Diaspora Romanticizing Discarded Patriarchal Traditions

Speaking of piercings, my mother informed me recently that in our culture, women used to wear the noluk (septum piercing) to indicate that they were newly married. If the women weren’t already pierced, the bridal party would puncture the ring through the septum on the very day of the ceremony.

Septum rings have never appealed to me aesthetically, though I do think they look better on darker skin. When my mother told me this, however, I was so enthralled to know of it, the somehow novel idea that facial piercings are not taboo in our culture, that in my mind I romanticized the tradition for a few seconds.

“It was absolute torture,” my mother said, wincing. “I’m so glad women stopped doing this.”

“When did they stop?”

“With your great grandmother, I think. My mother didn’t have one. It’s such a relief.” She shuddered.

It was, of course, a patriarchal tradition, and my momentary fascination borne out of a longing for connection explains the egomaniacal mindset of diasporic men and their counteractive behaviors. This was a practice traditional women ended on their own agency, and suggestions of revival are regressive to the legacy of tradition in the exact same way that colonialism halts social progression in the societies it terrorizes. What men of color like this do, essentially, is recolonize. Of course, they won’t see that, because women are the powerless gatekeepers of tradition.

We Object to Performative, Anti-Black Misuses of the Terms “Intersectionality” and “White Feminism” in the Non-Black Muslim Community

by Inas Hyatt and TFF

Non-black Muslims often (mis)appropriate the terms “intersectionality” and “white feminism” to the detriment of black Muslim women. This appropriation ranges from coopting the theory of intersectionality to defend Muslim men who threaten or deflect from Muslim women accusing them of assault, to sidetracking from the migrant slave trade by introducing the subject of western imperialism (or white feminism) in Arab nations.

Most recently, non-black Muslims have appallingly claimed that the Libyan slave trade cannot be criticized without including discussions about western imperialism—a call only black victims positioned in the crossfire are equipped to make—employing the very language of black feminists against black feminists and in order to detract from black issues.

Non-black Muslims who assert that excluding critiques of colonialism against the Libyan slave trade would be “imperialist” or “white feminist” coopt the theory of white feminism in order to excuse anti-black racism in the Muslim community. How are non-black Muslims equipped to deem themselves as free of responsibility in anti-blackness, much less do so using black feminist scholarship?

Black women, who coined the term white feminism and introduced explorations of its patterns, routinely and paradoxically confront accusations from men of color that their fight for women’s rights is sourced from white women.

As @delafro_ aptly tweeted, “The whole ‘black women got feminism from white women’ bullshit is a great way to your ass beat by me. I don’t play that shit. You will not credit white women for black women’s intellectual work. I will make you eat your words.”

Yet somehow, even while borrowing liberally from black feminist theory, non-black Muslims continue to reproduce the very conditions against which black feminist theories contend.

Intersectionality Doesn’t Mean Deflecting from Black Issues to Uphold Your Intersections

When anti-blackness in Arab nations results in the enslavement and sale of migrant workers in Libya, non-black Muslims deflect from anti-blackness in Arab nations to the international events that destabilized Libya. To avoid responsibility, it is popular to cite the overthrow of Gaddafi—a known serial rapist who enslaved girls in macabre rape chambers—as underwriting the migrant slave trade.

“The same Gaddafi who devastatingly contributed to the Ugandan-Tanzanian war, supported Mengistu and literally tried to annex part of Chad is being re-written as a protector of African peoples? Lemme sit this one out for the sake of my blood pressure,” tweets Momtaza Mehri. “Framing recent events in Libya as post-revolution crises is beyond disingenuous. During the revolution itself Africans from Somali migrant workers to Tuareg tribes were being rounded up and accused of being mercenaries.”

The poet continues, “I vividly remember Somali websites interviewing migrant workers who were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being hunted down in newly ‘liberated’ areas. This isn’t news to many of us. Italian government been striking deals with Libyan war criminals in the promise that they will ‘aggressively’ stem the flow of migrants. Turning ships back or kidnapping those on board. They don’t care as long as they don’t reach Italy.”

