On Lorna the Jungle Girl and the dark-skinned natives: a reluctant challenge to Amanda Marcotte: UPDATED

UPDATED: Both Amanda and Seal Press have issued clear and heartfelt apologies for the images that appeared in It’s a Jungle Out There. The images will not appear in the second edition of the book. I honor the swift and unequivocal response from both Amanda and her publisher, and in light of this necessary and rapid apology, give the book my continued and wholehearted endorsement. I appreciate in particular that Amanda and Seal both take full responsibility for the very unfortunate decision to allow these images into the book, and am particularly heartened that the publishers acknowledge that Amanda herself was in no way involved in the editorial choice to place these comics in the text.

UPDATE TWO: I was wrong. Again. The endorsement of the text stands, but as long as the words on the page are presented next to racist images, I cannot recommend buying or using this book. I enthusiastically support a new edition of the book. Though the apology by Amanda was eloquent, concise, and sincere, it is only a first step to action. And the immediate action that must be taken, and is being taken, is the production of a new edition without these images. In whatever way my endorsement counts, please understand that it is only for that new edition. I do not suggest buying currently available copies from Amazon or another source until that second printing becomes available.

The original post remains:

I’ve got Lucy Kaplansky playing on my Itunes. She’s one of the artists I play when I need calming down.

This is a hard post to write. I’ve been in the forefront of those defending Amanda Marcotte against charges of appropriation and racial insensitivity. One month ago today, I wrote an enthusiastic review of her new book It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. I stand by the content of the review, which was based entirely on the words contained within the short, readable, accessible and often captivating text. But what I didn’t review, or even analyze in private, were the illustrations from the book.

It’s a Jungle Out There chooses, not surprisingly, a jungle theme for its imagery. Using pictures from the Marvel Comic series “Lorna the Jungle Girl”, the front cover is complemented by perhaps ten illustrations inside the book. Some of them are reproduced here. Marcotte’s theme is that feminists face a misogynist jungle; her blonde Lorna seems — and I say seems, because I don’t know what Amanda’s exact intent was — to be doing battle against those forces. On the cover, Lorna is about to spear a crocodile. But inside, Lorna does battle with dark-skinned natives. In the worst of these, Lorna delivers a mighty kick to a man with black skin and a traditional mask; she does so to rescue an apparently captive white man. Read Ilyka’s post for more.

When this discussion first came up yesterday at Feministe, my first response was to say that the images were surely intended ironically. But upon reflection, and after reading the many responses in that thread, I reconsidered. I don’t question Amanda’s intentions, or those of Seal Press. I don’t for one second believe that Amanda that anyone involved with producing the book made a consciously racist decision. But racism has damn all to do with intention, and a great deal more to do with perception. And it’s hard, very hard, to see these images as anything other than horribly racist. Given the desire to have this book appeal to the widest possible audience, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the potential interpretation of these comic drawings wasn’t taken into account.

Why didn’t I see these images the first time? I’d like to say it was because I didn’t pay any attention to the comics at all, but that wouldn’t be quite fair. When I got the book in the mail, I winced at the cover image of Lorna spearing the crocodile; my vegan heart recoiled at an act of violence… against a reptile. I “didn’t see” the violence directed at the dark-skinned “jungle natives”, and for someone who does what I do for a living (teach gender studies and cultural analysis at a community college that is 80% non-white), that’s an unacceptable level of blindness. I was wrong not to comment on that from the beginning.

I’m frustrated because I believe in this book. I’ve already bought a half-dozen copies as gifts. I think the content of the book is terrific. Amanda has done so much that is good and right in the blogosphere, and in all honesty, I remain convinced she has been hard done by in the last few weeks in the intensely emotional discussion about appropriation. She is a writer of formidable gifts. Her willingness to mentor other bloggers is legendary; she has brought countless readers and writers into the fold of the feminist blogosphere. I admire her immensely. But admiration does not buy immunity from criticism.

In a post on Pandagon, or on the Seal Press website, some public explanation of these images ought to come from Amanda, her publishers — or, better still, both. The questions are simple: “What were you thinking?” “Was there any consideration of how these might be interpreted?” I am confident that the intent was not racist. But even to my white eyes, the impact on a second and third look is unmistakable. Frankly, the choice to include them is bizarre. The chance that they would be interpreted as bigoted should have seemed obvious. It’s one thing to use blonde Lorna ironically; one thing to portray her as a rescuer of a defenseless white man. But there’s just no way that a white author can illustrate a book with images of a blonde woman in a jungle beating up dark-skinned natives and not have those images come across as indefensibly racist. Someone ought to have had a rethink. I’m very frustrated and sad they didn’t.

I’ve been one of Amanda’s most vociferous defenders on the subject of plagiarism and attribution. I remain her ardent admirer, and I remain enthusiastic about the written content of It’s a Jungle Out There. I’ve been an equally passionate defender of Seal Press, and reject calls for a girlcott of one of the most important of feminist-centered publishing houses. But… but. I cannot endorse or defend what I see within the pages of the book.

I’ve heard that the first run of the book has already sold out, which is still wonderful news. It creates an opportunity for a new edition, with new images throughout. But I can no longer recommend the book with the same enthusiasm I have previously. Indeed, my continued endorsement of the book is on hold until I read a thoughtful, satisfactory explanation of the decision to use these pictures (particularly those reproduced at the link above). Please, Amanda, as your admirer and your friend, think carefully about how to answer the racism charge here. I want desperately to support you and your vital, important, even essential work. But it’s not just your usual critics who are troubled now. This needs addressing, and it needs addressing now.

Note: This thread is not a “bash Amanda” zone. Stay on the topic of the images themselves, please.

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85 thoughts on “On Lorna the Jungle Girl and the dark-skinned natives: a reluctant challenge to Amanda Marcotte: UPDATED

  1. I’m not a great frequenter of Pandagon but I have noticed that folks who post there seem to find pictures that convey old time stereotypes screamingly funny, as you can see, for instance, here. This isn’t a defense, just an explanation.

  2. I agree, Lester. And if they had been accompanied by an explanation, that would be great — but they weren’t. Which is why I’m calling for an explanation, not a girlcott. Without an explicit context, the images are going to be perceived as racist. That’s the problem.

