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64 Responses

  1. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus August 24, 2007 at 5:42 pm |

    Bingo, Nanette. When we don’t point out these things to people, especially those whom we respect or who are close to us, we are in essence denying them an opportunity to change their behavior.

  2. Race Relations 101 - What if I screw up? « Feline Formal Shorts

    […] Nanette’s beautiful piece at Feministe about the benefit of the doubt. When people’s commenters (friends, co-workers, so on) choose […]

  3. ilyka
    ilyka August 24, 2007 at 5:58 pm |

    In making the decision to not just shake my head and move on, or to stay silent and probably seethe or to roll my eyes and think “oh well, par for the course” but deciding instead to bring this to his attention, come what may, and to believe (or at least hope) there would be no blowback from it… I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

    You took something that has been making me a basket case for two days now, and you made something so breathtakingly awesome from it* that I am founding a new religion. It is called Nanettism. Guidance from Your Supreme Divineness on how best to keep the Nanette Day holy much welcome.

    *Though not wholly from it alone, I realize.

  4. ellenbrenna
    ellenbrenna August 24, 2007 at 6:19 pm |

    The humor habit of progressives I despise:

    I will now express the internal narrative of a conservative by saying something racist/sexist/homophobic or just plain dumb, many will laugh and play along, others will merely stop reading my site altogether but right wingers will be shamed, SHAMED, I say, by my insight and wit.


  5. brklyngrl
    brklyngrl August 24, 2007 at 6:37 pm |

    This is great. I wish I could make it required reading for life.

    It is hard to make that leap of faith, and it so often goes poorly.

  6. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly August 24, 2007 at 6:57 pm |

    My heart just stopped from how much I love you, Nanette. Then Ilyka’s suggestion, thankfully, got it pumping again. Hence my ability to type.

  7. Ugly In Pink
    Ugly In Pink August 24, 2007 at 7:01 pm |

    ellenbrenna – they’re never shamed, but at least the rest of us can have a good course of laughing at them. it’s parody, it’s not meant to really hurt anyone, so if it does, I hope people give me and other progressives the benefit of the doubt similarly so we can stop. That kind of humor is meant to make people happy, not uncomfortable. But I don’t think anything’s wrong with parodying right wingers in general, including their racist/sexist/homophobic and misogynistic absurdities.

  8. Holly
    Holly August 24, 2007 at 7:34 pm |

    That’s a perfect example, and exactly fits my mental image of what the benefit of the doubt means in a situation like that. Thanks!

  9. triumphantmulatta
    triumphantmulatta August 24, 2007 at 7:37 pm |

    Wow. This is a fuckin awesome post. Exactly right on.

  10. Nanette
    Nanette August 24, 2007 at 8:30 pm |

    ellenbrenna, yeah. Sometimes that works great, but other times… not so much.

    I dunno tho… for some weird reason, sometimes it seems (some) people are more open to critiques of their serious posts than when you try to tell them their humor or irony fell flat. At that point you become ‘too sensitive’ or ‘irony or humor impaired’, ‘not used to critical thinking’ or, if they’ve swallowed right wing terminology and attitudes, ‘too PC’.

    Tackling issues like that deftly, and with a humor that allows poc, or gay people or whoever to laugh along with you and everyone else, is an art that not everyone has mastered.

  11. QLH
    QLH August 24, 2007 at 8:47 pm |

    sometimes it seems (some) people are more open to critiques of their serious posts than when you try to tell them their humor or irony fell flat. At that point you become ‘too sensitive’ or ‘irony or humor impaired’, ‘not used to critical thinking’ or, if they’ve swallowed right wing terminology and attitudes, ‘too PC’.

    I hate that. It’s difficult to argue against those accusations, because it just makes you look ignorant and defensive. It’s kind of a self-proving label: slap it on someone, watch her argue against it, and watch it stick all the more.

    I understand that it’s not fun to be told that your joke is offensive. But maybe listening to the argument is better than saying, “You’re just too stupid to understand irony.”

  12. rebeccab
    rebeccab August 24, 2007 at 9:08 pm |

    Well, how timely! :) And exactly right.

