On Chiraq.


My old neighborhood, and the block where my sister was shot 11 years ago.

Eleven years ago–seven years after the murder of our brother–our sister nearly became a Chicago homicide statistic.

She was out with friends at a neighborhood restaurant when someone in her crew got in an argument with someone else. That someone else left the restaurant, returned with a gun, and attempted to murder everyone within 200 feet. The bullet shattered her femur. She had extensive physical therapy. Her mother, desperate to escape the violence, moved her to Milwaukee several months later.

The day after the shooting, my sister made it to Page 3 of the Chicago Tribune. She was the unidentified 14 year-old girl. Not much else was written about it. My sister was lucky, if you could call it that. We don’t know what happened to the gunman. It’s possible a more sinister fate may have befallen him, and person responsible for murdering our brother.

By now, you’ve read dozens of reviews and hot takes about Spike Lee’s latest film. Some mainstream critics have praised it, going as far as to say that Spike has given Chicago the “raucous, despairing, yet faintly hopeful tribute it deserves.”

It’s important to point out here that most of the people raving about Chiraq are not from here or have barely traveled south of Roosevelt Street.

Despite my reservations about the film, I walked over to the neighborhood theater to see it. For 118 minutes I rolled my eyes, exchanged exasperated looks with my husband, and shifted uncomfortably in my seat. The laughs were few and far between. The audible groans weren’t. I left the theater wondering if Lee realized his movie contradicted nearly everything he’s said on his press tour.

It isn’t entirely awful. It is a clumsy attempt by an obnoxious outsider to make sense of something we have struggled to understand for years. But it is not earnest. It is not heartfelt. It is hamfisted. It is exploitive. Most of all, it is dishonest. And it’s the dishonesty that really bothers me. When Lee tells an interviewer that “we [black people] must be vocal on both sides” he erases the work of people who have been here. It is a slap in the face to every person who has lit a candle for a slain child. It is an insult to every person who has marched through their neighborhood to keep the peace.

And he knows it. You can see it in the scenes between Angela Bassett’s Miss Helen and  Teyonah Paris’ Lysistrata, where Miss Helen masterfully explains how a combination of urban renewal and City Hall apathy can create a climate in which twenty people are shot in one weekend. You can see it in Father Corridan’s emotional eulogy, in which he, too, emphasizes the political apathy both locally and nationally. You see it as extras with cardboard signs crowd around a grieving Jennifer Hudson as she implores the public to put down the guns and help find her daughter’s killer. Perhaps, had Lee chosen these bits for the trailer instead of subjecting us to Paris instructing her fellow female warriors to Bundy Bounce  their way to peace while Cannon gracelessly attempts to ride a beat, the movie wouldn’t have caused such a stir. But Lee loves controversy, and never misses an opportunity to start some shit, even if it detracts from his work.

The movie ends just as awkwardly as it began, with warring factions calling a truce after falling to the power of the vajayjay and being rewarded with jobs and a brand new trauma center, the things the aforementioned People Who Have Been Here have fought to receive for years. It is a message steeped in politics of respectability. It is a tired song, with an even more tired refrain, and you are not better for hearing it. You are not better for watching it. You do not leave the auditorium inspired by what you’ve seen. You leave it frustrated. Bewildered. Waylaid. As we exited a theater one white woman said it was one of the best Spike Lee movies she’s seen; it is clear her bar is somewhere below the seventh circle of Hell.

But once she said it, I understood why so many folks–ones not of color–loved it so much. It absolves them of responsibility, placing the bulk of the blame squarely on the shoulders of those suffering the most. They don’t have to examine their complicity in a system designed to destroy black and brown people. With this film, Lee has given them permission to let themselves off the hook while wagging their fingers at our dysfunction. It is the film’s sole accomplishment.

When Britteney Kapri broke down her issues with the film last month, it was a perfect articulation of everything most of us were thinking. “I don’t hate you,” she writes toward the end. “I just don’t trust you with my grief.” She shouldn’t. None of us should. This is one love letter Spike really could’ve kept to himself.


What Happens When A Journalist Uses Your Tweets For A Story? (Part One)

(Co-written by Monique Judge, originally published on Medium.)

It all started with a ruined Wednesday morning.

