Contextural Margins

by matttbastard

Well, bastard.logic–and *ahem* yours truly–have made it to the finals of the Canadian F-Word Blog Awards (final round voting takes place February 22-23–w00t!) Fellow nominee Pomegranate Queen did not make it past the first round (too bad, as her blog kicks ass). While expressing her gratitude for the acknowledgment she took the opportunity to explore some personal concerns the nomination provoked: namely, that having a separate Women of Colour category others WOC who may (or may not) identify as feminists; how the awards serve a microcosm of feminism in general; and how WOC have been marginalized throughout the history of the movement.

Prole from ACR shows up in comments to address the matter of the WOC category:

I’m really sorry to have offended you or anyone – to be honest, I had questioned the category also when we were putting this together. We consulted some other bloggers while coming up with the list, and the WOC category was insisted on, by a person of colour. We deferred to their judgement.

First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the person of colour in question.

Prole, please don’t take this the wrong way, cause I love your guilt-ridden cracker ass (grinz), but “my black friend sez” is never a valid explanation (not that you’re the first to fall back on it). I’m certainly no proxy for all the brothas and sistas out there, and apologize to all concerned if I presented myself as such. I hold opinions that many would disagree with (obviously), regardless of ethnicity, identity, gender, or orientation.

With that out of the way, speaking solely for myself, I do happen to believe that (for whatever reason, right or wrong) there IS a difference between mainstream middle-class liberal white-centred feminism and the sort that is practiced and written about by WOC bloggers (to say nothing of the perspectives that are highlighted by black male, LGBT bloggers, or disability bloggers). By itself, having a distinctive category highlighting and celebrating the unique contribution to feminist blogging made by Women of Colour isn’t necessarily othering; however, the lack of nominees in the WOC category is indicative of the fact that white feminist bloggers (and white feminists in general) do need to expand their horizons with regards to interacting with bloggers who reside out of the so-called mainstream*, to redefine the boundaries of what feminism(s) is (are).

What does lend credence to the charge of othering (and I should have thought of this when I pushed for the category) is the lack of a parallel “Best Mainstream Middle-Class White-Centred Feminist Blog.” Having an unqualified “Best Canadian Feminist” category alongside categories specifically devoted to racial/gender identity makes “Canadian Feminist” the default stand in for “white”, illustrating the fact that, to too many folks, “white” is synonymous with “normative”. PQ is right: what needs to be discussed isn’t that the F-Word awards othered WOC, but rather that WOC are already marginalized from so-called “mainstream” (read: white middle-class) feminist discourse (and discourse in general) to the point where POC have to cause a ruckus in order for the experiences and issues that affect them (us) to be acknowledged.

Would any WOC-authored blogs have been nominated otherwise? I suppose we’ll never know, and perhaps my (unwarranted?) cynicism was precluded by witnessing too many battles within the USian femisphere where the voices of WOC were reflexively marginalized to the point of non-existence.

The issues explored by POC/WOC bloggers, like all issues, are simultaneously universal and unique; that people default to “white” as being “the norm” is a product of a white supremacist (and no, I don’t mean skinheads and white sheets, lol) patriarchal discourse that has been imposed upon–and willingly embraced by many in–our society. And, much like oblivious Popular Male Liberal Bloggers, white feminists (and, to varying degrees, POC) aren’t immune; having a vagina (and/or darker complexion) doesn’t mean one can’t be affected. But if Feminism(s) truly represent a radical discourse, then the idea of the existence of an inherent “norm”–rather than lazy assumptions born of unconscious and deliberate social conditioning–needs to be challenged.

And that includes lazy assumptions that exist within a radical discourse, even if the privilege is affirmed by somebody who should know better (doh!)

* One thing that I’ve realized throughout all this is that I don’t have much interaction with other Canadian bloggers of colour. That fact was made apparent when I tried to think of blogs to nominate in the category and was stumped–ironic, huh? Which, as I said, is partly the point of the awards: expanding one’s horizons.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

5 thoughts on “Contextural Margins

  1. “that people default to “white” as being “the norm” is a product of a white supremacist”

    If people keep making an issue of the differences by wanting special categories too often, this probably adds to that idea. I know there are some blogs run by people of various shades, but frankly, I tend to forget that unless the blogger reminds us. So there’s no “default” there for some of us. I like that. Some blogs focus on their culture or colour, that’s fine, interesting, enlightening, but they can’t expect readers to view them as just part of the mix, because they’ve chosen not to be.

