On The Feminist Carnival, Privilege, and Objectivity

Reading blac[k]ademic, as I am known to do, I came across this excellent post by nubian, did i hurt your feelings?, on (white) feminism and (not) respecting minority spaces. First of all, I’m telling you all to put my post on hold and go read it. Now, not later.

Have you read nubian’s post yet? Yes? Good.

So, aside from thinking that I want to include it in my How to be a Real Nice Guy post, I was struck by this line:

the really upsetting part about this, is that the posting by nio was linked in the (white) carnival of feminists

“White carnival of feminsts??” I cried. Then my mind started inventing all these reasons why Niobium’s post would have been included in the carnival. The one I settled on was that the Feminist Carnival has a duty to be objective. It should include all of the feminisms, even the ones that contradict each other.

But… is that true? Is that true objectivity, and even if it is, is objectivity really useful in a carnival by feminists, for feminists?

I. My Privilege is Showing

I will admit it to the world right now: reading nubian’s blog makes me uncomfortable. I have raged in private about how wrong I think she is on this or that topic. Why have y’all never seen it? Simply put: because I was wrong. Because I knew I was wrong, even when I was saying how right I was. So, it came as no surprise when I saw her criticize the carnival for being primarily by and for white feminists that I jumped headlong into denial mode.

Mind you, I agreed with what nubian was saying in her post. That shit is “Minority Spaces 101”. It’s not even that I have so great an investment in the Feminist Carnival that I felt it could Do No Wrong (please, I criticize everything — including things I like). I was cheering her on through every criticism she made about white feminism, white culture, etc. And then, because I wasn’t expecting it, I got smacked in the face with her “(white) carnival of feminists” jab.

Without knowing how the carnival put Niobium’s post in context, or even having read her post, I had already made up my mind. Nubian was just wrong. Women of colour had hosted the carnival before, and they often got included… Because, you know, I — as a white feminist blogger who really hasn’t given the issue much thought before now — am a better judge about token minorities, exclusionary tactics, and the racial problems with the carnival than a person of colour. Right.

II. ‘Objectivity’ as a Privileged Stance

So, once I got off of one idiot thought train, I jumped right onto another. I started waxing poetically about how the Carnival had a duty to be objective and include all forms of feminism, even the ones that were at odds with each other. I wouldn’t want to be exluded if I wrote a post on sex positive feminism, so why should Niobium be excluded because of her form of feminism?

Of course, I was buying into the same broken logic that the The “What About the Mens?” Phallusy does — assuming that “objective” means giving inequal arguments equal weight. Furthermore, if we look at the carnival page, we’ll see that the two arguments were not presented the same; Niobium’s was given more focus.

Going with the latter point first, here is how nubian’s post was introduced:

Kactus at Super Babymama writes in Space about Women of Colour, their right to their own space without, in nubian’s words, having to “appease white guilt”, and how white feminists can find this hard, despite feeling that they shouldn’t.

Her post inspired two other bloggers to talk about the issue, but yet her link is what amounts to a mere footnote to Kactus’ post. Not only that, but they have been framed to focus once more on the majority: appeasing “white guilt” and how white feminists can find this hard despite their feelings to the contrary. Isn’t this exactly the kind of marginalization that feminists of colour have been blogging about since, like, forever? Why does the struggle of white people get all the press when the real topic — the colonization of people of colour’s spaces — get no mention? Seriously, this isn’t rocket science here.

To add insult to injury, Niobium not only gets her own explanation, but also an excerpt about her post. I shouldn’t have to tell you that having a quote draws more attention, and gives more weight, than not having a quote. First of all, the person reading the carnival has a sample of the linked person’s writing right there. If they like it, chances are they’ll like the post, so they’re more inclined to click on it than they would just a paraphrased link. Secondly, quotes draw the eye because they are different than the rest of the text, separated from the endless summary/link dynamic. And, lastly, having a quote devotes more space to the argument, thus making the implicit connection that it’s more important.

As for the relative equality of the subject matter of the two posts… I really didn’t want to get into Niobium’s post because I know this is going to start a shitstorm, but I think I have to. Having read it, it starts off with the “can’t we all just get along” type argument, but then devolves into the “reverse racism” myth that stems from the privilege not to understand the difference between a minority space and an exclusionary space. The thing is, what Niobium’s post is challenging is the very ability for minority spaces to exist — and I believe that that is a fundamental concept to any oppression work, including feminism.

IV. Conclusion

Nubian’s original post on the issue was a perfect example of the way majority groups colonize minority spaces. She talks about well meaning white people derailing the conversation, minimizing the experience (and even the humanity) of people of colour, and basically hindering the important conversations about race relations today and in the past.

People, this is huge. No, it’s not novel. No, it’s not new. But this dynamic is fundamental to understanding privilege, and understanding privilege is fundamental to fighting oppression. In America, overt oppression has taken a back seat to a more subtle network of cultural traditions, ways of thinking, and allowed ignorance that those who do anti-oppression work have come to call privilege. This privilege exists in all of us, no matter how hard we fight against what it stands for. To deny this — as Niobium was doing with her “reverse racism” take on minority spaces — is to discredit the very foundations of what we, as feminists, stand for.

And that is why I don’t buy my original line of argument about “objectivity”. It is no more objective, in my mind, to give equal airtime to the rape of men than it is to give equal airtime to the argument that minority spaces aren’t needed. Both of these arguments ignore the fact that they don’t exist on an equal playing field — men are not raped nearly as much as women, and minority spaces exist because minorities do not get equal airtime in “default” spaces.

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3 thoughts on “On The Feminist Carnival, Privilege, and Objectivity

  1. Nubian herself, as a person? Absolutely not.

    Do I feel threatened by the way reading her blog forces me to examine my own unexamined privilege? Hell yes.

    But, see, that has nothing to do with her. She’s not writing for me, and anything I get from her posts are incidental. She’s writing to vent the frustration of being a queer woman of colour in a movement that is dominated by privileged white, heterosexual women. She’s writing for other women like her. And if anyone is threatened by the kinds of things nubian says, I dare say it’s their problem and not hers.

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