Fly-on-the-wall or Troll?

Thanks for letting me guest blog on Savage Minds this month! I’ll wrap up with some meta analysis about being an activist/anthropologist/blogger type.

I’m not a regular commenter on any websites, but sometimes I read long comment threads on controversial posts, spending enough time that I go into a kind of trance until something snaps me out of it and I’m disgusted by my own voyeurism. From these forays I’ve learned that people are quick to accuse commenters with unfamiliar screen names and unpopular opinions of being trolls, meaning they are only there to elicit a reaction. Writers can also troll for pageviews. (I don’t study online sociality or new media, so sorry if this sounds like The Internet 101: Beyond AOL.) Controversial posts often go up with the intention of eliciting reactions to raise pageviews, for monetary gain or fame or to raise awareness.

For the most part, I’m an outsider to that game. I think of my own blog as an archive of knowledge, there for the Googling, rather than part of a click-oriented news cycle. A “trending” category on my blog would probably just be an image of a skeleton covered in cobwebs. I reliably get a “great writing Doni!” comment from, you guessed it, Mom, but most people who look at my blog don’t leave comments. I do, however, monitor pageviews out of curiosity.

The most viewed post on my blog is usually a guest piece from 2009 about abandoned buildings in Detroit, which makes sense, it’s a sexy topic. Then last spring, I had a lot of views on a post I did speculating on all the bashing of bike hipsters I was encountering online. That was fascinating because a lot of people also left comments, so I got to find out what people were getting out of the post. Meat for the ethnographer!

I’d had a hunch that writing about the image of bicyclists-as-jerks would garner some interest, and when it worked, I started experimenting with posts that were meant to elicit comments. Was this the same thing as trolling? Was I emotionally removed from the content, a human fly creating some kind of neo-Malinowskian village where I could sit on the sidelines and scribble in my notebook? Not really.

To be perfectly honest, because I write openly as a situated subject (mixed race woman), I’m aware that my work could be dismissed, so I haven’t wanted to stir the pot too vigorously. Plus, as an anthropologist, I feel I should make an effort to understand and articulate multiple sides of an issue. So I don’t tend to write as scathingly now as I once did as an inexperienced blogger, when I didn’t think of myself as having an audience and said some things I regret. It’s been interesting, though, to see how much anthropology I can squeeze into topical posts about bikes, inequality, and other sustainability issues.

This week, I posted a reflection about a city that is revered among bike people, Copenhagen. It’s often put forth as an ideal solution to the problem of urban bike transportation, with many separated paths for bicycling and a significant amount of trips made by bike. I’d been having some knee jerk reactions to the Copenhagen worship for a while, but it wasn’t till I visited for myself in September that I got some material for a critique. It was tricky to write, because I wasn’t trying to knock the city; I was trying to call out the “god trick” that leads people to proselytize about Danish bike infrastructure design as though it doesn’t come from a particular time and place that may not be a great model for American urbanism.

I was thinking I’d get some pageviews, and there was indeed a jump (from about 70 a day to maybe 300 – I’m small potatoes). But, alas, none of these visitors left any comments! I have no idea what was drawing people to the post. That is, I know how they found it, mostly through a link had been posted on a sustainable transportation network, but I don’t know whether they thought my ideas made any sense. If this were a grant-supported effort where I needed to demonstrate impact, I’d be at a loss for how to do that. Fortunately, I’m just a grad student practicing how to sound less jargony, so there’s room to experiment some more.

Adonia Lugo is finishing her dissertation on bikes, bodies, and public space in Los Angeles while living in Seattle. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine and she blogs about her research and activism as Urban Adonia.

36 thoughts on “Fly-on-the-wall or Troll?

  1. Hi Adonia,

    First of all, thanks for your great guest blogging posts. Good stuff. I should have posted more comments!

    “From these forays I’ve learned that people are quick to accuse commenters with unfamiliar screen names and unpopular opinions of being trolls, meaning they are only there to elicit a reaction.”

