFP's work, read some of it, but not thought it was important enough (or intellectual enough?) to cite. I tend to think that this is probably what happened; she had said in the past that she read BFP and was aware of her writing. However, this is really the heart of the appropriation charge: while WOC bloggers have again and again asked the bigger feminist bloggers to pay more attention to issues beyond the ones that primarily affect younger white women (abortion rights, access to birth control, rape, sexual harassment), there's a huge difference between going to BFP's blog and reading her writing as analysis and original commentary, versus reading it as source material that you will then analyze yourself and come up with an original piece of writing on. In the latter case, you're effectively erasing the original analysis that someone else did.

A related issue is that by slapping your own analysis on top of the writing of other bloggers who have, by virtue of their social position based on race or immigrant status or what-have-you, a different perspective on these issues that is grounded in their lived experiences, you run the danger of really screwing the pooch in your analysis because your privilege makes it hard for you to see the critical issues. (As I recall, BFP pulled her blog in part because of her fear that appropriation made it harder for her to continue to get men in the immigrant community to take this seriously as an issue--by slapping a white-person frame or face on it and not pointing out that immigrant women are the original source of the writing, it's easier for the people involved to dismiss it as not relevant to their actual communities.)
posted by iminurmefi at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


There seems to be a growing rift between women-of-color feminists and white feminists as of late. I think this is dangerous, as there really is no limit to how badly a political movement can fracture along identity-group lines. If we get to the point where every group with a different haircut refuses to speak with any other group, then we might as well pack up the Progressive wagon and go home. Being engaged with society means doing business with the People's Judean Front, even if they are a bunch of bloody splitters.
posted by Avenger at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think that the situation has started some valuable conversation within the feminist blogosphere (here's a post I like). The drama is kind of ridiculous, but I think that white middle-class feminists could do better about their attitudes towards women of color, and if this makes more of them think about unexamined privileges and stuff, then at least something positive can result from it.
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2008


"woman of color blogging"

From the way this was phrased, I thought it was some organization.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:58 AM on April 23, 2008


Oh also, who is defined as being "of color?"
Honest question.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2008


"Yeah that's pretty ridiculous. You can't "steal" someone's ideas."

You, sir, have clearly never had a boss.

Or even seen that FedEx ad where the guy just moves his hand differently and takes credit.
posted by klangklangston at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2008


Disclaimer: I'm a friend of Marcotte's.

I think the reason this has become a "controversy" is because the issue of "stealing ideas" has been framed in the context of race. From what I've read here the implication seems to be that a successful white woman is somehow profiting off the labor of a black woman. I totally understand why that causes anger.

I think the issue of general tact and etiquette for noting someone else shares your ideas is one of those touchy, gray subjects that we can bring up at the magical Blogger Ethics Panel™ that will be happening next Thursday in everyone's mind, but I think the accusations that Marcotte is a "racial exploiter" are just beyond over-reactionary and offensive.

And apologies for saying this like it's the "well I have many friends who are black" non-excuse, but I really do think the idea of accusing Amanda of some kind of racial insensitivity belies the fact that her blog is on fact a co-blog which she shares with fellow feminist woman-of-color blogger Pam Spaulding. Not that it settles the original issue here but sharing your popular weblog front page with a black woman sort of makes the over-emotional suggestion that Marcotte "mistreats women of color at every opportunity..." ring, well, stupid.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is there any proof that BFP is even Brown, Female or Powerful? I mean she blogs under the handle and all. I write under the handle Pollomacho, though I'm neither very macho nor a chicken. Anyway, how can you really accuse someone of racism in a fictional world?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:12 PM on April 23, 2008


It's my opinion that when you don't credit those who share your thoughts on a matter, you imply that your analysis is wholly novel.

Came up with that yourself, did you?
posted by erniepan at 12:20 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


On the internet nobody knows you're a brown, female, powerful, macho chicken.
posted by yhbc at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2008


Are the sources of the alleged plagiarism still available anywhere?

On the Internet there is no plagiarism. They call it "fair use" instead.
posted by three blind mice at 12:23 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


A final statement from brownfemipower, since I didn't see it linked above and it clarifies some of the issues that got distorted in the joy that is a blogstorm.

From that:
As if there were no such thing as racism—as if there was no such thing as racism that is alive and well and present in the most cellular of spaces. As if simply opening a proposal and viewing the odd name at the top of the proposal doesn’t influence how the person reading that name will understand the rest of the proposal.
Oh please. You really think a company that publishes books about feminism and liberal identity politics stuff is going to look askance at someone with a 'funny' name? Get real.
posted by delmoi at 12:27 PM on April 23, 2008


Juicylicious: "Is there a link to the original book cover?"

Here, apparently. Scroll way down.
posted by dsword at 12:27 PM on April 23, 2008


It should be noted that much of Marcotte's success has come (in part) after taking over a very successful blog from Jesse Taylor and Ezra Klein. She started from a higher platform from the get-go. I have to wonder how much of this current dust-up is about race as opposed to blog-envy.
posted by Wulfgar! at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Supposedly, this was sexist, even though the article was written by a woman (apparently they didn't bother to read the byline)

What's wrong with being sexy?
posted by katillathehun at 12:35 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR--I don't think anyone in this thread has been calling Amanda* a "racial exploiter" or saying she "mistreats women of color at every opportunity." I think one of the unfortunate things about being high-profile in a community is that you become the individual around which all of these sorts of issues coalesce, even if you're not the first nor the only one to be participating in the dynamic. There's definitely some bad blood between Amanda and some of the women who were making the (in my opinion unsubstantiated) accusation of outright plagiarism, which didn't help matters.

Which I why I really like how Holly in the first link of the FPP framed it:

I understand the desire to try to establish individual wrongdoing or innocence — to try and prevent the same thing from happening again, whatever position you’re taking. But as I have tried to say at length before, I think the discussion of individual guilt often distracts from the bigger picture of racial injustice.

