Raging Liberal Bias


As I’m sure many of you are aware, a popular fat acceptance blogger is involved in a spat with No Lose and certain bloggers over the issue of racism. Maybe he could have handled the situation with more sensitivity. Maybe he could have taken more time to educate himself. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe not. The issue has been beaten to death elsewhere, so I won’t comment specifically on that here. However, I am noticing some larger patterns in fat discourse and that is what I want to discuss.

I was not blogging at the time, but I was reading when the fracas happened with Junkfood Science. I remember what happened to two bloggers over a post on privilege. Racism is a major topic of discourse, and I keep seeing the same patterns. A small, but extremely vocal group of bloggers consistently takes it upon themselves to be the thought and language police, even when the people they are talking to are the very people they claim to be helping.

We fat activists love talking about diversity as long as it’s the cute kind. We love to talk about diversity of color, diversity of ability, and diversity of sex partner. We love the shiny and the obvious.

I hate to call it “shiny and obvious” because the identities of many of our bloggers are far from shiny and obvious, and the issues we have have dimensions and solutions that are also far from shiny and obvious. When I use that phrase, I mean that we are quick to support those types of diversity and call people out when they fail to do everything they could do. Yet diversity does not just include those differences. It includes more elusive differences like ethnicity, culture, and political ideology. It includes religion. It includes individual human differences from people within the same class.

Because not all black people have the same experiences or the same ideas about society, race, and prejudice. Not all poor people are Democrat. Not all disabled people like “people-first” language or “politically correct” (hate that term!) terminology. The moment we fail to listen to the people themselves, and instead opt to speak for them, we have ceased to be diverse and a movement of the people.

Even issues of disability or class, while “cute,” popular diversity topics, are more complicated than they appear and most people don’t appreciate this. People with mental impairments-autism, schizophrenia, speech/language impairments, etc.-are very disprivileged and deserve to be part of social justice movements. However, they might not be initiated into white, upper-middle class, liberal blogging culture. They might not be capable of being initiated. People who are lower-middle class and below also will not be initiated into this culture. These people might also not WANT to be initiated because they don’t relate to it. The fact that there IS such a culture as liberal, social justice blogging culture runs counter to my notion of diversity.

Something that I have noticed about some liberals is that they tend to assume that  the whole world operates according to the power dynamics of wealthy, white nations. The acronym of choice is WASP men-white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. If you are one of these WASP men, you are very privileged in the United States and most other white, wealthy nations. However, these aren’t necessarily privileges everywhere. Being Protestant, for example, is very privileged here but not at all in other parts of the world. Fat and social justice activism doesn’t just happen in these countries. It happens in countries where the masculine ideal is very different from ours. It happens in countries where being a Christian is a serious risk to your life. It happens in countries that are mostly white, but where being white and a member of the wrong ethnic group forces you to live in a ghetto. It happens in countries where most people are working class and even in countries with values more conservative than ours. It also happens in white, wealthy nations with ethnic minorities and immigrants.

Another thing I notice is the tendency to throw around the terms “white,” “Caucasian,” and “Anglo-Saxon” around without really knowing what they mean. The term “Caucasian” does not mean “white” and lots of people who we consider people are color are considered “Caucasian” by the census and population researchers. The term “white” refers to a rainbow of skins. Meanwhile, the term “Anglo-Saxon” refers, or should refer, to those of who actually…well…Anglo-Saxon. Not all Caucasians or whites are Anglo-Saxon and to just toss it around in that fashion glosses over huge differences in ethnicity and culture.

you might say I’m splitting hairs here, that what matters is perception. You might not actually be white or Anglo-Saxon, but if you look that way, you are privileged over those that don’t. I would agree with that. Our society prizes certain qualities and if you can “pass,” you have a lot of advantages. I’m saying that it’s more complex than that. What if you are Anglo-Saxon and DON’T look it? What if you have other factors that work against that privilege, like class? What if you come from a different country or culture in which the power dynamics are different from those in the US? If I was Serbian, I might look Anglo-Saxon in the US and benefit from that, but people in certain parts of Eastern Europe might know that I’m Serbian and treat me accordingly. Being “Anglo-Saxon” carries no privilege in that case.

In any case, if we want to pride ourselves on our cultural awareness, it is hugely hypocritical to gloss over ethnic and cultural differences in this way, even if on the surface, it doesn’t seem to matter much.

