chimichanga: (Default)
2014-09-15 05:33 pm
Entry tags:

an update and a response


that's really all i can say. when i wrote my last post, i honestly wasn't expecting many people to see it. i thought that perhaps my circle of friends would read it, and members of bristol femsoc, but it's been spread around facebook, tumblr and twitter. there have been a few negative comments (more on that later), but the vast majority have been amazing. i've received an outpouring of support that's completely overwhelmed me. a large part of that was from the members of femsoc -- not only through dozens of comments on the thread posted on the society's facebook group, but through messages as well, and one of the committee members even stepped down in disgust over this(!) -- but a significant portion came from complete strangers, too. it totally reaffirmed my faith in the feminist movement. i am more grateful than i can express.

so, i figured i should update people on the situation.

the update:

after i edited my last post and one of my friends kindly posted it to femsoc, i went about my day. when i had a sneaky peek at facebook during work, the thread had about thirty comments on it and my inbox was bursting. one of the messages was from a member of the committee, who apologised, told me that there was a committee meeting going on, and promised they'd get it sorted soon. just before lunch i was messaged by the committee account with a formal apology and explanation, the bulk of which was also posted on the front of the group and stickied:

The Bristol University Feminist Society Committee would like to apologise unreservedly for having evicted Sara Jaffer from our Facebook page. As a fairly fresh committee, we've been focusing on planning for the next academic year – however, we failed to make sure that we were doing our best over the summer, and part of that should have been to have ensured that our moderation was clear, fair and just. As shown by the events of the last 12 hours, we still have a long way to go.

Our Facebook Group Policy tries to create a safe space by requiring members not to make personal attacks and to create “non-judgmental and non-threatening discussions”. However, by evicting Sara based on an interpretation of the letter of this policy rather than its spirit, we failed both our members and the direction we want to take as a Feminist Society. We were wrong to use tone policing in our reply – there is no right or wrong way to address racism, and our function as banhammer-wielders does not mean that our members should refrain from calling out discrimination when they see it.

Unfortunately, we have not yet had time to sit down as a new committee to discuss how this page will be monitored over the coming year, and this has left a lot of gaps. We will be meeting to discuss this as the new term begins, so if anyone has queries please email us, and we will make sure that we discuss these at our next meeting. Last year, we also had an open committee meeting where everyone in the society could discuss the issues they felt to be important – we will schedule another one this year, and the Group Policy will definitely be part of the agenda.

i am personally mostly satisfied with this response and apology. i knew that most of the committee are pretty good eggs who, which is why i was so shocked by the warning & banning. it was also explained that the mod who banned me was supposed to be in charge of social media, which is why the other members didn't have much of a presence as moderators. part of the reason why i directed all my questions to the mod was because i had no idea who else was in charge of the page. now the committee's names and contact details have been added to the sidebar, which is great!

and if that wasn't great enough, the equality, liberation and access officers caught wind of it and have not only spoken to the committee but are writing up a safe space policy guide and working on a better safe space policy for femsoc itself. i couldn't be happier.

i said mostly satisfied because i do still have a few questions, namely whether the mod who banned me will remain in her position (i personally don't care either way) and how being given permission to ban me (which apparently came from the society's president) came about. the answers themselves don't really matter (and i'm aware that they may not even have answers yet), but, in my opinion, a response would help maintain the promise of more transparency.

all in all i'm pleased and humbled. this is the best outcome i could have hoped for.

so now comes part two: the response.

it was weird reading the comment thread and having people discuss me and try to pick holes in my post without me being able to defend or explain myself, which is why i decided to do so here. there were a few different points that got raised that i think deserve answers, some of which i think were valid and some of which i don't. i'm just going to go in order of when they were raised. it was interesting that they were mostly made by people from outside bristol femsoc who happened to moderate their own femsoc pages. i'm going to deal with the general arguments then respond to a few comments.

moderation is hard! i don't think it was fair to call out the moderators.
i know moderation is hard. as i said last post, i mod a fairly large forum that's had its fair share of drama. we have a fairly big team and we communicate with each other when there is a grievance. if i was doing my job badly, i would want to know.

