I’m Dani Ward,

and I do lots of things.

Allies

Intersectionality or Bullshit: When White Feminists Profit From Women of Color

A few years ago, I read a powerful article by Flavia Dzodan entitled “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit.” It resonated with me, so much so that I chose to calligraph it. That’s something I do very often with phrases or sentiments that I believe strongly in. I even shared the design with her on Twitter, and she seemed very pleased with it. This was, of course, before her cancer diagnosis and internet hiatus.

It was also before it became a meme and took on a life of its own.

This week, I read with great sadness and anger about how so many people took her words and sold them — with neither permission from nor compensation to her.

You see, last year, Feminist Apparel saw my design and expressed great interest in selling a shirt of it. I was intensely uncomfortable with this. Yes, I put in the work of drawing the letters and creating the design. But the words were not mine. Neither were they words in a public work like a book, for which the author had been paid. While I cited the source, I couldn’t in good conscience profit off of the words and work of a woman of color. Especially in the name of feminism (and especially considering the context of the article the phrase came from!).

I didn’t ignore the request from Feminist Apparel. Instead, I reached out to Flavia on Facebook to tell her about the interest in the design. I told her I was uncomfortable making money from her work. That if she was okay with the design being sold, I wanted to make sure we worked out a way where all the profit would go to her, not me. But I also told her if I didn’t hear from her, I would never sell it and it would only become part of my portfolio. I never did hear from her, and so I have never sold it. Ever.

The biggest part of why I’m writing this is because it was an absolute jolt to see my artwork used in a Vox article covering the topic. It seems to be used as an example of someone appropriating from her work. And I want to be clear that I have not, nor will I ever, accept compensation for the work of someone else. I will never sell that piece.

But secondarily, I’m angry. I’m angry with the kind of feminism that will take the words and work of women of color and capitalize on them with no recognition or offer of compensation. Particularly stealing from women of color. Particularly given the racism that’s always been a driving force in white feminism.

Look. I’m not a saint. I don’t deserve cookies or kudos for how I’ve handled interest in this design, for being primarily concerned with Flavia’s ownership of her words and desiring that she receive compensation for her work rather than me. This is bare minimum decent human behavior.

Especially for feminists who want to claim to be intersectional when their actions prove that, when it comes to intersectionality, their feminism is indeed bullshit.

White Supremacy in America and me.

It’s easy for us, the white children of the Colorblind Generation, to continue to focus on individual prejudice while denying systemic oppression. It’s how we were raised. It’s how we were taught. Surely, we are innocent. Surely, we don’t benefit from white supremacy. Surely, we don’t perpetuate it.

And yet, white supremacy is alive and thriving in America today. It exists as a system, perhaps even more than as a skin color. It rewards not only those who work to support the system, but also those who do nothing to impede it. Those who sit silently in the face of oppression. Those who step up and affirm the system that oppresses them. Those who don’t even think to question the stories we’re told about whiteness, blackness, and our place in the world.

White supremacy creates an environment where generation after generation are uninformed about the violence it takes to maintain their safety, then rewards them for never questioning what they’re told.

White supremacy created the environment that allowed me to reach the age of 21 without ever questioning it. For decades, I did nothing to try to stop it.

I benefit from white supremacy.

And if you’re a white American — so do you.

Without GRACE: Secular vs. Spiritual Authority and An Incomplete, Discrepant History.

Last time, I gave some rather brief introductory thoughts to the GRACE report and explained what my intentions are for doing such a thorough and critical review. This time, since I’ve covered the first few pages, I’m jumping in just past the beginning of the introductory chapter and providing commentary through the end of the introduction. I’ll give an overview of the sections I’m addressing, along with direct quotes, observations, and thoughts. You can read the pdf file of the report along with me if you like. As always, your input and observations are welcome.

Without GRACE: Introductory Thoughts

Bob Jones University, self-identified as The World’s Most Unusual University and the Fortress of Faith, has a very public history of many atrocious things. Racism and homophobia have topped the list thusfar, but now, thanks to the 300 page report from the Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) that is gaining national attention, mistreating victims of sexual abuse is another claim BJU can make to fame.

Forgive my cynicism. As both a survivor of sexual abuse and a former BJU student who got expelled for consensual sex, I think it’s pretty well earned at this point.

