Sunday, 21 April 2013

Privileged Problems

I’ve come to learn something about myself over the last couple of months. Apparently, I am very underprivileged.

As a mixed-race, gay woman, I'm pretty far down the privilege pecking order and as such, my life is beset with the inevitable problems that arise as a result of my minority status.

I needn't worry though. Should I feel 'silenced' or 'oppressed', it seems I can call on a group of Twitter freedom fighters, self-identified as Intersectional Feminists (IFs), who will jump in and 'call out' my oppressors.

I've seen this happen a lot recently, and perhaps knowing they've 'got my back' should bring me comfort.

But in fact, I find it hugely troubling, dangerous and infuriatingly condescending.

Because while I acknowledge that on paper my life could seem potentially problematic, having lived it I quite like it.

Sure, I've suffered racism. I've missed out on jobs for no other discernible reason than the colour of my skin and felt my cheeks flush with anger when someone shouts something horrible at me.

Because some people aren't entirely OK about it, there are some places where I can't openly hold my partner's hand. And often, I see examples of sexism that make me question whether the feminist movement was simply a dream.

But my life today is better than had I lived 50 years ago. In another 50 years, the race, gender and sexual orientation of someone like me will hopefully matter even less, as people continue fighting for equality. 

And I know that while there are people who've lived much peachier lives than mine, there are many, many more who have had it much tougher.

So why do I feel as though I'm being pitied all the time? It's never said outright but it's implied by the way anyone with so-called privilege is constantly attacked.

If anyone with this so-called privilege dares voice an opinion, they are vilified by the IFs, in an all-out assault.

If they try to defend themselves, it is perceived as yet further proof they don't understand how lucky they are. 

If they block the attackers, they are stifling debate. And if they leave Twitter to escape the barrage, they are criticised for choosing not to stay and engage, or sneered at for “flouncing”. 

Initially, I watched all this unfold from a distance. I followed a few of the IFs and often agreed with them. How could I not? Anyone calling for us to acknowledge our own privilege in our interactions with other people is a good thing, in theory. 

But not in practice – certainly in this manifestation when increasingly, things turned ugly during exchanges that did not need to go that way.

If people used language the IFs didn't agree with, they'd be jumped on. if they expressed a different opinion, the offending tweet would be RTed in order to show its author up for their ignorance. What's wrong with engaging in a debate, and trying to listen and understand each other rather than screaming down someone who's said something you disagree with?

To me, this type of 'privilege checking' is flawed when so little is known about the 'privileged' individual being attacked. 

Society is too heterogeneous to make such blinkered generalisations. 

Too often, the IFs assume the inferiority of those who are PoC/female/gay etc which is in itself racist/sexist and homophobic. More so, by making assumptions prior to knowing someone, they ignore the complexities of humans and human relationships.

If I meet a white, straight, able-bodied cisgender male I do not assume that by definition, he has enjoyed a more privileged life than me. How could I possibly make that assumption when I know nothing of his life? How do I know he's not been subjected to sexual abuse in the past, or whether he is beaten up by his partner at home, or if beneath his 'privileged' exterior he's fighting a life-limiting illness? On the surface it might look like he's led a cushy life but for all I know, he could teach me a thing or two about oppression. 

Yet he would be a prime target for the IFs if he came to blows with someone they deemed less privileged. Because from their reductionist viewpoint, his life is automatically better than theirs.

And this privilege checking doesn't account for empathy. Is it only other mixed-race, gay women who could possibly understand me or empathise with any struggles I've had? I've never battled a heroin addiction but as an ex-smoker I understand the nature of addiction.

In that same vein, a red-headed man who hates being mocked for being “ginger” could probably understand how I feel when I've been called “chocolate face”.

Oppression can happen to anyone. It doesn't begin and end with sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or discrimination against disabled people or those with mental health issues.  A straight woman who's put up with piss-takes because of her regional accent might feel as nervous opening her mouth for the first time on her first day in a new job in East Sussex, as I might telling a new group of people that my partner is a woman and not a man.

Discrimination of anyone is unacceptable, whether of traditionally marginalised groups or the reverse; the bullying of a white middle class straight woman for being “privileged” is no more acceptable than the bullying of a black, working class gay one.

And if this brand of intersectionality and privilege-checking is about dragging those in a perceived better position down, rather than elevating those who might be more vulnerable, then it's flawed.

I've never written a blog before, but increasingly I felt I needed to say something about this issue. And it was one tweet in particular that tipped me over the edge. 

During a recent disagreement between two women, Helen and Sam – triggered by this exchange (for balance, here is what Sam said) – both women had people come forward to defend/support them. 

Two of the defenders, one from each side, engaged with each other, summarised in this exchange:

I could see the point with that final comment: “My reaction is mostly fascination. This is like a case study in group behaviour on social media,” In the context of that particular episode, it was a strong example of group behaviour played out on social media.