  3. This whole series of episodes is like some purposeful farce in how not to solve problems. Look, there is one comment and it’s already a contentless attack. Do you seriously think Seal Press or Amanda is going to feel comfortable explaining themselves here where 100 people are going to instantly pile on?

    Why not send an email? Or even pick up the phone? Making every point in public in melodramatic posts is not helping. I understand what you are trying to do but calling people out publicly is showmanship for the crowd.

    Did you post this because you actually wanted to communicate with Amanda, or did you post it because you wanted to salvage your own reputation and prove to everyone that you’re down with their concerns?

    You’re a smart guy. You tell me you honestly believe this is going to result in a productive discussion with Amanda and Seal Press rather than even more wagon circling and bad blood.

    If you are truly her friend and want her to address your concerns instead of demanding that she defend herself in the public square with everyone jeering put down the keyboard and pick up the phone. First you demanded that everyone renounce what they said about Amanda, now you’re demanding that she attend your little King’s Court and submit to your judgement. Stop making it about yourself. What you think about these photos, what you think about Amanda and Seal Press, what you are demanding this time, who has to now explain themselves to you.

    This is not a good faith attempt to talk to your “friend.” Friends talk before calling each other out on blogs.

  4. And Hugo you said before you’d watch your verbiage. You’re “calling for an explanation”? “This needs addressing, and it needs addressing now.”? You are demanding when you should be asking. You’re in no position to call for or demand anything, and most normal people don’t respond well to demands, especially not ones made in public.

    But seriously. Send an email? Airing everything in public is a constant problem in these blowups and the bad blood is never going to go away. I don’t know how well you know Amanda but I know her well enough to know (just from reading her) that the more you do things like this the less likely she is to admit error. Intentional or not you are making it impossible for her to say “ok I was wrong.”

  5. you are making it impossible for her to say “ok I was wrong.” Oh, I disagree, and think you are wildly underestimating Amanda and Seal Press. I think that this was poor editorial judgment,and I think it deserves an explanation, not because I’m entitled to it, but because her work and that of Seal is so vital that it ought not be damaged by something like this. And these images are really upsetting to a lot of people, and justifiably so. I’m not asking for the book to be pulled off the shelf, and I am not calling for a boycott. Just an explanation.

    I think I’ve demonstrated my willingness to take a lot of heat in defense of Amanda when I think she’s in the right. Here, I think something unfortunate has happened that needs a public explanation. And I trust that will come, the sooner the better.

  6. You’ve done it before and had it done to you, therefore it’s ok? I’ve been punched in the face and punched other people in the face…not sure where we’re going with this. (Face punching all around!)

    Did you get a response? Did you give her time to cool off and respond? Did you allow for the fact that she’s travelling? Did you take the next step and pick up the phone? Unravelling this mess is going to take weeks, not hours.

    This blogstorm approach just ain’t workin’.

    Can you articulate exactly what you are accomplishing here, other than saving face?

  7. Frankly, I’m glad Hugo posted. Amanda’s book has been on my to-read list, and if I hadn’t read Hugo’s post, it’s likely my first encounter with this issue would have been a) reading the book, with no warning and no context about these images, or b) in a defensive post after another controversy had exploded, which is not the best way to get to the truth of any matter!

    In any case, I’m sensitive about the suggestion that in the case of racism — even unintended racism — thoughtful people don’t have the right to call for conversation and explanation. If white people don’t have the right to call other white people to task for doing or saying racist things, intentional or otherwise, where does that leave us as a race? It seems to leave us either wallowing in racism without being able to correct ourselves or demanding that non-whites do the hard work of pointing out our sins (and often getting an earful for having the temerity to suggest we’re flawed).

    Thanks for the post, Hugo. I’m sure Amanda will engage with the issue appropriately — I’m a huge fan of hers as well. And I look forward to a revised edition I can read and hopefully recommend to folks. The last thing we need is to have conversations that improve the overall discourse of American feminism shut down.

  8. *Smiles — “ironically” — as Professor Hugo struggles and strains to give Seal and AMauthor X yet another pass*

    As far as the Press goes, anyone laboring under the delusions that Seal has any sensitivity to the nuances of racial issues might enjoy visiting
    here (see particularlyprofbw’s note #3)

    here

    and

    here.

    And AMauthor X, well

    Staggering Ignorance? Certainly plausible.

    (“Semiotics is ha-aa-ard!”)

    Gasping Innocence? (With a side of White Woman Vapors to go?)
    Not so much.

    I’m thinking about planning tea with my friends Boy and Cott.

    Have to check all our calendars though … everyone’s so busy this time of year.

    Especially all the university professors.

    And the press.

  9. Are we even talking about the same Amanda? She’s stubborn and defensive. That’s part of the complaint against her and if it wasn’t clear before it should have become crystal clear in the last few weeks.

    You are still talking in that voice that puts you, Hugo Schwyzer, at the center of the universe and makes you the ultimate arbiter on every issue.

    I hate this phrase but I think it fits here: it’s not about you.

    It’s not about what you demand, or what willingness you’ve demonstrated, or what you trust will come the sooner the better. Your post, which is ostensibly about Amanda and Seal Press and racist images, is really about Hugo Hugo Hugo. It’s about Hugo’s view from Mount Olympus. It’s like you’re keeping some sort of scorecard where you defended Amanda before, so now she owes it to you to objey your summons, just to keep the ledger even.

    You’re doing the same thing you were doing when people got annoyed at you for demanding their apology. Seriously read over what you wrote and your comments here, it’s the exact same voice you said you’d get away from.

  10. I’ll think about that Margalis. I don’t see it that way, but you may be right.

    Jeepers, this is the sort of thing that makes me think BFP had a point in taking a break.

  11. I would never say that people don’t have the right to call others to task. But. This. Approach. Is. Not. Working. You had to know that the “bash Amanda zone” wasn’t going to last. (And now it’s the “bash Hugo zone” as well…)

    At this point if you stop posting for a while, email Amanda a couple more times, and take a little break from the keyboard what does it hurt? People talking only over blog comments (or not at all) is a very poor way to resolve anything.

    What frustrates me so much about this is that I used to do some conflict resolution stuff and they key is to sit the parties down and listen to them minus all the sturm and drang.

    I’d love to hear Amanda say “it was a dumb fucking call to use those images – no excuses.” But in order to do that she has to have a comfortable space and not be on the defensive against what she sees as an angry mob. It’s hard for people to admit error, especially when they are already on the defensive; that’s human nature and we should allow for that and act accordingly no?