    There may be times when a separate category for different cultures or “colours” has a constructive purpose, but really, having one in the fem blogs confused me. Why a separate one? Yes, there are different issues, but this is a feminist blog award and I think most of us lefties look at the quality of the blog and probably don’t give a damn about skin shade.

    In fact, I found it so confusing that I was going to ask if Harper Valley qualified as WOC being scout is native. Then I ended up not asking because I didn’t want to offend anyone with a stupid question. Which made me feel even more stupid.

    I have a friend from Mississippi who received special awards for being African American and received special grants. He told me he would rather not have won them that way, but just on his own academic merits which were more than enough. He is proud of his heritage but said special awards like that defeat efforts at helping African Americans and crackers understand that black students are as capable as white ones.

    I could be completely wrong in everything I wrote here, MB, but this skin colour issue, while I know it exists in our world, is so crazy it seems that by trying to over come it, we sometimes end up making it worse.

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  2. If people keep making an issue of the differences by wanting special categories too often, this probably adds to that idea. I know there are some blogs run by people of various shades, but frankly, I tend to forget that unless the blogger reminds us. So there’s no “default” there for some of us. I like that. Some blogs focus on their culture or colour, that’s fine, interesting, enlightening, but they can’t expect readers to view them as just part of the mix, because they’ve chosen not to be.

    There may be times when a separate category for different cultures or “colours” has a constructive purpose, but really, having one in the fem blogs confused me. Why a separate one? Yes, there are different issues, but this is a feminist blog award and I think most of us lefties look at the quality of the blog and probably don’t give a damn about skin shade.

    So, what do you think about feminist blog awards in general–more specifically, how these awards came about to begin with? Please think about what Saskboy, NBCDipper and the rest had to say about “special” categories and progressive enlightenment, and compare that with your assertion that racism is a self-perpetuating problem.

    In other words, yes, I do think that you’re wrong–very much so.

    (Also, your black friend speaks for one person, and one person only: himself.)

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  3. “but “my black friend sez” is never a valid explanation (not that you’re the first to fall back on it).”

    But it was the truth! Being a cracker-ass cracker, I didn’t know if it would be a good or not-good thing to include the category, so I asked someone who would know, or at least have an opinion that was informed by their perception, which itself was the issue. So it was an honest answer, and really I don’t know what other way I could have explained. It was not said in the spirit of “I have black friends, therefore I understand what it means to be black”. I did ask my black friend about this specific issue, for the express purpose of getting an opinion from a person of colour, and that is how the decision was made. If I hadn’t asked my black friend (that’s you, baby), then it would be a cracker making the decision in a cracker vacuum with no input from any non-crackers. Which would have been perceived as more patronizing?

    You know I ask earnestly. And I thank you, and Pomegranate Queen, for bringing this up. I’ll have a post up after Sunday when the awards are over. A very positive outcome is, our section of the blogosphere has many, many new links to investigate and our horizons, as you say, have been expanded. Which is always good.

    *It is kinda innaresting that you wanted the category, and didn’t nominate anyone in it. :p

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  4. mattbastard, I’m not going to apologize for having an opinion. I’ll apologize ahead of time though if this comment comes across as harsh. It’s not meant to. I realize my friend is only one person, but that does not mean his point isn’t valid or hasn’t added to my experiences and understanding from which opinions are formed. If you are thinking that I was referring to a black friend as a way of me saying I know about being black because nice whitey me, I even have a black friend – I would find that very offensive. But perhaps that is not what you meant. I was simply presenting his experienced and informed opinion, his one person point of view in the same way some men who support feminism might tell of a female friend’s experiences.

