Plagiarism itself is common of course, and anyone can engage in it. But when it comes to feminist/progressive writing by women of colour, a very specific type of plagiarism is common. It is top down. It is often done by people with privilege if not privilege and power via the support of institutions such as the mainstream media or the academe. And even when they do not have the support of such institutions, White privilege alone is enough for them to be belligerent and feel entitled to the content while demanding “niceness” from those they’ve taken from. Many Whites engage in tone policing while they are being abusive.
Black women especially experience this type of plagiarism (as I mentioned in Exploitation of Black Women’s Labor…In The Name of Feminism or Justice? Please.) as much of what shapes feminist politics has a Black woman’s work as origin. (I am plagiarized multiple times per week without fail and have mentioned this before in I Could Not Be Any More Tired Of Academia And I Am Not Even A Part Of It.) Black women’s epistemology and Black culture in general are always treated as a picking place for vultures who simultaneously want to use our every expression while not only refusing to cite us but also discrediting us and straight up insulting us. The entitlement to consumption and exploitation of Black culture has a long history where Black cultural production and Black bodies themselves are viewed as products open for a White market at will. Even non-Black people of colour do this to Black people by using this knowledge while being anti-Black, yet many times cannot describe their experiences without this knowledge. Non-Black people of colour can be perpetrators of the exploitation of the cultural production of Black people and not feel accountability is necessary for the same reasons that Whites do. But Whites also engage in this exploitation against other people of colour. Many women of colour, Black and otherwise, have to deal with White plagiarists and the stages of plagiarism.
By the stages, I mean the common pattern of behavior when Whites are confronted about their plagiarism of women of colour:
- They deny that the plagiarism has occurred, even when it is obvious and blatant and other people notice it as well.
- They claim that the woman of colour that they plagiarized should be flattered to even be thought “worthy” enough to “deserve” to be plagiarized by someone White. They suggest that plagiarism is “appreciation” yet to actually appreciate someone is to mention them, and this logic is purposely skirted by Whites.
- They demand “niceness” and “humility” from the woman of colour that they plagiarized. It’s unacceptable for that woman of colour to be upset despite being exploited. They suggest that her caring about plagiarism is a “mental health” issue about “needing recognition” versus a matter of their own White privilege and actually a matter of the law; plagiarism is actually not legal. I know it’s common. It is still illegal. And Whites who especially are consumed by “legality” when a person of colour is in question sure do not give shit when their own behavior is in question.
- They insult. Racial slurs (i.e. anytime I speak of plagiarism, people bring in the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype), coded language only used against women of colour online (i.e “bully,” “toxic,” etc.) and sometimes ableism (the woman of colour who made the content magically becomes “stupid”) comes into play.
- They discredit the work itself. Ironically, their plagiarism is based on work that they think…is “stupid?” The mental gymnastics involved in taking work and thinking it is valuable, but thinking its creator is “stupid,” but then if the creator finds out and doesn’t applaud the plagiarism, they’re also “stupid” makes me think of the elaborate social illusions that accompany White supremacy, ones that James Baldwin wrote about so well.
- They turn into the victim. When the White person is a woman, White supremacist, patriarchal constructions of womanhood are evoked where they’re the victim of the “mean ol’” woman of colour who could not politely allow plagiarism to occur. “Delicate damsel” performance occurs. Worse, some will even claim it is “racist” to point out this form of top down plagiarism of feminist/progressive writing happens and plays out this way because of White privilege. They easily move from tyrant to toddler in these situations, trying to maintain control the entire time. At this point, other Whites may join in to gaslight and abuse the woman of colour or make excuses. Sometimes other people of colour join in the abuse as well and make the unequivocally false and nonsensical claim that the woman of colour in question wants “White approval?” Or is “greedy” and a “capitalist” for not wanting to be exploited? Nonsense.
Last night a mutual follow, a woman of colour and queer Muslim feminist @jaythenerdkid (Aaminah Khan) noticed that her tweet and viral quote about men giving women insincere compliments rooted in misogyny was haphazardly plagiarized by various White women. Again, this is very common when it comes to feminist/progressive writing even in the smallest microblogging form, as she uses Twitter for and as many women of colour do. She herself recently wrote about being plagiarized before in her essay If My Words Are Worth Nothing, Why Are You Stealing Them?. These White women will perch in the Twitter streams and blogs of women of colour looking for something as small as a tweet to steal in hopes of increasing their attention on Twitter or something as large as exploiting major conversations among Black and other women of colour and turning them into profit for their own mainstream media platforms or blatant content trolling and plagiarizing for their articles on feminism. Again, common and old activity here.
Once @jaythenerdkid confronted those White women, they followed the stages listed above to perfection. I supported her and spoke to some of these White women and advised them that they could share the content that they think is great without plagiarizing. It’s actually easier to use the retweet button or reblog button than to make a new tweet or a new post and take the content and pretend that they created it. It actually takes less time to do the former. They of course acted dominating and entitled at first and then switched to “delicate damsel” phase. This reminded me that @bad_dominicana alluded to how White women use their perceived “softness” as a weapon because of how White supremacy works in their favor. This is the pre-cursor to full-fledged White Tears™. Women of colour have no such luxury and Black women especially do not as we are not assumed to even be human enough to have nuanced emotions or feel pain.