    Ya, this is definitely true. There are a few sites that I have visited and commented on for years (basically political blogs) and the word “troll” is often used against anyone with a different ideological or political perspective. And the term gets thrown around so easily and so often it almost becomes meaningless. Well, it basically means “I really don’t like what you are saying.”

    “I was thinking I’d get some pageviews, and there was indeed a jump (from about 70 a day to maybe 300 – I’m small potatoes). But, alas, none of these visitors left any comments!”

    This is always an interesting issue. First, what makes people actually take the time to comment? Sometimes I think people are reluctant to comment for some pretty simple reasons (like when a site has somewhat wonky comment security. But others are just hesitant about putting their views out there. On the flip side though, some posts and sites get so many comments (some of them incredibly “candid”) that it’s actually amazing. News articles are a good example of this–it always blow me away what people are willing to write. In general it seems that there is a correlation between the number of readers and the number of comments. It seems that only a fraction of readers ever really comment…but it would be interesting to look closer at this, and maybe why this happens.

    “Fortunately, I’m just a grad student practicing how to sound less jargony…”

    I hear you on this one. Blogging has been really good for me because I can just write how I want to write, without worrying about filling my proper citation quota or making enough allusions to certain theorists. Sometimes I look at my seminar papers from the past few years and, well, they aren’t pretty to read. The jargon creeps upon us all.

  2. Thanks for reading, Ryan! I thought you would understand where I’m coming from. I actually love jargon, I made up a bunch of words in my first dissertation proposal that I’m now too embarrassed to use in the document itself. But I do think blogging is a great way to practice being clear, which is at the heart of criticism of “jargon.” Being willfully obscure is a technique of power, but it’s hardly incorrect to say that some things in the world are complicated and require a technical language.

  3. All critical theory is, is jargon. There’s nothing more to it. If you’re not using the right words, you’re not doing critical theory. That’s why anthropologists write so painfully: there’s a structure set up whereby scholars and grad students have to write jargon and cite idiots or they won’t get the grades or academic positions. It’s always strange to me to hear critical theorists going on about hegemony and discourses when their entire schtick is the attempt to silence reasonable thought and good sense through obscurantism from a place of power.

    Sure, you need a technical vocabulary – but in other disciplines, the technical vocabulary is something you use as a short hand. You explain it elsewhere and it has a commonly-accepted meaning that allows anyone to potentially understand it. ‘Allele’, ‘quasar’, ‘meiosis’ – that’s technical vocabulary. Critical theory is not equivalent to this. It’s just jargon for the sake of jargon, using an emperor’s-new-clothes mechanism to keep it rolling on.

    Also, having lived in several cities with a strong bike culture, I found your blog fairly interesting. On the other hand, I’ve never had a problem with walking – or taking the bus, for that matter – and a bike always seemed like an unnecessary expense to me.

  4. Thanks for the post, Adonia. Certain blogs seem to attract certain types of controversies (I’m thinking of people jumping on *theory* at SM in a way they don’t on other blogs), but even then, it’s always curious what becomes click-bait/ comment-bait, and what doesn’t.

    Mailing list distributors offer the ability to send different versions of the same article, advertisement, or news update to different people, and compare feedback results. Much like Obama did with his recent, highly marketed campaign. Blogs are a stark contrast, because we can’t easily put out four similar articles of varying provocativity, and see which gets the best discussion going!

  5. Blogs are a stark contrast, because we can’t easily put out four similar articles of varying provocativity, and see which gets the best discussion going!

    Why not set up multiple blogs, each with its own distinctive tone and manner, post the same content on each of them and see which attracts the most comment?

  6. @Adonia:

    “I actually love jargon, I made up a bunch of words in my first dissertation proposal that I’m now too embarrassed to use in the document itself.”

    That’s funny. For me one of the issues with my writing is that I fall into this strange voice/style when I am writing academic stuff sometimes and I am trying to knock it off. Hard to explain. But blogging is definitely good for working some of that out.

    “Being willfully obscure is a technique of power, but it’s hardly incorrect to say that some things in the world are complicated and require a technical language.”