This is the tragedy in trying to talk about race and the way we can sometimes contribute to racist systems, even when we don't mean to, even when we have the best intentions: it's such a loaded topic that most people can't even acknowledge when they do something that might have a racist effect. It's like being called out on doing something racist is worse than the actual effects of that racism, which makes change on these issues hard. And it must be kind of a bitter pill for Amanda to swallow that she was *trying* to address criticisms that white feminists don't pay enough attention to the issues that affect women of color, and this is what she gets for her trouble.

I think that there's plausible explanations why Amanda didn't cite BFP that don't involve her being an awful thief--see my post above--but even the most charitable explanation still points to the ways in which the feminist blogosphere does a really shitty job of giving WOC an equal voice and the issues that they advocate for equal time. And all of that gets wrapped up in this one controversy and flung at Amanda, because she's just the most visible person in a system where this goes on all the time.

*I'm sorry, I usually dislike it when people discuss women they don't know in the third person and refer to them by their first name, but I just can't refer to her as "Marcotte" without hearing Bill O'Reilly's smarmy voice in my head, and I really can't stand him.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:35 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


If we get to the point where every group with a different haircut refuses to speak with any other group, then we might as well pack up the Progressive wagon and go home.

That'd be awful. You might have to treat people as individuals.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:42 PM on April 23, 2008


Hrm, I think I can understand the importance and feeling of betrayal if one believes that women of color are being written out of feminism and how that is a separate concern than plagiarism.

But if one is really interested in movement building, public blog call outs are asinine. Movements are built on relationships and relationships are built on one-on-one private correspondence. Infighting and public call outs are damaging to movement building, and to that end, I don't see how it could be productive to invest too much energy or concern in this as a bystander, either.

In my experience, if you have to make an assumption, assume good intent and work from there. Understanding bad intent can be protective, and is important in its own right, but the most forward way to open doors is to assume good intent. That can be tiring and vulnerable, but nobody ever said that being a change maker was going to be easy.
posted by Skwirl at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Women of color blogger" is such a deliciously goofy term. Is this some actual movement? Is that what they call themselves? What are they actually? Black? Mexican? Puerto Rican? Dominican? American Indian? Indian Indian? Other? Lumping everything in as "of color" seems kind of, I don't know, racist?
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:53 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem with telling people who have seen this dynamic over and over again to 'assume good intent' is that it seems that only the group which is in a position of less power is expected to consider the intent and ignore injuries in the interests of 'community'. It's also an ongoing problem that people who are in a position of privilege expect that their intentions matter.

If I keep kicking you, and when you say 'Ow!' I apologize and then kick you again, after a while it doesn't matter what I meant to happen.
posted by winna at 12:55 PM on April 23, 2008 [12 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR--I don't think anyone in this thread has been calling Amanda* a "racial exploiter" or saying she "mistreats women of color at every opportunity."

Yes, I was referring to what was said in the links in the FPP.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:08 PM on April 23, 2008


I also disfavor the "assume good intent" argument. It allows the folks who like the status quo to do nothing with regard to examining their own interactions and behavior, while the folks without power who seem to be seeing a pattern of disadvantage develop are basically asked to ignore it. I think we should have these conversations now and then and examine our own prejudices and privileges. I think it's good to be discomfitted and challenged; it broadens the mind.

Actually, I think that if folks who were challenged in this way assumed the good intent of the people who challenged them, we would have the best of all possible worlds.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:09 PM on April 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

You might have to treat people as individuals.

Yes, let's just pretend there's no such thing as racism, and if everybody would only try harder, they'd get ahead just like Donald Trump and George W. Bush. Because those are just, like, individuals who really tried.
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on April 23, 2008 [15 favorites]


"Women of color blogger" is such a deliciously goofy term. Is this some actual movement? Is that what they call themselves?

Ah ha ha ha! Those goofy swarthy people! They're so cute!
posted by languagehat at 1:16 PM on April 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


It's tricky, this stuff. What's the difference between white feminists who have appropriated the ideas of women of color and white feminists who have listened to and learned from women of color....? I understand BFP's larger point, but there's something just tragically absurd about calling out another writer/activist on the basis that they completely agree with you.
posted by moxiedoll at 1:17 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, really great stuff said in this thread so far. Thanks to everyone that chimed in that is more familiar with the issue. I didn't mean to frame the FPP to make it about the individuals, but I was trying to editorialize as little as possible and I think it came out that way. Thanks for helping to steer the conversation back to the BFP's real issues for quitting her blog.

There seems to be a growing rift between women-of-color feminists and white feminists as of late.

This isn't a new rift by any means. As far back as white feminist thought stems (the Feminine Mystique is the most often cited, but it goes back further than that), so too does the criticism that feminism is a whites-only club. These recent rifts are just examples that that dynamic is still true - racism is a problem within feminist movements that is going to keep coming up as long as it keeps being an issue and when it does, it needs be addressed. Calling for us all to "just get along" for the sake of "the movement" is rose-tinted glasses and pretty fundamentally unfair to women of color, as winna explained much more eloquently than I could.
posted by lunit at 1:17 PM on April 23, 2008


I am a man of generally pale color unless I stay out in the sun too long at which point I am sort of an angry red color for few days blogger.

Or, at least I would be if I had a blog.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:20 PM on April 23, 2008


*I'm sorry, I usually dislike it when people discuss women they don't know in the third person and refer to them by their first name, but I just can't refer to her as "Marcotte" without hearing Bill O'Reilly's smarmy voice in my head, and I really can't stand him.


Then use the NYT style manual and refer to her as Ms. Marcotte. Hint: it works for men, too!
posted by fixedgear at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2008


>>> Lumping everything in as "of color" seems kind of, I don't know, racist?

And insisting that someone select their identity from a list of pre-determined racial/cultural categories is not? It seems obvious that the "Of Color" modifier* was selected so as to avoid just this kind of pigeon-holing. On the surface, you seem to be mocking the unwieldiness of the phrase, but your follow-up question (What are they actually?) seems to betray your own discomfort at not knowing where to file the members of this movement.

* - And it isn't like "Of Color" is a new modifier. The phrase "People of Color" has been employed for some time now with no small amount of mainstream recognition.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


There seems to be a growing rift between women-of-color feminists and white feminists as of late.

