Today I am angrier than I have been in a very long time and it has nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina or my insane family or even my cancer, at least not directly.
In a lot of ways, having cancer is easier to deal with than almost everything else in my life. Do you want to get instant sympathy from almost anyone? Just tell them about your cancer. In all the years that I've been dealing with this disease, I have yet to experience even one person say something insulting to me about it. There were people who couldn't stand to be around me, I mean absolutely despised me, before I got diagnosed. Since my diagnosis, many of those very same people have gone out of their way to show me compassion and I am really grateful for that. So what's the problem, you ask? Well, I didn't really deserve to have them do that for me.
A lot of those people probably had very valid reasons for their pre-cancer feelings about me but even though I never apologized or even found out how I'd repelled them in the first place, they put it all behind them and gave me another chance, an opportunity to make a brand new "first impression". Recognizing that, I did try to make the most of this privilege. Still, it just makes me a bit uncomfortable because I didn't get this second-chance because my personality/behavior/attitude had improved. I've tried to figure out what did motivate people to do this anyway and I've only come up with a few ideas.
Most people know of some loved one who has had to deal with cancer and when they think about it, they conflate my situation with their loved one's struggle. In our society, many people still view cancer as a death sentence and seeing me reminds them of life's temporary nature and that's a really powerful reminder of why we should be kind to each other while we still can. Most of the time, we can easily ignore this and feel free to indulge in all sorts of petty but hurtful behavior. To be honest, before I became severely disabled, I rarely considered whether someone would come away from an interaction with me knowing how I truly felt about them.
After someone dies, I think it's a lot easier to put aside and forgive all but the greatest slights perpetrated by the dead person. When you have cancer, many people seem more inclined to treat you as if you're already dead. Some people express that by shrinking back from me as if I'm some sort of walking corpse. Others show it by talking to me as if they're reading the eulogy at my funeral. I mean, it's really sweet that someone cares enough about me to want me to know that they love me dearly but look, I'm no saint.
I have a notoriously sardonic mouth and even my best friends would probably describe my sense of humor as acerbic, at best. To tell you the truth, I really liked myself that way. I usually found it funny when I encountered really nasty people who attempted to hurt one of my more sensitive friends only to find out that my appetite for invective is nearly insatiable. However insatiable it was/is, it was never uncontrollable. I've always had an affinity for those whose timidity often makes them into targets for those who enjoy taking cheap shots at others. Most of my friends tend to fall into two basic categories: the extremely sensitive souls that I'd never dream of hurting by making them the butt of my jokes and those who are just as mouthy as I am and can easily give me a taste of my own medicine when we joke with each other.
I'm not bragging, I'm just admitting the truth about myself and my flaws. I could attempt to blame my cantankerousness on the fact that it began as a coping mechanism developed in my childhood but I'm an adult and I'd be lying to myself if I said that it isn't a choice at this point. I know this, so I'd never be surprised to find out that someone doesn't care for me; In fact, I'd think it quite understandable. I suppose I'd have more incentive to change if I'd ever had the desire to be well-liked. My mother says that I was born without a sense of embarrassment and maybe that's why I don't much care about popularity or the lack of it.
This apathy has come in handy since I started blogging. I really only started so that my daughter would be able to come and read my thoughts about the world after I die. I think that's why I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone tells me that they purposely came here to read my writing. In the past year, I have received nothing but encouragement from those who've left comments on my blog. I don't think the people who left them can ever know how much I needed their messages to help me get through certain periods. Knowing that there are people I've never even met who are praying for me and rooting for me makes all of the pain and frustration a lot more bearable. Whereas I used to use biting sarcasm, writing here has become my main coping mechanism. I mean, how could it be anything else? Well, I suppose it would be a lot different if I were Nubian.
My last post was all about a particular blogger who made a bunch of false accusations about her. That was the first time I'd ever written about Nubian here but I've known of her for awhile thanks to the Radical Women of Color web-ring. When I first came across BrownFemiPower's blog, I had no idea how much it would change my views. I think if BrownFemiPower (BFP) had known most of my views back then, she might have thought twice about allowing me to post on her site. If she happens to read this post, I think she'll be surprised even now. When I first started visiting her blog, I was really proud to call myself a conservative. I wasn't a Republican because they weren't conservative enough to suit my tastes but whenever those political pollsters called and they asked me which of the two main parties came closest to representing my views, I always went with the Republicans.
