The Silence of Our Friends

Monday, November 05, 2007

Drowning Maestro

Here we go again. Unexamined and unacknowledged privilege is rearing it's ugly head all over the place. The one thing I am getting fed up with is, "watch your tone, be nicey nice", or what Nezua has named The Drowning Maestro. Nezua's examples:
• "We'd admit about your point if you presented it nicer."
• "I have this work I was going to throw your way, is there a problem?"
• "People would listen to your complaint if you weren't so loud."
• "If you want people to care about this, you should learn to be smoother."
I recommend everyone read the entire definition from Nezua's glossary. No, I recommend everyone read the entire glossary.

Alrighty! First we had projektleiterin in the comments of the last thread warning us to be sweet to the nice white ladies and try to put ourselves in their shoes, and stop being so "stroppy". My question is when do we finally get to turn the tables? When do they reciprocate? When hell freezes over, is when...

Then we have Latoya at Racialicious telling Nadia to watch her tone. There is nothing wrong with Nadia's tone, she is in fact, being helpful. Latoya didn't like having her comfortable "latent prejudices" being pointed out.

And now we have Yobachi telling BrownFemiPower to watch her tone in this comments thread at Women of Color Blog. This one actually had me shaking with anger. Jasmine makes a comment that distills the whole argument against "protection":
We don’t get men to stop abusing women by portraying women as justifiable targets of abuse. How about if we stop painting targets on the backs of women?
It is only because you view us as targets that we need "protection". Stop viewing us as targets, teach your brothers that we are not targets, and we will not need protecting. If you still don't get it, I'll take a quote from Ginmar out of context, because it sure as hell works here too.
This kind of reaction amongst men is the reason that cries about 'chivalry' fall so flat. Chivalry amounts to a guy staking a claim to a woman by his act of offering her some kind of protection, displaying his ownership for other men. It's kind of like the guys who claim they want to 'protect' women. With that protection comes protection from freedom, self-determination, independence, and a complete lack of protection against the guy offering the so-called protection. Rejecting that extortionate deal leaves women alone in a world of men who perceive female slights as being so serious that they require violent actions or threats, actions that are brushed of as 'reckless' and 'stupid' when what they are is calculated, arrogant, hostile, and designed to intimidate.
The part about it being an extortionate deal especially resonates after reading Yobachi's bullshit. There is no asking women what they want or need, we gotta be nicey nice with our tone and accept his "solution" to the problem no questions asked, or else he'll stand aside when women get attacked. He later retracts that part, it's just satire, because you know, joking about men standing around while women get raped is hilarious.

Every example I have given has been a person of color using privilege against another person of color. This is not a problem with whites only, all of us in American society are brainwashed by white supremacy/male supremacy to some extent. Projektleiteren doesn't notice that she is expecting us to treat whites better than they treat us, because it is "natural" to see them as superior and therefore grant them more benefit of the doubt, chances, understanding, etc than they ever grant to us. If you think I am being sarcastic, you'd be wrong. We do get so used to being treated like we are wrong, like our opinion doesn't matter, like we don't know ourselves and our own families, lives, world; all of these things contribute to internalized racism. You know the grass is green and the sky is blue, but daily it seems like everyone else around you is saying the grass is purple and the sky is yellow. You may start to question your reality, believe that they are right and there is something wrong with you. I've told a story in the past about a person I know who was collecting histories from the elders on his reservation. He found a particularly interesting one and related it to a friend, the friend didn't believe the story, he asked if it has been verified by historians. Keep in mind these are two Native American men. Does anyone see what is wrong with this picture? These are Native histories, told by Native elders, in their own words...and the one Native American man wants it verified by WHITE HISTORIANS. Whites are given the authority instead of the Native American elders. The grass is purple and the sky is yellow in his world.

In the Racialicious post, Latoya doesn't seem to understand what she is asking of Muslims when she makes a request for an anti-Islamofacism blog, post, etc. Nadia explains that Muslims are in the ridiculous position of having to preface everything they say with, "Hi! I'm not a terrorist." That is the racist narrative. It would be like if I created this blog to explain that: Native Americans aren't all drunks. Native Americans aren't all millionaires from casinos. Native Americans aren't all exactly the same with the same beliefs, lifestyles, histories, spirituality, which usually is expected to be either Cherokee or Lakota (Sioux). We weren't conquered. We aren't all dead. Why don't I write a blog like that? I'm assuming that most of the people who wind up here have at least half a brain and already know this stuff, already know that these are racist lies. Nadia is assuming the same about her supposed liberal allies. Does she really have to spell out for them that there is no such thing as Islamofacism? I guess so, since Latoya believes in it, assumes that there must be some truth to the racist lies. She gets angry with Nadia's tone, which is odd since all Nadia did was state matter of factly that the grass is green and the sky is blue. Latoya is saying that when you remove someones white lens, do so gradually and gently. Sorry, it can't be done. We really can't have people believing that the grass is just a little purple and the sky has a slight yellow tint.

