you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go."
~ Mary Oliver
Most of my writing is on race and gender inequality. I invariably get random comments from the public on my blogs saying that I'm racist for writing about racism or sexist for writing about gender inequality. I'm also treated to a host of expletives or pseudo intellectual insults. Once a man who wrote me a long essay saying that evolution shows women have smaller intellectual capacity than men so my arguments were invalid. That was in response to a post I wrote about the gender symbolism of the Sistine Chapel (http://buff.ly/1dHQ2MJ). Most recently someone called me a racist idiot for an old post I wrote about the social construction of race in anime cartoons (http://buff.ly/1dHQ2MK).
I never allow hate speech on my blogs, so I don't allow these tirades to be printed on my social media. But trust me, I report them when I can and they are there for me to see in the back-end of my blogs: long, defensive, angry and gross comments that never engage with the content of what I've written, nor the scientific evidence I present.
Notice that my posts are never about calling individuals racist/sexist. They're not opinion pieces. My posts focus on scientific research of societal processes and social issues. Women sometimes disagree with my posts, which is fine - disagreement is not the same as personal attacks. The vitriolic and belligerent comments saying I'm racist/sexist are, without exception, from men representing White Male Privilege.
White Male Privilege
Both racism and sexism describe discourses and practices that maintain sexist, racist and heterosexist balance of power society. This includes everything from everyday interactions to the social organisation of society. White men's socialisation teaches them to think that their life experiences are the default universal position.
American sociologist Peggy McIntosh describes white male privilege as a "knapsack" or a special bag of benefits that White men can take for granted as they go about their daily lives without harassment, fear, stigma or discrimination (free PDF http://goo.gl/UjVti9). This includes:
*Being able to hang out with people of the same race and gender in all social contexts, including while at work.
*Having access to affordable housing in a neighbourhood where neighbours will be "neutral or pleasant."
*Being able to shop and travel in public places without being followed.
*Finding people from the same race in the news and media in a range of roles, and not just tainted with criminal overtones.
*Dressing and behaving however one pleases without these choices being seen as a reflection of one's racial and gender group.
*Speaking to people in authority positions (such as police, teachers and employers) who are of the same race and gender.
(See also my Tumblr for more discussion and references http://goo.gl/lKXliX).
White male privilege is not negated by the personal hardships that individual White men face. Everyone has personal problems. Individual men often baulk at this idea. They don't see that they have any special benefits. Subjective views on inequality do not negate that society is structured in a way that benefits some groups over others. Some men get angry thinking that this concept says all men are evil or that they are sexist or racist. Again, this is not about how you see yourself as a person; it is about the social processes that support inequality. White male privilege ensures that the taken for granted benefits of gender and race don't result in wider discrimination.
Consequences of Racism and Sexism on Public Science
Racism and sexism describe systems of institutional oppression. These concepts refer to the inequity and life chances that stem from racial and gender relations. These are not insults to be flung at someone who is analysing social inequality. For example, using racism as an insult takes an individual perspective on institutional oppression. It turns racism into the property of individuals that may be subjectively defended ("I don't think this is racist!"). It therefore denies the social processes that support discrimination at work, school, the criminal justice system, in public spaces and in private life.
The decision to publish about racism, sexism and other forms of social injustice may not be surprising given I'm a sociologist. I have researched and published on these issues (you can read my work on my personal site: http://goo.gl/YkJUPw). I have taught these subjects at university. I have also conducted research on these matters for social policy when I worked in public service. Yet most of this work was for "internal" audiences, in the case of academia, and for semi-public Government audiences. Both of these lines of work are largely closed off to the public due to access. Until I increased my social media, my academic papers were sitting behind a paywall or delivered at academic conferences. A couple examples of my Government work are published but most are reports and workshops that were delivered to clients and stakeholders.
Publishing on these issues for public audiences, via my blogs and social media, has come at a price. I am expected to put up with public abuse.
The Personal Costs of Harassment
I identify as a woman of colour, and more specifically as a migrant-Australian and Latin-Australian woman. The abuse I face publishing about these issues for public audiences carries an additional personal weight, as this abuse echoes the discrimination I have faced throughout my life. Racism and sexism happens in academia and in public service, but it is not expected, condoned or thought of as just "part of the job." The law is explicit: I shouldn't go to work expecting abuse.
Just as it's unacceptable to allow racism, sexism and other hate speech for any public or private interaction, it is not okay to normalise this discrimination as part of blogging, social media and other public science outreach.
