choice

Last month, I had an abortion.

I’ve been a strident advocate for a woman’s right to choose since I was a pre-teen, and it’s still difficult for me to say those words. So many assumptions about my life can be made on the basis of that admission, and the shame is real. For White women in American society, the shame of having an abortion is mainly centered on their individual behavior. For Black women, our behavior reflects on Black folks as a whole, specifically other Black women—so the scope of the shame is much wider. An unintended pregnancy can call your responsibility into question, and regardless of your age, the specter of the stereotypical Black teenage mother casts a long shadow.

Read more at EBONY.com.

The idea of Black women being called on to impart their essence into a white woman in order for her to become empowered is laughable, when you consider the fact that actual Black women are systematically disempowered in American society. Yet when viewed in the context of the social construction of an essential Black culture, and white folks’ subsequent appropriation of said culture, it makes total sense. Why not pick and choose the most desirable aspects of what you’ve created and incorporate them into your own identity? Why not then shame the people whose culture you stole, reconstructed, and marketed back to them for engaging in those same activities? Why worry about the historical significance of your actions when nothing other than the protests of those occupying a lesser social status compel you to do so?

[read more at Bitch Magazine.]

When I was a kid I would watch the winter and summer Olympics with rapt attention every 4 years, religiously. Then I got married and stopped, I think because my ex-husband wasn’t into sports so I had no one to watch it with, or maybe I decided I was too cool for the Olympics now that I was 21 and could drink. Who knows. Honestly, I don’t really like most sports either, but I don’t really consider the Olympics sports in the way pro teams in the U.S. are sports to me, because the events aren’t as boring and the athletes don’t make like, $10 million a year. It’s just more exciting because I only see it once every 4 years, whereas shit like football is on way too much. And when I’m watching football I always get annoyed that so-and-so is all idolized but beats his girlfriend, or what’s-his-name gets models pregnant and dumps them. In 2008, I heard about the Michael Phelps eight gold medal quest at the Beijing Olympics so I kept an eye on that online, low pro like so my husband didn’t know I was a nerd for stuff like that. But I didn’t actually watch all the races, and I didn’t watch any of the other competitions I used to love as a kid.

Bob Costas

This year, though, I have jack shit else to do since I’m home taking care of my mom (who is recovering from surgery), so I’m once again able to go for the gold in competitive “yelling at Bob Costas”. Pretty much everyone I know is annoyed by some aspect of NBC’s coverage of the Games, and I’m also someone I know who’s annoyed. Not so much because they don’t play the events live, since being on the West Coast I’m used to watching things hours behind everyone else and having everything spoiled by my Twitter timeline. What’s elicited my best “yelling at Bob Costas” performances have been the ways NBC (and the media in general, actually) spends all this time glorifying athletes and then craps all over them when they don’t “measure up”. Oh right, and that whole racism thing they do.

Regarding the former issue, there was their treatment of Michael Phelps. When he won silver in the 200m fly, NBC was like “OMG! PHELPS’ LONDON NIGHTMARE, WILL HE EVER RECOVER FROM THIS??” Okay yeah, he didn’t win gold in this event and he usually does. And yeah, he didn’t place in his very first race. But “nightmare”? Really? I mean, he just won a silver. There are a shit ton of countries that have never won any medal, out of all their athletes. Some countries are happy to just be able to compete. I think what with this being our dude in the race, maybe we could not make him feel like shit for winning a silver medal? It’s amazing to me that anyone swims anywhere ever as fast as even the last place finisher does in these races. And, hello, he won a gold just the other night. Thankfully for Phelps’ worth as a human being, he didn’t fail miserably in his next 2 races, he won gold. So nyah, Bob Costas. Get off his nuts.