A tweet of mine had found its way into a Washington Post op-ed calling for the dismissal of University of Missouri professors accused of assaulting students at a rally celebrating the resignation of the school president. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me; I’d grown accustomed to journalists using my tweets in their stories without giving me so much as a heads up (which usually leaves me open to trolling), and my Twitter account has never been private. But, as I’d spent the last 48 hours ridding my mentions of trolls wanting to debate First Amendment rights and freedom of the press, I was in no mood to entertain any more, and there was something about this particular post that stunk.

When WaPo blogger Erik Wemple couldn’t get in contact with one of the professors he decided to publicly shame, he used a source that provided him with a screenshot of that professor’s locked Twitter account. They were a handful of fairly innocuous retweets from myself and several other black writers commenting on the press’s inability to handle the Mizzou protesters with care. (More on the rather interesting optics of this later.) We don’t know who the source is, because Wemple is protecting them. We don’t see any actual tweets from the professor himself to put those retweets into context. When I reached out to Wemple, he claimed the retweets provided insight into the professor’s thoughts. And when I asked about the use of the screencaps, Wemple responded:

So, I sent a letter raising my concerns to Wemple’s editor, James Downie. This was his response:

(To Downie’s credit, he apologized for misgendering me on Twitter.)

According to Wemple and Downie, the professor’s 390 Twitter followers negated any expectation of privacy he may have had. Since the professor didn’t make himself available to be interviewed, Wemple was well within his rights as a reporter to use the screencaps of the professor’s private account the source had provided as a statement, of sorts. I’m not sure what the reader was supposed to glean from this, other than the professor’s proficiency at using the “Retweet” button. In any case, it has left the professor open to another wave of trolls and undesirables ready to harass him and call for his head.

Twitter — and the tweets of private citizens being public domain — has long been a point of contention. While Hamilton Nolan’s snide declaration in Gawker last year may have served as the definitive answer for many working journalists, it might have also contributed to the rapid erosion of public trust. But there’s something about Nolan’s post that’s worth noting:

“If you do not want your Twitter to be public, you can make it private. Then it will not be public. If you do not make it private, it will be public.”

The professor did, in fact, make his account private. He did not intend for anyone beyond his 390 followers to see those tweets. He had, in fact, an expectation of privacy, which was violated by Erik Wemple and the Washington Post.

This isn’t the first time a journalist or a blogger has exercised questionable judgment in pursuit of pageviews. Last week, American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher published the locked tweets of a theologian he was briefly obsessed with taking down. (I won’t link to the exact post out of privacy for her, but it remains up for the world to see.) It is unclear whether Dreher followed her on Twitter himself, or if he, like Wemple, had an eager source willing to do his dirty work.

Makerbase Co-Founder and CEO Anil Dash highlights the problem with treating the tweets of private citizens like those of public figures in his Medium essay, “What Is Public?” An excerpt:

“It has so quickly become acceptable practice within mainstream web publishing companies to reuse people’s tweets as the substance of an article that special tools have sprung up to help them do so. But inside these newsrooms, there is no apparent debate over whether it’s any different to embed a tweet from the President of the United States or from a vulnerable young activist who might not have anticipated her words being attached to her real identity, where she can be targeted by anonymous harassers.”

In March 2014, BuzzFeed reporter Jessica Testa published an “article” comprised mainly of tweets she’d curated from a Twitter discussion that user Steenfox kicked off about sexual assault.

That article, and subsequent outrage became part of a larger debate surrounding the way journalists use tweets. According to Steenfox, Testa had not gotten her permission to use her face or her image in the story.

A subject as touchy as the one Steenfox and her followers were discussing requires a lot of care in reporting. The people sharing their stories were survivors of sexual assault, and deserved to have both their identities and their dignities protected.

Openly publishing the names and faces of those participating in the discussion for an article clearly meant to garner links for BuzzFeed was completely irresponsible, and opened them up for further attacks and harassment, as Steenfox said she experienced herself.

Her photo went viral, finding its way onto the Facebook feed of her younger brother.

“He says, ‘you’re all over BuzzFeed’,” Steenfox said. “He was startled.”

She later battled with BuzzFeed to remove her photo from their site.

Of Testa, Steenfox said, “For all she knows, my abuser could have found me. What if I was trying to hide from that person?”

Steenfox, and many others whose tweets were included in the story, felt exposed. It’s one thing to send out a tweet to an audience of a couple hundred people. Fox has a very large following, but her 17,000 followers in no way matches the reach of a site with millions of viewers per day.

