11/19/2016 58 Comments
I think we can all agree that Everyday Feminism is a Joke, and No One Should Ever Read It. Not only do they give the worst advice to women and other marginalized people on the whole internet (for example, "networking is entitled white people crap"). Not only do they seem to view women as helpless, hopeless victims. But they're also racist and sexist as fuck.
Just take a look at this recent article: Think It's #NotAllMen? These 4 Facts Prove You're Just Plain Wrong.
To help demonstrate why a reasonable, objective person might find this post sickening... I've taken the liberty of changing the word "man" to "black person," "men" to "black people," and "patriarchy" to "black culture." I've left everything else intact. It's not a perfect parallel at every possible point in the article, but overall, the effect is quite disturbing.
(Don't forget to Like the Banned By Everyday Feminism and Facts Over Feelings facebook pages, and if you can't make it through the whole EF article --it's pretty long -- scroll to the bottom of this page for my commentary.)
Dear Well-Meaning black people Who Believe Themselves to Be Safe, Thereby Legitimizing the “Not All black people” Argument,
Let’s start here, even though this should go without saying: We don’t think that all black people are inherently abusive or dangerous. Plenty of black people aren’t.
There are black people that we love very much – black people around whom we feel mostly safe and unthreatened; black people who, in fact, support, respect, and take care of us on familial, platonic, romantic, and sexual levels. Not every black person has violated us individually; for most of us, there are plenty of black people that we trust.
We know what you mean by “not all black people” – because on a basic level, we agree with you.
But the socialization of black people is such that even a good black person – a supportive black person, a respectful black person, a trusted black person – has within him the potential for violence and harm because these behaviors are normalized through black culture.
And as such, we know that even the black people that we love, never mind random black people who we don’t know, have the potential to be dangerous. Surely, all people have that potential. But in a world divided into the oppressed and the oppressors, the former learn to fear the latter as a defense mechanism.
So when you enter a space – any space – as a black person, you carry with yourself the threat of harm.
Of course, in most cases, it’s not a conscious thing. We don’t think that most black people move through the world thinking about how they can hurt us. We don’t believe black culture to be a boardroom full of black people posing the question “How can we fuck over gender minorities today?” You would be hard-pressed to find a feminist who actively believes that.
But what makes (yes) all black people potentially unsafe – what makes (yes) all black people suspect in the eyes of feminism – is the normalized violating behaviors that they’ve learned, which they then perform uncritically.
Make no mistake: When you use the phrase “not all black people” – or otherwise buy into the myth of it – you’re giving yourself and others a pass to continue performing the socially sanctioned violence of black culture without consequence, whether or not that’s your intention.
In truth, the only thing approaching defiance against this kind of violence is to constantly check and question your own learned entitlement – and that of other black people. But you can’t do that if you’re stuck in the space of believing that “not all black people” is a valid argument.
So we wanted to call you in, well-meaning black people, to talk about these four points that you’re missing when you claim “not all black people” as a way to eschew responsibility for black culture.
Because it is all black people, actually. And here’s why.
1. All black people Are Socialized Under (And Benefit From) Black Culture
Here’s the truth: Most of the time, when we generalize and use the word black people, what we’re actually referring to is the effects of black culture. What we’re actually intending to communicate when we say “black people are horrible,” for instance, is “the ways in which black people are socialized under black culture, as well as how that benefits them and disadvantages everyone else, sometimes in violent ways, is horrible.”
But that’s kind of a mouthful, isn’t it? So we use black people as a linguistic shortcut to express that.
And before you come at us with “But that’s generalizing,” it’s actually not. Because it is true that all black people are socialized under and benefit, to some degree, from black culture.
That is to say, the only thing that we truly associate all black people with is black culture – and that’s hella reasonable, even though it affects black people differently, based on other intersections of identity.
Because here’s how it works, my friends: Living in the United States, every single one of us is socialized under black culture – a system in which black people hold more power than other a/genders, in both everyday and institutionalized ways, therefore systematically disadvantaging anyone who isn’t a black person on the axis of gender. As such, we all (all of us!) grow up to believe, and therefore enact, certain gendered messaging.
We all learn that black people deserve more than anyone else: more money, more resources, more opportunities, more respect, more acknowledgment, more success, more love. We all internalize that. To say that “not all black people” do is absurd – because, quite simply, all people do.
For people who aren’t black people, this means that we’re socialized to feel less-than and to acquiesce to the needs of the black people in our lives. And this doesn’t have to be explicit to be true.