And speaking to the latter issue, you have Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Weiber. Jordyn didn’t qualify for the women’s all-around gymnastics competition even though she was/is the current world champion. So for the entirety of the women’s team gymnastics event they talked about how horrible it was for her to not qualify, what an injustice it was, how this is her redemption, and blah blah blah. Which is like, fine, that’s cool, she’s doing well now. You can give her some props. But, hey! Over here is Gabby, who DID make it into the all-around, AND is doing every apparatus in the team event, and you’re completely ignoring her bad ass performances because you’re busy going on about poor Jordyn. Gabby scored higher than Jordyn on each apparatus, but I guess you didn’t see her since she’s Black and that big White Woman’s Tear was blurring your vision. When Team USA won the gold, even though Gabby scored 33% of the team’s points, some magazines didn’t even name her in pictures of the team. Well, um, It’s pretty hard to not see her and name her now since she won the f-ing women’s all-around gold. Is that good enough, NBC? Did the heat from all Gabby’s awesome dry up some of those White Women’s Tears?

NBC’s Olympic coverage just manages to mirror American attitudes towards greatness and towards race, sometimes simultaneously. If you’re capable of greatness and usually achieve it, we love to pile on you when you mess up. This plays out in a more tawdry and decidedly less talent-oriented way in the tabloids with crap like “GUESS WHOSE BEACH BODY HAS CELLULITE” articles and the annual “REMEMBER WHEN JENNIFER ANISTON GOT DUMPED BY BRAD FOR ANGIE?? SHE MUST STILL FEEL LIKE SHIT!” issue of US magazine. We want to know the best can fail, or be less than perfect, and we revel in it so we feel better about our failures. Do we really need to do that to salve our own wounded egos? No, but it’s an easy, temporary palliative agent that requires very little work on the part of an individual.

When race comes into play, white people want to be assured that Black/brown people who achieve greatness are only able to be great because some other white person was robbed, or because they have white in them (see Obama, Barack), or because they were given unfair advantages to make up for their race that ended up screwing white people in the end. If Jordyn had been there, Gabby wouldn’t have. Right? The racism towards Gabby during and after the team event was slightly under the radar, but recognizable to those willing to see it. Now that she’s won the all-around gold, the media has taken the post-racial society tack. “Well, Black folks have finally broken down their own mental barriers, good for them! It totally wasn’t institutionalized racism that contributed to them being unable to achieve certain things, what with lunch counters having been desegregated for 50+ years now.” That is word-for-word what Bob Costas said after Gabby won. Okay, it’s not. But it might as well have been. I finally brought home the gold in “yelling at Bob Costas” after that verbal turd he laid.

Anyway, these are just my slightly less than random thoughts on NBC’s Olympic coverage. I’m going to get ready to watch Michael Phelps win in the 100m butterfly and eat some Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snack.

At the Crunk Feminist Collective last week, writers Moya B. and Summer M. started a dialogue of sorts on colorism — specifically light skin privilege. That post got thrown a bit of shade by some commenters, so they responded to the ruckus with a follow up post fleshing out the topic a bit more. As a light-skinned black woman myself, I felt a bit uncomfortable and defensive reading the initial post at first, typically a sign for me that I’m reading an article that is challenging some assumption I have or something I take for granted, which is a good thing. After I got into reading, though, I found myself for the most part agreeing with the points Moya and Summer were making, and I began to examine my own relationship with light skin privilege.

For much of my young adult life, I felt that some darker skinned black women were “discriminating” against me because I’m light skinned. Not that they had wielded any particular societal power over me other than to treat me with disdain or question my blackness. Pretty much all of my friends have been darker than I am, so it’s not like every black person darker than me has rejected me or mistreated me. While when I was in Christian elementary and middle school I was one of few black children attending and therefore experienced hefty doses of racism, when I got out and into public school, I was just one of many other black kids so it wasn’t a big deal. Whereas at my private school I was naturally close with the few other black kids there, in public school all the black kids didn’t necessarily have to hang out. I found myself on the outside, not only as a new student but also as a light skinned black girl among peers that were on the whole darker than I was and had preconceived notions regarding light skinned girls in general.