Exposing a story to that size of an audience, especially one that may not necessarily had been granted to BuzzFeed, is dangerous and irresponsible journalism.

Steenfox was harassed and trolled when the story of her dust up with BuzzFeed made it on the Poynter Institute’s site, via an article penned by resident journalism ethics expert Kelly McBride.

For her part, McBride based her opinionated article on a false premise. She misunderstood why Steenfox was angry, and used as a source one of Steenfox’s tweets in which Fox was addressing Testa for not having gotten her permission.

The entire thing turned into a nightmare for Steenfox, who had people in her mentions accusing her of wanting ownership of public tweets and being upset that her “Twitter moment was gone.”

All Steenfox wanted was her privacy to be respected. At the time, she maintained a public Twitter account with over 10,000 followers. And though she understood what she was doing when she posited the question to her audience, she never intended for that audience to grow hundreds of times over in the span of one night.

The idea that tweets are public and therefore open to be seen by everyone is an argument that is used all the time in these situations, but that argument lacks nuance.

What many of these journalists fail to grasp is that a person tweeting to a small audience may very well understand that the public tweets are subject to being shared and seen by a larger audience, but the type of exposure that comes when a larger media outlet shares your story in no way compares to 100 people on your timeline retweeting your tweet.

Consider the example of the infamous Zola, who took to Twitter to share a cautionary tale of hookers, strippers, pimps, mayhem, and murder.

After the story was retweeted hundreds of times, Zola deleted the tweets from her account, but not before they had been captured via screenshots and saved to various Imgur accounts.

When larger media outlets picked up the story, nearly none bothered to attempt to track down Zola or verify the facts of the story. Most simply provided cheeky, borderline insulting writeups, linking to screenshots others had posted.

Only WaPo’s Caitlin Dewey sought the facts behind the tale. She tracked down the parties involved, even finding others who had been in similar situations with Jess and ‘Z’, the latter turning out to be a real-life pimp currently facing charges of human trafficking, among other things.

Zola has become something of a cult hero, with movie directors contacting her about a possible dramatization of her story.

Others who have had their tweets shared on large media outlets without their knowledge have not been so lucky. Many have suffered harassment, ridicule, and in some cases, unemployment. These are things they didn’t sign up for.

The Society of Professional Journalists addresses the need for journalists to exhibit compassion in its code of ethics under the heading Minimize Harm:

Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.

What Wemple, Testa, and other journalists have done defies the ethical code. They have chosen to hide behind the idea that posting it in a public forum makes it fair game.

The time for a new code of ethics in journalism is now. In the age of new media, with so many reporters opting to do their research on the Twitter and Facebook feeds of private citizens instead of going out and doing the digging on their own, new rules must be set in place to train journalists how to handle situations like these when they arise.

(Part Two will take a closer look at the consequences of having a tweet go viral, and what happens when it nearly costs you your job.)

Life on the intersection.

I don’t write much anymore. Not because I don’t want to write. Not because there isn’t enough time. But in this fast-paced world of hot takes, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up. I realize that I am not a hot take kinda girl. I am for the measured, contemplative essay, one that takes great care to craft. Some are able to pull that off daily, and God bless ’em. I can’t do it. My heart isn’t in it. I write when the spirit compels me, when something has moved me so deeply that I am wide awake at 1:30 in the morning banging, on my Macbook Pro in the quiet of my living room.

Today, it is Sandra Bland, the woman who allegedly committed suicide in a Texas jail cell earlier this week. And the Black Lives Matter protest at Netroots Saturday morning. And the criticism of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new release. And how, in one way or another, they all intersect.

Sandra Bland spent the latter part of brief life advocating for preservation of black lives. Her family remembers her as a brilliant, vivacious woman, a woman fighting to change the world, or her corner of it. She used social media to speak out against police violence. A Chicago Blackhawks fan, her final tweets are ones asking fellow fans to join her in prayer for the Charleston Nine. She is the second person in three years to allegedly commit suicide while in custody of the Waller County, Texas, authorities. She is the sixth black woman in 2015 to die during a police encounter. She is the 13th black woman (that we know of) to die since 2014. Sandra Bland’s case is one of the very few to see widespread media attention; usually when the victim is black and female the story is quietly filed away, until a news story needs a statistic, or a thinkpiece needs an tragic anecdote. Perhaps, because in Sandra Bland, we have the perfect victim. A respectable victim. An educated, socially conscious victim. She is not too young, or too old. She could easily be the girl from the old neighborhood, or the sister making plates at the family picnic, or the girl you politely smiled at as you crossed paths in the frozen food aisle at Mariano’s.

