(This is something I wrote early in February and then decided not to post. I was okay with my decision not to post. The moment for this commentary had passed, I had moved on to other things. Then this afternoon I was on the 4 train headed downtown and overheard a group of older white women saying some problematic things, and I decided to pull this piece out of my “dead drafts” pile and go ahead and post it. Also, I say “older” white women, but I, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about. I guessed them to be 60s and up, but they could have been closer to my almost-60 age. I’m posting it as-is, as it was when I wrote it: unfinished and chock full of disgust.)
So Monday, or as I like to call it: Old White Women Show Their Whole Asses Day. Yeah. First Barbara Ehrenreich, followed in quick-step succession by Katha Pollitt and Elaine Showalter. All of them coming out from behind the screens of their feminist, social justice respectability, flinging off their filmy veils and revealing their bright, shiny racism in all its bare-assed fabulousness.
Thank you all.
I’ll start by saying that no one is required to love Marie Kondo, or even like her. You’re certainly not obligated to read her book or watch her Netflix show or tidy your home. If nothing about her or her work sparks joy for you, that’s perfectly alright. Your life will continue apace, and so will Ms. Kondo’s.
But here’s what you are required to do. You are required to resist sinking into the pillow-soft comfort of your deeply-seated racism and colonizing xenophobia. No one needs to see or hear that mess. Punto. You don’t like Marie Kondo. Fine. If you don’t have reasons to dislike her other than 1) her foreign-ness, 2) her audacity to speak her own language, or 3) her physical appearance matching some old stereotypes you have about Asian women … than keep your thoughts to yourself.
And if you choose to show us your racism, don’t try a) to delete your ugliness without comment and b) replace it with further ugliness and then c) not respond to any of the much-deserved criticism you receive but instead d) try to reposition your ugliness and claim it was meant to express something else entirely and then e) tell everyone who isn’t buying your dainty pile of bullshit that they clearly can’t take a joke.
Oh look, Barbara: you did every one of the “don’ts.” Score!
Pollitt and Showalter had nothing to add to the xenophobia, but they slid so easily into exoticizing Kondo, describing her in just about every infantilizing, diminishing stereotype of Asian women.
I’m not surprised that criticism of Kondo fell so quickly into racism. How could it not have, given the steaming dung heap that is our white supremacist society? I’m not surprised, and still Ehrenreich, Pollitt, and Showalter surprised me.
And that’s my fault. I was surprised because I’d let myself be lulled into a false sense of safety, let myself be fooled into thinking their feminism had any room for women of color.
Every time I think I’ve girded myself against the scourge of White Feminism, I find myself pulled back in … and disappointed as thoroughly and painfully as every time before.
Now, for everyone fixing their mouths to tell me that Marie Kondo is, in fact, pretty and little, and pixie-like, and what the hell is wrong with anyone saying what is quite obviously just a statement of truth? Your “words have meanings” argument doesn’t go far enough. You’re absolutely right that words have meanings … but they also have history and context and carry the weight of their use to perpetuate oppression and othering and dehumanization. And you don’t get to have the meaning without the history and context.
If you wanted to describe me — a tall, fat, Black woman — as a pretty little pixie, there would be no backstory of stereotyping you’d be tapping into. Even the tiniest and most fairy-like of Black women haven’t been typecast in this way, which is precisely why it would probably never occur to you to use those descriptors for me. Describing me as a pixie might even make you sound interesting, turning all the pixie images on their heads. (Yes, I think I will assume this descriptor from this point forward, brand my self as “PixieGriot” instead of GirlGriot. Absolutely.)
So you could mess with people’s heads by calling me a pretty little pixie. But to attach those words to Marie Kondo when the fairy-like, submissive, pocket-sized Asian woman has been a stereotype for as long as there have been white people aware of Asian people … well, that’s not edgy and interesting. It’s just problematic. And, just as we don’t believe any of these jackasses currently in the news saying they didn’t know blackface was racist (looking at you, too, Gucci … you and your blackface mugger clothing), we absolutely don’t believe you when you say you didn’t know there were stereotypes about Asian women that your tweets were mirroring perfectly.
