As stated before in the recent post on people’s curious interpretations of “censorship:” it’s not what some people think it is. That also goes for the alleged “censorship” that (most feminist) bloggers rain down on commenters by moderating their own digital spaces and deciding on who to (not) let into their private living room. Besides the usual trolls that can be spotted more or less easily and other people who seem to have certain, um, issues with social equality and choose to express them by calling bloggers fat, ugly, b*tch, whore, c*nt, n*ger, n**ger, etc., there are those commenters who insist on debating in “good faith” and are offended if you deny to engage with them.
There are blogs, moreover, who proclaim that letting everyone comment as they please (with very little exceptions) is actually furthering debate culture and leads to the self-exposure of bigoted people that usually don’t need a helping hand in doing so (yes, ScienceBlogs is one example, as there recently was a slightly preposterous debate about my choice to not link to a post anymore – it is just one of thousands of examples, however). I do agree with that assertion: racists, sexists, heterosexists, … usually expose themselves quite quickly, if not with their common first sentence (“I’m no XYZ but…”).
The problem is: they speak for many other people who don’t think what they say is ridiculously racist, sexist, heterosexist, … but “normal.” Maybe a little “un-PC,” but totally within a “normality” framework. To not counter them is to accept that substituting “Black person” for N* in children’s books puts us “on a path” that will “eventually lead to book burnings like those during the Nazi regime” is somewhat of a valid point of view. You might not agree, and you might think it’s ridiculous (yes, it is), but other people certainly do. And for them, this “point of view” is now just one of the many expressed, just as valid, just as argumentative. That’s part mob mentality, perhaps, but part political conviction. To not say anything doesn’t make that problem go away – and to be able to merely (and silently!) ridicule a person who says stuff like that is a privilege some people cannot afford.
That leads me to the next problem: by allowing (almost) anyone to comment whatever they want, you create a space that is heavenly for some people (at least for those with little self-awareness), but completely hostile to people who suffer from discrimination, for example. You might be the biggest anti-racist activist this space-manatee-forsaken place called germany has ever seen; if you let people proclaim that “N* is just a word like every other word and it’s only racist if it’s intended to be racist” in your space, your anti-racist ally-card will be revoked immediately. This rule is based on “real life” experiences: if you don’t stand up for people and/or contradict racists, you are not an ally, you are a poseur. Speaking up here isn’t the job of PoC, it is yours as an ally.
Yet, every now and then, my inner educator too makes me engage people who I think might benefit from a debate and might be arguing in good faith. Sometimes I think it even makes sense to dismantle mere trolls who certainly won’t take anything from it, be it on here or over at Mädchenmannschaft; both highly irregular occasions… This, however, is usually educational only for a completely different set of people than the one it is supposed to aim at: it is educational for myself, and for readers who more or less agree with me anyway (and like to “hear” me shouting or something for some reason – thanks for bearing with me all the time ;)!). It is also entertainment. But is not educating ignorant people, and it is not making a difference in their way of thinking. Or, as a recent commenter told fellow author Sabine over at Mädchenmannschaft: “Your post is fantastic, and you’ve exposed this guy’s argumentation as being completely racist. I still think he’s right, though.” Alright then…
Only very rarely do people who comment like that change their opinion even in the slightest bit, despite being challenged because of their misinformation or strawmen or outright discriminatory views – it seems to never have any substantial impact. That, of course, might be heavily due to my lack of argumentative skills and rigor, but at times, it’s simply due to the fact that people did either not argue in good faith from the start, or are not here to engage with another person and learn from them or others anyway, and, most importantly, wouldn’t argue for things like calling Black people the N-word in children’s books in the first place if they were a) not a terrible human being and b) actually bothered to read or listen to anything that might broaden their horizon of discriminatory normalcy.
Even worse: it’s not only useless in most cases (except for a community learning experience – which I do find note-worthy and thus yell at people virtually from time to time…), it takes a toll on me and every other person who has to read the same BS over and over again and has tried to argue against it for many years. “Burnout” isn’t a term that is whispered in feminist and anti-racist activists’ hallways for no reason. It’s the result of tilting at windmills, and continuing expectations of having to do so despite individual and communal well-being. Shutting down comments temporarily as I did is a bit of a wellness holiday – I can write without being called a dumb c*nt or N*-scum at worst, and people telling me why my post is “completely besides the point” and my “writing style” is so very horribly abysmal at best.
Obviously, challenging blog posts makes a lot of sense, and debating is great. But: it’s not my job as a feminist to continuously educate anti-feminists (or people who think we’re “all the same,” i.e., anti-feminists) who consciously seek out feminist blogs to generally “talk about all that gender stuff, y’know.” It’s not my job as a PoC to educate racists (or people who think they’re “colorblind,” i.e. racists) who consciously seek out anti-racist blogs to complain that everyone’s “so sensitive” nowadays. This is a question of self-education to a certain level (the tools are there, the literature is there, even primary sources of racist experiences are there for people’s education), and it is a question of how to deal with certain people as an ally. It’s not my job to explain why Critical Whiteness does not mean that PoC hate All Teh Whitez, and yet, this is what is expected: a self-justification of PoC as to why they ask white people to critically examine white privilege, because, you know, that totally sucks and all…
And when I’ve more or less successfully moderated these comments in my own space, I am supposed to just tolerate them somewhere else for the Greater Good or be silent about what kind of traffic certain blogs predominantly bring to me and others? White (and male and heterosexual and able-bodied) privilege is also the ability and capacity to let some people make a mock of marginalized people in your comment section. Delicately slicing up a comment full of fail can be a most entertaining and educational undertaking (again, educational not for the failing commenter, but for other readers, I think), but I would like to be given a choice (by a Content Note, possibly) and, more important to me personally, I would also like to have the peace of mind that this will actually happen, not that a horrible comment will stay up just to make certain people giggle (…you might imagine: I’m not giggling, because this isn’t a completely random statement for me. This is not a mere academic pursuit, this is not a mere rhetorical exercise, and while you continue to “meditate” on the question whether N* is generally a racist expression or not, this is a daily discriminatory reality that I’m supposed to fight on my own yet again).
Moderating comments isn’t censorship, countering horrible comments, if you choose to publish them, is not stifling debate; quite to the contrary: it’s enabling an inclusive discussion. Your “openness,” however, is shutting the debate down for me and others, it’s further excluding marginalized voices from participating in political and social discourses without being drowned out. That’s not only your commenters’, that’s also your responsiblity.
[Update:] Also, this: “How Some Men Harass Women Online and What Other Men Can Do to Stop It” by Ms. Magazine – thanks for the link, Hollaback!