It always irked me that people figured that if you're black, you must be a Democrat. Well, I never saw any reason why I should be one. I enjoyed a pretty comfortable middle-class existence growing up in a fairly comfortable four-bedroom home in the suburbs down in the deep south. Don't get me wrong, I had no delusions about whether racism and other forms of discrimination existed. It's just that, where I'm from, the Democrats are just as likely to discriminate against black people as the Republicans are. The German and I often joked that, in Louisiana, the Republicans are more liberal than a lot of the Democrats.
Back then, I would rather have had you call me the n-word than for you to call me a "liberal". If you called me the n-word, I could simply write you off as a ignorant bigot not deserving of any attention but if you called me a "liberal" then you were saying that I held views that I simply did not hold. Oh, I believed that everyone should be treated equally but, in my heart, I held a lot of unfair opinions about some people who happen to be different from me. I had never really considered myself a feminist because in my world, this term had strictly shrewish connotations. However, I was at least open-minded enough to try and listen to what others had to say and try to put myself in their shoes.
Interacting with the Radical Women of Color ring opened my world to a lot of new concepts. I have two Latinas as cousins, my mother speaks Spanish and I used to attend a Spanish congregation every week but do you know that I had virtually no understanding of Latin culture? When I read BFP's description of herself as a Chicana, I had to look the word up to see exactly what it meant. I had never even heard of Audre Lorde, so I was totally clueless when people talked about her brilliance.
I had a difficult time relating to what a lot of feminist bloggers wrote because they used so much jargon that even a fairly intelligent person would have to read other books just to be able to understand the terms they use and what they meant when they used them. To me, that's a sign of piss-poor writing skills. Good writing involves more than using technically-correct words. It also entails writing in a manner that will be easily understood. That last point seems to be one that many writers forget about.
While in college, I made money as a writing tutor. I started out working for a program called Start The Adventure In Reading (STAIR) where we helped children that were in danger of failing the second grade. After doing that for a couple of years, I was invited to work for my university's learning center tutoring college students. I helped people with their physics courses, chemistry courses, biology courses, and writing assignments. As challenging as it can be to explain the sciences to people, the hardest part was helping people learn how to write clearly. I can't even tell you how many times students came in with graduate theses containing myriad run-on sentences and non sequitur conclusions.
Now, I realize that everyone makes grammar errors and if you really study the English language, you'll soon see that the hard and fast rules you learn in grade school are really just guidelines to keep in mind if you're engaging in academic writing. The truth is, the world wouldn't suffer one bit if we were to get rid of semi-colons altogether. I'm not saying that grammar doesn't matter but in informal writing, the most important consideration is whether or not your audience can understand the point you're trying to make. Albert Einstein once said, "If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself."
Unfortunately, there are a lot of language snobs posing as bloggers these days. If someone wants to rail on the subject of net-speak abuse, then I'll gladly join in; Unless you're writing transliterated Arabic, I don't want to read anything with numbers substituting for syllables and words. That's not what I'm talking about though. I'm referring to the kind of dolts that have been criticizing Nubian for what amounts to making her work accessible for the proletarians of the world. I'm referring to the "common folk", people like me who are willing to spend some of their precious leisure time to read the works of others but are simply too busy to be able to repeatedly ask a writer to explain some vague concept they used to draw conclusions about the world. For example, you can use the dictionary all you want but you're still not going to find a definition for the term "deconstruction". Anytime you use a term that isn't found in a standard dictionary, you should at least take the time to explain what you mean when you use it and, if you can explain your point without using the term, then you should avoid it completely. I simply adore it when writers use language in a creative or colorful manner but using an a lot of jargon is just a sign of laziness, in my opinion.
Would you like to see an example of what I'm talking about? Take a look at this comment about Nubian that was left on one of the more popular mainstream feminist websites. Now, watch me restate it in plain English:
"I don't care for conversations about race, sex, and class. When it comes to human interactions, I think there are more accurate ways of describing what really motivates people to behave as they do."