  13. ankathry
    ankathry August 24, 2007 at 9:10 pm |

    really enjoyed this piece, and, as a white girl, greatly appreciate the occasions on which I’ve been given the benefit of the doubt. There were definitely times when I totally didn’t deserve it — I cringe at how uninformed and blithely dismissive I was of the experience of racial and ethnic minorities before I took a few classes on that topic. And I identified as a feminist back then, too! It’s unbelievable to me now that I should ever have been so arrogant as to privilege my own completely insulated judgment over the actual experiences of others.

    It does bother me that the education of racist or Eurocentric individuals seems to get assigned to people of color as though it’s a moral responsibility, though. It seems to absolve those with more privilege of the obligation to educate their damn selves and following that, each other.

  14. Hector B.
    Hector B. August 24, 2007 at 9:54 pm |

    I see a connection to feminism: Trying not to be racist, or sexist, means being able to see things from a completely different point of view. This is possible only if you are able to accept it when the other person tells you when you have got it wrong. But people tend to reject criticism that clashes with their self-image. They don’t realize that they retain ingrained unenlightened ways of thinking. And they want to receive credit for trying, not just for succeeding. So I have to think that your blogger was very enlightened.

  15. zuzu
    zuzu August 24, 2007 at 10:33 pm |

    It’s interesting how these things play out. There’s quite often a furor, and I can say from experience that when you’re the target of that furor, you can feel really defensive if you feel you’ve been misunderstood, and act accordingly. But at some point, you need to drop those defensive feelings and just listen. And, even if you don’t entirely agree after considering the issue, letting the other person know that you hear them, you have listened, you have considered the issue, is very important.

    And, gosh, whatever could you mean by this post?

  16. Bianca Reagan
    Bianca Reagan August 24, 2007 at 10:51 pm |

    How timely indeed, rebeccab. I’m going through a similar situation myself. I hope it ends up as well as Nanette’s did.

  17. r@d@r
    r@d@r August 25, 2007 at 1:20 am |

    i have been that white blogger friend who stupidly posted something racist – actually it was a link to a racist joke on someone else’s blog – that i didn’t realize was racist until a good, no, a great friend gave me that same benefit of the doubt and schooled me. that, to me, is friendship. Once is bad enough, but there was another time, in the form of a comment on someone else’s blog, to which they replied in an email, saying something to the effect of “how about let’s not have you stop by for a visit, for awhile.” the first friendship i kept; the second died in infancy. i learned, i hope, from both instances. i hope.

    the thing is, the two or three times in my 42 odd years of life that i was given that benefit of the doubt in this way continue make me squirm, because stupid a**h*** that i certainly can be, i feel certain that there were at least as many, if not more times, that i was not given the benefit of the doubt, but rather my senseless words and/or actions were received with resignation and the thought: “not this again…” followed by a permanent loss of a potential human connection. it sucks to think of that, but in the final analysis you have to take the opportunity to humbly laugh at yourself, otherwise it once again turns into just being all about you.

    i am eternally grateful for those people i am so very honored to call friends who without any concern for my feelings freely tell me “dude – you’re slipping.” because the sting of being told you’ve been wrong is nowhere near as bad as the ache of realizing, too late, that a window to another mind is shut forever.

  18. Bangnor
    Bangnor August 25, 2007 at 1:36 am |

    Well…uh…understanding that this is a total hypothetical, and all, what do we do when the person is given a chance and chooses to make the situation exponentially worse by getting hyperdefensive and dismissive and causing as much or more offense by not listening and echoing right wing tropes about distinguishing whether or not this is one of those ultrarare occasions when this inevitable blagh blagh blagh might actually have validity?

  19. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 25, 2007 at 3:36 am |

    This post was brilliant. And I agree with your definition of “the benefit of the doubt”, not with the one that a lot of other people seem to be using.

    Here’s the thing…speaking up is hard, right? It would have been much easier for you to say nothing to that blogger. You didn’t have to try to reason with him. You could have just decided that he was an asshole and never visited his blog again. The fact that you didn’t indicates that you thought that, although he had been an idiot in posting that picture, he was in theory capable of not being an idiot. That’s a compliment, and I would hope that people would be able to recognise it as such. Apparently in this case the guy actually did. The many people who don’t? Well, by reacting the way they do when criticised that are proving that they never deserved the benefit of the doubt in the first place.