While in the past I deliberated leaving abusive comments on my blogs to show the belligerence of those people, I reflected on the impact of engaging with this abuse. Not only does it come at a personal cost to me, it only incites the abuser to continue thinking it's okay to keep hurling insults. They aren't there to engage with my arguments by reflecting on the research I present. They are there to hurt me and to try to silence me into not speaking out on these issues. They bank on other high profile cases of women who have been abused (e.g. Anita Sarkeesian http://goo.gl/W9Eww0) or otherwise bullied out of public engagement.
Ultimately, I don't allow these posts because these people want to use me to amplify their social privilege. My writing angers them because they don't like having their social position questioned. The very fact that sociology threatens their privilege shows that sociology and other social sciences are important to undoing White male privilege.
Keeping this sociology behind closed doors of academia is a disservice. I've tried to encourage sociologists to join me on social media but they say they are scared of having to face abuse. It's certainly not pleasant. But writing about sociology for public consumption helps to break down the normalcy of sexism and racism. Talking about how to better manage this abuse is important. Abuse has real consequences. For me, I've had to manage how I feel about reading comments that remind me of the abuse and social exclusion I've faced my entire life.
In other cases, the threat is more immediate. In a recent example, Dr V, a transgender woman inventor was outed by a journalist and she committed suicide as a result (my tweets on this with recommended reading http://goo.gl/Lhn01C). In another example, Dr Isis, an anonymous science blogger, was outed by Henry Gee, a senior male publisher on the high-profile Nature magazine. Isis writes:
I have undoubtedly been vocal over the last four years of the fact that I believe Nature, the flagship of our profession, does not have a strong track record of treating women fairly. I believe that Henry Gee, a representative of the journal, is responsible for some of that culture. That’s not “vitriolic” and it’s not “bullying”. That is me saying, as a woman, that there is something wrong with how this journal and its editors engage 50% of the population (or 20% of scientists) and I believe in my right to say “this is not ‘ok’.” Henry Gee responded by skywriting my real name because he believed that would hurt me personally – my career, my safety, my family. (http://goo.gl/E5UjbC; my emphasis).
The connection I see between these cases is about gender violence: if you threaten or deny the requests of privileged men, they will use social media to destroy your personal life. There are therefore major issues of privacy and safety for women on social media, a point I made on Twitter (http://goo.gl/Ewbz6d).
The idea that we should refrain from doing public science because of the threat of abuse is a public problem that requires collective action.
I hope that more sociologists will join the public sociology effort. We have voluminous papers on how to do public sociology and not enough of us doing it. The abuse is something we can collective address and support one another on. The questions we should collaborate on include:
*How can we help increase women scientists' safety online?
*How can we pool together our efforts?
*How can our discipline better support us?
*How can we contribute to cross-disciplinary action?
If you have ideas on these questions or other thoughts, please share these below!
[Text on image] "White privilege: We'll decide what's racist and what's not racist. We're the deciders of everything." Image via: http://buff.ly/1dHQ2MN
#sociology #socialscience #whitemaleprivilege #whiteprivilege #socialmedia #science #racism #sexism #feminism
- Friends of The QueensWayExecutive Steering Committee, 2011 - present
- SustyQArtivist, 2012 - present
Anandi A. Premlall, grassroots artivist and entrepreneur, inspired by Gandhi's words, is committed to creating social impact through compassion and creativity.
Anandi immigrated from Guyana and didn't hesitate to make a name for herself when her first poem was published at age 8 and her socially-conscious art was showcased in New York City venues including the Queens Museum and the United Nations by age 9. Her lifelong academic excellence led to a remarkable Presidency in The Golden Key International Honour Society, where she led the Hunter College Chapter from a zero standing to Bronze in 3 months and then straight to Gold over the next 2 months. As Managing Editor, as well as contributing artist and writer of Hunter's premiere Literary & Arts Journal, Anandi orchestrated the first themed and full-color publication in the history of The Olivetree Review. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in Writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art and graduated Cum Laude.
Impressed with her simple yet effective methods of healing her home, Green America interviewed Ms. Premlall for their National Green Pages. On Earth Day's 40th Anniversary, World of Good & eBay honored Anandi’s prowess for healing the planet with an Eco-SuperHero award. With the utmost grace, Anandi simultaneously served as Event Producer, Volunteer Manager, Social Media Manager and Managing Editor of Lessons Learned at Earth Day New York. Her selfless attitude is visible in earth-conscious actions and community-based art with New York Cares and GROW Richmond Hill. Her determination for transforming an abandoned Long Island Rail Road in South Queens into the Queens (High) Line, led her on a journey to seek those who share the dream; Ms. Premlall is now part of the Steering Committee for Friends of the QueensWay.
Ms. Premlall is a passionate and exemplary model who walks the talk while bringing a rare combination of aesthetics and management skills to any project she touches.