Sure, you could google "Hegel" and find out more about him but should you really need to read all of this just to figure out that the guy doesn't like grouping people according to race, sex, or class? I don't think so. I found that comment in a post written by Samhita called Intersectionality and the politics of white feminism. Kactus had a link to it on her post about what Nubian has been facing for the past few months. It's called "quitting time" and I think both Samhita's and Kactus' post are worth reading. The latter was motivated by the latest message that Nubian put up on her blog. Basically, Nubian has decided to stop blogging because of the constant barrage of insults hurled upon her. The part that makes me most disgusted is that most of them come from people who claim to be feminists and it certainly isn't a coincidence that virtually all of them are white. So, why is this happening? Well, here's what I think.
I'm one of those people who really appreciates how Nubian makes her work accessible to those who haven't spent years studying feminist theories. While I do consider myself to be a feminist, I haven't REALLY been one until quite recently. This gives me the advantage of being able to look at things from the eyes of an outsider. From my perspective, most of these white feminists seem morbidly insecure.
I remember when I first became exposed to Nubian by reading her comments on other people's blogs. Even though I was learning a lot from her and wanted to ask her some questions about what she wrote, I couldn't bring myself to initiate conversation with her. Now, if the topic was DNA splicing or the evolution of the Peppered Moth, I wouldn't have hesitated to talk to Nubian because I'd feel really equipped to hold my own in either of those conversations but that isn't what she writes about. So, I politely kept my trap shut when she wrote about something. After all, Nubian's blog is one of the most well-known blogs when it comes to black feminist writers. A quick look at Technorati will show that she has over one thousand five hundred links to her blog from other registered bloggers. As an aside, I should add that none of those disparagers who claim that Nubian is a "hack" can claim to be as frequently referenced as she is and given the fact that her blog is only six months old it's pretty clear that there's a lot of jealousy going on.
Back in April, I wrote a poem for one of my fellow bloggers and posted it to My Private Casbah. Nubian left a comment about it and that is how I found out that she even knew of me. It might seem kind of silly but I was really, really flattered that she even visited my blog. You see, in my mind, I had created this extremely erroneous impression of her based on what I figured she'd be like. First of all, she's has the keenest mind out of all the black feminist bloggers that I've ever encountered. She's a currently a student in a PhD program at one of the top universities in the United States. And if anyone attempted to describe her and left out the fact that she's absolutely stunning to look at, they're really just being a hater.
Based on all of that, I made the assumption that she was one of those people who probably just revelled in making sure that others recognized her superiority, the kind of girl who could easily get away with regarding the rest of the world with contempt. I think a lot of people look at her and make similar assumptions but they are all as wrong as I was. If you get to know her you'll find out that she's actually a very sensitive human being. Despite the fact that she often reaches out to encourage and console others when they are facing hardships (I have been recipient of her empathy on more than one occasion), some of the people who visit her blog may not realize that she's very affected by the harsh and unfair criticism she receives. Besides those who just don't know much about her, there is an insidious contingent of white feminists that visit her blog who have made it their mission to take her down a few notches and their motives have become crystal clear.
In the beginning of the feminist movement, the white woman reigned supreme. I'm not talking about just any white woman; You had to have a certain amount of leisure time to be able to engage in all those protests and marches and if a woman was the family's sole breadwinner, it was a lot riskier to lose her job just to prove some point, even if it was for a worthy cause. Wikipedia has a nice photo that captures the face of early American feminists here. Also, if you lived in a part of the world where the government didn't tolerate civil disobedience as much as the United States did, women just couldn't organize and consolidate their power that easily.
After awhile, innumerable women around the world decided that, though they did believe that the societal and personal oppression of women needed to come to an end, this feminist movement--as defined and formed by white, western, middle-class, non-disabled women--just didn't meet their needs. As a result, they created a new feminism (sometimes referred to as Womanism), one that addressed the issues that concerned them more than those that were already the pet projects of so many white feminists.
Though they won't admit it, many white feminists resented the fact that women of color, poor women, and disabled women refused to settle for second-class membership in the mainstream feminist movement. After all, mainstream feminists weren't women who had just recently arrived from outer space; These were women who lived in a country that was only able to form and flourish thanks to the long-term subjugation of people of color. If they could obtain the rights that they wanted without having to give up their privileged status as white people, then that made their mission even easier to accomplish and left them with all of the perks that traditionally came with being able to stand on the backs of people of color. This option proved to be too tempting for some white feminists to forego.