    Ya. The thing is finding ways to get stuff across in various venues, while also staying somewhat clear and interesting.

    @John:

    That’s an interesting idea…

  7. I think John’s suggestion elaborating on Celia’s point would be a fascinating experiment. Take the same example and argument and present it through different personas. Isn’t this how we get our news now, filtered through some identity aggregator? Working online highlights individual framing, but it’s also easy to ignore the worlds outside of one’s own. Al’s comment made me reflect that bicycling is conceptually and materially related to public transit and walking. In practice, though, bike blogs tend to leave out the other carfree modes, even though most bike people I know (myself included) get around on foot and on buses/trains quite a bit too.

  8. Adonia:

    “Al’s comment made me reflect that bicycling is conceptually and materially related to public transit and walking.”

    Hmm. Have you looked into that at all–relations between the carfree folks (cyclists and walkers, for example)? Have you seen a kind of political allegiance or mutual respect between those types of groups? Interesting to think about.

    I meant to mention earlier that my first encounter with a really bike friendly city was pretty amazing (Santa Cruz). Then I went back home, kept riding my bike, and nearly got killed my some person who was not excited about my presence on the road. Being “bike friendly” is definitely about a lot more than just infrastructure, that’s for sure.

    Anyway, this is good stuff. Really interesting to read about your work in LA. I just checked out some more of your site.

  9. Adonia’s last point resonates very strongly for me. I spent the weekend at the fall workshop of the Anthropology of Japan in Japan group, where a recurring theme for several years has been the fragmentation of our understanding of Japan introduced by recent focus on particular aspects of popular culture. Even when multi-sited, studies that focus on particular examples of folklore, advertising, manga, anime, video games or popular entertainment tend to neglect similar phenomena in different spaces or domains. Thus, for example, a study of the revitalization of traditional storytelling in rural, northeast Japan may ignore Nihon Mukashibanashi, a long-running series of animated folktales on Japan’s public broadcasting network or the way in which storytellers who visit old folks homes or facilities for disabled children are entering particular spaces in which other artists, e.g., classical flute or Andean music ensembles, may also appear, a very different context from the traditional village setting in which the storyteller might be one of the few sources of entertainment and be addressing audiences composed of young and old, infirm or in the prime of life, in dimly lit traditional structures instead of under the florescent glare that is characteristic of modern institutional settings. What “traditional” and “ethnographic analysis” mean in these new contexts are highly fraught questions, indeed.

  10. Have you looked into that at all–relations between the carfree folks (cyclists and walkers, for example)? Have you seen a kind of political allegiance or mutual respect between those types of groups?

    In most of Europe, walking isn’t a conscious choice or political activity. It’s just an easy way to get around. So it would be pretty odd if cyclists and people who walk got together in a political allegiance because they’re usually not conscious of their status as ‘walkers’, etc. I expect that’s a little different in the states, where it’s much harder to walk or cycle around. I’d be interested to hear Adonia’s take, though.

    (I’m thinking of people jumping on *theory* at SM in a way they don’t on other blogs)

    The thing is, I like some of SM’s content and it comes right in my inbox. Sometimes, the authors complain about the terrible state of anthropology today, especially with regard to its importance and acceptance elsewhere in the academy/public sphere, and sometimes they post things that talk about certain issues using critical theory – without thinking that perhaps anthropology’s lack of impact is down to its awful theoretical base. So that’s why I, for one, jump on so-called ‘theory’ on SM.

    Also, bad writing in anthropology is a feature, not a bug, and a symptom, not the illness.

  11. “Anthropology’s lack of impact is down to its awful theoretical base”

    Yeah, let´s go again. Demonstrate your epistemological superiority by grouping extremely different theoretical approaches into one big rant. How much anthropology have you read in your life? Is Descola’s approach to human ecology based on anything close to critical theory? Is Graeber’s discussion on the concept of debt based on the same premises of Ingold’s approach to phenomenology of perception?

