Fat, Fat Blogs, Feminism, Fillyjonk, Intersectionality, Politics

Giving a shit

There’s been a lot of response to Tara’s extraordinary post about race in fat activism on Fatshionista.com. Lord knows I am in no mood to court drama right now, but it comes looking for me anyway, so let me take this opportunity to state my position on an important post and an important issue.

One very familiar response I’m seeing is “but what are we supposed to do?” I empathize with this, because I know it can feel really dire and hopeless when you’re a white person and you’re asked to simultaneously acknowledge that you’ll never fully understand racism and establish a more racially welcoming environment. (Or when you’re any privileged person asked to encourage community diversity from the outside.) It’s easy to get defensive if you feel like you’re being asked to fix a problem you didn’t think you were creating and would rather think didn’t exist, and so I think it’s easy to read a post like this as “I feel marginalized, and I would like you to bend over backwards to fix this right now, while I find new things to complain about.” If that’s how you’re reading Tara’s post, I truly understand, because it’s uncomfortable and difficult to try to use your privilege to ameliorate the results of your privilege, but without being privileged about it. I’ve had the same defensive reaction. But I encourage you to look again. I think you’ll find that the message is this: “I am being marginalized, and I would like you to bend over backwards to give a shit about the fact that I am being marginalized.” And I would be ashamed to refuse that request. Nor do I want to refuse it, nor do I have to.

See, here’s the thing. My capacity for giving a shit about stuff is basically infinite. Oh, it’s not limitless on any given day — there are fluctuations due to stress levels, and then every so often something will completely eclipse my shit-giving abilities. For instance this week I’ve been busy caring about a personal tragedy and haven’t had any interest in giving a hoot about anything else. But it’s infinite in the sense that, on a daily basis, caring about one thing does not diminish my ability to care about something else. The resources I put into one cause may limit the resources I have available for another one, but my compassion for that cause remains undimmed — I am no less of a fat activist for being a feminist, or being pro-gay, or opposing racism. I have the ability to give a shit about many things simultaneously. And so do you.

And I’ll go further: as people who are interested in social justice, we have a responsibility to give a shit about causes other than our own major concerns. Any oppression diminishes us. I am lucky enough to have a skin color that people can ignore, a relationship that I can get officially recognized, and enough financial stability that I don’t have to worry about where the rent is coming from. That means that racism, homophobia, and classism don’t affect me as much as fatphobia and misogyny; it means I could ignore them if I wanted to. But I invite them into my consciousness, not because I’m a glutton for emotional stress, but because I want to live in a just society. And I believe a just society is one in which the concerns and the marginalization of others matter to us.

Nobody is asking us to give up being fat activists and be anti-racism activists instead. But these things are not mutually exclusive; even if we don’t have the resources to do active work for both (or some other additional activist issue), we can give a shit about both simultaneously. If you do have the resources, by god, keep it up, but I know I just don’t have the energy to try to address all inequities and injustices. It’s hard enough to keep talking about large-scale attempts to disenfranchise and vilify fatties. But even if this isn’t a place where every oppression is equally addressed (which I don’t think anyone expects or even really needs), it’s really crucial that it be a place where every oppression is considered and important. That means that we do not minimize or dismiss people’s concerns. Right now, it means we listen to Tara when she talks about the things that hurt or alienate her; that we believe that these things are alienating; that we take this into account in the future; and that we understand that this awareness is not an unfair onus, but part of the greater work of social activism.

This is by no means a utopian fantasy: many feminist communities have managed to do a great job of acknowledging the intersection of feminism with race, class, sexuality, ability, and even fat, and I see no reason why we can’t do the same. We are compassionate people, and we have struggles of our own outside of fatphobia. We know that other people’s oppressions matter, and that it’s egotistical — even if it’s easy and natural — to believe that our challenges are the most important, or that caring about others diminishes our ability to care about ourselves. I trust you all to be able and willing to rise to this.

I haven’t been perfect about this and I will continue to be imperfect, because it’s easy to forget about struggles other than your own. It’s not hypocrisy, but an unfortunately definitional aspect of privilege: the privileges you have are all but invisible to you, even as the ones you lack are glaring. But it matters to me and I plan to do my best. I do hope people call me on it — just as I’ll keep dinging my progressive friends for talking nonsense about fatties, or making sexist jokes. And I hope you’re all with me in my desire to make SP a conscious, welcoming place.

72 thoughts on “Giving a shit”

  1. I want to by fillyjonk when I grow up.

    Thank you, well thought out, and beautifully articulated. My feelings exactly, pretty much across the board. All of these issues impact one another- the older I get, the more I realize you can’t separate class from race from gender, and even from size. You ladies continue to rock.

  2. Really well said, FJ.

    The whole “but what are we supposed to dooo?” frustration is one I know well myself, since fatshionista.com is really intended – as is the LJ community – to be a powerfully diverse space. However, making it diverse continues to be a challenge. It is perfectly understandable to me that POC would be reluctant to put themselves on the line in a broader community that tends to be very white and very privileged. It’s a serious struggle to get different voices represented and supported without being tokenized or, at worst, attacked for pointing out what others consistently (and in some cases, willfully) overlook. Efforts like yours above are great first steps in the direction of positive change in this area.

  3. giannakali, ITYM Tara. :)

    And the not-getting-it frustrates and infuriates me too, but at the same time there are versions of it that I understand and empathize with. It’s not that long ago that I had similar initial reactions. I have a hard time once people start refusing to listen, but the initial defensiveness is an understandable response.

  4. Fillyjonk, I didn’t think it was possible for me to love you any more than I already did, but I was wrong. This post is brilliant and important.

  5. I am no less of a fat activist for being a feminist, or being pro-gay, or opposing racism. I have the ability to give a shit about many things simultaneously.

    Exactly. Sometimes I wish I could only handle one cause at a time. Would make the world seem less like complete crap.

