Content Rummage: Editing for Privilege
At Terra Incognita Media we have made many mistakes that fall in the category of white feminism. We are here to call ourselves out and be an example of what not to do.
Warning: This essay is a prime example of white feminism.
Without realizing it, I very carelessly co-opt bell hooks’ writing to validate my own experiences and simultaneously erase hers. This kind of writing diminishes the experiences of POC and queerness. In the second paragraph I start out with a bang by writing, “…I grew to learn that the outdoors, my outdoors…,” which alludes to a kind of ownership of the outdoors, which is upholding a status quo of a settler-colonial structure. I don’t give any mention to the Indigenous people still living on this land who survived genocide. Instead of challenging white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, it turns out I am reinforcing all of those things.
In this following paragraph, it seems I advocate for colorblindness when the conversation about race, class, and gender deserves much more time and nuance than what I have offered:
“We are all estranged from the Earth from birth. bell hooks reminds us that when we love the Earth we love ourselves – our bodies. When we love our bodies we love other bodies. What would it be like to live in a world where we love our bodies? We could realize what it means to recognize each other as fully human, connect as humans, and connect without any sense of separation, any sense of superiority due to race, class, or gender."
I’m being lazy in writing, which white people can often get away with doing without consequence.
The essay goes into ecofeminism and I don’t cite where the ideas originated. I speak in generalities, not specifics. Throughout the essay I take a lot of hooks’ quotes out of context and misinterpret them. I take what I like and can relate to and forget the rest.
hooks is a queer, black, survivor and woman. I cannot just focus on gender binaries and bioessentialism of male vs. female. By doing this, I select what relates to a cis-het person and center whiteness. Instead of giving a substantive look at Black feminism, I discuss gender using binary language and with the assumption that it doesn’t relate to race, class, or ability.
There are many feminist writers and thinkers who offer a broad, complex understanding of feminist theory and practice as regards to environmental issues, gender, rape, and violence, among others, but I make no mention of their names. There is Audre Lorde, Kimberle Crenshaw, Paula Kamen, Vandana Shiva, Winona LaDuke, and Katsi Cook to name a few.
In the essay, Eco-Feminist Appropriations of Indigenous Feminisms and Environmental Violence it is noted that, “Ecofeminism that appropriates Indigenous environmental knowledges often fails to fully represent what environmental justice means to Indigenous communities. What is often ignored within these analyses is how neocolonial state violence, compounded by exposure to environmental contaminants, is embodied in very specific ways for Indigenous women and Two-Spirit peoples.” Without acknowledging my privilege and positionality as a settler, I am contributing to the continuation of settler-colonialism by erasing the history of the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. I make myself out to be a white savior feminist. I should take advice from the essay mentioned above, as should all white women, and “sit down, be quiet, and listen.”
Why is it important for me and other white women to edit for privilege and oppressive language and then talk about it?
White supremacy will not go away until white people are willing to confront it themselves as something that we have embedded in our thinking, our media, our businesses, our schools, our institutions, etc. The abysmal and horrific failure of this essay comes out of a lack of understanding of the politics of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
Here are some resources to help other white women check their privilege:
White Women Need to Do Better by Ashley Duchemin
>>>>>Below is the horror show that is white feminism<<<<<
"Anger as Compost for Our Rose Garden": bell hooks Encourages Us to Seek a World that Moves Beyond Violation”
…I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations and generations.
— Lorraine Hansbury, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black
I remember dirt. I remember eating it out of potted plants in the house on the cul-de-sac in Costa Mesa, California. I remember touching the grass and seeing green, and learning, “green.” I remember looking up and seeing the sun, and needing to find out how to stare into it. I remember formulating a superhero version of myself where I could take in the sun through my eyes and then spread light into the world in this way. I remember the beach and my toes turning icy as the California breeze swept sea-spray at me and my three brothers and sister. We wore bathing suits, but not for long. My mother from Maine did not care if people expressed disapproval: “They are toddlers,” she would tell them quite frankly. Both my dad and mom let us bury them, and we would decorate their sand-covered bodies with carefully chosen seashells. They let us get tired in the effort, and let us stay out until the sky turned pink, and they even let us bring the seashells home. I found my outdoors as a place I could feel most free. It was the place I could most easily imagine a world where there were no rules, no “boys against girls,” no finger pointing and authority figure telling me this is how you should look, talk, eat, sit, stand. No rules about how you are to present yourself to the world, or at least it seemed this way. It seemed, the outdoors was a place that there were no rules.
But the outdoors has changed for me as I grew to learn that the outdoors, my outdoors, was contrived, like lemonade. It was strained through a clean napkin. It was conjured out of an American Dream that sought to make fences, war, and guns as the antidote for chaos and disorder and contrariness, as if those were bad things. It was just my imagining of a place out of the doors of my family’s home, the place I could swing up and over the brick wall that separated our backyard from the neighbors. And I remember seeing the tops of the orange trees and never wanting to come down. It was that particular high of childhood, tinted with sadness, because I knew I couldn’t stay up there forever. This was something I didn’t want to let go of. The range and arc of the swing filled me up and deflated me all afternoon.