Frankly, I’m thrilled that the report has been released. I’m pleased with how thorough it is, and I’m even more thrilled with the press it’s getting. Please don’t mistake my joy that the voices of my brothers and sisters and me are finally publicly vindicated as rejoicing in BJU’s public censure. I wish more than anything that they would take to heart the criticism they’re receiving, offer a sincere apology, and make their campus and staff safe places for victims of abuse. However, I’m simply not hopeful to that end.

While I’ve skimmed through two thirds of the report already, I’m currently undertaking the task of reading through every page and footnote. Clearly, I’m personally invested. I actually gave GRACE a written statement, though I’m not sure that it was used in this final report or not. (More on that later). I just need to read it myself, think through it and analyze it myself. And I’m going to provide my exhaustive notes and analysis here, starting today.

These thoughts are my own. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my perspective, but I think it’s valuable to share my thoughts as a survivor, former student, participant in the investigation, and skeptic. Every quote that I reference will have the page number (and footnote number, if applicable) relevant to the report.

And so I begin.

BJU’s lack of grace and what it means to survivors.

The GRACE report of their findings from their investigation into Bob Jones University’s handling of sexual abuse victims comes out tomorrow. I don’t have the spoons to explain the background of this investigation and what it means to all sexual abuse survivors in any way connected to BJU. GRACE’s page on the investigation has a pretty comprehensive list of the…

I belong to me: learning agency & consent outside Christianity.

By and large, Christianity as a system in the Western world teaches people to run rip-shod over the boundaries of those within and without their camps under the guise of love.25 The consent of its members and non-members alike isn’t required, as clearly demonstrated by the past almost 28 years of my existence. And that’s a massive problem, enabling (and at times commanding) the manipulation, mistreatment, and abuse of countless people.

In fact, I’d say one of the defining characteristics of Christianity today is that it has a consent problem.

Sherlock Holmes, Vulcans, and how logic isn’t everything.

I mention it because one of the defenses of his insensitivity (to put it mildly) was that his argument was logically sound. And that’s a point that gets brought up an awful lot in discussions of social justice and in general when someone is called out for doing something harmful. It’s especially a point brought up from men against women, usually as a way of gas-lighting us and saying, “You’re too emotional to get this, let me logic at you in a manly fashion.” It’s sexist, it’s dismissive, and it focuses on one aspect of a situation to the exclusion of all else.

As I said on Twitter in my original thoughts about Dawkins’ asshattery:

This is the kind of argument I see quite a lot from those who tend to hold a lot of privilege & experiential ignorance of the topic at hand. Honestly…it makes me think of that scene in the RDJ/Jude Law Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is holding something in his hand, the end of which is mere inches from Watson’s face. Watson: “Get that thing out of my face.” Holmes replies, “It’s not in your face, it’s in my hand.” That’s what these logical men are like. That’s their argument. TECHNICALLY, they’re right. But the practical application & observation of the situation shows that one can be correct but still wrong. In this situation, the argument can (& has been, repeatedly) made that Dawkins wasn’t minimizing when he was making the comparison. TECHNICALLY, he wasn’t. But functionally, he was. Just like the thing TECHNICALLY was in Holmes’ hand but FUNCTIONALLY was in Watson’s face.

The stories we tell: using narrative to make sense of our lives and surroundings.

Examining and critiquing cultural narratives as they appear in “real life” and entertainment is important work. It’s life-changing and empowering work.

It’s important for women to know that they aren’t crazy when a man is stalking them and demanding attention and affection.

It’s important for women to know that if a man — even a man they love — attacks them, it’s not okay.

It’s important for black girls to know that they can grow up and go into space.

It’s important for trans people to see themselves accepted in society.

It’s important for people to know that they are more than a caricature, that the stories of their lives matter.

Oklahoma! and the missing stair.

I’m noticing a lot of problematic things sewn into the story of Oklahoma — things I didn’t notice as a 19-year-old religious conservative — and it’s incredibly frustrating.

The main story is how an abusive man terrorizes a woman, and an entire community treats him like the proverbial missing stair.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Cliff Pervocracy’s missing stair analogy and don’t want to click the link above, he basically outlines that often communities gloss over abusers in their midst the way that someone who lives in a house with a missing stair just becomes accustomed to skipping that step rather than fixing it.)