Borrowed Shame

Tales of Woe

The mighty Cath Elliott, a Guardian regular whose devotion to identity politics and hand-wringing has previously entertained us, now turns her attention to matters of a more mundane kind, with a piece titled, How Do You Keep a Sock on a Dog? Sadly, this rambling and incongruous article about a pet’s plastic surgical collar offers precious little scope for Ms Elliott’s usual agonising, though, of course, the urge hasn’t entirely been frustrated.

I’m feeling guilty because it seems so cruel making him wear it.

Thankfully, others take their guilt very seriously indeed and reach almost operatic levels of indignation and remorse. Among them is Amanda Marcotte, whose Pandagon website provides a safe and hegemony-free environment in which devotees can rend their garments and gnaw at their own wrists. The latest drama, discovered via Protein Wisdom, concerns the inadvertently scandalous imagery chosen to illustrate Ms Marcotte’s new book, It’s a Jungle Out There: the Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. The illustrations in question, which parody 1950s comic books - themselves very often parodies - have injured feelings on a truly devastating scale:

I feel so nauseous and sleepless about this whole thing that I felt the need to weigh in as well.


In the history of this country, there has always been one broad and well-lit path for oppressed classes of people to “better themselves” — side with the oppressors against someone else. That is exactly what these images are depicting: women gaining power through helping men against savage, violent brown people.

There ensues a long and emotionally fraught debate about whether to withdraw the offending publication, or boycott it, or reprint the book denuded of its connotations of “white privilege”.

I’m not going to pretend any of this is easy. Of course it’s hard to figure out what to say when you are under attack, when you feel defensive, when you feel like throwing up your hands and saying “Fuck it.”

However, while much of the feminist blogosphere still trembles with shock and umbrage, the greatest expression of feeling is found at Ms Marcotte’s own site, where the suitably chastened host offers an apology.

I can understand why anyone would choose to boycott a book with these images, and I respect that choice. Hopefully, once they are removed, people will reconsider supporting the book if they like the content. I, for one, will be ripping the pages out of my copy but keeping them as a reminder to be alert.

Not to be outdone, hundreds of Pandagon readers begin a chorus of wailing and righteous theorising.

Like I said in the thread at Feministe, that’s not a kitschy and ironic use of racist imagery. If that were actually the point, the purpose of the images, OMG, that would NOT make it okay. The use of images of scary black native men to convey a sense of danger is a blatantly RACIST use of racist imagery, wherein the racist message is the point. Offensive. Very, very offensive.

It isn’t long before a phantom subtext is discovered, and combed over in great detail. 

Although one can still make the argument that using colonialism/expansionism as the underpinning for a metaphor to describe the ‘battles’ of feminism is inherently problematic. But racistly depicted indigenous peoples? This clearly crosses the line. It suggests that what feminists need to conquer is dark people.


I really, really didn’t see the racism ‘til it was pointed out to me. THEN I saw it, oh boy did I see it! And I was so ashamed of my blindness.

And, a personal favourite,

White privilege is deeply rooted. It takes concerted effort to sensitise oneself (if one is white, that is) to recognise it, both in oneself and in the world around one. Hell, my husband and son are Asian, and sometimes I forget they’re not white like me.

If you’ve a stomach for high drama and competitive pseudo-grief, the Pandagon comments may entertain as a kind of identity politics pantomime. There is, I think, something quite compelling about watching people elevate paranoid self-loathing to the level of both piety and art form. A more realistic, and quite funny, discussion can be found at Protein Wisdom.

Update: The sorrow escalates.

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