It's been this way since the First Wave.
posted by rtha at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

Or blood diamonds, obesity, cat declawing, pubic hair waxing....
posted by fixedgear at 1:22 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


BFP taking her blog down is a useless gesture that only contributes to the erasure of the work of women of colour, something which she says she deplores.

This series of events reminds me powerfully of the controversies and conflicts in the movement of the 1980s, and why I no longer am formally involved with feminist organizations. If we get busy tearing each other apart, the less threat we pose to any genuine structures of power, no? And BFP pasting on a self-inflicted gag isn't going to help anyone or anything.
posted by jokeefe at 1:24 PM on April 23, 2008


Or blood diamonds, obesity, cat declawing, pubic hair waxing....

Circumcision, don't forget circumcision!

Or religion!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2008


Information wants to be free, but the devil always gets her due.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:30 PM on April 23, 2008


Yes, let's just pretend there's no such thing as racism, and if everybody would only try harder, they'd get ahead just like Donald Trump and George W. Bush. Because those are just, like, individuals who really tried.

Right, we need to somehow propel a gaggle of talentless nitwits of color into positions of success and authority, in order to offset the gaggle of talentless white nitwits who have found their ways into positions of success and authority.

Or, alternatively you can explain why your first reaction to the notion that individuals ought to be treated as individuals is to reference GWB and Trump. Seems to me that those two would be better used in an argument about, say, principal-agent problems/ estate taxes/ voter fraud/ Democratic party incompetence/ bad hair/ the horrific tastes of the American public/ margin requirements on real estate lending/ the electoral college/ the cult of the celebrity CEO/ NBC's programming standards/ etc...
posted by Kwantsar at 1:39 PM on April 23, 2008


"Women of color blogger" is such a deliciously goofy term. Is this some actual movement? Is that what they call themselves?

"Talking about race is divisive. It's class not race." I got Bingo!!!

There seems to be a growing rift between women-of-color feminists and white feminists as of late

It's been this way since the First Wave.


Sojourner Truth more or less called out the Zeroth wave for this as well.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:45 PM on April 23, 2008


Or blood diamonds, obesity, cat declawing, pubic hair waxing....

...child star rearing, website coding, product announcing, favorite band sucking, mushroom shopping, drug taking, xtian loling, youtubeing, single link op-edding, get your own blog fuckwitting, coupon " clipping ", news filtering, boyzoning, conspiracy theorizing...
posted by pardonyou? at 1:46 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

Surprise!
posted by regicide is good for you at 1:47 PM on April 23, 2008


It's tricky, this stuff. What's the difference between white feminists who have appropriated the ideas of women of color and white feminists who have listened to and learned from women of color....? I understand BFP's larger point, but there's something just tragically absurd about calling out another writer/activist on the basis that they completely agree with you.

Acknowledgment.
posted by desuetude at 1:57 PM on April 23, 2008


I mean, that's the difference.
posted by desuetude at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2008


Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

Give me a break. There are a lot of good comments here.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:00 PM on April 23, 2008


On the surface, you seem to be mocking the unwieldiness of the phrase, but your follow-up question (What are they actually?) seems to betray your own discomfort at not knowing where to file the members of this movement.

It hardly causes "discomfort". It just seems like kind of a useless phrase. "Women of color blogger" could even technically include white women, white being a color. Or the absence of color if you really want to get pedantic.

Is it actually a movement? And is "women of color bloggers" what they call themselves? "Women of color bloggers for justice!" "Hi, I'm Jill, and I'm a women of color blogger". It's just not a phrase I could see anyone actually using.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2008


Give me a break. There are a lot of good comments here.

Well, yeah, this is MetaFilter after all. But it's so fucking tiresome to see the same "dude, we're all just people!" and "swarthy people are paranoid/weird/vindictive!" crap trotted out every time as if it were brilliantly original.

This is not about BFP and Marcotte, this is about racism so entrenched people don't even realize they're playing into the system. Hint: you don't have to be a racist to be part of the system. You just have to be oblivious to what reality is like for those who get the brunt of it. Now, when they complain and instead of listening and adapting, you play the "don't be so paranoid" card, you start losing the benefit of the doubt.
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2008 [8 favorites]


This sounds like a crabs in a barrel phenomenon to me. Not brown femi power (does anyone else keep reading that as brown mefi power?) alone, necessarily, and not necessarily just amanda marcotte, either. It seems more like EVERYONE among this section of the minority blogosphere is so worried, pretty much constantly, about getting theirs that they attack each other rather than focus on actual perpetrators of bigotry and injustice.

Of course, that's hard to say without seeing bfp's blog.

But as someone hitherto unfamiliar with that section of the blogosphere (ignorant white male. sorry. will try to improve.) I'm kind of floored by the general descriptions I'm reading here.

while WOC bloggers have again and again asked the bigger feminist bloggers to pay more attention to issues beyond the ones that primarily affect younger white women

really? I mean, it can't hurt to ask, but shit folks. I'd imagine WOC bloggers know better than anyone that you don't get shit done by asking folks for a handout. more over, if a blogger of any stature decides that she'd rather write about rape/incest/abortions/etc, that's her prerogative. Offer some kind of exposure exchange, or something, or go to some of the lesser known white bloggers to do it if the bigger ones wouldn't take the offer. build up a grassroots movement within the movement. but I just can't imagine that writing entries about how [super blogger x] writes about what she cares about as opposed to what you care about could even be seen by reasonable people to be an effective and productive use of anyone's time. Again, the problem isn't other activist bloggers, don't focus on them like they're a problem.

Do you have a responsibility to share your megaphone, and how do you do that without ending up a situation where people think you're publicizing your work?

and then this is a really great point for the other "side." but again, what it sounds like (and this is purely my impression) is that one feminist blogger (in this case marcotte) was too busy worrying about whatever she hoped to accomplish with her article to take the time to decently attribute a less popular blogger. Maybe her thought process was "shit, if I credit bfp, here, then they'll ask BFP to write their next article, rather than me. fuck that shit." I don't know. Whatever it was, it sure as hell sounds like more of that crabs in a barrel garbage. there's room enough for both voices in the world if you choose to help make it.