This reflex to hold imperialism accountable at the expense of centering the issue of Arab anti-blackness is, enragingly enough, poorly attributed by non-black Muslims as falsely in the interest of intersectionality, as theorized by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

In the words of Keji Daodu, “Arab racism and anti blackness was flourishing before any western imperialism. Bringing it up is just deflection.” The same non-black Muslims who were initially purporting that “MuslimLivesMatter” (which in itself fails to acknowledge black Muslims) are once again coopting intersectionality to alleviate themselves of accountability.

Deflecting to western imperialism when discussing the Libyan slave trade is just “[non-black] Muslim lives matter” in different words.

Anti-Blackness Through the Exclusion of Black Women

A few months ago, a video circulated on the Internet of a light-skinned woman praying while donning a bikini on the beach. The woman’s race was ambiguous, but the popular position of Muslim men on the matter was not: the woman was not only wrong and in need of correcting, but she was to be belittled for her perceived “immodesty” with a sexist contempt toward feminine “frivolity”—instead of a credible one toward cultural appropriation.

But in a small group dedicated specifically for women of color, one of our writers, Inas, was suspicious of the nature of the criticisms aimed at the woman by non-black women of color in the group. The woman’s race and ethnicity had never been confirmed. There was no approximation of her racial identity. There was the question of why she was being recorded and mocked. But instead of focusing on cultural appropriation, most of the non-black women were adopting the angle of modesty without considering that the yardstick used for appropriate hijab was anti-black.

It was not enough, of course, that the woman was evidently filmed without her knowledge and the video circulated to deride her. Few pointed out that it could be commendable that she was in a bikini on the beach and in the mindset to pray in a busy and crowded space. Muslim men were slut-shaming the woman rather than bringing to light that if it had been a brown and/or a black woman, her harassment wouldn’t have merely stopped at a viral video—she could have been physically attacked or even killed by onlookers.

The criticism directed at the woman was instead about Islamic respectability politics, which consistently races against the perception of black Muslims to exclude them. It was part of Arabs and Desis feeling as though they “own” Islam as part of their culture. This outlook always extends to employing intersectionality against black women, who are not seen as part of Islamic cultures/community.

Arabs and Desi Muslims need to stop with their we-own-Islam. The attitude is supremely selective of the things that anger Arab and Desi Muslims. And it’s hollow when they never come and support black Muslims.

In response to calls to be inclusive of women falling outside of mainstream, colonialist parameters of modesty were retorts of, “Sure, let’s all pray at the masjid with our tits and vaginas out.” (The woman praying in a bikini, just as a reminder, was at the beach, where onlookers would except to see women in swimsuits.) They didn’t recognize that their language was duplicating sexist ideas of modesty. Asking to critique ideas of modesty in the group were met with accusations of white feminism. How is asking to mind whether critiques were exclusionary of BIWoC white feminism, when white feminism is non-intersectional?

“I need non-Black people to stop using our words unless it is needed,” as Dr. Chandra tweets. “Stop stop stop. It is grating. Like don’t say something is on point. Don’t say yaaaaas. Don’t refer to everything as intersectional. Stop it.  You don’t sound cool. We are not a cool thing you put on.” She continues, responding to an inquiry, “It’s Black women theorized based on Black women’s experiences and so people should be conscientious about not including Black women when they use it.”

The argument that we need to critique ideas of modesty, modesty that was brought about by colonization, is not white feminist. It is appropriation of black feminist terminology to leave out black women from Muslim communities, who are never seen as part of the Muslim community.

Responses to “why can’t we focus on her cultural appropriation rather than slut-shaming her?” were met with a “because she’s a white woman!” from non-black, Arab and Desi people of color—resulting in critiquing whiteness in explicitly anti-black ways.

When non-black Muslims apply the theories that black women have constructed for black communities to non-black Muslim men who perpetuate an “ownership” of Islam, it’s at the exclusion of black culture, and is at its core astoundingly anti-black and an appropriation of black feminism. It silences the arguments of BIWoC in the name of protecting non-black Muslim men.