This kind of imagining – envisioning a world that was free like this, free from binary, from “this is right and this is wrong” – has preoccupied me to this day.
We are all estranged from the Earth from birth. bell hooks reminds us that when we love the Earth we love ourselves – our bodies. When we love our bodies we love other bodies. What would it be like to live in a world where we love our bodies? We could realize what it means to recognize each other as fully human, connect as humans, and connect without any sense of separation, any sense of superiority due to race, class, or gender.
Today it seems we commodify our world to the tiniest patch of grass, or edge of a canyon. Our present day shows that we have a twisted relationship with what it means to be a family, a union, a community. Without history, without looking back and reflecting, it is so easy, in this day of #getoutstayout and #wildernessculture to forget who first lived close to nature – who now finds it most grim to live on their own land.
Ecofeminism brings all of this together. Ecofeminists point out the parallels between the way our world treats women and the earth. Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies, and Mary Mellor have laid the groundwork for this movement. The ideas described below stem from the book Feminist Geneologies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures by M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. It is without a doubt that the prevailing ideology of domination, of conquering the land and taming it, has also been the same abusive ideology that keeps genders other than man, treated as second class citizens. The raping of the land comes from an ideology that rationalizes capitalizing on the earth in tandem with capitalizing on human bodies for turning the soil, for profit. This ideology of domination and control is reflected in the forces that pump oil out of the ground, that create war, that contribute to rape culture.
This motivation to reap the benefits of the land, to extract, to get a return on investment through manipulation, leads to the suppression of our connection to the land. This requires a certain degree of mental dis-ease in order to follow through as a perpetrator of this kind of abuse. The ability to be convinced that it is for economic benefit, as if economic benefit should be the God we pray to, the God we answer to, requires a deep level of estrangement from our own bodies, our own humanity. Because this ideology kills us.
They work for a removed life that prioritizes instant gratification, not sustainability. The ways in which our systems function are without concern for generations, and generations, and generations to come. How far back can we remember? How far back can we feel our ancestors? How far into the abyss of time yet to come have we offered up our services to the land and to each other? Or, do we only see what is in front of us and settle for that? Do we only accept and project, embody and manifest the story that we haven’t had to put much effort into playing out?
I know so many women who live in doubt. Doubt of their own power. Their own ability. Their own voice. Their own authority. Their own truth. Their own lived reality. I know so many who try to escape, but can’t. The voices of doubt do not get quieter the further into the mountains or woods or desert. But we are told through this contrived reality that we can find solace and empowerment through buying things. I have learned as I grew to understand that the outdoors, my outdoors, was keeping me from true baptism, from true reconciliation with the fences, the voices that shouted, the hands that pushed into my belly, covered my mouth. I have learned that I have been doubting the wrong things this whole time. I have been trusting the wrong things this whole time. I learned how to trust myself. I learned to accept that the sandcastles I build will fall, so I have to build a castle out of my heart. I am learning how to accept the pain and trauma, and move beyond it.
Ecofeminism puts forth that the pain and trauma women experience come from the same source that abuses the earth, what bell hooks describes as imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. I have yet to know pure land. The landscape has been violated by greed and capitalism. Underneath all of the wilderness is corrupt mining practices, to name one. The keyword: corrupt. Under all of the seemingly untouched land is corruption. Whenever I look closer at a field, or valley, or canyon, I always find this.
bell hooks hopes for a world free from exploitation of the land and women, and all humanity, all sentient beings. She writes,
"As a grown woman coming home to Kentucky after long years away, I purchased land in the hills to symbolically reclaim a bit of the African American Appalachian path. My intent was to protect the land so that no capitalist development would ever take it over. I don’t work the land. I don’t agree that those who want to hunt and kill can claim access there. I just let the land be. I seek to move the land beyond violation. As I heal a forsaken forlorn hillside. I plant trees. I plant the “white dawn” roses, favored by generations of women in my family. I write a book of essays, Belonging, about yearning for home place, about agriculture and land, about racism."
All too often I hear people who are passionate about the environment quoting dead white guys. We can learn from white guys, dead or alive, but we need some balance. And as far as my eye can see, it is signs in Mammoth, California that quote Muir, and plaques in the Northwest that honor the good old boys, Louie and Clark. So, I reject them. I scavenge for voices who haven’t been blasted over America’s loud speakers. hooks writes about the wilderness and she notes,
"As a black woman writing about Appalachia, I receive little notice. I can talk race, gender, class, and be heard, but when I speak on environmental issues and all the ways agrarian black folks hold the earth sacred few listen. As a voice for Appalachia, Wendell Berry is heard. Suddenly, I listened to his words and learned. Fervently, he teaches me. But like a mighty giant, a goliath, as a Kentucky black female writer I stand always in his shadows. I am not considered a companion voice. We do not join together to speak our love for Kentucky, our hopes for an earth free from exploitation."
