On Being Feminism’s “Ms. Nigga”

Like, late night I’m on a first class flight
The only brother in sight the flight attendant catch fright
I sit down in my seat, 2C
She approach officially talkin about, “Excuse me”
Her lips curl up into a tight space
Cause she don’t believe that I’m in the right place
Showed her my boarding pass, and then she sort of gasped
All embarrassed put an extra lime on my water glass
An hour later here she comes by walkin past
“I hate to be a pest but my son would love your autograph”
(Wowwww.. Mr. Nigga I love you, I have all your albums!..) [...]

For us especially, us most especially
A Mr Nigga VIP jail cell just for me
“If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake”
Just got some shoe-polish, painted my face
They say they want you successful, but then they make it stressful
You start keepin pace, they start changin up the tempo

—”Mr. Nigga,” Mos Def featuring Q-Tip

 

Recently, I was invited to speak at a major feminist event.

It was for a cause I cared deeply about, and I would share the stage with some of the best recognized figures in feminism.

And yet…I hesitated.

Less than three years ago, I would have jumped at this opportunity, delighted to be invited, honored to be included, proud to make my contribution. But that was then.

Now, I read the email with a healthy dose of suspicion.  Why did they want to invite me? They mentioned receiving my name on referral from another marquee named feminist, which made me wonder why the referral was needed.  Did they really need more speakers at this late date? Or did they need to add some color to yet another stage that was sure to be full of white women?

I also instantly felt guilty.  Was I projecting? Over reacting? After all, this was a short notice event. Isn’t the cause more important than my waffling feelings about mainstream, movement oriented feminism? Why was I instantly suspicious of their intent? Can’t I give people the benefit of the doubt for once?

The emotional see-saw over my decisions to participate in feminist focused events has been my constant companion for close to a year or so now, but it took on a new dimension when Jessica Valenti decided to leave Feministing.  That night, I was at a cocktail meetup, when one of my friends grabbed my hand and asked if I heard the news.  I’m a lot more removed from the blogosphere at large these days (our transformation is all consuming at the moment) so I hadn’t seen or heard about the post.  My friend, who is another African American woman, told me to take a look as soon as I got home.  “Basically,” she said, “it was all about her this whole time -she got hers so fuck us!”

So Jessica Valenti’s official departure from Feministing (and Renee’s subsequent response) is why I was actually spurred to write this post, but the problem goes back far longer than just that.

Before we begin, I would like to separate the issue as it stands – representation in mainstream, funded, capital F Feminism, from Jessica Valenti.  It is a bit difficult to do this – after all, Jessica’s site boasts that she was tagged the “poster girl for third-wave feminism” by Salon. To become a symbol of a movement (intentionally or unintentionally) means to also absorb all of the baggage that comes along with being held up as the symbol. And oh, there is baggage.

First, the idea that the third wave has mastered inclusion problems is sadly mistaken, since many of us surfing this new wave still see the rehashing that happens time and time again of second wave and first wave problems. However, it is absolutely amazing how often we see the same problems repeat themselves time and time again – particularly in the blogosphere.

Second, the idea that any one of us can represent the many is inherently flawed. It doesn’t matter who we’re talking about – no one can fully represent the whole of who we are and our varied thoughts and feelings. The trouble is that our current system requires exactly that – certain groups, in order to access a seat at the table, a representative will be assigned. Some folks would call that an attempt at diversity – but it is a nefarious double bind for those of us who get the nod. To refuse to participate may mean that voice is never represented, that the voices are the underrepresented are once again unvoiced, unheard, and perhaps unknown. Unfortunately, absence can be interpreted as a reinforcement of the status quo – if women of color are not present, then the uniformed interpret this to mean we have nothing to say. Or, even worse, it is a reinforcement that critical feminist theorists of color do not exist.

However, to accept the position also means to be pressed into the token spot. To often be the only person versed in issues pertinent to women of color. To have to change what you want to say or do or talk or think about because someone else on the panel just said something so egregious (and something quietly accepted as truth) that you know have to challenge their fucked up worldview.

So, to that end I wanted to share some stories from my life being sporadically dropped into feminist circles and what I have observed there. My hope is that because I’ve accrued some (read: precious little) currency in mainstream circles, that people will seriously reflect on the feminist status quo and recognize the way in which this space encourages tokenization and exploitation.

A Ms. Nigga VIP Panel Spot, Just for me!

I get asked to be on a lot of panels. Normally, being on a panel is a great way to attend a kick ass conference for free. So when I was first starting out, was thrilled to jump on a panel. Exposure, great networking – what’s not to like?

