Originally published in Luna Luna June 18, 2014
*Please note, I have made some minor content changes to keep it relevant to this reprint. Also for the end CW for racist language, death/rape threats and terribleness.
Before we get to the good stuff I want to make a few things crystal clear. For our purposes here, everything you see in quotation marks are actual literal things that have been said in public to or about me.
In my previous post I was not actually angry. Some of the dismissals of my entire point were based on my tone (hooray for tone policing), were based entirely on me being an “angry Black woman” and subsequently I have been deemed too mean and too much of a “discredit” to Black people that I cannot be listened to or taken seriously.
Those engaging in this particular behavior are gas lighting and cherry picking. Both of those things are being used to undermine my credibility, humanity and the value of my work. They are also being used so a good number of White women can then turn what was a generalized statement into a personal one, tell others that they feel victimized and subsequently dismiss everything I said.
That my friend is a textbook example of White Women Tears. Using emotional manipulation to silence the voice of a Black woman in this case, in order to a.) hang onto that White Privilege, b.) have a “reason” to ignore what is a serious issue and c.) demonstrate an incredible lack of understanding that discourse requires that one is not always speaking or the center of attention.
In stark contrast, many of you all, (we will get to know each other I promise) had a moment where you got upset and then thought, OH NO I CANNOT BELIEVE I WAS DOING THAT IT IS AWFUL.
There was sadness, regret. Some of you contacted me personally to apologize and let me know that you are willing to face up that ingrained racism and work on it.
That is freaking great. That is why I have spent so many years (going on 20) learning how to break this stuff down in ways that are understandable for everyone from the academic to the not up on social justice language or concepts folks. It matters that deeply to me.
The other day I wrote this whole big thing and I was going to give the people who deny my humanity but I don’t want to do that. It felt too awful to sustain the hurt and anger.
Dealing with having to prove that I, the big Scary, mean old Black lady have feelings and am a full real human being who, after being alive for 39 years has developed some hard boundaries when it comes to racism, is just exhausting. It hurts me.
Let’s not do that.
Instead, I want to leave y’all with the first set of tools to start really digging in and unlearning a lot of stuff that is hurtful to your own lives, my life, the lives of other POC and every Feminist in the world.
So thing number one that will go a long way towards starting to mend the rift:
Don’t dehumanize a Black woman. That means don’t tone police, don’t wait until someone who is also White “translates” and all of a sudden you get it, but feel the need to point out that “the writer” was too “harsh”.
Be mindful of how you talk about Black women. If all I am to you is either a Sassy Mammy or a nameless bully who says things you don’t like, I am not for you and you are upholding white supremacy. So don’t.
When you see that kind of thing (and believe me, once you see it, it can’t be unseen) speak up. Say the author (and use folks names, I have a name it is Shannon Barber) tell people that they are dehumanizing, gas lighting or otherwise being buttholes. Yes, that is great. When someone tells you that your (White person) explanation is ever so much kinder and better, tell them no.
So let’s start there. Work up to confronting people by showing support, show folks like me that you realize what is going on and you are with us in the struggle.
I really hope that I have given you some new tools to help bolster your gumption to make some changes in how feminist discourse is done.
Now remember. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate feminism. I hate the culturally normative and deeply harmful juggernaut of Whiteness and I want us all to do better so we can really change the world. It won’t always feel like a nice bum rub and a hug because learning is hard. Understanding and changing our behaviors is hard, but I believe you can do it.
I added this note to the previous reprint and the rule stands:
A note added 5/18/2016. I will not abide fuckery on this post. If you want to yell about what a racist, I am, please be so kind as to write your own article not as a comment to this one.
For a little more context as to why I might say that, I did some email splelunking to show you some things that were said about and to me:
All names redacted the following come from a very popular feminist page on facebook. There were more but the most racist comments were deleted and one of the mods was thoughtful enough to contact me when some folks tried to tag me into the conversation.
These are the kind of comments that make me write these things over and over:
When you rudely tell other women to shut up, we’re going to tune you out and consider you a bitch. There’s no need to be so hostile towards us just because we’re white. Ugh.