Non-Black Muslims Appropriate Black Feminism to Uphold Patriarchy

As Zoha Batool Khan stated in the thread regarding the woman praying in her bikini, “You’re trying to palm off your internalized misogyny as a critique of white supremacy. You’re just policing Muslim women. If you had lashed out at this saying white women can get away with this but people of color can’t, because they’re sexualized so much as women of color, I would have still been willing to listen. Your whole argument is based off the assumption that women-of-color would just never do this, a blanket statement that many women of color in this very thread are countering, which is internalized benevolent sexism, the idea that they’re ‘too good’ or ‘too smart’ to fall outside your ideas of correctness and respectability. You’re deliberately stripping fellow women of color of autonomy and reinforcing men of color’s inaccurate interpretations of modesty and ~muslim-ness~ for them onto women of color, under the guise of laughing at a white woman.”

Men of color consistently sacrifice BIWoC when pretending to talk about about “white women” (or, in the case of aforementioned video, women they at least perceive as white). They criticize white women only when the “offending action” also applies to BIWoC, like praying in bikinis or …period art. Men of color seem to never critique white femininity when it’s baking cookies for the police; why would they, when it means they can’t take BIWoC down with white women?

Ever since black feminists coined the term “white feminism” for black communities, non-black people of color have opportunely been using it as a thinly veiled attempt to be misogynistic against women of color, and non-black women of color have been using it explicitly to undo the work of black women every time they mischaracterize it in order to silence theories of BIWoC.

We have no time for this particular brand of bullshit. Applying the theories that black women have constructed for black communities to non-black Muslim men who perpetuate an “ownership” of Islam at the exclusion of black people, is at its core astoundingly anti-black, and an appropriation of black feminism.

Non-Black Muslims Disguise “Divisive” as “Dichotomized”

Non-black Muslim women reproduce a sex/race opposition, one incompatible with the lived experiences of women of color, by mischaracterizing the work of women of color who center experiences of BIWoC rather than men of color as “white feminist”—the very term coined by black feminists to describe this exact dismissal of intersectionality in favor of dichotomized perspectives.

In her groundbreaking article, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, Kimberlé Crenshaw references the legislative history in a court case that failed to account for the experiences of black women as unique experiences in their own right, describing that the court had “apparently concluded that Congress either did not contemplate that Black women could be discriminated against as ‘Black women’ or did not intend to protect them when such discrimination occurred. The court’s refusal in DeGraffenreid to acknowledge that Black women encounter combined race and sex discrimination implies that the boundaries of sex and race discrimination doctrine are defined respectively by white women’s and Black men’s experiences. Under this view, Black women are protected only to the extent that their experiences coincide with those of either of the two groups.’”

Intersectionality is a theory of oppression. By refusing to acknowledge that non-black Muslim men are in fact not at the intersections of race and sex, non-black Muslim women deliberately choose to misunderstand intersectionality in its entirety. Treating black, indigenous, and/or Muslim women of color as white colonizers or associating them with whiteness implicitly enforces a separation between sex and race. This pattern of association is due to a misappropriation and blatant misunderstanding of intersectionality by non-black people of color to privilege the experiences of men as somehow qualified to discern the experiences of women of color, and at the cost of dismissing the intellectual work black women.

It is especially telling these these sentiments about white feminism arose in response to an article dealing specifically with Muslim men’s lack of knowledge in how to navigate the issue of sexual assault, and one that relied heavily on bell hooks. In the interests of protecting non-black men, the age-old patriarchal arguments that women of color are being divisive were dressed up to be disguised as the application of intersectionality against sex/race dichotomies in response.

Non-black Muslim women who practice anti-blackness rebrand “you’re being divisive” as “you are dichotomizing sex and race” to disguise misogyny as intersectionality. They celebrate the achievements of men of color while characterizing women of color who celebrate achievements of white women as celebrators of white supremacy.

