Saturday, April 12, 2008

So, what did we learn from all this?

1) That the definition of "plagiarism" is much broader than most people think (thanks to Stoneself, comment #310 on the Feministe thread):


Plagiarism is defined as the use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source. This includes, but is not limited to:
(a.) Copying from the writings or works of others into one’s academic assignment without attribution, or submitting such work as if it were one’s own;
(b.) Using the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment; or
(c.) Paraphrasing the characteristic or original phraseology, metaphor, or other literary device of another without proper attribution.

from the uc berkeley library website

2) That the accusation of "plagiarism," like the accusation of "racism," will shut down any further conversation between the central parties. Thus, WOC/POC may "discretely" - as several (White?) commenters suggested at Feministe as well, I think, as at Schwyzer's - communicate, in the very gentlest terms possible, that perhaps the writer may have made a mistake for omitting a link, or perhaps the writer may have accidentally used language that might, to some, appear racist. But anything beyond that is, quite simply, rude, frightening, mean, and a threat to the accused party's career. In other words, the actual appropriation of WOC/POC's work, and the impact of this on their feelings and careers, are not of concern to White people who are being accused.

3) That when WOC/POC have their work appropriated, there is, therefore, no way to grieve this situation outside of a courtroom, which is simply not an option for most people, for a whole slew of reasons, including court costs and also the backlash of this kind of publicity.

4) That there are, in spite of the attempts of many White commenters to paint this as "Angry WOC v. White Women," many White feminist female and male allies who are, as a consequence of seeing both that BFP has silenced herself and that Amanda Marcotte and some of her allies have refused to acknowledge at all that she should have linked to BFP's work as well as to work by other WOC, rethinking our own practices as bloggers and writers as well as our own gut defensiveness. Many White feminists are thinking about what would happen if we, ourselves, were accused of appropriating someone else's ideas. Some mentioned their own processes of taking anti-racist action, which I quote not to lionize White people in this discussion, but to show that there are allies, there are examples of White people doing anti-racist thinking and acting that others of us can learn from:

As a white feminist, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about feminism being a movement for social justice for everyone, not the property or weapon of a specific group of people who identify in a specific way. I started thinking about this when I was wishing that more of the men in my life felt like they could come out and identify as feminists. But I’ve realized that the idea has a much broader application. And what the articles I read really drove home was: because I am a feminist, therefore committed to social justice wherever there’s a lack of it, the thing I need to think about FIRST isn’t necessarily that I am a woman, and therefore oppressed by the system. What I need to think about FIRST is that I am white (and affluent and able-bodied and privileged in other ways) which means that I (a) benefit significantly from the bigger system of inequality of which patriarchy is an integral part, and (b) need to listen really hard to the voices of women of color (etc.) who unquestionably can tell me things I can’t see for myself. (Susan, Comment 186)

I’m a white, low income, disabled sometime writer. I’ve lost a job, my total prospects for employment in a certain field, when I’m fearful about job market access and homelessness already, because my employer was doing racist shit and eventually I went "this is my living, but it’s their living too, and whether “they” actually staying alive or not" (Outfoxblog, Comment 189)

5) Holly rocks. Her whole Feministe post was wonderful, but I found this portion particularly helpful, as it serves as a model for dealing gracefully with realizing and being accountable for appropriating someone else's work:

I am willing to confess on this subject. On more than one occasion I have not given credit where credit’s due, I haven’t acknowledged my influences and the prior work of others. I’m not proud of that, even though it can easily happen to anyone, especially a relatively sloppy thinker like me. They were mistakes and I’ve tried to own up to them. It hasn’t always been easy.

You can see one such mistake in the Sixteen Maneuvers post that I’ve already linked twice. Like I say at the beginning of that post, I based that list on some printed materials I found from a defunct anti-racist organization. I’ve used those materials before when running anti-racism workshops, and decided to adapt it for Feministe. Then Kai showed up and pointed out a similarity to Nezua’s Wite-Magik Attax. All of a sudden I realized with horror that I HAD read Nezua’s Glosario some time ago, that I must have been influenced by it in how I adapted the “Maneuevers”–even without consciously remembering. Aghast, I posted a response to give Nezua credit and call myself out for plagiarism. That was probably overstating, and I kind of wish I had edited the original post. In any case, I felt really embarassed — I had copied an idea, even unintentionally and even though it was from more than one source, without giving credit. Happily for me, Nezua regarded it as a birthday tribute. And I retroactively declared it one.