Now, dozens of panels later, I read every panel invitation as if I were trying to break The Da Vinci code. That practice started when I was on a panel a few years back. I had been invited to sit on a panel about women and media, and I thought they asked me to come to represent the digital sector. And perhaps the organizers did. But one of my co-panelists decided she was going to talk about how women didn’t recognize how good we had it. Everytime a panelist or audience member brought up a barrier to women in the industry, she responded by talking about how many gains women had made.

Finally I spoke up. “You said things are so much better for women- but you are only talking about white women. Outside of Oprah, where’s our progress, on or off screen?”

Not only did this woman not answer my question, she acted as if I had called her a racist. For some reason, she felt the need to inform the room about how she attends vibrant multicultural celebrations in her hometown that “celebrate differences.”

Now, what the fuck did that have to do with me pointing out that she had erased the experiences of women of color in the entertainment industry in all of her responses? Nothing. But I don’t think she was responding to my question – she was responding to my tokenized presence in that environment. It was instant defense mode – “let me prove how not racist I am,” not “let’s examine the disparity that exists when one says women and really means white women.”

Earlier this year, I opted to join a feminist media luncheon. I accepted and planned out my statements – I really wanted to stress the opportunities in the new media space, and encourage the young women to branch out from standard “feminist” conversations and instead go into other types of spaces and apply feminist concepts to the general threads there.

And the beginning of the conversation went well. However the third panelist, who arrived a bit later, started changing the tone of the conversation. It isn’t that this speaker intentionally set out to minimize the experiences of anyone who isn’t in line with the mainstream version of feminism – but her second-wave swagger and broad sweeping statements had the same effect.

Then I found myself at a crossroads – do I start talking about what I intended to and let her statements go unchallenged? Or do I once again have to represent for folks who aren’t in the room, to people who would most likely repeat the mistakes of their fore-mothers because they never learned anything different?

So once again, I swallowed what I wanted to say and instead talked about race, class, and structural injustice.

I felt like I had to take the loss for the greater good of team POC.  Why? Because tokens are inherently disempowered, no matter how much we want things to be different. To not represent is equally as painful as the knowledge that I am silencing myself when I do so. But these are the terrible choices we are forced to endure when people are willing to accept tokens in lieu of equity.

The Price We All Pay

Occasionally, we’ve run pieces about the cost of racism on Racialicious, many cross posted from our friends at Resist Racism.  One of my favorites, “The Cost of Racism” talks about how white supremacy has convinced itself of its own correctness (emphasis mine):

White people are raised in an environment in which they are regularly assured of their superiority. Their experts are white, like them. And they often live in segregation, thus denying them the opportunity to be exposed to other viewpoints.

What happens in a culture of white supremacy? White people assume that they are the experts. Even in the absence of any history, education or knowledge.

The most blatant example of this is when a white person (typically a white man) is pontificating about a subject and is challenged when a person of color expresses an opinion.  The white person will assume that the person of color knows nothing about the subject and will strive to “correct” him or her.  I’ve had this happen when a white person who was not in my field was speaking with authority about something in my field.  They never assume that you might actually be knowledgeable on the subject, nor do they assume that you might have professional credentials.  (I’d also note that this is a very common experience on the part of people of color.  And I recently heard a anecdote about this happening to a writer of color with a white man who was discussing her book.  Only he didn’t know she had written it.)

It does not cross their minds.  This is racism. [...]

When people are not regularly exposed to alternative viewpoints, and when other viewpoints are not carefully considered but instead immediately discounted, the end result is a people who lack the ability to think critically. Because they never learned to consider all the evidence.  They learned only who they need to listen to.

And it is this that we bump up against, time and time again.

Here’s another story.  I get an email from a writer who wants to quote me in a piece for an international newspaper about misogyny and hip-hop. This person stresses what a good opportunity for exposure this would be for me and my blog.  This person does not mention the extensive writing I’ve done on hip-hop, feminism, and everything in between.  This person did not appear to notice that I had already written extensively about the song and video in question.  Hell, this person didn’t appear to realize that I had already written extensively for the same international newspaper they were writing for, across a couple different sections.

So I ignored the email (which is easy for me to do, since I get about an email a minute most days).  But this person persisted, and emailed the person who referred me to ask for a proper introduction. In the magazine writing world, one of the first things you learn is that introductions are golden – here is a trusted person emailing someone you want to get in touch with saying “Hey, can you take the time to talk to this person?”  Why the initial offer was refused is beyond me.

But, the referral person sent me the whole email chain from this writer. And the writer’s initial email was to the referral, with a nice gushy line about their work and how they admired them, and would they please consider commenting. The referral noted she was not the best person to answer this question, and sent that person on to me.

The person who referred me is a white, well-known feminist that does NOT write about hip-hop. She’s a generalist, and she writes about a bit of everything.  Which brings me back to Resistance’s point above: why, if one is writing about hip hop and misogyny, would you go to a generalist, rather than an expert?