  6. I know… I always think about Ford Prefect not caring about geese. Arthur says he thinks foie gras is cruel, and Ford says “fuck it, you can’t care about every damn thing” — because he has consciously decided to be against animal cruelty except towards geese. It would be great to be able to compartmentalize that way, and I think sometimes when we resist people asking us to be conscious of acting exclusionary, it’s because we react with exhaustion and despair at the idea of having to care about a whole other thing. But really each one is a subset of generally caring about justice, and they all reinforce each other.

  7. What is so hard to get about this? Aretha said it best R E S P E C T!!!! Find out what it means to me!

    It is about respect. Respect yourself and the other person enough to just shut up take yourself out of the equation and listen with an open mind before speaking from an open heart. Recognize that no two people are identical despite how many points of commonality and respect that. Respect is about accepting another persons humanity with their differences. If you really want to “help” or “include” a person and the intent really is directed at helping and or including the other person and enhancing their experience – then the first thing that needs to happen is your needs, perspective, thoughts, ideas and opinions need to come out of the equation. If you really want to be about helping and including others – It is first and foremost not about YOU! Your needs, your view of the world, or thoughts, feelings, etc. Take your self out of the equation and just listen – put yourself in their shoes become that other person and really really pay attention. Do not just assume – which is what most people do that because there are points of commonality that you ‘understand’ = no you don’t. You just think you do and run off willy nilly half cocked aiming to help without the first real clue and get your little feelings hurt when folks look at you like a nut or dismmiss you out of hand. They look at you that way because they see what you do not which is that it is all about you and what feels right to you. No no no and until and unless you get that you are going to continue to alienate people. Here is a thought the next time someone says something exsitst that you do not see – rather than get your panties in a twist as often happens and go on the defensive to cite examples etc. why not ask what it is the other person is saying and seeing try to obtain clarification and really listen to the response – you might just learn something. It is not about you – it is about how the other person feels, thinks, in their own words, in their context – what is meaningful and relevant to them and their place in the journey!



  8. Margot, I agree with you but I also think the answer to “what is so hard to get about this” is pretty obvious from the rest of what you wrote — it’s really hard to move yourself aside from the center of your worldview! It’s not at all natural for most humans, I think, even very reasonable ones (witness many of the comments about Stage Two trollery). But it’s a valuable and crucial undertaking.

  9. You’re so right, FJ and Tara and everyone else who has been addressing this question of late.

    I think we need to move the conversation from ‘what do you expect us to doooo’ over to ‘what can we do’.

    I, for one, am more than ready to listen.

  10. I felt a deep sense of guilt when I read Tara’s post because I’m African American, but I’ve never had issues with being a woman of color in the FA movement (maybe it’s because I’ve fairly recently come to FA?). But then, I do understand that everyone’s experiences are different; I’ve never been directly discriminated against because of my skin color, but I have been harassed and bullied because of my fat. I’ve seen racial comments and actions condemned while prejudice and harassment against fat people goes unpunished and even encouraged. I guess we all have our own unique causes and issues to tackle.

    Great job as always, FJ.

  11. I do know almost all of the FA bloggers are white, middle class, and have high educations, but I’ve never felt excluded, because like me, they are very liberal when it comes to social issues. I’m also middle-class and college educated, so that’s another reason why I don’t feel out of the loop. And I’m also biracial. My mother is white, my father is black, and I’m fortunate that I have not had experiences with blatant, vile racism that others have. The worst it got for me was a stupid, igorant brat of a boy in Catholic school who asked me if I threw up, does it come up black.

    I don’t understand why is there even a problem with POC and the FA movement. Fat affects people of all races, creeds, and economic status and is not exclusive. Any POC, whether they be black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or a mixed breed like me—all you need to do is to start participating in these blogs, share your experiences. You will not feel like an outsider.

    You don’t have to be just white and middle class and college educated to know what it’s like to be frustrated at finding decent clothes, feeling guilty when you walk into a McDonald’s, and having your own government tell you you’re a gross society draining failure simply because you weigh more than other people by introducing bills to ban us from restaurants, threatening to take our kids away or not allowing us to adopt kids, and believing we shouldn’t have access to basic health care—that we should pay THEM instead. Those issues spread across all racial, ecomomic, gender, and religious lines. It should bring us together, not cause an even greater divide.


  12. This…
    “I have the ability to give a shit about many things simultaneously.”

    …needs to be on a mug or tee-shirt.

    Great job, FJ!

  13. Charlotte, I don’t think that’s anything to be embarrassed about — it’s another useful data point. But unfortunately, and I think this is part of where people start crying for their sanity, we basically have a responsibility to treat the people who are being excluded or oppressed as baseline, and the others as exceptions. We do this in FA too — I don’t get that much crap for being fat in my daily life, but I blog for the people who do. I live in a fairly fat city, I’m in a stable relationship and don’t have to deal with dating, and I have mostly got my family educated; if I treated my current experience as the default I wouldn’t think FA was a big deal at all.

    I don’t understand why is there even a problem with POC and the FA movement. Fat affects people of all races, creeds, and economic status and is not exclusive.

    I think the second sentence answers the first. I read Tara, and to be fair this comes from separate conversation with her as well as from her piece, as saying that FA doesn’t satisfactorily acknowledge the multiplicity of races affected by fat and fatphobia. That’s worth being conscious of.

  14. I have often wondered sadly to myself if there’s only white women populating these FA blogs and messageboards. Tara’s post was wonderful in addressing how it feels to read a post or comment and think “Am I the only non-white here?”