The work of black women cannot be used to give passes to non-black men of color, particularly when this gross misapplication of intersectionality is to the detriment of black women and used instead to further the point that Muslim men of color should be exempt from criticism through a malicious misuse of black feminist theory.

Stop Misusing the Images and Voices of Black Women to the Benefit the Non-Black Muslim Community

Non-black Muslims consistently use black images, voices, and cultures in order to prop themselves up, sometimes under the façade of “allyship.” In an incredulous thread, Mona Haydar tweeted, “The flag of Muhammad, messenger and beloved of The Divine was Black. For the Muslims out there who are engaged in racism, colorism etc—know that YOUR rasūl loved blackness, honored and esteemed it in the faces of those who did not. Even those in his own family.”

It’s bad enough when non-black Muslims tokenize Bilal; concluding that the Prophet had love for black people due to the color of his flag is beyond dehumanizing. But it all falls into character of what non-black Muslims do. As @atribecalledmoe put it, “The only time Muslims know Bilal (RA) is when they need to deflect or derail a conversation directly addressing their country’s anti-blackness/racism. I’m sick of people using his name as a distraction.”

Between these disingenuous gestures to alluding to the black experience (“you can’t take down the master’s house with the master’s tools”) in order liberate non-black Muslims, nothing is done about those actual experiences, from appropriation to slavery. Instead, all our non-black “religious leaders” care about is glorifying the Arab slave trade to differentiate it from chattel slavery. The reality of the Libyan slave market is why they’re self-absorbed, dangerous, and wrong.

“How can you talk about the Libyan slave trade without discussing western imperialism and the invasion of Libya?” non-black Muslims ask, holding black feminists hostage through a misappropriation of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work.

“Have you heard of intersectionality?” is a popular mantra for Desi and Arab women when they want you to go easy on non-black Muslim men—they do this as though bell hooks hadn’t dedicated entire books to critiquing the prioritization of oppressions that affect men—the very same men who are anti-black in turn. It is, subsequently, an anti-black mantra in this usage, hollow, entitled, and, in its essence, extremely performative.

The purpose of asking anyone if she has heard of intersectionality should be to curb her anti-blackness, not to use intersectionality as a prop to hold up non-black Muslim men and boast the speaker’s poor familiarity with black feminist theory. If you have to point a BIWoC in the direction of intersectionality when she is centering BIWoC, you don’t understand it.

In other words, leave the work of black women TO THE USE OF black women. Black women have worked hard. Non-black, anti-black Muslim communities cannot adopt the struggle of black women as a means to advance non-black, anti-black agendas.

Inas Hyatt is a femme anti-black-muslim activist. A bay native, she loves spending her time enjoying slam poetry and writing a little on the side. She is over anti-blackness in the muslim community and has no time for fake ass wanna be black muslim bros who feel comfortable using the n-word but have a deep fear and hate of black people.

White Feminists Prioritize Race Over Sex: on Failing to Understand White Feminism

My fever for the past few days is currently at 103°F, so I apologize in advance if this post makes jumps, but it all bears repeating.

No one in the history of revolutions has ever placed sex before race, including white women, who consistently prioritize their race over their sex (see: voting for men who’ve assaulted them, voting against the interests of women of color, etc.) but the opposite—believing racism is the only real oppression and should be prioritized over all supposedly imaginary others—has always existed, especially with male revolutionaries of color.

The complaint that a woman is prioritizing sex before race is based on an imaginary perception, and alarmingly, it is an accusation that can only ever be levied against a woman of color. White women don’t actually ever prioritize their sex, because they vote against the interests of women of color. They prioritize their race. When white women do support women of color, it’s an anti-racist cause as much as an anti-sexist cause.

It’s astounding to me that people don’t recognize accusations that a woman of color is placing her sex before her race are specific to her. It’s a racist, sexist accusation. It doesn’t apply to white women. It is only justified if she is upholding white women against women of color, and even then is internalized white supremacy, not a prioritization of sex over race.