    This is an important point.
    “It does bother me that the education of racist or Eurocentric individuals seems to get assigned to people of color as though it’s a moral responsibility, though. It seems to absolve those with more privilege of the obligation to educate their damn selves and following that, each other.”

    I’m a white girl. I don’t think it’s anyone’s job to educate me. Which is why I tend to appreciate it when someone actually takes the time to do so. It’s a compliment, even when it doesn’t feel like one, because at least the person thinks you’re worth trying to educate.

  20. QLH
    QLH August 25, 2007 at 4:42 am |

    Accusing anyone who speaks up of “flaming” is, actually, NOT really likely to foster an atmosphere where honest criticism from allies is welcome. In fact, it makes you look like you think that you’re untouchable/beyond reproach, and it also paints anyone who speaks up as a vicious troll who’s just out to get you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell who’s out to persecute you and who’s not, but now we’re back to giving people the benefit of the doubt.

    That’s a two-way street.

    If we’re supposed to give a blogger credit, maybe that blogger could return the favor. We say, “Hey, I see your point, but here’s why that’s offensive,” and she says, “Oh, I hadn’t even considered that, but I see what you’re getting at,” and the conversation continues from there. We assume that she meant no harm, and she does the same. We give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she’s approachable on the subject, and she gives us the benefit of the doubt by engaging in reasonable debate on the subject.

  21. Magniloquence
    Magniloquence August 25, 2007 at 10:27 am |

    Lovely post, Nanette. We were on the same wavelength that day… although yours was far more gracious. *grins*

    And yes, it is difficult to know where the borders are – how far do we let this conversation go if they seem to be Just Not Getting It? – but I think that’s specific to each conversation and relationship… and not nearly so important as the fact that it’s attempted at all.

  22. Cara
    Cara August 25, 2007 at 10:50 am |

    You know, it’s quite possible to simultaneously give someone the benefit of the doubt and speak up. I think that there are times when you can tell that someone is being obviously inflammatory, or has said something so incredibly racist that there is no need to hold back. And I think that there are times (like the situation related here, it seems) where the person is being unknowingly racist or “ironic” but still racist, and you can say “hey, I know that you didn’t mean it like this, but what you said is actually offensive, and here is why.” That seems to have been the end result, here, and that may be why it worked so well. Of course, if after giving the benefit of the doubt and seeing that the person really didn’t deserve it after all, it’s fine to let loose.

    I have been spoken to like this on many occasions, in areas of race, sex, gender, class and sexuality. Hell, like everyone, I’ve messed up a lot. And occasionally, I still do. And I appreciate it when someone takes the time to educate me about an ingrained prejudice. It makes me a better person, blogger and activist. But I also appreciate that they generally don’t come at me saying “you prejudiced fuck.” It definitely increases receptiveness.

  23. snappy mackerel
    snappy mackerel August 25, 2007 at 11:02 am |

    Props, Nanette.

  24. roses
    roses August 25, 2007 at 2:22 pm |

    I think #3 is giving them the benefit of the doubt. Not giving them the benefit of the doubt would be to assume they were being intentionally racist and choosing option #2. #3 is giving them the benefit of the doubt by… well exactly what you said. Trusting that they’re not really racists at heart and that if they knew how offensive they were being they would willingly try to change their behaviour.

  25. Race, class, disability, sex; sex, disability, race, class; class, sex, disability, race; getting off the roundabout and meeting in the middle, dizzy as all get-out, but trying to find which way is up at Hoyden About Town

    […] Start with White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack * Nanette’s The Benefit of the Doubt: White readers, if you were the white blogger in this story, how would you react? How do you make […]

  26. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte August 25, 2007 at 5:55 pm |

    The assumption that I did not give anyone the benefit of the doubt is not borne out by the evidence. Not only did I not deny that the complaints had a point, I acted on them. I just predicted—rightly it turns out—that some people will continue to flame you as if you didn’t listen or consider their opinion, no matter what you do.

