I promise this is not going to be another blog post about Joan Walsh.
Well, it’s kind of about her, but it’s more about what she represents, and behaviors that are to be avoided if we’re going to communicate cross-culturally.
However, to get to what this post actually is about, I’m going to have to talk a bit about the whole Joan Walsh/Truthrose/ABL/Karoli Blog/Twitter War of 2011. Deal with it.
So: Joan Walsh wrote a blog post that contained some ill-advised and wrong-headed mischaracterizations of black people and their relationship to President Obama, and how much she resents them for what she thinks they believe about being Obama’s true base. [link removed by editor 7/6/11.] Joan had previously sniffed contemptuously at Obama’s announcement of his re-election bid, and carelessly slammed the genuine grassroots OFA people who had been keeping the dream alive since 2008. Truthrose, a person of color, read Joan’s blog post and didn’t care for what Joan had to say on the topic, and told Joan so on Twitter, without sugar-coating it or couching it in respectful white lady language. Joan blew up at Truthrose because she didn’t care for some of the words Truthrose used and the tone with which she expressed herself, and wrote a series of increasingly nasty tweets in response, causing several other people, including ABL and me, to respond via Twitter, and to each of us Joan was dismissive and hostile.
Then someone wrote a blog post about the exchange, and that motivated Joan to write another blog post in response [link removed by editor 7/6/11], and in it Joan misrepresented and selectively quoted her critics to portray herself as the victim of angry and irrational people of color on the tweet-machine. So ABL wrote a blog post about Joan’s willful obfuscation of the facts, which Joan pointedly ignored, until Karoli wrote a blog post saying that Joan and ABL were both right, and both wrong, and couldn’t they kiss and make up. Karoli, whom I dearly appreciate, is a nice white lady like Joan, and speaks a language which Joan can comprehend, and Joan responded to Karoli that she had given her something to think about.
Then Truthrose told Karoli on Twitter what she didn’t like about her blog post, and I watched in real-time as Karoli began to go down the same path with Truthrose that Joan had trod to such disastrous results, and literally jumped in and yelled at Karoli to stop arguing and just listen. Karoli was getting angry and defensive because Truthrose was speaking her truth to Karoli without sugar-coating it or couching it in nice white lady language. Truthrose has told ABL and others that she’s most comfortable communicating on Twitter, its brevity suits her and she feels that she can be herself when she uses Twitter; and the way white people get their panties in a bunch when she confronts them on Twitter only reinforces her perception that white progressives are not on her side and they are not allies.
What I pointed out to Karoli, and she was sensitive and aware enough to recognize, is that she was rejecting what Truthrose was telling her because of the bluntness of her language, which is an unconscious manifestation of privilege. Karoli had written a blog post, which is her way of expressing herself, and now Truthrose was using her preferred medium to respond. And when those of us from a dominant culture are interacting with people of other cultures, we need to be especially careful that we don’t stop listening because we don’t like what we hear, or how it’s being expressed. This is a lesson that I wish someone could teach Joan Walsh.
When the dust settled, I shared in an email to ABL and my other co-bloggers my experience working and living with members of the Deaf community and what I learned from them, and they suggested that there was a blog post in my story. So here it is.