6) That there are, indeed, ways to respond to accusations of appropriation, plagiarism, etc. Suggested by Holly, Comment 107:

"When I first wrote this piece, I did so without recognizing the work that’s been done on these particular issues, the intersection of feminism and immigration issues, by a lot of other women. Of course, we can’t always call out every single person whose writing and thoughts have filtered their way into our minds, but I do want to mention X blogger, Y author, and Z activist whose speech I heard last week. As a white woman who’s just starting to write about a crisis that has devastated the lives of so many immigrant women of color in this country, their communities and families, I want to recognize the work of these and other women of color and express hope that the progressive movement will follow their lead on in fighting racist immigration policies. I regret not including this in the first draft, since I might have come across like I was constructing this analysis myself — I’m not, and we’re fortunate to have many women of all colors thinking about this stuff."

7) The issues are not about us as individuals. As bloggers and writers, we have a larger responsibility than bolstering our own egos. We should also care about making a difference with our words. We should put the subjects of our writing first, and that means writing about them with clarity. Further, we have a responsibility to link to the bloggers and writers and artists who lay the groundwork for our own work, to the people who help us to come up with ideas. And we have a responsibility to read broadly so that we actually have a clue about what we write about.

BFP, via The SmackDog Chronicles:
There’s a lot of women of color (and men of color!) who have talked about immigration. There’s a lot of women of color and men of color who have examined how sexualized violence has been the foremost result of the “strengthening” of borders. There’s been a lot of us who have insisted for a long time now that immigration is a feminist issue, goddamn it, get your head out of your ass.

I even wrote a whole speech about it.

Which is why it was startling to read a recent article about how sexualized violence against immigrant women is directly linked to using dehumanizing terminology like “illegal alien” without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female, in the entire essay. There is even an earnest declaration about how paperwork is the true problem of immigration (bureaucracy of paperwork anybody?) coupled with a declaration that immigration is a feminist issue.

I do not accept that the author of this article made a mistake in not publishing any links to the work already being done by pro-immigration bloggers, nor do I accept that the author came up with these ideas all on her own.


What I *DO* believe is that I made a massive and horrible mistake in emphasizing that immigration is a feminist issue. In comments, a Chicano blogger said very politely, thank you for talking about this Ms. Feminist, but this has been going on for a long time.

I don’t give a shit about being published, I don’t give a shit about the interviews or the jobs or the fame–I DO give a shit that a Chicano is reading a white feminist talking about immigration and politely distancing himself from a gendered analysis of immigration because the author exhibits no historical or contextual awareness of women of color led feminist interventions into immigration.

I give a shit about that because not only does this erase the work that women of color are doing within racist white dominant structures, but it erases the work we are doing within our own communities. It makes it ok for men of color to dismiss the need for feminist interventions into our communities–AND it makes it ok for white women to continue beating up women of color with the idea that showing any concern for what happens to men in our communities is ridiculous, because, see, they don’t approve of feminism!

Poof! Just like that, feminists of color are made invisible even as we are the ones laying our bodies down for the foundation of the communication between men of color and white women.

I had thought at one time that feminism was about justice for women. I had thought it was about centering the needs of women, and creating action in the name of, by and for women. I had thought that feminism has its problems but it’s worth fighting for, worth sacrificing and sweating and crying and breaking down for.

It was all worth it to me, because it meant that I existed and my daughter existed and the women I love existed and we had the right to demand the violence committed against us ends.

I see now that feminism is nothing more than erasure. A conversation between white women and men. A commitment to the safety and well being of people who are never women of color.

We miss you, BFP.


Trinity said...

Thank you, PF.