Why would you seek the opinion of someone who rarely, if ever writes about hip hop on a piece about hip hop? This person didn’t need to quote me as an expert.  They could have quoted Renina. Or any of the Crunk Feminists.  Or the R.N. Bradley, the Red Clay Scholar. Or any of the ladies at Clutch. Or Tricia Rose. Or Elizabeth Mendez Berry. Or Joan Morgan. Or Gwyndolyn Pough. Or look at men who identify as feminist or do feminist work – what about Byron Hurt who created a whole documentary on hip-hop and gender? What about Mark Anthony Neal? Need someone more well known? What about Melissa Harris-Perry?

Or, if this person is such a huge fan of mainstream feminism, why not reach out to the ladies at Feministing.com, the largest feminist hub in the blogosphere, and holler at Samhita, who is a hip hop head AND has the high profile position of Executive Editor? Why not Rose, who has also written extensively about hip-hop? And these are just the folks I can think of off the top of my head.

It’s the invisibility that burns. Amazing writing from all kinds of people is only a search box  away – yet, since we are not filed under “listen to,” we are ignored. And we are ignored in favor of people who will admit to not being experts on the topic or not having certain types of experiences.  This is when we start moving into erasure territory.  It isn’t that we are not out there, putting work into the public consciousness.  It’s that our words don’t count until they fall from the lips of a white girl.

I can only speak to my particular areas, which heavily focus on race and class.  But there are a lot of folks silenced because they don’t fit the profile La Lubu so helpfully outlines on Feministe:

“The feminist blogosphere is: young, but not too young (25-35); mostly white (and of northern european extraction); middle to upper-middle class; highly educated (always degreed, usually grad school or law degree); able-bodied and healthy; non-religious (but typically with a Protestant or Jewish background); childfree by choice (also not a caretaker of an elderly or disabled adult); body size from thin to very thin; cisgender; heterosexual; conventionally feminine/pretty; fashionable; not employed in a nontraditional (>25% female participation) workforce; native English speaking (family of origin usually native English speaking also); non-indigenous and several generations removed from immigrant ancestors; raised in a nuclear family (either intact or divorced—but not “unwed” or extended family); lives in a large metropolis; favors capitalism; unmarried/unpartnered (meaning: no formal or legal ties of responsibility to a partner); never incarcerated (no family incarcerated either); and has plenty of personal contact with people in positions of actual power (gets invited to policymaking meetings/summits).”

I hit a lot of these myself:  27 years old (started here when I was about 23 or 24), able bodied, childfree by choice, cisgender, heterosexual, native English speaking, large metropolis dwelling, neutral on capitalism, currently unmarried, never incarcerated, and recently, I discovered that I’ve been thrust into contact with a lot of people in positions of actual power.  But the other things, that I don’t fit?  They figure prominently into how others perceive me.

Much Ado About Book Deals

The term “book deal” has become short hand for a whole host of other things, most specifically how the words of some women are valued over others.  It’s also kind of seen as a low-level litmus test for “making it.”  If a person without a book deal criticized someone with a book deal, they would normally be tagged as “jealous,” angry that they don’t have one of these coveted agreements that vaults you into expert status. The other side of that criticism is more quiet, kind of a whisper, but it persists nonetheless: “If your writing was better, you would have a book deal too.”

So let’s talk about book deals, shall we?

I write in this space having contributed to two anthologies, multiple magazines, dozens of online outlets, and am about to pen my first foreward for a friend’s book about the Black Blogosphere. I am also delinquent in an academic chapter I owe to another friend about the Intersectional Internet. (If you’re reading, Doc Dre, I swear I’ll get it done, Jessica Yee as my 11th hour witness!)

The first time I was informed about the politics of book deals was 2008. The first time I was offered a book deal based on the Racialicious blog was also 2008 (and, to my knowledge, that offer still stands).  The first time I was introduced to a book agent was 2009, and the first time I was offered a personal book deal was 2010.

I still haven’t written a fucking book.

So, I say this to diffuse the she’s just jealous allegations by saying it outright – I could have a book deal, tomorrow, if I wanted and it would be on the shelves by winter. But I have not committed to a book yet.

This is partially due to (1) the politics surrounding book deals and (2) my complete and utter lack of interest in penning a memoir.

The latter reason should be fairly obvious to long time readers – I am very careful about revealing personal information about myself, and I would prefer to keep as much of my life as possible private.  Memoirs are super popular in the publishing world right now, so that’s what folks tend to push me toward.

The discussion of politics…well, let’s go back in time for a bit.

Back in 2008, I was a complete and total n00b, honored to attend my very first conference, Women, Action, and the Media.  It was the first time I had ever spoken on a panel before, so I was grateful to have Carmen steering the ship and Wendi Muse in the shotgun position.  Up until that point, we weren’t super involved in the feminist space – Carmen had been featured in Bitch Magazine and received a wave of (well-deserved) attention for her effortless discussion of race and gender issues.  Still, we were definitely the race kids invited to the gender party, so we didn’t really know what kind of space we stepped into.