Ultimately, I'd be curious to see bfp's original writing, since I'd be damn surprised if a blogger on any topic were writing something so revolutionary that it wasn't largely inspired or supported by earlier published writers. Rather, I'm inclined to think that there's a wealth of dead-tree published material out there on immigration and feminism that likely serves as a source of inspiration to both bloggers which neither one wants necessarily to credit. but that's obviously just a guess.
posted by shmegegge at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read it as "Woman, of color blogging" and thought "RGB, or CMYK?"

I agree with the fact that a lot of bloggers have an artificially-inflated sense of self-importance. It's just a blog, it's just the Internet, calm down and take a deep breath.
posted by mrbill at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2008


This is sad. I read BFP occasionally and enjoyed it.

For those interested, web.archive.org/web/*/http://brownfemipower.com/. Unfortunately, there's not much there.

(As an aside, I don't really understand how removing a funny and insightful blog written by a radical woman of colour is supposed to further the cause - I wonder if she had aldready been thinking about ending the blog for a while.)
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2008


Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Of all the race related threads here, this one is actually very nice (as nice as race related threads can be at least). Give MetaFilter some credit, eh?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:19 PM on April 23, 2008


Or, alternatively you can explain why your first reaction to the notion that individuals ought to be treated as individuals is to reference GWB and Trump. Seems to me that those two would be better used in an argument about, say...

I think the idea is that people are often more prone to want to turn it to questions of individuals but claim it's not racist when dealing with issues of racial injustice than issues of white privilege. Sure, it'd be useful if we could somehow see to the core of every person we meet without making broadly construed assumptions, but in reality, people rely on an enormous number of external markers and connections to judge someone. Race is one of these markers. And "race" is not just the shade of their skin & what sort of hair a person has, but the type of name they have, the sort of slang or accent, the cultural references they make, their music tastes, style preferences and so forth (it's more a social construct than a biological division, though initial group differences exist)

We can't expect to know a person inside and out on a first meeting. We make assumptions. "I like how this guy comes across" "Something about him didn't feel right". We make connections "she was my kind of person" "I just didn't get her". Sure, we try to base this on interaction, but even that is mixed in with whether the person mentions bands or TV shows you like, or talks about your sports team, or whatever it is that makes you feel connected. If you grew up in a football town and someone tries to connect to you by talking about basketball, it can fall flat.

But more pernicious is the possibility that when the guy you intuitively like talks to you about basketball, even though it's not really your thing, your mind rationalizes that it's nice to talk sports, whereas when the one you intuitively dislike does it, your mind rationalizes that it's annoying to talk basketball in particular. Maybe our reasons are just layered on after the fact, in other words. So you think, it's not that I don't like black people, it's just that particular person I didn't happen to have anything in common with. But maybe if they'd have been white, it would have just seemed like there was more in common - there wouldn't have been an initial barrier to cross, but you'd start with an assumption of commonality rather than one of difference.

The final entry of BFP's blog was pretty powerful. It seems like the particular issue of citation and plagiarism is being created from nowhere, as she specifically states that the point is just that Amanda Marcotte never brings up the issue of non-white feminists and never references any feminists who happen to be non-white, even though she spends a lot of time talking about an issues (immigration) which has been deeply explored by prominent WOC online.
posted by mdn at 2:21 PM on April 23, 2008


delmoi, I'm not a racist troll, as my posting history would suggest. I'm just smarter than you.--TJH
Well, aside from the fact that that sentence means "my posting history would suggest I am a racist troll, but I'm not" I wasn't linking to your comments, rather I was linking to other people calling your comments indefensible, outrageous, etc. Don't pretend that it's just me making this claim. I don't know if you're smarter them me or not (I doubt it) but you would actually have to be smarter then just about everyone in that thread, where you were universally piled on, even by people defending the other commenter who was called out.
It hardly causes "discomfort". It just seems like kind of a useless phrase. "Women of color blogger" could even technically include white women, white being a color. --DecemberBoy
It sure it could mean that, if you're willing to discard common sense and all historical context. I mean, you could also say (for example) that Arabs cannot be anti-Semites because Arabs are a Semitic people. That would be equally stupid.
This is not about BFP and Marcotte, this is about racism so entrenched people don't even realize they're playing into the system. Hint: you don't have to be a racist to be part of the system.-- languagehat
Well, I don't know. I think the fact that Marcotte is more popular just has to do with the fact that she's a better or more interesting blogger, not because of her race. I really just don't buy it the idea that BFP was somehow more unpopular because of her ethnicity, or less linked too, or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


it just seems like kind of a useless phrase. "Women of color blogger" could even technically include white women, white being a color. Or the absence of color if you really want to get pedantic.

Sure, it's a clunky phrase, even ungrammatical—but useless? And is this really your first encounter with "of color" used to describe members of various racial minorities? If so, welcome! The 21st century holds many fascinating surprises for you!

And don't worry about being pedantic. You're not. You're just wrong, whether you're talking about light or pigment.
posted by dogrose at 2:38 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


onlyconnect: It allows the folks who like the status quo to do nothing

winna: If I keep kicking you, and when you say 'Ow!' I apologize and then kick you again, after a while it doesn't matter what I meant to happen.


I feel pretty strongly about the importance of assuming good intentions. I also recognize that creating consequences is an important way to increase justice, too. In discussions like this, I do try to act with two ears and one mouth. (At least in person. On the nets you've got two ears and ten fingers typing. Explains a lot, don't it?)

onlyconnect: Actually, I think that if folks who were challenged in this way assumed the good intent of the people who challenged them, we would have the best of all possible worlds.

I agree with this 100% and I never intended to imply that there was any kind of one-way street here.

I also seem to be hearing a value that I don't quite understand: That it's important in each situation to distinguish between individuals who "have privilege" and individuals who "do not have privilege" and that there are separate sets of ethical behavior for each group. Is this a correct summary? If so, how does ranking individuals with regards to privilege create a productive discussion and create change? How does invisible privilege factor into this?
posted by Skwirl at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Yes, let's just pretend there's no such thing as racism, and if everybody would only try harder, they'd get ahead just like Donald Trump and George W. Bush. Because those are just, like, individuals who really tried."