What most male writers leave out when talking about environmental politics are the ties that bind to the politics of gender. Rarely do we hear about, “our intimate relationship to the land, or the impact of war (the Civil War), environmental pollution, sexual predation, loss of jobs, and hunger on female lives,” (hooks). It would be in the best interest of those who are passionate about environmental politics to create a positive environment where collective voices of women – women of all ages, white black, Asian, Latina, women of diverse sexual preferences, women who are poor, from the city, from the country, from the working class, from university settings – can come together to share and hear each other’s stories, to speak of lived experience, and everything in between. “Patriarchy knows no gender,” proclaims hooks. In order to dismantle patriarchy we must speak to each other.
Those who love the land would be wise to adopt feminist politics. We are in this mess of climate change and Donald Trump because of sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. We are in this mess because our culture lives by a credo of domination. What systems worship under domination? Imperialism. White supremacy. Capitalism. Patriarchy. And all four of those are alive and well today. Feminist politics dare to challenge and change those systems at their core. My witchy senses can feel the one percent’s blood pressure rising at this very moment.
We can take back our bodies, and see ourselves as the multi-dimensional beings that we are. We can take one step further and see the world, our home, our mother: nature, in all of its multitudinous forms as well. We honor ourselves and the Earth by putting in motion best practices in their truest blueprint. Because when someone says, “best practices,” I am always skeptical. Who are those “best” practices really best for? Because it’s always benefitting some one and that’s what is wrong. What if we didn’t think about benefit or maximum return on investment? What if we let things be?
Separating ourselves from the land through agribusiness has ripped us away from a sense of spirit, wonder, and connection with the Earth. When we work in tandem with the Earth, instead of thinking about the Earth in terms of farm machinery, processing, marketing and retail sales, we cultivate personal power and well-being.
It is too easy for natural splendor to be confused with a nice filter. The motivation for getting outside, it seems, has been ruined by incentive. Incentives from companies looking to get ambassadors to show off their latest styles. I worry about this affecting our sense of fellowship with the land. Could it be argued that we were never even taught this – stewardship? In a world that increasingly becomes attached to technology, with Apple products connected to our ears, our eyes, our wrists, our backs, how do we teach our children about fellowship with nature, instead of loyalty to brands? How do we avoid confusing true solidarity and community with the amount of followers and likes we log on social media?
Does our culture of instant messaging and wireless living make it all too easy to erase history, erase the past, and leave us incessantly buzzing with an itch to check our feeds? Does moment to moment connection to the internet leave us with a stark and perverse dissociation from the original stories and bodies who inhabited these spaces? It appears we have replaced them with the best outdoor hashtags. Instead of thinking about the psychological impacts of what it meant to have been forced to move first by slave ship from Africa to a new world, and then again from the south to the north for promise of a better level of material well-being, we think about how cheaply we can live the #vanlife.
The silence of women must be broken. This world, the Earth, the well-being of our bodies and the dirt and the worms and the water and the planets and the mercury and magnesium and the volcanoes and the mountains and the coral reefs and the poverty-stricken families and the endangered species and the melting glaciers depend on it. bell hooks reminds readers that tremendous intervention is required, and that learning how to move beyond pain instead of being stuck, mired, and stifled by it, is required.
In her essay "Toward a Worldwide Culture of Love," bell hooks drops some knowledge again. In this essay originally printed in the Shambhala Sun in July 2006, hooks writes,
"I remember talking deeply with Thich Nhat Hanh about a love relationship in which I felt I was suffering. In his presence I was ashamed to confess the depths of my anguish and the intensity of my anger toward the man in my life. Speaking with such tenderness he told me, “Hold on to your anger and use it as compost for your garden.” Listening to these wise words I felt as though a thousand rays of light were shining throughout my being. I was certain I could go home, let my light shine, and everything would be better; I would find the promised happy ending. The reality was that communication was still difficult. Finding ways to express true love required vigilance, patience, a will to let go, and the creative use of the imagination to invent new ways of relating. Thich Nhat Hanh had told me to see the practice of love in this tumultuous relationship as spiritual practice, to find in the mind of love a way to understanding, forgiveness, and peace. Of course this was all work. Just as cultivating a garden requires turning over the ground, pulling weeds, planting, and watering, doing the work of love is all about taking action."
We can use our pain as compost for our rose garden. And it will also require community because no one can do it alone. This is necessary for the liberation of the Earth, as well as the liberation of our collective humanity for generations, and generations, and generations, and generations to come.