But then Sam's defender followed up with this on her feed. It wasn't a direct response but was clearly a continuation:

This was the tweet that did it. The one that led to me writing this.

At best, that tweet was misleading and at worst, manipulative. Helen's defender never said it was the “harassment of a woman of colour” which was the “fascinating case study”. It was the whole event, and she was right. If a commentator on social media was looking for an event that demonstrated mob mentality on Twitter, this would more than suffice.

It also implied there was a racist element to the alleged harassment, which again was not relevant to that discussion – unless the harassment was racist in its nature.

And I find this sort of misinterpretation/manipulation of events common in the IFs arguments.

Yes, Sam had said she'd received racist abuse from people purporting to speak in support of Helen, as I was told by several people (see below). But Helen had also been subjected to abuse, and this was not the point - neither Helen nor Sam can be held for whatever anyone else said in their defence, unless they actually condoned it.  And Helen specifically said when asked that she did not condone it. 

So then I asked if the alleged “harassment” of Sam was of a racist nature. And if it wasn't, how was the fact she's a WoC relevant? This was the response (it's upside-down, read from the bottom up):

It didn't help. So Helen “let” her followers on Sam. Really? Because to me it just seemed as though she wanted to set out her position for the record in relation to an ongoing dispute. Sam simply wouldn't answer Helen, and seemed intent only on attacking her. So Helen set out her version of events in a storify. She was perfectly entitled to do that. 

To me, many of these response suggest that it's somehow worse to harass a WoC. It really isn't. Harassment's shit no matter what colour a person is and to suggest otherwise is itself racist in a peculiarly patronising way. 

That's the whole point. Equality isn't about treating some people better than others. It's about treating people in exactly the same way regardless of who they are. Rosa Parks didn't refuse to give up her seat to a white person so she could be chauffeured in a limousine. She just wanted to be treated the same. 

Let's remember, Sam falsely accused a public figure of racism. Yes, she apologised to that person but she did not apologise to Helen for mocking her when she asked for proof of this allegation.

Even now, this is how Sam describes Helen’s request for proof:

I struggle to see how that is a legitimate statement, and yet the IFs have applauded it.

And it's funny because when I first saw Sam make this allegation back in January, I was intrigued, just as Helen was. 

The public figure she was accusing is someone I respect a great deal and an unsubstantiated allegation of racism could do huge damage to her career. 

But I soon realised that there was no basis for the allegation, and by then the mob had descended anyway. As I've always done previously, until now, I kept out of it.

But what if I had asked the same question? Would I have been treated in the same way? I bet I wouldn't have had half the grief Helen did – because I am black and therefore deemed to have special entitlement to ask things those who are more privileged are not. That is not fair. If people want a level playing field, it must be level for everyone. 

Apparently, Helen is fair game, because of this:

So does this mean that because of her colour, among other things, she has fewer rights? Because that sounds like prejudice to me. 

I've also noticed some of the white IFs asking for themselves to be 'called out' in case they are racist – even going so far to say they 'must' be because they are white.

These are some examples: 

“And call me out too. I'm white, and therefore probably racist as hell sometimes.”

And: “...(urgh, sorry you get so much crap. Do call me out if I screw up, as I am sure I must from time to time, being white).”

This makes me so uncomfortable. This constant preoccupation with how we're all so different is so wrong. Surely they should be encouraging us to celebrate our differences, rather than seeing difference as a potential pitfall in how we get along?

Perhaps the suspicion they seem to treat others with is a projection of their own self-doubt. I honestly don't know.

In case it is suggested, I do not know Helen personally and have only just recently started following her on Twitter - in fact as a result of this twitterstorm. This isn't about sticking up for who I feel most allied with, it's about standing up for what I believe is right. 

People interpret things differently. And yet often the IFs don't grasp this - so 100% sure they are completely, irrefutably in the right.


And I'd like to add that this is not directed at all Intersectional Feminists, but to a specific group, some of whom are included in screengrabs in this piece.
So to these IFs, I say this. 'Call people out' as much as you want. Order them to 'check their privilege' and flagellate yourselves about your own privilege as though by acknowledging it, you're somehow a better person.

But know that you do not speak for me. I don't need you to tell me what I should be offended at, or to wrap me in cotton wool, and I certainly don't need your protection or condescension.

You claim to speak for the dispossessed, to be fighting for a more equal society. But yours is a counter-productive brand of empowerment, and it is dangerous. You shut down discussion, attack those you disagree with and refuse to listen to any other perspective, shouting louder than everyone until you get your own way or you silence whoever you're engaging with. 

Perhaps you're genuinely motivated by honourable intentions. I can't tell any more. But to me, too often you just seem like bullies who perpetrate the very prejudice you claim to fight against.