A stronger rebuttal of the recourse to individuals is to note that a) these are often group rights that we're talking about, obscured individually but apparent as demographics, b) part of the underpinning for feminism or anti-racism movements is the populist side of democracy, harnessing a bunch of people who have similar grievances. So while treating people as individuals is fine and good in a lot of contexts, and necessary in individual rights contexts, when it comes to populist movements and positive rights, it's a bit of a red herring to assert that treating people as individuals is the best method to assure redress for systemic discrimination.
posted by klangklangston at 2:49 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


This whole thing is so, so depressing. I really really don't get the sense that BFP was trying to "own" the ideas; it was more about who has visibility and access to big platforms and how they use them.

In the first Feministe post, Amanda actually cites a different activist as having inspired her at a conference, and I'm sure if she'd mentioned HER work, this whole incident would have gone down differently.

Also, delmoi re: "Oh please. You really think a company that publishes books about feminism and liberal identity politics stuff is going to look askance at someone with a 'funny' name? Get real." See here.
An informal meeting with an editor from Seal Press at the WAM conference regarding the proposal for my anthology left me feeling frustrated and deflated. I was not seeking or particularly interested in having them publish the anthology, but merely hoping for advice on my book proposal. The editor, while impressed with the format of the proposal, advised me that anthologies don’t sell, and I should get someone like Gloria Steinem or Katha Pollitt to contribute, even though, as she said, I wouldn’t be able to get access to them. I was struck by the fact that she did not suggest I contact Daisy Hernandez, bell hooks, Andrea Smith, or Alice Walker. I might not have access to them either, of course, but given the intent of the anthology is to highlight the voices of people of diverse backgrounds, especially those we’ve not heard from in other works, I found her comments discouraging.
(Plus the whole "Fuck Seal Press" thing that prompted the above post.) There is a lot of bad blood that's kind of come to a head.
posted by SoftRain at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


languagehat: Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

KevinSkomsvold: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Of all the race related threads here, this one is actually very nice


No, what he means is that "Metafilter doesn't agree with my views, therefore it doesn't do race well." The discussion has been incredibly civilized as far as these things go, but it seems that few people share his views about oppression. Instead of trying to convince people, he's discounting the debate.

Rule 3 of Internet debates: when people don't agree with you, claim they're idiots.
posted by Leon-arto at 3:12 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Of all the race related threads here, this one is actually very nice (as nice as race related threads can be at least). Give MetaFilter some credit, eh?

I do—see my previous comment. I just wish it did race better. Just once I'd like to see a thread on this kind of topic without a raft of clueless comments by people who act as if the entire concept of racism and race-related discourse ("people of color, wtf is that all about??") were completely new to them and blurting out some bullshit response of the kind people of color have been dealing with for a long, long time and are so tired of they do apparently irrational things like deleting their blogs. Like SoftRain says, This whole thing is so, so depressing.

I think the fact that Marcotte is more popular just has to do with the fact that she's a better or more interesting blogger, not because of her race. I really just don't buy it the idea that BFP was somehow more unpopular because of her ethnicity, or less linked too, or whatever.


That's not even in the neighborhood of what this is about. Marcotte is not popular "because of her race," she's popular for whatever reason and is using that popularity to benefit herself rather than the bloggers of color whose analyses she (apparently) leaned on. And yes, it's perfectly fine to do that under a libertarian/individualist system such as many MeFites operate on, but not under the communitarian system the feminist community in general tries to support. BFP's point was not "waah, she ripped me off," it was "I'm sick of so-called feminists who don't support other feminists, especially feminists of color." I'm not saying that's the only possible line to take, but let's not caricature her position.
posted by languagehat at 3:20 PM on April 23, 2008 [8 favorites]


@languagehat

Your comment clarifies, thanks. I apologize if mine came across as abrasive, wasn't meant as such.
posted by Leon-arto at 3:22 PM on April 23, 2008


[did a little clean-up here, few comments removed, sorry about that]
posted by jessamyn at 3:59 PM on April 23, 2008


A stronger rebuttal of the recourse to individuals is to note that a) these are often group rights that we're talking about, obscured individually but apparent as demographics

Group rights?

b) part of the underpinning for feminism or anti-racism movements is the populist side of democracy, harnessing a bunch of people who have similar grievances.

The populist side of democracy-- where coercion is okay as long as 51% agree?

So while treating people as individuals is fine and good in a lot of contexts, and necessary in individual rights contexts, when it comes to populist movements and positive rights, it's a bit of a red herring to assert that treating people as individuals is the best method to assure redress for systemic discrimination.

I'll be interested to see how you explain the the necessity of individual rights in a group rights context, as I don't see how the two can help but be in constant conflict.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:02 PM on April 23, 2008


A Google search informs me that "women of color bloggers" does appear to be an actual, if small, movement, and "women of color bloggers" is in fact what they refer to themselves as. There were only about 4,000 results, so it doesn't appear to be a widely used term. The reason I thought it was goofy was because it seemed like a phrase someone who was not a woman, of color, and/or a blogger would use in order to try too hard to not be offensive by calling them "female black bloggers" or something. Given that it's what they want to be referred to as, it's simply unwieldly.
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:19 PM on April 23, 2008


You know, it's stuff like this that makes me not want to read feminist blogs. The Seal Press thing was just way, way over the top, and I can't even digest half of what's gone on in its aftermath, but I'll tell you, as someone who writes books for a living, I was fairly incredulous at what set it off.
An informal meeting with an editor from Seal Press at the WAM conference regarding the proposal for my anthology left me feeling frustrated and deflated. I was not seeking or particularly interested in having them publish the anthology, but merely hoping for advice on my book proposal.
Yeah, well, welcome to the world of getting published! If you don't like what the publishers are telling you, then put whatever the hell you want to publish together and go to Lulu or any number of other self-publishing outlets. Let the market determine whether your idea is viable or not. (And, in the process, you'll earn more money from your writing than you would have from a major publisher contract, anyway).