And what I recall most about the time was how many friends we made.  Andi Ziesler and Lisa Jervis from Bitch Magazine introduced themselves – they proved to be great friends early on.  Bitch published my first (and favorite) magazine piece and Lisa Jervis floated my name in a lot of circles, which allowed me to rack out freelance credits later.  The most of the Feministing crew was there and they put on a fabulous dinner to promote their then new direction and site redesign.  I met tons of people, and everywhere, there was the feel of opportunity.  I remember being told, twice, to hit the after party after the evening’s official festivities close.  “Two people got book deals last year!” I was informed, though I appear to have forgotten who told me this.  No matter.

Since Carmen, Wendi, and I were also interested in caucusing with the Women of Color contingent at the conference (see this link), we ended up splitting our time between two events – the Feministing dinner and the QWOC and friends party, ultimately skipping the after party.  (This is a *really* abbreviated version of events, mind – I’m only telling the book deal centric bits of the story.)

That same day, Wendi and I had attended a pre-caucus lunch where we found out that a pretty awesome writer, Adele Nieves, had sat down with a publisher called Seal Press to pitch her idea for an anthology.  From what I can recall about the initial pitch, it was about bringing marginalized voices to the center of feminist discourse – a book on feminism without the usual suspects.  However, the person who sat down with her completely missed why such a book was needed, and informed Nieves that the book just wouldn’t sell without a brand name feminist, like Jessica Valenti.

So, then came the fallout. And much of the discussions afterward explained why the ideas of book deals became so central to a lot of these debates.

Just add my name to the list of those who are no longer sure if we can simply “take feminism back.” Or even if it’s worth it. It’s not like there aren’t other movements out there that actually respect women — that are led by women and folks of many other genders, that work to improve women’s lives. This exodus from single-issue politics has been happening for a long time. At the same time, I want to believe that change is possible. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I know mistakes are made, and I know mistakes can be repaired — even mistakes that highlight what I believe is the single worst problem inside of “the feminist movement” today.

Look, we all have a problem here in the feminist blogosphere. I hope that all of you bloggers will agree with me on this problem: some feminist bloggers have access to a bigger megaphone than others, and you have to be deluded to think that’s based on anything remotely resembling a meritocracy. I’m sorry — no matter how talented you are, how good a writer, how intellectually sharp and beautifully passionate, there are other things about you that play a very significant role in how you’re heard, who hears you, whether you get heard at all. That is the tough shit about the ugly world we live in — it’s not truly fair to anyone, because true fairness would be getting evaluated solely on your own merits. Nobody is — but of course, some people get the long end of the stick, and others the short end. Others are marginalized. If you don’t get that, please go read some racism 101 somewhere, okay?

(It’s interesting to note – I miss Holly’s work. She left the feminist blogosphere – like many women on the losing side of many of these battles -  to focus on other, real world based projects.)

It really isn’t fun to dredge up all the things that went on, particularly as I’d rather not think about it for too long, but it is necessarily to do so.  Because people forget.  Time went on, and this thing I remember so well as a pivotal turning point in the feminist blogosphere is history.  Digital dust. Which is why Irin at Jezebel had no idea why so many people could see where Renee was going with her piece – all this back story was forgotten.

So it’s not about the book deal. It’s about all the issues tied up in it – access to power, marketability,  the transmission of ideas challenges, (perceived and otherwise) to mainstream norms – all kinds of things.  I hang in a lot of mainstream spaces, and I have figured out the formula that unlocks things like book deals and radio appearances and television appearances and speaking gigs.  So please believe, I know the game.  And despite the fact that some of us are able to make it, the deck is stacked. Over on Jezebel, someone inquired about why Jessica received a lot of criticism for her work, and Carmen and I received much much less for similar work.  After explaining that the race space is dramatically underfunded and underexposed when compared to feminism, I said:

While I have been blessed and honored to have many of the same opportunities as many of my white, female contemporaries, ultimately I am not the face people think of when they think feminism. I could probably eke out a living there, but only as second or third string. The stars tend to fit a certain mold. That’s not a diss on Jessica (it’s really hard to talk about these things when you actually know folks) but it’s kind of like trying to get a job as an actress. Yes, you can do it if you aren’t conventionally attractive and you can even have a fun, character driven career. But you aren’t getting the best opportunities or top billing or top dollar. The conversations around book deals and such sounds like professional sour grapes, but it is actually folks protesting a system that don’t see my words as valuable as Jessicas – for a thousand and one reasons from marketing to societal structures.