    I remember in one post on the the-f-word.org, the blogger described how she reached out for help to her Latino boyfriend. His response was deemed inadequate and vilified by readers that left comments. I felt helpless to defend him because I didn’t know 1) the exact circumstances, 2) his specific Latino culture (there’s about 30 countries!), 3) his character or anything else except that he didn’t seemed concerned or understand the gravity of a problem that an ed posed. I wanted to defend him because I am Latino too, and I could understand that his reaction. If one is familiar with third world countries, it seems inconceivable anyone would willingly starve themselves to death. And women that do present with anorexia are often deemed to have a nervous disorder, not an eating one per se. Even something like feeding your dog seems extravagant because they don’t get more than the scraps much less the cost of special food. I am a native New Yorker, nonetheless my Latino and American cultures seem dissonant at times. I know some of you will say “Of course, I know there’s poverty in the world” or “I’ve seen poverty first hand during my time in —“ but it wouldn’t be personal. I guess different cultures, different perspectives- still I feel lonely as one of the few POC with the diverging, cultural viewpoint.

  15. I have to admit, I’m one of the people who felt such guilt and shame over Tara’s post that I considered quitting blogging altogether. I felt as though I had worked all my life to smack down racism wherever I found it, to the point where it cost me friends and jobs and nearly imploded my entire family. I had even flat out stated on my own blog that I didn’t think fat was the last acceptable form of prejudice. I had gone out of my way to explore issues of privilege regarding food access just last week.

    And it was not good enough, would never be good enough, I would always just be another smug white asshole. I might as well be David Duke for all I had done any good for anyone who was “darker” than myself.

    I was even starting to think things like, “I could always get The Surgery and fit in if I was willing to risk my life and be really uncomfortable. Being told to GO ON A DIET isn’t really oppression even if you hear it 400 times a day. People of color don’t have any ‘diet’ or ‘surgery’ that will get them to pass even temporarily. So if I write about these things, when I could be doing something more important, by definition I SUCK.” Yeah, I actually did think that. (Please note, though, that my feelings did not apply to anyone else writing about size acceptance, only to me.)

    But then, it’s easy for me to get dropkicked straight back into childhood, of being told, “Nobody gives a fuck what you think, we’re tired, we don’t want to hear it, just shut the hell up and stay out of the way of Important People Doing Important Things. Either be quiet and do exactly what they tell you — or better yet, read their minds about what they want, because you should KNOW precisely what they want without their having to tell you — or stay in your room, because we do not find you charming. You exist only because we had a social obligation to pop you out and feed and clothe you, and we are NOT interested in hearing your voice.”

    I have managed to turn them around over time and they have come to realize that treating me this way was wrong, but the damage was done. That’s why it took me until well into my 40s to do anything like this. You who already feel, in your 20s, that you have something important to say and that people should listen, who already know exactly who you are and you’re not going to let anyone fuck with it, you do not know how much I envy you all. I will never be able to get back all the time I lost, thinking I was nothing.

  16. Meowser, for what it’s worth I was really impressed with you in those comments. You had an initial defensive reaction (which, as I said, I understand), but you listened to what people were saying to you. I thought it was cool.

    And I totally understand the feeling of “goddamn, what more can I possibly do?” Reading people talking about how white anti-racism is self-indulgent and ineffective still socks me in the gut, because it makes me feel like “shit, if I can’t be anti-racist and I don’t want to be racist, what in the world am I supposed to do? Am I doomed to be racist just because I’m white?” (Which… yeah, probably a little, but I can do everything I can about it.) Anyway, I totally understand that. But I think sometimes it’s enough, or anyway a start, to say “shit, I feel awful — I have no idea how I can help with this problem, and I really do mean well, but I also have some thinking to do.” I’ve never personally encountered a writer of color who wants white people to INSTANTLY FIX RACISM. But realizing the subtle ways in which it can operate goes a long way. And recognizing POC’s perspectives as valid. And realizing that it’s not their job to instantly fix racism (by “getting over it”), either.

    I’m glad you didn’t quit blogging.

  17. I have to confess that I’m baffled by Tara’s take on “appropriation.” I have, over the years, both bought and been given clothing from other cultures that I wore/wear because I think it is beautiful. It never occurred to me (mostly because much of it was gifts of people who belong to the culture that generated the clothing) that wearing a cheongsam or tartar-style blouse or sari would be considered offensive. People all over the world wear jeans and tee shirts. I guess that I viewed it the same way. I’m really torn now, because I love fashions from all around the world, but now worry about who I’ll offend if I wear non-western clothing.

  18. I have tried not to be racist for most of my life. I haven’t always been successful, but the main reason I tried was listening to crap from my mother about Native Americans (she grew up near a reservation in WA state), blacks, and Mexicans (there were also a lot of apple orchards there and the Mexicans came up to pick the apples). It was perfectly fine for her to run them all down as less than human and make/repeat jokes about them, but she raised holy hell when anyone made a Polish joke in her presence (she’s 1/2 Polish). From the time I was old enough to understand jokes, I couldn’t deal with her hypocrisy. To me, people are people, and while I don’t know from first-hand experience what a POC deals with on a daily basis from racism, that doesn’t mean I have to help perpetuate that racism. Just like I don’t know what anyone who’s not white, lower-middle class, female, fat, and sorta kinda college educated (no degree) has to face on daily basis, discrimination-wise. I know what I’m facing, and I’m willing to listen to what other people are facing and trying to figure how I can help.
    I had a friend (back when I was just out of high school) who had done 3 tours in Viet Nam and came home all messed up. Now, I had never been there, had no idea what he had faced, didn’t think the war was right, but I absolutely hated the way he was treated by some people, being called a baby-killer, etc. He would come over to my house to talk at 3 or 4 in the morning, drunker than hell and about as down as you can get without being suicidal. Why did he come over to my house? Because I listened and didn’t judge him. That was all I could do. I didn’t tell him that he was wrong for going over there and fighting, I didn’t bring any of my experiences into it, they just didn’t relate in any way, shape, or form to what he had been through and was still going through. I wasn’t old enough when Viet Nam started to do any activism about it or effect any change, all I could do was listen to my older friends who had been there when they decided they were ready to talk about their experiences.
    I’ve always felt that you learn more by listening and asking questions when you don’t understand. So when someone tells me I don’t understand, I can say “you’re right, I don’t, explain it to me, tell me how I can help”.

