Something something…don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I got a new version of the “Well maybe I won’t be an ally” punch today:
I’m going to be just a little less enthusiastic about women’s rights, except of course where I think it’s truly relevant or it’s meaningful to someone I care about.
And I will of course uncircle you. That might help avoid this kind of wasted time on ingrates.
I’m not going to rip apart the comment bit by bit, and I had a bit of a think before even quoting it here. In part because I don’t think the specifics of this comment matter, it’s a comment I get every so often.
I internet “in public.” Which is not to say that I log on from public spaces (though of course I do, as what’s the point of living in the future if you can’t get a good cup of coffee with your internet?) but rather that my existence online is conducted mainly with public visibility. I have a few places that are less public, but by and large I exist in the public sphere of social media.
I’d say I personally have one of these conversations a month, though some months I have more and there’s the occasional blessed month where I have none. An average, though, of one in any given four weeks. They’re almost always from White Men, although even when they’re not from men, I have yet to recall one from someone who wasn’t white.
I always assume the best of these commenters. Even as I shake my fist and grumble that I have to read another of these self-righteous screeds about how I’m rejecting their efforts to help, I try to assume the very best of their intentions and motives. I assume they cannot see the *isms inherent in their comments. That the subtexts, and sometimes even texts, of their words are invisible to them because of the cultural baggage they’ve been steeping in their whole lives. The first, and easiest faulty assumption to pick out is that I ought to be grateful to the commenter. Usually for a pages long list of unsolicited advice, sometimes for a reading list they’ve compiled for me as “background” on the subject at hand. As though I should appreciate them having come to play the pedagogue in the comments section of my blog or Google Plus feed. Always this accusation of ingratitude as though because they deigned to hold forth on some topic I owed them a debt that they would graciously forgive if only I greeted their words with fawning admiration.
Their opinion pieces, often published for free in my comments because I am generous with my patience and don’t simply delete that which I find merely annoying very often, never take into account, however, the fact that I have already done the reading. Often that the resources they’re so helpfully “offering” to me are resources I’ve already shared, or participated in the creation of. They never seem to see my previous body of work which is available, ironically, completely publicly. For the mere price of a Google or two, such commenters could see that they needn’t waste their time writing a dissertation, and that if that’s their only contribution to the conversation, they’d be better served by posting to their own streams. I do not need a white savior to ‘splain to me how the system works.
After that, I am always drawn to the statement in these comments where I am threatened with the removal of someone’s allyship. These comments always include some sort of petulant statement about refraining from progressive action unless there’s personal skin in the game, and they always give me a bitter sort of laugh. If you are the sort of ally who threatens to leave the field at the first (or second, or fifth, or fiftieth) time your feelings are hurt, your allyship has always been suspect.
For those of us who suffer *ism, we do not get to leave when we are too hurt to continue. When laws are passed that diminish our personhood, when culture is reified that diminishes our personhood we don’t get to leave the field. When I have to confront a microaggression, like being told that my words are too strident and that no one will take my concerns at all seriously if I’m not nicer about them, I do not get to threaten to withdraw from society. Claiming that I will take my ball and go home gives me no more weight than I had previously.
And yet always it is assumed by those with privilege that I want and need them to throw their weight behind me in the cause of revolution. And this is where it gets tricky. Because I genuinely do desire allies in social justice. I genuinely do want people with more privilege than me to join me in deconstructing systems of oppression. But the sort of person who holds allyship hostage was never an ally in deconstructing oppression to start with. They were never actually in the fight with me. They always had an ulterior motive. Because threatening to remove allyship from a cause you believe in over individuals you have disagreements with is a sign the cause itself was something you weren’t invested in.
Which brings me to the last component of these comments that is both presumptuous and humorous. “I will, of course, uncircle you.”1 As if I care that someone who finds me “mean” or “querulous” or any of the other things I’ve been called for suggesting that a commenter’s feedback was unsolicited, inappropriate, or outright wrong would uncircle me. As if I am on social media to gain an audience, build a brand, or otherwise collect followers and that to take a follower away from me is some sort of blow over which I should hurt. As though I should feel injured I have been blocked by a White Man2 who has stumbled into my space and shit on my lawn.
Which is hilarious when you think about it. I always receive these flouncing notes in response to an expression of desire that the commenter remove themselves from the conversation. They always insist on having the last word by posting some long goodbye note, following by blocking me. Giving me exactly what I asked for, their departure. Yes, I got an extra bit of shit with it, but they’ve saved me the trouble of having to remove them myself.
I don’t participate on social media for an audience. I don’t even blog for an audience, per se. I would be doing this writing and thinking anyway, and I’m of the belief that it is important to create the world I wish to see, so I conduct myself in public to make visible that there are people like me. I exist in public to exist, and to make it possible for others like me to exist. Because visibility is, in our society and especially in this era of online connection, the currency of existence. But I do not do this because I wish to collect followers. I don’t do this for some magical circle count or view page hit. I’m not going to be wounded or sorrowful when you leave.
These comments always seem predicated on having the last word and on the idea that I will miss the commenter when they’re gone, and yet they’re always delivered by people I rarely interact with. Usually by people I had no idea had me circled or followed or liked. It is as if their invisible-to-them privilege keeps them from seeing the fact that their chastisement at my behavior isn’t something I’m likely to care about, much less respond to.
Or maybe it’s just habit. Maybe it’s a reflexive part of privilege, to knee-jerk respond any time you’re hurt by attempting to discipline the woman you see as responsible. To make her get back in line as appreciative of your time and advice, since you don’t have to give it to her or anything. Maybe it’s so baked into the system that when someone leaves me a comment like this, they don’t even know what they’re doing. I don’t know. Either way, it seems mostly irrelevant.
I get about one of these comments a month, mostly because I’m not actually a really prolific writer. I’ll see more of them, I’m sure, as the blog gets more active. They always look the same, and I always feel the same about them. A weary amusement at the idea that I am expected to coddle and care about this tantrum any more than I cared about the last one thrown the exact same way. That I am expected to deal with this person’s mess and feelings when they came into my space, the equivalent of my front yard, and were hurt and offended by what they found there.
That’s not my job. And if you have a problem with that then no, I don’t desire your continued participation in my activities online or off. So please. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
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