ebogjonson.com's ebog o'blivion archive

December 3, 2006

the mahablog: naughty words and pictures

Wherein your humble narrator comments on the ongoing lack of a clue of some white progressives have vis-a-vis the proper care and feeding of the blackface loa. [This format is evolving, so please bear with me.]

My comment:

It's disappointing (but a certain kind of typical) for white folks to be so right about their own issues (sexism here) and yet so wrong about everyone else's. That said, you have fairly instructively mischaracterized the problem with the Billmon blackfacing.

First off: It wasn't that anyone thought Billmon was a Michael Richards-style racist, it was that many people of color thought his use of blackface was inept. Given the wild, memetic power of those images, people also suggested that there had been no pressing need to invoke those particular loa to deal with the Blitzer/Cheney CNN segment, leading us to the fairly straightforward question of why he might have felt the need to go there. Billmon and his readers' reaction to those specific and contained complaints? Petulance, defensiveness, attacks on people of color for "distracting" them from the important work of saving America, self-serving Peretzian irony about how the last true believers in the values of Dr. King were the brave white folks reading Billmon, Tomaskian whining about how their beloved left was being destroyed by "special interests," and, of course, the clarion call to the actual racists in the woodworks to write "n-word, n-word, n-word" in the comments completely apropos of nothing.

You write above that :

If you are writing from power, you assume some responsibilities. One of these is a responsibility not to contribute to the problems of racism and sexism by using racist and sexist language to diss people.

And yet at that being said, you also just can't resist saying that there have been "some episodes" where no amount of explaining could "placate" "them" because "seeing the point requires an advanced ability to think abstractly" and you cutely "'spect" things "just plain flew over a lot of peoples' heads." Then, just for kicks, you assure us that any "lynch mobs" that form in retaliation will have to get along without you, which, I have to say, is really mighty white of you. You quote Zuzu approvingly on attacks on your gender - "It's easy to reach first for the gender-based insult" and yet the first thing out of your mouth is how smart you are compared to those childish coloreds, but, just in case anyone has gotten you all wrong, any lynching is DEFINITELY going to have to go on without you. Nice work, Kimosabe!

Comment by ebogjonson -- December 3, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

The preceding context:

In the inciting posting, blogger Maha waded into the ongoing controversy regarding use of the word "whore" to attack a female Republican hack on liberal blog Firedoglake. Maha is down with idea that the post and poster can be rightly accused of sexism, but, nonetheless feels the need to separate her apples and oranges by defending blogger Billmon for recent his use of blackface in a post about Wolf Blitzer. (My comment on this related issue can be found here.)

In response to my comment, Maha abruptly closes down commenting in her thread on the argument that:

I really don't want to open up the "blackface" wars again, so I am closing comments before I get slammed with more commenters calling me a racist.

I appreciate that the blackface imagery is extremely painful, which is why I have never used it myself. However, blackface imagery speaks as much, if not more, about white racism than black oppression. For most of the 200 years or so blackface was part of popular culture, only white men wore blackface. It was only a relative short time in the late 19th and early 20th century that black performers wore it, also. It should be viewed with more shame by whites than by African Americans, who don't have anything to feel ashamed about in this case.

And I still say the intention of Billmon's post had nothing to do with racism, and if you can't see that then it went over your head. I'm sorry if you take that as condescension, but it's a fact.

Comment by maha -- December 3, 2006 @ 5:02 pm


As an intervention into the Mahablog discussion, this comment could be rightly rated as inconclusive to unsuccessful, as the comment had no impact on the attitude or tone of the poster. While there was certainly some excitement to had in Maha's decision to turn off commenting (!), her final insistence that the problem here is a lack of intelligence on the part of her colored readers is a classic racialized assumption, echoing greats of the genre from the Bell Curve to "What do you call a black guy with a ph.d?"

Her middle argument that whites, in effect, "own" blackface given their extensive use of it is a doozy, as is the non-dichotomy between "white racism" and "black oppression." All the same, these notions might be useful to explore via photoshop and regarding other racial outrages, such (to take a word introduced in this mix by Maha's post) the lynch mob. It strikes me that if, for example, you sever the racism of the lyncher from the oppression of the lynchee, you mostly end up privileging the subjectivity of the killer over the killed - i.e, the white over the black. But maybe Maha had some other effect in mind?

While no one in any way shape or form called Maha a racist (I admit to calling her "typical" and "Kimosabe," but both fall under the rubric of legitimate snark IMHO) her knee-jerk reaction is that she has to act "before I get slammed with more commenters calling me a racist." This indicates some confusion about how guilt, intent and action operate in discussions of racism, and this confusion is fairly global in her thinking, extending back to her reading of the initial Billmon incident: "I still say the intention of Billmon's post had nothing to do with racism." Sure, I guess, but it seems fairly straightforward to suggest (as we did way back when) that Billmon's intent might be distinct from the racial dynamic engendered, unleashed by or at play in his decision to pull out the cork. That Maha confuses all these points in the process of (rightly) attacking a male blogger for the sexism of their purported "non-sexist" use of sexist imagery, is, as they, icing on the cake.

Posted by ebogjonson at 6:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)