    As much as I agree that there’s been a terrible ubiquity of “critical theory” in anthropology these last decades, and it is a loss, how can any discussion come from this kind of childish critique?

  12. @Al

    “I expect that’s a little different in the states, where it’s much harder to walk or cycle around.”

    Ya, that’s an understatement when thinking about a place like Los Angeles…

  13. You’re right: there are lots of different theoretical approaches in anthropology, and many of them don’t come from critical theory. But here’s the point: how many people in other disciplines are interested in wading through this mess? When you read an article in a biology journal, you can be fairly clear about what general principles the author will agree with – even if it’s just basic stuff, like evolution by natural selection, etc. When you read an article in an anthropology journal, you can guarantee nothing of the sort, and it makes the whole process ridiculous. Diversity can be a strength, but if anthropology’s theoretical diversity includes disagreements about what the discipline is, what it’s for, how it should approach problems, what disciplines it is closest to, and whether we can or cannot investigate the real world, something has gone a bit wrong. So the lack of impact is, at least in part, down to the presence of a lot of continental philosophy, even if the only effect is making it hard for interested non-anthropologists to read works by anthropologists (and I don’t think that’s the only effect).

    Think about what you study on a course in anthropology. Students don’t get to learn about interesting things – they get a series of critical theorists shoved in their faces. Even when reasonable ideas are interspersed with these continental ideas, it’s very hard for students to separate the wheat from the chaff, just as it is for other academics reading anthropology journals. It’s no wonder anthropology graduates aren’t employable, given what they actually learn.

    Why haven’t anthropology departments embraced cognitivism or other scientific positions that might be capable of linking our understanding with other disciplines? Why do anthropologists think they need a unique perspective, instead of a scientifically-informed one? That seems like the crux of it.

    Anyway, I’d rather hear more about bikes, especially as my girlfriend has just had her back tyre nicked. So if you want to continue this discussion, do make your way over to my blog – I posted recently about epistemology, so it wouldn’t be inappropriate.

  14. “Why haven’t anthropology departments embraced cognitivism or other scientific positions that might be capable of linking our understanding with other disciplines? Why do anthropologists think they need a unique perspective, instead of a scientifically-informed one? That seems like the crux of it.”

    Maybe we have this kind of diversity in theoretical approaches because anthropology is much more related to archaeology, than to biology as a field of knowledge. We share a common interest, the human being a scientific subject, but the approaches have different intersections with other sciences. Lévi-Strauss’ structuralism owes a lot to linguistics and pure mathematics. Ingold’s holistic approach to skill and perception derives from philosophy, ecology and behavioral sciences. Each one of these approaches encompass different problems and questions, and they dig into different fields of knowledge.

    (to be continued…)

  15. “Maybe we have this kind of diversity in theoretical approaches because anthropology is much more related to archaeology, than to biology as a field of knowledge.”

    And I say that because archaeology is a set of different techniques, and an archaeology team usually involves people trained in biology, geology, anthropology, linguistics, geography, history, etc…

  16. Ryan – exactly what I was thinking. Pretty hard to walk about in the states generally. That’s one of the first things that strikes me whenever I’m there, and I quite understand the idea of advocating for either walking or cycling over there. It’s just that here, it seems a bit unnecessary.

    Bora,

    I have put my comments on my blog. I hope it’s not a problem to comment there.

  17. “Hmm. Have you looked into that at all–relations between the carfree folks (cyclists and walkers, for example)? Have you seen a kind of political allegiance or mutual respect between those types of groups? Interesting to think about.”

    These connections vary from place to place, and including walking, biking, and transit use in the same movement is complicated by the varying marketability of these modes. Increasingly, transit advocates are framing bike infrastructure as something that takes away from transit; an interviewee in Seattle told me that she sees the city spending money on bike lanes and cutting bus lines. It seems more and more that bike infrastructure is now being used as a strategy to attract a “creative class” population, which undermines the efforts of people like me to frame bicycling as something with benefits for all. Unfortunately the bike movement has not done a good job of including race/class diversity, and this year’s national bike summit put on by the League of American Bicyclists is themed as “bikes mean business.” Hmm.

