Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Victimology Blues Part 1: What About Our Daughters?


I like Gina McCauley, the creator of What About Our Daughters (WAOD). She is smart, and she comes across as poised, even in the face of unjust criticism. I applaud her success at promoting her cause and her site, which attracts scores of intelligent, passionate readers. I am especially thrilled that she calls attention to the double standards of so-called black leaders who are quick to jump in front of a camera and protest when a black person is victimized by a white person, but who aren’t nearly as interested in bringing attention to the insane levels of black on black crime. So even though I am usually suspicious of activists who frame their issues as matters of “protecting our children,” I had very high hopes for WAOD before I ever visited the site.

McCauley’s stated goal is to combat negative images of black women in popular culture. Now there’s a goal this respectable negro can support! I am always looking for resources to which I can direct young black girls and boys (yes, young men need positive depictions of women too). But given this professed goal, what sense does it make that most of the site’s posts are dedicated to publicizing and valorizing black female victims? These include victims of serious, violent crimes, as well as the “victims” of Don Imus’ “assault on black women.” But what about the women forced at gunpoint to gyrate half-naked in videos, while various rappers douse them with champagne and charge their services via American Ass-press…or is it American Expr-Ass)?

Now, I certainly don’t mean to trivialize the horrific crimes committed against the first group, and I understand that such cases can never go national via the mainstream media because the victims aren’t white women, but how is this focus supposed to combat popular negative images of black women? What does the current emphasis say to black girls: you too can one day attract the attention of and be exploited by a handful of journalists and media hustlers…but only if you’re brutalized by a (black) man? Keep those fingers crossed, girls!!!

McCauley and her supporters claim that WAOD is at the vanguard of a new activist revolution. The black bloggers on board cast themselves opposite the old guard Civil Rights establishment, which, these bloggers argue, does not stand up for black women. Yet WAOD’s strategy consists largely of appealing to (or shaming) old establishment leaders and organizations into taking up particular causes. I’m sorry to disappoint y’all, but that doesn’t sound like a revolution to me; that sounds like the same-ol’ same-ol’. In two major respects, those behind WAOD are considerably similar to the media circus-driven race crusaders they criticize:

1. They share the same M.O. of victim-based rallying. WAOD merely seeks to replace one victim (black people vis-à-vis white people) with another (black women vis-à-vis black men, white men, men in general, the “entertainment industrial complex”*). But why not dispense with the victim framework altogether and adopt one that prizes agency, one that lauds black women who make great things happen rather than black women who have terrible things happen to them?

2. They also share the same superficial, almost childish focus on the entertainment industry as a primary site of political and social activism. The NAACP, for instance, is concerned with defending Mike Vick, celebrating sociopaths like R Kelly and Isaiah Washington, and castigating Imus, KKKramer, and The Academy Awards; WAOD focuses on BET, Imus (plus black comedians who have the audacity to defend his right to free speech), and various rappers.

When you press these “activists” on why so much of their effort revolves around athletes, musicians, actors, TV personalities, etc., they answer that it’s because many look up to these celebrities and that the images propagated by the entertainment industry have an adverse effect on the perception of black people generally, or black women specifically. They usually fall into one of two camps, though sometimes they have a foot in both. The first is concerned about these images influencing black children, especially those with absentee parents; the second is worried about how these images make black people look to outsiders. Not one of these “activists” addresses why mothers and fathers (regardless of race) are not raising children with enough common sense to know that what is depicted on TV, movie screens, radio stations, albums, and the Internet is not reality. If McCauley and co. were truly interested in combating the negative effects of popular culture, the site would be called What About Their Parents?

Furthermore, if people are so impressionable and/or dim-witted that they allow entertainment to govern their behavior, how on earth will simply removing a few stimuli solve their problems? The sheep who reproduce what they absorb from entertainment (as opposed to exercising critical thought and free will) exhibit serious cognitive and social deficiencies. These issues cannot be addressed with microwave measures. And this is not even taking into account the loathsome policy of censorship, soft or hard.

At times, I look at WAOD and think, “What a colossal waste of creative energy and resources.” But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that McCauley and co. know that their “victories” have no real practical value.

Since WAOD is not about practical results, one can only assume that its purpose is symbolic in nature. Underlying WAOD’s stated goal is the idea that strengthening the self-esteem of black girls should be a top priority because our society does not love or respect them. Again, this is a noble cause. We do need to encourage among young black women forms of self-esteem that do not rely on boys or sex. This implicit idea is the key to explaining WAOD’s main strategies: publicizing black women who are victims of violent crimes and leading meaningless crusades against entertainers who say or do things that some black women find offensive.