The part about tone that is disturbing in the comments thread at Women of Color is that it is about who controls what is to be said and done about violence against women. Yobachi will not accept that women have every right to question these campaigns supposedly on our behalf. It's all about men, what they want, how they want to talk about this, how it's still about controlling women. That is what protection is all about, she has to be your property or under your control in some way before you can protect her. If she doesn't accept your protection on your terms then she is just a target who deserves whatever she gets. The campaign should be about changing mens' attitudes towards women, so that they don't think in this way. Protection is an extention of the abuse, not a solution to it, because the idea comes from the same place where men decide which women deserve safety and which ones don't. Watch your step and your tone or you'll be thrown to the wolves.

20 comment(s):

i've been catching some of this lately about disabilities...and i'm still torn. i'd like to think that i would take a genuine comment about my tone to heart, but damn...i'm just fresh out of patient, and it does seem like my civility is to have no end while i wait for theirs to begin.

By Blogger sly civilian, at 11/06/2007 8:40 AM  

I hear that sly civilian.

Would you (rhetorical) tell a cop to watch his tone with you? Your teacher? Your parents or grandparents? Your boss? I'm deliberately using authority figures here because most people have some level of respect/fear/feeling of a superior-inferior relationship. It is more likely that these are the people who would say to you, "Watch your tone. Watch your attitude!" instead of the other way around, because there is a power imbalance.

That is why it is natural to push back when someone pulls this ploy on you, because you do not accept their belief that they are superior to you or have any right to tell you how to speak your truths.

By the way, I updated the post. I hadn't finished it yesterday when I posted it, but knew if I left it in drafts I might not finish it at all. It gave me an incentive to finish up before too many people read it incompletely. lol

By Blogger Donna, at 11/06/2007 12:24 PM  

I am amazed that you, BFP, Nubian, and others get pummelled for your 'tone'. You're all really nice, even when you're pissed off. You don't call people fuck maggots or dumpster cheese like I do.

and call me Captain Obvious, but I think it boils down to this: When people start whining about tone, they've got nothing of import to say and want to take you down a few notches.

By Anonymous Sheelzebub, at 11/06/2007 5:02 PM  

Bfp showed tremendous patience on that thread with Yobachi. I read through the whole thing, and I reached a point where I was so upset I couldn't even formulate an articulate response. This is happening to me more and more in on -line discussions. I've increasingly taken to not responding at all. I think this is a product of the (organized) white supremacist comments I've grown accustomed too at my site. The last few days is the first time, I felt that way about a handful of black male bloggers and commenters. I was just so angry I couldn't compose myself.

On the issue of tone and being privileged, I try very hard not to admonish people too much for tone. I have probably done it a few times. Aside from all of the points you've made, I also feel like it is sometimes very difficult to figure out tone on-line.

By Blogger Rachel's Tavern, at 11/06/2007 8:55 PM  

Whenever I hear "You need to be nicer" or any kind of variation, it translates into "you need to sacrifice some of your self-respect," "you need to accommodate me when you're telling me how I've wronged you." This is framed as if both sides are equal, which they're not.

And if you do give up that little bit to be nicer, if you do back down just enough, that's just the beginning. Once you give, they'll keep taking, because "being nice" doesn't earn respect.

Nezua's glossary really does nail the shutdown tactics well.

I had real trouble trying to find something to say in bfp's thread, and I'm completely unhappy with what I did finally post, never mind the post I lost to the void.

Rachel, your posts were great.

By Anonymous Lisa Harney, at 11/07/2007 7:28 AM  

What Sheelzebub said. you guys are far more patient than, um, well, a lot of people.

and now i'm torn because of the g-m-r quote, cause on the one hand, yeah, she has a point there, and the parallels are worth noting; otoh, well...g-m-r really is an asshole.

So, I do think there is a point at which one can go, actually, you're just really being a gratutitous asshole, there, and I feel like I'm being talked/shouted AT rather than -to-.

but I think that is different from what you're talking about here, and what BA is talking about at her spot, and Lisa at hers. (I haven't read through the conflicts you're talking about here yet, so speaking in generalities and based on numerous other similar interactions i've seen over the past...while).