White feminism is the prioritization of your race over your sex, not the other way around. This post is obviously not speaking to black women, who coined the term and created its usage, and whose intellectual labor is consistently credited by men to white women. It is speaking to non-black women of color, who misappropriate and misuse black feminist terms in order to uphold a race-over-sex hierarchy supporting men of their own race—just like white feminists (and like the very men of color) that black feminists criticize.

Some of you who’ve been reading me since 2011 know that I’ve had difficulty describing my …relationship with my race, and I think there is an overall (not unjustified, but certainly untrue) assumption that white supremacy factors into that. It doesn’t. And I’m ready now to disclose what it is, very briefly.

I’d noticed that although I’m very detached from my race (resorting to describing it through my hair), I entertain—just like I used to when Muslims accused me of not being Muslim—just a tiny, little, unconcerning strand of thoughts about not wanting to live anymore when a woman of my race accused me of not being of my race, or otherwise sources my work to white feminists. Again, this isn’t serious, and there’s no cause for alarm. I fantasize about a lot of things, all the time. This was strange considering I’m so distant from race and typically unfeeling. How could denial of my race result in this reaction? I knew there must have been something going on. (Sometimes what you don’t feel speaks volumes more than what you do.)

Some of you know that my childhood was, I suppose, what can objectively be considered sort of rough. I’ve mentioned it in passing before, and never really in detail, because I don’t think of it as traumatizing. I tend to bounce back from hardship pretty quickly, or at least I did as a child, even when it drags on for years. But my mother’s physically abusive marriage meant several things in terms of how connected I was to her and subsequently to my race.

My mother’s forced isolation from her family and friends and the confiscation of her paychecks meant that, unlike other girls with perfect families, I didn’t just not have warm coats in the winter or fitted shoes. It also meant that I didn’t have glittering saris brought back from abroad every summer. It meant that I was not surrounded with music or movies from my mother’s home. It meant that I could not visit my mother’s family annually like so many of my classmates did theirs. It meant that all I knew about anything was violence. It was violence at home, and, when I encountered racism, violence at school.

It’s a popular concept to convey, that white women want tiklis and kohl and henna but they don’t want the harder things. All I had was the harder things. And to be told, after that, by some prissy well-to-do girl whose mother was never barred from sending money home and who had two whole parents and routine vacations and something glimmering to wear every Eid, that I wasn’t connected to my race or that I needed to read the black scholarship she supposedly knew well enough to manipulate like that kid who wrote “black lives matter” 100 times for his college essay, was fundamentally and astronomically enraging—in the quiet, internal, not-good-enough, evoking-abuse, destructive kind of way. The kind of rage that isn’t rage. The most dangerous kind. (Thankfully, I am very good at healing myself.)

Having figured this out, it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it still speaks to how obtuse (and ultimately white feminist) non-black women of color are when they source the work of other women of color to white feminists any time that work doesn’t center men of color. It’s not just that white feminism erases race—in fact, it recognizes and prioritizes whiteness—rather, white feminism erases the womanness of women of color. It excludes women of color, as not-women, and that is its main feature—not some failure to include non-black men of color. It’s not about men of color. Please stop centering them for once in your sorry lives. And if you must, at least don’t expect me to do it for you. Thanks.

Anime Characters Don’t “Look White” and the Ridiculousness of White-as-Default

I’m actually not an incredible fan of anime, in that I’ve never really immersed myself in it, other than–of course–the obligatory elementary school obsession with Sailor Moon. But I’ve had friends who very much were, from elementary into high school. I went to a predominantly Asian and Latinx (thank God) high school rather than a predominantly White one. In fact, my high school was 5% White. Demographically speaking, it was the best. High school speaking, it was the worst, as is expected of any high school experience. Ever.

I’d never seen anime characters as White, and it wasn’t until I happened to walk past a woman I overheard complaining, “Why don’t they”—referring to the Japanese—”draw themselves the way they really look?” For some reason, she sounded annoyed, like she didn’t think a people ought to see themselves with wide eyes or multicolored hair when that’s clearly not how they look to her White gaze. I walked away thinking it was truly bizarre. To me, Japanese characters have looked nothing but Japanese.