  18. Re: the discussion of theory in anthropology, I don’t think our discipline’s big issue is a lack of a theoretical base. I think our big issue is that we simultaneously strive to understand power in everyday life and belittle fighting that power. We spend hundreds of pages tracing out the intricate details that connect everyday life and power. Yet the next step, using that knowledge to influence discourse, is a scary one. Not that we should ignore the pitfalls of anthropology as an aid to colonialism. We have reasons for trying to bury our hard-won secrets in disciplinary jargon. But challenging the divide between “writing culture” as a representational exercise and “rewriting culture” as an activist endeavor is what makes me stick around.

  19. But challenging the divide between “writing culture” as a representational exercise and “rewriting culture” as an activist endeavor is what makes me stick around.

    @Adonia

    This being the case, allow me to recommend looking for fellow travelers in the emerging strategic design movement in architecture and urban planning. Dan Hill’s Dark Matter and Trojan Horses ( http://www.strelka.com/press_en/dark-matter-and-trojan-horses-dan-hill/?lang=en ) is an indispensable reference here. What I like about this “strategic design vocabulary” is (1) the introduction of simple but compelling terms to inform strategic design debates and (2) the fact that the point of those debates is projects designed to introduce serious social and cultural change and (3) that the discussion is solidly grounded in material as well as social and cultural considerations.

    Key terms include “Macguffin,” a term borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock that refers to what everyone is chasing after, e.g., the Maltese falcon. The Macguffin may turn out to be a Trojan Horse filled with invisible innovations that that transform the system into which they are injected. The best projects are Platforms that lay a foundation and provide the necessary utilities and attract others to build on it. One thinks not only of such software platforms as Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS but also business models like the one that informed NTT Docomo’s launch of i-Mode in Japan or the Apple iTunes/App Store ecology. A final key phrase is “Dark Matter,” which refers to the fact that socially consequential projects are not only the visible, material outcomes on which designers tend to focus but also embedded in an invisible web of regulations, business arrangements, funding flows, conventional values, etc.

    Perhaps the most striking idea in the whole book is the idea of strategic design itself, which Hill contrasts with what has come to be called “design thinking.” Design thinking assumes a project, a predefined goal that the designer is trying to achieve. It lends itself to simple, direct, instrumental-logic, corporate/political thinking. Strategic design makes no assumption at the outset about what the goal or goals should be. It examines in detail the bright and dark matter, the matter and the meta, contexts in which problems occur and only then begins to develop the Macguffins, Trojan Horses, and Platforms solving the problems will require. Sounds like applied anthropology to me.

  20. John, thanks for the link. My first interest in design came from reading Victor Papanek, who advocated for functionalist, ecologically minded design, in a graduate course. At the time, I was living at an intentional community that worked to change the city through shifting to sustainable practices, and I started focusing more and more on the tension in urban design between individual users and expert plans for space. Bicycling has been a really useful case for exploring this, and because of the changes happening in American cities right now (reversal of white flight), it’s also been a case for questioning the colonization of urban space through design. Right now I’m excited to learn more about these guys: http://socialagencylab.org/. Two Social Agency Lab folks, Zakcq Lockrem and María Vidart-Delgado, organized a panel at AAA this year on the question of design and culture, and that’s what made me start thinking about the idea of rewriting culture.

  21. @Adonia

    Hope you like the book. I look forward to hearing your comments on it. You might also want to bring it to the attention of the socialagencylab folk. They may already know about it; but despite Dan Hill’s anglo sounding name, the publisher and the group with which he now works are both located in Finland.

  22. actually, i would define “trolls” as people who always bring the conversation to the topic that makes them cranky, regardless of the thread. the metaphor is a useful one, because like those mythical beings who live under bridges and waylay travelers, they keep discussion from going anywhere interesting. for me, the problem with such people is like the one with “that boy” in a class setting. if they were interesting, we might forgive them being conversational bullies; but after you’ve heard the same position (um, about continental philosophy perhaps) again and again, you can only call them bores. but i would distinguish trolls from what sara ahmed calls “affect aliens.” the latter generally shift us into a useful perspective on an issue–even if the happy many consider them wet blankets. and trolls generally dislike such people, too.