I think this is key:

warning us to be sweet to the nice white ladies and try to put ourselves in their shoes, and stop being so "stroppy"

The real problem, it seems to me, and your mileage may totally vary, isn't the "stroppy" or not; it's the whole, YOU put yourself in THEIR shoes, but don't ever think they might return the favor, that's just the way it is.

or, even more basically: it's reciprocation. It might be reasonable to suggest someone not be "stroppy" if they weren't already being confronted with PURE D ASSHOLERY, bigotry, sometimes dressed up in quasi-"nice" language, sometimes not even that.

and generally, the "play nice" police do NOT think to say it to THOSE people. Only to the "uppity" ones who're rocking the boat.

I still remember that fucked up business where Faletti and whoever else, Lindsey, was it? descended on BA and lectured her about how SCARY she was being toward poor put upon Amanda Marcotte, play nice! Any attempt to hear BA? No. Any attempt to even read her damn profile and see where she might be coming from? No. But, not even just an honest "fuck you, you're dissing my friend, it's on" which might've been more understandable; but the power move of -we're on your side- and patronizing -scolding-. And they never really did get what the problem there was.

Someone in one of my groups brought up a point that I thought was also really spot-on, wrt the language of feelings; which is pretty much what we use in those groups, different context, of course, but I think it's applicable here. Basically: sure, express your feelings, be honest. You're allowed your anger, and whatever else. But once you share that, part of the contract is you have to allow the other person -their- anger and so on.

The parallel to that in these online discussions, for me, was when Kai had that post about, sure, be as bigoted as you want to; you just don't get to control the response. (I'm paraphrasing). You say what you want; just, when someone calls you on your shit, the -real- power move and bullshit is when you start WHINING about it. THEN you start whining about "tone" and "fair" and -your- feelings. No. It's one or the other. Either you dish it out and suck it up or? If you're so concerned about -putting yourself in peoples' shoes-: -well practice what you fucking preach.-

There's more than that, of course, specifically all the ways in which superficial "nice" are used as power language. But I do think you start to see that "niceness" unravel and the real selfishness and hatefulness emerge, once the whining starts. Which is another reason not to acquiesce to the calls for "nice."

By Blogger belledame222, at 11/07/2007 3:13 PM  

You know, the "protection" thing just reminded me of those bad gang/mafia movies where the big boss goes into the little mom-and-pop store and extorts money from them by offering protection from the gang/mafia. And then when the mom-and-pop owner points out that that's them, they start wrecking the place 'til the owner pays up.

It's a racket, where they get to keep doing what they want to the people who don't roll over and doing what they want to the people who -do- roll over and those of us getting screwed over are supposed to be grateful that they're being more gentle with us, at least.

By Anonymous Vox, at 11/07/2007 3:27 PM  

...oh yeah, and: I am sure that my remark about g-r can be seen as me just taking another shot because personal blahblah, and, you know, it's not like that's -wrong;-

but, just, there's a -reason- why this (type of) person rubs me the wrong way, and it's not just the opinions, although the opinions are why i get caught up in it. it's that they're really -not- engaging. you know, "when all you have is a hammer?..." I think some people just really are more interested in going BAM BAM BAM because it feels good than in actually Making Friends And Influencing People. And, like, okay, sometimes, diplomacy simply isn't possible and you just need to holler, I get that; thing is, if it's -constant- and you're actively at the point of Losing Friends And Alienating People, well...

I think the real problem isn't so much -tone- there, though, as -ability to listen,- or -flexibility.- What makes an asshole an asshole isn't hir predilection to speak from the hip or even say "fuck you!," it's being in my-way-or-the-highway mode -all the time.- and, not being able to take "yes" for an answer. and a few other things.

and yes, of course a lot of people tend to -admire- that 'my way or the highway' thing, which is how assholes get into positions of leadership in the first place.

By Blogger belledame222, at 11/07/2007 3:27 PM  

WooHoo! Sheelzebub is back!

Rachel, I think I know what you mean. There is a difference between being an ass and using inflammatory language for that purpose, and what we are talking about here, which generally isn't even a harsh tone at all! The other person simply thinks you are inferior and should show him respect, then you bet I'm not gonna be watching my tone with that person anymore.

Lisa I am loving your new blog and totally amazed that you managed to put up so many posts with so much information in such a short time. It's only been a week and you've got what amounts to a couple months worth of posts there for us mere mortals.