I’m of a lower class than many prominent fat acceptance bloggers. My political ideology is a lot farther to the right (I’m a moderate with a mixture of liberal and conservative ideas), and my religion isn’t popular in this population either. I have carved out my own safe space on my blog for my religion and politics, but when it comes to class and gender, forget about it. I’m a men’s rights activist as well as a feminist, I don’t identify with modern mainstream feminism, and I’m viewed in the same way as one might view a cockroach in some circles. Despite having known poverty and public assistance, my views of these issues are often not welcome.

Again, I have carved out a safe space for myself and I like a lot of blogs that our community has to offer. If we don’t agree, then we don’t agree. That’s not the issue. The issue is that certain prominent people have taken it upon themselves to be advocates for the disprivileged, to label themselves as culturally aware, and proceed to tell us how we should do social justice. I don’t do it your way. I don’t think like you. I don’t need your approval. When you insist that I fit into your blogging culture and your perception of my own life, then I’M being silenced. In the name of giving me a voice. When you do this to others, you are doing the same thing.

You don’t have to agree with me or change your views. You can choose not to read me. I hope you will still read me, as I still read many of you and enjoy much of your work. All I ask is that you do a better job of seeing us as human beings, not members of monolithic tribes you happen to dislike.

I used to think the same way. I was a teenager, a Socialist, upper-middle class, and a perfect fit for the current blogging culture of fat acceptance. When I grew up and I much lost my cultural and economic privilege, I was confronted with my own prejudices and I eventually left that culture behind. It does not match my life or my identity as I know it, and it’s really racist, classist, and all around prejudiced to insist that we all think the same way, or that we should. And I don’t mean the “all white people benefit from racism and are thus implicitly racist” type of racism. I mean genuinely prejudiced. It’s a denial of the agency of oppressed people and I’m done with it. It took me years to see people that didn’t think like me were actual, fully fleshed out people instead of caricatures. Now I can hardly believe that I used to see anyone that way.

And you know what else happened? I have earned the respect of people MUCH farther to the right than me politically. They see ME as a person. They like me and want to work with me on stuff we have in common. Best of all, we actually have a lot in common.

Fat acceptance should be a safe space for fat people and from fat-related healthism/ableism. It should respect and embrace intersectionality in all its forms. In order to really do that, we need to reconsider what intersectionality is and it’s time that we abandoned our raging liberal bias.

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8 comments

  1. Big Liberty · March 25, 2012

    Hi Joanna,

    I think this is a very important post. I don’t think you’ve done what most social justice activists fear, and that’s make something about POC be about you. We only have our own perspectives through which to reasonably dissect the motivations of others, so your perspective on this issue will naturally come from your experience as someone who doesn’t identify as a person of color.

    I remember some of the aforementioned blowups. During that time I didn’t have as deep a grasp on the concept of privilege as I do now, nor did I understand why ‘color blind’ could possibly be construed as racist. Now I understand and I’m more careful about my language and try not to get bogged down in cliches and phrases, instead choosing to explain my meaning or not wade into those waters unless I have something relevant to say.

    Privilege is indeed real, and words and phrases are charged with meaning we can’t always parse correctly at first. But it’s important to note, as you have in this post, that the gatekeepers of racial discourse often aren’t POC–they’re white, upper-middle-class ‘allies.’ I can’t say I necessarily trust the motives of whites who claim that other whites who voice disagreement are inevitably trying to drown out the real views of POC. It’s rather…ironic.

    I read the NOLOSE statement, and it’s clear that it’s written from a very particular ideological viewpoint (note the use of “I demand” language) that not all POC share. Cuz, yanno, POC are humans with ideological diversity, something many white progressives don’t seem to be comfortable with (I think many progressives view the existence of the latter as some kind of logical contradiction, which is so bigoted and intolerant I can’t even…!).

    One final thing: white progressives seem to have no problem letting non-white progressives be the voice of all non-whites. This is intolerant and racist, and seems to serve one ultimate purpose as far as I can tell: to censor all people, whites and non-whites, who do not agree with the progressive/socialist ideology (an ideology borne of subjectivism, in which each individual is a collection of bits of history and environment and upbringing and largely negative impulses).

    The progressive paradigm in much social justice activism is not tolerant (it generalizes all experiences of loss of power); it’s not helpful (it turns victimhood into a culture instead of a temporary state that can be overcome with help, education, and other tools); it’s dehumanizing (it sees people as intersections of groups rather than as individuals); and it’s oppressive (as it imposes the ‘right’ behavior on ‘wrong-headed’ masses — e.g., “Let’s Move!”).

