[eDebate] Gender Trouble?
Sat Apr 12 08:43:49 CDT 2008
Today's first post takes a different turn, productive perhaps if a coalition of the willing can move forward. I have already in my coalition building efforts for MPOWER engaged publicly or privately several members/groups in the community about where we are at in trying to make coalitions. I seek to build real connections through real communication with yet another potential ally today. I have have learned from other members of MPOWER's leadership team, who like Dayvon don't feel comfortable speaking directly to the NDT/CEDA community, so we stick to our structure here at Louisville, and I stay the mouthpiece, while they sit in the cut and engage from a distance.
My story begins Thursday afternoon in our squad room. Quiet, always happy, Tiffany Dillard, looked at me a random moment as we were discussing strategy of the edebate tactic stage of our Movement and said, "You need to stop 'adding gender' to you posts. 'They' ain't doing nothing for us." I hadn't even noticed that I had "added gender" because it's usually second nature for me to do so, as testament to what I have learned about the white feminist struggle in our community. But this is the WOMAN that runs my military unit so I simply said "ok" and the conversation moved on to other aspects of the edebate discussion. I had the kids and took Jordan to the park while Tiffany and Tria continued their "the View" like roundtable into the topics of the day.
Yesterday morning I wrote a post and noticed that I accidentally used a gendered pronoun. I usually try to mix up my pronouns for creativity and failed to add a "or her" to complete a sentence, in large part editing is what gets slacked off when dealing with this volume of posting I'm currently engaged in. As almost conditioned by my shared experiences in this activity, I started to write a public apology for the oversight, but as I was thinking how to word it, I remembered Tiffany's directive from the day before. So I stopped and decided to ask my inner circle, both WOMEN about the situation, because they literally run my life and I needed their womanist perspective on things. I thought I knew what they would conclude, but I needed to her their warrants used to justify that conclusion.
As suspected, neither thought it appropriate to apologize but for slightly different reasons, although each agreed with the other after further discussion. Tiffany's reasaon is that she feels the white feminist in NDT/CEDA don't perceive Black women as women in general, but in particular, they don't see Louisville women at all. In fact, when I said referring to her comment from the day before, that when I "add gender" to my posts, honestly I'm mostly thinking about the women on our team. Her response, "When you discuss race, you are including us. I'm fine with that." (obviously feeling comfortable to speak for the long history of MPOWER's disproportional over-representation of women, unmatched in the NDT/CEDA over the last eight years, a fact that seems to go unnoticed most of the time, as proof of her point). She went on to say that gender on edebate is read "white women", and until those white women speak out and engage the current discussion by making the same efforts to find the commonalities of the two struggles, you should not include them. This is her recurring problem that often gender discussions occur in the community occur in the community too often without consideration of Black women, and their different issues or agenda. Coalition building requires consideration from both sides and if I'm adding gender to MPOWER's struggle, without consideration, it's unfair and not in the best interests of our struggle.
Tria's argument was slightly different but similar. She said two things. "I'm sick of the angry Black woman stereotype being used to marginalize and avoid the content of the things we say." She also felt that Black and white women generally have different issues, different priorities and she feels that white women in the debate community only include her when it helps create numerical or rhetorical strength for issues they care about, and are often silent on relevant race intersections important to Black women." She went deeper into her discussion of the angry Black women characterization (something I joke about all the time, but I'm smart enough to know that it's not in my best interest to dismiss their content so I've learned to not disengaged when I see the anger, understanding where it comes from, feelings of invisibility, and using that compassion to focus on what is being said so I can engage it.) Anyway, she feels like generally there are generally different communication styles between Black (direct, loud, more in your face) and white women (more passive aggressive and more conflict avoidance). She offered the specific coalition building frustration in the debate community of feeling that if Black women choose to speak on issues that white women agree with but choose not to speak as a result of those communicative differences, that's cool, it makes sense given the stylistic difference. However, it bothers her when she does choose to speak up, people dismiss her because of her tone, to justify ignoring her content, and white women remain silent instead of validity the claims that benefit them as well. That responsibility becomes shared in that moment and the added credibility of the white voice would strengthen the claim.
Taken together, I felt much the way I did after reading Tricia Rose's discussion of Black women rappers in Black Noise, that the Black women rappers make a conscious choice in their lyrics to avoid providing any direct or indirect support through labels like "feminist" as a protest to what they feel is a one-way and exploitative relationship, only serving to advance the white feminist agenda, and pushing Black women's issues further down the priority list.
What do I think? I agree. I feel that I'm treated in similar ways, especially with regards to argument. When I create a fictionalized account of the actual arguments being made in the post between Korcok and Love, Korcok attempts to read my account literally then by using challenges to my factual accuracy, he attempts to minimize my credibility, without ever answering the arguments. The question I often have to wonder when there is white silence to his strategy, is "do whites see what he just did?" Or did they see his strategy as effective? Because if so, the impact of race is even greater than I thought. And if not, there is no assessment measure, at least on edebate debate to check his behavior or to validate mine. So I very much feel and understand what the Black women are saying.
So I choose not to apologize in solidarity with my women. I choose to capitalize Black women and not white women as my protest to their protest of male dominated language. These are issues that my women say are not an issue for them, despite attempts to universalize them to all women. It's a difficult position for me. I know that some, if not many of the white women in the community actively work in the racial struggle, and likely feel like Elliott or Korcok when they post their list asking is that not enough? And I guess what I'm learning that the answer is "no" if the choices you make to improve the community don't align with the interests of those you are building coalitions with. To remix a Tonia Green analogy: It's like someone asking you want you what to eat, then serving you something different. If you respond with frustration, they respond with, "well I fed you didn't I?"
I feel like if I make moves on issues that the Black women in my life say aren't their priority, I'm stuck in a catch-22. Liz used to say privilege and oppression are two sides of the same coin. Either way, I hurt folks I care about, but damn, one group is on the ground with me fighting these racial issues on the daily, and the other is a casual acquaintance.
Why is all of this important, especially now? I do strongly believe that Black and white women in debate have a shared history of similar experiences that could be the foundation for an amazingly productive and strong coalition. But clearly, it's not there yet. I'm asking my warriors to get with their warriors, asking Tiffany and Tria to find some compassion so we can fix this. We need to break bread with white women in the community, just like Davyon needs to break bread with whites. I'm asking my white female friends to engage these thoughts and ideas too. With my luck, I'll probably get cussed out by both sides. Damn, anybody consider that as a Black man, I'm an intersection too?
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