  1. "You shut down discussion, attack those you disagree with and refuse to listen to any other perspective, shouting louder than everyone until you get your own way or you silence whoever you're engaging with."

    Oh, did this resonate with me.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I must be really old-fashioned, and even a Tory (I'm not aware of being one but I'm sure someone will claim to know what I think better than I do) if I say people should be judged by the logical and factual soundness of their views, not by who they are.

    This is the best part:
    "If I meet a white, straight, able-bodied cisgender male I do not assume that by definition, he has enjoyed a more privileged life than me. How could I possibly make that assumption when I know nothing of his life? How do I know he's not been subjected to sexual abuse in the past, or whether he is beaten up by his partner at home, or if beneath his 'privileged' exterior he's fighting a life-limiting illness? On the surface it might look like he's led a cushy life but for all I know, he could teach me a thing or two about oppression."

    Let's say a white middle-class man had, for instance, a form of high-functioning autism, or was a closet gay. If he mentioned this to buttress his arguments, would they instantly become better arguments, even if what he said was utterly unchanged? I think not.

    For that matter, when did the word privilige change its meaning from "wealthy, well-connected, upper-middle-class" to "person against whom I will use ad homs in an attempt to make their statements unspeakable and, eventually, unthinkable"?

    And finally, why can I not rid myself of the suspicion that the whole "debate" is a substitute for really doing something that will genuinely improve people's lives and make the world a better place? This is what I don't get.

    I think you and I wouldn't see eye to eye and you may not even want my agreement or support. But having seen a link to this post on twitter these are my thoughts. And I will say nothing at all about my circumstances, hoping only to be judged by whether my statements ar right or wrong.

    1. "Let's say a white middle-class man had, for instance, a form of high-functioning autism, or was a closet gay. If he mentioned this to buttress his arguments, would they instantly become better arguments, even if what he said was utterly unchanged? I think not."

      Not necessarily "better arguments", but certainly more valid opinions. If it was an argument about what the experience of an autistic person is, then it's more important to listen to his views on the subject than it is to those of someone who isn't autistic. If it was an argument about what the experience of a gay man afraid to be 'out' is, then ditto. That's what intersectionality is. It's allowing the lived experience of the people in question to structure the debate about how we deal with power relations and discrimination. It's about making sure we have the conversation *with* the actual people being discussed, not without them.

  4. Excellent article. I agreed with every word of it.

    Twitterstorm in 10...9...8...

  5. whoops. mail, mirror, sun.. blah blah. papers that routinely pick on the most disadvantaged (read: minority). it's your bread and butter, can't have that challenged.

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    2. Talking of that abuse, Sam made another un-evidenced assertion:

  6. Sam, you got your facts wrong. Have some dignity, please. Have you read any articles from the Daily Mirror recently? It has a chequered history, yes, but it's highlighted much of the horror of this current coalition. The world isn't as simple as you'd like it to be, believe it or not. I've read well written, informed articles in The Telegraph and some utter guff in the Guardian. If you think only certain papers write certain things then you're ill informed.

    But other than that, you've missed the point of this article completely. My guess is that you're one the people who behaves in the manner she's referring to.

  7. Hi Melissa,

    I really don't want to get into an argument about this, for Sam's sake if nothing else, but I think it's important that I highlight the context that the tweet you consider responsible for this blog, was made. It doesn't necessarily excuse what you feel to be a gross misrepresentation of Naomi's POV.

    It wasn't long after Helen took a break from twitter, and Sam was receiving abuse. By the bucketload. And a lot of it was racist. Egg accounts were created solely to harass her and accuse her of *lying* about her race. I didn't just see these tweets directed at Sam, they went after anybody defending her. I received tweets from these accounts directing racist, ableist comments at Sam, doubting her mental health issues. So this was the state of my TL when this happened. Someone I consider a friend was receiving abuse from a mistake she made *three months ago* and a lot of that was based on her race and on her mental health problems, and she was having a lot of trouble handling it. This is the 'social media casestudy' from my POV.

    It was probably unfair of me to assume that Naomi was seeing what I was seeing, so I apologise unreservedly for that. What is often both a problem and a virtue for twitter is our worldview is channelled based on who we follow etc. What Naomi was seeing was probably nothing compared to the pain of a friend dragged all over my TL. I wish you had told me in our discussions that this was the tweet you'd had trouble with, I would have been happy to discuss it with you (although not when I was giving statements to the police, that was bad timing all around!)

    What does concern me, however, is when you discussed writing this blogpost with me you explicitly said it would be about the 'Online Wimmin Mob' in general, and that you would not be naming names. I took that in good faith. I am not particularly concerned about whatever fallout I get from this, but Sam is still suffering from a mistake she made three months ago and a twitterstorm that had pretty much blown over. I really do worry that this may all blow up again, so I hope you understand that is why I won't be commenting on this on twitter. There are women still dealing with the fallout of last week who don't need it dragged up again.