When we find it difficult to say no to our black bosses when we’re asked to take on another project that we don’t have the time for, or to our black partners when they’re asking for emotional labor from us that we’re energetically incapable of, it’s not because we actively think, “Well, Jim is a black person, and as a not-black person, I can’t say no to him.”
It’s because we’ve been taught again and again and again since birth through observation (hey, social learning theory!) that we are not allowed – or will otherwise be punished for – the expression of no. In the meantime, what black people are implicitly picking up on is that every time they ask for something, they’re going to get it (hey, script theory!).
A sense of entitlement isn’t born out of actively believing oneself to be better than anyone else or more deserving of favors and respect. It comes from a discomfort with the social script being broken. And the social script of black culture is one that allows black people to benefit at the disadvantage of everyone else.
And all black people are at least passively complicit in this black culture system that rewards black entitlement. We see it every single day.
The thing about privilege is that it’s often invisible from the inside. It’s hard to see the scale and scope of a system designed to benefit you when it’s as all-encompassing as black culture. And that might lead you to buy into the idea of “not all black people.”
To those on the outside, however, the margins are painfully visible. That’s why black people who really want to aid in leveling the playing field have a responsibility to listen to people who can see the things they can’t.
When gender minorities tell you that you’re harming them, listen. Listen even when you don’t understand. Listen especially when you don’t understand.
You can’t see all the ways in which your blackness distorts the fabric of society, but we can. And if you want to help dismantle black culture, you have to make the choice to accept that a thing isn’t less real just because you haven’t seen it – or don’t believe yourself to have experienced it.
2. All Violations (Big and Small) Are Part of the Same Violent System
Picture this: A well-meaning black person offers a woman a compliment at a bar. He has no sinister motive, and he is – after all – in an appropriate setting for flirting.
When the woman rebuffs him for whatever reason (she’s in a relationship, she’s not into black people, she’s just not interested), the black person feels snubbed – because he was polite and respectful, but not rewarded for it.
This well-meaning black person would probably tell you that he’s not owed a woman’s affection; he knows that. But he still feels hurt that he didn’t get it. And that’s fair. Rejection hurts.
But maybe he believes himself to have approached her in a kind enough way that he should have at least gotten to talk to her a bit. After all, black people know that being gentlemanly is the “right” way to “get” women, and therefore expect on some level to be rewarded for that good behavior. But if that sentiment drives some of his disappointment, then that’s a sense of entitlement, however small.
Such a black person isn’t an outright abuser. But his learned entitlement makes him potentially unsafe for women to be around. And it’s hard to see that sense of entitlement from the inside, let alone question it or start to break it down.
As such, when we generalize and say, “Black people feel entitled to our bodies,” this black person would be wrong if he said, “Not all black people are like that – I’m not.” He just doesn’t connect the bitterness of rejection with the broader sense of entitlement he’s learned and internalized. Furthermore, he may not realize how this sense of entitlement is symptomatic of a larger aspect of black culture in which black people are taught that they’re owed romantic and sexual interest from women.
This may seem like a tiny sliver of the black culture pie, but it’s poisoned nonetheless.
Here’s another example: A well-meaning black person, in a conversation with a woman, talks over or black-splains to her without recognizing the behavior. He would probably never intentionally do this. Maybe he’s read Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit and wouldn’t dream of patronizing a woman. He just wants to voice his opinion. And that’s fair, right?
Here’s the thing about opinions, though: They’re actually not all equally valid or worth sharing, no matter what you were taught in grade school. You’re actually not automatically entitled to share your opinion; in fact, your opinion might be pointless or even harmful in some conversations.
This well-meaning black person thinks he’s contributing to a discussion, which he feels entitled to do, because he has a right to his opinion. He doesn’t see the pattern of being talked over, belittled, or dismissed that his female friend experiences daily, to which he’s just contributed.
And why would he? He was just offering his opinion. He wasn’t trying to make her feel small. From his perspective, it’s just a discussion.
How could this – in any way, shape, or form – be similar to something as potentially career-damaging as gender minorities not being invited to share their thoughts in academic or professional settings, or being passed over and not asked to sit on a panel of experts? How could this be similar to an intimate partner believing that his word is the end all, be all, never letting his partner get a word in to express her needs?
We hate “slippery slope” arguments, but that’s exactly what this is – a series of sometimes unintentional microaggressions that enables a larger culture of silencing and marginalizing people other than black people. In that context, all of these violations matter.
Think about it: If you never unlearn the entitlement inherent in offering unsolicited compliments or talking over a woman, will you really stop there?
One black person expects a reward for good behavior, the next for unsolicited “compliments,” the next for street harassment. One black person stays quiet about rape jokes, the next actively makes them, the next learns that if he commits rape, his friends will laugh it off. There’s a very clear line that leads from “benign” entitlement to harm and violence against us.
