May 25, 2008

The Personal and Political

Thanks to Box who sent this article. I had seen it a few days before, but I had pushed it aside because I was working on other stuff.

The article is the front page story of the New York Times Magazine this week. It's an autobiographical story written by a former blogger at Gawker.com. Gawker is one of those huge gossip blogs, where they have paid professional bloggers around the clock who drop in and comment on events and celebrity gossip around the world and in the big cities. The Times Magazine story is about how this young woman blogged about her personal life and made herself into a celebrity, and how her world came crashing down because of the public scrutiny, which inhibited the woman's own attempts to find her own authenticity.

I often wonder how blogging can hurt a person's reputation. Even in our forum, we see how seemingly trivial points of conversation can suddenly balloon into something that destroys a person's online reputation, and some of these online events could become disastrous had they been public events with people using their real names. As a blogger, this story resonated with me because one always has to somehow keep one's life and reputation safe. I know how hard some of us try to protect our reputations with secrecy, and I think it's usually a good move. Once you put something online, it's there forever. It never goes away.

As someone who blogs on an Asian American political and intellectual blog, an idea came to me while reading this, especially in light of D's article on narcissism and Jade's article on feminism. On the 44's, because we have such a strong focus on logic and rational thought, we're shielded from a lot of the other problems that other Asian American activists have. Because we're rational, there's no need for us to share all that much detailed info about our personal lives. Rationality is the key, and it should (in theory) be readily understandable to anyone who follows the logic. But most activists don't follow this code.

Take, for example, the typical Asian American feminist. Now I don't want to stereotype, but from my own experiences, almost every conversation with a self-avowed non-44's Asian American feminist uses eventually ends up with a discussion of IR, followed by a defense of why she is dating or married to a white guy (and no, I've never met a self-avowed non-44 Asian American feminist married to or dating an Asian guy. Yuri Kochiyama was married to Bill Kochiyama, but she didn't adopt AA feminism until years later when the AA feminists asked her to.). These conversations usually end up with, "I'm an Asian American feminist, my body is mine, my boyfriend is white, and I'll do whatever I want. You don't own me...footbinder!"

What usually follows is nothing short of bedlam. The angry MM-types jump in and start making sexist personal comments against the AA feminist, which most of us would deem unacceptable and rude. This brings more Asian American feminists (with their white husbands) into the fold, and they usually react by making racist comments about Asian men, even though it was only a small number of militants who were participating in the personal attacks. The Asian feminists with their white boyfriends grab the higher terrain by virtue of their post-colonialist privilege, and the militant Asian men fight back. Pretty soon, no one is listening to anyone. Upon even just a little bit of thought, a neutral third party could see that this whole debacle would not have started had the first feminist not used her personal life as a political crutch.

Contrast that to our method over here. Every so often someone will share some personal info, but hardly ever does anyone use their personal life as a political attack tool. In other words, there's never any, "I'm married to a white guy, and you'd better not criticize me, or else I'll call you 'sexist.' In fact, I've faced so much prejudice from my IR that you'd better recognize me because we're taking over."

Everything here is relatively detached. We don't question people's choices, nor do we advertise our own choices in order to make a political point criticizing someone else.

This is the way discussion should be. This way, we're only talking about ideas. I would think this would (relatively, anyway) protect us from the personal scrutiny which the Times author describes.

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