    1. Hi Sarah

      First - you're absolutely correct about my initial intentions not to name names. However once it came to writing the piece it didn't work and was confusing. And as these were, for the most part, well-documented exchanges I felt it was fair to use them. I also was told the OWM was actually derogatory (I didn't realise this when I saw it in various bios) so thought best to leave it out.

      I don't want to argue - this is the point. I want to engage and actually start a dialogue.

      I didn't mention that particular tweet in our exchanges because a) you and Stavvers both said you couldn't continue with the discussion and b) it's quite hard to communicate an entire thought process in 140 words. I felt a blog was best because there were so many things I was concerned about.

      To me, that tweet following your discussion with Naomi was misleading it that context and I found it misrepresentative of what Naomi was saying. As I mentioned, I know Sam was subject to racist abuse which I obviously do not condone. But that does not mean no one can engage with Sam at all. She writes a blog and tweets (I know her account has since been made private) so she's prepared to put her thoughts and feelings out there. And as such, she should be prepared to engage with fair comment. And I have also seen her use rather horrible language about other people, which I wouldn't associate with a victim. One of the most important lessons I was ever taught was to treat others how you would like to be treated. Perhaps she would do well do think of this.

      I think perhaps it is the same Sam who has commented above. Again, she doesn't engage but just goes on the offensive. Why?

      I also feel you haven't addressed many of the issues I've raised. I implore you to do so.

    2. "language... which I wouldn't associate with a victim".

      There are lots of myths about lots of different kinds of victimhood. Feeling only hurt and silent and all you do say being nice is one such myth.

    3. Good point and taken on board. I think what I was trying to say is that I find it difficult to accept the word of someone who says they're being bullied, when to me they engage in bullying tactics themselves.

  8. Melissa Thompson thank you so much for putting into words what has been bugging the hell out of me!

    Like you I've been following this, was following some of the IFs too, but it's not a feminism which speaks of or to my experience, and actually increasingly alienates me.

    I abhor all violence and intolerance, including those of racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism (only some of which affect me personally), kicking people's heads in on twitter for (assumed to be) not being directly affected is another form of violence.

    Keep blogging now you've started :-)

  9. Hi Melissa,

    I'm quite uncomfortable that you keep asking me the reasons behind Sam's behaviour/beliefs-last week you asked why Sam felt the issue was race connected. I can't in good faith represent all Sam's thoughts and feelings on this. You are going to have to engage with Sam directly to have those questions answered, I am a friend, not her spokesperson. :/

    Sorry if I missed your tweet: I was walking home whilst tweeting and my reading comprehension goes out the window at that point. I believe I've addressed that point in my previous answer. It was a somewhat flippant and emotional response to what I saw as the dismissal of a friend in pain. However, I do think that there was a dehumanising element to that comment to people on all sides of the discussion.

    (The conversation with Naomi, btw, wasn't in response to Helen Lewis. It was in response to another storify made about Sam ABOUT the HL storify, which mischaracterised her, took tweets out of context whilst omitting some out altogether.)

    Not being Sam, all I can say re: Mary Beard is that Sam publicly apologised & expressed that she felt absolutely terrible about mischaracterising her. Mary took it with complete grace & accepted immediately. I really don't see the point in continuing to berate Sam for something she apologised for. She knows she was in the wrong about it.

    You make the repeated point here that Sam's race shouldn't be relevant unless she received racist harassment. She did. Lots.

    Also re: 'Sam wouldn't answer Helen'- Helen blocked Sam a while before this storm happened. Sam wouldn't have seen any responses from Helen, so that's a tad unfair.

    Also as a white person I'm not really prejudiced against white people. Some of us are colossal racist dicks though. And again, the issue was Helen's storify- I wasn't even around when Sam/Mary Beard happened. I did not jump all over Helen-I don't think I even knew who she was at that point. If you'd asked the same question and not received 'abuse' for it, I think it would have been because a woman of colour telling another woman of colour something isn't racist isn't as problematic as when a white woman tells a person of colour something isn't racist. I do *not* have the right to dictate to women of colour what is/isn't racist. I don't think that somehow means I have 'less rights' than a woman of colour. I don't think men have less rights because they don't have the right to tell me what is/isn't sexist.

    I think the crux of the issue in this is the quantification of privilege/oppression. Whilst I am white and straight, I don't write for a national newspaper, for example. There's an argument to be made that privilege only matters when a discussion pertaining to that privilege is occurring, but that's not always the case. Power structures are so ingrained in our behaviours that they can replicate elsewhere- if you've ever sat in a Philosophy seminar with 70% boys you'll probably understand what I mean! This is part & parcel of intersectionality theory too- e.g. discussing the sexism women face in the workplace re:maternity leave seems to be irrelevant to discussions on race. Yet BME women are far more likely to face (illegal) questions about pregnancy at job interviews- up to 80%.