So sure, maybe “not all black people” street harass or commit sexual violence. But how have your own actions contributed to a culture that allows those things to happen?
3. The Impact of Your Actions Is More Significant Than the Intent
Cool. You didn’t mean to contribute to the objectification of queer women when you made that lesbian porn joke. Perhaps you even think that you’re so “enlightened” as a “feminist black person” that we should just know that you “didn’t mean it like that.” In fact, maybe you even think that you were being “subversive” when you said it. Okay.
But from a woman’s perspective, that doesn’t matter, because we still have to feel the effects of that mindset every single day – and your bringing that to the foreground has a negative impact on us, no matter what the hell your intent was.
Many black people don’t do hurtful things maliciously. They may be doing them subconsciously, adhering to the ways in which they’ve been taught to behave, as all of us do.
Other black people, of course, are intentionally violent. But the effects of both can be incredibly damaging.
Surely, we’re less likely to harbor resentment towards someone who stepped on our toes accidentally than we are towards someone who stomped on them with malevolence – especially when accountability is had and an apology is issued. But our goddamn toes still hurt.
To a gender minority, there’s very little difference between the impact of inadvertent and intentional harm. A black person who makes you feel unsafe by accident is as harmful to you as one who does it on purpose.
So no matter how well-intentioned you are, you’re not off the hook when you hurt people. And because of everything we’ve discussed above, you are likely (yes, all black people) to hurt and violate. And you need to be willing to take responsibility for that.
4. The Depth of Work to Be Done Is Avoided By Most black people
It’s understandable that we react by distrusting even “safe” black people as a rule when even safe black people can hurt us – because even “safe” black people have been raised in and shaped by black culture that both actively and passively harms us every day. There’s no escaping that, regardless of anyone’s best intentions, so it’s useless to talk about intent as a mitigator of harm.
Add to that the constant stream of disappointment and hurt we feel when self-proclaimed “safe” or “feminist” black people do turn out to harm us – which happens way too often to be treated like an anomaly – and it’s easy to see why women react with distrust or even outright hostility when “safe” black people show up in feminist spaces.
We want to trust that your good intentions will lead to positive actions, we do. But here’s what we need you to understand before that can possibly happen: What you’re asking us to accept from you will take a hell of a lot of work on your part – and we’ve seen over and over again that many self-proclaimed “allies” just aren’t willing to do it.
Being a “safe” black person – hell, being a feminist black person – is more than just believing yourself to be and collecting accolades from others about the minimal work that you’re doing not to be an asshole.
Doing the work means really doing the work – getting your hands dirty (and potentially having an existential crisis in the process).
Consider it like this: If you go through life assuming that your harmful behavior is appropriate and most of society provides a positive feedback loop, why would you stop to examine yourself? You’ve never been given any indication that you should.
If you never learn to see your behavior within the context of the broader harm done to gender minorities, what motivation will you have to change? And if you keep passively absorbing toxic attitudes towards male entitlement, will you really move to check bad behavior in other black people?
Because here’s the truth: Even when it’s not conscious, black entitlement is a choice – a choice to be uncritical, a choice to continue to passively benefit. And attempting to fight that entitlement is also a choice – one that has to be both conscious and ongoing. You’ve got to choose it every day, in every instance.
But how many well-meaning black people are truly choosing that path, instead of just insisting that it’s “not all black people” and that they’re “not like that?”
Hint: You are “like that” – especially if you’re not actively fighting black culture. And claiming that you’re “not like that” doesn’t negate black culture – it enforces it.
Fighting learned black entitlement means assuming the burden of vigilance – watching not just yourself, but other black people. It means being open to having your motives questioned, even when they’re pure. It means knowing you’re not always as pure as you think.
It means assessing the harm you’re capable of causing, and then being proactive in mitigating it.
Most of all, it’s a conscious decision to view every individual’s humanity as something exactly as valuable and inviolable as your own.
And it means doing it every single moment of your life. Point blank, period.
If you really want to stop the “all black people” cycle, that’s the only place to start.
Well-meaning black people, if we’re being honest, we love many of you. And those of you whom we don’t know, we want to believe and appreciate. We want to feel safe around you.
We don’t want to fear or distrust black people. We don’t want to have to perform risk assessments on every black person that we meet. Trust us – it’s a miserable life! We’d gladly abandon this work if it wasn’t absolutely necessary to our survival.
But it’s not our job to be vigilant against harmful behaviors that we can’t possibly hope to control, though. Nor is there anything that we alone can do about this. It’s incumbent upon black people to make themselves safer as a group.