  19. Kate217, FWIW I don’t think every POC who sells ethnic clothing wants to sell it to his/her ethnic group exclusively. If they actually open shops to sell these things, presumably anyone’s money is good enough. Otherwise they would sell these things privately, within their ethnic groups only.

    Besides, I assume that pretty much everything I have on is a derivative of the clothing of some culture non-white and/or non-American, including jeans, t-shirts, bras, and underpants. Not to mention shoes. I’m not sure it’s possible to be “absolutely pure” here. I’m willing not to wear a certain item in your presence if it really bothers you, but I’m not going to “vet” my entire potential wardrobe to make sure it’s “American and Caucasian” enough. You might as well tell me the only music I’m allowed to listen to is sea chanteys and barbershop quartets.

  20. he didn’t seemed concerned or understand the gravity of a problem that an ed posed. I wanted to defend him because I am Latino too, and I could understand that his reaction. If one is familiar with third world countries, it seems inconceivable anyone would willingly starve themselves to death.

    Not inconceivable (speaking as a white Catholic). It is *very* easy to mask an eating disorder by being devout. “I’m fasting!” is an acceptable way to eat less year ’round. And in a family where food is scarce, no one is going to seriously question you unless your disease has advanced to the point where you can’t function. No one thinks of fasting as a disease behavior.

    It’s all kinds of dysfunctional and wrong, but I can easily understand how a Latino would not grasp an eating disorder. I’m not sure *I’d* understand it all that well if I hadn’t had my brush with drug induced anorexia. Part of what makes eating disorders so nasty is the way they hide in plain sight.

  21. Vesta44, I really appreciate your comment but I want to add something to the end — a lot of what comes up on the discussion at Fatshionista is that saying “you’re right, I don’t, explain it to me, tell me how I can help” can put the responsibility for combating racism right back on POC. When you’re with a friend, it may not seem that way, but when you’re talking to someone online, say, it might make more sense to say “You’re right, I don’t — I’m going to listen to what you’re telling me and seek out more voices to listen to now.”

  22. Meowser, several years ago, I was actually taken to task for how “white” my musical tastes are. It was by someone who had heard only the CDs I had brought with me while I traveled, which had been chosen because they were both little-known bands to whom I wanted to introduce my left coast friends, and who were friends of mine. I’m afraid my “news flash – I’m white” response was really uncalled for… Ironically, this was the guy who went into orgasms over Kylie Minogue…

  23. I recently taught a class in which we attempted to get the students to complicate their ideas of cultural appropriation and exchange. Many were young women of color who had seen their cultures being dissed and debased in white commercial spaces. Many were well-meaning young whites who were worried as Kate217 is. While we presented cultural fluidity on a continuum, we didn’t want the students of color to give up their sense of ownership of their own traditions.

    Of course cultures are non-static and they mingle and shift, but power imbalance and colonial history plays a big role in what’s acceptable and what’s not. Everyone wears jeans and t-shirts because economic/cultural power flows strongly in one direction. That power is not reversed, but often reinforced, when white people wear certain clothings of other cultures.

    Basically, whenever I find myself getting defensive about the issue as a white person, I think about a meaningful symbol from my own ethnic culture and how I would feel if someone used it to look cool without knowing anything about it. Obviously many whites who wear multicultural clothing do so with only good intentions and fuller knowledge, but they are also inserting themselves into a systemic history and need to be aware of the perceptions of others.

  24. Kate217 and Meowser, it sounds like the appropriation issue is one that it could be useful to research and hear what people who dislike appropriation have to say. Not everyone has the same opinion, obviously; saying that “this is okay because someone I know thinks it’s okay” without seeking out what someone with an opposing view thinks is going on won’t quiet your qualms. The question is not so much “who am I going to offend if I wear this” but “why might someone be offended if I wear this, and am I willing to make some people feel that way by my actions?”

  25. power imbalance and colonial history plays a big role in what’s acceptable and what’s not. Everyone wears jeans and t-shirts because economic/cultural power flows strongly in one direction. That power is not reversed, but often reinforced, when white people wear certain clothings of other cultures.

    This is the world’s most perfect three-sentence summary of the problem with appropriation.

  26. That means a lot coming from someone whose pseudonym references one of my favorite writers.

    Of course, it would help if I hadn’t created a subject/verb disagreement. Should be “play a big role.”

  27. That’s okay, you get at least two more grammar passes for that comment and being a Jansson fan.

  28. As a minority, I’m not offended by people wearing clothing of my culture. I wear clothing inspired by other cultures myself. And why is only wearing clothing of other cultures offensive? Food, music, and literature are just as much a part of culture as clothing. I mean, if it’s offensive for me to wear a kimono top, wouldn’t it be just as offensive of me to eat sushi?

  29. Sherri, people tend to have a variety of feelings on appropriation. I know some people aren’t comfortable, for instance, practicing dance from other cultural traditions (or seeing others appropriating dance). I’m sure there are people who are uncomfortable with appropriative food, and other people who aren’t. I’d refer you to SM’s comment above.

  30. I have to chime in because – dangerous though it may be – I wonder if there’s a lot of projection going on. I read Tara’s original post, and the myriad responses. I had to stop and take a breath because I often find I have a knee-jerk response to the term “institutionalized racism.” (To me, it often feels like a blanket term that covers someone like me who deplores racism and tries hard, on a daily basis, to combat it in my environment. Because to many, no matter what proactive steps I take, I will never be able to overcome “institutionalized racism.” With a term like that floating around, I believe there will never be a resolution… because someone, somewhere will always find something that can be viewed as racially negative.)