    I don't think quantifying oppression is particularly helpful, but I think an understanding of those power structures and how we fit into them is necessary in order not to replicate them, and to smash them. And sometimes that is complex. And sometimes it will be painful. What's essentially happening is feminists who never felt welcome in feminism before are having to crowbar their way in so that they can be heard.

    I think. I've been thinking about this a lot the past few days, and eventually my brain just melted down and my brain started sounding the emergency protocols of merely 'SMASH ALL OPPRESSION'.

    1. I’d like Sam to engage with this, rather than post those messages about where I work etc and leave it at that. I’ve seen so many people speak for her, and defend her, that I assumed people who are in contact might know her thought processes.

      For instance, I’ve just been asked to remove the storify about the MB incident. I’d like to know that same person has asked Sam to remove her blog that was nasty about Helen (I did ask got no response). I'm using this latest exchange as an example of the double-standards that’s evident throughout this episode.

      I don’t recall asking that of Sam – I was asking you and Stavvers why you both mentioned the harassment of a WoC – when actually that was a separate view. Put another way, Sam was on the receiving end of racism and harassment, separately. And race was only relevant in one of those.

      There seems to be a lot about Sam’s hurt feelings with regards to the Storify. But a lot of other people have been hurt in the course of this discussion and little thought seems to have been given to them from the IFs.

      “I really don't see the point in continuing to berate Sam for something she apologised for. She knows she was in the wrong about it.” – but she still didn’t apologise to Helen for having a go when she quite rightly asked for proof.

      “If you'd asked the same question and not received 'abuse' for it, I think it would have been because a woman of colour telling another woman of colour something isn't racist isn't as problematic as when a white woman tells a person of colour something isn't racist.” Helen did not say this – she asked WHY MB was racist.

      I agree with you about quantifying privilege, that’s why I find doing it on such a superficial level as race, gender, sexual orientation etc is so dangerous. And with regards to me writing for a paper, I know this has been mentioned but it’s irrelevant in my opinion. My blog wasn’t anything to do with the paper, or published in it. I have fewer followers than you, and before today fewer than Sam too.

      When you mention crowbaring – I didn’t appreciate that’s how you feel. I think a lot of people feel similarly. That they’re too scared to engage with the IFs for fear of being shot down.

      I feel that there’s so much anger here, sometimes it fogs the reality i.e. people are so defensive they perceive they’re being attacked all the time so they engage in an angry way from the outset. When everyone’s screaming, it’s hard for anyone to hear any arguments being made.

  10. A lot of these questions/points I am unable to respond to because a) I am not Sam and b) I ws not around for the Mary Beard thing. I only found out about it when Helen Lewis left twitter. So I'm afraid I can't really comment on much around them. And I think it's really bogging down your wider points to limit this to once specific storm- the comments on here seem to be revolving around Sam rather than what I felt to be the main point of your article.

    And if you want to know why Sam felt her race was a factor in this, she has blogged on it too. I can't speak for her. So I'm gonna leave it at that.

    In regards to your status as a newspaper columnist, I wasn't trying to make a point about this blog post specifically- just a wider point about the intersecting of privileges. I have a bigger platform than you on twitter, you have a bigger platform overall. It doesn't mean your opinion isn't invalid, and I'm sorry if it seemed like that's what I was implying.

    How I feel about what is happening at the moment- it's often accused of 'splitting the movement'. And it is in a respect- it's breaking into the movement, making space for women who have too long been shunned from Feminism. And that's going to cause some damage a long the way-hurt feelings, anger, rage. It's going to be a period of adjustment, and so far it's been a messy one. We're going to have to learn to listen before shouting that we're being silenced.

    1. Hi Sarah - sorry for the delay in coming back, I've had a few hectic days. Fair enough about this, I wouldn't want you to answer for anyone else.

      I get this about some women feeling excluded from feminism and that's why I agree with intersectionality. A lot of people seem to have taken this post as an attack on it - it really isn't. I just don't like how some people act in its name. And there is an overall feeling of condescension, that those who are superficially deemed less-privileged need protecting, to the detriment of everyone else's opinions. I dislike that.

      Last point - I'm a writer not a columnist. Quite a difference. If I was a columnist, I'd write opinion pieces and I don't. If I did, and had published this blog in connection with my paper, fair enough - I had a bigger platform. But my job has not provided a platform on which to share my beliefs so I still think it's irrelevant.

  11. I'm very much a supporter of intersectional feminism - I can't understand how any other kind could ever truly help women, to be honest - but I've kept coming back to your post over the last few hours because there were some elements that really spoke to me.

    It's about this thing where the loudest voices seem to be those who are white, straight, cis, non-disabled etc.. At first glance this could look like a good thing - that people in different minority groups actually have back-up from people not directly negatively impacted by these oppressions, who are supporting the cause. Yay! Or is it?