  23. Hey DJ, interesting idea, “affect aliens.” I think that’s what I was getting at with my title here, a point that may have been lost in my late-night, last-minute attempt to get one more post done for Savage Minds before my guest blogging month was over. This is what I’m thinking about as a blogger who tries to bring ethnographic knowledge into the picture of bike activism: I know what makes bike people tic, because I’m one of them. My hypothesis is that this privileged knowledge that I gained through my ethnographic engagement can be used to address some outsider concerns with the bike movement from within. (Namely, the lack of diversity). Does this make me a troll when I write posts that are meant to critique the idols of a certain section of the bike movement? Maybe it makes me an affect alien. Thanks for mentioning Ahmed’s term!

  24. @Adonia

    One thing to be careful of is the “I am a native, I know” trap. Whenever I lean in this direction I find myself thinking about all the times I didn’t agree with my parents or brother, even while we were still living together.

    I can also imagine differences between different styles of bikers, casual, committed, and racers, for example. Two of my wife’s brothers were long-distance bike racers, one nationally ranked. Thanks to their example, Ruth and I own pretty nice bikes, but our “take a spin once in a while” approach to cycling is another world from their tech-fetish enhanced athleticism.

    @DJ

    Allow me join Adonia in praise of “affect aliens.” A great term I look forward to using.

  25. Not too long ago, there was a long discussion on SM about Discuss White Privilege. It was alleged that she was a troll, because all she ever posted about was something important to her and, she thought, to anthropology as a whole. Yes, she posted a lot, and often in the form of long, rambling, and occasionally offensive posts. But the discussion missed the point entirely: a troll isn’t someone who posts about one topic or has a pet peeve. It’s someone who shitposts for fun with opinions they don’t really have, not a sincere commentator.

    The best thing about an internet comments thread is something that SM pundits appear to be unaware of: you can completely ignore the other comments and comment about what you think is important or relevant. You can discuss your own angle on it, and we can have a diversity of views going on. The idea that there can only be one comment hegemon is completely wrong; if you really don’t like what other commentators are saying, then you are completely free to ignore it and discuss around it. That’s what happens everywhere else. Go to Dieneke’s blog, or Why Evolution is True, or Pharyngula, or anywhere. No comments dominate, even genuine troll posts. The pundits post what they want to post, ignoring other comments if they want to.

    Yes, I post about continental philosophy. Why? It’s partly because it’s a scourge and partly because there’s no other place to do it. There’s nowhere else that will get through to ordinary anthropologists and grad students the simple message that most of the theory they claim to believe in so strongly has no basis and is predicated on appallingly bad philosophical argumentation. I think that’s important. Moreover, ‘theory’ comes out quite strongly in many posts. It’s not just a garnish. And again, this theory-base is what leads to the main issue discussed on this blog: why anthropology isn’t considered important anymore.

    Regardless, I will refrain from posting any comments about continental philosophy, critical theory, or anything related in future.

  26. Al, given the relation between Sara Ahmed’s term affect aliens and anti-racism theory, as well as the fact that my comments on white privilege and anthropology as ‘white public space’ relate directly to the AAA’s 2010 report on the state if racial minorities in anthropology, 2011 AA article on anthropology as ‘white public space’, and 2012 publication on “Racism in the Academy”, I would take issue with your characterization of my comments and assertion that my comments are not in fact about an issue important to anthropology as a whole.

    And what exactly is it that you consider “occasionally offensive” about my posts? Especially as it seems what has most offended people about my comments–discussions if intersectionality pointing out oft-unacknowledged forms of race/gender privilege–would largely mesh with Ahmed’s own queer/feminist/antiracism critiques, especially around labeling those who point out racism as racist for doing so?