your post was offensive and abusive to moderators everywhere.
it is not abusive to call people out on bad behaviour, particularly when they are supposed to be maintaining a safe space. it's not abusive to call people out in general. at no point did i insult the mod and i deliberately hid her name. i have no interest in shaming people, but i firmly believe all action and policy changes should be public and transparent.

did N-Word Woman actually say the n word? what happened?
she did. i have no proof except for witnesses, because things were handled badly (again) in that situation and the thread was deleted when it shouldn't have been. from memory, she said something along the lines of "reddit is full of idiots calling each other n-words". it wasn't directed at anybody. that doesn't make it any more acceptable. N-Word Woman is not black and thus cannot use that word. this is not up for debate and if you think it is then you can do some googling and figure out why you're wrong.

some context is missing from the discussion but a broad summary is, she said it once, somebody told her not to use it, she didn't acknowledge the comment, the discussion moved on with her defending the reddit admins, somebody else said she still couldn't believe she'd used the n-word, her response was 'that's just how it is', i said she should apologise, my comment went ignored, the thread got deleted. the situation (people from a sub for writing racist things about black people going onto a sub for black people and writing racist things there) was in no way ambiguous. no insults were slung.

the next few come with a shoutout to the keele femsoc page mod & president. she definitely said a lot of stuff.

"you're JUST SO ANGRY. i would have banned both of you."
it's good to know that presidents of feminist societies countrywide think that the punishment for calling out racism should be the same as saying racist things. i was starting to feel ashamed of bristol. i particularly liked 'she's just so angry' -- i felt a bit like a patient overhearing a doctor give a relative a terminal diagnosis. except anger isn't fatal or even bad. except by focusing on my anger you are ignoring my message. anger is an appropriate response to racism and i don't have the luxury of assuming otherwise.

it's also worth noting that JUST TOO MUCH ANGER has historically been a common reason for dismissing arguments made by women, particularly women of colour (and even more particularly black women), so well done for reinforcing racist stereotypes.

"[you were] threatening the society."
i think you are giving me far too much credit here. i wish i had the power to destroy societies with the flick of my wrist. i'd be lying if i said i'd use that power for good.

"you don't even go here."
i really appreciated the irony behind the fact this was made by someone who has never been at bristol. thanks for the chuckle, keele. and the reminder that i've not watched mean girls in a while. the fact is i am an alumnus and i participate a lot in the society. i got opinions and i like sharing em.

"you're going to get a shock when you enter the real world! soooo much racism!!"
i like the assumptions made here. the first one is that the internet completely separate from the real world, which is untrue. the second is that i've never faced racism in 'real life'? mate, i grew up as a muslim post-9/11. i was bullied at school for my ethnicity. i face racism every day. (some of the racism i face comes in the form of lack of media representation, in fact.)

"anger's not good for you. stop being angry."
another assumption. is anger really bad for me? i appreciate what i am sure is totally professional psychological advice, but anger is a pretty good outlet for me, actually. thanks for the concern, though.

"people like you are why people get nowhere. yawn"
people like you are why feminism has a race problem! that's enough from miss keele university. here are some more comments that were brought up.

you were just kicking up a fuss, using racism is an excuse to get someone kicked out of the group because you didn't like their opinions.
my intention was never to get anybody kicked out of the group; i don't disagree with everything N-Word Woman says and my life would be far less interesting without her there constantly playing devil's advocate. i have never stated i wanted her banned, just that i wanted her to apologise for her racist statements, many of which have been passive-aggressive. what i have been upset by is the fact that the punishment for calling out racism was the same (in fact worse, in this case) than saying racist things.

"racism and sexism are so ubiquitous in society that it's easy to assume they must be the main cause of events that sometimes have other influences too."
i'm aware that such things are multifaceted. we were having a really basic discussion, though, about something that really has been written about lots. and honestly, i can't think of any reason why somebody would say "i'm sorry that you're jealous your culture isn't as popular as mine" without deliberately trying to be racially provocative. (i'm actually shocked there are people defending that statement...)