The internet is littered with reasons why so many WOC opt out (of the blogosphere format anyway) – hell, the feminism tag on Racialicious should really be named “feminist drama.” I poached Thea Lim and Jessica Yee away from a feminist mag for this bullshit.

I hate that this is resting on the feet of Jessica, because this problem didn’t begin with her and won’t end with her. But I can understand feeling some rage at seeing that pattern play out yet again.

My entire piece for Jessica Yee’s Feminism for Real was based in this internal conflict, and unfortunately, I haven’t arrived at a solution within myself. The event I referenced at the beginning of the piece? I declined. Over the weekend I accepted two panel invitations. One read:

We love the voice and leadership you bring to the feminist movement, and we hope you will join us to have a dynamic, smart, and rollicking good conversation with Gloria Steinem, that will rock people’s socks and challenge the notion that feminism is just about white women above a certain age.

For their sake, I hope they understand what they just asked for.

Want to Keep Reading?

Lisa Factora-Borchers – Accepting Kyriarchy, Not Apologies

Latoya Peterson – The Or vs. The And – Women of Color and Mainstream Feminism

Mai’a – We Don’t Need Another Anti-Racism 101

 

 

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  • http://profiles.google.com/danielle.henderson Danielle Henderson

    Great, great writing here, LaToya. I just got accepted to graduate school, and my entire thesis is about how the feminist movement has failed women of color. I’d love to talk more about this.

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  • Anonymous

    as a black woman in the academy, i cannot thank you enough for this!

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  • Sewere

    Hey Latoya,

    I don’t get to say this enough but I for one am glad for all your contributions to the discourse on race, gender and class. Your voice and leadership continue to play a vital role and I always read everything you have to say. It was sad and infuriating that after the fall out from WAM 2008 there was no public apology or an adequate response to Blackamazon. Even now, in more than a week since you wrote your post, I have yet seen an adequate response to your post or a public apology to Renee.

  • http://yikes101.blogspot.com/ BAC

    Excellent work, Latoya! Thanks for pulling the history together in one piece, think I will go back and read it again!

  • Daniel W.

    I am glad you spoke about tokenization. Often times, I get pulled into doing a token thing, and I too have the internal conflict. They will censor me. But at least I am speaking. What if someone in the crowd really needs something and I am the only one that can say it but these fuckers won’t let me, and do I really need to give a preview of what I want to say because I am “young” (but been doing this stuff since I was 12) and haven’t been on the “in” of professionalism (which is code for white looking + suit + proper English and no accent).
    I also wanted to give a thumbs up for Mai’a’s piece. I was in a spot like her post describes, and I too have left Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression training because I just got tired of working with White people that would have blocks at times, and just wanted to go to groups LIKE ME. Rather than telling folks HEY, YOU CAN LIKE ME! Thank you so much for that.

  • B’more Guy

    I join the choir in saying, thank you. It can often be difficult to re-open the wounds created (whether intentionally or not) by excluding, limiting, or diminishing voices in a movement. I’m inspired to move my own pieces of work with social justice causes by your honesty and integrity. I can only speak from my own experiences as a gay white male from a working class background to say that when we remove chairs from the table where discussions and dialogue happen so that voices are diminished then we do our movement (and individual movements) a grave disservice. The fractures we create will only lead to earthquakes that have the potential to break apart everything we work to create.

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  • http://randombabble.com OuyangDan

    Wow, Latoya, you have no idea how much respect I have for you in this moment.

    I was really young in The Movement when Adele had pegged me out of No kidding Where to write a piece for that anthology, and now, just reading about that whole event even briefly, it is still pretty painful. You forget how much a moment affects you…

    I just had to vocalize my agreement for how well needed the words you laid out here are.

  • Tomi

    Very thought-provoking. Appreciate the honesty and thought that clearly went into this piece.

  • Paula

    Well, I’m only a lurker in the world of politics blogs and I don’t really participate in any of the larger feminist blogs. But I remember this episode very well and to be honest it played a large part in not taking any of this social media too seriously as political tools. It was discouraging and sad that many women who were my generational peers still had so little understanding of intersectionality.

    Did you ever see this blog?

    http://dearwhitefeminists.wordpress.com/

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  • Anonymous

    The Hoyden About Town link was the most complete version of events. Excerpts from the Seal Press blog that was removed was there, along with excerpts and links to the most pertinent posts, organized more or less chronologically. This was an extensive, multi part controversy that needed to be explained fairly quickly.

    There is no linking or naming of certain players due to personal reasons that started very soon after I got into the blogosphere and continued until 2009 or so. I have no desire to rehash the reasons for why this is in a public forum, though since much of this played out publicly, there are little breadcrumbs everywhere.

    But, let’s just say this – since I strive to be kinder than my instincts tell me to be, and since I am not sure if I could mention certain events without malice, and since I am loathe to unleash the same type of psychic violence on someone else that was put upon me, I’d rather allow folks to find their way, rather than point the way.

