Excuse the navel-gazing.
I am not a perfect writer or thinker by any stretch of the imagination. I have been considering, off and on, a discussion I had with commenter Cheryl Trooskin-Zoller on this post since I had it, about my whitewashing of Audre Lorde a little while back. (Note I do not use scare quotes: her accusation was well-made, I have come to realize.) I realize there has been a long time lag here, but it is mostly because I wanted to say something intelligent, rather than kneejerk. Lately I’ve had less time for this blog than I would have liked, owing to some other focus and a preoccupation on personal problems which is, of course, indefensible, ethically and morally, but there you have it.
As I said to Cheryl at the time, the point that race is always relevant, and always there, is not lost on me, but I thought perhaps “appropriation” was a little strong. My brain is still sort of stuck there, though I’m talking to myself a lot about it, because obviously what I’d like to be is a good ally, and on my best day I’m probably only halfway there. I can only explain myself thusly: however much I fucked it up, in my responses to Cheryl I was trying to address a concern that I hear, often, that white women don’t use the writings of WOC as an authority on any subject other than racism, i.e., that white women only trot out the writings of WOC when they are interested in talking about racism. I see now, somewhat better, that Cheryl’s point may have been that WOC are never not-writing-about-racism. (Perhaps Cheryl will weigh in if she’s not given up on me.) But as I said then, and still somewhat think now, if it would have gone without comment had I posted something on mothering from a white writer, then it was an attempt to extend Lorde a similar courtesy. I can’t say whether or not it’s one she would have appreciated.
Mostly, though, I think I reacted oddly to Cheryl’s comment because I was worried about having a bunch of white women sit around and talk about the experience of racism. I do think I would have reacted differently had the comment been offered by a self-identified WOC commenter. It would have been maybe easier for me to self-examine more quickly.
To wit: it has always bothered me that we here are all white and all of a certain similarity of background and focus. It has bothered me because it limits the scope of the work we can do here, because I don’t want to “speak for” other kinds of women when they are more than up to the task of speaking for themselves. It has bothered me even more because we seem to have built a community full of wonderful, lovely, funny commenters who are, if I’m not mistaken, mostly white women. As I said, articulate, smart, hilarious women, but white women nonetheless.
And you know, over time, I have become much less interested in the things white women have to say about race and racism and slowly, as my reading keeps growing, feminism itself, than I have been about the writings and thinkings of WOC. Call it a part of my feminist education, but I keep growing and reading because I feel like I have no other choice. (I do not expect any sort of congratulations for this move, late and slow as it is. Please do not offer any.)
So lately, when I have been among white women and the subject of racism has come up, I have been much less inclined to self-examine and question when a white woman is the one raising the subject of, say, the experience of black women. I am not saying this is not a failing, but I am saying I do not know that this new prejudice of mine, this new resistance to the things white people say about race, is a bad thing. It often feels, in progressive circles at least, as if whites are eager to prove themselves the least racist in the room when they are talking amongst themselves. And I find it old, and tiring, not least because I think these are difficult questions, and in particular difficult ones for whites to answer, alone and among themselves, in these rooms we build on the internet where we talk of such things. I want to learn on the subject of racism, in short, from the people who are most harmed by it. I don’t mean that they should have to teach me, but I mean that I should have to seek them out and find them and read them and shut the fuck up and stop assuming I know everything.
And that, I think, is what I was trying to do in that discussion with Cheryl. I still screwed up, because in the process I implied that I wasn’t interested in race in the context of mothering, and that certainly is not the case.
Feel free to school me, anybody, in the comments, if I have said something horrific here.