  12. But it’s not just your usual critics who are troubled now. This needs addressing, and it needs addressing now.

    Because if it were her “usual critics,” it wouldn’t need addressing? Is this only a serious problem because you’re troubled?

    Hasn’t a big part of the problem all along been that Amanda hasn’t been able to give credence to any criticism that she didn’t immediately see the merit of? Hasn’t a bit part of the problem been that she was unable to see beyond the categories of critics and defenders? Hasn’t a bit part of the problem been her refusal to try to see things the way others saw them?

    You’re still reinforcing all of that, Hugo. You’re still saying that a criticism is only worth engaging with if it’s one whose merits are obvious to you. You’re still setting yourself up as the arbiter of what needs addressing.

    The illustrations are flabbergasting. Yes. But a lot of us have found a lot of other stuff flabbergasting too. Doesn’t the fact that you couldn’t see the illustrations for what they were lead you to consider rethinking any of the other judgments you’ve made about the various other things we’ve been flabbergasted by?

  13. I’d love to hear Amanda say “it was a dumb fucking call to use those images – no excuses.” But in order to do that she has to have a comfortable space and not be on the defensive against what she sees as an angry mob. It’s hard for people to admit error, especially when they are already on the defensive; that’s human nature and we should allow for that and act accordingly no?

    So the whole internet is supposed to be sensitive to Amanda’s feelings in this issue? That is really not how the world works. I like her writing a lot, but if she’s going to put herself in the public eye by being a published author, she might have to learn to deal with public criticism of your work in a way that doesn’t alienate people. (Especially when like, her book is full of racist cartoons — especially given the way the whole cover controversy went down, I don’t understand how that looked like a good idea.) I’m sure it sucks for her because this is her first book coming out, and this should be a big exciting time for her, and she’s under fire from all corners of the feminist blogosphere like whoa, but her reaction to all this could have been different from the beginning.

    Also, what Brooklynite said.

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  15. I like how Brooklynite said that the problem is people not trying to see things the way others see them, you agree with Brooklynite but then use your post to just bash Amanda some more and bash me for putting myself in her shoes.

    Oh right, Brooklynite didn’t say that the problem was “people” not trying to see things the way others see them, the problem was “Amanda” not doing so.

    We should listen to all criticisms, even if we think they are meritless — as long as we’re Amanda or Hugo. And we should try to understand where other people are coming from — as long as we’re Amanda.

    If we’re anyone else then fuck it!

    Forgive me for not taking that philosophy too seriously. Trying to understand where people are coming from and listening to criticisms has to be a two way street, it can’t just be something the right people preach to the wrong people.

  16. Margalis makes good points, but I’m not sure the alternative he’s suggesting, of resolving these questions by private communications, would be any better. If Amanda does respond well to all of these issues, but does so privately, it does nothing to resolve the very public issues that have been raised about a public effort.

    One of the many complaints that was raised was the lack of public acknowledgement of a lot of existing conflicts. WOC bloggers were directly complaining about silence in regards to their efforts. How does it look for the next storm to be quietly resolved by all the white participants by email, who then respond publicly with a resounding silence? It was the silence of the white radical community that started this series of problems. It also makes the non-WOC participants in the blogstorm look like they’re organizing a united front; certainly not an image they should want to project.

  17. Let me put it a bit differently, in a way that I think is a bit better. These are community issues, not personal issues. They need to be resolved by the community, and that means a lot of public discussion.

    I don’t think Hugo’s making this about himself. I think that any participant in the community has an obligation not to work outside the community to effect change.

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  19. Justin I understand what you are saying, but even in a community setting there are better ways to resolve things than a free-for-all.

    I’m not saying private communication should be the start and end of it, I’m saying a “friend” of Amanda’s like Hugo could talk to her privately, help her see the error of her ways, take down her defensive wall and convince her that she is at least partly in error.

    She’s a stubborn person. Why not soften her up a little in an environment where she’s not going to just turtle up or fight back? Christ buy her a drink, sit down with her and say “look I’m your friend but you are making a mistake here.” Work up to the public mea culpa.

    Honestly it seems like common sense.

  20. What’s with all the “potential interpretation” crap? The message of these images is pretty straightforward — Africans symbolize the patriarchy because they are dangerous, unenlightened, contemptible, and destined to be defeated by our heroine. There’s no other conceivable reading of them, nor any other reason to choose this imagery.

  21. Margalis, when you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s best to stop talking. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know how many people have ALREADY emailed Amanda privately and put on the kid gloves and been patient and shown sensitivity and approached gently and all the rest of it. “Buy her a drink?” It’s BEEN DONE, Margalis, and I don’t know where you got the idea that it hadn’t, but frankly, what business is it of yours?

    I have some problems with this post but, Margalis, you’re blowing out so much hot air–and incidentally, if you are interested in this being less about Hugo, you could contribute to that effort by not blaming Amanda’s missteps on Hugo–that I can’t even think what to say besides “Brooklynite has a point” right now. Also, Maia is right: This isn’t about images being perceived as racist, it’s about racist imagery. Put. A. Period.

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  23. Marc, at comment 208 of the Feministe thread, stated that Amanda had never seen the pictures:
    “She fought to change the cover and won, but the first time she saw the insides was the same time y’all did.”
    He seems to have been mostly ignored.

  24. I was talking to Hugo, not to you.

    I have no interest in talking to you; you’ve proved beyond all doubt that in every blogstorm you’ll be front and center because self-reightous fury and bomb-throwing is what you live for.

    Before I came here I was looking for an old quote of Pinko Punko’s about an entirely separate incident. One guess who put herself at the center of that one as well, even though she had absolutely nothing to do with it. Like clockwork.

    Learn some setting other than 11. Put. A. Period.

    This is the quote I was looking for:

    “There are some things I admit in e-mail that I don’t pronounce all over the place because it might just inflame things- and I have gotten shit from lots of people for not posting all the laundry there is on my bloggo. You know why? Some people view every single argument as going to the mattresses- I don’t support those people 100% even if I agree with them on one thing, because if I disagreed with them on another thing that would burn a bridge. Given that there are a lot of people on the internet like this, sometimes you decide to not take a shit where you generally hang out, maybe when the train has gone so far off the tracks it would be useless to say something. So maybe saying something to you in e-mail privately is a way to start to mend a fence, even if it falls short of some golden ideal of proclaiming it to the world. Does any of that make sense? I say we try to drop the High School Theater Club backstabbing shenanigans, and have some conversations.”