    Because of the loudest few voices on Twitter, most use language about disability that is either outdated, based on the medical model which denies the real causes of disability, or it is Americanised in a way that makes no sense for people with any understanding of disability politics outside of north America and sometimes Australia. Now, I don't expect everyone to know this, or to know which language to use or not to use. But if I do give them a nudge in one direction or another, I do expect them to consider their privilege (!!) and my expertise and to take on board what I tell them about why using certain words and phrases is oppressive and problematic.

    But they don't. Even if they acknowledge my suggestions (which is rare) they still go on to ignore them. I have been getting to a point where I am no longer that grateful when non-disableds intervene in situations of discrimination and oppression. In fact, when they do, it tends to add to the oppression rather than help with it, but in a way that we're supposed to be grateful. And a quick read of anything about the "charity model of disability" will tell you that we have too long a history of being expected to thank people who decide what is in our best interests but go on to hurt us by doing it.

    There is a lot going on with all of this, for a lot of people, and it's not easy ground to negotiate. I'm glad you wrote this post.

    1. Thanks for this Pippa. I tend to be cautious about both race and disability issues, tending towards RTs and links to pieces written by better informed people. The well-meaning passion of the IFs as Melissa dubbed them has made me doubt this approach recently and wonder whether I was just cowardly and not prepared to put skin in the game on behalf of women facing different oppressions to mine; but with Melissa's piece and your comment I think I'm comfortable with my "amplify, don't replace" policy for now.

    2. Hi Marina,

      It is really tricky, isn't it? There are all sorts of issues where we want to contribute but also enough self-awareness to know we might not get it right. Your policies of RTs and links is a good one I think, and is one I use a lot for areas where my own privilege could show itself.

      That's not to say that you / we should never speak out for women facing other oppressions. Sometimes it might just be that nobody else is putting across the message you want to shout out! But I think respecting the people experiencing those oppressions as the experts, overall, is a good position to situate ourselves in.

      There are areas I have very little knowledge about in all areas of my life, and I don't pretend to have the right to speak knowledgeably about astronomy, for instance, about which I know NOTHING. But if I did speak out about it, then an actual astronomer corrected what I said, I'd know who was the boss. So why do we sometimes still think we know best with this stuff?! If we keep working on it we will keep getting better and better.

      It was pointed out to me today as well that there is a degree of privilege inherent within having your voice heard, and that those who are currently being heard loudly could listen a bit too, or I'll have to start sewing up a new "Nothing about me without me" banner!

      (Sorry if this is random or rambly, my sleeping pill is starting to switch off my brain)

    3. I found that really interesting Pippa. I'm not familiar with the language used about disability but I can relate to the frustrations you speak of.

      And it must be irritating to have people outright ignoring suggestions of better language to use.

      And the thing is, it is tentirely to correct someone if they used incorrect language. It's like if someone uses “coloured” to describe me. But if they did call me that, I wouldn't assume they were racist, but ignorant. And unintentional ignorance to me isn't malevolent, so why should I respond with anger? But that's what I've so often – all that “.@” responding and really curt language – if not outright abuse.

      I too agree with intersectional feminism and there are IFs who I really admire and respect. But I hate how it's been played out by a small majority of people on Twitter and your response adds another dimension I wasn't previously aware of, but to my mind further demonstrates the patronising attitudes that can sometimes play out.

      People may again hijack that response to say I'm been too flowery by suggesting everyone's all nicey-nicey with each other and I know sometimes people don't deserve patience. But shouting achieves little.

  12. Love this post. I've been feeling the same way about this call-out culture for quite some time... the ironic shame is that if I had said this with my own words (as a non-trans, white, middle class male), I'd've just been told to "check my privilege" without a second thought.

    People just don't think critically and don't dare question their own thoughts... especially when gangs of their peers reinforce those thoughts through bullying and shaming tactics.

  13. This is the best takedown of the whole 'privilege' issue I've ever seen and think it should be more widely read and understood.

  14. This is a great post, and thank you for writing it Melissa. It's interesting to note pleas for compassion and understanding when these have not been extended to Helen. She is vilified continually on Twitter by the same group of people who who do this pleading. Yet, posts such as yours are quite reasonable, and balanced, as indeed was Helen's Storify of the aggression and unpleasantness she faced.

  15. great post, melissa. i am curious about one thing and i know this is not the point at all. how have you been able to conclude that you were passed up for jobs solely due to the color of your skin? i have applied for many jobs in my lifetime and have never been able to discern a specific reason why i did not get a particular one. any desirable job is going to many many applicants and it seems highly unlikely that anyone applying would know the qualifications of every other candidate yet i have come across plenty of blogs where people claim they were passed up because of their race or gender. it always seems like a wild assumption to me. would appreciate your input. keep on writing.