When I talk about white people needing to come get their people, this is one of the kinds of messes I mean. (Don’t think I don’t want you to come collect the assholes in blackface. You know better than that.) I expect white allies to come, gather these women and sit them the hell down. I expect allies to help these women a) shut the fuck up, b) understand and acknowledge why the things they posted were problematic, c) craft and post a real apology, one that doesn’t shift blame or pretend it was all a stupid misunderstanding.
This is easy allyship, but so important. The amount of time POC have to spend dealing with this kind of crap is ridiculous. Hearing or seeing these kinds of ass-out comments takes an emotional toll on us, too. If white folks stepped up and did the work with their fellow white folks, we could avoid all the stürm und drang these moments gin up.
We — people of color — are exhausted from this shit. Completely and utterly exhausted. Because it never stops coming at us. Ehrenreich, Pollitt, Showalter, and Neeson get attention because they’re high-profile, because they had audiences before their big racism reveals. For POC, it never stops. We don’t just get the scandal-mag headlines when a famous person steps into the spotlight. We get the daily slaps in the face from the myriad non-famous people around us.
I cannot help but think there’s no way any of this is news to white people. And yet, every time one of these signal posts of hate flashes on, there are white folks who are expressing shock, who throw up their hands and exclaim about what year we’re in and how can this be happening.
Yeah. Here we are. It’s 2019. And white folks — young, old, men, women — all out here showing their whole asses. And the hand-wringing and exclamations of shock only serve to tell me how much “good” white people don’t stay focused on this work because they don’t have to, how easy it has been for these good people to move on or not notice at all because none of these thousand cuts touches them. The shock and outrage tells me that folks have chosen not to pay attention.
So come on, good white people. Goodness isn’t good enough. And you know this. You need to gather your people. Embrace them. Lovingly take them in hand. Help them see their errors and learn a better way. White feminists … well, you have an even tougher job, I won’t lie. But that’s all the more reason for you to step up, to take on this messy and necessary work. (And remember, it isn’t the job of Black folks and folk of color to do this gathering. Racist yobs can’t hear us, can’t get past their defensive anger to understand anything we say. No. The intervention has to come from white people. There are POC who are willing to do this emotional labor — on exquisitely rare occasion, I am one of them — but that still doesn’t make it our job. No, it remains 100 percent the job of white people.)
Please note that I’m not only asking for white folks to call out problematic, racist fellow travelers. No. Because calling out isn’t the answer. It isn’t enough. Barbara Ehrenreich was swiftly and roundly called out. But she needed more than that. She needed someone to love on her, tell her with calm kindness all the ways what she tweeted was fucked up. Without that caring, out-of-the-spotlight attention and correction, we get Ehrenreich’s string of progressively worse tweets. We get her digging further into her mess.
We are only halfway through February, and this month is already awash in bullshit, already requires hip waders.
And then I decided not to post. There were so many excellent articles written about this mess, I set this piece aside. And then today, I sat in a subway car near six white women, friends who’d been into Manhattan for a nice lunch and a gallery show. One remarked on the fact that the rest of her afternoon would be spent on housework:
Woman 1: “Whoo! Don’t I wish I had that little Kondo bitch boxed up in my closet! Watcing her clean my house would definitely spark some joy!”
<laughter, from all but one woman>
Woman 2: “I seriously can’t stand her self-righteousness. If we needed some child-sized baby-woman to tell us what to do, we’d have asked for it long before now.”
Woman 1: “Yes, but a box in the closet would be great. I have an empty shoe box she could curl up in.”
<laughter, from all but the same one woman>
Woman 3: “She could fold something up tiny and use it for a pillow. All the comforts!”
<laughter, from all of the women>
Which was when I knew I’d have to come home and find this old essay and post it.
In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.
It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!