    All that being said, I believe in trying to be politically correct. I argue frequently that if there are two choices of phrase which can be used, why not use the one which provides least offense? Having been vilified my whole life for being fat, I understand how it hurt – and I try hard never to pass that hurt on to others. But must we consider every person all the time? If kate217 (a lovely person, whom I know personally) accepts a gift of ethnic clothing from someone of an ethnic group, why must she perpetually weigh the pros and cons of wearing it in a place where others of that ethnic group may be – just for fear that one person will take it badly? We essentially limit ourselves to the enjoyment of only our own culture – and how does that teach us the joys of diversity? And where do we draw the line? Should I avoid saying anything Yiddish for fear of offending? How about wearing a sarong? Eating a gyro? (Or should I consider the political and historical nuances of that pita bread when I lift it to my mouth?)

    Look… I surely sound horribly racist right now, and I’m prepared for that. But to me, racism also involves treating someone inferiorly on the basis of their skin color. And be racist against none of you because I have no idea of your skin color… and I bring the argument around full circle, because I think many FA blogs are places where you can be blind to someone’s skin color – if you choose to be.

  31. I will never be able to overcome “institutionalized racism.”

    Shoutz, institutionalized racism is about institutions, not individuals. The fact that you, as an individual, work to overcome racism in your daily life doesn’t mean that, say, a company whose clothes you buy isn’t discriminating against people of color on a company-wide basis. The reason you personally can’t “overcome” institutionalized racism is that institutions are bigger than individuals.

    why must she perpetually weigh the pros and cons of wearing it in a place where others of that ethnic group may be – just for fear that one person will take it badly?

    I think this is a place where we need to reframe the question. The problem is not that we should all fear doing something because, say, 1% of the population might feel offended, hurt, or angry about it. It’s not about the numbers of people. It’s about why it makes them feel that way, and what it makes them feel. Even if we do say that we’re talking about 1% of the population (which is a totally random number), you need to ask yourself, am I willing to do something that is going to make that 1% feel like they’ve been punched in the face? If you are, then complaining about that person’s reaction is, at best, disingenuous. If you aren’t willing to make someone feel that way, then you should probably reexamine your actions. Does that make sense?

  32. shoutz, you don’t really sound horribly racist, but you sound a little exaggerated. Where does this slippery slope rhetoric come from? All anyone is asking is that you be conscious of your choices, and give credence to people who feel offended by them rather than dismissing their concerns.

    I think many FA blogs are places where you can be blind to someone’s skin color – if you choose to be.

    Arguments about being color-blind often come from a position of white privilege — think of Stephen Colbert. The ability to have race not be an issue, even on the internet, is a privilege. You get to ignore race because you’re not seeing messages that you’re being shut out because of not belonging to the race and culture that’s treated as default. Does this make sense? Again, I’m not calling you a racist here, but if you feel like the internet is a non-racialized space, that may be because you’re white and therefore have the privilege to experience it as non-racialized.

    Look, I see what you’re saying — certainly we couldn’t set out to exclude anyone because of her race even if we wanted to, because we don’t know what it is. But not trying to exclude someone isn’t really good enough in our current culture. I think it’s fair to ask that we be deliberately inclusive.

  33. Something I see a lot, and was very apparent in the comments to Tara’s post, is not just a defensiveness but also this idea that if you’re combating racism in any way, you’ve magically removed yourself from the power/privileged group, and are therefore no longer benefiting from racism.

    People then expound on this by saying, “Well, I’m anti-racist, so why are you having a go at me? I should be excluded from this discussion about institutionalised racism, or recognition of POC in X movement!”.

    It doesn’t work that way. Recognising your privilege can mean no longer choosing to act on it and consciously achieve gains, but you cannot remove yourself from that power group. You will always be white. You will always therefore have the opportunity to benefit from institutionalised racism whether you mean to or not.

    What really struck me is that Tara was saying that she (and other POC) felt X about the situation, and a big response was basically, “that can’t be true”. It amazes me how some people can claim to be so liberal and accepting whilst still feeling comfortable dictating the ‘way things are’ to someone who is in a position to know better.

    I also got the sense that some people felt that including POC would somehow detract away from their own struggle as a member of the FA, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I can feel myself starting to ramble so, basically, thanks for writing this, Fillyjonk! It needed to be said.

  34. Well, thanks… silly is so much better.

    First, when the term “institutionalized racism” gets tossed about, it’s not just about companies or corporations, but that it pervades nearly every aspect of our lives. I think someone (perhaps Tara herself) cited specific examples in that thread of criminalization of POC, disparity in prison populations, etc. Realistically, there are some things PNOC have little control over in these areas… though that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

    As far as being “deliberately inclusive,” on the face of it I have no objection – rationally, how could I? I’m with you 100%… but without making you crazy, what does that mean to you? Until today, I never looked around SP (or another blog, for that matter) and even wondered who might be a POC. Maybe it’s because I’m white (or am I?) or maybe it’s because their skin color is immaterial to how we deal with each other in cyberspace. Do I have to tell everyone I welcome a dialogue for them to feel that way? What happens if I miss someone? Or do I just leave it open to amendment?

  35. We had this conversation at a temple I was a member of. We talked of religious appropriation: Many people will often say: I had a past life in India, so therefore I can garnish my altar with statues of Ganesh, blah di blah, etc etc etc.

    I kind of had a freak out about the whole thing.

    Because I am a deeply spiritual person, and have studied a variety of religions. And I don’t think God/dess/It?the Universe is owned by any one culture, quite frankly. I find validity in all religions, and also a basic sense of unity: Be good to people. Love people.

    And this group of women, about 70 of us, had this talk about appropriation.

    We kind of all talked about this notion of you have to have respect. And you have to not just be doing stuff flippantly. And you have to not just walk in with your privilege and assume shit about the people who practice said religion, or do it because it’s exotic or different or “other.” You have to have a willingness to be humble and to learn. To sit with spirit and resonate. And understand that the religion and all the stuff that goes with it involves a rich history and culture and energy that deserves immense recognition. So like, if I am wearing a scarf with the Om symbol on it, which I do, I feel bad about it sometimes, but it also means something to me spiritually. I believe in it. It didn’t come from my whitebread culture. But I know what it means, and it resonates with me.