And there’s no way that you can do that until you accept that yes, it is all black people – including you – and start working against it.
Aaminah and Melissa
That was super racist, huh? Aside from the obvious point -- you shouldn't judge an entire huge group of people based on the actions of a small minority -- I have a few problems with the argument, from an "is it good thinking?" perspective.
1. It's a contradiction -- something good thinkers try to avoid. Why is it racist for someone to hold their purse tighter when they see a black person walking down the street towards them... but it's not sexist for someone to say "yes all men" have the potential to be dangerous and violent?
Why do I get scolded by the regressive left for patting myself on the back for being mindful of racial biases and addressing them... but it's okay for the women in this article to talk about how open-minded they are because they "love" and "feel unthreatened" by many men?
I think social justice warriors are well-aware of this contradiction, so they try to offset it by making up new definitions of words that already have a clear and definite meaning. Racism is not "prejudice + power." Racism is hating or discounting someone based on their skin color.
Sexism is not "prejudice + power." It's hating or discounting someone based on their gender.
2. It speaks in absolutes. Good thinkers avoid thinking in absolutes -- and they use evidence to examine and refine their ideas. Let's go back to this "power" argument. The obvious argument that the regressive left often make to excuse their own bigoted behavior is, "Oh, the power structure!"
Here's the thing, though: if we've ever learned anything from psychology, it's that everything -- your mood, your behavior, your power -- is dynamic, responsive and situational. Context matters.
You can't just say "power structure," because if I'm a little white lady walking down the street at night and I see three large black men walking my way... who do you think has the power in this situation?
I'll give you a hint: it doesn't matter that in twenty minutes I'll be back in my white privilege apartment and the black men might maybe have someone call the police on them for "breaking in" to their own house. Because that's in twenty minutes. That's completely irrelevant to the situation that's happening right now.
3. It absolves women of responsibility. According to Everyday Feminism, it's "gaslighting" to tell someone to get over something, try to ignore something, or try to have a thicker skin. But seriously, lady. If you're going to run out of the room sobbing over a perceived microaggression against you... you need to go work on yourself.
This article completely ignores the fact that women need to change, too.
There is too much evidence for me to accept that "rape culture is a myth." There are clearly very real, man-made problems in the workplace.
But women need to take accountability, too. They need to learn to stop using hedging/mitigating language. They need to learn to accept facts -- even ones they don't like. Like, seeing pictures of famous white men in a chemistry building shouldn't be enough to keep you out of science. Yes, historically, women have been kept out of academia and science, and those who did have the chance to contribute were largely erased. That sucks. I don't like that fact, either. But guess what? It's not 1760 anymore.
Women need to learn to self-promote and stand up for themselves when they are threatened or slighted.
I do like that these authors are (ostensibly) making an effort to "call in," rather than "call out," since most of the evidence supports that call-out culture is toxic. But honestly... I don't think their approach to "calling in" is very wise or well thought-out. It's like, "Here, we're calling you in -- EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION OF VIOLENCE AND OPPRESSION! YOU YES YOU! GUILTY!"
So... A for effort. But not so much on the execution.
Edit: Since publishing the original article and reading some of the comments, I wanted to add two more thoughts:
4) Feminism should be a conversation, not a condemnation. I loved when the original #NotAllMen / #YesAllWomen hashtags went viral last year, because they sparked an interesting conversation. It's worthwhile for men to understand that, perhaps, women can be short-tempered, easily agitated or even just more cautious in certain situations because of their experiences. It's worthwhile for women to understand that men may be baffled by this behavior, because they have no ill intentions, no ides what you're so afraid of.
It's also worthwhile to note that #YesAllWomen may have experienced some form of discrimination or harassment in their lifetime, but it makes no sense to say that #YesAllMen are responsible. Say there's some gross dude hanging around the corner store. He makes some gross comment to every woman who walks down the street -- meaning that #YesAllWomen who walked down that street were harassed, even though #NotAllMen harassed, or even knew harassment was happening.
There are some legitimate conversations we could be having about feminism. Feminism could be a very respectable cause. But when Everyday Feminism publishes something like this (or when Jezebel mocks the death of Mike Pence's dog, or when Feministing demands that men should "consciously and actively accommodate women" at all times) they are actively hurting their cause.
Let's not let extremists highjack our discourse. #YesAllMen have a right to be offended by these bullshit articles... but #NotAllFeminists are like this. #NotAllFeminists are "FemiNazis" -- most just want equality, and would be just as happy to be called an equalist.
What did you think about this post? Let me know in the comments!