    Note that I recently read an article on Reason.com that claimed the fat acceptance movement was a “far-left movement.” Where does that leave people like you and me, I wonder? I’ve settled with generally avoiding blogging about politics — I avoided blogging about how PPACA/Obamacare initiates a $25 million, 4-year program to combat childhood obesity that experiments on CHIP recipients aged 2 – 12, because I didn’t want to attract the usual universal HC advocates who seem to think there’s no problem, systemic or social, that can’t be cured by writing the federal government a blank check.

    I’ve censored my blogging because of the strong “liberal bias” in fat activism. From time to time I wonder if it’s worth it, to always blog with a little birdy on my shoulder reminding me that my audience is composed of a very particular academic bent. For now it still is, though I don’t blog nearly as much as I used to. I’ve found other avenues for my ideological expression. I kinda wish the progressives would do that, too, and keep the size stuff separate. But they’re in the majority, and you know how loud it can get in the echo chamber.

    • joannadeadwinter · March 25, 2012

      Thank you for your comment and for “getting” what I’ve been trying to say. I agree with every last word and I so miss your voice on the feeds.

      I could go on for days about this, but I’ll stick with adding to your comment.

      “I don’t think you’ve done what most social justice activists fear, and that’s make something about POC be about you. We only have our own perspectives through which to reasonably dissect the motivations of others, so your perspective on this issue will naturally come from your experience as someone who doesn’t identify as a person of color.”

      This is exactly what I find ironic about the behavior of so many progressives. I can’t understand what it’s like to be a person of color in the US or anywhere else, but progressives, both white and of color, feel perfectly entitled to make assumptions about those who don’t share the POC identity. Meanwhile, when I try to discuss my viewpoint on the issues, I very often get liberals trying to make it about them and their ideas about the lives of the oppressed. Do all liberals do this? No. Do they HAVE to agree with me? No, but I ask that they respect my disagreement and not assume that I’m just too dumb to “get” what they’re saying. Talk about bias!

      Another thing I tried to address but that seems to get drowned out is that, for a people who are so culturally aware, they totally gloss over issues of ethnicity and culture and treat race and color as one in the same. Most people in Eastern Europe are “white,” but they are very much divided by their ethnicity and culture and are often recognizable to each other on sight. I would hate for someone from Lithuania, Serbia, or Hungary to read the feeds and feel totally excluded. I have a friend that is Armenian, and she absolutely faces prejudice from others because of that, even though she is “white.” They were the subject of a genocide not too long ago, and I hesitate to refer to that as privileged.

      “Note that I recently read an article on Reason.com that claimed the fat acceptance movement was a “far-left movement.” Where does that leave people like you and me, I wonder? I’ve settled with generally avoiding blogging about politics — I avoided blogging about how PPACA/Obamacare initiates a $25 million, 4-year program to combat childhood obesity that experiments on CHIP recipients aged 2 – 12, because I didn’t want to attract the usual universal HC advocates who seem to think there’s no problem, systemic or social, that can’t be cured by writing the federal government a blank check.”

      BL, I deal with this on a regular basis on my blog, so I know exactly how you feel. I respect their intentions and many of their talking points, but after a while, I get quite enough of people assuming that I’m too dumb to get it, that I’m a shill for an evil company, or some other such nonsense.

      “I’ve censored my blogging because of the strong “liberal bias” in fat activism. From time to time I wonder if it’s worth it, to always blog with a little birdy on my shoulder reminding me that my audience is composed of a very particular academic bent. For now it still is, though I don’t blog nearly as much as I used to. I’ve found other avenues for my ideological expression. I kinda wish the progressives would do that, too, and keep the size stuff separate. But they’re in the majority, and you know how loud it can get in the echo chamber.”

      Please don’t do that. I love hearing your voice on the feeds and it was you who inspired me to join the world of fat blogging in the first place. I remember the first post of yours that I ever read back in July 2010. I thought there was no place for me because my voice didn’t echo those of the progressive bloggers. I have since decided that that attitude could go fuck itself. I don’t need anyone’s permission to be me, be fat accepting, or speak out.

      People who come onto my blog know ahead of time that I strive to treat my visitors with respect, but that this is my space and I will err on the side of speaking freely.

      Keep blogging and I’ll keep commenting. If you want, I could make you a guest blogger on Dead of Winter? I hope so! Let me know if you would like that.

