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March 2013

Attempts To Silence Womanist/Feminist Writers

Have you heard the “where’s your proof” versus “your writing is too academic” binary? I have.

In my essay I Don’t Have To Be “Mainstream” To Matter, I mentioned that there is privilege involved in being literate at all and literate enough to understand certain forms of writing but that people also read complicated writing that reinforces White supremacist capitalist patriarchy and are less likely to object to that complexity if the writing itself does not challenge the status quo.

Yesterday on Twitter, I saw the "your writing is too academic" comment hurled at any essay that Flavia Dzodan (the feminist of colour who said “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”) wrote, titled Enough With John Hamm’s Penis Already, which speaks to the racial, gendered and sexual politics involved in the media obsession over his genitalia. Her essay went beyond the ogling is good vs. is it objectification binary, and apparently offended some people since it involved critical thought.

In a few tweets Flavia noted:

Accusations of “too academic” for bloggers also masks the fact that we are confining intellectual analysis and critique to academia. Leaving cultural analysis to academia also ensures critique remains outside popular access; we should thrive for more critical thinking. Because here’s the thing: I’d rather be wrong in my ideas about gender and politics than superficial and compliant with pop culture. We can’t simultaneously claim that academia is out of reach while berating bloggers that attempt to bridge that gap by putting knowledge out. Otherwise we are left with superficial pop culture analysis, devoid of gender, race & class context, perpetuating idea of constant novelty. Also, let’s not forget that men have been historically praised for claiming the role of public intellectuals. The critiques are gendered!

Comments such as "your writing is too academic" are meant to SILENCE writing that challenges the status quo, especially when the writing is from a feminist woman of colour. People consistently teeter back and forth between DEMANDING proof versus INSULTING a feminist woman of colour for being “too academic” (as one person who replied to Flavia noted). These are all silencing tactics meant to attack the confidence of those who choose to write.

I worked with Black and Latina teenage girls years ago as a counselor, creating activities that fostered positive self-esteem, education, health and political knowledge from a womanist perspective and they understood the material well. Yet some adults complain about my writing?

So what’s really going on? Two things. One is that some of the academics who complain about my writing go back and forth on deeming it too colloquial (I write essays for people to read, not scholarly journal articles, which I do read too, but essays on blogs do not need to mimic those) or too academic (because they are making the assumption that anyone without their resume could not possibly understand my writing. They should not underestimate the intelligence of others, especially when they are the ones doing the complaining.) These two scenarios tend to come from other people of colour.

For Whites, the "where’s your proof" versus "this is too academic" takes on another form where to them I am always the “stupid and angry” Black woman or the “uppity and angry” Black woman and never someone who has shared an essay that challenges the status quo, which simply made them uncomfortable and/or angry. White men tend to demand “proof.” I had one suggest that I have no proof of slavery and Black body dehumanization. Really. White women tend to attack me personally, invoking that they feel “pity” for me despite the fact that they are willfully ignorant regarding White supremacy, racism and White privilege. (I elaborated on this before when I wrote about Whites using “social justice warrior” as a slur and their reactions to what they view as social justice writing.)

If someone doesn’t understand something that I’ve written and care to truly know, they usually email or tweet me. They don’t approach me with the DEMAND to be “educated” or run around social media spheres whining about how what I wrote is not “accessible,” in the hopes that others will join them and attack my writing to silence me altogether. The former is about communicating, connecting and challenging. The latter is about silencing, bullying and protection of the status quo.

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