If you fast forward to today, this situation has not disappeared and the blogosphere reflects that. There aren't many women of color who have feminism-centered blogs, so when people of color look for feminist writings that they can relate to and they find such a blog, it's a lot like finally reaching an oasis in the desert. Having sites like blac (k) ademic on the internet means that people don't have to settle for whatever bones white feminists are willing to throw at them. Some of us don't think that whether a woman keeps her maiden name or wears makeup matters nearly as much as figuring out how to navigate public assistance programs when you're working two jobs but still don't earn enough to make ends meet. To me, it seems like such a simple thing. Mainstream feminists can keep doing what makes them comfortable and people of color feminists can just write about and work towards solving the problems that we face. However, I've come to see that things aren't that simple.
Every time a non-mainstream feminist like Nubian dares to write about her reality, it challenges the notion that mainstream feminism is what all women need to subscribe to in order to fix the world. That's a problem because mainstream feminism is really faltering. As a matter of fact, I'd say it's a complete flop. The reproductive justice that mainstream feminists thought they had won now needs to be fought for all over again thanks in no small part to their complacency. Their justification for imperialism (e.g. We need to go and rescue those poor third-world women and bring them freedom) meets with increasing opposition from women that have their own ideas about liberation and see no reason to adopt American customs in order to feel free.
Meanwhile, feminist groups like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), Enda Synfev, the Iranian Women's Studies Foundation (IWSF), and the Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women's Rights (TAPWR) are bringing about the real improvements in the lives of women around the world. Notice, all of these groups have a presence on the web but how often do mainstream feminists link to these websites or even talk about their accomplishments? Not often at all. Most of the time they just link to each other and occasionally sprinkle in a link or two from some (usually white) lesbian feminist group for good measure. Sadly it's become a regular good ol' boy network. As is the case with other associations of the same type, it relies on the passivity of the masses in order to maintain itself.
In thinking about this situation, I'm reminded of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" where he responded to the Statement by Eight White Alabama Clergymen.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."
Isn't the attitude of many white mainstream feminists essentially the same as that expressed by the eight white clergymen? They stereotype people of color feminists as too hostile, too divisive, too unwilling to abide by what they see as the natural order of things. That's why they are so threatened by bloggers like Nubian and BrownFemiPower. Even though I am a hell of a lot more aggressive and belligerent than Nubian and BFP, because I am "a cripple" I never face the sort of criticism that they experience. I could come on this blog and say "Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9/11" and I'd probably get the same reaction as Huey Freeman did because people with disabilities are stereotyped as non-threatening, brave, and needy regardless of what we are actually like. When I see Nubian and BFP ready to give up blogging because of the non-stop flow of racist insults from people purporting to be feminists, I wish I could switch places with them for just a little while. The sad thing is, there's no reason why I couldn't.
For far too long feminists of color, feminists with disabilities, and third world feminists have separately attempted to ally with mainstream feminists. I think it's time for us to learn from each other's experiences and give up this notion that mainstream feminists are willing to be good-faith partners in some supposedly common struggle. We need to stop taking it for granted that those who do speak out should be able to "take one for the home team" to times indefinite. As a feminist with disabilities, I can say with authority that we represent a vast un-tapped resource that could be put to use right now. I suspect that within other branches of non-mainstream feminism there are many unused or under-used talents as well. It's time we realized that our feminist movement is actually bigger and more effective than that of the old vanguard. They already see it which is why they are willing to denigrate those who refuse to be their mammies and coddle their egos. Unless we (non-mainstream feminist bloggers) are willing to settle for the sort of negative peace that Dr. King referred to, it's high time we stop sitting idly by while these people attempt to run writers like Nubian out of the blogosphere. It's not enough to just discuss things after bloggers of color are harassed into a state of mental exhaustion. Just like Dr. King took his fight to the heart of the south, we need to start taking our words to the heart of the fight and start firing back whenever we see them attempting to take over the safe spaces that we need in order to accomplish that which they'll never get around to accomplishing for us.
An atmosphere like that will help us hold on to bloggers like Nubian who have a lot to offer in the way of feminist insights but don't have the stomach to deal with the attack dogs. I'm not going to say that this is something other people need to do without getting involved myself, so let me be the first to offer my services. If you're being harassed, just drop a line in my comments section and I'll gladly drop by your blog. Feminists like me just might be the wild card that nobody saw coming. Besides, I always did find it absolutely cathartic to tear jerks like them a new one.