  • Ananda Leeke

    Thank you for this informative piece. I needed to read it. Keep shining and speaking your truth.

  • http://redclayscholar.blogspot.com R.N. Bradley

    Wow, Latoya. That’s all I can muster right now besides “chuch.” Those are some giants you put me in the game with heavy hitters. No pressure, no pressure. LOL.

    But seriously, that “chuch” was for the timeliness of this piece. It’s amazing how the folks who can speak on it are often overlooked for the folks who might look like they can speak on it.

    You ain’t a token. You’re a legend in the making *cue the “Oprah’s Favorite Things” show audience applause*

  • Tessamuldvarp

    Wow, that was brilliant and heartfelt and thoughtful and distressing. I’ve been a long-time feminist blogosphere reader (rarely a commentator) and this piece really opened my eyes heaps. Thank you for writing this.

  • mandy

    A hundred times… YES! Had to post this to the social networking sites. Critical thinking is important to share.

  • bluesky

    I could praise this post forever. I’m so glad I gave up Feministing (and Feministe, which was admittedly less toxic). This is my favorite part:

    It really isn’t fun to dredge up all the things that went on, particularly as I’d rather not think about it for too long, but it is necessarily to do so. Because people forget.

    It’s something that hits home every time I use Twitter. I see progressive POC (men and women with large platforms, people who write for major print publications) engaging with (or linking to articles by) Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti. It still surprises me (and guts me). I just want to scream, “Don’t you remember?!?”

  • Squinn

    I have been reading this blog for three years and I have never before commented but I just want to say THANK YOU LATOYA your work is incredible. This piece is so brave and straightforward and complex and just killin it, another example of the depth and power of this space. THANK YOU I have learned so much here

  • Anonymous

    Yup, I completely agree. I think I have a mental breakdown once a week dealing with these similar issues and thoughts. And, of course, when I am ready to share them I always feel as though I am the angry black woman who just has to talk about race. Being a african american is tough. Being a self-identified female african american is even harder and being a women of color feminist can be excruciating. I seriously wonder if the feminist movement is just another form of a corporation sometimes… it’s all about who you know and which cocktail you went to. Are we really making huge strides? I guess I keep going and identifying as a feminist because I think we do, and/or I think we can.

    I’m looking forward to speaking with you about all of this. Or, you know what, not having to and just hanging out with a drink next month. See you soon (and write you with details even sooner)!

  • Pia Guerrero

    Thank you for this piece. In 1998, we founded in http://www.adiosbarbie.com to expand the conversation around body image to include power, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, culture and ability. While I am proud of our work, I have been frustrated over time with our visitor’s singular concern with white women’s body and eating issues. When I speak of our work to some privileged white women, they glaze over when I mention race and class. I believe they feel that it is not “their” issue. A dismal fact. I’ve chosen to continue being a stand for what I’m committed to because it is necessary. But it is extremely isolating and exhausting. (Upper-middle class white women’s body issues are not “my” issue.) That said, I am a bi-racial Mexican, who enjoys white skin privilege. This fact grants me access to feminist arenas that I might not otherwise have felt welcome or included. It also allows me to voice facts and opinions that, were it not for the color of my skin, would leave many “uncomfortable”.

    The fact remains that marketable feminism is driven by an old girls network. And like a high-school clique, to be included the queen bee has to see value in you as a means to promote their own agenda and popularity. So if it weren’t Jessica Valenti in the spotlight wouldn’t it be another royally anointed white feminist? I know one thing for sure, it wouldn’t be a woc or white feminist committed to dismantling racism and classism. That would be too threatening to the establishment.

  • Snarksy

    Latoya, I am just a lowly reader around the corners of the blog-o-sphere, and I rarely, if ever comment on any of these blogs; but I saw the chorus of praise for you wanted to echo these a bit.

    I am not a WOC, and I don’t want to pretend that I can appropriate this experience. However, other things I am not: over 25, wealthy, connected in any way to anyone important, college-educated, mainstreamed, etc. When I first came into my feminism, my gateway was Feministing, and I started with the dream of breaking into the ranks, a la Valenti. A lot of observation and soul-searching has brought me to some of your same conclusions about possibility and inclusivity within the feminist movement. So, on the one hand, I wanted to thank you for validating the fears of a lot of us who don’t see ourselves in the target audience of Jezebel & Co. (I love a lot of this writing, yes, but I feel totally erased by class & age assumptions in many posts.)

    But even more broadly, I just wanted to say, thank you for this blog. Sincere, sincere, thanks. I love what you guys post over here, and it is a constant source of comfort and inspiration. A lot of blogs say they are about “women” but are only about certain women. Your tag says “race, culture and identity” and yet you manage to be inclusive and aware of persons from all walks of life. I feel much more at home in this space, than in a place where I feel forced to pretend I have cultural currency that is not natural to me. I often find myself forwarding links from this site to people when I am exhausted of debating issues you cover over here regularly. It is wonderful to have this resource.

