solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism

Las week Mamamia chose to blog about Miley Cyrus twerking, but I know you’ll be surprised to know that they didn’t touch on the racial aspect at all. Or will you be surprised? Maybe you didn’t notice the racial aspect yourself. We’re Australian, right? How can we be expected to know the nuances of USAmerican Feminism’s racism if it’s silent about its racism?

This is a valid question! How CAN we, Australians of an intersectional nature, be expected to know about the nuances of racism in feminism? Uh, by learning it, my friends. By recognising our own and how it’s reflected in our media. By recognising that USAmerican feminism and social justice is an imperfect fit for Australia in so many ways, not least of all because of its racism and its USCentrism.

Betty Mamzelle has written an excellent article on the racial implications of Miley’s twerking, covering all sorts of aspects including expected knowledge, commodification of black bodies, representation and sexuality. Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance. It is very USA, obviously, and it is an illuminating read in many ways if you are unaware of how racial sexualism and its politics works. And the theories within it are applicable to Australian racial politics!

As Australians I don’t think we need to be experts in the racial politics of other countries; but as Australians heavily influenced by USA media and more importantly heavily influenced by USA social justice blogging and articles, I think it behooves us to understand exactly what it is that we’re consuming. It also behooves us to more critically examine why it is that we are consuming it. (there are three links in that sentence for your further reading)

Remember when the Jackson Jive thing happened on Hey Hey It’s Saturday? A totally racist thing of blackface, for sure, and then dismissed as a USA thing that we couldn’t have known. Aside from the massive prevalence of US narratives in Australia from the period in which blackface was a huge thing, blackface is an Australian thing, too, something Australian history chooses to forget as it picks and chooses and copies from White American Feminism. I recommend reading White Australia has a blackface history by Maxine Clarke at Overland for some backgrounding; it was an important piece to me in 2009 and is still an important piece to me now on this issue.

Look, there is a limit to the USAmerican-ness of our Australian Feminism. Did you know that Australian intersectional commentators (myself included) were also expected to know that Jackson Jive = a shuck and jive reference = intentional reference to shucking and jiving? We were. And how could we? There is only so much USCentrism we can suck down. And this is not new. The Amazing Chally has long been at the forefront (for me) of Australia is not the USA and we don’t need their White Lady Feminism

By the way if you missed #solidarityisforwhitewomen on twitter, well, I’m sorry, I meant to post about it but it just didn’t happen. At some point I’d like to talk about how this applies to Australia and the ways in which it doesn’t, but for now you can read (USA narratives) Why “solidarity” is bullshit at Bitch and Solidarity is for white women (but it doesn’t have to be) by Betty Mamzelle.

Some links:

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5 thoughts on “solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism

  1. han2013

    Thanks for a collection of great links and, as always, pointing out the work that still needs doing in Australia around acknowledging history and the ramifications of the present.
    Also, thank you for including a link to my post (On being black and not existing).

  2. “Did you know that Australian intersectional commentators (myself included) were also expected to know that Jackson Jive = a shuck and jive reference = intentional reference to shucking and jiving?”

    WOW. That seems quite obscure, even to seasoned social justice warriors such as ourselves.

    I’m reminded of the ill-considered KFC ad of a few cricket seasons ago, in which a white Australian supporter, finding himself surrounded by hostile Indians, makes friends by offering around KFC. Apparently, Australians are expected to not only be familiar with the American stereotypes surrounding African Americans and fried chicken (which I was vaguely aware of, but had to Educate Myself on after that incident), but to regard the people of India as essentially interchangeable with African-Americans.

    (There’s a separate issue, I guess, as to whether anyone on KFC’s advertising team was aware of that stereotype, but for the average Australian consumer, I’d guess not.)

    (Not logging in properly because of work v wordpress.)

    1. The insight brought by demarcation exercises like the Chally link in your post is incredibly important and valuable.

      In a sense the way “USians” – don’t like that term by the way, if I were from the US I would certainly find it offensive – relate to other nations in the “Anglosphere” could be regarded as almost as fantastical as Orientalism itself. Forgetting Australianness for a moment, what about US ideas of Englishness, or of a monolithic “Britishness”?

      But I wonder if it’s equally important to recognise there are cases when common tendencies in the metabolism of cultural exchange, that can usefully be discussed as being in common, override the exceptionalism that defines the subaltern as an idea.

      I’m only an amateur reader on this sort of thing, so I’m not equipped with the right education to comment further with confidence on this issue, but I have recently read some fascinating debate between the Marxist Vivek Chibber and some other theorists from the well-established academic domain of subaltern studies.

      http://clrjames.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/not-even-marxist-on-vivek-chibbers.html
      http://jacobinmag.com/2013/04/how-does-the-subaltern-speak/

      You guys would probably be more aligned with the CLR James response link (first one above), but maybe Chibber’s insistence that the underlying social and cultural dynamics are not so different that a more general analysis can’t be developed with appropriate caution is worthy of assessment on its merits?

      1. “In a sense the way “USians” – don’t like that term by the way, if I were from the US I would certainly find it offensive…”

        Just speaking for myself, I don’t care for it either, if only because it’s ugly, difficult to say verbally, and unless you’re on Twitter, what’s wrong with typing out “citizens of the United States” or similar? But obviously lots of people disagree.

        (Including, yes, lots of US citizens. And also a bunch of Canadians I know, who basically say, “Why would we want to reclaim ‘American’? We don’t want people thinking we’re from the US!”)

        “…relate to other nations in the “Anglosphere” could be regarded as almost as fantastical as Orientalism itself. Forgetting Australianness for a moment, what about US ideas of Englishness, or of a monolithic “Britishness”?”

        Yeah, the imposition of narratives on other countries is quite … interesting. And it’s something that all people and nations do, but few have as much power and influence as those of the United States.

  3. Interesting point. I guess the term “USians” is a well-intentioned joke that identifies a functional gap in vocabulary – and one that comes about because the very name of the USA alludes to the containing geography of “America”, but “Americans” as a term can’t always be used because of the erasure of the other nations on the American continents that it implies.

    I’m not sure if there is an imperial aspiration implicit in the USA’s name, I’m sure that if there once was, it’s got a different form factor now. Imagine if a European power called itself the United States of Europe!

    Whether the term gives offence in context might depend on the perceived origin of the joke – if made by a “USian”, maybe it’s fine, if used in an arguably condescending way by an outsider to characterise people of the US by, maybe not. I’m personally very sensitive to outsiders who discuss Australia in a way that suggests there’s any intrinsic joke about Australian identities, but I’d reserve the right to make such jokes myself.

    Either way, as a kind of half-acronym, it’s a very awkward word that arguably has no future in formal usage. In Spanish, the similar term “estadosunidenses” is used, so perhaps the clunky “Unitedstatesians” has an unfortunate future …

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