Maybe this makes me a member of the "libertarian/individualist system such as many MeFites operate on" (languagehat, above), but you know, it's easier than ever to publish your ideas to a wide audience for very little money, and if your ideas fail in the marketplace.... what then? Does it mean all the white feminists, the men, whoever are out to get you? No, it means no one wants to buy your writing.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:26 PM on April 23, 2008


Google returns 985,000 hits for the phrase "women of color." It can't be the first time you've read that combination of words. Why is it so hard to imagine - difficult, apparently, to the point where you have to do a Google search to confirm its reality - that it might be combined with the word "bloggers"?

Also, again, women of color != black women. Women of color includes Asian women, and Indian women, and African women, and...well, you get the idea. Right? So saying "women of color bloggers" is a way of describing women of color (not just black women) who blog.
posted by rtha at 4:40 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree with this 100% and I never intended to imply that there was any kind of one-way street here.

Maybe, but are you sure that you haven't just assumed Marcotte's best intentions here, and not BFP's? For example, you say that even though you grok "the importance and feeling of betrayal" that BFP felt when a more powerful, white feminist blogger seemed to appropriate the ideas of more marginalized bloggers (including BFP) without credit, and even though you assumed BFP's best intentions in calling out this behavior, you could still label BFP's actions as "asinine" and an example of "infighting" that is "damaging to movement building." Why can't it just be a means to starting a conversation or public debate, much like we are having here? Why isn't the fact that BFP's actions spurred discussions like we "bystanders" are having here something you might consider "productive"? Why is it the responsibility of the person who feels wronged to keep quiet about things publically when a callout like this could make people who have not been troubled to examine their biases on this issue open or change their minds?

To me, the idea of assuming someone's best intentions always seems to work to have the effect of calling for the less powerful to be silenced, and I don't think that's a good thing. In general, I think more public communication, not less, is a good thing.
posted by onlyconnect at 4:52 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


bitter-girl, I think what you're overlooking is that Seal Press positions itself as the *feminist* publishing house. They are very conscious about cultivating that reputation for themselves. For them to basically say, "this proposed anthology needs more white feminist writers," and to later make comments to the effect that they don't publish WOC writers more because those books don't sell--well, it's different from Random House or whatever other mega-publisher saying those things. If the one and only "feminist press" out there defines feminist writing as white feminist writing, I think that's something to get upset over, if you count yourself as a nonwhite feminist.

I think languagehat's individualist / communitarian comment pretty much sums it up: if the legitimacy of the movement (and not only feminist movement--really, any social justice movement) is based on something nobler or more fundamental that "gotta get mine, and screw the rest of you," then it matters whether you pay attention to everybody's issues, it matters whether you link to other activists who are doing work on women's issues that don't personally affect you, and it matters whether you use your platform to haul everybody else up with you rather than deciding that you deserve credit all by yourself.

I mean, that's movement-building 101. I think you're seeing a lot of WOC say, "screw this, I have no interest in being a part of your community," and I'm hard-pressed to really criticize them for it. In terms of the broader feminist political movement, I think it's shooting ourselves in the foot, because you lose a lot of the moral high ground when it becomes (or is perceived as being) about grabbing a little more for yourself versus fighting for broader principles that affect all women.
posted by iminurmefi at 5:00 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


There's nothing new under the sun. Anybody ever have that thought before?
posted by jfuller at 5:04 PM on April 23, 2008


"Group rights?"

Yeah, they're often referred to as second- or third-generation rights, and are generally conceived of as positive. Like much of "rights" discussion, they can be reformulated in a way that makes them individual rights, but that often obscures their importance and alienates people from the solution of group action.

"The populist side of democracy-- where coercion is okay as long as 51% agree?"

Please, that's beneath you, and I know you're brighter than that ideologue dismissal, so I won't bother running through the democracy 101 stuff.

"I'll be interested to see how you explain the the necessity of individual rights in a group rights context, as I don't see how the two can help but be in constant conflict."

Really? I'm going to assume that you're not just playing dumb here, and point out that: a) there are some situations in which individual rights and group rights conflict, just as there are points at which individual rights and group rights coincide; b) individual rights are in constant conflict too, just as some group rights conflict with each other. Further, that they conflict does not mean that they are not necessary—in many cases, individual rights are necessary exactly because they conflict with group rights.
posted by klangklangston at 5:11 PM on April 23, 2008


bitter-girl, I think what you're overlooking is that Seal Press positions itself as the *feminist* publishing house. They are very conscious about cultivating that reputation for themselves. For them to basically say, "this proposed anthology needs more white feminist writers," and to later make comments to the effect that they don't publish WOC writers more because those books don't sell--well, it's different from Random House or whatever other mega-publisher saying those things. If the one and only "feminist press" out there defines feminist writing as white feminist writing, I think that's something to get upset over, if you count yourself as a nonwhite feminist.

I'm afraid I have to agree, even though I of course do agree with you, bitter-girl, that no publisher is ever obligated to publish anything -- that's their time, their money, and they are welcome to spend both as they see fit. In most cases. That's because a publishing house is, at the end of the day, a business, and their final concern should be their bottom line. In most cases. In this case, however, by declaring itself a feminist publishing house, Seal Press implies a moral/political agenda to their work. If their final concern is their bottom line, they're leading people to believe they have an integrity they actually lack. This is not a small deal, because any such publishing house stays afloat in large part because of its perceived integrity -- its rep. If this is a con, that is a problem. A big one.

That they rejected this book proposal is not itself proof of anything. That they have no titles at all written by women of color is quite another. That, when this one was proposed, the suggestion was essentially to tone down the black a bit, is pretty fucking damning. Now, I don't know whether that's about money or it's about race, and I actually don't even know which would be more problematic, but it's kinda shitty either way, don't you think? It would not likely kill a publisher to take a chance on a book -- and if not this book, some book -- by a writer who maybe falls outside of their normal demographic, just because it's the right thing to do. If, in fact, doing the right thing is their implied raison d'etre, and you know? It kinda is. And who knows? Maybe it'd even sell. They don't know, because they don't have any books like that. Big problem.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:27 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your comment clarifies, thanks. I apologize if mine came across as abrasive, wasn't meant as such.

