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01 May 2008 @ 03:45 pm
Miles to go before we sleep, pt. 2  
Okay, so another anecdote and then hopefully, onwards to the point in all this blathering, assuming there is one, and you will humour me by assuming just that, won't you?

Was talking with my youngest last week, passing on a conversation she had with an online course proctor (the proctor's day job is teaching in a local high school). He was relating a really embarrassing and upsetting incident he'd been involved in recently, involving a Vietnamese student, who came to school with a band of strangely regular discoloration/bruising in a diagonal line from one shoulder to the opposite hip. About as wide a belt strap.

As soon as the description was out of my daughter's mouth, I winced. Knew where this was going. Knew why it shouldn't have gone there. Knew why it would anyway.

Teachers are obligated, under state law, to report suspected incidents of child abuse. I'm not clear on how much training they receive in assessing (in the sense that a nurse or doctor would assess) signs and symptoms of abuse, particularly when the indicators are physical. I'm also not entirely clear on how much what we very adorably refer to as "cultural competence" training budding educators receive while in college. I can tell you that even with some of both - if you're white, and you aren't careful - and by careful, I mean, if you don't take a lot of other things into consideration, including the ethnicity/ethnic norms of the child's culture - there's a good chance you will be doing a great deal more harm than good.

So the teacher - thinking he was doing the right thing - the mandated thing - blew the whistle. Child protective services were contacted; the student's family was summoned to the school for a discussion about the student's suspicious bruising. The family's youngest daughter cried the entire time, thinking her parents were going to be taken away from her.

All of which could have been avoided, had the teacher known, or thought, to ask his student, "Have you been sick recently?"

Now, I don't mean to bag on the teacher - clearly, he *thought* he was doing the right thing. And it's noteworthy that, all up the chain of command that incidents like this travel before CPS are involved - nobody else asked the pivotal question either.

Nor am I trying to imply I'm any better. I only avoided a similar situation while in nursing school because, thankfully, somebody a little higher up the food chain pointed out that my conclusion ("This kid's been abused!") didn't take a number of valid (and in retrospect, pretty fucking obvious) factors into consideration.

Unfortunately, in this particular case, an ethnic family was put through entirely unnecessary pain, fear, and humiliation because The System, once again, failed to notice that a. it might have called it wrong to begin with, and b. talking directly to the folks involved - and respecting their explanations - might have solved the issue quickly, relatively painlessly, and in a way that didn't leave everybody feeling like shit.

Which brings me to the reason for these past two posts: the recent crucial dialogue between white feminists and feminists of colour in the feminist blogosphere. (Note: you'll have to look elsewhere to find this described as a "blowup" or a "war" or a "conflagration" or what have you. I get tired of women reacting strongly to a difficult subject being slapped with every breathless overblown adjective under the sun. You'll also have to look elsewhere for linkage - shouldn't be too hard, it's even made Metafilter - because my kneejerk reaction is that even roiling, untidy feminist space is still worth protecting from the eyes of the rubberneckers and opportunists who've already managed to find it and, predictably, put their miserable "HAW HAW, STOOPID FEMINISTS!!111!" two-cents in.)

At the heart of the issue is a critique that a white feminist, in writing an article regarding immigration as a feminist issue (bear in mind that, for all intents and purposes in the States, the current definition of "immigration issues" refers almost unfailingly to Mexican immigrants) failed to cite sources; specifically, failed to cite sources from within the community of colour. Points were made that those sources are abundant, have existed for some time, and are familiar to the article's author, so it seemed somewhat unusual that they hadn't been mentioned. For example, some of the content was close enough to analysis previously published by a feminist woman of colour, and fellow blogger, that it raised legitimate questions of appropriation.

Aggravating the situation was the white feminist's response to the initial critique, which was defensive and dismissive. Aggravating *that* is the fact that this is not the first time the feminist in question had been down this road with the community of colour.

The outcome, at least as of this moment? Well...a lot of silence. Many of the feminists of colour involved have "disappeared" themselves (doubtless as the most visual protest possible that they, once again, have been made to feel invisible, unvalued, and not respected). Some of the white feminists have as well.

I may be one of the few feminists on the periphery of this that doesn't see that as necessarily a bad thing, or the End of Feminism As We Know It. (Although perhaps it will require a redefining of terms - again, not necessarily a bad thing.) My guess is that the women of colour bloggers most impacted by this situation will regroup together - away from white eyes - tend to themselves and each other, and brainstorm a whole shitload of great ideas to take their activism and voices forward in a way that's meaningful and useful to them. I'll miss them like crazy. And thank them and love them and wish them every good thing, wherever they go, whatever they do. And hope there's a path in the future that will allow us to meet again, even if briefly, share a laugh, a glass of wine, and war story or two.

I imagine something similar is going on the white feminist community too. Hopefully, a related period of self-analysis. Some reshifting of frameworks. Some examination of the issues raised and how whitefolk can often be, just on principle, a clueless, major pain in the ass. And whatever other scab-picking that needs to occur to allow us to someday meet up with our sisters of colour in love, understanding and solidarity.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a couple of acknowledgments:

1. I'd like to thank Deborah at In a Strange Land and The Hand Mirror for (however inadvertantly) kicking my ass into gear to write this post: "I've been a bit slow on the posting front lately..." I can well relate.
2. I've mentioned in earlier posts (and multiple annoying emails to my expat kid) that I've been reconsidering the focus of my blog for some time; one of the multitude of Great Ideas (heh, at least in my deluded mind) has been some sort of regular feature on feminist issues. With this latest event in the Stateside feminist world, I'd like to offer this excellent article for your consideration.