The answer to this has everything to do with our default perceptions. After all, on American television, we have a variety of cartoon characters with humanly impossible features, but unless they have specific “markers” defining them as Other, we read them as White. Look at Charlie Brown, for instance. He’s got beady eyes and thin lips. What makes us think he’s whi—actually, never mind, bad example.

It works the same way with sex and gender. If I draw a bunny, it wouldn’t read to a large American audience as a girl unless I made it pink, or added a ribbon. (This is getting incredibly boring, and I’m glad more “modern” cartoons are evolving past it.) Even stick figures are read as male unless they have triangular dresses. The woman asserting the Japanese should draw themselves “how they really look” believes the characters should have (racist) racial markers that read “Asian.” Anime was not, however, made for her. The characters don’t need to be “read” by her, or drawn in a way she would understand. I’m guessing Japanese people in Japan don’t see their anime characters as White. They don’t need racial markers to tell them the characters they draw are Japanese.

sailor moon
Seriously, these women still all look Japanese.

After all, why do we have any reason to believe American cartoons are white? Why do we read characters on The Simpsons as white when their skin is yellow and when Marge has a blue afro? If anything, shouldn’t this read as Black hair? But she isn’t Black to the American audience, who learns quickly (as they have known all their lives) that “Others” are defined on the The Simpsons with brown skin, not yellow. Since White is default, there must be an additional marker that acts as an indicator. And unfortunately, the afro has been appropriated and won’t cut it for an American audience. Marge’s hair might not even register as an afro.

It was clear (from this and a few other sentiments) that the woman believed the Japanese had an inflated self-image, to have the audacity to imagine themselves with blue hair and wide eyes. That’s only for Americans like Marge Simpson! It’s shocking, no doubt, to come to the realization that non-white cultures don’t see themselves the same way white supremacists see them. It’s shocking to discover that the white supremacist lens is unnatural, imposing, and entitled.

It’s a great exercise, I think, to realize that non-white characters with traits we perceive to be white, don’t, in fact, look white, and those traits are not white. They do not belong to white people or white culture.

I’ve been flattered by those of you who’ve contacted me to insist that I return to writing as frequently as I used to–unfortunately, I can’t promise that, but I have decided to post at least once a week. I wish I could tell you which day, but that would too closely resemble a schedule, and I am notoriously terrible with schedules.

Racists Targeting Refugees Pretend to Care about Assaults in Germany and Sweden

Update: Most of the attackers in Cologne were white. “On Friday, the Cologne prosecutor Ulrich Bremer in fact told me that, of the 59 suspects pinpointed so far, just four are from war-torn countries (Syria and Iraq), only 14 are in custody, and nobody has yet been charged. Nearly 600 hours of CCTV reveals very little, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the alleged attacks were planned in advance.”

I’ve got to hand it to racists, they don’t just “care” about saving Muslim women from oppressive Muslim men; they also care very much about saving white women from barbaric men of color.

sofia capel tweet
You can just FEEL how much he cares.

During a New Year’s celebration in Cologne, Germany, women reported around 22 (estimated) orchestrated assaults by men of Arab or North African appearance. The horrific incidents were, of course, at once hijacked by nationalist, right-wing racists, who were conveniently suddenly very invested in women’s rights and safety. Despite the fact that none of the actual victims nor a representative size of the women of nations who have opened borders to large numbers of refugees felt the need to politicize these attacks, knights in shining armor, who otherwise spend their time counting false rape accusations or denying the wage gap, came galloping in on their shiny white horses with their shiny white skin.

Amnesia is an incredible thing, and so is projection. The white man fears men of color because he knows what he has done. Organized rape is not unprecedented, and it’s still rape when it comes dressed in prettier terms. White men can literally travel to Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand, Kenya for the purpose of exploiting/raping women (or ‘sex tourism’) using systems in place to help them coerce women, and when white women are assaulted it’s considered ‘unprecedented.’ No, an article actually uses that word.