    1. Hello. I know this will sound quite baseless, but sometimes you "just know".
      I grew up in Dorset where the non-white population is tiny. And it was how people reacted when I walked into the interviewing room - their face would drop every so slightly, as though in suprise.
      I became familiar with that look working on newspapers, in the early days again in Dorset. People would look visibly shocked when they opened the door to me - especially as I don't have a name that suggested my origins were not British. I'm not saying it's always negative - if a town is mainly filled with a certain type of person, it's understandable there might be surprise if someone different walks in. But in those few interview scenarios, that look would be followed with disinterest in me during the interview followed by - quelle suprise - no offer of a job (one that I was adequately experienced for).
      Of course, I could never say 100% that it was because of my race - without an admission it's impossible. But I feel very, very strongly that was the cause.
      Hope that answers it.

    2. thanks for your response. maybe they were expecting melissa thompson, the world record text messenger, to walk in haha. seems like a skill that would be valuable in the newspaper industry.

  16. I'm pretty tired of the whole 'intersectional feminists are bad' thing tbh. While I'm sure there has been some abuse on twitter people REALLY have to see the difference between 'extremist abuse' and constructive criticism. If someone calls you a rude name or make a completely warped argument use your common sense and ignore them and see that they're trolls.

    For a movement to grow it has to acknowledge its faults and feminism does have a lot. if someone says something racist or questionable I would point out the fault because for its better for feminism and also better for me personally to not have to always pander to white people who dont want to acknowledge their own racism.

    It also has to be said that this isn't the only movement where people disagree or there are problems. It happens everywhere its just that in feminism we're stuck with the idea that we have to be ultra feminine and nice all the time and if we're not we're being bitchy and rude.

    To be honest it's rude to say offensive things and not want to learn that they are wrong or correct yourself. That's individualism and only allows that person to progress without thinking of the needs of other women.

    Also this is not bout point scoring as some people think it is. I seems we're going backwards in our tolerance and now people think that minority rights have come so far that the white, middle class, male whatevers are being oppressed. They are not and never will be. They'e fine.

    Essentially I don't think that people should be abused but you can't argue for women to be silenced and not say when they have been offended or lump IFs with trolls. I think it's a shame we're going backwards in this way and I'd hate to see the state of feminism if it does because we're all brought up in a racist / sexist / homophobic environment and it is unlikely that one person would be able to understand the views of another person from a different background without having help.

    1. Hi. I wasn't saying, and don't believe, intersectional feminists are bad. Far from it, there are some I know who I think are great. But as I tried to make clear in the post, it's a certain few.

      Absolutely, there is a difference between outright abuse and constructive criticism but too often, the IFs I'm referring to engage in the former. They may believe they're being constructive but it's really aggressive and dismissive. I wish I'd screengrabbed more examples over the last few months, as I've seen it so often.

      In my opinion, if someone says something racist they're fair game for a pop. But if someone says something unintentionally ignorant, I don't think it's fair to have a huge go at them. The language changes all the time and it's difficult to keep up. That should be acknowledged, especially on a platform like Twitter where one comes across people they might not in their everyday lives.

      What you say about white, middle-class men – I agree, to a point. But I maintain that you cannot judge a person solely by their Twitter avatar and bio. And class is worth talking about more as I think that plays a HUGE part in this. Who's had a less privileged life – a working class white male growing up in an area with mass unemployment or a black middle-class woman in a job with a comfortable income? You just can't say without exploring their lives. All too often I feel the IFs I refer to make snap judgements and decide who's entitled to comment on something and who isn't. That isn't fair.

      I've been asked to remove parts of this blog because they're deemed offensive to certain people. And yet the fact their enemies are also discussed negatively in blogs is overlooked. How is that right? How is it better to count one person's rights or feelings above another? Obviously in this case it seems to boil down to whose side someone's on. But I think sometimes it's worth looking beyond personal relationships and at the overall issue.

    2. My problem isn't so much with the "snap" part of the judgements. Everyone makes those, and on a platform like Twitter it's hard to expect anything else really.

      There is however a basic problem at the root of the judgements being made: they rely for their correctness son an implicit hierarchy of oppression, and that hierarchy needs to have been decided outside of the framework of intersectionality, really. Because intersectionality is about how different oppressions *interact*, not about which oppressions in which combinations are more onerous than others.

      But who decided this hierarchy? Have we debated it? Can we discuss it? No. It's arbitrary, and decided non-intersectionally, probably based on some half-baked post colonial instinct. And that's why I think the IFs get so vicious - there's an essential flaw at the bottom of their pecking order of attack, and they're basically defensive about it.

    3. @Melissa Essentially you were basically saying they were bad and have made little distinction between extremists and IFs. There is a clear difference and that needs to be known. There are always trolls on the internet and twitter but the question is why are people so offended by ones who talk about intersectionality.

