Allegations Of Theft, Racism Rock The Feminist Blogosphere

There's a furor going on in the feminist blogsphere. The issue is complicated, but what follows is an attempt to give a general gist of what's gone down: On March 29 in Cambridge, the blogger known as Brownfemipower (BFP) spoke at WAM (Women, Action & the Media conference). Apparently, Brownfemipower (who has been called "one of the most important feminist bloggers in the history of the web") spoke about the racism and sexism faced by immigrant women in the US in our current "build a wall" climate. On April 2, writer Amanda Marcotte published an article on RH Reality Check called "Can A Person Be Illegal?" (It was republished a few days later on Alternet.) The jumping off point was a New York Times article about a 22-year-old immigrant from Colombia whose immigration agent used the threat of deportation to rape her. (The woman recorded the assault on her cell phone and the guy was busted.) Marcotte's article made many of the same points BFP made in her speech (the text of which she posted on her blog immediately after the conference.) BFP was not credited or linked to; Amanda Marcotte maintains that though she reads BFP's blog, she did not "steal" her ideas from BFP. In fact, Marcotte replied to a post on Feministe thusly:

"Considering the severity of the accusations leveled at me—plagiarism is not a minor thing to accuse someone of—my right to defend myself with the much-maligned facts shouldn't be a matter of question, regardless of race. I'm extremely eager to address racism, but I won't be made a scapegoat who has to roll over to scurrilous accusations to make anyone feel better. If you have to unfairly malign someone's reputation to make your point, then you have to reconsider if you have a point. Maligning people's reputations—making up lies and then spreading them around and saying, "Well, where there's smoke, there's fire" is a right wing strategy. I am deeply disturbed to see it picked up by people who ostensibly on the side of the angels."

Some WOC (women of color) bloggers maintain that BFP's views were marginalized because she is not white; Marcotte is white, gets and has a book deal. The book in question? It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. Which, to make matters worse, is illustrated with retro comics picturing a blonde, white woman wearing animal print. Writes Holly from Feministe: "You know, the jungle. Where the savage brown people and ferocious animals are defeated by heroic white folks." She continues:

"The saddest thing about these images is that they have practically nothing to do with the content of the book, as far as I can tell. They're a riff on the title; they're part of the marketing. But what they end up doing is making a disturbing commentary, a damning exegesis that's surely not part of the real intent of the author or publisher but that can't help but bubble to the surface of our minds after recent events."

It is, as previously stated, complicated stuff. There is a history of tension between white feminists and black women; some of it was covered in the Times article about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass, who worked together on abolition, but then had a bitter split over who should be first to get the right to vote — women or blacks. The worst part is that BFP, tired of being attacked and forced to defend herself has taken down her blog. She has a farewell post which reads, in part:

"I never said that it's important to recognize that I had the idea first. I don't give a shit who came up with the idea first—even if it WAS me. I don't give a shit who thought of what first. I don't fucking want credit for anything outside of existing. (For those who care, what I really said: There's a lot of women of color (and men of color!) who have talked about immigration. There's a lot of women of color and men of color who have examined how sexualized violence has been the foremost result of the "strengthening" of borders. There's been a lot of us who have insisted for a long time now that immigration is a feminist issue, goddamn it, get your head out of your ass."

You are encouraged to read all of this post (and all of the posts linked) for more on this issue, which simply cannot be summed up in the (admittedly infinite) space here. But if you only glean one thing from all this, hopefully it is that we are living in a country — and an era — in which sexism and racism are not only alive but well, often in ways that may not immediately be obvious.

Update: Feministing is reporting that Seal Press has issued an apology in reference to the images in 'It's A Jungle Out There.' "We do not believe it is appropriate for a book about feminism, albeit a book of humor, to have any images or illustrations that are offensive to anyone." They also plan to remove those images from Marcotte's book.

Second Update: Marcotte has now issued an apology.

This Has Not Been A Good Week For Woman Of Color Blogging [Feministe]

Can A Person Be Illegal? [RH Reality Check]

Abuse Fueled by Abusive Immigration Language [Alternet]

TODAY: Amanda Marcotte at KGB Bar in Manhattan [Feministe]

Taking Credit For Other Womens' Work Isn't Feminist. It's Just Tacky. [Fetch Me My Axe]

Feminists, too, Steal [A Woman's Ecdysis]

Intellectual Theft Is Still Theft [High On Rebellion]

If It's "Stealing," You'd Better Prove It: On Amanda Marcotte, BFP, And RH Reality Check [Hugo Schwyzer]

BFP Final [Problem Chylde]

Some Context [BFP]

I Guess It's A Jungle In Here Too, Huh? [Feministe]

Related: Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision Course [NY Times]