Organized rape has happened during every European invasion in history. It happened in the Americas–and still does–to indigenous women, it happened through the African continent–and still does–during the slave trade, it happened in every systematic genocide and it is anything but unprecedented. The only time we should fear “refugees” is when they’re white.

Propaganda by racists relying on the crimes, whether real or fictitious, of any person or people of color is nothing new either. The treatment of women in the Middle East was a popular justification for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and blasting those very women we care oh-so-much about to pieces. And sadly, that’s not even the most recent: historically, and even now, white women perceive of their attackers as dark-skinned. In her book, The Color of Crime, Katheryn Russell-Brown documented 67 racial hoax cases between 1987 and 1996, 70% of which were white-on-black. She says, because the most common type of hoax targeting black men is rape,  “it’s not surprising that so many White women have created Black male rapists as their fictional criminals.”

I am by no means suggesting that the women attacked in Cologne weren’t assaulted or didn’t see their attackers–let’s be clear that I believe every part of the story, and I’m deeply unhappy with the German authorities unsurprising response to advise the women to take careful measures. Rather, I’m pointing out that women like Bonnie Sweeten, who falsely accused two black men of kidnapping her daughter; like Amanda Knox, who falsely accused a black man of killing her roommate; like Bethany Storro, who threw acid in her own face and blamed a black woman, are able to operate on what we all know as truth: the hearts of racists are inflamed at the prospect of a man of color committing a crime against a white woman, absolutely inspired to fuel hatred against an entire people. Because they care. All of the sudden. As Laurie Penny writes:

This is not the first time a European city administration has responded to an outbreak of sexual violence by blaming the women. It is the first time in recent history that the right-wing press has not joined in the condemnation of these wanton strumpets who dare to think they might be able to have a good time without worrying what ‘invitation’ they’re sending to men. Instead, the right wing blames… liberals. Who apparently caused all this by daring to suggest that refugees should be able to come to Europe in safety.

It’d be great if we could take rape, sexual assault and structural misogyny as seriously every day as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators. The attacks in Cologne were horrific. The responses – both by officials and by the armies of Islamophobes and xenophobes who have jumped at the chance to condemn Muslim and migrant men as savages – have also been horrific. Cologne has already seen violent protests by the far-right anti-migrant organisation Pegida, a group not previously noted for its dedication to progressive feminism. Angela Merkel has responded by tightening the rules for asylum seekers, but for many commentators, it’s not enough.

It’s astounding truly, how rightwing bigots believe they can really fool women into thinking they suddenly care about women’s rights or safety. In Sweden, after gangs of masked men physically assaulted non-Swedes, Swedish women responded with the hashtag campaign #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) to protest the men, particularly after right-wingers violently attacked refugee youths claiming their motives were to “protect” Swedish women. (I don’t give white feminists cookies for their allyship, but I really want to do it just this once.)

As a friend of mine once said, men are like the Mafia–they offer you “protection” from themselves.

The Racism of Being Told to Keep Your Audience in Mind

When I was an undergrad about a year and a half ago, I had a professor whose class was such a frustrating experience that even the memory of it is discomforting. Aside from the horrifying discussion she entertained in the classroom about whether a student in a novel we were reading had actually been raped by her professor or whether the student in fact was the one taking advantage of him, I found myself tirelessly called over and over to explain the simplest things.

One of the assigned weekly readings happened to be about conservation. I can’t remember the author now—it might have been Aldo Leopold. The article, I recall clearly, cites Native American philosophies pertaining to the land and to land ethic, with specific mention of the Pueblo Indians. And yet, although the author cites indigenous approaches to land throughout the piece, he makes bizarre claims like “we have no land ethic yet.” The excerpt was published, I noted then, after the formation of the United States; it might have been as late as the 1950s. By then citizenship of marginalized races had been recognized, and Native Americans had certainly been forcibly assimilated.