    Is that appropriation? Does that make me racist? I still don’t know.

  36. Yeah, “silly” wasn’t great — I changed it to “exaggerated,” which gets more at what I meant to say. I didn’t intend “silly” like “stupid,” but “silly” like “getting a little bit out there.” Because slippery slope arguments tend to run away with you.

    Until today, I never looked around SP (or another blog, for that matter) and even wondered who might be a POC.

    Right, that’s the point. You haven’t had to; race isn’t something you have to consider if you don’t want to.

    And here, again, is where I think you’re getting exaggerated… surely you don’t think that I’m telling you to go shake the hand of every new screen name you see and say “if you’re a person of color, I acknowledge you.” I don’t know how much clearer I can be — I think it’s important that we make this a space in which issues surrounding race (and class, ability, sexuality, etc.) are taken as seriously as issues surrounding fat. I would like to see dialogue that recognizes the continued existence of racism and the impact of privilege.

  37. Shoutz, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that we should just throw up our hands at institutionalized racism. It’s just that a frequent method of derailing conversations about systemic oppression of all sorts is to refocus on individual action rather than widespread change.

  38. An addendum: I don’t think it’s very respectful to respond to someone saying “I feel marginalized because of my race” by saying “but race doesn’t matter here.” Clearly it does; that’s why Tara and others have felt marginalized. You can say “I never consciously realized that race mattered here, in what I thought was a race-neutral space,” but to say that race is immaterial is to deny their experience.

  39. I was definitely exaggerating – but for a purpose. I agree that we can’t do things without thought. I believe it’s foolhardy to carry a purse with Communistic symbols at Machu Picchu because you stand to offend a lot of people (just ask Cameron Diaz), but where the line is drawn can get awfully tricky – especially if something is provided to one as a gift.

    What I genuinely do not understand is – in cyberspace, why does anyone have to concern themselves with divisions they don’t choose to? When I am here at SP, I presume people are “like me.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean skin color. Or ethnicity, or gender, or sexual preference, or, or, or. It means we jointly have an interest in seeing that the world treats fat people better. *In this context* I don’t care if you’re a POC – because in this battle you either look like me (fat) or you care about my rights… just as I either look like you (Asian, African-American, Native-American…) or I care about your rights.

  40. Cultural appropriation through clothing: Surely a lot of it has to do with respect? That, and not denying that what you’re doing is offensive when someone says they are offended by it.

    On the internet, no-one can tell you’re a dog: But we’re still talking about Real Life here, so who we are and — crucially, I feel — what we look like in Real Life are actually VERY relevant ALL the time.

    Consciousness Raising 101: Being educated by someone for free is a great favour for which the student should be grateful, not the teacher.

    I think that’s all I have to say right now.

  41. On the internet, no-one can tell you’re a dog: But we’re still talking about Real Life here, so who we are and — crucially, I feel — what we look like in Real Life are actually VERY relevant ALL the time.

    Nicely put. As an analogy, nobody on the wedding forum I frequent knows I’m fat until I tell them — but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel marginalized when they trade suggestions for clothes that don’t come in my size, or make offhanded comments about fat people or weight gain and loss. Fatness is part of my identity and part of my real life, even when it can’t be seen. My online presence might be disembodied, but the person out here using the internet isn’t, and that’s the lens through which I have both online and offline experiences.

  42. Fillyjonk, thanks for this post. I am trying harder to listen to people’s concerns and not immediately make it about me and what I am doing and whether I personally get absolution for that concern, and if I don’t then why is the person so defensive anyway. It’s sort of doubly bad with me because ever since I was little, I tend to take any comment or suggestion about behavior (not just about race or privilege, really about anything) as a personal indictment. At best when I have this reaction I only get my feelings hurt. But what I am discovering is that at worst, I get my feelings hurt… AND, if I am not careful, I can completely derail an important conversation about very real concerns and dynamics that are taking place by responding in a way that is all about my hurt feelings. Lord knows I have done it here enough. If I do it badly enough, the conversation doesn’t take place at that point and people are alienated. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for something like that.

    So, for people like me who tend to have a knee-jerk defensive response to others’ concerns, it might help to walk away from the post or comment and think about it some before responding. Or type out your immediate response, then print it out without posting and read it over as you think about the issue further, and do an actual response after consideration. FJ, I think your wording about how the emphasis should be on “bending over backwards to give a shit” that people are hurting or angry will be really helpful to me in this regard. I do give a shit and as such I want such discussions to take place rather than have my feelings be spared but people being hurt and marginalized while I fail to see it. So thanks again. (And thanks, of course, to Tara for the original post… I don’t really participate in Fatshionista but The Rotund linked to it and it was something I, for one, definitely needed to read.)

  43. shoutz (I can’t believe that I haven’t twigged to your new monniker before this), thanks for your support, it seems that you frequently have my back when I’m out on a limb and I appreciate it. Kiss Captain Undies for me.

    There is an old piece of advice, “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Unfortunately, my shovel has a mind of its own…

    As far as appropriation goes, I actually do understand why some people would find it offensive. “Baffled” wasn’t really the word I wanted, but due to a Mt. Rushmore-sized allergy headache, I’m a bit slower that usual today. (And I’m never that sharp.)

    I know that I am tremendously privileged. I’m white, blond, come from a middle-class background, have a college degree, and during the 20 minutes I was slender, was actually conventionally pretty. I know that this is all privilege and I’m cognizant of it. That said, when I wear something (for example) of another culture, I see it as a celebration of that culture. I don’t want to offend anybody, but it seems as though if one goes anywhere or says anything, there is a tiny minority of people who will look for things at which to take offense. (I’m not including the people involved in this discussion, including Tara, in this. But there are people in the world who are just spoiling for a fight.) I have no idea what percent of a culture might find a western woman wearing eastern-style clothing offensive; nor do I know whether it’s greater than the percentage who would find it a compliment. As I said before, the concept of appropriation has never occurred to me in this context. (I have thought about old world treasures in new world museums that should be returned to their rightful owners. That sort of cultural theft, I grok.