  27. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte August 25, 2007 at 5:56 pm |

    Now you may not be saying that. But just interesting timing is all.

  28. Blackamazon
    Blackamazon August 25, 2007 at 6:00 pm |

    *applauds Nanette*

  29. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 25, 2007 at 6:47 pm |

    Fabulous post, Nanette. It is destined to be linked to, time and time again.

    I’m “irony deficient”, because I’ve seen so-called “irony” used as a mask for replicating the same-old same-old racist, sexist bullshit. Othering, 2.0.

  30. ilyka
    ilyka August 25, 2007 at 6:49 pm |

    The assumption that I did not give anyone the benefit of the doubt is not borne out by the evidence.

    Oh yes. It fucking. Is.

    This is the very first comment about race and that cover, Amanda. The very first:


    …Amanda, as smart as you are, and i actually love the title, but the cover image is so vintage racist i’d have thought you would have written *about* a book that looked like that rather written *in* it.
    i don’t intend to stop reading the blog, or to not read the book (because i expect the content is as good as the blog, and really, there’s worse– a picture of Michelle Malkin, for instance) but… really? a big black anthropomorphic gorilla and a little white woman? this is exactly what you’re talking about! i really, really respect you as a writer but… do you think there’s any room for criticism of the cover? i mean, images of helpless white women abound and deserve to be poked fun at, but why does it have to come with a big black gorilla that walks like a man?
    congratulations on the book.

    This is your very first acknowledgement of that comment, Amanda:

    And i wasn’t disappointed in how long it took the eagerly offended to by outrage by their perceived racism of the cover.

    We had a running bet on how long it would be before people saw the sexism and not the irony.

    In other words, you handled it like a complete snot, just like I long ago warned you not to. I could have saved my fingers a lot of aching back then had I NOT given you the benefit of the doubt, but no, I’m a dreamer, and I completely underestimated how bloodyminded and pigheaded you can be.

    But is that all? Hell, no, that’s not all! When justicewalks and Heart backed Serena up, you kept digging:

    Good to know what the joy-killing narrative is going to be. My money was on “pornographic”. Shows my guessing skills.

    Joy-killing? JOY-KILLING? You probably think this song is about you, don’t you?

    And then, my personal favorite for sheer head-asplodyness, this:

    It did make writing it easier, though. I realized that stressing out over inclusive vs. not condescending vs. humor was pointless when there was no such thing as the perfect mix that will avoid criticism that I’m secretly a racist/sexist/Markos-lover, and that realization freed me up to write in my own voice and aiming for humor.

    Shorter you: “I realized that to change would mean to make an effort, and I didn’t wanna, because ‘these people’ are just out to get me anyway.”

    You know what? You don’t get to invalidate the work of people who do make the effort by declaring success at that effort “impossible.” Fuck you! It’s not impossible; it’s just seemingly impossible FOR YOU. God knows why!

    Some of your so-called friends are in that thread wailing about tone and sensitivity and good faith and, yes, the benefit of the doubt. They appear to think they are being supportive. They are not being supportive; they are being enabling. They are enabling your worst qualities: Paranoia. Defensiveness. Obstinacy.

    I may not be your friend, but I at least respect you enough to say that you should really get some help for that shit. Not everyone who brings up race and racism around you is Bitch|Lab; not every attempt at discussion constitutes “an inevitable flamewar” (by the way, please, someone start an inevitable flamewar with me by kissing my ass about what a great writer and thinker I am and then humbly begging my permission to talk about the one teensy-tiny problem they have with me! Please start that flamewar with me! I would love it!); not every criticism of you has been fired from Bill Donahue’s stinking cannon.

    People wouldn’t try to reach you if they didn’t think you were reachable. But I think you may at last expect those attempts to stop, because every blasted time you’re given the opportunity to respond in good faith, with respect for the people who risked your anger, your condescension, and your ultimate rejection just to treat you like a decent human being–every blasted time, you fuck it up. I CAN’T STAND IT.