In short, WAOD is driven by these black women’s desire to be loved and valued. By emphasizing black women as victims, McCauley and co. hope to elicit sympathy and love. By boycotting entertainers who degrade black women, they wish to signal that black women’s feelings are hurt and that they do not feel desired, respected, and loved. Thus, those behind WAOD are not political activists; they’re participants in a self-esteem building therapy session writ large. In addition, the self-esteem of the contributors seems to be more important than the self-esteem of the website’s titular daughters. These things aren’t inherently bad. I can anticipate the argument that, because of all they have to endure, black women need and deserve this type of collective affirmation. From this perspective, the misleading nature of the site is harmless at worst, cathartic and therapeutic at best.

Fine.

But I have a huge problem with WAOD using the victim narrative to fuel its self-esteem building efforts and supposed “political activism.” As I will detail in the next installment of this series, there are formidable political and psychological drawbacks to over-emphasizing victimhood, especially for historically disenfranchised, less privileged people.

If McCauley ever decides to try to realize WAOD’s stated goal, I have a very simple suggestion: feature more professional black women who defy stereotypes by excelling in medicine, art, academia, business, government, etc. (a few “good news” links at the end of the year aren’t enough). I can think of at least one successful lawyer/networker who would be perfect for such a feature.

It’s time for folks to throw the question back at McCauley and WAOD**: When it comes to offering positive images of black women, what about our daughters (and sons), indeed?

Next—Victimology Blues Part 2: Privileged White Men as the New England Patriots…

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*I am a product of left academia, where prison riots are often dubbed “rebellions,” and irresponsible, risky sexual behavior is fashioned as political resistance, but I wasn’t aware that activists were employing this bit of rhetorical claptrap in an attempt to elevate popular music, sports, film, and TV to the level of importance of the military and prison industrial complexes. Part of me thinks this shit is satire. TAN, are you reading?

**I wonder if criticizing WAOD makes me an “Internet Ike Turner.”

11 comments:

Vana said...

I used to like the WAOD site until there was a focus on the Dumbar Village rape. I read that the police had some of the perpetrators and the victim had moved out of Dunbar Village housing project. I wondered what the point of getting publicizing the rape would be. Would it really help to catch the other rapists? I doubt it.

I also wondered if publicizing the rape and asking the media or NAACP to acknowledge it could actually be harmful. Maybe the woman is in hiding because the rapists who haven't been caught could retaliate. They did know where she lived after all. Maybe she's afraid of what they might do to her. Maybe she is in hiding until there is a trial or something. There is probably a reason why the victim hasn't made herself public. Maybe she doesn't want to be made public. For crying out loud this is a horrific gang rape! Who is McCauley to talk about someone else's pain and retell her story. Actually, I'm not even sure she knows who the victim is! She might just be assuming what the victim wants because she assumes the victim is helpless and needs to be saved! I don't think she is her lawyer or spokesperson so who is she to speak for the victim.

I wonder if Ms. McCauley thought about the negative consequences of her actions. Plus, I agree that it is focusing on victimization and breeding fear. I think that fighting negative images of Black women in the media is a good cause though. I just don't understand how her work about the Dunbar Village rape fits in.

Its really bothering me now...did any of the people who interviewed McCauley ask if she actually knew the victim? Did they just assume that she did? That is absolutely, positively taking power away from the victim if she doesn't even know the woman. What an arrogant thing to do!

channelXRFR said...

Perfect Example

Look no further then Cablevision, Madison Square Garden, Knicks and the NBA. In what other workplace will executive management who are found liable in Federal Court for sexual harassment, not disciplined by their employer? Further, the NBA has failed miserably by refusing to sanction with suspensions and/or fines the individuals involved Jim Dolan, Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marburry.

g-e-m2001 said...

Normally I ignore criticism. There is so much of it and so little time, but I wanted to applaud "Vana " and encourage others to take her lead. If you don't like WAOD, great! There are so many blogs out there millions that at least a hundred or so will have content you find palatable. So you should use your very valuable time reading only those things that you agree with 100%

Regarding my arrogance. I've had that label slapped on me so many times, I am printing up a t-shirt. I'd rather be labeled arrogant than apathetic and if talking about the Dunbar Village crime without personally speaking with the victim makes me arrogant, then I will wear the label as a badge of honor because that puts me in the league with some amazing human rights organizations throughout the globe who managed to speak out about crimes against humanity without sit down chats with the victims. This wasn't just about the mother and son, but the assailants, the neighbors, the city government, and law enforcement. Under your reasoning I would have to meet with everybody before i could talk about any aspect of the crime first.

As far as the write of this post wondering if they are an Internet Ike Turner, time will tell. What I do know is that you have an opinion and a right to express it as do I. What you do not have a right to o is use your freedom of expression to cross a line and try to use intimidation, threats and lies in order to silence some one else. If you are engaged in that activity then Yeah, that would make you an IIT.