Sandra Bland means that the stories of black women felled at the hands of police can no longer be erased. No longer can we write off black female victims as troubled ne’er-do-wells condemned to their fates. No longer can we blame incomplete narratives on the lack of public interest. Her story is in our face, her final moment of life a viral video, her brief existence a Sunday morning show talking point. So when a Black Lives Matter activist disrupts a presidential candidate forum to declare “no more erasure,” you are compelled to pay attention. And it will make you uncomfortable. That’s the point. There is no room for politeness when your life is on the line. There is no hey, um, if you could um, just give me a minute… because we’ve tried that before and got nowhere. This is as urgent as a motherfucker.

News reports covering Saturday’s action have described it as “heckling,” the presidential candidates “shouted down.” or “interrupted and derailed” by BLM. Social media reaction was just as damning, with many white progressives wondering (aloud, of course) why black activists would disrupt politicians at a convention specifically created for…activists. Many black people who have attended Netroots will attest to having that “fly in the buttermilk” feeling. They will regale you with tales of bizarre microaggressions and polite liberal racism. They will speak of the organization’s lip service to diversity, and its struggles to be more inclusive. Which is why that BLM action was necessary, why the sight of a black woman standing between two white male presidential hopefuls, demanding to be seen, demanding accountability, was powerful. Sure, white progressives can try to dismiss this protest as an immature attention-grab, but when a white male presidential hopeful (one with a questionable track record on race relations) responds to Tia Oso’s question with “Black Lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” the disconnect is clear. And when Tia Oso is met with scorn and derision from white progressives, the disconnect is clear. And when Bernie Sanders cancels a meeting with black activists, perhaps to signal disapproval, the disconnect is clear.

It is necessary, then, to continue to speak up about erasure, even if it means criticizing those we respect. Last week saw the release of Ta-Nehisi Coates new book, Between the World and Me; many met the new release with praise, including Toni Morrison, who compared The Atlantic writer to Baldwin. It is something when one of the world’s most revered writers compares your work to that of another literary giant. The accolades, of course, aren’t unwarranted. I’ve been a fan since his Village Voice days, and have had spirited debates with good friends on the merits of his work. Coates is a beautiful storyteller, an earnest intellectual who readily admits when he’s wrong, and takes great care to get it right. And when a friend did come with criticism, he took it. Instead of making it about himself, or his feelings, he simply responded “you’re right.”

And that’s really all we want. Acknowledgement. For our voices to be heard, our pain felt. To not be shouted down, or told to wait our turn. It is possible to bite your tongue so hard it bleeds, to hold in a scream for so long that the body and spirit and soul breaks down. A demand for accountability shouldn’t be met with paternalism and jeers. A moment of legitimate anger shouldn’t be dismissed as an ill-timed tantrum. We are here. Present. Visible. Loud. And we aren’t going anywhere.

Dispatches from Ferguson.

A makeshift memorial for another black boy felled by a policeman's gun.

A makeshift memorial for another black boy felled by a policeman’s gun.

You don’t know how to write this story. It’s difficult, due mostly to the emotional proximity of it all. You feel everything, and at once. The heaviness of the air, the apathy of the authorities, the grief and frustration of the residents who deserve answers and not nightly tear gassing. When you arrive Friday evening, you note the feeling of relief at the Qwik Trip, where ash and rubble has given way to an outdoor community center. Messages etched in sidewalk chalk conveying support from far-flung places, people healing through laughter and dance. Despite being so blatantly lied to earlier, there is a glimmer of hope that justice will be served. Somehow. Someway. 

Later that night, you watch helplessly and in horror, as local law enforcement attack residents again. Friends and family caution you against going back out to help, reminding you of your parental responsibilities. But those responsibilities are what led you here. You are here because eventually, the four year-old who clutches his toy turtle every night will grow into a teenage boy. One who does teenage boy things. And he deserves to exist in a world where policemen don’t kill him for jaywalking, or fitting the description. 

