I’ve been waiting to weigh in on the latest of the Amanda Marcotte controversies: the images in the book. I’m not going to rehash it all here; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link because Holly explains it all.
I haven’t read the book or even seen it in person. So, I was unaware of the images. As for my opinion, I agree with everything that Holly and everyone else who was outraged had to say. I noted my shock and disgust in the comments. And I didn’t anticipate writing anything about it unless there were developments.
And though I’m happy that they realize they’ve done something wrong, the apologies themselves do bring up a hell of a lot of questions.
First, Seal Press. Read the whole apology here.
As an organization, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings offered here in the Bay Area. We want to incorporate race analysis into our work.
In the meantime, please know that all involved in the publishing of It’s A Jungle Out There, from editorial to production were not trying to send a message to anyone about our feelings regarding race. If taken seriously as a representation of our intentions, these images are also not very feminist. By putting the big blonde in the skimpy bathing suit with the big breasts, the tiny waist, and the weapon on our cover, we are also not asserting that she is any kind of standard that anyone should aspire to. This 1950s Marvel comic is not an accurate reflection of our beauty standards, our beliefs regarding one’s right to bear arms, nor our perspectives on race relations, foreign policy, or environmental policy.
In these two paragraphs, more than one thing bothers me. First of all, there is some justifying of the actions. Not okay. Secondly, they really seem to focus a whole lot more on the sexism in the images than the racism. And the racism is the issue. We know that the images are sexist — they were supposed to be. Whether the kitsch of the sexism worked or not is up for debate. We do know that white women chose these images to put in a book written by a white woman. The sexism can genuinely be perceived to be ironic and subversive — the racism cannot. And I really feel like they’re avoiding that issue and choosing instead to zero in on something that exceedingly few people complained about.
And lastly, there’s the promise for “diversity training.” On the surface, this sounds good, right? But I don’t know that it is, really. First of all, it seems a bit like the standard “I did something racist, so now I’m going to do an arbitrary penance to get people off my back” type of move — the corporate version of apologizing to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. It’s fairly meaningless to people in the real world and acts as a substitute for hard work. Secondly, the answer is not to get someone into the office to talk for a couple of hours about how to not hurt the feelings of people of color. The answer is to start actively engaging with people of color — something that women from all over the blogosphere have been calling for, for a couple of weeks now. The idea doesn’t even seem to cross their minds that maybe in order to engage with race issues in an intelligent way, actually hiring a woman of color [EDIT: on the editorial team] would be helpful. There wouldn’t be any difficulty in finding someone qualified, and the question really ought to be why it seems that there are no women of color are working [EDIT: on the editorial team] at a feminist printing press, regardless of any controversy.* I understand that money there is supposed to be tight. I also understand that after everything that has happened lately, Seal Press might have a pretty damn difficult time finding a woman of color willing to associate her name with this publisher. But the fact is that this is not the first time Seal Press has been called out for racism — it’s not even the first time this month.
It’s interesting and kind of crazy that Amanda’s first book has been published by Seal Press very recently, and in that time both Amanda and Seal Press have been called out for bad behavior regarding relationships with women of color. The two seem to have nothing to do with each other, since neither controversy was about her book, both managed to dig their own holes, and a conspiracy theory seems pretty far fetched. And now this, the two of them called out together. I don’t really know what to say about that, except that it’s fascinatingly fucked up.
As for Amanda’s apology.
For what it’s worth, I did find Amanda’s apology to be very sincere. She didn’t try to make excuses. She said that there were none. After this morning at Feministe defending the fact that she did not choose the images, she seems to now realize that this was a reflection of her, as well — especially since she has had the book in her hands for so long, didn’t notice it and didn’t do anything about it. She welcomed feedback. She said that she respects and understands decisions to boycott the book. And I think that she is now taking this seriously and responding responsibly.
I’m not just ready to walk away and forget the whole thing. And these images certainly aren’t mine to forgive. But I do personally think that it demonstrates some promise.
It also must be noted that this apology does nothing with regards to the other problems. It’s true that all three complaints — the AlterNet article, the response to criticism of the AlterNet article, the racist images in her book — are related to racism and the shitty treatment that women of color often get from white feminists. But an apology for the last does not constitute an apology for the other two — and I don’t think that Amanda was in anyway indicating that it did, or that she wanted it to.
Where does this leave us? I don’t know. I would like to hear your thoughts and your opinions of the two apologies. I’d like to think that since Amanda seems to be giving herself a good hard look right now, she might take the time to reflect on the past few weeks. I don’t know if she will and I don’t particularly expect it, but I hope. Because she does seem to have shown today what I believed all along but was rapidly losing faith in: that she can do a hell of a lot better than she has been lately. If you’re reading this Amanda, please keep it up.
I’m posting this here instead of Feministe simply because I can’t handle much more of the yelling. It has been absolutely exhausting to me, and just from following all of the conversations, I’ve gotten so very little done this week. I feel drained, stressed out and depressed over it. Nothing particularly productive seems to be going on in the comments there, anymore, and I think that everyone is shouting so loud that no one is being heard. Also, in a very large part I think that this post is just trying me to work out my feelings because I’m not 100% sure how I feel yet. I do know that it would be really fucking nice to be able to write about something else and give it the same close and serious consideration that this has been given.
But if you’d like to discuss here in this smaller setting, please do. As I said, I’m interested in what you think. But I do ask that this discussion remains as one consisting of women of color and allies to women of color. I’m already really depressed to see that several Pandagon commenters are making light of the situation, trying to dismiss it as unimportant, and calling irrational those who are not willing to forgive and forget at the drop of a hat. Even when the woman who people are pissed off at is not. It’s not going to happen here; please don’t make me have to actively enforce that promise.
* EDIT: My bad. I remembered from reading this post that there were only two women who are on the editorial team at Seal, and that they are both white. My mind interpreted that for some reason as them being the only actual two Seal employees, with the rest technically working for the new parent company. That’s my fault and I should have double-checked it. So, apologies. For more on this particular aspect of the issue, see prof black woman’s comment. Thanks to Roy for the head’s up — his info came from Andie East on this comment thread, at 4:18 on 4/3.