Now I am off to waste more of my precious time writing another completely useless post that "vana" won't be reading.

thanks for the link!

Gina from What About Our Daughters - Uncompromising, Unapologetic, Unbowed ("U Trinity")in the Face of Anonymous Rock Throwers!

neon_noodley2k said...

I prefer to think of the Gina McCauleys as nihilists, or better, public scolds, whose main preoccupation consists of tearing down people & ideas they don't agree with. 'Victimologist' is too nice a word here. It kind of lends an undeserved credibility to WAOD's tactics.

gordon gartrelle said...

If you don't like WAOD, great! There are so many blogs out there millions that at least a hundred or so will have content you find palatable. So you should use your very valuable time reading only those things that you agree with 100%

So those who take exception with BET, Imus, and rappers who degrade women shoud simply ignore them and find more palatable entertainers? Yeah, I didnt think so.

This is the same fundamentally bankrupt logic that the "America, love it or leave it" types employ. One of the biggest problems with public political discourse is that our societies have fostered a culture of weakness, offense, and moral outrage that has left people ill-equipped to deal with criticism and alternative views. Nothing of substance can come from only engaging people who share your beliefs and positions.

What you do not have a right to o is use your freedom of expression to cross a line and try to use intimidation, threats and lies in order to silence some one else.

Isn't this exactly what WAOD is doing in its campaigns against BET's content?

---

neon,

They definitely aren't nihilists, but their strategies are bunk. I just want to reiterate, though, that I understand their motivations are commend their stated goal.

MIB said...

I agree with you, Gordon, on the WAOD's tactics. But the sum total of their activities reveal them as would-be censurers.

Anyone can turn a legitimate cause into a forum for blamemongering and scapegoating; that's called demagogy.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with Gordon. I really don't think humanitarian organizations act the way WAOD does. Humanitarian organizations most definitey speak to or have contact with someone involved with the people they are trying to help. The contact might not be the victims, but they might be their lawyers, spokesperson, family, teachers, other activists who know the victims etc in order to protect the victims. They don't just say "Something horrible happened to you so I declare it a crime against humanity. If its a crime against humanity then I don't have to ask you what you want or respect any of your wishes. I can just choose what I think is right for you because I'm obviously more capable of handling your life and making decisions for you than you are." That is extreme arrogance!

I ask anyone here to find an organization or humanitarian group who is trying to help one or more people but has never had contact with ANYONE who has had contact with the victims. You see, she answered my question just now, she doesn't actually have any contact with the rape victim! Essence magazine should know about that.

What an opportunist! Thats worse than Sharpon and Jackson because atleast they meet with the people they want to help and consult with them. They should be criticizing her! Whenever something negative is said or done to Black women here comes Gina McCauley the media hound to get attention and totally ignore the wishes of the women! Tell me how that is any way more acceptable than what Sharpton and Jackson do? I think its worse! They come when asked, they don't just make someone their cause and do whatever they want. This post is so right and revealing. I thought that maybe she did know the victim but was protecting her identity, but its actually true. She just doesn't care to find or talk to the person. Instead she is doing interviews and getting fame out of that poor woman's misery. Thats so disgusting!

P.S. What does she mean by Ike Turners?

dburt said...

Not that Gina needs any defending but I'm confused with this need to characterize her as a "public scold." I suspect that my blog would fall into a similar category because we both are trying to center the Black image which has been overwrought with minstrelsy. I do have problems with Black folk (male or female) being indoctrinated as "victims" at every turn so I differ with McCauley in that regard but her general efforts must be applauded. We need to fight for expanded imagery and we must also stop "high-fiving" the negative aesthetics that currently permeate our culture. Someone has to start to address the negative imagery because it DOES effect us in real life..."perception is reality" comes to mind.

http://www.afronerd.com
http://www.afronerdradio.com

elle said...

neon, how is WAOD nihilist, they fight for what they believe in!
just another internet ike turner

Anonymous said...

I can't help but notice you never got around to writing part 3 of this series: "Victimology Blues Part 3: The Racist Duke Lacrosse Team, the Hooker, and the Suckers Who Blindly Supported Them."

I guess after the facts came out you kinda clammed up! Maybe you could just change the title to "Victimology Blues Part 3: The Duke Lacrosse Team, the Hooker, and the Racist Suckers Who Blindly Supported Her."

gordon gartrelle said...

You're barking up the wrong tree, Anonymous. I wrote Parts 1 and 2well after the case was dropped. "Them" was meant to refer to the lacrosse team AND the hooker.

There were no heroes in this story, and those who threw their blind support behind the team and the accuser were fools.