I don’t need to go into the various hurdles I jumped to get accepted by my black peers, especially the girls. The narrative is familiar. At the time, I recognized that they thought I may be haughty about being light skinned, like I thought I was better than them. I didn’t really know exactly why they might think that because at the time I was no scholar of African American history. I was bitter that they had these ideas about me and bitter that they were the gatekeepers of acceptance into the black kids’ group. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight and education, I understand why they felt that way.

I know now the privilege I had and do have due to my lightness. I see the way people treat me versus how they treat my dark skinned friends. I’m considered safe and non-threatening. White people feel like they can ask me ignorant questions about black people and assume I won’t get offended, even though they know I’m black. It’s like they think the lighter skin makes me more docile and sympathetic to their ignorance. Friends who know both me and my sister will often come to me when they have problems with her, because I’m seen as the “good” one. Black guys treat me differently, I’m considered exotic and in many cases preferable to a dark skinned woman. Basically that whole “Light Skin Privilege” list, I live it. And for the longest time, I had no idea. I thought I was the one being treated unfairly. I couldn’t understand why they were distrustful of me. Years of being treated as “less than”, less than white and even less than other black folk, will make people be distrustful. However much it hurt me that they were, they had every right to be, just like we as black people have every right to not immediately trust that white people aren’t going to be racist or prejudiced against us.

For me it’s important to say out loud that I am privileged because of my light skin. I need to be mindful of my privilege when I talk about my experiences navigating life as a light skinned black person. I need to understand that dark skinned black people experience a great deal more discrimination and racism than I do. They’re on the front lines. I’m bringing up the rear. So it’s essential to center their voices in conversations about racism and colorism. Being defensive about it serves no good purpose. Yes, we all experience racism. Yes, there is intra-racial tension between dark skinned and light skinned black folks and we can both mistreat the other group. I’m not saying it’s ideal for dark skinned black folk to resent lighter black folk. There’s a deep history behind that resentment, though, and it’s not going to go away by me bemoaning that it exists.

I write this as a recognition of my privilege and also to bring attention to the topic. Since the original post by Moya and Summer, Sister Toldja of The Beautiful Struggler has also opened a dialogue with her readers. I want to continue to foster the dialogue. Recognizing your light skin privilege does not make you less black. It simply places you in solidarity with those hardest hit by racism.

It rings true: either we’re all free or none of us are.

There are a few things I find funny about the way people think about “mulattoes”, which for our purposes will be defined in the classical way: a person of white and black parentage. One is, to a lot of white people mulattoes are usually black until they do something important. Then they’re “biracial” — and always have been. Another is, to a lot of black people, mulattoes are constantly expected to prove their “blackness” until they do something important, and then they’re definitely black — and always have been.

The assumption is that we’ve got it easier than “full blacks” because of the white blood, regardless of the fact that history is rife with equally negative stereotypes about mulattoes as there are about full blacks. (I use the term “full black” with lots of eye rolling, because there aren’t that many people who identify as black who have nothing but black African genes.) Mulatto men were considered more dangerous than full black men because they had “ambitious and power hungry” Caucasian blood in them that combined with the “savage, animalistic” African blood empowered them to rape white women and commit all sorts of violent crimes. Full blacks were assumed to be more docile and obedient. Mulattas (mulatto women) were considered oversexed, mentally unstable temptresses that led white men to ruin. Mulattas were also worth more on the slave market — and yeah, they were sold as slaves, have no doubt there’s no get out of slavery free card just cause your mama got raped by a white man — because of their sexual potential. Mulattas were raped most often because it was as close to raping a white woman as you can get. Bottom line. Birth of a Nation, the incredibly racist movie that glorified the Klan back in 1915, had as a main story arc a mulatto character, Silas Lynch, who riled up the black people during Reconstruction to oppress and assault the good white folk. He became lieutenant governor of some state and through cronyism got all his black friends positioned in government and they all smoked cigars and talked about killing all white people. Something to that effect.