    And if you don’t agree with me about the moral issues here, fine, let’s talk about the political ones: How can you be so heavy into politics and still be this politically stupid? You could have had a nice, tidy 80-comment thread that was 85% pure love, if only the first words outta your virtual mouth had been, “Sure, Serena, we can talk about that! I have to warn you, though, I’m not sure how much pull I have with the publisher over this.” That’s it! That’s all you had to do. Stop claiming that’s so hard to do. It is not hard to do. If I, the dumbfuck former Mormon Republican can figure this out, you, the lifelong feminist liberal, have no excuse.

    Put the goddamn gun down and quit shooting yourself in the foot! I’m BEGGING you. You are capable of being better than this.

  31. Hector B.
    Hector B. August 25, 2007 at 8:26 pm |

    things, especially online, are not always said in the tone it appears

    Indeed. So much of the internet is mano-a-mano deathmatch 2000 that responses to posts are commonly assumed to be contradictions. When responding, I have found myself having to explicitly say “I agree with you, and what’s more…” to prevent the original poster from assuming my response is “You’re full of shit and here’s why,” savagely trying to refute what he presumes is my counterargument.

  32. Bangnor
    Bangnor August 26, 2007 at 1:08 am |

    *lights candles and prays that everyone in America will become as much of a “dumbfuck” as ilyka*

  33. QLH
    QLH August 26, 2007 at 3:18 am |

    God, Ilyka: yes, yes, and yes.

  34. XtinaS
    XtinaS August 26, 2007 at 4:07 am |

    Oh goodness, yes.  I need to get better at this.  Thank you for posting this.

  35. still censored...
    still censored... August 26, 2007 at 10:49 am |

    ilyka, thank you, thank you, thank you. She’s now taken to accusing the people who persist in discussing the issue (but only those who aren’t persisting in DEFENDING her, of course) of having no jobs / lives. I think that’s my benchmark for a thread “jumping the shark” so to speak, not to mention the ultimate in bad faith.

  36. Ravenmn
    Ravenmn August 26, 2007 at 11:57 am |

    One thing I’ve found comforting as a white person is the understanding that racism is being continually taught to us through our media and through our education system for our ENTIRE lives. And the teachers of racism, especially unearned privilege, are very good at their jobs. They teach us white people what to pay attention to and what to ignore. They tell us what is “important”: the concerns of white people, and what is trivial: the concerns of people of color. Racism is a very powerful and effective system that white people in America, especially, are being constantly taught to uphold.

    Given that, I expect that on any given day I’m going to screw up. My intentions can be wonderful, but I’m very likely to take something that has meaning for people of color and just stomp all over it. I was deliberately taught to NOT see the racism around me. And I was deliberately taught that if anyone mentions it to me, my reaction is to object and say “No, it’s not there. You’re wrong and overly sensitive.”

    In an odd way, people who don’t see racism are significantly downplaying its power over themselves. You, too, can be a victim of racism when you are blind to it and react so inappropriately when it is pointed out to you. That is exactly the method that racism uses.

    White people have a choice. We can refuse to follow the same old patterns. We can refuse to get angry or defensive or lash out when our racist actions or ideas are questioned.

    Does this mean people of color are always right? Nope. What it means is we make a commitment to speak honestly and openly about race.

  37. justicewalks
    justicewalks August 26, 2007 at 5:43 pm |

    I see this is where everyone who preceded me in recognizing Amanda’s willful insensitivity has gathered. Hello! And a hearty and sincerely meant THANK YOU to all of you who were with me on that thread.

  38. Ravenmn
    Ravenmn August 26, 2007 at 6:29 pm |

    I think I worded my post badly. I’m NOT comforted that racism is taught to me every day. I am, however, aware of its power and the fact that I have been indoctrinated with racist thinking by people more powerful than me. So it doesn’t surprise me when I fuck up and it doesn’t make me particularly offended. My post has been bothering me all day — I knew I worded it poorly. I hope I clarified where I fucked up.

  39. CK
    CK August 26, 2007 at 6:30 pm |

    justicewalks: Seriously, thanks for saying all you did there so consistently and ably. If I’d tried to reply to all that you did, I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded.