There is no excuse to be made for this unless the person making the excuse is ready to defend White supremacy. And suggesting "well as long as the knowledge gets out there" does not address the question of why must the thoughts, ideas and cultural productions of women of colour be taken and are only acceptable from a White woman? No one can answer that without defending White supremacy. No one can explain why can’t the "knowledge get out there" attached to its creator and still matter? Why is it only good when when the woman of colour involved is erased? White supremacy and the notion that knowledge is not even knowledge unless it comes from someone White is why; period.
I tire of this cycle. I tire of the entitlement and petulant tantrums by Whites who feel entitled to the work of women of colour. It doesn’t matter if it is a single tweet (i.e. in @jaythenerdkid's case) or if it is a full essay (as it has happened many times to me and to so many other women of colour) or if it is an entire framework (i.e. how White women try to erase "intersectionality" from Kimberlé Crenshaw). It’s unacceptable. The entitlement to the labor of women of colour—and especially Black women since we are regularly viewed as objects of labor and not even as people—needs to stop. It is sickening and especially so coming from people who claim to be about justice, as many of the Whites who do this claim feminism or some other progressive politics. How can you truly desire to dismantle oppressive systems when you perpetuate them by manipulating and silencing the voices and knowledge of women of colour?
Related Essay Compilation: 2013: A Year Of White Supremacy and Racism In Mainstream Feminism
Consider one of thousand such instances. A few years ago the Los Angeles Times carried a special report on the rain forests of Borneo in the South Pacific. By their own testimony, the people there lived contented lives. They hunted, fished, and raised food in their jungle orchards and groves. But their entire way of life was ruthlessly wiped out by a few giant companies that destroyed the rain forest in order to harvest the hardwood for quick profits. Their lands were turned into ecological disaster areas and they themselves were transformed into disfranchised shantytown dwellers, forced to work for subsistence wages – when fortunate enough to find employment.
North American and European corporations have acquired control of more than three-fourths of the known mineral resources of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But the pursuit of natural resources is not the only reason for capitalist overseas expansion. There is the additional need to cut production costs and maximize profits by investing in countries with plentiful supply of cheap labor. U.S. corporate foreign investment grew 84 percent from 1985 to 1990, with the most dramatic increase in cheap-labor countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, and Singapore.
Because of low wages, low taxes, nonexistent work benefits, weak labor unions, and nonexistent occupational and environmental protections, U.S. corporate profit rates in the Third World are 50 percent greater than in developed countries. Citibank, one of the largest U.S. firms, earns about 75 percent of its profits from overseas operations. While profit margins at home sometimes have had a sluggish growth, earnings abroad have continued to rise dramatically, fostering the development of what has become known as the multinational or transnational corporation. Today some four hundred transnational companies control about 80 percent of the capital assets of the global free market and are extending their grasp into the ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Transnationals have developed a global production line. General Motors has factories that produce cars, trucks, and a wide range of auto components in Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Spain, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Singapore, Philipines, South Africa, South Korea, and a dozen other countries. Such ”multiple sourcing” enables GM to ride out strikes in one country by stepping up production in another, playing workers of various nations against one other in order to discourage wage and benefit demands and undermine labor union strategies.
December 19, 2013
A 50-year-old California man described by relatives as a “loving father and a doting grandfather,” White had been living on the streets of Hayward for years. He wanted to work and was able to find odd jobs here and there, but it was never much or consistent enough to afford a place to live. Hayward has no emergency shelter with beds for single men, so White slept outside.
But things were looking up. Last Saturday, White was second on a long list to get permanent supportive housing in Hayward. He had been waiting in line for months and it seemed as though he might finally catch a break.
White died on Sunday.
Temperatures in the Bay Area plummeted to near-freezing on December 10, an uncommon occurrence in a region generally known for its lack of inclement weather. White’s body was found in the old Hayward City Hall courtyard. He’d been beaten up and robbed by multiple men, who took the new winter coat White’s sister had given him on Friday. He was wearing just a hoodie and shorts. His cause of death is still being determined, but police speculated that his death was weather-related.
White is now the seventh homeless person in the Bay Area to die in the cold since November 28. The others were Daniel Brillhart, 52; Enrique Rubio, 56; Andrew Greenleaf, 48; Daniel Moore, 53; and two men in the East Bay and Peninsula whose names have not been released.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately 700 homeless people die from hypothermia every year. Those deaths tend to occur in the East Coast and Midwest, not California. But temperatures in the Bay have repeatedly dipped below freezing in the past few weeks, leaving thousands of homeless people in danger.
The Bay Area has one of the highest homeless populations in part because of the explosion of recent wealth that has led to increasing inequality and a lack of affordable housing for those without high-paying tech jobs. The San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metropolitan area is the wealthiest in the country, even outpacing New York-Connecticut and Washington DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia. This influx of money has brought higher housing prices and more evictions in the past few years.
And for those viscerally impacted by rising inequality, life is especially difficult when the temperatures drop. Many communities in the Bay Area lack emergency shelters, in part because freezes aren’t very common. But what happens to many of the thousands of people living without shelter in the Bay Area, waiting for their name to be called for the few affordable housing units that exist? “What happens is they die on the street,” Betty DeForest, director emeritus of South Hayward Parish, wrote in an email to the City Council last week following White’s death.
In other words, we live in a society that leaves many people too poor to survive but are surprised to see them die.