The stereotype of the tragic mulatto (really, go read that link, it’s incredibly informative) is ingrained in our culture, and evidenced by the fact that mulattoes are often expected to choose sides, unless it’s completely obvious that you’re black, and then you’re expected to shut up and just be black. Take Halle Berry, who is mulatta but due to her darker skin tone is assumed to be full black by many people. Someone like Lisa Bonet has to be put in a black context for people to think she’s black, and even then it’s obvious she’s mixed with something. The thing is, there’s really no choice. You can’t be white or you’re “passing”, which has negative connotations and of course involves the erasure of a large part of your heritage. And even then, you’ve got to look really European to take that route. If you’re like me, lighter skinned but nappy headed and with more African features, you’re pretty much seen as black — at the least you’re seen as biracial or some other non-white ethnicity (when I had a perm some would guess Latina). But many act like you have to choose one or the other.

I didn’t really call myself by any racial descriptors when I was young, up until I got into junior high and started public school where no one knew my family. Then I just said I was half black, half white. As I got more politically aware I began to simply refer to myself as black, and if asked I would explain “what I was mixed with”. One reason for this was that for me identifying as the “lesser” of my two halves was a way to represent my pride in my black heritage, since it seemed like everyone who could was identifying as anything BUT black, like it was some disease. The other reason was that culturally, I fall on the black spectrum, so it just made sense. I did go through the requisite identity crises that mulattoes are supposed to go through as they grow up in a race-obsessed culture that is incredibly hostile to nonwhites. This was mostly because I was seeking validation from others instead of validating my own damn self. There have been interesting landmarks along the way, like when I grew my hair out natural and discovered I don’t have biracial hair. Well, maybe in the back. (Love that poem, though — I too, sing biracial)

For as much as I’ve used it here, I find the term mulatto somewhat distasteful, given that it’s the name given to the offspring of a horse and a mule. If you don’t want to call me black, call me a hybrid — because that sounds really X-Files and I’m a nerd like that.

Well, Andrew Breitbart, smearing Shirley Sherrod in order to refute the NAACP’s resolution against “racist elements” in the Tea Party turned out to be a pretty bad idea. Yes, you cost her her job, but she’s making black people look good. It’s too bad you’re not like, a journalist, or something, and did some digging to find the full video before you declared it to be an example of reverse racism. Ms. Sherrod is actually a really worthwhile person, unlike yourself, and now the world knows it. So kudos to you for bringing our attention to a woman who was and is working to bring black people and white people together in solidarity during a time when so many are feverishly working towards the opposite.

Anyway.

I try to avoid watching Fox News. I hear about it on the real news and I see its headlines on my iGoogle page, but I can’t bring myself to waste the electricity changing the channel on my TV to “FNC”. Apparently Glenn Beck has been heralding the coming race war. I’ve always understood “the coming race war” to mean the time that racist white militias finally band together and kill off all the browns. I also thought it was a joke, and kind of funny. Beck, however, wants us to believe otherwise. He’s saying that the “New Black Panthers” are going to start a government-backed race war to kill off Big Whitey. Of course this is silly. Fox News has been complaining about the tiny group of New Black Panthers for like a decade. I don’t know who they think Obama is, but if anything is true about him, it’s that he’s not demonstrably a militant black man. I’m more militant than he is, and I’m a bougie tragic mulatto living in the suburbs. I don’t see any medallions, dreadlocks or black fists adorning the Oval Office. But we’re supposed to believe that in between getting blamed for the oil spill and fomenting socialism, he’s been training this small elite squad of brothers to take out the white menace with the U.S. Army at their disposal? I’m really just speechless.