"i think there's a difference between calling someone a racist and saying that you think their comment or point is racist."
a bit of a tangent here but i find it interesting that 'racist' seems to be considered a slur amongst white feminists when it's actually a description. it's not meant to be an insult. i'm not trying to hurt people's feelings when i say their opinions are racist. i'm trying to make them think about their actions and words. i even said multiple times in that thread that racism is not always intentional or meant to be malicious. that doesn't make it any more dangerous.

but i agree, broadly. and i usually try to make the distinction. i wasn't very tactful. but N-Word Woman really does say horrible things a lot.

i don't think her comment was so bad.
i'm happy for you. it was, however, directed at me, and very much meant to provoke me. it was also pretty bad.

in isolation it looks like you overreacted.
it probably does. i appreciate people who overlooked this. i was actually going to include a list of comments N-Word Woman had made that bothered me in the previous post (i trawled through her comment history and everything!) but i decided not to because it was petty and the post wasn't really about her. i didn't save the list. if you're super curious you can do the legwork yourself. you'll probably notice we have a bit of a rapport. the first time we clashed she defended richard dawkins making ignorant comments about islam, made some herself, and when i corrected her she told me she "really didn't care" because she wanted "the right to criticise any tenet of culture without being called a bigot" even though nobody had called her bigoted in the first place. ah, good times.

and... i think that's pretty much it! once again i am completely overwhelmed by the response this has gotten. i want to thank everybody who stood up for me, particularly my friends and everybody who shared this. i wouldn't have had the courage to write about it if it hadn't been for you. i'm so glad i have people to be angry with. (and also glad i don't have to type any more.)

thank you for reading!
chimichanga: (Default)
2014-09-15 08:04 am
Entry tags:

my university's feminist society might ban me for calling out racism

UPDATE 15/9/14: the femsoc committee have responded to me, and i am mostly satisfied with the way they are handling the situation. i am writing an update post now, and i will link it here when it's finished. here's the update post.

feminism has a racism problem.

historically, feminism has always excluded women of colour. white suffragettes were pretty notoriously racist and it's never quite gone away. in the intervening years, whole other women's rights movements have been formed to combat it, countless blog posts have been written about it (this is one of my favourites), and last year, the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen went viral on twitter.

so feminism has a race problem, and my university's feminist society is no exception.

i'm not white. my family history is a little long and complicated, but the tl;dr is my father grew up in apartheid south africa and was forced out of his home before moving to the UK in the 1980s, my mother grew up in post-colonial india and i grew up in a country that only exists because india was colonised in the first place. i'm a UK national, but the price i paid was centuries' worth of violent imperialism. racism and colonialism in particular are subjects very dear to my heart.

my university has a feminist society. i'm now an alumnus but i am still subscribed to their facebook society, where members post up interesting articles, blog posts, pictures and questions related to feminism. i usually enjoy reading the stuff linked and participating in the comments. and i try not to get into arguments on the internet too often, but sometimes discussions about feminism turn into discussions about race. this is because for women of colour, myself included, the two forms of oppression cannot be untangled.

last week, we were having a discussion about reddit admins banning a black woman for being angry about a sub she mods being brigaded by users of a racist subreddit. in the comments, one of our more notorious members, who i have clashed with before in the past over her racist comments, casually used a racial slur that is generally termed unacceptable to use, even if not directed at anyone. three people called her out and one of them alerted a mod. the mod posted a comment, and this happened:

(red is the mod, blue is unrelated parties, brown is the n-word person, and i am me.)

i went to bed before i knew the thread was going to be deleted, and when i woke up i was pretty upset. i've moderated a fairly large site for a few years now and to me, this was very poor moderation. my particular issues were as follows:

  • vague wording when issuing the warning

  • not stating who was responsible, especially when that person had been pretty deliberately obtuse and passive-aggressive throughout the whole thread in addition to using racial slurs

  • equating somebody saying hate speech with people calling out said person

  • deleting the thread entirely, thus brushing everything under the rug...

