I have recently been empowered. Technically, I make a living calling out content that is problematic and offensive, supporting it with theory and research, and explaining the history of intergroup relations in the United States and its effects on attitudes, behavior, and discourse. However, in real life, I, as a woman and a person of color, am repeatedly encouraged to step back and acquiesce to the voices of socially dominant individuals.
The current movements to make visible the voices of the oppressed (e.g., #BlackLivesMatter, #ChangeTheName, #CarryThatWeight) have given me strength to know that my voice is valuable. Despite social training to the contrary, it is my right to express my thoughts. I will not be afraid to share my expertise outside of the classroom. I will point out biases in the language of others. I will help others become aware of the cognitive associations that affect our words, actions, and beliefs. I won’t back down.
Please know that I do not want to fight, but I am willing to fight for what I believe in. The following is a recounting of one such interaction in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, I read a great article on Salon by Cera Byer entitled “To my White male Facebook friends,” which addressed how individuals who may not be as intimately affected by current issues of social injustice can still be allies by simply listening to the experiences of others and not getting defensive. I shared this with my students via Facebook and Twitter with the comment, “To my White friends. #Racism comes in different forms, including refusingl [sic] to hear others’ problems. #EricGarner” I retweeted it from my personal account.
Within minutes, I received a reply from a man that I hung out with a few times in graduate school almost a decade ago. He wrote…
I quickly questioned my synonymous use of melanin and ethnic identity, but before I could post a clarification, he replied…
I am not sure how an abstract profile picture can identify one’s racial identity, but I figured that I was somehow in the wrong for assuming that a response often given by White Americans as a defense against attack of White privilege (i.e.,“I don’t see color”) indicated that he was White, or that he was being defensive. I quickly corrected myself and included a link to research demonstrating a correlation colorblind racial ideology and racism, both online and offline.
To which he replied…
Just as I though we were about to engage in a legitimate conversation about ethnic identity, race relations, and the faulty narrative of colorblindness, he hit me with a rendition of “Don’t be so sensitive.” I would not let this slide. His post relied on the the assumption that I (as a woman? as a person of color? as a member of a stigmatized group?) am overly emotional and cannot avoid pushing my attitudes on others. I returned to the original comment that sparked the conversation to elaborate my interpretation of his defensiveness.
I included a post from Stacey Patton, Ph.D. on Chronicle; “Dear White Academics” describes microaggressions pervasive in academia at all levels (e.g., student to professor, professor to student, student to student, faculty to faculty). The quote, “This professor takes herself and her subject too seriously” is embedded in a larger discourse that disempowers the the passion of professors for issues that are not normal, hegemonic, or mainstream.
He favorited this tweet and replied with “=D”. He then followed that bit of virtual support with…
Since we were on a roll, I pointed out his assumption that, by defending my ideas and myself, I “want to fight,” and that this conversation could never be a valid exchange of ideas because he had already determined my motivations.
ABW stands for “Angry Black Woman,” the stereotype that all Black women are angry and eager to fight; the stereotype is so pervasive, it was deployed in a recent New York Times article to poke fun at Shonda Rhimes. This stereotype is also used to disregard the opinions of any stigmatized group stereotyped to be incapable of dispassionate discussion (e.g., Justice Sotomayor and the phrase “wise Latina,” Judge Walker in the Prop 8 Case). Hopefully he clicked on the hashtag to learn more about this historical discourse, but I doubt it based on his next reply.
Nope. Still fucked up. This tweet assumes that I engaged in this conversation only to achieve some kind of internet fame and, more frustratingly, that I should know my place. His claim of “I thought you knew me” made no sense; we ate dinner once 10 years ago, which does not translate to deep interpersonal knowledge transcending time and space. Nor does it mean that I should interpret his comments in some way other than the most evident. This was the most blatant reference to a theme present throughout the dialogue: that I was stepping out of line. “I wish you would stop projecting;” “You want to fight don’t you?” and the final, “Enjoy the @Klout.” I continued to respond to these attacks with facts and information about the historical nature of his implications.
I was happy to continue, but he blocked me from his Twitter feed, metaphorically silencing my voice, but in reality allowing his voice to continue unopposed. I could have called him out on anything because he adamantly refused to recognize that the history of expected race and gender relations was evident in his posts: that his moral superiority could be hidden behind “colorblindness,” an inherently problematic racial strategy; that me calling out these associations was emotional “projection” and indicated an argumentative nature; and that sharing my knowledge, opinions, and life experience must have some ulterior motive.
This person clearly does not know me; otherwise, he would know that it is my job to shed light on these biases for those unaware of how a pervasive and elusive racist and sexist history affect attitudes and behaviors. This person was clearly displeased when I refused to roll over and acquiesce to his statements, or take it at face value that he is “for the cause,” despite deploying old and tired stereotypes. Most importantly, this person was clearly uninterested in being made aware of his own cognitive associations.
I generally avoid engaging on social media in these sort of political discussions, instead reserving my energy for my students, but I realize that this is a choice, not a social requirement. And, although engaging with cognitively stunted individuals seems masochistic, I feel ready. The schoolings will continue until discourse improves.