There was a time when I wasn’t always hearing about reverse racism, race wars, etc. in the mainstream media. It kind of seemed like most reasonable people had come to the conclusion that racism was bad, we needed to work against it, and that if you were a violent, loud mouthed racist you should just stay in your cabin and keep it to yourself. We didn’t worry about them because they stayed in the woods, for the most part, and everyone thought they were “crazy” anyway. I was focused on rooting out insidious racism, the kind that you can’t easily identify, the kind that exists in progressive communities, the institutional kind that deeply affects every person of color and which still exists today but has been obscured by all this blatant racism and the fact that we now have a black man in the White House. I could be romanticizing pre-2008, but it just seems like we wouldn’t be seeing articles like “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege” during the Bush years. They knew to keep their racism under wraps back then. I’m almost laughing to myself remembering when the GOP was respectful of black people because they felt like if they tried hard enough, they could lure a few over the fence. Case in point: Michael Steele, head of the RNC. He became head of the RNC during the 2008 campaign as, I think, a way to say “hey black people, we’ve got ourselves a Negro too!”, and also as a way to criticize Obama without seeming racist. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way they planned, and the black guy still won. So what’s the point of respecting black people or other nonwhite people now? They’re all just going to vote for the Colored, right? Because all people of color are a monolith, especially those predictable darkies.

I think the “racist elements” of the Tea Party/GOP are playing their end game. Calling him any name they can think of, blaming him for everything from AIDS to increased activity on the sun, doing anything they can think of to bring him down before the end game plays out. What happens then is yet to be seen. Will it be the repudiation of the Tea Party by the majority of U.S. citizens in this coming midterm election? Will it be the end (again) of acceptable blatant, virulent racism? Will something ominous happen to Obama? I couldn’t tell you. But you can’t be a right wing ideologue with unstable, easily manipulated followers and go on and on about a “coming race war” without something happening at the end. I know what some of Beck’s followers would really like it to be, and that’s scary.

I live in California, Los Angeles to be exact. I saw this on a bumper sticker the other day:

“Where’s Lee Harvey Oswald When You Really Need Him?”

[Cross-posted from Feministe]

Fox News dropped this bombshell in the early hours of July 20 (or the late night of July 19, as it is for me). Apparently someone was able to dig up a video of a black USDA worker telling an audience of other black people about having to help a white farmer keep his land when so many black people had lost their land, and how she “didn’t give him the full force of what [she] could do”. She states that he was “trying to show [her] he was superior to [her]”. As Fox admits, this is a short clip of a much longer speech that is not available, apparently in which “she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races”. It’s not as if that makes it right for her to abuse her government position like that, however it does put some context behind the story — it’s not like it’s some kind of gathering where a bunch of black people are sharing stories of how they stuck it to the Man.

Of course this is being used as the “SEE! THE NAACP IS FULL OF RACISTS TOO!” card to counter the relatively tame NAACP’s passing of “a resolution to condemn extremist elements within the Tea Party“. Although I thought that racist letter to Abraham Lincoln was what the Tea Party was using to counter that resolution. Of course her not giving her all to help a white farmer keep his land when you’re a government worker charged with doing just that is wrong, not just because she did it because he was white and acting superior, but because that’s supposed to be her JOB. Her motivations are the least of it. This reminds me of the 2008 campaign, when the Republicans busted out Reverend Wright to make Obama look like a racial separatist. You can always find some example of black people saying foolish things if you dig far enough. Unfortunately you don’t have to dig too far to find examples of Tea Party racism.

Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, though. Perhaps by highlighting this incident of individual bias against a white farmer by a black USDA worker, The Tea Partiers may be clumsily trying to start a dialogue about the years of racial discrimination against black farmers by the USDA. I’m sure they really mean to protest the delay in payment of racial bias settlements awarded to black farmers in the Pigford case. Surely that’s what’s behind this, and it’s not just a pathetic attempt at crying “reverse racism” to discredit the NAACP.