  40. Hector B.
    Hector B. August 26, 2007 at 10:35 pm |

    There were enough hints dropped where I had to look it up, but the image is gone. I wonder if I would have even noticed the symbolism; I must confess as a nerd I tend to take everything at face value. Plus I saw the movie when I was a little kid — I remember it mostly as being about cruelty to animals.

  41. Noli Irritare Leones » Blog Archive » Blogwatch

    […] Nanette, guest blogging at Feministe, on The Benefit of the Doubt. […]

  42. roses
    roses August 27, 2007 at 11:39 am |

    Hector, in case you haven’t already pieced it together, it was an image of a black gorilla carrying off a white woman. And I will say that I personally did not see the racist symbolism until it was pointed out. But I’m the first to admit I’m fairly ignorant on racial matters, and I learned a ton from the resulting discussion (even if it did get a bit nasty in places).

  43. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly August 27, 2007 at 12:19 pm |

    I don’t know if I am beating a dead horse or too used to the sound of my own www-voice in the last few days to *not* say this, but Hector I thought also that one point raised was that not-seeing that image as having the relationship it does to violence against black people in this country (or elsewhere) is a not-seeing-ness that means something. To judge someone for seeing it as racist and liking it for being so is a pretty straightforward thing to tsk tsk over. I know it seems more subtle but to me it also seems pretty straightforward to note that if you have had the luxury of not being personally touched by the hatred in that image, the point is not that you were innocent or a jerk, the point is the luxury itself – who gets to have it, why it’s there, what it does, what it costs and to whom. It is insane how habitually that part of the discussion gets translated to be about a) whether the non-see-er is “good or bad” and/or b) the evil motives of the person who is simply talking about the undeniable fucked-ness of the construct itself. And it is difficult not to become skeptical when something that bizarre continues to be the norm; it is hard not to then suspect that the supposed blindness and misunderstanding is purposeful rather than random emotional blabbity blah. That is not to say that I presume to read people’s hearts and minds – it is a piece of information that I think anyone I talk with deserves to know: I have a hard time trusting what people tell me under these repetitive conditions.

  44. Hector B.
    Hector B. August 27, 2007 at 1:55 pm |

    As a general rule for life, not tied to racism, sexism, or whatever, if some one is offended by something you have said or done, their offense is real whether you meant to offend them or not. If you didn’t mean to, the best thing to do is say, sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.

  45. Tracey
    Tracey August 27, 2007 at 4:46 pm |

    This was wonderful. Just wonderful. I hope you don’t mind if I link to it.

  46. nell
    nell August 27, 2007 at 8:11 pm |

    This is a great piece, Nannette. You do an excellent job showing how the idea of ‘benefit of the doubt’ is so often used to shut down and not hear criticism/good advice on rectifying a situation – whatever it is.

    Having managed, on occasion (!), to shut out good advice/criticism on a fairly impressively wide range of issues with this approach – learning to see the problem with the tactic in general, when used by me or others, has been extremely valuable to me – but I’ve never been able to put it as succinctly and clearly as you do here.

    And to Justicewalks – you were right (which you know, of course) and Amanda was completely in the wrong from her first casual dismissal of the concern as ‘success bashing’, and she redeemed herself late and, IMO, only partially (between that and those hideous NWS pornified ads I may take a Pandagon break for a while….).

    I’m sorry I didn’t participate longer – each of my drafts started along the lines of ‘what? are you an idiot?’ and went down from there – but that seemed destined to go no where good so I took a break and when I got back the cover image was down. I didn’t realize until I was following some other links around the blogsphere today that it actually managed to get worse.


  47. Hector B.
    Hector B. August 28, 2007 at 1:42 am |

    Amanda was completely in the wrong

    Hey, I went over and read that thread, and as far as I can tell, no one has tried to see the situation from Amanda’s point of view. As I see it, the problem was that Amanda just wasn’t listening. She had been surfing a wave of happiness, yet having a nagging sense that this success of hers was sure to end with someone peeing into her cornflakes. And then she saw what appeared to her to be a stream of urine going into her cornflakes, and said OH NOES. So, like most humans, she focused on her own feelings rather than reach out to these voices saying: “Your book — you know, the one you’re so proud is going to get published — is going to have a racist image — that you think is pretty cool — on the front cover.” Because, it’s very hard to separate in your mind “you like that racist book cover of yours” from “you’re a racist”, when not being a racist is part of who you think you are. And she came off like an insensitive clot, especially when she tried to explain where she was coming from; what her gut had told her was going to happen, the chorus said, “You just don’t get it.” So she got defensive. But she did pass the group’s concerns on to the publisher, even though her ego did not let her do a public mea culpa.