The thing I really, really don't get is how this has turned all and only into "they're saying I plagiarized from BFP, and BFP was the furthest thing from my myyyy-yyyy-yiiiind!" when, well, if you look back at what BFP *said*:

"Which is why it was startling to read a recent article about how sexualized violence against immigrant women is directly linked to using dehumanizing terminology like “illegal alien” without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female, in the entire essay."

See that bolded bit there? This is not solely about BFP. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I strongly suspect that she, and many of the rest of us who are distressed and angry with this mess, would be fine with X. citing from Nina Perales. The problem is that with NO citation, it sure as heck looks like she's trying to claim she thought of this herself.

I'm working on a dissertation. There were in the beginning, and still are now, a LOT of things I wanted to say in my work that I knew I'd heard somewhere, but wasn't sure where. First thing my committee said? "Is this you, or someone else? If you're not sure, GO BACK AND LOOK TO SEE IF SOMEONE SAID IT FIRST."

It would be fine (well not fine, but less bad) if she'd just posted something to a blog and forgot the h/t. I do that sometimes too. I'm sure we all do.

But she published an article. Not babbled to a journal. PUBLISHED. WORK.

Annoying? Shit yes, sometimes. But that doesn't make NOT DOING IT excusable.

The Girl Detective said...

"I strongly suspect that she, and many of the rest of us who are distressed and angry with this mess, would be fine with X. citing from Nina Perales."

I think BFP's absence in the essay still would have been conspicuous, since we're familiar with Marcotte as a blogger who's familiar with BFP, but it would have been a thousand times better than not citing anyone.

Trinity said...

I agree, TGD. I just... she'd have so much more ground to stand on if she said "You know, you're really right, a lot of this is Perales. I'll have to go back and fix that. But honestly, I don't know why you all are dragging BFP into this; I was on fire for Perales at the time."

It still wouldn't, I suspect, be entirely true. But it would make actual sense, unlike "STOP TRYING TO RUIN ME BECAUSE I DIDN'T CITE!"

...buh? When I write "citation?" on my students' papers in red ink, I don't thereby destroy their lives.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Trin - what you wrote about your dissertation is exactly what I've been thinking. If you did not originate the idea, then point to those who did. If you take the idea to a new place, then point to those who laid the groundwork.

I doubt very much that she will acknowledge this, but I do think it's made an impact on lots of others, including me, and that that means that some of us will be more likely to 1) avoid doing the same thing, and 2) respond appropriately if/when we do.

TGD - I know. By the end of the Feministe thread, several people had drafted possible responses she could make, any one of which would have been a huge improvement over the "you've offended me, so I can't listen to you" response.

Daisy said...

Awesome posts, PF.

I am really horrified by the sentiments exposed on the interminable FEMINISTE thread; still in shock, really. Your comments at Hugo's were outstanding.


littlem said...

This may get wiped off of Shakesville and Prof. Hugo's blog, so I'd like to post it here:

I’m in complete agreement with jb et al.

I’m reposting a comment I wrote @ Shakesville that I feel is germane here:

“From what I’m hearing, even a “we wrote eerily similar posts” or “for more on this, check out this blog” kind of acknowledgment would have appeased most people.”

And I find it most telling — although I’m not surprised — that Amanda continues to refuse to do this.

Neither for BFP, nor for Ms. Perales of MALDEF, whom she also noted was an “inspirational source” for the unique framing of the ideas at issue.

But then of course, “LeBron as Kong” on the cover of Vogue wasn’t a big deal to her either.

(She “didn’t see” the problem.)

Nor were Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Representative McKinney’s hair looking like that of a “pickaninny” worth public rebuke — neither out of respect for a Congresswoman, nor for any WOC that might be upset or harmed by association.

(It was a “First Amendment” issue, you see.)

So is anyone really surprised that Amanda is not offering an actual acknowledgment of the framework(s) for a unique commentary on a particular set of issues — if those frameworks happened to originate with WOC instead of with white feminists?

Because I’m not.