    Finally, I just want to thank you on behalf of all the ignorant-ass things I have managed to avoid. I’m obviously not perfect, and neither is my feminism. I am grateful that I found sites like Racialicious early in my progressive journey. Because I /didn’t/ know a damn thing about Native/Indigenous issues, differentiation of cultural/ethnic groups in the Latin world, the politics of hair, and a host of other issues. This site wasn’t built to set young-persons like myself straight, but as an off-shoot, it has, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

    Latoya, I hope you find more acceptance, understanding and success in the future. You are incredible, and you are making real differences in real people’s lives. Thank you so much.

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  • Anonymous

    This essay made me want to punch the wall on your behalf. How frustrating to be such an accomplished person and yet to be tokenized over and over again by the ignorant! I’m reminded of an essay that Samuel R. Delany wrote several years ago (and I’m pretty sure I learned about it thanks to Racialicious in the first place) in which he was remarking on the fact that sci-fi convention after convention, he kept getting paneled with/tabled with Octavia Butler, even though he AND she had much more in common with other authors- it was just that they both were- well, you know. And at first he was like, “Ok,” and then he was like, “Wait what?”

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  • Winn

    Latoya,

    Thanks so much for this, even though it was painful to read and remember (obviously much more so for those directly involved in some of the racefail, but having been a former reader of Feministing, and a long-time reader of Womanist Musings and Jezebel, it hit close to home). I just want to tell you that for so many of us WOC trying to navigate our way in feminist spaces and determine how relevant and helpful we even consider them to be, you are an important beacon. The ones you’ve taken for the team on panels, in contributions at other blogs as well as in your various writings, and especially in the running of this site, have been to our benefit, and it is recognized, believe me. What you’ve taken on can be a soul-sucking beatdown, but you keep speaking truth to power and finding places and avenues for your voice to be heard (and other marginalized voices along with you). It matters. I know you know that, but it bears repeating.

  • RA

    thank you so much for writing this. you have articulated what i find so hard to articulate when it comes to WOC in feminist spaces.

  • http://twitter.com/DocDre André Brock

    good writing. came here from Carmen’s retweet. Still love you and I can’t be mad, since I believe I owe you some verbiage as well.

    keep up the good work!

    • http://www.facebook.com/carmen.sognonvi Carmen Sognonvi

      Yay! These days I tweet without really expecting anyone to read my stuff. LOL! So glad I was able to point at least one person to this post. (Not that you wouldn’t have come across it anyway.)

  • Anonymous

    Hey Liz! You coming to SXSW this year?

    Thanks for the support, much appreciated.

    I actually do get paid to speak, it’s a weird (and still rigged game though.) Basically, there are four main levels of speaker.

    Pitching Panelist – When you pitch a conference to allow you to speak. SXSW is like this. Generally, they comp admission but nothing else.

    Invited Panelist – This is like what I just did with Harvard BLSA. They invited me to come out and comped travel/accommodations/admission. Occasionally you receive a small fee ($100 or so) as an honorarium.

    Speaker – This happens occasionally. Normally you get travel/accommodations plus a small honorarium ($100 – 500 ballpark) as a supporting speaker.

    Keynoter – The holy grail of speaking. Not only do they invite you, but you get VIP guest status and paid. $500+. I’ve done a handful of keynotes, but no where near as many as Carmen did and not for near the amount of money that she demanded. But you know, I also don’t really market or advertise, which I need to start doing more of.

    But yes, at this point, I am way over grateful. I still do a lot of things for free (like speaking at alternative high schools) but seriously, big name feminist foundations with a bunch of cash? You can’t front a plane ticket? For all the BS I’m about to put up with? No thanks…

    • Piacguerrero

      Unfortunately big name feminist organizations are cutting funding or have completely stopped funding for social justice and youth development groups on the ground doing work. Period. So it doesn’t surprise me that they aren’t funding speakers at conferences. As a community worker, I have to say I’d rather the funds go to the groups. But I do think there are ways to honor both.

  • http://www.myecdysis.com Lisa Factora-Borchers

    Mhm. Mhm. Mhm.

    This was good, Latoya, but it was like opening a very painful scrapbook of hate. I remember all of that and to read it all is still really hard, but – as you write – necessary because YES people do forget.

    And I’m with you about conferences. Being burned or ignored or dismissed at a conference is a all-hell wound that bleeds for a long time. I just am getting back to conference participation. My last public conference speaking engagement: WAM 2008.

    Three years ago. That’s how bad the wound was.

    • Anonymous

      Oh heavens Lisa.

