Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Endless Introductions

Thinking Girl asks for comments on an interesting dilemma for those of us working in anti-subordination fields: How to deal with the endless parade of people who are (for lack of a better term) entirely ignorant of the basics of what we are doing? Anyone whose participated in these communities knows the type. It's generally the same questions, over and over and over again, basic 101 material that--because, alas, feminism and CRT are not yet mainstream--many folks still don't know. Sometimes it's genuine (if they ask to be taught something, I assume it's in good faith), other times it's trolling (hostile tones beget hostile responses).

The response the hosts and/or regular commenters give is somewhat ad hoc. If we're in a good mood, we'll answer the question as best we can. If we're not, we'll snap at the questioner to stop being ignorant, or coldly inform them that not every blog is designed to help beginners figure out the basics. From an outsiders perspective, it is difficult to understand, but try to imagine watching every discussion on a really important topic being pushed back to square one by (we'll be generous here) well-meaning commenters who just don't have a clue. It's like a Dilbert strip gone to hell.

There's an unfortunate paradox here. It is exhausting to have to tread the same terrain over and over again. Back in my early days doing anti-racism theory, I didn't understand this. I was like a kid with a shiny new toy, and with my debate background (and years of pent up evangelizing spirit that had no outlet since Jews don't missionize) I had near endless energy to try and explain Critical Race Theory to the masses (i.e., my White friends and blog readership). This was in part due to the fact that I was a new sojourner to the movement--I remember back when I was "unsaved" (so to speak), and so I viewed it as my obligation to try and bring as many of my fellow pagans to the fold as possible (I'm not joking with the rhetoric--this felt very much like a religious experience to me). There but for the grace of God and all that. I also hoped that I could use my Whiteness to my advantage here as well--since an aspect of my White privilege is that I do not have to live my life constantly "race-d", I thought that if I began to tire of the fight, I could step back, take a sabbatical, re-charge my batteries, and then return to the battlefield restored and renewed. Suffice to say, it didn't work: once you're attuned to the way race and racism permeate American society, you can't just start ignoring them, even if you're White. And if even I--who is not the primary victim of racism, whose life and equal status is not on the line in the debate--can feel this rhetorical exhaustion and fatigue from dealing with the same foundational debates, then I dare venture to say that it is a problem the whole community experiences.

But on the other hand, anti-subordination workers need to reach new people. We're in the minority, we want to move to the majority--it's axiomatic. And like I said, since I still can remember when I was the ignorant, uninformed one, I am unwilling to just abandon the masses. It was a total fluke that I came across this entire area of discourse--I don't expect other people to come to it the same way I did (a random debate round in high school). And, to speak on behalf of the ignorant for a minute--it's not their fault that they're the 40th iteration of a certain question, so long as they weren't also numbers 39, 38, 37, etc.. Sure, to us it looks like infinite repetition, but remember, for every 40 people asking the question (that they might overhear the answer), there are another 40,000 not talking about it at all. Statistically, the average man or woman is likely to be running in the social circle of the 40,000 than the 40. Such is life in an intellectual minority. In our frustration, it can be difficult to remember that cluelessness is not the same thing as malice. I think, as a community, we have an obligation to speak to anyone who, in good-faith, seeks us out for dialogue. The who and how are, to me, the bigger issues, and I don't want to minimize them. But I think we have to be wary of disclaiming the obligation entirely because we haven't figured out entirely how to go about it.

I hope that the Feminism 101 blog can help mediate this problem (am I the only one who thinks it might be a good Wiki candidate?). A anti-racism parallel would certainly be nice as well. But I just want to emphasize that this is a really important topic, and I'm glad that Thinking Girl has opened the floor for discussion on it.


Anonymous said...

HI David,

Thanks for taking this topic up. I've been finding it such a burden lately, maybe because my blog has increased dramatically in readership the past few months, I don't know. But it seems like my blog is attracting so many commenters who are not just new to feminism, but who come in on the attack! Feminism is something jsut about everyone has an opinion on, whether it is informed or not, and for so many (and, sadly, all of these commenters are men, which for me really says something about masculine socialization), their uninformed opinions are either dreadfully mistaken or unmoveable.

And so I end up going into broken record mode, which isn't productive for anyone, and then ends up being fodder for another attack by a naysayer - "you're so repetitive" and whatnot. Well, the reason I'm so repetitive is because people aren't getting the basics!

It is frustrating, because it slows down the level of discourse. And really important stuff gets lost in the flaming over stupid things like pickup artists and makeup. Yet, ultimately, I agree with you - I do feel like anti-oppression movements need to be accessible to newbies and to those teetering on the brink of conversion, so to speak.

My answer was to post prominent links everywhere to feminism 101 blog! And to stop allowing flame-comments, which only really detract from the discussion (although it really pisses them off and they accuse me of censorship - but I don't care!)

anyway, I'll check back to see what others have to say about this. maybe there's a better way to handle it - I'd be happy to find out!

PG said...

I started writing a comment and it got too long so I transferred it to my blog.

RachelsTavern said...

You should think about writing an occasional post for Ally Work. We need more folks, and your knowledge of CRT may help some of hte basic discussions get started.