And before anyone sighs or has the vapors about “character assassination” or “flame wars” (because it’s only WOC that get “so angry”, right? because that’s just not feminine) –

I would submit

1) that the textbook definition of “infringement” under no less than Title 17 U.S.C. is NOT “word for word copying”, to paraphrase other commenters here. It is comprised of “access” and “substantial similarity” to the work in question. (The arguments that go on for days are what actually does constitute said access and similarity.)

2) that Amanda’s point blank — and continued — refusal to acknowledge that the “source of her inspiration” for her work currently at issue is the work of more than one WOC blogger is at the dead center of the necessity for discussion of the larger collective issue.

If she’s acknowledged, by Shakesville and others, as one of the most powerful and prominent white feminist writers in the blogosphere, why would others just as prominent not be concerned that her continued LACK of action be representative, symbolic, even, of the type of conduct to be expected of the “mainstream” feminist blogosphere???

Or is it all just a bunch of placating BS by said “mainstream” to get WOCs to hush up, sit down, be quiet, and “know their place”??

Because here’s the thing — not only is she continuing to refuse to acknowledge these “sources of intellectual inspiration” in her bibliography, but no one else — not Shakesville, not Feministing, not Lindsay, and certainly not Professor Hugo — is encouraging her to, either.

And in the absence of actual action, petitions and words (like “Oh, next time we promise to Do the Right Thing”) — no matter how pretty, warm, and fuzzy — still ring just a touch hollow.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Because here’s the thing — not only is she continuing to refuse to acknowledge these “sources of intellectual inspiration” in her bibliography, but no one else — not Shakesville, not Feministing, not Lindsay, and certainly not Professor Hugo — is encouraging her to, either.

Exactly. Thanks for saying this.

littlem said...

Thank you for acknowledging (Great Hera, the mirrors! The mirrors!) that it was said.

Because as far as the named blogs go? And a few more?


As Anna Deveare Smith said in The American President:

"No response from the White House."

littlem said...

Hi -- posting here in the hopes of not getting caught in Jack's or Amp's moderation queue in response to this:

Hi, Jack. Thank you for posting this aggregate and providing a space to air views on this matter.

I posted this on Amp’s blog, and in the spirit of actually taking action to create change -- as opposed to repeating yet another refrain of the Progressive “We Need To … In the Future We Must …” Rhetorical Chorus and letting the actual issue at hand fade into the distance -- I thought I’d repeat it here:

Well, I think the point has been made that people are noticing the phenomenon.

So let’s make it stop.

And that means that mainstream white feminist authors who
agree that this is a problem, and who have acknowledged that (there’s that word again!), make — and continue to make until the problem is rectifiedpublic statements demanding that the prominent white feminist author who has committed the most recent instance of this repetitive and historical phenomenon acknowledge and credit her sources.

(By the way, I’m repeating myself on this point because so far the above has not happened.

And I don’t think I have to harp on the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from lack of activity by the alleged supporters of “Doing the Right Thing” — if they fail to challenge an author who, as long as the sources in the article in question remain unacknowledged and uncredited, continues to refuse to “Do the Right Thing”. We’re all smart people here.)

Thank you again, Jack, for taking the time to compile all that material and post something on the subject. Because clearly it needs to be reiterated.

(And you know, I’m just musing here … as a lecturer and writer myself, if it were me (and G*d knows I know — and thank the Deity — it is not), and my article, and several communities outside of my own accused me of cultural appropriation … and there was more than one person of some prominence — with a reputation at least arguably equal to mine (like, say, someone working for a known and visible Legal Defense Fund, or an Asian feminist scholar or two) — whose ideas I’d been even arguably discussing without giving them credit — even if it looked a little teeny weeny bit like that (there’s this standard in some professions that’s known as the “appearance of impropriety”, you see) — I’d certainly want to revise that article and credit them before they got wind of it and/or even thought about questioning me — or my book publisher, or my agent, or the other publications for which I write — directly.

Because — even if the only thing I was concerned about was my own personal career and reputation, and I didn’t give a d*mn about anything else related to the matter — *cough cough* — that???

Could be really embarrassing.)