    Not to drag PP into this against his will but I’ll trust his conflict resolution ability over yours Ilyka. Just a tad.

  25. Way to address none of my points and go in for some good old fashioned character assassination instead, Margalis. But I’m the bomb-thrower. Okay. Makes total sense.

    Look: I don’t care if you’re talking to Hugo. Does this look like a private conversation to you? For someone so keen on private conversations you’d think you’d at least acknowledge that a comments thread isn’t one.

    I DO care that you don’t have your facts right. Do you want to talk about that, or do you just want to go archive-diving some more? Because guess what, Margalis? This actually isn’t about me, either.

  26. At the point where Ilyka shows up you’ve passed the threshold into a place where no good can come. Kryptonite for productive discussion.

    Just meditate on that a moment. Breathe deep. That’s some fine irony, isn’t it?

    I tell you people have talked to her in exactly the way you’re urging Hugo to do. You go off on a furious tear about how much I suck. Then you cry that I’m Kryptonite to productive discussion. Again: Makes total sense.

    But to be honest, I think the real underlying problem is that your idea of “good” is, Amanda’s feelings are taken care of and then, if possible, if it won’t be too painful for her, this gets resolved. Whereas my idea of “good” is:

    * We don’t have these horrible hash-outs anymore (or at least we have them a whole lot less frequently than we have been), because
    * We don’t have these egregious WTF were they thinking? moments anymore, because
    * People finally get that sexism is sexist, racism is racist, ableism is ableist, and so on, and that these things are not consistent with progressivism. And as a result,
    * People I call friends stop getting hurt by them.

    It isn’t self-righteousness driving me, Margalis. I have many moments of stupid. MANY.

    I say something because it isn’t fair to leave the saying of something, and the inevitable ration of shit one gets for saying it (and thanks for that; it really opened up new avenues for productive discussion!), up to one party all the time. It’s not fair to always expect people of color to explain why something’s racist or to always expect transpeople to explain why something’s transphobic or to always expect feminists to explain why something’s misogynistic and so on. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t being a good friend if I leave it up to my friends to shoulder the burden “because it’s really not my problem” or “it doesn’t apply to me” or “I’m more worried about this other person over here who has more in common with me.”

    If it enrages you that I try to be a good friends to people besides Amanda, then I’m sorry, but that’s your problem. Don’t dump it in my backyard by labeling ME the roadblock to productive discussion.

  27. I like how Brooklynite said that the problem is people not trying to see things the way others see them, you agree with Brooklynite but then use your post to just bash Amanda some more and bash me for putting myself in her shoes.

    Oh right, Brooklynite didn’t say that the problem was “people” not trying to see things the way others see them, the problem was “Amanda” not doing so.

    We should listen to all criticisms, even if we think they are meritless — as long as we’re Amanda or Hugo. And we should try to understand where other people are coming from — as long as we’re Amanda.

    When did I “bash” Amanada? The part where I said I liked her writing? Or the part where I said how tough this must be for her at this particular time in her life? The part where I questioned an editorial decision made by some people at her publisher?

    I’m sorry you took my disagreement with you to be bahsing you and I’m not sure where I implied that Amanda should a) lsiten to all criticism or b) only Amanda should listen to criticism.

    Basically, Amanda has a lot of power and visibility relative to your normal person. I realize it’s the feminist blogosphere so we’re talking big fish in a small pond, but still, that power comes with the possibility that people will criticize you. Some of them will be wrong; some of them will be right. Ultimately, Amanda is responsible for her choices in what she chooses to respond to and how.

    I don’t know that everything that has been said about Amanada in the past few weeks has merit, but I have seen her behave pretty rudely (and I know she had her defenses up, but she has been rude and I am disappointed because I expected better from someone I looked up to) and also: racist pictures! I don’t know who made the decision, but those pictures, they are racist.

    PS What I read Brooklynite as saying was that Hugo was coming off as priveleging his criticism over other people’s and implying that it had more merit somehow, because of his Hugoness (and presumably loyalty to Amanda throughout this whole thing).

  28. Wow, Margalis. I’m not trying to de-rail what’s being discussed here about Amanda, but I’ve gotta say that coming into the public comment section of a post to (I thought rightly) take the author to task for seeming to make something about himself and the priority of his reaction, and then turning around and prioritizing yourself seems counter-intuitive.

    As Ilyka pointed out, this is a public space. If you disagree with her, you disagree with her. But to make cruel assessments of her and then declare that you’re leaving reads to me like saying “I’m done with this conversation.” Which is a power move that infuriates me. Because it keeps your desires at the center of the conversation and entirely disregards anyone else who dares to have a say.

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  30. One question, Margalis.

    Why does Amanda get the right to a private, sensitive, “helpful” little chat?

    Because it’s her career, and it’s IMPORTANT? Because it makes her look bad to the IMPORTANT people out there? Interesting take.

    (Yes, we all have to eat. But come ON).

    I’m betting that she’s been addressed privately, discreetly, with great concern and sensitivity by her friends.

    But the people who are saying they’ve been hurt, and have said it repeatedly, long before this–why are they unworthy of being heard? Why is it ALL just envy or stupidity or a misunderstanding or people looking for things to be upset about?

    Funny, I’ve heard something similar not too long ago, what was that again? Oh, yes. Every time some guy tells me I’m too sensitive about being treated like I don’t know my own mind, or too close to it to be objective, etc.

    And, Hugo, what is up with the “It was one thing when it was just those bad jealous people picking at you for *perceived slights*, but now it’s ME talking and you’d better explain yourself, Missy” tone of your post?

    Either this stuff matters, whether it affects us personally or not, or it doesn’t. Either people know their own experience and know what they’re talking about when they say something hurts them, or not. Which is it?

    Anyway, I’m not trying to pick at Amanda for the joy of it, I like her writing in general. It would be nice to see some acknowledgment of what OTHER WOMEN are saying to her, though.