I must be in a pollyanna mood, since I'm seeing silver linings today. I posted at Andrew's that I am thankful for the Clinton blogger lunch shitstorm because otherwise I wouldn't have found so many great POC bloggers. The same is true of the IBTP/Heart transphobia shitstorms. I bet I'm not the only WOC who has noticed and been amazed and excited by how well we understand each other and work together with trans women. I guess it's mostly about intersectionality, there are alot of women who have some understanding of it, but for too many it really seems like they are stuck on a theoretical plane while we are living it. When I got online I didn't have the fancy educated college words for it, but I knew it, and I find that trans women know what I mean by that.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/07/2007 5:39 PM  

Belle, I was thinking to myself, why couldn't someone else have said that? I really didn't want to quote her but it was on point so I did at the same time. LOL These men like their male privilege, don't want to give it up, so protection is the best they can offer. Working towards prevention would be out of the question.

I think alot of the tone conversations are about who gets to steer the conversation, who decides what issues are important, who decides whose perceptions are truer. Which reminds me of Hugo's post during the FFF dust up. He declared that FFF was inclusive of WOC, end of story, period. I was too angry to say anything about it at the time but if that wasn't the epitome of privilege. According to him we weren't even allowed to have opinions on it, we were completely invalidated and dismissed. A white guy gets to make the final decision in an argument about WOC inclusiveness within feminism on the side of white women and WOC opinions to the contrary aren't even worth reading. Just mull that over and see if you can't find all kinds of wrong wrong wrong with it. Even the wacky MRA thought that was wrong! LOL

Vox! That is such a good analogy. You should post that over at Rachel's to make sure that Yobachi sees it!

By Blogger Donna, at 11/07/2007 5:59 PM  

I found most of the blogs I read by backtracking through the IBTP/Heart shitstorms - as uncomfortable as it was to see that stuff posted, finding so many bloggers who called them on their shit was heartening.

I bet I'm not the only WOC who has noticed and been amazed and excited by how well we understand each other and work together with trans women.

When I came into this stuff, I was amazed at how many WOC got trans issues, and then I saw a WOC commenting, after seeing a transphobic blowup on LJ, that she finally understood why trans people tend to get racial issues.

And then you have the posters who hang out at IBTP, or womensspace...who, like you said, see it on some sort of theoretical plane. When they do mention it, it's usually to deny it exists - or deny that it has any effect because the oppression of women is the biggest evar.

I could name blogs all day that don't get it, but you've seen them too.

By Anonymous Lisa Harney, at 11/07/2007 7:07 PM  

What the fuck? My brain just exploded. What is up with that comment by "anonymous." Great post by the way. I just had to comment about that above comment. It was too ridiculous to not comment on.

By Anonymous Jack Stephens, at 11/16/2007 9:31 AM  

Wow, I can't believe I scrolled past the WHOLE THING.

Umm, anyway, I just wanted to say, as a lurker with white privilege, that I have occasionally had that "Nuh-uh! Not me!" privilege moment which I think causes those maestro comments (although never here -- those people must be made of spun glass.) And it's not the blogger's fault. It's like someone or other said about men reading feminist blogs -- don't identify with the bad guys, and you won't feel insulted.

If you feel insulted or hurt as a white person reading a POC's blog, well maybe think
a) does this mean I know myself to be guilty of something they're talking about and am projecting my anger off of me and onto them?

or
b) Am I choosing to be pissed off because I'm afraid of listening?

That's why I think you and Nezua really have something when you talk about "White Lens", not just "white privilege". The white privilege, we all know, lives in the invisible backpack. The lens is stuck in your eye, getting in your way. When you're reading a blog and you think there's a big 'tone' problem, maybe it isn't in the blog, maybe it's in the eye reading it.

And one other thing...maybe there are POC blogs that are soooooo carefully non-abrasive that they manage not to break these spun-glass snowflakes. I've tried to be that kind of feminist in some fora because it seemed to be the only way to get any progress. And sure, maybe you get in under some people's armor. But it's thankless, frustrating, and JOYLESS. There has to be some freedom and joy in doing this work, even when it breaks your heart, or else you'll stop. What those 'tone' snowflakes want would wear you down to a nubbin in no time flat. Screw 'em if they can't take the truth.

By Blogger GeekFeminist, at 11/16/2007 3:34 PM  

GeekFeminist,

I also find that in trying to be as inoffensive as possible, that for every step I gain, I lose two. That I barter away some of my self-respect in exchange for a bit less acknowledgement.

As for that spam - it's been making the rounds. It's hit me a couple of times and hit most of the bloggers I know at least once.