  2. Patsy Nevins · March 25, 2012

    Excellent post. I am not a religious person at all & I know that you are, but I like the way you express yourself & I agree with much of what you say. Perhaps because we are both in Maine, perhaps because we have both lived in poverty (I for much of my life &, while we are getting along okay now, I am disabled & my husband is retired & we live on a fixed income), perhaps because we both seem to dislike the healthism which is so rampant in FA, the belief held by so many that we need to prove that we deserve rights by being perfectly healthy & eating only organic or whatever else the writer decrees as healthy, it seems as if we have a lot in common.

    I try not to be racist, & since I was born with cerebral palsy, I had BETTER not be ableist, but, man, we do spend a lot of time lecturing each other about terminology & the proper way to express ourselves, we do sometimes seem obtuse to the point of it being deliberate in not understanding each other. I will admit to you that the person at the center of this storm has not been one of my favorites since he appeared on the fat acceptance horizon; I am 62 & have been involved in fat acceptance for 32 years, while he is young & has only been at this maybe a couple of years, but he seems to feel as if he knows more about it than a lot of people, including the founding mothers of the Fat Underground & he seems to step on a lot of people’s toes. I don’t know him & I don’t know his motivations, I don’t know how he behaves toward people in real life, but his way of expressing himself online is sometimes very offensive. I know it is not realistic to think that all fat activists will think alike or present themselves in the same way, just as we do not all feel the same about food, exercise, health, the questions of whether or not fat actually does in & of itself to poor health (I am firmly in the camp that says it does not & Sandy, of Junkfoodscience, is one of my favorite sources for science). I worry sometimes that we fight too much among ourselves to make much progress against the larger culture because we are such a small movement as it is, but I know we have to do things in our own way & we are allowed to express ourselves our own way & speak our minds. I don’t know all the answers, but I do know that we should embrace all kinds of diversity, respect each other, & try not to be our own worst enemies.

    Over the years, I have had disagreements here & there with others on fat boards, have been caught in the middle of bad feelings/contentions about who was “too small’ to be a fat activist (I was usually then one considered ‘too small’), or ‘too large’ & someone who made us ‘look bad’. It took me time to learn that we are all in this together, that people naturally come in all sizes & shapes, including over 400 pounds, that you cannot tell a person’s lifestyle or health by his or her body size, & that, moreover, fat acceptance is about HUMAN RIGHTS, it is for everyone, & it is no one else’s damn business what or how much you eat, how much you exercise, if ALL of your weight is genetic or if You are not ‘eating in a way to keep you at the lower end of your setpoint range.’ It doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter, but what should matter is that we respect each other, try to honestly hear each other & make an attempt to understand what another person is really saying/thinking before we jump down his throat. And if we are expressing ourselves in an ignorant & offensive manner, we need to be able to learn better & to make amends. Each of us also needs to learn that it is not all about him & concede that others have different experiences & that feelings get hurt.

    I have had plenty of experiences over the years of feeling excluded, but, by the same token, I have had plenty of experiences of putting both feet in my mouth. I don’t want to offend anyone, but the truth is that we cannot live & we especially cannot put ourselves out there in a social justice movement without sometimes offending people. I just wish we could spend more of our time & energy kicking the asses of the fat-haters around us & less time beating on each other.

  3. zaftigwendy · March 26, 2012

    This post really resonated with me!

    I, too, come from a non-Anglo-Saxon white background. There is a lot of privilege in my life because of that, and I understand that. But I have also been desperately poor and I understand poverty to the very core of my being – and I feel exactly the way you do.

    I don’t mind if people disagree with me. As a matter of fact, I welcome robust challenges to my thinking. But I am bothered when they try to silence me, which often happens.

    Like you, I try to minimize my online discussion of politics because I don’t want to be yelled at by people who don’t want to hear any dissent from their viewpoints.

    I do think the fat acceptance/size acceptance movement could reach their goals so much faster if they would open themselves to respectful discourse with those further right politically. People who are more conservative already believe in personal autonomy to a much greater extent than many on the left and believe that government has no business policing people’s food and exercise choices.

  4. Dee · March 26, 2012

    Great post. I’ve been thinking along the same lines but I hate to come out against people who, for the most part, I like and agree. I just think that the level of politically correct sensitivity that is required to write for the fatophere is discouraging to a lot of people. Not everyone has that ideological bent, and not everyone thinks that way. I find myself going over and over my posts, looking for language that could be read in a way that I didn’t intend, making changes for hours after I thought I was done.