Saturday morning you find yourself back at the Qwik Trip bowing your head in prayer to a God you don’t believe in, clasping hands with those who still do. You talk to people who have come from Atlanta and California and Florida, all of them black women. They have brought supplies and bodies. They march alongside you to the spot where Mike Brown was murdered. They listen, heads bowed, as Rev. Jesse Jackson leads another prayer. They take pictures and comfort one another. Later, they help residents hand out hotdogs and chips, and mind the babies running around as the bikers drive through. 

After a brief respite and another supply run, you are back in Ferguson by nightfall. Rain is beating the pavement, lightning strikes in the distance, but the people are undeterred. Despite the midnight curfew (and neighboring towns imposing earlier ones) they are out, and ready. You’ve just left what you thought would be a strategy meeting with organizers, painfully white organizers who flinch when they see you and your friends arrive. There are no residents present, and after your phones get a decent charge, you leave and hit West Florissant again. A friend wonders, aloud, if residents were given access to that space during the protests. Probably not, you respond. 

The trained journalist in you has so many questions. Why are residents continuously being punished for peacefully assembling? Why is the man who murdered a boy in cold blood allowed to flee the county? What the fuck is up with the local government? You push them aside. Besides, there will be a million thinkpieces by a million armchair revolutionaries/blackademics/concerned white people who will peddle their theories from a safe and comfortable distance while dismissing the power of “hashtag activism,” the same activism that made this concerted act of resistance possible. The power of “Black Twitter” is formidable, and you are seeing it firsthand. 

You leave for home today, not knowing what to expect in the days to come. You will get more supplies to share with residents, you will attend the scheduled vigil, and you will be back on a bus to Chicago by nightfall as residents once again fight for their humanity. You will think of the kindness and generosity of the people here, who hug you hard and feed you without knowing your name. You will continue to lend your support however you can, while you continue to fight for your own city five hours away. 

And you will remember Mike Brown, the boy who should have lived. 



The Case of 234 Missing Nigerian Girls & Apathetic Media Coverage.

While racist ranchers and missing airplanes have been dominating the news cycle for days, another story–a heartbreaking one–has received scant media attention. On April 15, 234 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped after being summoned back to school for exams. Boko Haram, an extremist group that opposes the education of women, has claimed responsibility for the mass abduction.

According to a Reuters report, Nigerian President Johnathan held a security meeting with 36 state governors to address the kidnapping and widespread violence that has plagued the country for several years. Officials maintain that it is oil, not religion, that is to blame for the conflict. It is unclear what action these officials plan to take.

Apart from a handful of wire reports and articles, there has been little media coverage stateside, which is surprising, because one would think that the disappearance of 234 schoolgirls would make international headlines. So, it’s time for some action.

Start here by signing this petition. Use your social media networks to make #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaughters trend. Contact your local media outlets. Let’s try to bring these girls home.

Many thanks to the bloggers, journalists, writers, and activists who have been working to spread the story. Check out Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville here.

Eldercare: The Forgotten Feminist Issue.

(This was written late last year; I pitched it a few places but received little interest. I’m posting it here because, well, it’s an important conversation.)

One of my favorite pictures of my mom.

Mom, back in the day.


As I write this my mother is fast asleep in a nursing home, her third stint in 15 months. It is a heartbreaking thing, watching your parent slowly succumb to her mortality. You try to prepare yourself for the call you’ll get in the middle of the night from a nurse reluctant to give you the news you’ve been dreading for years. But no amount of preparation will ready you for that call. No amount of alcohol will lessen the pain. Even writing about it is hard because it forces you to deal with an absolute, inescapable truth. She is dying, and you are powerless to stop it.

The woman I now visit several times a week is not the woman I knew five years ago, or even three years ago, when she bounded into my maternity suite with her walker, perching herself on the sofa while ordering my husband around. She is an entirely different creature, one who will ask me the same question in a five-minute span, one who is petulant and stubborn and scared. She is not the Joan who raised me, and it is difficult to reconcile this version with the one I knew. The one I miss. I watch my other friends in envy as they travel the world with their healthy, able-bodied parents, as those parents gift them with cars and weddings, top-shelf appliances and Maclaren strollers.

