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51. You think women calling out sexism and racism within solidarity spaces are engaging in character assassinations and waging smear campaigns

July 10, 2012

Since posting “You know you are a Star White Indigenous Solidarity Activist If” we have received many positive responses, especially from women, people of colour and Indigenous people. Of course not all these responses were positive. As a group of women who came together to try and build a new space and new possibilities of engagement out of the violent experiences we faced, to carve out new space and new transformative possibilities where we, our voices, and our ideas are respected and valued, we have been further traumatized and attacked by the reception of this space and our first post. We have been accused of being  “anonymously” engaged in “smear campaigns”  and “character assassinations.”  We have heard much about how this list is an “ineffective”, “un-transformative” and “unproductive” way of dealing with our issues/the issue.   And have been accused of offering “veiled” criticisms of several white men involved in Indigenous solidarity organizing in several spaces. Indeed the timeline of our publication and launching of this site has been found “suspicious.”  It is a reaction that many of the women involved in this project have noted and are currently experiencing with it’s release. This is happening across spaces and in relation to many situations.  So again this is clearly an endemic colonial and patriarchal abuse pattern that can also be seen when women speak out about colonial and/or racist and/or sexual physical violences: it’s called victim-blaming and it is at the core of rape-culture. And our culture is rife with it. A racist sexual violence is how colonialism is done.  So we decided  we would add number 51 to our list and to clear a few points up:

“Anonymous”:

1- We are not an “anonymous” or “secret” group. We are a new group, and you can read about our intentions for this webspace in the About section of our blog.

2-Names were demanded across several spaces and situations as to who is involved upon publication of this list. While some women are okay with naming themselves publicly, others do not feel SAFE enough to do so.  And for the women who have named themselves publicly, we validate our sisters reasons for not wanting to do so.  Those of us who have, have faced continued sexism and racism as a result, and attacks against our ‘weak’ political strategies, our choices to speak publicly about these issues, and have had our characters and intentions questioned. We have been told that we are being divisive and helping the “enemy” who will use this against us. Such a pattern is endemic to social movements and has been a problem in these spaces for decades. Instead of accusing and attacking women calling out these issues,  why don’t you call out and be accountable to the fact that it is oppressions within these spaces and colonial relations of power between us that are divisive and creating the problem? Indeed in very explicit terms these systems of oppression and violences are helping to support the “enemy”, aren’t they in fact the enemy? Perhaps it is time to do some work on the “enemy within” and stop attacking those who are trying to do this work. Because we thought we were struggling to undo, NOT uphold these systems of colonial power and excuses for them.

 3- We weren’t aware that most groups listed the names of their members on web-spaces, and find it disturbing that this is being demanded in this case.  We think it only further underlines the violences we experience in these spaces, and the consequences for speaking out.  Have we not experienced enough, you need to know who we are so you can attack us some more?  Is the further humiliation of women what solidarity looks like to you? Through this hostile reaction/reception it is made very clear  that when  women of colour and white women come together to stand with Indigenous peoples of this land, to talk about their experiences and to name them publicly, it is experienced as dangerous to white men. As Sojourner Truth said in 1851 “Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.”

Character Assassination/Smear Campaign directed at specific men:

1-If you find that these behaviours/pattern/dynamics apply to certain men, then you have named them, not us. This recognition should tell you that the critiques and points in the list are poignant, and perpetrated across a variety of spaces.
2-Collectively writing this together we chose 50 points that spoke to/resonated with our experiences across a variety of spaces. They are in reference to no one man.  In fact we couldn’t list all the white men who exhibit these behaviours because there are simply too many to list even if we wanted to.
3- As white women involved in this project we also composed many of the points in direct relation to ourselves, to name our behaviours, and to call ourselves out. We did so as an accountable reminder of colonial, oppressive and problematic behaviours we are involved  and engaged in. Particularly  with respect to holding up the power of whiteness on Turtle Island. Are we engaging in “smear campaigns” against ourselves, then?
4- Many of the men who we are being accused of “smearing” have actually publicly made similar critiques of Indigenous solidarity organizing and spaces that are included on this list. So we are a little confused by the whole accusation.

Timing:
1-We have been working together on building this project  for months.  We made a collective agreement to stop stalling and get the site up for July.
2-This coincided with various “flare ups” about colonialism, racism and sexism in a variety of spaces.  We decided collectively we would publish the list anyways, because we would no longer allow the behaviors of abusive white men to define the timelines of our political projects. We had done this for far too long.
3-Because of these various “flare ups” it seemed actually even more important to get our work out as soon as possible.
4-If as a white man or woman you find this suspicious, that’s not our problem. In fact this space wasn’t created to make you feel better about colonialism, racism and sexism or any other oppression or oppressive behaviour.
Transformation/Usefulness/Legitimate etc..:
1- As women we have  taken steps in a myriad of ways to deal with these situations,dynamics and behaviours to no avail. Let us tell you we racked our brains and were incredibly creative in our approaches.
2-Many of us were forced out of spaces or spaces became unsafe for us to be in, because we chose to have the audacity to name (hetero)sexism and racism and classism and ableism or just couldn’t handle it anymore.
3-We reached out to each other in order to build a space where our voices are heard and respected
4-We found it transformative and empowering
5-That we are being critiqued for not handling these issues in the ‘right’ way only casts the responsibility of white men’s colonial behaviours on to our bodies again.
6-Why isn’t the first reaction a critique of white  men’s behaviours and their political strageties for not being transformative/useful/legitimate, instead of critiquing women who are choosing to speak out?
7-While certainly there are limitations to lists like this, they are also important tools for social change.  Whether we look at “unpacking the white knapsack”, or even the usefulness of providing diagrams for cylces of abuse, offering an opportunity to reflect on the patterns of colonialism/oppression/violence in a generalized way and identifying these oppressive dynamics and patterns are incredibly important in being able to name and identify them when they occur and to allow an opportunity for reflection. For the white women involved in this project we find the list useful in reflecting on our colonial whiteness and practices in solidarity activism. We find it “suspicious” that YOU don’t. What is it that you are so defensive and hostile about? Perhaps the naming of colonialism, whiteness, patriarchy, and it’s power? Instead of accusing us of playing “identity politics,” perhaps you should look at what kinds of identity politics you are playing.
8-This will not be the only post we do, it is our first.  It won’t be the only way we engage in this project or  talking about these issues. This list does not encompass the totality of our vision for this space or how we are attempting to deal with these issues. It is hurtful to already have our very new space receive such a hostile reception. If only the white men who behave in these ways received this much hostility in relation to their behaviours and power that made the list necessary to us in the first place, then we might see some real transformation.
9- It is NOT OUR responsibility to do the work white men need to do in order to address these issues. And stop trying to make it OUR work!  We have already spent too much time, emotional labour and energy trying  to do this and we are done coddling white men as they hurl abuse at us. We are done cleaning up their messes, they need to be held accountable and do it themselves. So if you are a white man who doesn’t find this useful, then get to work and stop attacking us!!!
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Resistance permalink
    December 29, 2012 12:50 am

    Thank you! You rock!

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  1. You know you are a **STAR** White Indigenous Solidarity Activist If… « Unsettling Settlers

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