  • ... and also implying that everybody who had posted on the thread was in the wrong

i intended to drop her a PM with my concerns but i spent the rest of the week rushed off my feet by things that were a bit more important. during the week somebody else posted up what was supposed to be a pretty fun thread about your guilty pleasures as a feminist. somebody mentioned game of thrones, another person asked why it was problematic, a few people explained, and i posted a comment. as soon as i did so my least favourite member of the society jumped on it and somebody came to my defence:

the debate carried on, despite the fact that fantasy and science fiction are pretty well-known for their racism (and sexism) (and that dorne is not 'clearly spain', despite being depicted as such in the tv series). here's the last few legs of the conversation, for context. i've highlighted the straw that broke the camel's back in red (although the comment about people of colour in medieval europe being "slaves or serfs" was a close second):

somebody alerted the mod. she posted this:

a few people protested at how ridiculous this was. but it got worse.

as promised, the mod messaged me with a warning. i was expecting to get told off for telling N-Word Woman that she was talking out of her arse, but apparently that wasn't what she had a problem with. emphasis mine.

Hey Sara,

Having to get in touch about comments raised on one of the feeds today. In short, it's not okay to call people racist on the group! It just goes against pretty much all the policies. You're not the only one I've messaged but because of involvement on other feeds I'm going to have to give you a warning. Obviously please message me if you want to talk about anything raised on the feed or in the message!

Otherwise have a good rest of the weekend

[name redacted]

i was shocked. this was the last thing i had expected (although i should have known otherwise). being told calling out racism was against policy? saying calling people racist was bad, even though the person in question had recently used a racial slur, been called out three times, and hadn't apologised -- on top of all the other things she'd said? the next morning (i was at a wedding when i got the message), i replied:

oh my god. did you literally just say it's not ok to call out racism? does that mean it's not ok to call out sexism too, or does the group policy only protect feminists who happen to be white?

i have actually been meaning to talk to you about some concerns i have with the moderation of this group and your comment has just made me regret i haven't done it sooner. i personally am sick and tired of racism being tolerated on the group, particularly by [N Word Woman]. this is the third, perhaps fourth time i have noticed her saying racist things that have been tolerated by the admins of the page.

she literally said that i was jealous of white culture being "more popular" than my own. how is that not a racist comment? my father lived through apartheid. he was evicted from his home (which is now worth millions of rand) and made to live in a jungle. my mother is indian and i'm sure we don't have to revisit britain's policy on indian colonialism, do we. is that not aggressive? has she received a warning for it? i'd bet money she hasn't. did she receive a warning for saying the n-word the other day? i would hope so, but i have no confidence that she did -- no confidence in you or the other mods -- because you never do this sort of thing in public. you never call it out explicitly.

when [N Word Woman] said the n-word and three people asked her to apologise, you said you were putting people on note for "derogatory language" when you should have said "racial slurs" and then you went on to say everybody who responded should have been ashamed of themselves too. and then you just brushed the problem under the carpet. by deleting the thread in which [N Word Woman] proved herself to be racist for the second or third time you just made it seem like everybody who participated in that thread was equally to blame. that's not ok. that is actively saying to black feminists that people can call them racial slurs on this group and get away with it.

frankly, you need to start calling people out in public. you need to give them explicit public warnings. if it happens behind closed doors, the other members of the society will have no trust in your leadership. in fact, you have just proven to me that i shouldn't have any. given how [N Word Woman] is still in the group after literally saying racial slurs and not apologising -- given how she hasn't been made to apologise -- given how you've just protected her after she said some vile, absolutely racist things...

if i had come to you saying she was being racist, what would you have done? posted on the thread reminding everyone to play nice? would it have stopped her from saying something racist next time? current evidence points to no.

so tl;dr i won't stop calling out racism until the mods make a concerted effort to stamp it out themselves. if that makes me the bad guy i'll leave the group because i don't want to be involved in a group that prioritises keeping the peace over being inclusive to women of all colours.

i received a rather swift response. (emphasis mine again.)


It is not your job to call out or reprimand racism. Doing so makes you guilty of breaking policy. This calls into question your place in the group.

I have messaged [N-Word Woman] several times and I've requested that when we review policy later this month that people start getting banned from the group for this continued aggressive behaviour. However responding to it and not to me means that you are now also guilty of that aggressive behaviour and could also be banned. So I hope that responds to some of your concerns about how we respond to policy.

