Tanwi: I lived and breathed feminist thought in college. Women's Studies major and all. The praxis of race, class, gender and sexuality was my college version of yadda yadda yadda. I never thought we'd have a space in everyday discourse. And now, the Internet is where feminists congregate en masse.
Promiti: Feminist thought in 140 characters or less. And it’s way more public, which is giving people more liberties to speak their mind, but also to tear down what others are saying.
Tanwi: Do you think there is a pervasive toxicity?
Promiti: Not necessarily toxicity, but a hypercritical approach to reading other people's thoughts and work, and not leaving space for people to mess up, or learn. What do you think?
Tanwi: It's tricky, because I play both sides. On one hand, I've written personal stuff about my youth, being a survivor, relationships. And in some instances, I've gotten horrible backlash/feedback from trolls that were very racist or sexist. The anonymity of it and my strong support system make it easy to ignore. But I've never been dissed by a fellow feminist…
Promiti: In Michelle Goldberg’s article in The Nation, there’s discussion about how rejection from your feminist community affects you in a totally different way. The pieces that you wrote, were highly personal, and yes, politicized, but it would be really whack to attack someone that went to this vulnerable emotional place.
Tanwi: It's damaging...we already walk around feeling like we live on a separate wavelength from our families, workplaces, folks we grew up with. To feel that disconnect from your fellow feminists is fucking terrifying.
Something that's feeling "toxic" to me is how the word “solidarity” has become synonymous with #solidarityisforwhitewomen. It’s as if solidarity, one of my favorite words, has been handed over to white feminists...
Promiti: Inclusivity in an integral part of the way I think of feminism. So if I’m writing something and I exclude or fail to create space for people who are different than me, that’s where I think many of the critiques come in. Like, you're not accounting for x social construction, or y’s particular oppression. Which I don’t necessarily think is wrong.
Tanwi: To call out isn't wrong?
Promiti: No. But when does it all start to feel toxic is what I'm grappling with.
Tanwi: Something that's feeling "toxic" to me is how the word “solidarity” has become synonymous with #solidarityisforwhitewomen. It’s as if solidarity, one of my favorite words, has been handed over to white feminists... and there's so many ways I want to connect with Black, Latina, Asian and Indigenous feminists--as friends, as thinkers and writers, as artists—in solidarity! In this political moment, the conversation seems polarized between black and white. I consider myself to be completely grown up as a feminist with the teachings of Black feminists. Though the writings weren't "about" me, they resonated with me. They continue to do so.
Promiti: Yeah, and they didn't have to be about you. There are so many things for all people - all women of color, white women, men, both cis and trans, by thinkers like Audre Lorde or bell hooks or Barbara Smith. And you must find your own entry point into the conversation.
Tanwi: YES. That's what is missing now...the ability to create a metaphoric connection between your own lived experience with another person's writing. Which is powerful. Internet writing can be so damn limiting and literal. There’s no space for imagination.
How does this translate in a situation where a white feminist or cisgendered person is writing or doing some shit, and people call out their privilege?
Promiti: The Ani DiFranco plantation fiasco. People were justified in their anger. She was so unresponsive to being called out. Calling out isn’t just setting someone straight: "You said this. That was wrong. This is what is actually right. Don't say it again." Calling out should be engaging with someone about what they said and talking it out. She wasn’t open to that discussion. In her eyes, people just weren’t able to get over the violent plantation history and have a jam sesh or whatever. It isn’t that simple.
Calling out should be engaging with someone about what they said and talking it out.
Tanwi: While in a situation like the DiFranco “jam sesh” the backlash is so necessary, in other cases it feels toxic. Our feminist dialogue has grown so myopic. Movement building across communities or nations is stunted. Take for example Audre Lorde, or the Black Panthers, they were thinking across identities, while articulating their own liberatory politic. Difference reveals our interconnectedness. Difference reveals how much we have yet to learn about each other. Now we act like we know everything.
Promiti: Assumption of expertise is a problem. Huffington Post had a live video segment, where they brought together the feminists mentioned in The Nation article--Jamia Wilson, Mikki Kendall, and Veronica Arreola--
Tanwi: Professional feminists. Ha. I get it, but the title makes me laugh.
Promiti: I didn't agree with Huff Po's interpretation of the article, that it was meant to demonize black and brown feminists and frame them as bullies, although the article refers to this emergent dynamic in today’s online feminist community as a “War” -- too sensationalistic.
Tanwi: “Bullies” and “The War” are OD. I appreciated the commentary in The Nation piece by Brittney Cooper and Anna Holmes--both of them had fair critiques of the current culture of online feminism, where everyone must always come correct or be lashed out against. It’s this weird purity of thought that makes no sense when you think about what feminism is. It’s messy, beautiful and complicated work.
[In the] current culture of online feminism, where everyone must always come correct or be lashed out against. It’s this weird purity of thought that makes no sense when you think about what feminism is. It’s messy, beautiful and complicated work.
Promiti: The Internet is a cesspit of really simplified accountability, arguments and trolled responses, as we can see from anonymous commenters on any article or post. But even when I was watching the video I was like damn. Am I doing it now too? Am i being a toxic responder to this video??
Promiti: LOL--so is that a yes?
Tanwi: Nah. You’re being critical. I don't see someone like Mikki Kendall as a bully, but rather an incisive voice in the feminist movement. She’s sharp and passionate. But I do resent the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag in the long run. I want to belong to, work alongside and love QTPOC--solidarity is for all of us. Right now, we're focused on calling out white feminists...and we're not even talking to each other. Everything feels hyper-segregated. Even though we're saying women of color, there's very little actual intersectionality in what i am reading online.
Promiti: How can we illustrate intersectionality if inclusive terminology isn't cutting it?
Tanwi: I want to read Black and white feminists talking about issues that affect Asian and Latino and Native folks, just as we engage with the very real history of Black and white America in our feminist dialogues. This country is born of a brutal, racist history that we have all inherited in different ways. I've had friends feel deeply about abuses against garment workers in Bangladesh--who aren't Bangladeshi. I want to hear and read what they think in critical discourse. More writing across color lines would do so much. We could be doing so much more.
Promiti: That would require a thoughtful, soulful approach to the work. To me, that's true solidarity. But you do run the risk of a white cis-dude being like, let me write about women of color, and let me get more recognition for what i'm saying, and let me get extra million brownie points for “being the one” to say it. Like Macklemore and the queer community.
Tanwi: Yo. The word "Macklemore" sounds like Voldemort. Don't say it!
Promiti: Haha. Nah, Voldemort didn’t have a nose.
Tanwi: I just mean that we have stopped talking about solidarity as a powerful remedy for connecting our historical separations.
Promiti: Yes yes. It’s like that Audre Lorde quote...That newscaster in Texas just used it, when he was speaking against homophobia in the NFL against Michael Sam. Hold up, lemme find it:
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” But beyond celebration, true recognition. Recognizing the power and meaning of solidarity and the need for it. I think it’s happening in the real world all the time, but isn’t completely getting translated on the Internet. The existence and accessibility of an online feminist community is comforting, empowering, growing, and validating, but when it’s NOT that, it’s toxic.
Tanwi: Damn. It always comes back down to Audre, doesn't it?
Check out last week's Feminist Banter: To Date A Feminist or Not?