  31. You are still talking in that voice that puts you, Hugo Schwyzer, at the center of the universe and makes you the ultimate arbiter on every issue.–Margalis

    I disagree. I think it’s you, Margalis, who is trying to make this all about Hugo. Hugo isn’t the only person calling Amanda out on this, and your call to ‘keep it private’ seems (to me) to show an ignorance of how blogs work (and how, to some extent now, because of blogging, how books work). Also, calling for an explanation isn’t pretending one is the ultimate arbiter–it’s calling for an explanation because one (Hugo, in this case) thinks we are all owed an explanation. Sheesh.

    You might take your own advice, if you’re so sure about it, and just email Hugo about your concerns, because some of us are tired of reading about them here.

  32. I certainly didn’t want to give the impression that Amanda or Seal Press owed me an explanation personally. I framed this post as I did to point out that some of those who are most devoted to Amanda, and have generally taken her “side” in the recent intense appropriation discussion, are also stunned and confused by the images in the book. In other words, the complaints about the images are not inextricably linked, at least for all of us, with a larger narrative about Amanda.

    I realize that this came across as “Well, now even a white male professor has become peeved, so now a response is REALLY required,” That’s my fault.

  33. I realize that this came across as “Well, now even a white male professor has become peeved, so now a response is REALLY required,” That’s my fault.

    Not to pile on Hugo, but I happen to be a white male professor too, and I’ve been peeved for a while.

    The implication that it’s just WOC who are troubled has been a really pernicious element of this ongoing series of arguments. I know you didn’t mean to reinforce that with this latest comment, but you sort of did.

    Again. There’s no single “larger narrative about Amanda” operating here. Never has been. A wide variety of people have been bothered about a wide variety of things for a wide variety of reasons and from a wide variety of perspectives. Amanda has not been well served by the notion that her critics, or their criticisms, have been homogenous — it’s a false premise, and it feeds other false premises.

  34. I winced at the cover image of Lorna spearing the crocodile; my vegan heart recoiled at an act of violence… against a reptile. I “didn’t see” the violence directed at the dark-skinned “jungle natives”

    Do you think maybe if you had spent time analyzing the images from a pro-animal context and writing about them that you might have noticed the racist implications? Do you think that your reaction to ‘wince’ and move on without critical analysis – because violence against animals is so common and therefor the animal person’s reaction is sometimes to try to ignore it – might have helped blind you to other parts of the image?

    What I mean is that we notice the things that our primary lens show us, but sometimes when it’s something like violence against animals, because it’s SOOOO common and SOOOO acceptable that even those of us with lenses to see that and critical analyze it, if we choose NOT to critically analyze it, that willful ignorance widens and becomes willful ignorance of other oppressions.

  35. Hugo, I appreciate that you wrote this post, though I wish your challenge wasn’t “reluctant.” In my opinion, truly respecting someone means taking her seriously — which means that one takes it seriously when she’s made a mistake, and mounts a serious challenge when one feels she’s in the wrong. There’s no conflict, in my mind, between respecting someone and being her friend, and vehemently criticizing her when such criticism is warranted, as it undoubtedly is here. Giving her a pass when she screws up is, ultimately, patronizing and not useful; it feels like being a good friend, but it’s not, unless being a good friend means never asking someone to learn or grow.

  36. Hugo
    When are you going to amend your review of the Marcotte book on Amazon?
    Trying to keep you honest….

  37. I’m not going to amend my review, as I mentioned nothing about the images in there — and the new edition of the book will have no images. In this post, I took issue with the images, and am delighted that Seal and Amanda have recognized how offensive the editorial choice to include them in an otherwise outstanding text was.

  38. Wrong answer dude.

    Honestly even I think that’s the wrong answer. At least amend the post to say “wait for the second edition, it will be published without some offensive imagery.”

    Anyway you’ve stepped in it now.

  39. Those who want to wait can wait. Since the content of the book will be unchanged in the second printing, I see no reason to modify my laudatory review.

    Margalis, you said yesterday that Amanda was too “stubborn” and “defensive” to respond to a heartfelt call for an apology. Her apology today has been complete, without caveats or excuses. It doesn’t excuse what happened, but it admirably demonstrates the bona fides that many of us have always associated with her.

  40. Schwyzer

    That response was really the height of sleaze and dishonesty.

    You shouldn’t be allowed to teach kids.

  41. “Hugo” or “Mr. Schwyzer”, please, Kali; “Schwyzer” without a modifier, followed by an insult, reminds me of my junior high school P.E. teachers. And though there are many things I miss about the late ’70s, Coach Zury’s harsh voice is not one of them.

  42. Margalis, you said yesterday that Amanda was too “stubborn” and “defensive” to respond to a heartfelt call for an apology. Her apology today has been complete, without caveats or excuses.

    You were right, I was wrong, and I’m glad it worked out that way. That was surprisingly easy to say.

    Anyway no need to worry about the bona fides. My only point was that people are people – not a unique character flaw by any means.

    It takes a lot of guts to apologize; it’s an act of submission, especially when you know some people are going to lord it over you. Give credit where credit is due.

    Maybe some other people will follow suit. I’ll repeat what I said on Pandagon, it was bad form of me to slag Ilyka last night and I’m sorry I did it.

  43. Hugo,

    Just so you know, you’re doing that whole lecture-from-on-high thing again.

    And Kali is right. Not changing your review is really shameful. Right now the book Amanda is promoting, and the book Amazon is selling, and the book that is currently out there, is full of racist imagery. Your glowing review completely ignores that fact.

    But really, anyone looking on the Amazon page now and seeing your bright and positive review next to all the claims of racism is just going to have to pause to wonder, “Did this Hugo guy just not notice the racism? Or just not care? Cause why didn’t he mention it at all? Racism must be okay by him.”

    And you know what? Given the fact that *that is what your review currently supports*, they would be right.

  44. De nada, Margalis. Tempers flare sometimes, and heaven knows I have a highly sparkable one myself. With that reputation preceding me, I can’t act too surprised when someone reacts to me with “oh shit, her again.”

    Thanks for saying, though. I appreciate it.

  45. Margalis wrote:

    She’s a stubborn person. Why not soften her up a little in an environment where she’s not going to just turtle up or fight back?

