Using your Voice Makes You a Target

By Guest Contributor M.Dot, cross-posted from New Model Minority

Returning a book back to the library Monday, I decided to look at the magazine section. I came across the most recent issue of The Nation and decided to pick it up. I know that Professor Harris Perry had discourse with Cornel West and Chris Hedges in May around President Obama’s positions and policies around race, racial alliances, identity and class. So I decided to read this article because it seemed to be a follow up to the conversation. It also helped that the title was “Breaking News: Not All Black Intellectuals Think Alike.” #Heheheh.

A particular part of the article spoke to me, the section where she connects voice to citizenship. She writes:

Citizenship in a democratic system rests on the ability to freely and openly choose, criticize and depose one’s leaders. This must obtain whether those leaders are elected or self-appointed. It cannot be contingent on whether the critiques are accurate or false, empirical or ideological, well or poorly made. Citizenship is voice. West exercised his voice, and I mine. But the history and persistence of racial inequality and white privilege in America means that the exercise of voice for black citizens is fraught with the dangers of surveillance. It’s yet another challenge of being black and exercising citizenship in the United States. Even as we articulate our grievances, black citizens are haunted by that “peculiar sensation” that W.E.B. Du Bois described as “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

I thought of voice and the fact that two White men have been impersonating queer women of color on the internet.

I thought of how my colleagues, other Black women who are teachers and graduate students from across the country who write anonymously on the internet for fear of retribution from their departments and future potential employers. Whereas on the other hand, here are these two heterosexual White men assuming the identity of women of color, to further their own career ends.

I thought of how I routinely have to tell Negro men to sit down when they try and debate me about gender theory, racial theory or political economy on the internet. It’s not that I don’t mind being challenged, that is a part of the game. The issue is their willingness to challenge me while being woefully under read. When I am dialoging with people who know more than me in an academic setting or on the street, I shut the hell up and listen and learn. These men, and some women on the internet learn real quickly that they can learn from me  or ask me questions, but unless they know my arguments, and the arguments of the people I have read, I will sit them down with the quickness. My work will be respected. This ain’t JV, this is elite. I have the bills and bifocals to prove it.

As a Black woman that writes about race, gender, pop culture and sexuality on the internet, I was excited when I saw Harris Perry write,

I vigorously object to the oft-repeated sentiment that African-Americans should avoid public disagreements and settle matters internally to present a united front. It’s clear from the history of black organizing that this strategy is particularly disempowering for black women, black youth, black gay men and lesbians, and others who have fewer internal community resources to ensure that their concerns are represented in a broader racial agenda. Failing to air the dirty laundry has historically meant that these groups are left washing it with their own hands.

To say it another way, failing to air our dirty laundry leaves the deviants, the single mothers, the queers, the lesbians, the gays, the felons, the hustlers, the sex workers-basically anyone who is lewd and lascivious shit out of luck.

Using your voice makes you a target, but as Audre Lorde has famously said, your silence won’t protect you.

You use your voice lately?

How did that turn out?

You choose NOT to speak up lately?

How did that turn out?

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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  • hnrk isbn

    It’s not clear whether Amina and Paula were impersonating queer women of color “to further their own career ends,” or because they felt they needed to appropriate a differently-privileged voice in order to be taken seriously in the dialogues they engage with. 

    This isn’t an apology. The “Syrian” dude did real “cry-wolf” damage. But ascribing lesbian impersonation to careerism alone seems too facile.

  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    beautiful post.

  • AngryBroomstick

    I have been threatened and harassed online for speaking out on race and gender issues, Islamophobia and xenophobia, racism and sexism. It’s not like I’m trying to shove it down your throat. I am merely speaking out and making observations with my creative pieces online. It’s not like that I’m not running for city council , I simply exercise my right to express myself on my blog and my videos…  no one is being forced to read my blog or watch my videos, right? Yet somehow my blog just pisses off people of certain groups *cough white heterosexual guys cough* 

    Sometimes I have been silenced because I was worried about my personal safety and even my reputation, but in the end, I cannot allow anyone to silence me. By being silent, I am letting them win. I am careful with my personal information online. I deactivated my personal Facebook profile but I still have a Facebook fan-page which is strictly professional and I don’t personally interact with any of the “fans” on the page.

    Comparing with black intellectuals, I am nobody. I can’t imagine the
    level of harassment that black female intellectuals have to face, it’s
    definitely way worse than what I have experienced.

    • Creatrix Tiara

      My experience is similar, though it’s not just white het men – it’s white whoever really for the most part (though that’s not to say that there aren’t white folk that see my side or POC that don’t). Just a couple of days ago an observational post I made on my blog about yet another case of cultural appropriation became such a huge drama that one of the people in question is now threatening legal action!! wtf. As she said, if you don’t like it why keep reading? Yet SO MANY PEOPLE came to pile on and say that everytime they read me they get more and more convinced I suck – and people I thought were friends suddenly reposted me with untruths and slander. Lovely.

      This isn’t the first time, but I’m sick of being the one having to hold the fort here. People who do support me message me personally, apologise for not being brave enough to speak up openly – well thanks, but that’s only going so far. Sometimes we need other people to speak up *with* us and go “I’m with them”. Diffuse the drama. Otherwise it’s one person against everybody, like it or not, battling it alone.

      I’ve used my voice but the people I’m speaking to don’t listen. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.