    In fact, a lot of fat people have been socially excluded or have isolated themselves to some extent and are just not the best at dealing with complex rules for language and the need to qualify everything. Trying to imagine and take into consideration many other people’s points of view while writing is really difficult. I struggle with this every single time I write an editorial post.

    This is made worse on the other end by the fact that people who are used to being criticized and excluded actually seem to look for reasons to feel critisized and excluded. They will read things that were intended to be positive and inclusive as negative and exclusionary if there is any room for interpretation whatsoever. It is absolutely tragic.

    This – both the lack of social awareness on the one hand and the negativity and oversensitivity on the other – is part of the damage that fatphobia has done to us, and it makes it hard to work together as a movement. I think that maybe we all need to get into the habit of taking a step back and giving each other the benefit of a doubt.

    • Dee · March 26, 2012

      Sorry. “Like and agree WITH.”

  5. Patsy Nevins · March 26, 2012

    I have always enjoyed reading your posts, Big Liberty, & do wish that you would post more. You & Joanna are two of the bloggers with whom I am most often in agreement.

    I have spent close to 14 years now particpating in discussions about fat rights & related topics around the Net, &, as I mentioned before, get turned off by all the liberal bias at times, & especially by the healthism. Look at the way Sandy has been silenced, ridiculed, & distrusted for years, accused of taking money from Big Food to promote their agendas, when in truth she took money from no one & at times was living on savings, unable to find a job because she was such a pariah, then unable to allow herself to keep a job she did find when the people for whom she was working went against everything she believed & were promoting the same old bullshit. I found it a bit ironic a few days ago to go check my yahoo mail account & find a link to an article saying some of the same things about health, body size, etc., that Sandy has been telling us for years.

    I also find myself irritated by the way that the liberal bloggers, that MOST fat bloggers, will blog about fat rights, about our bodies being our own business, then always go on to talk about the importance of exercise & eating ‘right’, of everyone having access to ‘healthy’ foods, once again reinforcing the idea that most of us, especially fat people, probably eat ‘wrong’, or at least that we must assert our ‘good’ habits repeatedly so that maybe someone will listen to us. We speak up about campaigns which shame & stigmatize fat children, then say we definitely agree with the general aims of those campaigns, to get children to eat ‘better’ & move more, but that we want to extend it to ALL children, fat & thin. There is such a widespread acceptance of so many of the messages as given in our culture, a belief on the part of so many people that there are right or wrong ways of living, a right way to eat, that somehow we are being ‘bad’ or at least irresponsible if we like burgers or ever eat Spam or do not exercise whatever amount some ‘expert’ is telling us is important THIS week. Someone will say that fat acceptance is for ALL people, that we all have body autonomy, that it is no one else’s business what we eat or how we move, if all our size is genetic or if we are ‘too much’, etc., but the overriding message always seems to be that fat activists, that all fat people, really SHOULD be able to prove that they eat right & exercise a lot in order to promote (deserve?) full rights & access in this culture. I find that sometimes I have to grit my teeth & close the page when yet another person one way or another insists that some foods have to be better than others or some related thing.

    I wish I knew all the answers to being sensitive to everyone’s needs & issues & I too wish that so many people were not so quick to take offense & assume the worst. I suppose that it is this way in any community, any sphere where people are supposed to be communicating &/or working together.

  6. Allison · March 26, 2012

    Great post as usual.

    I get frustrated with the endless talk about privilege and the need to reveal which types you have before you can be taken seriously. Privilege, or being born or raised into circumstances beyond your control, goes so much further than skin color (and the other privileges we’re encouraged to talk about).

    Here are a few examples of varying impact that come to mind: growing up free from parental/guardian abuse; growing up free from a substance-addicted parent/guardian; growing up in an environmentally / biologically safe environment; growing up with adequate food, shelter, and/or love; not getting injured in an accident; not contracting an illness; not being abused by a stranger; growing up in a pro-reading environment; and so on.

    I think that people deserve to be considered on an individual level, rather than merely as members of x or y group. Part of being an individual is being formed by a unique and important set of experiences, which are too numerous to list every time you want to express an idea.

    It is often the greatest advocates of diversity who are unable to see it, because they are looking at people with a collectivist viewpoint. For instance, some see all people with “light skin” as the same, ignoring their differing cultures (country of origin, native language, religion, ethnicity, etc.), differing classes, differing attitudes, and differing experiences (as you discuss very well in the article).

    I advocate for a future where all people are recognized as both alike (for our human nature) and different.

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