    I can’t pretend to understand, from the inside, what colonialist images mean to people of colour. As a person generally identified as “white”, my ancestors experienced a very different history from theirs. But I do know, from a study of that history, that colonialism meant slavery, dispossession, betrayal, abuse, mass death, and genocide to millions of people. Images of a “white” heroine taming the “savages”, refer to an ugly history, and the uglier attitudes behind it. Using them in Amanda Marcotte’s defines her audience as people who can look at the history behind them with satisfaction or detachment, which excludes many of the descendants of the people abused by the counterparts of our colonialist heroine.

    Given the power of these images to hurt and to divide, I do not believe we have the luxury of deciding whom to blame for their getting into Amanda’s book, still less to wait on what you suggest Amanda’s own ego requires. I believe we have an obligation to disown the ugly and exclusionary message these images carry. I think Hugo has at least begun to do that, and I congratulate him for it.

    I agree that this has more to do with the system than any one person. Someone chose those images; I hope someone other than Amanda decided they belonged in her book. But whether Amanda or someone else made the choice, we now need to disavow it and to attempt to heal the damage it has caused. The word racism does not describe acts of individual malice, but a system of privilege carried on by a mixture of malice, self-interest, ignorance, and wilful blindness. If these Amanda’s publishers printed these images out of ignorance, that required education. If the choice they made involved malice or wilful blindness, that requires censure. Either way, regardless of the personalities involved, these images require a response.

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  47. Funny that you addressed ‘dearwhitefeminists’ about changing your review, while you never acknowledge that I called you out on it. More proof of the the ‘I only listen when a white person speaks”.

    So Shwyzer – more sleaze and dishonesty, eh?

  48. Nothing funny about it, Kali.

    One person criticized his decision. The other person criticized, explained their criticism, and speculated about what the consequences might be if things weren’t amended.

    While there is room to infer what Hugo’s motives might be in this case, raw bigotry doesn’t seem like the obvious explanation.

  49. Kali asks `When are you going to amend your review of the Marcotte book on Amazon?’ She addresses you as `Hugo’ and even explains the comment by saying she (I assume) is `Trying to keep you honest’. There’s nothing contemptuous about that, nor any comments about your teaching. Just a question.

    You respond, saying that you won’t amend the review, with the weak (IMO) excuse that you didn’t say anything about the images.

    Kali reacts with some personal insults. Not the most productive response, I’ll agree, but she (I assume) is justifiably annoyed at your lack of serious response to her point.

    Let me emphasise the point: Kali’s charitable suggestion, and your rejection of it, came before any contempuous language or comment about your teaching on her part.

    Mere hours later, dearwhitefeminists steps in and pretty much just agrees with Kali. You immediately agree to change your review.

    Whatever the cause of the difference in your reaction to their initial comments, it’s not Kali’s language.

  50. If you read my other post from Friday night, you’ll see that the timing had a lot to do with Jill’s post. I also read Dearwhitefeminists blog (Kali has no blog), and that had an impact as well. It wasn’t DWF’s comment that moved me, but Jill’s post primarily and the DWF blog secondarily Yes, this is still me reacting to white people.

    I changed my mind half-a-dozen times in 48 hours about what ought to be done in regards to the images in IAJOT. I vacillated a lot before arriving where I am now. Lots of folks helped move me to this point, as I was busy reading hundreds of comments at Feministe and elsewhere.

  51. Give it up Hugo..

    In case you haven’t figured it out by now. Since you are white, with all of the white privilege that entails:

    A: You are a racist, You have always been racist. You will always be racist. Everything you do now or in the future will be tainted with racism. You may not know it or feel like you are, but you are. Trying not to be, or trying to do the right thing, will not change that.

    B: There is nothing you can do about it, now or ever. All you can ever do is apologize profusely whenever possible. Especially when WOC bloggers or their allies have an opinion or communicate with you in any way. I have noticed that groveling seems to help sometimes, but often it just attracts more abuse and criticism of your racist nature. Which you deserve, because you are white.

    C: You fail to recognize that there is ingrained racism in *everything.* Your whiteness drowns that perception out. Completely. You can’t even tell when a blog name refers to a WOC or an Anglo. What makes you thing you know anything else about WOC? You don’t, and never will. Geez, you’re white. There is no way you can.

    D: Even when you think you are right, you are wrong, Even when you think you are wrong, you really don’t understand how wrong you are. But it doesn’t matter. Even when you admit you are really really wrong, you are patronizing WOC. That’s racist. Quit it.

    What you need is one of those cat-o-nine tails like the albino (white) guy in “The Da Vinci Code” . Every time you think you are about to disagree with WOC bloggers or have an opinion on anything that has to do with WOC, give yourself 69 lashes. Yes it will hurt , but a lot less than having your brain explode from trying to appease WOC bloggers and their allies.

  52. Weasel words.

    I have worked with kids all my life. My kids have had to endure bigotryand I have had to staunch the wounds while hiding my own.

    My words about not wanting you to teach kids were very sincerely meant from the bottom of my heart.

  53. While I agree with almost everything Vaquera said I have to disagree on one thig: ther is hope for you.

    Quit the exhibitionism and reflect quietly and continuously, long-term – change does not come in days or weeks.

    In other words: Shut up and listen!!

  54. Gosh, I thought Vaquera was being playfully over-the-top.

    you see that as playful? you think it’s ironic? you think it’s humorous? you think this kind of over-the-top is ok?

    it’s full of pernicious. the “humor” argument that doesn’t excuse the white privilege on am/sp’s bok image doesn’t excuse this either.

    it’s exactly the kind of thing that is white privilege – these are exactly the kind of words and ideas that harm non-whites.

    where are you actions? you wrote about the need for actions… but i don’t see you taking the opportunities to create actions like pointing out the white privilege being bantered about here in your own blog. you’re good at criticizing people; you do it all the time. but where is the criticism of the white privilege here?

  55. Honestly, Stoneself, vaquera’s comment was written in such a way that I, like Kali, had a hard time figuring out whether it was over-the-top or not. Was this a racist in disguise, or someone sincerely enraged at me and despairing of the possibility of my redemption? I eventually leaned towards the latter, but wasn’t sure of it, which is why I didn’t respond by calling out the tactic.

    For years, whenever I would say something that would annoy progressive or feminist/womanist voices, conservative men who never otherwise took my side would send me solicitous emails and make kind comments — clearly trying to “woo” me by pointing out how unreasonaable my allies were being by trying to hold me accountable. It’s a pernicious tactic indeed, and a seductive one. I do my best to call it out when I see it, and in vaquera’s comment, wasn’t entirely sure that I saw it.