    So, to sum up, book cover image is racist; Amanda did not see the racism in it; when people pointed out the racism implicit in the image; she focused on her own feelings rather than listen to what they were saying; and she did not perform a public mea culpa.

  48. roula
    roula August 28, 2007 at 4:03 am |

    hector, that’s a great summary, mostly spot-on and fair. the only thing is that many people DID sympathize with amanda’s position. in fact most of the people voicing concerns about the cover seemed like they felt really crappy about, as you said, peeing in her cornflakes, and took pains inserting [apology] tags because they didn’t like to do it but it felt important and right to do. i know i felt this way.

    what really got to me was the dogpile on a handful of thoughtful, concerned commenters for speaking up in the first place. it was partly the number of other commenters who were being dismissive and contemptuous that anyone should even think to see offense there, much less rain on the parade over it — which sucks since the complainants were all “gah sorry to rain on the parade but pretty please could you consider that there might be a racism aspect, so very sorry?”

    of course this isn’t the first time crap like this happens in the intertubes and i, like amanda, am tired of flamewars — but from my perspective they have been caused not by the people with concerns but by the people tired of paying attention to pesky “concerns”, e.g. commenters who defend the status quo with phrases like “the eagerly offended”, and fanned by the silence of our favorite minor celebrities whose success we have all been rooting for. it just feels like a letdown, and i guess letting people down IS part of being a public writer and a star on the rise, but it’s “letting my supporters down” and NOT “rankling my enemies” and the reaction from amanda (or whoever else in other cases) should have been different, is all. should have been in good faith, if you like, from the start.

    sorry about being long, i do that a lot.

  49. nell
    nell August 28, 2007 at 9:36 am |

    Ah – well, I probably should have expanded. I tend to be wordy, so I was trying for brevity – and ended up not being clear.

    I meant, when I said that Amanda was wrong, that I believe she was wrong in her choices about how to respond once the issue was raised, not wrong to have liked the cover in the first place. I thought her explanation of her thought process about the ‘jungle’ theme and shifting away from the Tarzan=white-men-only image was interesting and completely logical.

    I didn’t immediately recognize the inherent racism of the cover either, white girl that I am. I didn’t like the cover art much, so didn’t even read the thread till it popped over 100 responses, but I can’t chalk that up to unconscious anti-racisim. I just didn’t care for it aesthetically. Which I was sure she didn’t want to hear from me – so, out of respect for her totally well-deserved excitement over the accomplishment of having a book so close to publication, I didn’t pop up to say that.

    I know it can be hard to hear criticism – almost especially thoughtful and accurate criticism. I also know – for reals – how exciting it is to see the cover art of your first book for the first time (which is part of why the ‘success-bashing’ thing was so irritating – many of her regular readers are quite accomplished and successful in their chosen professions/careers/interests, the implication that the big ‘we’ were all basement dwelling losers seeking to drag down the one of us headed for the light was petty, at best).

    But this particular issue – of how someone committed to progressive politics and action ideally reacts when called on their blind-spots-o-privillege – has been thrashed out pretty thoroughly in a wide variety of online arenas. The script has already been written (I learned the script in fandom, actually, not progressive blogsphere politics at all….), and is posted in many places – and I’ve seen in references to it on Pandagon in the past.

    For Amanda to toss out that script, while emotionally understandable, was politically and progressively foolish, at best, hostile and insulting at worst. Wrong, in (too) fewer words.

    Not that we all can’t be in the wrong at times, even the best intentioned among us – but, at least in my years of reading Fandom_Wank – I have definitely learned that the fastest way to defuse a wankstorm caused by your own actions is to 1) *stop defending yourself* 2) *apologize for offense caused* and, then (and this one is very important) 3) *stop talking* !