As a junior member of the Sandwich Generation, I’ve been my mother’s primary caregiver for the last several years, a responsibility passed on to me when my brother and his wife retired to Phoenix. A changing of the guard, so to speak, because they’d spent over 20 years juggling full-time jobs, mortgage payments and ailing elders. Statistics will tell you that the average Sandwicher is older, whiter and affluent, which makes my case somewhat unique (I suppose) because I am none of those things. Earlier this year, when my husband was laid off after 14 years of what should be considered indentured servitude, our financial situation went from “meh, it could be worse” to “oh, this is what abject poverty feels like.” If money wasn’t going to toddler care, it was going to one (or both) of our mothers.

But what I’m doing now is no different from what my brother was doing ten years ago, no different from what our mother was doing over 20 years ago when she moved my grandmother into our spartan three-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side. In fact, my situation isn’t a unique one at all, because growing up I was surrounded by women who lived as we did; three-to-four generations sharing 800 square-feet. For most poor/working-class single women of color, this is a familiar, albeit depressing, narrative. My mother was raising a 12 year-old and a 67 year-old on barmaid’s wages and public assistance. Her friend Mona was using her barmaid’s wages to provide for her college-bound son and a mother in a nursing home. Another friend, Sally, was raising a gaggle of kids and grandkids on Sunday dinners she’d sell from her window. Though they all made it work, there were doubtless physical and emotional strains that would manifest in the years to come.

As much as we love to pathologize the black inner-city experience, there was—is—a love that is real. Present. Corporeal. Etched in frown lines and callused hands. Displayed by women whose sense of love and obligation pushed them to their limits. According to this study on cultural diversity and caregiving, African-American caregivers had lower levels of caregiver burden and depression than their white counterparts. Given that depression is fairly underreported in the black community, I find this hard to believe. While some reports show Americans being generally averse to elder caregiving, others show just how ingrained it is in the black community, mainly because we cannot afford it. And we’re less likely to entrust the care of our Willa Maes to state institutions or private facilities because of the increasing number of abuse cases.

As writer Jane Glenn Haas pointed out, eldercare isn’t sexy enough to be a feminist issue. It lacks the naughty allure of reproductive rights, the seductive appeal of body image. It doesn’t even have a sassy Lean In-like catchphrase. But it should be a feminist issue, since the numbers show that women are most likely to shoulder the responsibility of looking after parents in their twilight years, and the most likely to live well into those twilight years. A lot of them have missed out on career and educational opportunities. A lot of them—like my mother and her friends—are doing this by the skin of their teeth, with scant to nonexistent resources. A lot of them will outlive their spouses (if they have them), exhaust their pensions (if they have them), and die alone.

All of this begs a stronger push for policy changes that no longer penalize women for making the choice to care for their elders, a push for making more resources available to help them. Innovative programs like CAPABLE can not only ease the burden of caregivers, but empower the senior citizens who need the care and improve their quality of life. But in order for this country to realize the importance of this issue, we need more voices—big and small—to amplify it.

On consent and sensitivity.

About 10 years ago, I was a staff writer for the Hyde Park Herald, a community weekly that paid in Trident Layers. One day, I was assigned a story on neighborhood chess players who’d been kicked out of a Borders bookstore for ruining the aesthetic, or something. I interviewed the store manager, who later claimed that I quoted her without permission.

Three days later, I was sacked. I was livid. I didn’t understand why the woman would lie. She never deferred to a corporate rep, nor did she state that she wanted anything off the record. It was just a story about chess players. What was the big deal? I didn’t consider that the woman might have wanted her identity hidden for reasons, and I didn’t care. I was out of a job, and over a story I didn’t even want. So I chalked it up to cowardice and started taping all of my interviews from that point on.

Yesterday, @steenfox kicked off an important conversation about rape culture by asking her followers what they were wearing at the time of their assault. She asked for permission to retweet the responses, all of which were vast and jarring. Some consented; others didn’t. Some asked her to retweet them anonymously. The conversation went on for hours, with women and men sharing their stories from all parts of the globe. It was a beautiful, communal catharsis; a perfect response to an earlier discussion about Slutwalk giving women permission to “dress like sluts.”

