Tag Archives: race

Hidden costs: On Lilith Fair and subtle exclusion

HEY LADIES AND THE FOLKS WHO LOVE THEM, REMEMBER LILITH FAIR? I certainly do, as I once had visions of attending it — visions which, like the proverbial sugar plums-dancing-in-childrens’-heads-come-December, did not materialize. Now that I think about it, this probably ended up being a good thing.

Well, the women’s music festival that isn’t that other one (and Lilith Fair, to its credit, does not have exclusion policies based on what gender an individual was assigned at birth) is back and it is BIGGER THAN EVER. It is going to be in my neck of the woods (the venue, however, happens to be about two hours away from where I live) rather soon, and it is going to be stopping at a pretty large outdoor arena that also happens to be built on a landfill.

As will quickly become apparent, I’m not a huge fan of Lilith Fair; I have some highly specific problems with it which, gasp, are not all about the music! With regards to the actual music, I don’t want to just throw my hands up from my keyboard and be all UGH SOME OF THE ARTISTS ARE SOOO TERRIBLE AND BORING NEENER NEENER. I used to rely on that sort of argument with some frequency, and, let me tell you, not doing that is so much more exciting, because it means that I can write long-ass posts on things that I find problematic in some ways (and, often, not completely without merit) instead of going THIS TOTALLY SUCKS WHY WOULD ANYONE LISTEN TO IT BAH and having that be the end of my opinion. I also don’t think that wholesale boringness, or totally sucking, or being the musical equivalent of Grocery Outlet (in which you think you are getting a good deal, but really you are just buying close-to-expiration-date food items — and, for God’s sake, be careful with those reduced-price dairy products!), is the case with many of these artists. I may not be a fan of, say, Norah Jones, but I can acknowledge that she is very good at what she does; she has struck a chord with folks for a reason that may, actually, be deeper than the popular music industry’s tendency to latch onto a trend and push it until it becomes the peat moss in the ground of modern music.

Here’s one big issue I have with Lilith Fair, in terms of social inclusion: Despite its attempts at “diversity” in its most recent incarnation, the roster of performers for 2010 is still fairly…white. And middle-class — just look at the ticket prices, for one thing. And, presumably, able-bodied. And, tangentially: if Sarah McLaughlan were diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome or something, you KNOW she would be all over raising awareness of that condition like hippies on a drum circle, perhaps appearing in a high-profile ad campaign of some kind. She is great with that kind of “raising awareness” stuff — see, for example, her tear-inducing recent ads for the ASPCA. While I do have problems with the whole “raising awareness” activism/charity model for a lot of things — including for PWDs and people with chronic illnesses/health conditions — overall, I respect Sarah immensely for her activist work, my own issues with the charity model of activism aside.

However: even if some of the artists whose music I actually enjoy (Erykah Badu, Sia, Janelle Monae, or Gossip, for example) were going to be on the roster for the day that the Lilith caravan-slash-sleek tour bus makes a stop at the legendary Landfill Amphitheater, I still would not go. Because the roster would still seem, to me, pretty white, middle-class, and abled — and, more crucially, it seems made for that exact kind of audience.  It is, ultimately, a kind of weird “elitism” that masquerades as Lilith Fair’s (promoted) status as a Music Festival For All Women.

I do think that this sort of “elitism” that Lilith Fair is promoting is almost painfully subtle. It is made for an audience that can, first and foremost, afford to be there —  Lilith Fair offers several ticket packages, from the nosebleed $36 lawn tickets to $756 for something called the “Diamond Package.” I am one of those people who usually gets nosebleed tickets, because most of the time, that is the only thing that I can afford. Of course, only a small percentage of concertgoers will probably buy the “Diamond Package” tickets; more folks will buy the less-expensive tickets. But even with the “lower end” tickets, one must still purchase them and, in all likelihood, pay for a bunch of things like processing fees and all that, which of course ups the prices of even the “inexpensive” tickets. If you can afford to pay those “convenience fees,” you’re good.

