Co-optation, Appropriation, and in Plain Speak, StealingI'm a university graduate, I have a bachelors degree in business administration. While at university I never took any courses on womens studies, race and intersectionality, or the like. What I write about here is mostly based on my experience living as a woman of color in North America. So I don't know some of the things I might have learned if I had taken those types of courses and sometimes find it confusing learning the language/jargon of academia, theories, and discussions of books/dissertations/essays and their authors with little or no context. It can be fascinating for someone like me to be introduced to these subjects by someone willing to make it accessible for everyone, like Donna Darko does when she raises the subject of third wave feminism. I was amazed to learn that third wave feminism was created by women of color, because many of the mainstream white feminists online call themselves third wave feminists and/or sex positive feminists. I assumed that the third wave was a rift between one group of white feminists and another white group of feminists calling themselves the second wave feminists/radical feminists or radfems. Please go read her entire enlightening post as well as the link to Rebecca Walker's article at Huffington Post. I have to disagree with Donna Darko here though:
I think what happened was people were so used to seeing white, middle-class women lead the first and second waves, they assumed white, middle-class women would lead the third wave.She is too kind. They did what white people do all the time, they co-opted third wave feminism from women of color and distorted it into something unrecognizable from it's WOC centered origins into middle class white women centered Spice Girls Feminism(™ BetaCandy at The Hathor Legacy).
Over at Theriomorph in the comments of a post titled, Who determines our most important ideas?, Kai had this to say:
And yes, Schwyzer's latest unilateral recasting of this dialog as "purists vs. popularizers" is, well, fundamentally unsound, though it's clear why he's doing it. I suppose in his worldview, John Coltrane is a purist and Kenny G is a popularizer. Solomon Linda is a purist, The Tokens are popularizers. Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard are purists, while Pat Boone, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley are popularizers. And surprise, surprise, Schwyzer stands firmly on the side of the popularizers; though he sees a "healthy tension" in this dynamic. Whereas I see something else entirely, something which all cultures and communities of color around the world have experienced in our encounters with white society. And we wouldn't necessarily describe this tension as "healthy".Yep, they did what they do all the time, co-opting something POC centered distorting it into something white centered.
Now I'm not trying to silence Kenny G...well, I better not go there...so, I'm not saying that Pat Boone, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Elvis should have their albums yanked from stores or anything. I'm just saying, a deeper, honest appreciation of music, and of the world, recognizes where the music comes from and the political economy of the marketplace which clearly rewards white appropriators over brown originators. Clear-eyed people understand that this is the historical relationship between white people and people of color when it comes to the marketing of cultural content; and only whites have the luxury of pretending that it's all cool now. And pretend they do.
Then there is a complaint I heard several times last year privately from POC bloggers who noticed that they would research and write about an issue and within 24-48 hours certain white blogs would have a very similar post at their sites. At first they were willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but when it happened time and again, they knew that these sites were stealing their content, making it appear that they cared enough about POC to research these stories themselves, when in reality they have so little respect for POC they steal from them instead of giving them credit for their hard work, and instead of linking and driving a little traffic their way. One blogger even watched her stats to be certain, and sure enough, the IP address of the woman she suspected was stealing from her was all over her site several times a day.
And last, I really don't want to be the one to create this joy-killing narrative...
Over at Feministe, Jill recently announced that she has been hired as an editor for Alternet. I am truly happy for Jill. BUT...I (as well as many other women of color) am very skeptical of the title for the section she will be editing at Alternet: Reproductive Justice & Gender. LauraJanine does a good job of explaining why the skepticism in comments:
In my understanding, the term “Reproductive Justice” is one that was coined to take the focus off of white middle class womens’ reproductive health issues (birth control and contraception) and to expand the focus to those issues that effect more people’s ability to control their health. To me, this includes:Co-optation, appropriation, and stealing...is this another time that white people are going to take from WOC and turn the meaning of reproductive justice into the white centered "abortion, sex, abortion, abortion, birth control, abortion, abortion, sex, birth control, abortion" conversation? What reproductive justice is about is a holistic approach to reproduction and sexuality, including real family planning; as in giving birth and raising children, day care, adoption, political-social-economic implications, sexual and gender issues involving marginalized communities like lgbti and disability rights and the poor and working class beyond the lip service that mainstream feminism gives to us before getting back to the "abortion, sex, abortion, abortion, birth control, abortion, abortion, sex, birth control, abortion" conversation. I'd like to think that Jill understands this and will truly make the section about reproductive justice, but have a very hard time believing it will happen on a mainstream site catering to mostly white people.
forced and coerced sterilization
dangerous contraceptives and experiments on such in communities of color
the right to reproduce regardless of socioeconomic background
the “war on drugs” and its effects on women of color
the sex trade, and the rights of people who trade sex for money
reproductive health issues of people in the trans community (effects of hormones, pregnancy, etc)
environmental racism and its impacts on reproductive health
health care access (not just to abortion) and its effects on reproductive health
access to prenatal care
access to reproductive health care for incarcerated people
access to health care and self determination re: reproductive health for people with disabilities
the impact of military occupation on reproductive health
pesticides effects on farm workers
I could go on and on. I’m missing a lot here. The point is, if Reproductive Justice is going to be used, please don’t erase the communities that made the distinction in terminology as an explicit way to center the issues most important to us. Thanks.