The event was simple. It began when the first previews of It’s a Jungle Out There! hit the mainstream feminist blogosphere.
No… It began when Amanda Marcotte, writer of It’s a Jungle Out There and well-known progressive political blogger wrote an essay without referencing the women of color who gave her the ideas.
No, that wasn’t the first. It began when the first cover of It’s A Jungle Out There was first released, and criticized for racist imagery.
No, that’s not early enough. It began when prominent feminists began siding with Clinton over Obama, claiming gender was bigger than race… Or was it a fallout in the ’70s at a feminist convention over racism? Or was it the ’40s when there was an advertising blitz to recruit women to the workforce, and all of the images featured white women?
No, let’s face it. It began in 1607 when the first African slaves were brought to the continent by English settlers.
Or was it earlier when the first white guy set foot in the Western Hemisphere? It wasn’t exactly the right foot to start out on.
I know some of you are typing at your keyboard right now. Some of you undoubtedly want to comment that I’m exaggerating. That I’m blowing things out of proportion. That someone’s being oversensitive. That I’m demonizing white people or sucking up to my liberal pals or digging too far into the past or the slavery’s over or that we’ve stopped killing off indigenous peoples or whatever kneejerk reaction you can come up with.
The problem with all of those reactions is that the past never dies. It lives and grows into the future. It affects the present. There is no true abandoning the past, we can only just distance ourselves enough to forget why we behave the way we do.
History is the foundation of our culture. We build on it. History affects everything. Stories are handed down from generation to generation. Things are altered, made more palatable for modern sensibilities, but ultimately the base remains the same.
When you read a comic book, you aren’t just reading a nice story about a good guy fighting a bad guy. You’re reading a story about a person who represents what that our culture finds admirable fighting someone who represents what our culture finds distasteful. The symbolism’s loaded. There are messages in that story, and leftover prejudices. We paint a coat of current events on it, but the history is still there.
The particular event I’m thinking of happened in the mainstream feminist community, amongst progressive political bloggers. It involves comic book imagery from the ’50s (Marvel’s Lorna the Jungle Girl). The images were being drudged up to illustrate a modern book on how to be a feminist in a hostile political environment. The images represented an ideal that the book’s author wanted to emphasize, that of a strong civilized woman in an untamed wilderness, fighting savages to save the object of her affection.
The hero was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white woman. The object of her affection was a white man.
The savages were black men.
And ooga booga masks.
This was all built on a history of a society that equated civilization and sophistication with white people, to the point that it was used to justify an untold number of injustices. Built on the history of a political movement that took the words and actions of women of color and used them to prop white women up without doing much more than give lip service to racial problems. Set against a background of a huge dispute involving the author and racism and another huge dispute involving the publisher and racism.
There was something of a shit-storm. And the author and the publisher (both of whom were beaten with the old clue bat over the original cover to that very book) have both said “Oops, I wasn’t thinking.”
Which illustrates quite a bit about what’s wrong with the internet, what’s wrong with feminism, what’s wrong with the progressive movement, what’s wrong with the country, and what’s wrong with humanity in general.
It also illustrates why I hate relating these issues as sets of rules like “Don’t use black male antagonists with ooga booga masks and spears when your protagonist is a white woman.” I know there are a lot of people put there who can only understand such things in small rule-sized bites. But then all the person remembers is that this particular image is offensive for some reason. But they never learn to think about what they’re doing. Think about the history behind this stuff. Think about a situation they hadn’t heard the rule for and place themselves in the shoes of someone who is not part of their demographic and think about how that might look when placed as the next link in a very long chain of images.
The problem is that people keep shoveling shit on a pile. And when someone points out what they’re doing, they take that as “I shouldn’t use a shovel anymore” and start using another utensil, or their bare hands. They completely miss that there’s a pile and that the substance being moved is shit.