By Blogger Lisa Harney, at 11/16/2007 4:38 PM  

Umm, anyway, I just wanted to say, as a lurker with white privilege, that I have occasionally had that "Nuh-uh! Not me!" privilege moment which I think causes those maestro comments (although never here -- those people must be made of spun glass.)

What serendipity! I just used the exact phrase "Nuh uh! Not me!" to describe the attitude I was seeing in a blog post where I disagreed with the OP that supporting Ron Paul, knowing his white supremacist history, was good for the anti-war movement. I was moved to speak out because this is only of the only mainstream liberal blogs I've seen step up and deal at all with the Jena Six case.

Naturally, the intrusion of my "parochial" and "tribalist" issues was greeted with all the disdain one would expect.

I have to admit that I'm not good at cultivating safe places for the "spun glass snowflakes" (which is one of the best phrases I've read in a long time). I cut corners and jump straight to the point without soothing them with a lot of clauses, disclaimers, and euphemisms, as I put it over there.

I now tell people who get reflexively defensive when feminists, PoC, gays, and others start to speak up that this is the last step, not the first. "It's not me" should come after a serious, sustained self-criticism, not before. If you can come out of it saying "It's not me", good (but that's not the end, just the beginning) and if you can't then continue working on it.

It really says something about the continuing power of what DuBois called the "public and psychological wage" of privilege that these defensive attitudes still resonate with only a handful realizing that if you don't want to be defensive about yourself, stop doing things that make you feel guilty. Would it be this difficult in any other case of human folly?

By Blogger Oolon Colluphid, at 11/16/2007 5:04 PM  

if you don't want to be defensive about yourself, stop doing things that make you feel guilty.

No, no, that's too direct and simple and to the point! :)

I mean, speaking with action rather than self-claims and layered interpretations about "this is what I am doing let me explain because you are misunderstanding me, ok?"

That "just stop doing" approach also assumes the goal is actually stopping. But if the goal is projecting an image of "goodness' while retaining privilege, it won't be met with "just stop doing."

By Anonymous michelle, at 11/18/2007 1:10 PM  

Hey Jack! Good to see you here and thanks so much for the link. I'm sorry you and everyone else had to scroll past that nonsense. I removed that same spam twice but missed it this time.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/19/2007 7:43 AM  

I think we are all in agreement that being as inoffensive and kind as possible generally doesn't garner you any real gain in a discussion, and like Lisa said, it comes at the expense of your self-respect. When we are meek and mild we simply are not taken seriously and someone with their white privilege or male privilege just barrels over the top of you. I think the best way to handle discussions which might come up against privilege is honest and direct, and I try to reserve rude and hostile for those who go over the line and start in on the wite majik attax or other ways to try to keep me or others in "our place". This also includes the ones who try to change the subject, use that little bit o' misdirection to decenter the conversation to remember the poor forgotten white people or poor forgotten men.

By Blogger Donna, at 11/19/2007 7:51 AM  

I agree, and well stated. When do they reciprocate? I wish more would.

I think the "loud" and "not smooth" are basically meaningless. The WOC/white analog to women being aggressive while men behaving identically are being assertive. Before telling anyone to watch his/her tone -- and really, sometimes a strong tone is necessary -- it'd be nice if more people thought about what you call this aspect of privilege.

You make a great point with "she is expecting us to treat whites better than they treat us." Some white feminists and people in general can see that women treat men differently, but not that they themselves may treat white feminists and WOC feminists differently. Even when it means being more obsequious or patronizing to the latter. Your example of "good post" is a good one. That's not engaging. There's a ton of depth out there to engage with, and it deserves the time and energy to get further involved than "good post" or even "great post."

By Blogger Octogalore, at 11/23/2007 3:49 PM  

Note to myself: stop googling your name or you end up reading your name on posts that just upset you (a bit at least).

I never said you're not supposed to be pissed off at whites and after reading about forced sterilization of women of color I'm starting to understand what a somewhat nicer blogger meant to say with "horrible crimes" and where this incredible anger comes from. What I found problematic on the previous thread was that there were two white feminists on there, being so apologetic and trying to appease you that it resembled butt-kissing and you were nevertheless giving them a hard time. Instead of being glad that someone is wanting to understand your situation and making amendments you seemed to find it more important that the situation had turned and that you were able to enjoy the moral superiority of a victim. It would have helped your cause more to accept them as allies, then to put them down for not being perfect. But whatever, the two ladies were not that eager to get my help anyway.

And personally I found some comments that were aimed at me to be quite below the belt. While discussions can get heated I prefer them to stay at reasonable level, but if people get out of control I get out.

By Blogger projektleiterin, at 1/18/2008 4:55 PM  

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