Month: April 2015

Activism via E-mail

Editor’s note: This is an email exchange between two white Women’s Center employees, our Programming Coordinator Margaret Murray and Director Lisa Rismiller who were talking about Baltimore, injustice, and the role of white people. It started with a comment on Facebook and led to questions, which led to a series of e-mails between the two. One of those questions was “should we?” Should we post a series of e-mails on our blog? Our director initially thought “no” but pulled out our mission statement and saw “agents of positive change, social and gender justice, inclusive, diversity, community-building…” and decided “yes.”

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:41 AM, Margaret Murray <mmurray4@udayton.edu> wrote:
Here is a comment (which includes my own voice and edits) that I thought summed everything up pretty well for white people:
We [white folks] have to look into our hearts and consciences and determine what exactly are our perceptions of people or color, and specifically, black people. We really need to analyze and critique our own behavior as white people, including those who consider themselves to be “white allies” in all of this.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and answer these questions: Do we see black people as equal in every way to ourselves? Do we treat them the same way we treat our (presumably white) family and friends? Do we love our black neighbors as we love ourselves? Or, do we see, label, or perceive black people as gangsters, murderers, thugs, drug addicts, or criminals? Do we avoid them when we walk down the street? Do we fear them?

The way society views the different groups within it determines the way these groups and individuals within it act and how they view themselves. If we view black people as thugs and criminals, we will not work to make the places they live better, with jobs, education, and other resources that will help them lift themselves out of poverty. Instead, many believe that they “deserve this” and “brought it on themselves.” If this is truly the case, it didn’t happen without indifference and complicity from the rest of society.

When “riots” broke out in Ferguson and now in Baltimore, I was disturbed by the number of white people, including those who considered themselves “white allies,” who condemned the actions of those whose lives and opportunities have been suppressed for centuries. The sense of powerlessness and suppressed anger can be volatile and explosive when finally released. At the end of the day, can you really blame some of their reactions? Really put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would react.

People of color are fed up. I’ve heard people say, “We’re not going to take it anymore.” Frankly, they should have never had to “take it.” They are supposed to be treated as equals in society. But because of decades of misunderstanding and teaching of hate and fear of black people, the white majority has developed perceptions of them that are not only false, but have become a self-fulfilling prophecy for people who have black skin.

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM, Lisa Rismiller <lrismiller1@udayton.edu> wrote:
Insightful….and heartfelt, for sure. I’m especially struck by “The way a society views the different groups within it determines the way the group and individuals in it act, and how they view themselves…” and how white people in this immigrant nation seem to have totally forgotten that most of our ancestors were at one time “different” from the majority and seen as “thugs,” “drunks” (Irish), or members of religious cults (Catholics). Because of our white skin, over several generations, we’ve been able to largely erase, or at least hide, those distinguishing characteristics and so have been able to be absorbed into the U.S. mainstream. Not so for our black and brown fellow citizens……they have never been able to effectively erase their otherness, so they remain seen (and treated) as different and less…..Like every US social movement before it, until those in power (vs. the majority, which is rapidly changing) become part of the protests pushing for solutions on behalf of their fellow citizens, we’ll get nowhere as a nation.

Anita Sarkeesian Gets Another Shout-Out at UD

Sarkeesian Poster

When I met Anita Sarkeesian, she was a lot shorter than I had imagined.

I think I pictured her taller because she has been so violently harassed online that, in my head, I stretched her image tall enough to at least be physically intimidating – a threat.

But you don’t have to look threatening to be a threat online. You can be negative. You can be positive. You can pretend to be whoever you want to be, a good guy or a bad guy, even though most of us have learned that being just one or the other is never the case; though, I struggle to write that sincerely after scrolling through the 4chan thread about Anita’s visit to UD Monday. I struggle to empathize with “a fellow UD student” who compared the bag and coat check run by a few Women’s Center and women’s and gender studies employees to the “third Reich” (no one was searched or patted down, as this fellow UD student claimed).

“It’s truly disappointing,” Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Rebecca Whisnant, Ph.D., commented, “that a member of the UD community chose not only to violate the clearly stated rule against recording the event, but also to provide a forum for more of the very kind of hostile and abusive commentary that — ironically — was the topic of Anita’s talk.”

Among the tamest comments on this thread…
“I loved that she forced the rule of no bags. Unfortunately, no jihad’s happened tonight.”
“What was the crowd like fat tumblerinas or disgusting girls who don’t shower?”
“ I don’t need to listen to her whine about harrasment [sic] for like 50 minutes.”

…and the least tame…
“WHy do I want to f— this w—- so much? I want to breed her tight little feminist p—.”

The designer of the event’s poster also got a shout out…
“whoever designed that poster should be shot…you can’t even f—ing crop a photo into a hexagon?”

4chan, according to its website, is “a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images.” Anyone can post on message boards about topics ranging from anime to LGBT without the responsibility of identity. But as Anita said a few times throughout her visit, “The Internet is real life.” We can’t just “unplug” anymore. We live as much online as we do offline, so why should the victims (in this case, women) have to unplug? Why should the perpetrators roam even freer than they do in their offline privileged spaces?

Just because you can’t see someone’s face, just because you don’t know their name, doesn’t make them less than or more than human. It’s easy to abstract human beings from behind a cyber shield. I am guilty of it myself. However, when the harassment and hate is instigated and perpetuated directly by a UD student, it’s not as easy to abstract.

So I write to this student and the other human beings committing acts of violence and hatred from behind their screens: I’m sorry you’re the bad guy. I’m sorry you are too ashamed of who you are or too afraid to take responsibility for it. I’m sorry you aren’t aware of the pain and trauma pooling at the feet of real people because of your words. I’m sorry you need to tear and shred people’s reputations to feel more powerful. But until you realize the Internet is real life, that you aren’t invincible online or off, you will remain more powerless than your victims.