If you can’t, or if the fees put you off of buying even the “reasonably priced” tickets, the festival may not look so reasonably-priced after all. For some (middle-class) folks, getting concert tickets may not be that big of a deal, but what happens to those folks who aren’t middle class, and may have to do things like take time off of work to go to this festival? There are also probably many hidden costs that I am not considering here, such as transportation. Simply put, the cost(s) of going to a “diverse” and “inclusive” festival that unproblematically presents itself as For All Women can add up to way more than the ticket price.

The ability question is also worth considering in-depth; as far as I know, Lilith Fair does not specify any policies or instructions on its website for people with disabilities who may need special seating or other accommodations. This is problematic for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that the message seems to be, in the words of my friend and awesome FWD co-blogger Anna, that people with disabilities “don’t exist.” In Lilith Fair’s super-woman-power-goddess universe, women with disabilities are left out, thereby not exactly contributing to LF’s supposed standing as a music festival For All Women. If you are leaving women with disabilities out, you are leaving some women out of your musical utopia. Certainly, accessibility policies will vary from venue to venue, but because LF is so huge and is of such note, I believe its coordinators have a responsibility to reach out to people who have, traditionally, been ignored, left out and/or forgotten about by major music festivals — and that group includes people — women — with disabilities.

If Lilith Fair wants to be truly radical and different, it will take steps toward being for a wide variety of women, and people, instead of simply promoting itself as such. There is a huge difference between presenting an event or group as being For All Women and actually taking steps toward real inclusion. So, Lilith Fair coordinators, what are your policies on wheelchair accessibility? Interpreters for the hard-of-hearing? Seats for people who can’t do the “standing room only” thing because of chronic pain or mobility issues? These, of course, are just a few questions about accessibility; there are many, many more facets of accessibility that I have not mentioned here.

One final note: Before anyone accuses me of “not supporting women musicians” because of my issues with Lilith Fair, my fannishness and support of many women musicians is fairly well-documented — among them Tori Amos, Alanis Morrissette, Nina Simone, Jesse Sykes, and many, many others — so that argument will not fly with me. In my view, the whole “you’re not supporting women musicians if you have issues with Lilith Fair!” is the penguin of arguments about women musicians — it may be cute and kinda funny at times, but it cannot fly. And in my view, neither can Lilith Fair’s consistent trumpeting of itself as For All Women, when it still has so far to go.

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Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy.]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

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Blast From the Past: This is Not My Type of Feminism

[Important note: New feature! “Blast From the Past” will feature past posts from my old blog that I think are worthy of inclusion on this one, mostly because I like ’em. This post is from May 2009, so it’s a bit old in blog-time, but I think most of the points made are still (sadly) relevant. I’ve changed some of the wording for clarification purposes.]

There are days when I question whether feminism, as a whole, is welcoming to people like me. Or to people who are not exactly like me, but are still part of groups that have historically been ignored, erased, marginalized, or plundered by mainstream feminism.

This absolute trainwreck of a “discussion”–on mental illness–happened over two weeks ago at Feministe, and I’m still thinking about it. Many (though not all) of the comments on that post are horrific displays of ableist tripe.

I do not understand why some find it so haaaaaard to grasp that disability and ableism are feminist issues, or that disability rights and the rights of people of all genders are connected; I find it equally difficult to understand why some are so dedicated to holding on to the last vestiges of their privilege, even as they give lip service to things like “inclusion” and “diversity.” Neither term holds meaning when used by a certain type “good” mainstream liberal/feminist/et al to describe just how awesome and progressive they themselves are; oftentimes, these words are used to make those in the mainstream feel better about themselves, their privilege(s), and their biases–some of which they just cannot let go.

Again and again, I see comments in several places online that suggest that disabled and other marginalized people, and their experiences, are only good for two things: enabling the “growth and development” of mainstream feminists, and providing abstract (at least to those who have that privilege) discussion fodder that allows various “concerned” fems to do their thing without questioning their own privilege. Both of these have the effect of depoliticizing any radical potential that those who are NOT het white cis upper-middle class able-bodied mentally “healthy” feminists may bring to the table. In a way, it’s kind of like using the ideas of radical women of colorwithout referencing where these ideas come from!–to make a point about your wedding, of all things.

It fucking hurts.

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