On honesty, rudeness, being offended

A few bits and pieces

I was browsing through blogs and I came across this by Timothy Burke, talking about why he blogs and why he has been quiet recently. He seems to touch on some of the same issues I'm trying to explore here.

He's a long time blogger, aware of "problems of long-standing in online culture: trolling, harassment, mobbing, deception, anonymity, and so on." But he goes on to say:


Nevertheless, I started a blog for two major reasons. First, to have an outlet for my own thinking, as a kind of public diary that would let me express my thinking about professional life, politics, popular culture and other issues as I saw fit, and perhaps in so doing keep myself from talking too much among friends and colleagues. I don’t think I’ve succeeded in that, because I still overwhelm conversations around me if I’m not thoughtful about restraining myself. 
The second was to see if I could participate usefully in what I hoped would grow into a new and more democratic public sphere, one that escaped the exclusivity of postwar American public discussion. I think I did a good job at evolving an ethic for myself and then inhabiting it consistently. That had a cost to the quality of my prose, because being more respectful, cautious and responsible in my blogging usually meant being duller and longer in the style of my writing.
He's a professor of history and has a much more public position than I do, as I'm a casual academic (I like that phrase better than Teaching Associate employed on contract 😄) who has just finished a doctorate and teaches one postgrad unit. However, I identify with some of the points he makes, like being more cautious and responsible meaning also being duller, etc. That's partly why I started this blog - I wanted to be sharper and more straightforward, rather than a boring academic type who qualifies everything. Also, at least part of the 'boring academic type who qualifies everything' isn't only about civility or intellectual honesty - it's about fear, including fear of censure by the University. That's where the moral ambiguity lurks, because academic freedom means we should be free to say what we think, but what if what we think involves things like: "Peter Dutton is an evil fascist" or "Malcolm Turnbull is a hollow sham"? 
Part of the process of writing is that it makes us clarify what we think. So when I write such things, I think about them, as well as (potential) readers thinking about them, and hypothetically getting upset that an academic could say such rude (? Is it the rudeness or something else?) things about public figures. It's true that it would take enormous amounts of evidence for me to say to the face of someone I know that they're an evil fascist (although it would entirely depend on tone in real life) so I'm maybe not showing as much civility to Dutton, as a public figure, as I would in 'real life' encounters. But at the same time, it is honest in the sense of being an uncensored 'gut reaction'. 
Also when I talk about Dutton being evil (as I have on Twitter), it is the context of reflecting on what I mean by evil, and why does 'evil' feel right in this context? Well obviously because he keeps people, including children, locked up in offshore prison camps, but there's also more to it than that. That's a subject for fuller discussion at another time, maybe, but the point is that being honest about what I think/feel makes me reflect on it, as well as others potentially doing so - it's a process rather than a judgement.
If the reason that as academics we are boring is that we don't say what we feel (which I think is a large part of it) then the dullness is an ethical problem as well as a stylistic one, since not saying what we feel is a dishonest position - part of the academic 'rational man'/'view from nowhere' position. But giving vent to feelings has risks that go beyond 'incivility'. Maybe I'll return to Timothy Burke's post later, because it deserves more consideration than this.  However I'd also like to briefly touch on some related issues raised by this article by Ruby Hamad  'How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour' *.
In this article Ruby Hamad is addressing similar issues I addressed in my previous post ('when I'm trying to say what I think but you think I'm insulting you ...' ), except she is talking about what happens when white women get upset (eg start crying) when a woman of colour tries to talk to them honestly, and make the discussion all about them, rather than what the woman of colour was trying to talk about.

I think this is similar to what I meant when I said in the last post "it seems that if we talk about issues such as unconscious sexism or racism, or environmental destruction, even in a generally progressive setting (which is the setting I've been talking about here), we are at risk of upsetting people. Possibly there is a deep reservoir of defensiveness and guilt involved." As I mentioned, people definitely got upset with me when I tried to talk about those things, even to the extent of banning me from blogs. However in Ruby Hamad's case, she apparently received death threats and abuse. Part of this would presumably be because her article was in a more widely read forum, but it could also be because she is a woman of colour.

I was a bit confused about the use of the word 'strategic' in the headline, which suggests white women cry deliberately (or at least semi-deliberately). This may be a bit harsh? (*The whole issue of the headline is confused because Ruby Hamad said it wasn't chosen by her, but it was apparently changed on 11 May, and I'm not sure what the original headline was.) However other than that I don't think what she is saying is all that controversial and it seems similar to my experience - if you try to talk about the fact that people may be being racist, sexist etc, even unconsciously or unintentionally, they will get upset, and may try to make you out as the persecutor.  However, I do have a concern, in that many white women want to have solidarity with women of colour, and arguments between women are always likely to be used to support patriarchal hegemony. I think as women we have to be aware of that risk.

I also think there is a risk that white women can be used as a 'soft target', when power is in fact disproportionately held by white men. I'm not suggesting Ruby Hamad is treating white women that way, but I think it's something to be aware of. On the other hand, we have to be honest about differences between women too.
 

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