I am not too proud or too stubborn of a person to admit when I make mistakes. Last week, I genuinely fucked up. My article “Listen Up: Plus Sized Bloggers Are Not The Problem” was incredibly problematic. Thanks to the work of several black bloggers and activists, mainly Ashleigh Shackleford and Ashleigh Nicole Tribble , I realize that this week I became part of a much bigger problem than just the Lane Bryant #PlusIsEqual campaign – I engaged in acts that upheld white privilege and acts of supremacy that people participate in daily.
“White Supremacy” may conjure images of men in sheets with flaming crosses, but it is much more than that. Acts of white supremacy can be as simple as advocating for your comfort rather than looking at the bigger picture and considering how your comfort affects the rights of BIPOC to be seen and heard. Conservatives link the phrase “white supremacy” to extreme images of men in sheets or neo-Nazis with swazstikas on their arms. They link it to terrorist behaviors in order to distance themselves from the every day acts of white supremacy and even acknowledging that it exists beyond those extremes.
An example of this is the “good white” phenomenon, one which I frequently engage in without realizing it. If you are white, politically active, and reading this then you probably do, too. I am not distancing myself and saying “those other white people over there.” This is very much an issue for me, as well as my other politically conscious white friends. White folks are afforded the privilege of being seen on a case by case basis. It’s the equivalent of the “Not All Men” argument. Conversely, if a black person speaks out, they’re lumped together as being just another angry black voice who is over reacting. The media treats each of these voices as being angry and outspoken, rather than people who are oppressed that just want to be heard. White folks emulate this in their everyday lives, as well.
This article by Chauncey de Vega is much more eloquent and explains the nuances much better than I can. White privilege is an integral part of this. So many poor white people refuse to acknowledge that it exists because they are hung up on privilege equating to money rather freedoms that their poor BIPOC counterparts do not have.
I messed up when I wrote the “Listen Up” article. I did not separate my feelings and IRL friendship with blogger Natalie Means Nice who had been under fire for their involvement in the #PlusIsEqual campaign. Rather than recognizing that folks were responding via Instagram to latch on to an established platform of a white-looking person in order to be heard, I saw it as personal attacks against someone whom I care for. Granted, if this had happened to any of my BIPOC friends, I would have jumped to their side and done the same. However, none of them were on this side of the campaign because it is racist, sizeist, and they have not done much to reach out to BIPOC women. That being said, people attacking Natalie as being just some white blogger who does not care about lack of inclusiveness in the campaign erase her identity as a American-born Middle Eastern woman. Not only this, but there has been very little commentary over the fact that Nadia Aboulhosn, also a Middle Eastern American blogger, created a line with clothing company boohoo which only goes up to a US size 20 and most certainly does not reach out to larger women of size. The one thing that I can say for boohoo, is at least they were not quoting women size 30+ in any speeches, pretending to include them while not creating clothing to accommodate their needs.
My critics are right, though. The best way to attack a juggernaut like Lane Bryant is to speak out against it and to adhere themselves to bloggers with visibility, and to be able to expect an alliance with those same people. I should not be critical of those trying to break down racist, sizeist structures. My colleague Rachel Otis initially called out the erasure of WOC and larger sizes. It took listening to multiple perspectives from Ashleigh Shackelford, Ashleigh Tribble, and Corissa Arlene. Brilliant voices like those of Sonya Renee Taylor, Thea Matthews, Magnoliah Black, Monica Cadena, and Antwan Herron have all greatly informed my views and I continue to be grateful for the work that they continue to put forth to break down the walls of white supremacy and inform others.
Unlearning these behaviors stings a lot. Make no mistakes, this is a deeply uncomfortable process. As an emotionally conscious person, I want to think that I do not take part in these hurtful attitudes and actions. As an ally that recognizes it is a constant battle to deprogram oneself from racism and privilege, I know that it will always be something that I have to actively undo. If you want to change the world for yourself, people that you love, and future generations, listen to your call outs. Shut up and listen – get over your hurt feelings. Overcome your ego, learn, and implement the knowledge into action. As the saying goes, “Be the change you wish to see.”
Featured Image: Flickr user Light Brigading via Creative Commons