It’s going to take more than a video of one black woman telling a story about not giving 110% to help a white farmer to counter the months of viciously racist sentiments expressed by Tea Party leaders and followers. Show me some video of a black person spitting on a white Congressman. Tell me when a group of black protesters start screaming “cracker” at white Representatives. Yes, she didn’t do a great job. But that doesn’t mean the Tea Party doesn’t have a whole lot of racists in its ranks. Spend some time tending your own yard before you try shitting in ours.

Why I continue to follow links relating to the Tea Party and whatever problematic tripe they’re spewing on that particular day, I don’t know. I only have a certain amount of anxiety medication allotted each month and I can’t afford to waste it. When I saw that the NAACP called the Tea Party a bunch of racists — oh wait, excuse me, when their delegates “passed a resolution to condemn extremist elements within the Tea Party, calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches“, my first thought was “here we go”. Because whenever a person of color — usually a black person, let’s get real — brings up race and the Tea Party, Tea Party members go straight to their first line of defense: deny vehemently that they’re racist, and then call the black person reverse racist and ungrateful. Oh, and “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ABRAHAM LINCOLN? He freed the slaves, you know. Or did you like being slaves? I guess you did, because you don’t love freedom like we do.”

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton could probably see this coming ten miles away so they disassociated themselves real quick, as did Benjamin Jealous (really bad name to have in this case, dude, sorry), president of the NAACP. But it was too late. Something awful had to spew forth from a Tea Partier’s fingers onto their keyboard; that’s just how it works. This time, it took the form of a letter written by Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, and it of course involves Abraham Lincoln. I’ll let you read it here, in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.

And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.” What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!

The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.” Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.

Perhaps the most the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.

Sincerely

Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew NAACP Head Colored Person”

So the “National Tea Party Federation“, a group that apparently represents the Tea Partiers, (but I thought this group did that? And this one?) responded to Williams’ letter by kicking his Tea Party Express group out of their sandbox. What impact this has on Williams, I don’t know, since the Tea Party doesn’t appear to be centralized. As far as I know, he can go on writing hateful, racist letters in the voice of a plantation slave under the Tea Party banner until the end of time. That’s the beauty of decentralization, right? States’ rights and all.

How does this screw-up by their self-appointed leaders help the “Yep, I’m a Racist” ground troops who are trying so hard to convince us they’re not racist that they willingly call themselves racist? Well, if anyone believed them in the first place it’d make them look pretty bad. But no one does believe them, because they’re so obviously lying to themselves and to the public, and they probably don’t even think about it. Because as I’ve always said, when a white person has to tell you they’re not racist, they’re probably really fucking racist.

And finally, to bring it home, what can white feminists learn from this? If a white feminist has to tell me they’re my ally, they’re probably not really my ally. In fact they probably just did me some harm. Not to harsh your mellow after chewing on that meaty bit of obvious racism, just to bring you back to earth. Because you’re always walking that fine line when you have white privilege. You have to work to be anti-racist. It’s not always as easy to point out the racism in things. Sometimes you have to look hard, and sometimes you have to look inward.

But I’m sure I didn’t need to remind you lovely folks of that.

[This piece originally appeared on Feministe.]

The ongoing quest of the French government to preserve their country’s “secular traditions” came to the fore once again Tuesday when the lower house of France’s parliament voted to ban women from wearing any face-covering veil, such as the infamous burqa or the less “extreme” niqab — a move obviously targeting French Muslim women, of which perhaps 1,900 wear a face-covering veil. France has the highest population of Muslims in Europe, comprising about 5 million of France’s population of 64 million people.

I’m sure you remember the “no hijabs in public schools” ban France passed in 2004 after almost a decade debating it, barring students from wearing a headscarf or any other piece of clothing that would indicate the religion of the student wearing it. To be fair, that does include Jewish yarmulkes and cross necklaces, however, the surrounding debate was particularly focused on the Muslim hijab. It just seems that since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Western countries have been not-so-subtly putting their Islamophobia on display.