    My friends and co-workers look like the United Nations, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, because my life is greatly enriched by being surrounded by different cultures, traditions, and viewpoints. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree 100% with anyone else, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, gender, or country of origin. If I get to 90-95%, I think we’re doing well.

    I’m sorry that that sounds so defensive (or maybe offensive). I truly don’t mean it to, it’s just that sometimes the fact that privilege even exists at all is a pain in the ass.

  44. Thanks, FJ; I know there are other folks out there like me, so hopefully we can all grow and get more of a clue together. :)

  45. I have no idea what percent of a culture might find a western woman wearing eastern-style clothing offensive; nor do I know whether it’s greater than the percentage who would find it a compliment.

    Kate217, I hate to keep beating a dead horse (or rather posting the same comment again and again), but I think if you think about it less in terms of percentage and more in terms of “do I want to cause anyone to feel this way ever,” you’ll feel less at sea. Finding out what “feeling this way” means — by reading up on what some people find offensive about cultural appropriation — can help you make that decision.

  46. Kate: Wearing clothes per se clothes seems perfectly reasonable; it’s important to be aware of the danger of, say, wearing a traditional wedding outfit from another culture to, say, very publically clean toilets, or attending a wedding in bridal wear when you’re not the bride. From a position of information you can make deliberately inoffensive choices (these clothes are from this culture where they symbolise X; I will wear them to meet my bank manager or have a picnic) but from a position of ignorance one could really get things wrong (this sacklike garment with matching veil looks cool and was cheap on Ebay, if I wear the face parts at the strip club no-one will know it’s me).

  47. I give up. sweetmachine, of course I don’t ever want to make anyone feel marginalized, to that end, I’ll just shut up now and never go anywhere or say anything ever again.

  48. Kate217, I am not suggesting that you give up — far from it! If my reframing doesn’t work for you, then that’s fine; I was personally having a lightbulb moment and thought I’d share. The thing about having privilege is that saying “I give up, I’ll just stop talking now” from that point of privilege is another way of shutting down conversation. Why give up? Why not read around, listen to people’s opinions, and then make an informed decision for yourself later? In your first comment, you said it had never occurred to you before that wearing certain culturally coded clothing might be offensive, and that you felt torn. In my experience, the moments when I’ve felt torn and uncertain as to what to do have often been really important learning experiences — but I had to be willing to think about it longer and harder than I’ve initially wanted to. In the context of this post, I thought your comment was a perfect example of a moment like that. I’m not trying to pick on you or to put a burden of figuring this out on you in particular; I’m just saying that this seems like a great example of a time when you can “make less statements and ask more questions” to quote littlem’s brilliant comment over at The Rotund.

  49. Yeah, if we made all our decisions based on the idea that somebody, somewhere might find them disturbing, certainly none of us would ever blog. Or, for that matter, eat. I tend to be a “context is everything” sort of person. I like Ailbhe’s suggestions above.

  50. Like kate217 I believe wearing clothing from other cultures is a celebration of that culture and, if someone from that culture gave me the garment in question, I would assume they obviously feel the same way. If an individual has a problem with the way I dress, they are welcome to tell me about it and I will listen, weigh things up accordingly and possibly change my actions. But I don’t intend to live my life in the fear that somebody somewhere, who in all probability will never even clap eyes on me, might possibly be offended by my sartorial choices. All fashion steals influences from other cultures.

    As it happens I’m not personally big on cultural appropriation but where does one draw the line? Should I eschew anything with a paisley pattern because of its Indian origins? Should I not have worn a trousers and tunic combo, vaguely salwar kameez-like in design, yet specifically manufactured for a western clientele and sold to me very happily by an Indian shop owner? Should I not wear the traditional South African beaded necklace purchased for me by a white South African friend who left his country over 20 years ago because of his loathing for apartheid?

    The only piece of outright cultural appropriation I’ve ever consciously indulged in was wearing a bindi once or twice. A Hindu lady I know remarked on how well it suited me and I got really embarrassed and started apologising furiously, at which point she cut me off and said she loved the fact I was wearing it and that it quite made her day.

  51. I think the whole point of being aware of cultural appropriation, particularly in relation to fashion, is not that you live in bitter indecision, worrying constantly about whether you offend; it’s about *being aware* in the first place that you’re not just donning any item of clothing, and therefore being open to conversation about whether it’s appropriate or not.

    So, if you encounter someone who is offended, you don’t just dismiss their concerns as being ‘over sensitive’. Or, conversely, if someone expresses pleasure in you wearing an item of their culture, you accept the compliment graciously.

    And, to put things in perspective, cultural appropriation is a lot more than just fashion choices. The issue of cultural specific clothing is just the tip of one great big ugly iceberg.

  52. A concerned anthropologist can study a culture their entire life, but without the context and perspective of having been raised in it they can never completely understand it. I think what I’m getting after following these discussions in the fatosphere is that I, as a white woman raised middle class with good schools, always have the choice to ignore or acknowledge my privilege. I cannot disown it. I cannot pretend to have any reliable perspective on the experiences of someone with different (more or fewer) privileges because my own are so a part of my perspective that they cannot be stripped away.

    Since I cannot disown my privilege, any attempt to pretend to be able to do so is mocking and insulting to those who do not have that choice. It is my responsibility to give a shit about human rights, regardless of the nature of the human. It is my responsibility to seek out understanding that allows me to give a shit in a productive manner, which means actively trying to avoid making a situation worse by acting or speaking in a way that reinforces privilege. It means being aware, as best I can, of how my actions affect someone else. I’ll often fail at that, but I’ll try. I never claimed to be anything close to perfect.