      Some people may also be a bit harsh and say things that sound too 'direct' let's say but there are reasons for that. I don't think I've ever literally told someone to 'check their privilege'. I always explain why they offended me and what exactly was wrong with their comment or action. Unfortunately, even if said in a nice way I usually get patronised, told I dont know what im talking about and the conversation will usually end with the other thinking they somehow have learnt something even though they learnt nothing. If i push harder then accusations of bullying occur. So it may seem harsh the way people respond on twitter but sometimes its quicker and easier to just say check your privilege or get angry at someone because we already know the reaction we'll get either way.

      People don't want to 'check their privilege' and that's why intersectionality gets a bad name not the few angry fems on twitter.

      @Marina Also intersectionality is about structured oppression not individuals hard lives. There is no hierarchy or best IF ever at the top. It's merely the acknowledgement that a black queer woman faces different problems in life from structural oppression in society than a white, straight woman.

  17. I'm an intersectional feminist who is infuriated at the check your privilege brigade. For me,being intersectional means being inclusive and recognising that feminism cannot be a single issue debate because we don't live single issue lives. I'm a mixed race,bisexual,disabled woman but I don't need protecting by white women thanks. That feels patronising. And makes me feel uncomfortable in a 'thank you kind massa' kind of way. You want to defend me online, great. Do it because I'm right. Not because I'm black. *waits for shitstorm*

    1. I love this and agree with every point.
      And the "thank you kind massa" point made me laugh and irritated in equal measure. It's so true.
      All too often the person is protected and not their point. Often, good people can make bad points and do bad things but that's frequently overlooked.

  18. Very true. If I fuck up I expect to be called out on it. If I think I'm wrong I'll apologise. What I don't expect is the Twitchfork Mob to drive me off with flame war torches. Ah, we're all human and we all fuck up. I just wish that check your privilege was a way to open debate rather than stifle it.

  19. Thank you for a very thoughtful piece. I hope that it is possible to create a positive environment for everyone - and work towards a society where we treat everyone well regardless of their real or perceived characteristics.

  20. What a great post. Too much bullying and ignorance around.... So I agree, ypuare right. You should never outright judge anyone, or there motives, or call on others to do do. As adults we are all able to engage in amicable debate, it is just so oft not used.

  21. For the really dark side of "intersectionalism" visit tw*tter's white proverbs hashtag - or raciallyinflamatoryproverbs as I like to call it.
    I haven't even written the hashtag out in full because I dont want to plug this poison ...but until such time as the police arrest her form incitement I'll point you at the website of the originator:
    Honestly I think "privelege" is an inherantly fascist and Nazi ideology ...
    How else could it produce such all time greats as "racism is prejudice plus privilege".
    No, racism is racism - hate based on race.
    Hitler wasn't a bigot in 1923 when he wrote Mein Kampf then suddenly became a racist in 1933
    When you point this out to these idiots they fall back on arguments as totally insane as "white men invented the dictionary".
    Yes, the slave trade was Samuel Johnson's fault!

    What it is really is "I can't convince anyone else of my point of view so I'll tell everyone to shut up". Well I dont need these people inflaming racial tension round my life - they're as bad as the people they pretend to be against. Putting my cards on the table I'm not a feminist because I've never thought men can be in a lobby group that by definition is about women's rights - which isn't the same as being against feminism ...just a bit more subtle. A man can be what he wants but he cant want what he wants and all that.... but really if you dont engage with people who disagree with you what's the point in saying anything? Okay there are a few people who I would never engage with because they're too nutty but...

    I mean do I have to wheel my black woman out every time I might have a faintly curious question about black or women's issues or have anything to say to them. To rub it in after people started to realise that #whiteproverbs might have a racist undercurrent and actually white people do suffer racist abuse and maybe it's just fanning the flames of racism ... then I suddenly realised that most of the &^%&&*((*&^%$%!! I'm arguing with are mostly white and live in a Superpower. Isn't it bad enough for black people without a load of stupid rich white women trying to exploit them for political gain. I'm not saying there isn't a lot of racism and institutional racism but we can live with that easier than idiots who fan the flames of the BNP by running a hashtag that politically scapegoats white people collectively and indiscriminately.

    "You find it offensive I find it funny" one of these dozey ****s actually said to me. But of course as every satirist from Daniel "slave trader" Defoe to Johnny Speight shows it isn't a straight line between offense and funny.
    If things that were funny were all moral half the comedy circuit would be out of work.

    At the end of the line "privilege" is just another word for "scapegoating" and that's what facist ideologies are all about.
    I mean how did someone get from Atticus Finch's "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" which used to be called "empathy" to this 24-carrat pile of dogpoo called "privilege"?
    It's the worst political idea since Eugenics

    Mr A E Miller