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Sunday, April 27, 2008

White people and racism

I would be remiss if I didn't address what's going on over at my Dirty Girls publisher Seal Press over the images used in Amanda Marcotte's new book It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

You can read an excerpt from the book yourself, and about the imagery used in the book at Feministe, and Amanda's apology.

But one comment stopped me dead in my tracks with its sheer wrongness:

"I know the folks at Seal Press. They're good people. I don't believe any of them have ever had a racist thought..." -- Joan Price comment on Seal Press blog

I wonder if Seal feels about this comment the way I hope the Hillary campaign felt about that NOW-NYC "let's put a woman in the White House" with no analysis of anything else whatsoever absolute bullshit press release. I hope they're cringing at this and thinking, "With friends like these..."

And here's where I'm going to make it less about Seal, in part because they're my publisher, but mainly because when Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing told me about the controversy yesterday, I realized I'd raced through Amanda's book and given barely a glance to the images. I just don't pay attention to images unless they're actually part of the content of the book. And for the record, I thought the book was smart and funny, looking at everything from the feminist shoe conundrum to serious issues of reproductive rights and daily struggles. No, I didn't agree with all of it; she viciously attacks this Tristan Taormino column on asshole bleaching, a chapter she read from at KGB, and I don't agree with her on that. But you can read and judge the book for yourselves. I recommend it, and when I was reading it would pick it up and read aloud particularly witty bits to my friends. It's very topical and covers everything from women's humor to purity balls to "Nice Guys" and all sorts of bullshit women face.

What I wanted to say is that the above statement is not something I ever want to be associated with, as a white person or Seal author. I think that there are probably plenty of people out there who think if you're "good people," and/or a feminist, that you cannot ever be racist. That "racism" means being a KKK bigot who's against affirmative action and interracial relationships. You don't have to be white to have racist thoughts. The quote is almost like those people who say "I don't see color." Really? Unless you're blind, that's such a disingenuous statement. Maybe you're trying to say that you don't judge people based on their race, which is admirable, and none of us (unless you're the above-mentioned KKK bigot) want to see ourselves as racist, but I think the point is that there's a gap between what we want to see ourselves as and what we are. There are ways racist ideas and thoughts become part of us, consciously or unconsciously, and whether it's overt or not, I think it's way more useful to have a dialogue about it rather than whitewash the issue to pretend it never existed. That comment by Joan Price actually offended me more than the images, probably because it was made now, in 2008, and the images were not.

I don't have much more to contribute, but I wanted to bring this up here because what I also think is a shame is that this will likely only get discussed on feminist blogs, meaning ones solely devoted to feminism. That's speaking to a clearly varied but still self-selected group, and surely the non-strictly-feminist world also needs to have crucial discussions about race. Being aware and alert and open to learning and conscious are, to me, part of our mandate. And realizing that "race" and "racism" aren't just about other people or about the most egregious examples of the latter, and that you can be a "good person" and still commit racist acts. I commend Seal for moving so quickly to get new versions of the book in the store, and in fact don't think that most publishers would be so quick to act. That impressed me, and is a first step. I'm interested to see where they go in the wake of this, and hopefully we will see more books by and about women of color and race from Seal, as well as issues like these incorporated into the work that they do.

Personally, having read Jennette Fulda's excellent weight loss memoir Half-Assed, as well as numerous other recent weight loss memoirs, I'm wondering why the authors of these books are almost always white? I'd love to see someone not white/middle class write about the ways food and weight and body image and class and race intersect, from a personal point of view, in memoir form. It would likely be different than many of these books in which weight loss becomes almost a second job. Joanne Chen talks about race/class and sweets in her book The Taste of Sweet in a fascinating way, but that was only about sweets/sugar.



At April 27, 2008, Blogger Trixie Fontaine said...

Color me politically incorrect, but I now totally want the first edition with the racist illustrations. Heading to Amazon now . . .

At April 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there has been long convo about Seal Press' editorial decisions and race. you might want to read for her series on "why seal press is off the syllabus" (it has 3 posts) and
that critiques the apology.

I think it's really unfair of you to put out there that Seal Press acted "so quickly" when they've known about the racism-images issues since Aug. 2007

and there are books about weight and woc written by woc, seal press just does not publish them.

At April 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS. Jill at feministe also has a post up about how "not seeing those images" is a function of white privilege and she supports the book.

At April 27, 2008, Anonymous Desiree said...

You raise a good point here. Racism is rarely ever so (forgive the phrase) black and white.

I also think the word gets thrown around quite carelessly. I'm not saying it was in this particular case but in general I find people are quick to label someone or something "racist" and write them off.

The issues are almost never that simple and yes, we do need more conversation.

Great timing too, in the wake of the whole Sean Bell fiasco.

And I'm with Trixie, I want the first printing.


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