A few hours later, Buzzfeed writer Jessica Testa wrote up the discussion, asking for permission from everyone EXCEPT the person facilitating the discussion. (Again, I would link but I’d contract something.) To Testa’s credit, she did attempt to reach out to Steen, but Steen never saw it because her mentions were filled with people sharing their testimonies. I would’ve tried again until I got a response, but that’s just me. Anyway, Testa’s published “story” consists of little more than screencapped tweets and captions. It is the laziest piece on rape culture I’ve seen thus far, and I’ve seen a LOT of lazy stuff floating on the internet.

When Steen and Testa finally talked, Testa would echo what most of her supporters–themselves media salarymen–were saying: Twitter is a public platform, and thus these tweets were fair game. “The victims’ stories don’t belong to you or Twitter,” she told Steen. Buzzfeed brass (and a number of employees) agreed. Even Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan weighed in with a condescending post, complete with links to tweets from various people who took issue with Testa and Buzzfeed. Ironically, a Daily Dot writer who wrote about the ethical pitfalls of  using tweets didn’t bother giving me a heads-up about using one of mine.

But the real issue isn’t so much about Twitter being a public space; it’s about the absolute lack of empathy, sensitivity, and thoroughness when it comes to covering stories like these and the flippant, snarky responses that come from media outlets after the inevitable fallout. Testa’s quest to be the first to break the story alienated a number of people and did irrevocable damage not only to Buzzfeed’s brand, but the public’s trust. Some expressed relief that they didn’t share their survivor stories out of fear they’d become troll fodder. Testa didn’t take into account Steen’s safety or comfort, potentially exposing her to trolls and other unsavory characters.

It’s one thing to take down racists or make fun of bad cuisine, but it’s quite another to risk the emotional (and, in some cases, physical) safety of abuse survivors for the sake of page hits. As a friend told me earlier, “The good guys should never be collateral damage.” Sexual assault is an evergreen topic that will never lose its relevancy, and with enough thought and care, Tesla could’ve done something insightful and thought-provoking with the material given. While many of us joke about Buzzfeed only being good for cat gifs and listcles, they’ve produced some very solid journalism in the last year. Clearly, they’re capable of doing better. They just didn’t choose to do better here.

Anyway, to see how responsible journalism is done, please refer to Jenee Desmond-Harris’s interview with Steen on The Root.

On the expendability of rape victims and irresponsible journalism.

Today in “WTF, White Feminists?!” News, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte jumps on another train to Wrongville, siding with a Washington State prosecutor’s decision to arrest an alleged rape victim for refusing to cooperate:

…it seems naive to believe that all you need to work with victims of domestic assault is more outreach. (The charges are against the second man, but the boyfriend is the one who instigated the kidnapping, suggesting that the domestic violence framework is in play here.) Victims have minds of their own, and sometimes no amount of victim outreach or counseling will change their minds.

The victim’s refusal to cooperate is a problem endemic to the prosecution of domestic violence, as I wrote in September. In Queens, N.Y., law enforcement reports that victims recant their testimony in 9 out of 10 cases. It’s not necessarily, as Rose suggests, simply because they are so traumatized by the violence itself that rehashing it with prosecutors feels too overwhelming. Research shows that a victim’s refusal to cooperate with a prosecution is more about her relationship to the abuser. In this particular case, the victim has a long-standing history with one of her attackers, which suggests that she probably doesn’t see this in the same way that someone kidnapped and assaulted by complete strangers would. While there are some interventions that can help reduce the problem of victims who recant out of these complex feelings, there’s no silver bullet of counseling that will get all victims to see things the way prosecutors want them to.

Clearly the only way these women are going to learn is if they’re victimized all over again? This is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense. Dangerous nonsense that will most likely result in fewer victims coming forward, and more rapists walking free.

It’s easy to get caught up in the facts and figures and forget that these are actual human beings, ones who have experienced a horrible trauma. Ones who have to figure out how to deal with that trauma and still attempt to be fully functioning people. What Marcotte and others fail to realize is that for some, the victimization doesn’t end with the rape. Or with pressing charges. Or with a conviction. Some perpetrators can and do continue to torment their victims, even after the final bang of the gavel. And, depending on how powerful said perps are, that torment can be life-threatening.

The sad, unavoidable truth is that we can’t be mad about victims changing their minds when our collective handling of sexual assault victims borders on obscene. Between bizarre laws and thousands of backlogged rape kits and oh!–our time-honored tradition of treating alleged victims like suspects, we should expect more of them to pass on turning to the legal system for help. We should also realize that greenlighting thoughtless clickbait like Marcotte’s only traumatizes people more. Always erring on the side of profit and pageviews means putting some really egregious shit into the world. If that’s a price worth paying, OK, but it’s also understandable that other people who identify as feminists will come for your fucking card.