  56. Hugo

    More weasel words.

    “Gosh, I thought Vaquera was being playfully over-the-top.”

    The give=away here is “playfully” signifying approval.

    I don’t know why I waste my time here.

  57. Yes, Hugo, I was being “over the top.”

    I’m just sick and tired of seeing Feminist bloggers of good faith pummeled by these clowns. I’m tired of them picking apart posts on these blogs for any sign of so called “privilege” so they can beat people with it. I’m tired of them dissecting your thoughts (and the thoughts of some of your posters) looking for anything to leave some petty little post.

    It’s frustrating watching it. Now Jill is quitting, and you have been thinking about it. How many allies do we have to lose before somebody gets a clue?

    You know, I am first generation daughter of immigrants. I do know what racism and sexism is and how it manifests because I’ve dealt with a lot of it (although nowhere near as much as my parents had to). I know the difference between people discussing solutions to racism and people looking for an excuse to drive home some point they probably don’t really understand, at your expense. I know the difference between people of good faith, and racist assholes. I’ve lived it. I’ve learned from it. And I’m old enough to know what it was like in the past when it was much worse.

    And being involved with immigrant activism, I understand what they are trying to do, but the Feminist blogosphere is suffering for it. Potential allies are alienated by it.

    To be honest, much of everything in my previous post (except the part about the albino white guy, sorry) was pretty much distilled from posts left at Feministe or Pandagon, or Black Amazon’s, or BFP’s. I just put them all in one place so you could see how ridiculous it sounds. Kali even agreed with (almost) every thing I said. That is how accurate is was. Even you weren’t sure. That is how bad it has become.

    The truth is, sure, there is privilege. We all have some degree of it. Some in different areas of our lives. Some people more than others. But being able to disagree is not a privilege, it’s a right we all share. So is freedom to express your ideas. Even if they are wrong. Even if some disadvantaged groups doesn’t like what you have to say or it doesn’t agree with some of their pet theories or it’s not convenient to some petty point they are trying to make.

    If you don’t agree with something I say, don’t complain of privilege like some petulant child. And don’t try to silence me. And don’t you dare try to bully me. Engage me. We both might learn something.

  58. @Noumena — I think the cause of the difference in Hugo’s reaction was that the second poster pointed out how his inaction could potentially be damaging to his reputation. My uncharitable read on Hugo’s motives = CYA impulse.

    But whatever. Hugo doesn’t care about my opinion and neither does Kali. Nor should they. Watching this entire episode from the sidelines, one thing that has been striking to me is how many times otherwise reasonable people have had to be cattle prodded into doing the right thing. Hugo initially refusing to edit his own reviews of Marcotte’s book is a fitting postscript to the whole mess. After conceding defeat on the original subject, going back and amending earlier reviews should be a no-brainer, right?

    While I don’t agree with Kali’s assertion that Hugo is a bigot (barring some history I don’t know about), I do think she’s hitting fairly close to the mark by deriding his “weasel words”.

  59. “If you don’t agree with something I say, don’t complain of privilege like some petulant child. And don’t try to silence me. And don’t you dare try to bully me.”

    The above sounds like bullying to me.

    Vaquera, first of all why are you defending Hugo and why didn’t you also leap to my defense when Hugo was trying to silence me by ignoring me? Being the child of immigrants does not make it impossible for you to be racist, unfair, prejudiced.

    “I know the difference between people of good faith, and racist assholes.”
    No you don’t – most people veer back and forth on a continuum depending on their convictions,experiences, outside influence and pressures. No one is static and labelled so easily. The point of blogging and arguing is to shift people on this continuum in (what we seeas ) a positive direction.

    And anger and insults have their use also – if you didn;t make bigots feel uncomfortable we would be discussing amicably till the end of time without any change resulting from it.

    I would recommend you read Racialicious – she has some very thoughtful posts today.

  60. And being involved with immigrant activism, I understand what they are trying to do, but the Feminist blogosphere is suffering for it. Potential allies are alienated by it.

    this is a perennial argument. at which point it “too much”. poc don’t agree. allies understand the issues even less.

    my position is that “potential allies” that are alienated by having their privilege pointed out are much use.

    having your privilege pointed out isn’t a declaration that you are evil. but it does point out that you aren’t doing good. and you could certainly do better.

    To be honest, much of everything in my previous post (except the part about the albino white guy, sorry) was pretty much distilled from posts left at Feministe or Pandagon, or Black Amazon’s, or BFP’s. I just put them all in one place so you could see how ridiculous it sounds. Kali even agreed with (almost) every thing I said. That is how accurate is was. Even you weren’t sure. That is how bad it has become.
    you know? it took weeks for people to get over “omg people are calling me racist” and do some listening.

    dealing with privilege isn’t easy or pretty.

    The truth is, sure, there is privilege. We all have some degree of it. Some in different areas of our lives. Some people more than others. But being able to disagree is not a privilege, it’s a right we all share. So is freedom to express your ideas. Even if they are wrong. Even if some disadvantaged groups doesn’t like what you have to say or it doesn’t agree with some of their pet theories or it’s not convenient to some petty point they are trying to make.

    “pet theories” and “petty point” are “straws on the camel’s back”. if you look at any one thing it doesn’t look that serious. really it doesn’t. but when you look away from the individual straw and see the whole piles of straws that broke the camel’s back.

    the reason people point out “pet theories” and “petty points” is that they are trying to respond to “show me where i’m waving my privilege” around.

    * * *

    you’d think that feminists who know the routine from dealing with men who get upset at having their male privilege pointed out, would understand the problem of making poc go around and “be nice” and hold white people’s hands and say, “there there. it’s ok. i’m sorry you’re upset that i told you that i’m upset that you do shitty things to me.”

  61. And being involved with immigrant activism, I understand what they are trying to do, but the Feminist blogosphere is suffering for it. Potential allies are alienated by it.

    this is a perennial argument. at which point it “too much”. poc don’t agree. allies understand the issues even less.

    my position is that “potential allies” that are alienated by having their privilege pointed out aren’t much use.

    having your privilege pointed out isn’t a declaration that you are evil. but it does point out that you aren’t doing good. and you could certainly do better.