Thanks, much appreciated.
posted by languagehat at 5:28 PM on April 23, 2008


Yeah, they're often referred to as second- or third-generation rights, and are generally conceived of as positive.

Hrm. Well, it looks like Wikipedia had my doctrinaire rebuttal right in the article. This looks a lot like first-principles type stuff, no? I'll take camp with Tocqueville-- hay and a barn for human cattle, and all that.

Please, that's beneath you, and I know you're brighter than that ideologue dismissal, so I won't bother running through the democracy 101 stuff.

Majoritarianism and populism are at worst kissing cousins, and in the present climate both serve to subjugate the individual to the group. It may be an "ideologue dismissal," (thanks, sincerely, for not calling me a Randroid) but plenty of people smarter than me-- certainly people who are not "beneath me," in my view, have reached the same conclusion.

Really? I'm going to assume that you're not just playing dumb here

I suppose I wrote that last bit too sloppily. I meant to claim that group rights were at best superfluous if individual rights are well-defined. But really I see little sense in arguing about it. Chalk it up to closed-mindedness if you must.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:48 PM on April 23, 2008


That they have no titles at all written by women of color is quite another.

Wait, wait wait - this is not true about Seal Press.

They've gone in a little bit of a different direction in the last few years, but they still have a number of titles - anthologies, even - about, by, and for women of color.

Hijas Americanas

Stories from the Blue Latitudes
Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith, and Sexuality

(this is just from a quick skim through their anthologies)

They've taken big chances over the years, and continue to do so. They might not have made the right call about the proposed anthology, but it isn't because they don't know what it's like to take a risk on anthologies by and about women of color.
posted by rtha at 5:58 PM on April 23, 2008


Fair enough -- I was going by what was in the article.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:05 PM on April 23, 2008


Maybe I'm misinterpreting the Seal Press thing, but what the article says is I was not seeking or particularly interested in having them publish the anthology, but merely hoping for advice on my book proposal. The editor, while impressed with the format of the proposal, advised me that anthologies don’t sell, and I should get someone like Gloria Steinem or Katha Pollitt to contribute. So the editor didn't say we won't publish without someone famous (or someone white), she was giving advice on pitching it to publishers in general.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:26 PM on April 23, 2008


There's nothing new under the sun. Anybody ever have that thought before?

No; perpendicular squids often have more than seventeen different enablers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:29 PM on April 23, 2008


Man, MeFi really doesn't do race well.

Or feminism. (Or, really anything where White men might have to even think about their privilege.)

Given that, aside from the willful idiocy of a couple of posters ("I don't know why they call themselves people of color, I always get yelled at when I call them colored people."), this thread seems like it's gone pretty well.
posted by OmieWise at 6:45 PM on April 23, 2008


"I meant to claim that group rights were at best superfluous if individual rights are well-defined."

Again, that alienates unnecessarily those rights from the practical defense of those rights. Everything else I've put into a lengthy PM to ya.
posted by klangklangston at 6:50 PM on April 23, 2008


That's because a publishing house is, at the end of the day, a business, and their final concern should be their bottom line. In most cases. In this case, however, by declaring itself a feminist publishing house, Seal Press implies a moral/political agenda to their work. If their final concern is their bottom line, they're leading people to believe they have an integrity they actually lack.

Yes, but kittens, as rtha noted, they have in fact published a number of titles by women of color, and as moxiedoll said

So the editor didn't say we won't publish without someone famous (or someone white), she was giving advice on pitching it to publishers in general.

In fact, having published the titles rtha noted, they're probably in a better position than most to not only give advice on what sells, but also pitch to publishers who may not be quite as willing to publish titles like them. Declaring yourself a "feminist publishing house" is pretty much painting a target on your back, I think, because it opens you up to criticism when you do make business decisions that affects your bottom line.

In order to stay afloat, and continue publishing *anything* about feminism, they have to make rational decisions. Does anyone really think the Seal Press people are raking in the big bucks? Knowing what I know about publishing world salaries even at the big NYC imprints, I highly doubt it. So again, I say if you don't like the way they do business, publish things yourself. That they chose even to ask for an opinion on that anthology says to me they think Seal Press might (well, before this all blew up, anyway) have some insight. That they didn't LIKE the opinion is something different.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:12 PM on April 23, 2008


Regardless of how you feel about the controversy, it's hard to find fault with the outcome.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:21 PM on April 23, 2008


Ha ha, stupid blogs.
posted by kenlayne at 10:10 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's a summary of the whole Seal Press controversy that goes along with the rest of this.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:31 PM on April 23, 2008


Waybackmachine last copied it August 2007

Little-known fact: the Internet Archive doesn't get the caches from Alexa until at least six months afterward. (Something to do with the licensing to transfer the data to a non-profit, not that it's at all clear what Alexa is actually doing with it during that time.) It's also August 15, 2007 for metafilter.com.
posted by dhartung at 11:10 PM on April 23, 2008


Well, I've had my attitudes radically readjusted over the past day, thanks to this thread and reading some of the FPP links, so I'm going to run through my thought process in the hopes that this might be of use to somebody else.

The problem, for me, was that I'm accustomed to looking at problems and assuming that they can be compartmentalized and solved.

I was trained, through school and society, to know that sexism and racism are bad; I was also taught, though, that both were distinct and solvable problems. Racism can be beaten! Women can be equal! I made colourful banners in high school. We had awareness days, marched in marches, wore ribbons, etc.

And my attitude of 24 hours ago -- the "why can't they just set this aside and pull together to focus on the bigger problem" attitude -- is largely based on this drilled-into-me belief that gender inequality is a different problem from racism, and that both are solvable.

I didn't really agree with winna's comment about being kicked, because I figured that while white and WoC feminists are busy arguing about who kicked who and how hard, they're all being kicked constantly and very hard indeed by a much bigger, badder kicker.

And -- from that perspective -- it makes sense that white and WoC feminists should "pull together" and "all be sisters under feminism," because the underlying assumption is that if they just all work on a single, granular problem, that problem can be solved. They can all turn around together and force the kicker to knock it off.