Of course, this is not to say that all Muslim women disagree with the banning of the burqa or niqab. Some Muslim feminists have spoken out in favor of the ban. I fully support the right of Muslim women to not be forced to wear face-covering veils. However, I think banning religious clothing at the governmental level is taking the issue in a scary direction. I believe in choices, and banning burqas and niqabs eliminates the ability of women who actually wear the veils of their own volition to continue to make the choice to wear them, however few the women may be that make that choice. The author of the Huffington Post article, Caryl Rivers, makes a lot of good points, but I really do believe that in order to truly gain equal rights for Muslim women in their culture it’s going to have to come from changing Muslim men’s “hearts and minds” and not changing Muslim women’s clothing.

In the Salon article linked above, Eqyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy states:

I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous. It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away. What really strikes me is that a lot of people say that they support a woman’s right to choose to wear a burqa because it’s her natural right. But I often tell them that what they’re doing is supporting an ideology that does not believe in a woman’s right to do anything. We’re talking about women who cannot travel alone, cannot drive, cannot even go into a hospital without a man with them. And yet there is basically one right that we are fighting for these women to have, and that is the right to cover their faces. To tell you the truth, I’m really outraged that people get into these huge fights and say that as a feminist you must support a women’s right to do this, because it’s basically the only kind of “right” that this ideology wants to give women. Otherwise they get nothing.

I agree with her on basically every point she makes, yet I can’t reconcile my feelings about government-enforced bans on religious clothing. I just don’t think that simply legally preventing women from wearing burqas, niqabs, or hijabs is going to cause transformative change in Islamic culture. This is a crude analogy, but it seems like banning black women from relaxing their hair. Yes, black women would be unable to cowtow to the oppressive beauty standards forced on us by Western culture, but would their minds be freed as well? Would black men suddenly stop desiring women with long, straight hair? With the banning of burqas and niqabs, are sexist, oppressive Muslim men and the governments they run suddenly going to stop treating women like second-class citizens? I don’t see that happening. Western governments using women’s rights as an excuse to ban Muslim religious garments just smells like Islamophobia couched in “progressive” rhetoric. Some leaders in the U.K. have actually voiced their concern over the “growing threat of Islamism“.

So what can we expect this ban on face-covering veils to do for Muslim women’s rights in France? Eltahawy had this to say:

What I hope it will do is that it will create a situation where a woman can say to a man, look, you know that I have to go out and work so that we can continue to live here, and I can’t go out with my face covered, even though you want me to, because that’s what the law says. I hope the law gives women this kind of out. I have no idea if that’s actually going to happen or not.

I can’t get behind legislation like this when the only benefit for women would be that you get to tell your husband that you’re required by law to not wear the veil, and the many benefits for the government and Islamophobic French people include not having to be visually reminded there’s Muslims in their communities and also stopping the spread of “Islamism”. I don’t trust the women’s rights angle at all from Western governments when it comes to Islam. We continue to ally with countries that do much more than just expect women to cover themselves head to toe when in public — we’re in bed with countries that beat and jail women who have been gang raped and impregnated because the rape constituted the woman committing adultery. I personally don’t think her lack of burqa helped at all in that situation.

So I’m not exactly joining the cheerleading squad because France decided its Islamophobia was good for women’s rights. Of course I don’t want Muslim women to be forced to cover themselves head to toe. But I firmly believe true change in the Islamic world will never come via simply outlawing certain types of clothing, and I question the veracity of France’s reasons for doing so. The fact that they’re mentioning things like “defining and protecting French values” sounds eerily familiar and to me, is more of a nationalist concern than a concern for women’s rights.

There needs to be substantive change in Muslim men’s attitudes towards Muslim women rather than superficial change mandated by a government that seeks to erase those parts of immigrant populations they find distasteful.

[This piece originally appeared on Feministe.]

