Friday, December 19, 2008

Dismissing racial concerns on Feministing

Courtney Martin, one of Feministing's editors, recently posted this photo from a Feministing Happy Hour in NYC. The photo bears the caption: Don't worry. He knows them.

Reader hugh.c.mcbride responded:
WTF? Cuz if he didn't know them, the sight of a black guy walking past two white women at a party would be something to "worry" about?

Again -- WTF?

Courtney responded:
Wow, hugh.c.mcbride with the totally unwarranted attack. I wasn't commenting on his race. I was making fun of the teethy weird-ass look on his face. Jesus. And, while we're making racial claims, maybe you shouldn't assume the racial identity of the two women in the photo (one of whom is not white.)

Whiny defensive emphasis mine.

Okay, so I know feminist blogs deal with idiot readers all the time, and get pretty sick of treating people nicely when they ask an unpopular question. Maybe hugh.c.mcbride is a giant troll who has recently shit all over the site. And she's right, one of those women isn't white.

But anybody doing a drive-by of that photo, and its caption, could reasonably read it the way Hugh did. I know his comment is a little incendiary. But assuming he isn't a troll, doesn't he deserve a clarification instead of sarcasm?

Uh, in my experience, strong race/gender dynamics and fears are in play among black men and white women in public spaces. The black man lurking in the corner, waiting to prey on white women, is a very old trope. I certainly don't feel it's out of line to wonder whether this could be at play in her understanding of the photo. Sometimes even the quickest tossed-off caption, like Courtney's, can bear the mark of unexamined racial archetypes.

It's a small point, but small points matter. Of course Martin probably didn't intend to make any comment on this man's race and how scary it is. But how bloggers respond to challenging race questions from readers is important. You can convince readers that you are a committed anti-racist, or you can try to convince them that you aren't a racist! Not even one percent, you promise! You have lots of black friends and you were just commenting on his facial expression! Jesus!

Frankly, her sarcasm and defensiveness aren't promising. What I get from this very brief exchange is that she doesn't want her own racial views, conscious or unconscious, examined. I expect this kind of stuff from some of Feministing's "what's-so-racist-about-that?" readership, but would expect a bit more of the editors.

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