Angry Black woman tone policing check. Another from the same person after someone talked to them about it:
Because telling someone to shut up, even when it’s followed by ‘for five minutes’ is both rude and dismissive. That’s how it’s hostile. And being white hasn’t given many of us great advantages. You shouldn’t assume that it does, and that we’re ‘talking over you’ when in fact, we are merely speaking.
It devolved from there.
Comment from a Non Black POC, zero solidarity up in there:
I understand that. The writer has a lot of anger in her. From people telling her to shut up. The fact that so many of you had to explain what she was trying to say speaks volumes. Her message isn’t getting across bc of her anger. Reading through the comments I’m able to understand more of why she is so angry. But the action words used “shut up” can be misconstrued. If someone constantly tells me to shut up I’m not going to reply to them with “no you shut up!” It’s counter productive and no one wants to listen at that point.
Obviously, I’m the problem.
Next, a lesson from a White man:
If we learn nothing else from this post, let it be that leading with the words “Shut the hell up for five minutes” is not the best way to appeal to the best in people on a topic that inspires great emotion. As for myself, the article consists of so many divisional terms like “white ladies,” “white women,” “WOC,” and “all men” to make it painful to read. No one person, regardless of her skin color, should presume to be able to speak for all others of similar description or give advice to whole other groups as though they are all exactly the same in every way.
So, obviously my life experience and terrible words were…what?
Another one, low
This is offensive. I’m tired of my favorite feminist pages putting me down because of the color of my skin. Yes, I’m white. Yes, I understand privilege and work hard to fight discrimination and be the best feminist I can be. So please stop making white women the enemy. People have turned the very act of recognizing privilege into an excuse to put down white women. Yet another feminist page I will be unsubscribing from. Feminism is supposed to eradicate divisions, not create them. Seriously offensive bullshit. Sounds like an excuse to discriminate.
And another one from another offended White lady:
I read the article and I still don’t understand, it seems an insy wincy bit racist unsure :( Because we’re white we don’t think about anyone but ourselves? We don’t read the constant reports of rape and murder in India and the countless cases of FGM and feel outraged because we’re white? She doesn’t mention anywhere what the exact problems that black women face that do not affect white women, but if we’re going to stop it, isn’t it better to have more people on your side rather than shutting them out? What is whiteness anyway? Or maybe you could blacksplain your black lady tears while you’re having a go at us? To be honest, the only feeling I’m left with is the same as when feminists get hostile towards men instead of educating them, making them not want to know or care about feminist issues unsure :(
Those were public.
Privately here are some gems. CW this is going to be gross and racist. I’m not censoring these I am slightly rewording a couple due to spelling/syntax things.
Fourteen messages from facebook the next day that simply either referred to the piece by name or just said something like: fuck you racist.
Next some other gems from facebook messages:
You are the reason why feminism is never going to win. You are worse than any man and I will never shut up and you will never win.
Next this eloquent take down:
fucking nigger bitch
That one was also from a White woman who publicly on her fb page was sooooo not racist.
I count a total of 32 messages calling me some variation of nigger bitch. Split let’s say 60/40 White men to White women.
I was told that I personally am the reason someone has flounced from feminism in about 15 messages.
From my email archive what I can find related to the publication of this piece and the previous one. A dozen straight up actual death threats (generally I should/will kill you and cunts like you type), about the same number of rape threats/wishes I should be correctively raped. Called a racist, a reverse racist, a large number of times.
I don’t share these to shock people. I want to make a very clear point here. This is what I risk when I am Black and have opinions on the internet. I don’t strictly identify as a woman, but am generally seen as a woman which is fine.
This type of reaction has followed me from being a budding online diarist talking about sex and my dreams (yes, literally an online personal journal) to now being an essayist, occasional memorist and all round writer type.
And I don’t experience half of what friends of mine do because I have published less work about Feminism and Whiteness than I have in the past. Not because I have nothing to say but, I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the commentary.
So, if you made it this far thank you. And please, think about the cost to people like me who take the risks to write this stuff.