Then, once men and women are thoroughly, irrevocably, perpetually equal in all aspects, we can pat each other on the back, inflate some balloons, say "well done, everyone, we'll never be gender-kicked again!" and have some cake. And then turn our attention to the problem of racism.

So what I've come to understand over the last day, and after (tens of?) thousands of words of reading, is that various forms of oppression are neither granular nor solvable. WoC feminists don't have two giant switches, the Woman switch and the Colour switch, and they can't just turn one on and the other off; disempowerment and oppression don't come in granular categories but rather across a broad, sloppy, overlapping spectrum.

And gender and racial inequality aren't "solvable" problems but rather aspects of human nature that we have to be attentive of, and work to manage. Humans categorize by nature, and I think our default setting is tribalism, so there never will be a point in which racism is "over" and we all get cake.

There's no "prime kicker" for people who fall under many of the categories across the spectrum of oppression, just a thousand boots flailing away at you. Granted, a lot of those boots belong to the same set of people, but you don't get the luxury of choosing which boot is going to kick you next, so you just grab wherever the last boot came from and try to get it to stop.

And -- from that perspective -- it doesn't make any sense to "set something aside" and "pull together," because you're still getting kicked, sometimes by the people asking you to "pull together" with them.

This all seems terribly obvious when I type it out like this, but I suspect that it's a common trap for well-meaning people from outside these communities to fall into: the assumption that these problems are identifiable, granular and solvable, and that it's possible to "pull together" and lay some problems aside to address other ones.

It's all a bit mindbending for me, so I'm sure there are some really weak spots in the above chain of thought, but again, hopefully this will be of use to somebody in understanding where the "pull together" mindset may come from.
posted by Shepherd at 6:32 AM on April 24, 2008 [8 favorites]


For people interested in learning more, Shepherd has done a good job describing intersectionality.

Here's a powerpoint presentation that explains it in more detail.
posted by winna at 10:13 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


onlyconnect: Maybe, but are you sure that you haven't just assumed Marcotte's best intentions here, and not BFP's? ... To me, the idea of assuming someone's best intentions always seems to work to have the effect of calling for the less powerful to be silenced, and I don't think that's a good thing. In general, I think more public communication, not less, is a good thing.

That may be the case and I do have a bias. I suppose my bias is that I have experienced several similar discussions where something went wrong and it seemed to start when someone who could be creating a teaching moment instead creates a "gotcha" moment. So, I do value a burden of proof when accusing others as individuals. I also value non-violent response and the idea of "first, do no harm." So those are my other biases that not everyone shares or ranks the same as me. Amanda Marcotte ignoring the situation and failing to explain or apologize is damning. It also means that this is a totally one-sided conversation and the one-side that is expressing itself is not doing a very good job of maintaining non-violence. Humiliation is a type of violence.

Now, if somebody wants to bring this discussion back to the place where we're talking about the general idea of white progressives co-opting and silencing the voices and issues of less privileged authors instead of talking about this one specific incident, that might be a more productive discussion, but I'm still pretty wary of how we're going to draw sides here. "On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege: An Open Letter to White Feminists" is incredibly awkward because the author presumes the privilege of dressing down white feminists on behalf of women of color. The act of publishing itself is a huge privilege that most people in the world don't have.

On the visible side of things, I have about as much privilege as can come: White, male, heterosexual, middle class, US citizen... But I'll be god damned if I'm not also being kicked too. And people I love are being kicked. Right now in real time. I'm really not trying to co-opt the discussion, I'm just trying to point out that we all share privilege and accountability towards the current violent system.

We're all being kicked. Some of us more than others, but the one and only thing we have any control over at all in this world is whether we're going to kick others. To imply a binary where some people kick and some people are being kicked erases each individuals' history and humanity as wholly and as immediately as that opposing fallacy, color blind racism, erases group historical trauma and identity.
posted by Skwirl at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2008


Skwirl: Amanda Marcotte doesn't actually ignore the charge at all. She confronts it, attempts to explain it, denies it, makes excuses, etc. It's all in the comment sections of the first link, and again in the comment sections of the "forgotten" link (which I was hoping people would read; it's where a lot of the analysis comes in). It's really not a one-sided debate at all.
posted by lunit at 12:35 PM on April 24, 2008


i know both women personally.

i know their work inside out.

bfp is a scholar of Chicano Studies and an immigration rights activist who has written extensively on the subject of immigration as a feminist issue.

i can tell you that marcotte was dishonest in the way she handled this situation ---she had never written about immigration in any significant way (if at all) up until that particular paid article.

bfp took down her blog so that the marcotte's of the world couldn't steal her content and use it without attribution. to say i am upset and disappointed at her decision is to put it mildly.

but let me be very candid here : marcotte has not been the only white blogger with a large audience to have done what she did. there's quite a posse out there that mine the work of both men and women of color bloggers who have smaller audiences, thinking they can get away with using their work w/o attribution because no one will notice.
posted by liza at 9:21 PM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here are some of the racist images from Marcotte's book.
posted by lunit at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, that's pretty damning—thanks for posting it, lunit.
The last time this came up, although Amanda ultimately relented and notified Seal Press about the problems with the book, she also claimed:
I think nowadays retro imagery used by avowed liberals can safely be assumed to be at least an attempt at coy irony.
Uh-huh. I hope "coy irony" is one of the first casualties of the coming depression. See, this is the problem with trying to be hipper than the next hipster: you wind up becoming an asshole.
posted by languagehat at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, Seal Press - what has happened to you?

Retro imagery is one thing. But retro imagery that was racist Back in the Day is still not okay. Especially in circumstances like this.
posted by rtha at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Those images from inside the book are a fucking embarrassment.
posted by Locative at 7:51 AM on April 26, 2008


An update on the racist images inside Marcotte's book: both she and Seal Press have apologized and are removing the images from further printings.
posted by LeeJay at 9:41 AM on April 26, 2008


Seal Press's actions and apology bring to mind konolia's comment about blind spots in the Having a Black Name fpp.

Blind spots are blind spot precisely because we don't know we have them. Duh.
posted by rtha at 12:58 PM on April 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


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