I am not planning on calling people out in public, because that would, to my mind, not help the group shake it's reputation of being an overly aggressive space. Hanging out someone to dry like that sounds like online bullying and I'm not going to do it.

I am very sorry that you haven't come to me sooner about your concerns. For example the one about [N-Word Woman], as in the feed when she used the n word she got another warning and if you had come to me about it you would have known this instead of it upsetting you, as it obviously has done.

Until the review, which you are welcome to attend, I can't start banning people from the group. This is something I've brought up and would like to do so I'm sure your voice in support would be useful!

to summarise: calling out racism means my place in a feminist society is now being "called into question". transparency must be sacrificed to spare the feelings of racists in case they feel bullied. moderation must be done in secret so we don't look scary. you have to ask us if we're doing our jobs! and don't forget, if you call out racism, you are as bad as the racist. but hey, come along to the review! your voice would be appreciated!!

i've replied to her message but have yet to receive one in response. when i do, i will update this post. UPDATE 15/09/14: i received a reply and i am very disappointed. it's at the bottom of this post.

am i surprised? no, unfortunately. but i am pissed off. i'm angry that people running a space i considered safe are willing to tolerate bigoted opinions without reprimand. i'm angry that moderators care more about image than content. i'm angry that there are people who call themselves feminists who still consider racism to be an abstract concept. i'm angry that more people aren't speaking out about this.

that's why i wrote this blog post. i removed names because i don't want to publicly shame anyone (despite what the mods may think!) but i do want to expose some shocking behaviour and let people know that i won't be silenced.

UPDATE 15/09/14: so i didn't want to post what i responded to her until i had a reply, because i wasn't interested in trying to pressure her for one. i also refrained from posting this to the femsoc page because i wanted to give her a chance to respond to me, in the hopes that this might have a happy ending.

how optimistic was i?

this is what i sent her in response to her last pm:

[name redacted], it is everybody's responsibility to call out racism, particularly within an activist movement. not calling it out is tolerating and enabling it. furthermore, my job isn't having to ask you if somebody has been warned for hate speech and i find it ridiculous that you think members should have to ask you if somebody has been warned or not. your job is making it apparent that the society's facebook page is not a welcome place for racists and a part of that is making it apparent that the page is strongly moderated.

i find it very telling that the punishment for responding to hate speech is the same as actually saying it. to me that is totally unacceptable. i also find it interesting that you think maintaining a strong presence as a moderator constitutes online bullying. naming someone and saying "this is unacceptable" is far more effective than making a vague statement about wrongdoing and is hardly 'hanging someone out to dry'. when you don't present a transparent moderating system -- i.e. talking behind closed doors -- particularly when other people are involved. it really does leave the impression that the moderation is lax.

you also didn't answer all of my questions -- did [N-Word Woman] get warned for being racist (again, on the thread with 'aggressive behaviour'), or would she only have been warned had i or somebody else reported it? i really shouldn't have to be asking this at all.

furthermore i am very confused about your stand on the current policy. on the one hand you are enforcing it but on the other you won't ban people for repeatedly infringing it. why is that?

in my mind i was polite, if very direct. i believed this was my right as a member asking questions about the mods' policy. i believed that pointing out inconsistencies in the moderation would help the moderators with their jobs. i believed that maybe something productive could come out of this conversation.

i received this reply at 22:34 last night, after i'd gone to bed:

Sorry Sara I'm not going to respond anymore as I feel you're being personally aggressive towards me. I've also been authorised to remove you from the group. Please don't message me again.
[name redacted]

oh. well. so my university's feminist society has banned me for calling out racism, while the person who has repeatedly said racist things is still a member. somebody else permitted this, so it's not a case of one lone mod. furthermore, nobody even has an inkling i've been removed because the mod team hasn't made it explicit that calling out racism -- and then questioning the mods about it -- is against group policy.

i'm going to take this higher up, if i can. this is completely unacceptable behaviour from people who are supposed to be moderating a safe space. if it concerns you, i would urge you to write to the femsoc committee (apparently their only contact is through the facebook page or the bristol university union's equality rep, alice phillips, at