Welcome to Intersectionality. Sometimes it’s hard.

Helen Lewis’s rebuttal of Julie Burchill’s ridiculous and horribly formatted Spectator essay on intersectionality (I won’t link it because I may contract something) left many of us doing this:

…because for all of their good intentions, white feminists still cannot get it right. Maybe they don’t want to get it right. For all of this talk about infighting and hurt feelings and waxing!–the things we really need to address keep getting ignored. When Piers Morgan went after Janet Mock–the first time–only two notable white feminists took to their sizable platforms to address it. Unfortunately, neither of them were very helpful, and seemed more sympathetic to Morgan. (Oh, how I miss the days when he was regulated to judging 80 year-old ballerinas on talent shows.)

“Intersectionality is really, really hard, guys!” Yes, it is. And no one expects white feminists to be perfect. We DO expect you to try, and not expect people to be nice to you or hold your hand when you fuck up. If Helen Lewis’s idea of handling criticism is to call out another white woman for referring to herself as a womanist? I just…I don’t know.

At some point you have to give up the ghost. In the case of us “marginalized people” (I hate that term) it might be time to stop getting angry over the latest mainstream feminist blunder and look at them the same way you would a puppy that pooped on your floor. Or an old Three Stooges episode. Because the best we can expect at this point is some really great slapstick comedy.

Anyway, enjoy this kickass piece from Bitch’s Tina Vasquez on the mainstream movement’s failure on transgender issues, if you haven’t already.

The road from here.

I was 24 when I buried my father; last weekend marked the 13th anniversary of his death. Nothing propels you into adulthood faster than planning a memorial service for a man you barely knew. But there I was, attempting to sift through the detritus of bittersweet memories to honor him. It’s hard to set aside the hurt, to swallow the anger and do the responsible thing, especially when you don’t want the task. In the end my father had disappointed so many people–his common-law wife and teen daughter among them–that no one wanted to be bothered. He died alone in a nursing home on Superbowl Sunday.

My relationship with my dad had always been contentious. All the missed birthdays and spelling bees and oratory contests and report card pickup days didn’t help matters. By the time he came clean about his drug addiction, I no longer cared; I was heading off to college, far away from him. Back then, I didn’t know how crippling addiction could be. I merely saw a man too lazy to kick heroin, and resented him for his weakness.

Some days I wish I had a TARDIS.

The clarity that comes once the hurt and anger subside usually arrives tardy for the party, too late to say what was necessary, what was needed. I’ve only recently made peace with everything that happened between my dad and I; I’d never told him how I felt. Never expressed anything but apathy and pity while he was alive. I didn’t realize being silent and stoic did me more harm than good.

Sometimes the people and things you love cannot love you back. In my case, it’s feminism.

Last week, when The Nation story ran, I was ready to rip out entrails and make party hats. I was quoting Liam Neeson and googling “best ways to throatchop people.” I wanted BLOOD, yo. I was hurt on behalf of my friends, who’d been painted as bitter and angry and obsessed. I saw a few people, ones I respected and admired greatly, praise it as a thought-provoking piece of journalism. (As a recovering journalist, THAT really made me angry.) I wanted to write an immediate response but something was holding me back. Perhaps I needed more time to calm down than I thought. It’s easy to get caught up in the outrage, especially when the transgressors have no problem with manipulating the truth. It’s also easy to say “fuck it” and walk away.

To be honest, I feel like that most of the time. Every time I’m hit with the latest episode of “Shit White Feminists Say” I’m ready to pack a hobo bag and do a sad David Banner walk along an empty highway. Then I think about the women in the writing workshop I teach, the son I’m raising, and the people from far-flung places who reach out to tell me how my words helped them, how Hood Feminism has created a space where they finally feel at home. I’m grateful. When you’re fighting to be included, fighting for your humanity to be recognized by people who claim to be allies, it’s important to remember those things.

So, I’m still here. Though it’s hard to set aside the hurt, to swallow the anger and do the responsible thing. Especially when you don’t want the task.

Anyway, go read this kick-ass post over at Prison Culture if you haven’t already.