    When talking about cultural appropriation, I’m always reminded of the New Age movement and the free-for-all appropriation of NA traditions. Resulting, of course, in this declaration from the Lakota:


    When culture is appropriated for reasons of fashion, it reduces the significance of a symbol to the status of a side-show, dilutes and confuses the power of heritage and corrupts the accuracy of tradition. I understand this, but I still do Yoga. I’ve never claimed to not be a hypocrite.

    These discussions have been really valuable to me. I think it’s really positive that we’re having them, and really think that the FAM can’t help but benefit by being aware of the intersections of rights movements. I’d personally love to see a similar discussion of how the FAM intersects with the LGTB community.

  53. Beautifully put, JoGeek. I was going to quote a section and respond “beautifully put” to that, but there were too many good ones, so I’ll just put that as my response to the whole comment.

  54. It’s interesting. While reading the “appropriation” debate, I found myself reflecting on some currents of thought which appear to be rather pervasive in the local folk music scene – notions of “heritage” and “appropriateness” for performers of traditional music. There’s a strong school of thought which argues only someone who has a heritage from a particular ethnic group (eg Irish) should be able to perform the music or the dances of their culture. This leaves me wondering about my own “ethnic” heritage – I’m second-generation Australian (three out of four of my grandparents were immigrants from England) and by this argument, I’m restricted to Australian folk tunes and to English traditional folk songs and dances. If I wanted to be a strict “heritage” folkie, I’d be restricted to the folk songs of Oxfordshire (my father’s mother), County Durham (my mother’s mother), Yorkshire (my father’s father) and Western Australia (mother’s father), of which I know none. This is further complicated by the cheerful truth that if one starts digging into my ancestry in any depth, one discovers I’m actually from the rather complicated breed called “European Heinz” (one of my great-great-grandfathers on Mum’s side of the family was a Danish Jew, while on Dad’s side of the family I think there’s a touch of Spanish Irish somewhere in the mix).

    My answer to the whole thing is to sing folk songs from various traditions and countries which appeal to me, and which strike a chord in my heart and mind. However, I don’t pretend I’m singing from any position of “correctness”. Instead, I’ll acknowledge the original creators (either by name, or by cultural tradition) of the song, and do my best to be true to it. If someone who hears me sing is offended, I’ll want to know why, and find out what I can do to avoid causing offence in future.

    NB: I do differentiate between offence caused by the content of the song, and offence caused by my treatment of it. The first isn’t within my control, and given my own ethical and moral principles, I’m not likely to alter the song to suit the listener. The second I can do something about, and if I’m able to get my head around what the problem is, I’ll do something to remedy it. I find this distinction useful in my own mind, simply because it helps me to delineate more clearly what is and isn’t my problem.

  55. “…as people who are interested in social justice, we have a responsibility to give a shit about causes other than our own major concerns. Any oppression diminishes us.”

    Yeah. Me three.

  56. I agree with Tara’s post, I probably do sound like the white, prep-school educated person that I am. I can see where it could be uncomfortable to be around a group of people with similar backgrounds who think completely differently than you. I mean, when I first came here(through a link from another person), everything sounded like a different language. I was raised in a conservative family and was taught that the civil rights movement ended long ago and that it is no longer relevant. I kept on thinking “what is all this privilege buisness anyways?”

    It took me a few months to really understand the language of shapely prose.

    OK, I promise I am going somewhere with this!

    My main point is that within certain groups certain things are just assumed to be true and because they are assumed to be true, no one questions them or wonders if they are true for other groups of people.

    It always is good to adress these concerns! Activism is more powerful when it is inclusive. We can’t adress everything but it is possible that some core assumptions are not true for every group of people.

    Wow, I hope that made sense.

  57. First I’m going to quote someone.

    Then I’m going to repeat myself.

    cope best by having low expectations of others’ ability to consider anything or anyone outside of their own experiences and perspectives in a balanced way. That works for right now because I’m rarely surprised by insensitivity or negativity regarding race but one day I will need to find a proper balance with this…



  58. Inherent assumption to above post is that one does in fact give a ****.

    Also, for ***ism, given the fact that we’re talking about intersectionality, feel free to insert your favorite ***ism.

  59. I’m really sorry to be unable to resist this, but it has been bugging me and bugging me.

    “Make FEWER statements. Ask more questions.”

    Thank you. I will try to find a ten-step program for ex-editors.

  60. Ailbhe, thank you.

    As for ethnic clothing/jewelry, I love it! But, I do make an effort to not wear, say, a wedding outfit just because of the shinypretty. But perhaps this is down to me being a bellydancer (amateur) and choosing to enlighten myself as to the various cultures and what is and isn’t appropriate in dress, manner, and style of dance. The funny thing is, once you start down the road of enlightenment, it’s damned hard to stop. ;)

    Having said that, I do have to agree with some of the other posters – until I read Tara’s post, I had no idea some people felt excluded from the FAM because of race. Of course, like the majority of those same posters, I do have a priviligded life (I know that’s an sp, I just don’t have the time to look it up at the moment) although I did not grow up that way (let’s just say there’s a huge difference between choosing to go off the grid and not being able to get on the grid in the first place). As a person of mixed race, I acknowledge another person’s skin color/cultural background, but I’m going to treat you the way I want to be treated regardless, that is to say, with respect and non-judgement (unless you’re an ass).

    Yet, I’m still guilty of putting on my asshat, thankfully much less often these days. I have no idea what I’m trying to say anymore, so I’ll leave off with how brilliant ‘make fewer statements, ask more questions’ is, and add one bit – then listen to the answers.

  61. “I’m really sorry to be unable to resist this …”

    Clearly not? :D

    Thank you for teaching me how it feels when I do it to other people, though.

    Also, extra mortification points for not taking care of it the first time I wrote it on The Rotund’s blog. Would you ask her to fix it for me, please? *kthx*

  62. For what it’s worth, littlem, I’m usually a huge grammar pedant and I like it better the original way. The fact that it’s not technically correct makes it seem more direct and down-to-earth. IMHO.

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