      You and I both know I could have gone on for days and days just about what happened at WAM. And then what happened between WOC and RWOC and that interesting convo on your blog.

      Scrapbook of hate indeed. Lordy. This is another one of those hurt to write pieces, but I mean, it had to get said sometime.

      Luckily though, wounds do heal. Mostly.

  • http://crommunist.wordpress.com Crommunist

    Latoya,

    As a black man active in the atheist movement, I can appreciate some of the frustration and head-spinning contradiction of whether or not you want to be “the black one” on the panel. It’s often the same for female atheists, all of whom have interests outside of vagina-having, but who inevitably have to talk about what it’s like to be “a female”.

    If I could, I’d offer a pair of suggestions. First, perhaps make part of the subject of any panel talks about this exact issue – how feminism needs to broaden its view and consider that there are PoC women out there who aren’t enjoying the full fruits of the movement. Second, why not suggest that your participation is contingent on them inviting another PoC to sit with you on the panel – sure it’s double-tokenism but it could go a long way to disrupt the tokenist image (just make sure you’re not sitting together :P)

    Combine both for a fruity taste sensation.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Crommunist –

      Yeah – I talked the first panel over with a friend, and she said to make my two minutes about that. But then I wouldn’t be able to talk about what I actually cared about. Though I did take this last one just for this reason.

      Love the second contingency plan. Normally, when I turn something down (and folks aren’t too token-seeking) I recommend other P/WOC to fill the spot, but I like the whole flexing power thing. They will RESPECT OUR AUTHORITIE!

      Now, our plan was just to start making our own conferences and speaker series, but I think yours is easier to implement. :)

      • Anonymous

        The second plan would serve as a pretty good litmus test -if they get defensive you’ll know right away that it’s a waste of your time and they don’t want inclusion, just tokenism.

    • http://www.facebook.com/carmen.sognonvi Carmen Sognonvi

      I too love the idea of making them invite another PoC! Latoya, you’re gonna have to try that out and let us know how it works. :)

  • Ruric

    Latoya, this is an amazing essay. I’ve always loved reading your work, and I’m really grateful you took the time to explain the history. I have always been a lurker in the blogosphere, and I remember the events you mention here. What I never understood, is that some of it happened in real life, and that context was missing from subsequent internet discussions. At the time, I desperately tried to understand what happened, but I never knew that I was missing a few pieces of the puzzle. This topic has haunted me forever since then, because as a South East Asian woman who has always identified as feminist, I desperately wanted to understand why some women of color have problems with feminism. And I became defensive because feminism is a topic that is very dear to me. But I grew up in my native country in South East Asia and I never had to experience racial prejudice until I lived in Western countries. I’ve read about it, but I never had any personal experience. So even though technically I can be described as a woman of color, I just don’t identify with the label, because in my home country I am simply a woman. In a sense I am like the clueless white feminist who just doesn’t get racial issues, even though I am not white. And with that I’d like to add (if I may) to La Lubu’s quoted definition, that the blogosphere is overwhelmingly US-centric. I don’t mean to say that’s a bad thing, just that it may seem so obvious to many of its participants it’s never even mentioned.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Ruric –

      Of course!

      The blogosphere is massively US centric – even four years after Restructure called me out for dividing the world into “domestic” and “international” on blog, I still slip up, as do many of us writers here. (Chally over at Feministe has done wonderful work around this.)

      This does get explored in WOC circles sometimes. There was a good post from Mai’a on this:

      http://guerrillamamamedicine.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/am-i-a-woman-of-color/

      As well as a post from Lisa, where it got interestingly transnational in the comments:

      http://www.myecdysis.com/2009/02/who-you-calling-radical-conversations-between-woc-and-rwoc/

      But I would definitely love to see more discussion transitionally in the blogosphere.

      • http://www.redlightpolitics.info/ Red Light Politics

        I am neither American nor do I live in the US, and let me tell you, it is very, very difficult to carve blog spaces that are not US Centric. I suspect some of it might be language related, especially when someone blogs in English. Those of us who speak other languages could switch to them, but then we would be invisible to the rest of the world, except from the world that speaks those languages.

        I know Latoya’s piece focuses on American feminism, but the situation is not so different with its European counterpart. One need not look further than the discussions about Muslim women currently taking part in Europe and how White feminists (and even White feminist politicians, who should be inclusive by virtue of representing a constituency) are quick to jump into the Islamophobe bandwagon, “for the good of Muslim women”.

        And then there is yet another set of pretty unique issues to European feminism: local languages and how one’s access to spaces of influence will be dependent on how accent-less and/ or flawlessly one can speak the native language of those places. It is yet another way to filter out the voices of immigrant women.

  • Moni

    Wow. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am not a feminist blogger, but the experiences detailed here really resonated with me for a variety of reasons.