I will admit that I am currently wrestling with how I personally feel about certain topics when it comes to gender discussions. Not only is it a personal battle, but it’s one of academic and intellectual travail as well; just exactly where do I fit on the spectrum. Within the last decade or so, between the burgeoning of the black blogosphere and the African American presence on social media, it has provided an easily devourable platform of one’s ideas, be they tragic or triumphant. While this undoubtedly is good for those who didn’t have an academic access point yet had something to say, it has also allowed for the bitter sniping and an explosion of the trivial politicking that is quietly never spoken of in the halls of academia.
When I first started blogging, I remember I took a controversial stand on the Chris Brown and Rihanna situation when I asked the simple question, why didn’t Rihanna just get out the car and walk off. Later, I had my first encounter with the nouveau (is this the fourth wave by now?) black feminism a la social media. At the time, blogger Thembi Ford of What Would Thembi Do and I engaged over Twitter while watching the 20/20 Rihanna interview, and it spilled over into email amongst some other bloggers, and shortly the other men backed off and it was just me and her. At the time, I was getting some of those questions being asked in my grad school classes surrounding womanist theology in my various classes. Since 2009, I’ve had encountered what I know call, the Fallacy of ad feminarum negrum.
For my purists, the correct Latin translation is ratio est niger feminarum, but I just like the way the other one sounds and looks.
Ad feminarum Negrum as defined by Tommy J. Curry, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies Texas A&M University is
The condition of asserting experience as true based on revelation against all evidence that does not concede the a priori claims of a posteriori knowledge.
Taking a certain privilege, I’d at to it that this fallacy includes a certain type of tu quoque circular logic that hearkens to a gnostic sensibility: that black women are the only ones who are able to understand this logic and therefore, men, specifically black men, need to fall in line behind black women.
Late last week, the famed blogger and Ebony editor Jamilah Lemieux took to Twitter in a very public spat and called Republican National Committee press secretary Raffi Williams “white” in contrast to Lemieux’s blackness.
The conversation quickly devolved. To cut across the field, the conservatives came out the woodworks calling for Jamilah to apologize, but more importantly, calling for Ebony magazine to offer an official apology–which they later did. But it got pretty bad for both Jamilah and Ebony. Even Fox News got involved.
It goes without saying that Fox News, especially Fox & Friends is a news sham, and even so culturally out of touch that they pronounce her name wrong (methinks it was on purpose), but let’s be clear: Jamilah was wrong. She was wrong yesterday, she is wrong today, and she will be wrong tomorrow for how she engaged Raffi Williams. I did take to Twitter and let out a pretty long rant about this. What was mostly problematic for me was that there was this nascent justification that if Raffi was white then it gave her the right to completely dismiss him and his point of view. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t much want to engage the ilk of people who support and watch Fox News let alone the literal garbage, hate, bigotry and outright racist balderdash that comes from the GOP and the Tea Party, but I say that; it doesn’t boil down to their whiteness. And if I have their ontological whiteness as an issue, I’m engaging the issue of white privilege, as a sociological and cultural reference point.
Jamilah did none of that. She never does.
I had the unfortunate pleasure of encountering Jamilah on Twitter back in 2010 and and I was confused because she came out of the woodwork and in typical Jamilah fashion, she went to calling names. I was called a “pseudo-intellectual” and a “Cornel West wannabe.” I published “For Black Male Intellectuals Who Have Considered Suicide When Black Women Were Too Much” almost as a direct response to my encounters with her. Still, it holds the highest comment response out of all my blogs. It was reblogged on the now defunct FreshXpress website and I received over 100 comments, many of which were Jamilah dropping phrases like “heteronormative patriarchy” and the like. What was worse is that she took to Twitter to “subtweet” me and got her friends to “subtweet” as well–like little sixth grade girls tee-heeing about some boy they liked in the eighth grade.
It was bad. It was all bad. My pride wasn’t hurt necessarily, inasmuch as my hopefulness for what I thought we were all a part of as the black blogosphere. I broke down and went to her blog at the time and read what she wrote and I saw that she was an equal-opportunist when it came to dismissing people who just didn’t agree with her. I stepped back and realised, back then, that there was a large segment of black women bloggers and writers who practiced this. There was some femignosticism at play here that was real and tangible. I’ll never forget, all was good with this one blogger who I conversed with on Twitter, and I finally said something she disagreed with–she ended up on my albeit short, but very real, blocked list. She decided to come for me–using my government name! Here’s where the tu quoque fallacy rises: she had no problem calling me by my full name, but her avi isn’t a picture of her, and she made her blog private so that only like-minded people were allowed to comment; you can call everyone else out, but be damned if someone identifies you.
Jamilah has made her schtick on Twitter to be that one vile at times, and utterly dismissive of opposing views. I think I may have retweeted her once or twice as she came across my timeline on something relatively innocuous, but by in large, I just gazed from a distance. Frankly, I was shocked Ebony hired her full-time given how she interacted with people on Twitter, I just thought it was a bit too vitriolic for the image Ebony would want to portray. With that, she’s made a name for herself. The last time I seriously navel-gazed at her was when she started the #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen hashtag that was a moderate attempt at discussion, but by in large, even when black men found it and stated asking questions, Jamilah’s timeline was littered with debris from the fallout of black men who she ran her bus over with no abandon.
