The Lingerie Addict

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Privilege and Using Individual Compliments/Insults To Derail Conversations About Oppression

gradientlair:

When I discuss how oppression functions structurally, often times among the replies that I receive are compliments or insults. See, for some reason (usually lack of understanding of structural power, oppression, privilege and intersectionality, coupled with that person’s personal “like” or “dislike” of me) people think replying with a compliment or insult is somehow contributing to that topic. As if it validates or invalidates complex issues. As if their personal feelings about me makes oppression any more or less true. Racism isn’t “true” because someone White likes me or “false” because someone White hates me. Sexism isn’t “true” because men like me or “false” because men hate me. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. And to be clear, I am not agreeing with the ignorance that accompanies lack of lived experience where the privileged will suggest that the reality of oppression in our lives can be discussed “objectively.” (The oppressor and the oppressed are invested and affected. How I feel about this matters, not just how I think about it; this isn’t divergent.) I am suggesting that compliments and insults are regularly used to assuage guilt, derail or harm, in this context.

A topic that I find both helpful at times (if discussed mostly with Black women) and triggering many times (if discussed with people who degrade Black women) is beauty politics. Obviously this complicates for Black women because of how sexism, misogyny, misogynoir, colourism, fat shaming/ableism/classism (for some), racism, and anti-Blackness itself impact perceptions of Black women’s appearance and thereby humanity; as they’re connected. This impact is not solely about “insults” without repercussions. It’s about oppression. “Ugliness” ascribed to Blackness directly correlates to how Black women are harmed, degraded and deemed “deserving” of violence. Beauty has never been “just about looks,” but ascribing value/non-value on humanity itself, and excluding Black women (especially salient for Black trans women) and Black people in general from “humanity.”

Thus, when I discuss Black women and beauty politics, the very last things I am interested in are insincere compliments from White women. I…never said I thought that I am ugly. I…don’t think that. They do. They’re socialized to think that. (In fact, everyone is and unlearning this is important for Black women. Not because we “need” to be “pretty” in an aesthetic sense, but because perception of “ugliness” places our humanity itself as non-existent because of anti-Blackness/misogynoir.) Thus, out of guilt about how White supremacy and Eurocentric beauty standards centers their appearance (and even in the margins; i.e. who is the face of fat positivity and plus size web sites, for example, White women; White privilege still exists in the margins) they feel the need to force a compliment in to assuage their discomfort with their guilt over this itself and over whatever conversation I might be having.

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Conversely, when I discuss beauty politics and oppression, some White women (and at times non-Black women of colour) immediately decide that I am “jealous” of them. (In White Women’s Aggression Against Black Women In Public Space, I mentioned how beauty stores are often very hostile spaces for me because of White women’s aggression.) Jealousy? Because I discuss how colourism attributes to State violence on Black women and longer prison sentences for darker Black women? Or because I discuss how White women force themselves into Black women’s natural hair spaces lying about “shared experiences/oppression” yet Black women are still facing discrimination for natural hair in the workplace? Or because I discuss the sheer violence involved in the cishet Black male gaze when it perpetuates the notion that I better think that Lupita Nyong’o is “ugly” but Amber Rose is “beautiful?”

The lazy responses of compliments and insults never actually address the structural nature of oppression. And this compliment/insult nonsense doesn’t only happen when I discuss beauty, though for obvious reasons it occurs most frequently then. It happens when I discuss Black women’s epistemology and people’s exploitation of my work; Whites rush in to tell me that I am “smart” (because they think sheer consumption plus compliment equals “allyship”) or call me “stupid” based on me using language that they don’t understand. It happens when I discuss street harassment in Black communities (and this is not an assertion that it happens nowhere else nor have I ever asserted that); some Black men rush in to advise how they "aren’t like that" and would be "nice" to a "beautiful Black woman" like me and how they'love' Black women,” while others rush to engage in misogynoiristic insults or assert that I “hate” Black men. And…Black men using the "you hate Black men" line basically functions as "you wish you were White." It is violent, meant to harm and carries a weight with a long history, especially since Black women are expected to serve and support Black men but are deemed “divisive” or “hateful” for expecting anything in return. 