To say that “we” have no land ethic while citing the very land ethic of a people who are forced to become “us” does a number of things: (1) it remarks on the lethal dynamics of a dual identity in which Native Americans are either assimilated or Othered depending on the convenience of what befits the author’s argument (2) it erases the contributions of indigenous tribes to ethics by implying that what the writer explains is unprecedented since “we” don’t have it yet and (3) it addresses one audience, a white audience, in a nation under the pretense that Native Americans are now seen as one of us and all has been made right, when the claim “we don’t have this yet” demonstrably excludes them from “us.”

Responding to the article, I wrote that it was clear who Leopold’s—or whoever this was—audience is. To my amazement, the professor returned the response with a comment along the lines of, “You mean he shouldn’t have been addressing people? He can’t talk to the environment.”

Really? She thought I wanted him to talk to plants? She needed me to explain this to her? How did this woman ever—

No. I mean his audience was white people during a time when the United States was supposed to include Native Americans, and he’s pretending his audience isn’t just white people. He’s pretending—like you—that it’s just “people.” I mean why the hell should I care what white people say to each other, especially when they’re just regurgitating things that’ve already been invented? Why aren’t we reading about land ethics from the Pueblos, whom he even admits were the source? This is so second-hand—and second rate. Don’t even try to tell me we can’t read land ethics from the Pueblos because the work isn’t in English ‘cause ya’ll went out of your way to translate the Greeks and feed me the bullshit that is the Odyssey.

This guy even had the audacity to write something like, “Their civilization ended, but it wasn’t because their land expired.” No shit, it’s because you killed them. Did he go on to expand on this bizarre way of clarifying-but-not-really-clarifying how their civilization expired? Of course not. He just left it at that.

Perhaps white people should concern themselves with preserving people. I don’t think they’re quite advanced enough for land ethics yet.

This is one example of an aggravating phenomenon I’ve noticed throughout my entire academic career. Every professor is quick to say that a good writer is aware of her audience, and if her audience doesn’t understand her writing, it’s probably because she’s explained it poorly, or needs to explain further. But sometimes it’s because your audience is composed entirely of idiots. Or of white people. Who are also idiots. One of my classmates submitted an excerpt of her thesis for workshop once, and despite the fact that she referred to her cousin with the feminine pronoun about 50 times in the piece, people in the class (guess which race of people) were still confused as to whether the cousin was male or female, because the name was too ethnic for them to discern a gender. Consequently, this writer received terrible advice, like “All your names start with B, and that’s confusing in foreign names. I can’t tell who’s who so you need to change the names.”

No she doesn’t. You read the feminine pronoun over and over. You wouldn’t be confused if you actually knew how to read English. Your own language.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what “hijab” means and its cultural and religious context. I can’t stop and do this every time. It distracts from the larger point of what I’m actually writing. I don’t have time to explain things to those who refuse to crawl outside the rocks they’re living under. If you don’t know what a word means, put down the book and look it up.

At this extent, “keep your audience in mind” becomes nothing short of racist advice. When directed at people of color, it means they should always remember the majority of their audience is white, and should therefore not only explain simple, “foreign” concepts until the writer is blue in the face, but cater to that whiteness with a tone it finds acceptable.

You have the right to bear children.

You have the right to bear children. No one may enter your body and alter the state of your existence with an entitled twist of cold medical instruments. If you are impoverished, you have the right to bear children. If you are disabled, you have the right to bear children. If you are of color, you have the right to bear children. If you are transgender, if you are intersex, if you are not heterosexual, if you are diaspora embodied, if you are ill, if you cannot read this, you have the right to bear children. You have the right to bear children in a country that is not yours. You have the right to bear children who may “burden” society for 18 years. You have the right to bear children of men who resemble you. You have the right to bear children of men whose hearts have been crushed by the weight of distress. You have the right to bear children of women in male bodies. You have the right to bear children you cannot afford. You have the right to bear children who are disabled, of color, transgender, like you. You have the right to bear children. You have the right to love, and you have the right to bear children.

And once they have been birthed, your children have the right to exist.