Ad feminarium Negrum reared its ugly head as the black female blogosphere rallied around Jamilah with good old fashioned e-activism. Blogs were dropped left and right with a fierceness rivaled by none. Tweets were sent out with a flurry, you’d think Aretha Franklin or Phylicia Rashad had died! From xojane to Clutch and Global Grind black women rallied around her. The crux of my problem isn’t that people rallied around Jamilah once her feathers had been clipped in a very public way, it was the reason for which they did. Here’s a sampling:
And yet, here again, a black woman speaks her mind, especially on Twitter, and she’s demonized. Immediately. One of the most salient points Lemieux made on the panel I moderated, was that in regard to the “angry black woman” stereotype –- whether it’s true or mythical, we are angry, and that anger comes from a place of real pain. It comes from pain, and also exhaustion from doing so much of the emotional work for the feminist movement.
Let’s be clear: Jamilah Lemieux was not speaking on behalf of Ebony during her exchange with Raffi Williams. She was not using Ebony’s Twitter handle or even discussing her work with the magazine. Lemieux was speaking to Williams on her own time and exercising her own First Amendment rights to free speech that Conservatives claim to love so much (as long as you agree with them, that is). Moreover, Lemieux also apologized for mistakenly calling Williams White and refused to engage with Conservatives who flooded her Twitter mentions and called her names.
From Global Grind:
Black woman exercises her First Amendment right, must be dragged up and down a national network to be taught a lesson.
There is a uniquely insular motif around this line of reasoning that the pain and suffering of black women justifies 1) logic and 2) reactions. Ad feminarium Negrum asserts that black feminist logic is impermeable, it is infallible and open to no criticism from outside of its walls; that only black feminist thought can correct criticize black feminist thought. It is an outright rejection of any critical theory that does not place black women at the center. Now, there are some black feminists who do not fall subject to this fallacy, but these women are not the ones who are on the front lines of social media, if for no other reason, it’s not “sexy” enough–pun and irony intended; it doesn’t fit the current narrative of “angry black woman.”
I’m vexed that people are supporting Jamilah’s rudeness. Despite what the author of Clutch’s article wrote, when employed by a public company, be it at work or off the clock, you’re always representing your company. My current employer has the right to terminate me for what I post on this blog because they don’t want to be associated with my beliefs–if they choose to. Ebony was correct in apologizing and I’m glad they did. Their statement is:
EBONY founder John H. Johnson once said that he created EBONY magazine with the intention to affirm a certain sense of “somebodiness” for African Americans. Nearly 70 years ago the magazine began on the principle that, as Black people, we are all somebody—we all count.
Yesterday, the spirit of this mission was disregarded by EBONY.com Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux in a personal Twitter exchange between herself and RNC Deputy Press Secretary Raffi Williams. In part of the exchange, Lemieux responded to an attempt at discourse from Williams with words that curtly dismissed him and his suggestion that she be interested in the “diversity of thought.” She also misidentified him, unintentionally, as White. Williams is Black.
EBONY strongly believes in the marketplace of ideas. As the magazine of record for the African American community, Lemieux’s tweets in question do not represent our journalistic standard, tradition or practice of celebrating diverse Black thought.
In a letter to EBONY from RNC President Reince Priebus, he suggests, “that we can use this unfortunate episode as a catalyst for greater understanding between the Republican Party and the black community.”
EBONY acknowledges Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux’s lack of judgment on her personal Twitter account and apologizes to Raffi Williams and the Black Republican community.
Now I’m not calling for Jamilah’s job at Ebony, but I do hope that she learned her lesson. As an editor, that means one of your number one jobs is to fact check. The mere fact that as a journalist she didn’t know who Raffi Williams was, let alone that he self-identified as black, and that he was the son of commentator Juan Williams is just lazy. And that’s where my final jumping off point is, I think those who engage in ad feminarum Negrum are just lazy intellectuals. Far be it for you to break a sweat to learn someone else’s critical theory enough to deconstruct it to make your point, it’s much easier to just reject it.
But this is clearly a sign of the times. I’m teaching an Intro to Ethics course for the remainder of the semester, and it’s more than apparent that my students struggle at the nexus of appropriately understanding a ethical theory to minimally answer according to that theory. So when I have a few students who say they reject an answer, they are required to respond with another theory to justify it: ad feminarum Negrum doesn’t do that, it just keeps saying the same thing over and over again. Pop psychology states that doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is a sign of insanity, so it’s not shock that that group of women closed ranks and tend to engage only like-minded people.
Perhaps, engaging in a bit of my own hypocrisy and “stooping to their level,” as far as I see it, Jamilah had it coming. She constantly flies off the handle on Twitter at people left and right capriciously batting back people like someone viciously wielding a fly swatter. It’s mean and it’s rude. But, she’s famous. She’s made a whole name for herself–she made it to Fox News! I’m wondering if there’s going to be an argument that black men didn’t “show up” for Jamilah in this case. I know I didn’t. In fact, I sat on the sidelines as Ebony threw her under the bus and shook my head saying “I told you so.”
That being said, from now on, I’m going to unapologetically speak how I feel on these matters. Before, I always tried to make a legitimate push to open dialogue, but I think it’s increasingly apparent that they don’t want dialogue. I guess the table is always open, but for me, I’m getting up from the table, I’m tired of waiting to see who wants to sit at the round table and discuss these issues in a real sense. I see black women who are hurt, tired and maybe even in present pain, but one thing seminary taught me–you can’t bleed all over the pulpit. There’s a need for transparency in one’s intellectual work–that let’s your colleagues know you’re passionate about what you do–but, you operate and comprise one’s entire work from their hurt is only going to lead to more hurt. The same way I shouldn’t be working out my personal problems and personal vendettas in the pulpit is the same way that our intellectual and scholarly pursuits shouldn’t be the tool in which we enact our personal hegemonies against those who we claim have hurt and oppressed us.
I’m over it. This is my line in the sand.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL