Black Hashtag Emancipation: Affronting Reactionary White-Elite Feminism

Note: As we always do here at DV, we open up intellectual and revolutionary space to keen eyes and sharp wits and wicked thinkers. Here, let’s look at a critique of the reactionary Nation  magazine’s Feb. 17, 2014 cover “work.” Or rather, cover hack job!

Written by M R Klein

The most recent issue of The Nation features a cover story by Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation booster Michelle Goldberg bemoaning “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars”. Unaccountably chosen for such a place of prominence in progressive left US media, the astonishingly petty article consists mainly of trivial gossip and kvetching by the authors’ friends arranged around a centrepiece of blatantly personal vendetta, besmirching the character of a black feminist intellectual who produces mainly online, without academic post or establishment media sinecure.

Mikki Kendall, the target of this seemingly inexplicable elite media assault, has in fact provoked this abuse, and this is how: she has excelled in the staging of social media collective critique events through the use of twitter hashtags, among them #solidarityisforwhitewomen. That hashtag  was a tool of mass public pedagogy. The hashtag in Kendall’s hands – and others are learning from her – proved a successful technique for her organization of a massive online discussion between feminists about racism rife among the leaders of white feminist establishment which had become starkly clear around the figure of Hugo Schwyzer a serial harasser of feminists of color who caballed against theorists he targeted (@BlackAmazon, @brownfemipower, @redlightvoices and others), worked through whispering campaigns to interfere with their livelihood and reputation, and was assisted, promoted and defended in this racist misogynist aggression by many white feminists active online, among them the editors of major websites targeting women readers with a faintly liberal feminist (porny sex-positive) slant such as Jezebel.

Kendall’s #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag trended, piling on contributions, reached millions, and gave rise to a bounteous airing of analysis, insight, wit, anger and solidarity from countless, gorgeously diverse twitter users. This encroachment on the territory of mass media – the hashtag conversation reached a mass audience of the size which was once pretty much only accessible to  brevetted institutions — provoked the ire of Daily Mail tabloid veteran and current New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, an expert seller of tits ass and pseudo feminism (Laurie Penny is her creature), who got herself invited on the BBC to denounce Kendall as divisive and much else, with strong suggestions of ‘reverse racism’.

Despite the formidable arsenal of  distribution, fame, and unscrupulous snark-makers controlled by the white feminists who mobilized against her, Kendall emerged from this elite media stoning surprisingly triumphant, cheered up and down the virtual thoroughfares of social media, and hailed as the creator of a new kind of megaphone for the marginalized. Evidently the bourgeois white “feminists” (self styled, baseless) of this media insider clique who shrank in fear and horror from the suddenly booming sound of those they had counted on as a silent audience and gagged constituency, would not bring themselves to endure the defeat. They brushed off and deployed their male mentors’ blasting harangues about haytas and “populism” as all kinds of threat (of decadence, dictatorship, error, relativism, bad taste, censorship, hurt white girl feelings, individualism, gangyness, etc., etc).

And from their unabated and implacable resentment and vindictiveness sprang the cover story of Katrina vanden Heuvel’s venerable progressive magazine (where House Harridan Katha Pollitt too had been grumbling about wounds received from the riff raff on twitter for some time). This boiling white fury at Kendall’s having not only survived the disapproval and animosity of these influential white feminist culture workers but found a way around the gatekeepers to deliver to a mass audience the message, unflattering to themselves, which they were accustomed to forbidding, muzzling and ridiculing, found expression in the Nation cover piece. Penned by a rather dodgy new media pseudo-journalist and author Michelle Goldberg, the article labels Kendall a “bully” and depicts her as a toxin who, with other women of color using the twitter platform, has poisoned the atmosphere of Online Feminism described by Goldberg as formerly harmonious, peaceful and constructive in the days when it was a realm exclusively populated  by white bourgeois liberals.

Many intellectuals affronted by this second pillory of Kendall, not from the tabloidy New Statesman provocateur this time but from a magazine with some remaining credibility with anti-capitalists, have responded to the provocation, among them Crommunist blogVivaLaFeminista blogUSPrisonCulture blog and Andrea Smith and Sarah Kendzior. The journalist Aura Bogado tweeted her disgust with the “racist click bait” commissioned by the Nation for money followed by the magazine’s invitation to offended readers to contribute unpaid fodder for further profitable controversy as letters to the editor.

This letter will not be accepted for publication by The Nation, but it was my answer to the invitation.

Sassing Miss Anne

In The Hatred of Democracy, Jacques Ranciere describes the post Cold War fascist ideological revanchism emerging from formerly social democratic and liberal quarters. As soon as mainstream pundits were no longer called upon to produce the anticommunist critique of the “totalitarian” alternative to the celebrated bourgeois parliamentary systems of “The West”, they whirled about to commence prophylactic anticommunism targeting the restive hoi polloi of the imperial core.

In most mainstream corporate media,  only the likes of Bill Gates dare openly to avow a preference for elite despotism, as he did in The Financial Times. The pundit for hire must typically be more cautious.  Democratic governance is undoubtedly better than all other arrangements, they concede, but the realization of its ideals requires those civilizationally advanced citizens who alas can only be found among liberal elites or “in Scandinavia” [Zizek].

Unfortunately, the majority of actually existing citizens of democracies, composed of zombie egoist consumers and enraged practitioners of tribalist “identity politics”, are simply unfit for self-government; the latter are especially noxious actors who, the moment unleashed from the benevolent control of their betters, roam the land as gangs of Political Correctness Gestapo and “Maoist” thugs doling out hazings to terrorize the educated and cultured into silence. Brevetted culture workers dutifully disseminating ruling class wisdom have been wailing almost unceasingly for rescue from these ferocious, feral critics who talk back to them without the least deference to their sacred offices as Contributing Editors, Columnists, Fellows, Professors authorized by Respectable Blocks of Capital since Newsweek’s 1990 Thought Police! cover story “Taking Offence.”

The honorable fraternity of Wonks and Pundits dispatches constant warnings: too much democracy turns to the tyranny of warlords (playground bullies monstrously matured) ruling by manipulating the mob. And now social media has greatly increased the threat to the stability of received ideas and the virginity of virtuous women’s delicate ears as the technology of the civilized (Twitter even more disastrously than writing and telephones) unstoppably falls into barbarian hands.

Michelle Goldberg’s fantasy  of  The Scary Toxic War-Torn Land of Twitter is like a little movie illustrating this age-old imperialist’s sob story, the nightmare of reactionaries from Plato and Paul to de Maistre and Nietzsche, the “catastrophe of democratic society”[Ranciere].  Fortunately a great number of Nation readers were able to recognize the aggressive and oppressive pillory of an independent intellectual by a retainer of the Newsweek/DailyBeast corporation for the hit piece it was. Of course one expects Goldberg’s presentation of the “toxic twitter wars” to be raced, reproducing as it does an indelibly colonialist topos, but the venom of affronted whiteness allowed by the Nation in so prominent a piece was surprising. At the centre of Goldberg’s drama, wherein she rides in on a white horse to clean up this toxic town, is Mikki Kendall, Wanted for Sassing Miss Anne, captured and slapped in the stocks for the enraged Nation readers to stone. The intensity of the malice here did indeed steal many readers’ breath. The effectiveness of this public shaming and defaming as exemplary chastisement, deterrent to uppitiness, is not to be denied.

Here, the story by Goldberg:  Nation.

Though many readers have felt put on notice and intimidated by this piece – and many determined to defend themselves against its threat – nobody seems to be fooled by Goldberg’s penalty-box-agony histrionics into hallucinating the fearsome warlord of the web whose terrible terrorist image she attempts to conjure as Mikki Kendall’s avatar. However, alas, nor do many critics of Goldberg seem capable yet of placing this strange, seemingly capricious cover story attack by the Nation and its Newsweek/DailyBeast corp veteran “journalist” in the context of her other ideological work.

In fact Goldberg is engaged in denying real lethal toxicity inflicted by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation on vulnerable women of color and, ideology being reality on its head, displacing the erased poison onto the population from which the defenders of Gates’ victims will always come. The silencing of the outcry in India and elsewhere against the wanton killing of children used for medical experimentation by Gates-funded pharma enterprise is suppressed but displaced into a fable of feminists of color silencing the white feminist courtiers of Gates. An examination of Goldberg’s oeuvre would allow consumers of this bizarrely personal, petty punditry to draw necessary connections between her propagation of “overpopulation” alarmism, European supremacist mythologies (equality and feminism are “European values”) and white washing of the sinister Gates foundation, whose disinformation campaigns and lethally toxic “health charity” programs are all threatened by the critical culture and communication capacities arising with relatively easily accessible, unrestricted, uncensored internet and social media services. The pr of these unsavory interests she has made a career promoting is especially endangered by the growing volume of radical women of color feminist activism and discourse already challenging the depopulation schemes involving sterlization and depo provera distribution, whose organizing and dissemination are facilitated by twitter and other social media. It is this community Goldberg smears and the Nation piece seeks to cow.

Paul Kirk has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. Read other articles by Paul.