    A part of me is actually still flabbergasted that an online blogger of Amanda’s experience and expertise hasn’t internalized that routine yet.

    Which is undoubtedly a lesson for all of us about the importance of humility and practice in the face of difficult situations. ;-)

  50. Bangnor
    Bangnor August 30, 2007 at 3:17 am |

    Hector B, the problem is though that Amanda has a history of not listening. And people would probably be more likely to try and see things from her point of view if she hadn”t started out by dismissing people’s concerns and patronizing them and accusing them of being opportunists and dragging up past issues and rewriting history in a totally self serving way and all the rest. She gets defensive, she lashes out, then she can’t understand what all the fuss is about or how her reactions contribute to the problem and actually make it a lot worse. It’s a pretty well established pattern and doesn’t give anyone a lot of faith for the future.

  51. Nanette
    Nanette August 30, 2007 at 8:31 am |


    But this particular issue – of how someone committed to progressive politics and action ideally reacts when called on their blind-spots-o-privillege – has been thrashed out pretty thoroughly in a wide variety of online arenas.

    This has puzzled me for a long time, this idea among some that the best thing to do when confronted with even the mildest criticism is ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! I don’t know if it’s that they’re more used to dealing with political opponents as opposed to those who are, basically, on the same political side, or if it’s a product of online culture itself or if people who have reached some measure of online success simply (and erroneously) believe that’s the best way to ‘protect the brand’ or what.

    This does not, of course, prevent “flame wars”, the oft derided and definitely mislabeled “circular firing squad” – can’t be a circular firing squad until there is a circle – or the freakish expressing of longing (by some) for the uniformity and conformity of the Republicans – forgetting, I guess, how they achieve that uniformity. A virtually all White party that regularly, and with glee, tosses their women, few non-White and gay constituents under the bus might have at least public uniformity of thought and purpose, but it’s not something I’d like to see those on the leftish side of the aisle aspire to :).

    Although some do.

  52. Nanette
    Nanette August 30, 2007 at 9:05 am |


    It’s a pretty well established pattern and doesn’t give anyone a lot of faith for the future.

    yeah… it may be just my “woc paranoia” but I actually think that natural tendencies (not just Amanda’s) are sometimes exacerbated when it’s anything to do with race or people of color… because then that means that not only are you (general “you”) publicly wrong, but you are Wrong on Race – which, for rising “progressives” stars, especially those attempting to make a living from their work and/or gain influence in political or organization circles and so on, is apparently considered not a good thing.

    Mind you, I’ve not seen where that’s noticeably held anyone back from achieving success over the years, but it’s possibly a bit different with blogs, because of the public nature of things.

    What I don’t get is the seeming lack of a desire (among some) to work *with* poc, instead of around or over or thru… I mean, I understand it with the for profit White “progressive” political blogs, as their advertising dollar and “money for politicians in order to gain power” base depends on having just the demographics they have, but I don’t get what the reasoning is for feminists to follow the same sort of pattern when their audiences and readership are vastly different.

  53. belledame222
    belledame222 September 2, 2007 at 3:16 pm |

    way late, but: this was terrific. and you know, i think it’s applicable in a number of situations.

    it’s horrid to choose one or two (applying in a context that makes sense to me), unless you -really- feel comfortable with one. it’s, well, besides everything else, if it’s someone you like and respect:

    “I was angry with my friend
    I told it not, my wrath did end.
    I was angry with my foe,
    I told it not, my wrath did grow…”

    but the trouble is, way too many people assume that if you are saying something at all, THAT means that you have assigned them “foe.” and react accordingly.

    and then, sooner or later, you…tend to swallow it, more often than not.

    but if you swallow it, it tends to curdle…

  54. Femmostroppo Awards for 2007: A Retrospective at Hoyden About Town

    […] Thanks for linking to my site and nominating me, er…the “Benefit of the Doubt” thread you linked to is my words, not Nanette’s. But, I think you should link to her post on the benefit of the doubt as well, or instead of mine, since it is as good or better than mine. The Benefit of the Doubt at Feministe (by Nanette) […]

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