    To be honest, much of everything in my previous post (except the part about the albino white guy, sorry) was pretty much distilled from posts left at Feministe or Pandagon, or Black Amazon’s, or BFP’s. I just put them all in one place so you could see how ridiculous it sounds. Kali even agreed with (almost) every thing I said. That is how accurate is was. Even you weren’t sure. That is how bad it has become.

    you know? it took weeks for people to get over “omg people are calling me racist” and do some listening.

    dealing with privilege isn’t easy or pretty.

    The truth is, sure, there is privilege. We all have some degree of it. Some in different areas of our lives. Some people more than others. But being able to disagree is not a privilege, it’s a right we all share. So is freedom to express your ideas. Even if they are wrong. Even if some disadvantaged groups doesn’t like what you have to say or it doesn’t agree with some of their pet theories or it’s not convenient to some petty point they are trying to make.

    “pet theories” and “petty point” are “straws on the camel’s back”. if you look at any one thing it doesn’t look that serious. really it doesn’t. but when you look away from the individual straw, you see the whole pile of straws that broke the camel’s back.

    the reason people point out “pet theories” and “petty points” is that they are trying to respond to “show me where i’m waving my privilege” around.

    * * *

    you’d think that feminists who know the routine from dealing with men who get upset at having their male privilege pointed out, would understand the problem of making poc go around and “be nice” and hold white people’s hands and say, “there there. it’s ok. i’m sorry you’re upset that i told you that i’m upset that you do shitty things to me.”

  62. i think its also important to recognize that different groups of POC suffer from different stereotypes. for example, asians are assumed to be smart, hardworking, and disciplined. in fact, charles murray is–if you think about it– a yellow supremacist, not a white one. so, in a sense, an asian privilege exists.

    so kali’s attempt to explain why hugo ignored her is tantamount to approprating the oppression of blacks, latinos, and native americans since it does not align with any stereotype of asians; in fact hugo, if anything, bucked the “asians are smart” bigotry. she (kali) may have been ignored as an individual, but not as a POC…since that necessitates a larger social context; after all, we have told over and over again that its “not about you.”

    so please, lets not appropriate other peoples oppression, especially since being considered oppressed is itself a privilege.

  63. “say what?”

    well, look how much power the so called rwoc weild over the progressive blogosphere, including hugo. in the paradigm under which we’re working, kali’s statement resonates b/c she presumably has the power to see the invisible knapsack. her opinions should be privileged, it is argued, while white males should stfu and listen to those who actually experience racism.

    now enen if you accept this philosophical foundation, kali’s observations are problematic. in America, whites generally don’t have south Asians as maids, as they do Hispanics or blacks. entire books are written putting asians on top of the iq chain. asia and china and the pacific rim are at least emerging economic powers. asian males are rarely viewed as sexual predators, in fact , they are often emasculated in the media. bigotry against us exists, but it is more likely to parallel anti-semitism (resentment) that anti-black racism.

    if we were talking in the context of saudi arabia where south asians where bought over as indentured servants and don’t have the same political or religious rights as the Saudis, i’d probably agree that kali may have a point. but in the american context, i see no reason to privilege her opinions.

  64. I had the ‘privilege’ of scraping and cleaning dried ‘spit-balls’ from the hair and from all over the brand-new (birthday present) jacket of my 14 year old son on his birthday AFTER I had complained to the Principal about the racist taunts, abuse (including being pushed into lockers and beaten) attending predominantly white high school. My son felt I had betrayed his trust and NEVER again told me about what was going on at school, until very recently – he is now in his early 20s.

    Manju, I could tell you many more stories about myself and my other child (my husband is white) but it would be too painful.

  65. kali:

    I know what its like to grow up as an Indian kid in an all-white neighborhood. And while your kids will face a lot of racism, with Indians overrepresented at stanford, mit, and venture capital firms in silicon valley, not to mention secretive quant hedge funds, i doubt the racism they experience will be the same as blacks.

    so no, i don’t think white males like hugo are socially conditioned to ignore south asians intellectually. in fact, just the opposite. i remember one professor of mine ( a brilliant, black african marxist) scold me when i was slacking off by saying “but every indian i meet studies hard. what’s wrong with you?” Heh. this was back in the 80′s, so i’d ct him some slack.

    don’t believe me? read this piece of “journalism” from the san francisco chronicle, bemoaning the lack of POC in the medical profession. Observe where asians fit in, and tell me if you can spot the progressive racism:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/02/BAJVVUN1G.DTL

  66. Manju
    I spent a large part of my life in Britain where Indians are included in the category of ‘Blacks’ and treated no differently.

    It is only in this country that Blacks or African Americans are treated much worse than other minorities (because of slavery )

  67. Sent that last one off too soon….

    South Asians at MIT etc did nothing to diminish my son’s pain.

    The race theorists would shoot me down but I do know that there is only one human race and I try not to parse or generalize the differences between the ‘oppressed’ too much and do what I can to speak out against injustice when I see it and to help those that I can in a more concrete way.

  68. Manju
    BTW I have read that SF article. The people who wrote it also have an agenda – and trust me its not proAsian.

  69. well, look how much power the so called rwoc weild over the progressive blogosphere, including hugo.

    so basically you’re equating being in the right about the invisibility of white privilege with browbeating/coercion.

  70. “I spent a large part of my life in Britain where Indians are included in the category of ‘Blacks’ and treated no differently.”

    Yeah, I was in England till age 5. i recall being called “blacky” and my dad left for America in part b/c he knew he couldn’t get a fair shake there. but America is different and simply does not have the same colonial relationship with India. the india-uk relationship is a complex paradigm within itself, but yes, it does more closely parallel white-black relations in the US.

    but the bullying your kids experience does in fact ring true, though I’m certain they’d experience the same thing in a Black or Hispanic school, maybe even worse. Asians are on the low end of the totem pole when it comes to masculinity, whereas blacks are stereotyped as sexual predators…and that’s an example of my greater point. since i have some experience here, my advise to your kids is to play sports and lift some weights. that goes a long way.

    or they can take the time-honored jewish tradition of studying harder than anyone else, make a fortune on wall street or silicon valley, and get your revenge then. Malcolm x is right, don’t beg the white man for acceptance, don’t even ask them to look at their white privilege. remember, goldman Sachs was created b/c Jews couldn’t make partner at the House of Morgan. Now look at them. the free markets are your friend.

    just my privildged 2-cents.

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