What people approach me with as an “opinion” about oppression is usually unfounded, anti-Black, misogynoiristic, and includes expecting my humanity to be a “debatable” topic. There is no “both sides” of an issue when one side is dehumanization and the other side is survival. My humanity is not debatable. These are the insults. The compliments usually come from someone privileged (usually Whites/men) in terms of whatever facet of oppression I am speaking of as again, a way to control/derail the conversation and assuage their guilt. I’m not here for coddling White guilt or men’s need to center themselves and be told "not all men." I do not care.

Another way this compliment/insult tactic operates is to silence my dissent about exploitation of my work and my words. People rave about how they were “inspired” by my writing so felt the need to regurgitate my words without citation, or violate my content use policy altogether, if academics (and the abuse by academics [and journalists] is daily and unrelenting). I don’t care about their “inspirations.” I care about the fact that people think exploiting Black women’s lives and labor is “allyship” and justice, and how the compliments about “inspiration” quickly turn to insults and violence if I demand consent and accountability from them. Compliments and insults function in the same way when they come from people who do not value my humanity or Black women’s humanity, in general. Even what some White people think is “kindness" is actually violence. Being applauded as someone to exploit as a Fact Portal is not a compliment.

In terms of dealing with racism and White supremacy, one of the reasons why Whites insist insulting White people is “racism” isn’t just because they cling to pathetically simplistic, structurally incorrect dictionary definitions of racism in order to false equalize structural power Whiteness has to Black people reacting in self-defense from anti-Blackness that dehumanizes us. It’s because again, they cling to the idea that an insult is an adequate response, a valid interrogatory and critique of oppression. Thus, if they elevate compliments and insults to that which can remove or critique oppression, they engage in epistemic violence. In other words, the notion that Whites’ definitions of their violence and power are the only valid ones and that replies meant either assuage their own discomfort or inflict personal harm in any way addresses actual oppression, is how they seek to control language/concepts and use it as a form of violence.  

Because of this epistemic violence, they try to equalize actual slurs used against Black women/Black people/people of colour that are/facilitate oppression as structural with insults Black people make of Whites. This is why some still engage in the epistemic violence of suggesting “mayo” and “cracker” are slurs (they are not) with the gravity and weight of “nigger.” This is why they use the word "racist" as "nigger" as well, calling Black people “racist nigger” as a slur; when we suggest their words/behaviors are racist, we’re stating a fact not calling them a name. I mean, they even try to suggest “not loving Whites” “oppresses” Whites, when it does not. The oppressor demands the language, the labor, the time, the space, the bodies and even the love of the oppressed. All violence. White supremacist thinking can only support external individualism. It doesn’t support introspection. It doesn’t support examining institutional racism and all of its tentacles into every space. (Everything is an “isolated incident” to them.)

I’m not interested in anyone “liking” or “disliking” me because they think doing so is some sort of anti-oppression praxis or proof that oppression is not what it is. I’m not interested in anyone so guilt-ridden or intellectually dishonest to think that compliments and insults can address structural oppression and how it impacts both individuals and institutions. And since people cannot divest of misogynoir to be able to think about how compliments about what good fact portals and doormats Black women make for them, I’m not interested in their compliments meant to mask their dehumanizing gaze, their theft of my work and words. And I’ll never view their interpersonal abuse as valid criticism of structural oppression.

This is important.

Filed under beauty racism critical theory

116 notes

burlyqnell:

Val Valentine - Cupid’s Cutie: signed, 8x10 photo
Val trained as a dancer as a child and loved to perform.  Hence, she started spending her summers as a showgirl on the Raynell Golden carnival shows.  She travelled with Mitzi, who was both a veteran burlesque performed and Val’s mom’s best friend.  Mitzi taught Val the importance of developing an act, including fabulous costumes.  Within 3 years, with costumes made by the famous Tony Midnite, Val was a top burlesque feature.  She continues to work carnival shows in the summer and early fall, and worked in burlesque theaters and clubs the rest of the year.  

burlyqnell:

Val Valentine - Cupid’s Cutie: signed, 8x10 photo

Val trained as a dancer as a child and loved to perform.  Hence, she started spending her summers as a showgirl on the Raynell Golden carnival shows.  She travelled with Mitzi, who was both a veteran burlesque performed and Val’s mom’s best friend.  Mitzi taught Val the importance of developing an act, including fabulous costumes.  Within 3 years, with costumes made by the famous Tony Midnite, Val was a top burlesque feature.  She continues to work carnival shows in the summer and early fall, and worked in burlesque theaters and clubs the rest of the year.  

(via burlesqueden)

Filed under vintage burlesque