    Nor do I base my concerns over only one person’s comments. For one example, I taught at a US university for a couple of years in a city where we had two race riots while I was there. My students were a mixed group from all over the world, and even among people of colour, there was confusion as to what that term meant (although there, terms were Black, African American, Beige, African descent…) I was told by a student that even among Afrcian Americans/Black people (for want of a term that everyone will accept), people could get pretty uptight about such terminology. One young lady was from the Carribbean and when she said she was not African American, was verbally abused by some people of colour as being a race traitor, despite her saying she is not denying her skin shade, but is not American or African.

    So when people like me – crackers, cracker asses, Whitey – as we are sometimes called and pre-judged by our skin colour – sincerely struggle to understand race issues, not because we are condescending and feel it is the politically correct thing to do, and certainly not because we are full of white guilt – (I don’t suppress anyone, I don’t treat people differently by how they look, so I’ll be damned before I’ll feel guilty simply due to an accident of birth), it would be really nice if we weren’t viewed as the enemy, or the patronizing Whitey, part and product of white supremacy. For some people, the cycle was broken long ago.

    Even within certain groups there is a poor definition of who “belongs” and who doesn’t as my students explained to me. So if you read my comment again, I said I was “confused” by the category, and I still am. As I said, do aboriginals belong there? Middle East people? Polynesians? Orientals?

    Yes, I know this feminist award was created because of the other awards failing to consider feminist blogs, but the big issue there was that they were lumped into one category with very dissimilar groups. I wouldn’t have cared much if there had been no category for feminism. We could make our own awards, and ACR did. It was trivializing all subgroups within that odd category that bothered me – trivializing them by not understanding that they are very different from each other.

    As I said to Scott, there needs to be clear criteria to set a category, and he didn’t set any. The F-word awards, as thrilled as I am they are being run, weren’t clear on the criteria for the WOC category. As a blogger, I should have asked for clarification back then. Also, in my opinion, for a blog type to qualify as a category, there should be criteria – along the lines of: has this type been around long enough to be more than a trend; is there networking between these bloggers showing they themselves recognize each other as distinct; are they in fact distinct enough to form their own category; have they been consistent enough in their character to be a category…and more.

    Finally,
    You wrote – “your assertion that racism is a self-perpetuating problem.” I never asserted anything of the kind. First of all, I wasn’t asserting, but giving my opinion, adding that I was confused about some of this, and that I could be wrong. Second – I didn’t say racism is a self-perpetuating problem. What I said was: “by trying to over come it, we sometimes end up making it worse.” Note the word “sometimes.” And I stand by that. I’ve seen it for myself. Poor word choice on my part, likely – I should have said “some of the things we do to combat racism sometimes add to the problem.” Poor methods, in some cases, but still the fight needs to be fought.

    You wrote: “Would any WOC-authored blogs have been nominated otherwise? I suppose we’ll never know…” That was part of my point, part of my concern, and I think it’s a damn shame. It would be good for WOC to have won in a general category and then proudly display that they are WOC. The group of bloggers generally involved with ACR don’t involve a larege percentage of self-identified WOC. That should not disqualify a category, but it could end up making it look very weak if few are nominated, which is what seems to be happening in this case. If a WOC wins in any of the other categories, she can wave a huge flag and say look! Here I am, and I won! And draw attention to WOC issues and blogs. Then what WOC have to say, choose to say, can spread. Yes, they have a distinct voice and perspective, but unless the category was clear on it’s criteria, and there were actually enough blogs to compete in the category, they can appear as a fringe group, vague and shadowy.

    Like TGB said about these awards – these bloggers aren’t just good feminist bloggers, they are good bloggers, period. (Or words to that effect) If I had won as best political blogger on Scott’s awards, that I’m a woman furthers the cause of feminism. If I would have won as best political blog in the F-word awards, I’d still be proud, but since it is restricted to female bloggers, misogynists would most likely discount it as insignificant since it’s just an award limited to “just” a bunch of women.

    I said I won’t apologize for having an opinion, and I won’t. I will apologize sincerely, however, if I offended you (either in this or the previous comment through my lack of clarity in writing) – you, as a blogger I respect greatly, whatever colour you are.

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