  27. I didn’t say that racism isn’t an important issue in anthropology, only that you believe it is, perhaps justifiably, and comment on that basis. And there’s nothing I personally find offensive about your posts – I was using the word ‘offensive’ to mean that some people have taken offense in the past (as indeed they have). I am not offended by your posts nor do I think they are necessarily misguided. I’m sorry for not being clear.

  28. @ adonia @ john

    let me give you the citation, then: ahmed, sara 2010 “happy objects” _in_ the affect theory reader ed. melissa gregg and gregory j. seigworth. durham, nc: duke university press pp 29-51.

    the definition ahmed gives derives from her attempt to discuss the figure of the “feminist kill joy”: “an affect alien [...] refuses to share an orientation toward certain things as being good because she does not find the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising” (39). interestingly, ahmed shows that affect aliens dwell among progressives, showing the sometimes unhappy choices movements have made (her example is the way that race unsettles feminist politics; but what of lack of diversity among bike activists? class, racial, and other exclusions among mainstream gay activists?). it’s a useful term that i’ve been thinking about these days. as with anything taken from cultural studies, though, i wonder how to make it fit with ethnographic practice

  29. @DWP
    yep…ahmed talks about the problem of white feminists demanding that black women “move on”–she is interested in the politics of how we are motivated (or not) by objects that promise happiness.

    (btw: and a memo from a much earlier moment of theory @those of y’all who know parsons and shils, how is the notion of affect alien related to cathexis?)

  30. I am fascinated by DWP’s persona on this site. When I started writing this post, I had been reading a long comment thread from earlier this year on SM involving some of you same commenters. The thread seemed to have been provoked by something that I did not see in the post itself, either because I read it too fast or because I was not privy to the ongoing debate, but I saw people dismissing DWP’s views. The stakes for women to not appear “angry” are different than they are for men. An angry man seems passionate, committed, while an angry woman (especially a woman of color) gets painted as hysterical, imbalanced. I was surprised to see this outdated stereotype coming up around DWP. At the same time, I can think of many times when I have disciplined my own responses to avoid calling out what seems to me to be blatant privilege, white, male, or otherwise, because I don’t want to be dismissed. I admire DWP’s forthrightness.

  31. DWP, you’ve earned your Savage Minds celebrity :)

    Indeed. Just for the record

    1. I have never considered DWP a troll. She is plainly a person passionately committed to a cause who draws attention and provides links to material of interest. Not a troll in my book.

    2. Have I sometimes found her annoying? Yes, as I have also found Al annoying and, I am sure, others find me annoying. We who are constantly charging in, riding our hobby horses, sometimes have that effect on people.

    3. I am totally aware of the “angry black woman” stereotype and its manipulation as a put down. All I have questioned is the wisdom of adopting a tone and manner that plays into the stereotype and provides a convenient excuse for tuning out the very important stuff that DWP has to say.

    4. Does this mean that I am recommending an infantilized, “Shut up and be a good girl” response to this critique? Not at all. My thinking is shaped by two classic works, Eric Berne’s Games People Play and Virginia Satir’s The Art of Verbal Self-Defense. Berne suggests that human interactions usually take one of three forms: Talking down—parent to child; talking up—child to parent; Talking with—adult to adult. Anger, however justified, is talking down and usually elicits a response familiar to anyone who has ever scolded a child or had an argument with a spouse. Submission, talking up, is also not in most cases a good move in verbal combat—though sweet talk, what Japanese call amae may sometimes be useful as a form of verbal aikido. Talking straight, adult to adult, is the usually the best approach. Virginia Satir adds that when talking straight it is often best to adopt a perfectly neutral, almost robotic, tone, stepping away from the dance of anger when two speakers are oscillating between talking down and talking up.

    5. Do I practice what I preach? Mostly not. I tend to get caught up in the cut-and-thrust of verbal combat. In this respect, I am hypocritical, no question about it. Does this mean, however, that Berne and Satir are wrong? No. On occasions when I have been moved to follow their advice, things have usually worked out better than they would have otherwise.

    That’s my two yen.

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