This “family feud” has been mentioned in blog post after blog post, so I’ll keep the history short. Big “feminist” site Jezebel posts about female comedy writers not being represented in the staffing of The Daily Show. Big “feminist” site XX Factor posts about how hypocritical it is for Jezebel to post something controversial to stir up page views and therefore ad revenue, as XX Factor uses their controversial article to stir up page views and therefore ad revenue. Other less commercial blogs such as this one write about the feud. Then! The female employees of The Daily Show put out an open letter insisting that Jon Stewart isn’t sexist. Cue the (admittedly hilarious) response to that letter and the background chatter regarding new TDS female correspondent Olivia Munn and how she gets half naked sometimes, hates fat people (she does come off as pretty fatphobic) and isn’t funny. Ad infinitum.

I’m not going to critique any of the above-referenced articles, nor am I going to offer an opinion of whether or not Olivia Munn is qualified to be on The Daily Show. What I am going to talk about is the fact that I’m tired of middle to upper class white cissexual Internet feminist all-stars dominating the debate over what is acceptable in feminism and what isn’t. I’m not saying these women aren’t talented writers; they are. But I want to see myself (not literally, although of course that would be nice — a chick’s gotta eat) and other marginalized feminists represented in the feminist all-star constellation. I want to read articles in WaPo and Slate and Salon and the NY Times by marginalized women dealing with issues that actually affect us, and don’t involve pot meeting kettle. I want to see articles on the big woman-oriented blogs that deal with intersectionality, that talk about deeper issues, and that inspire me to think and take action other than reaching for the Tylenol.

Tangentially, but also related in a way, I want to raise a concern I’ve had for a while about the name of the Slate woman-oriented blog “XX Factor”. Titling your blog after a set of chromosomes that not every woman has and not every man does not have is, to me, extremely transphobic and also ignores intersex folks with varying sets of chromosomes (because it ain’t just XX or XY). It completely erases trans women as women, and it is really appalling to me. Why should I take a woman-oriented blog seriously that clearly doesn’t understand or apparently doesn’t care about intersectionality or exclusion of certain women? Cutesy names don’t make up for erasure of identities.

Examples like the one given in the above paragraph are what I mean when I say we need representation of marginalized women on the big, ostensibly feminist, woman-oriented blogs like Jezebel, Salon’s Broadsheet, and Slate’s XX Factor (well with them, we need a name change as well). The discourse is controlled by women for whom sexism against white cis women seems to be their main focus. We need to stop looking to these white middle/upper class cissexual feminist role models for instructions on how to interpret feminism or on how to apply feminist principles to media critique. We need prominent marginalized women who have more than paid their feminist/womanist dues to offer a fresh and very much needed perspective.

What’s interesting to me about these large woman-oriented sites is that when you look closely, they’re actually not explicitly feminist. That’s why I keep referring to them as “woman-oriented” or “ostensibly feminist”. Writing articles that appeal to women does not mean that they’re feminist articles. For example, Jezebel’s tagline is “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.” XX Factor’s tagline is simply “What Women Really Think.” Salon’s Broadsheet just doesn’t say anything, as far as I can tell. Basically, these sites can simply fall back on the fact that they never said they were feminist. So maybe we shouldn’t be expecting representative feminist content from these blogs. When questionable content pops up on these sites, like Hanna Rosin’s critique of Al Gore’s accuser (which, to be fair, she did later follow up with a sort-of “I was wrong” post) on XX Factor, or the Emily Gould anti-Jezebel article, also on XX Factor, what standard can you hold them to? Emily Gould is a woman, and she wrote what she “Really Thinks”. I guess that’s all you can ask for when they’re not specifically identifying themselves as a feminist site. These sites are simply woman-oriented. Not all women are feminists.

Marginalized feminists/womanists need to have the door unlocked so we can finally kick it down and get some actual representation alongside the current white cis feminist all-stars. Unfortunately, those same white cis feminists are holding the keys to the door. The only way we’re going to get that door unlocked is to continue to point out the lack of meaningful diversity among the feminist gatekeepers and insist that our voices be heard. We need to make it their problem. We need to “show our color”.

[This piece originally appeared on Feministe.]