Last Friday, I was getting ready to unplug from technology for a week in preparation for a busy end to summer and beginning of fall, and I got a few messages from people about how Hugo Schwyzer was melting down on Twitter. I didn’t click any of their links, not having the energy. Instead, I turned off my phone and headed to a wedding and then to the woods of Northern Minnesota for a week.
When I came out of the woods, this is what I found. And I’ve spent the last 18 hours or so reading things like the #solidarityisforwhitewomen twitter stream and this piece from Mikki Kendall and others. And I’ve been reflecting.
For those readers of mine who are not followers of this whole mess (good for you in many ways), here’s a very brief summary: Hugo Schwyzer is a professor who has for some time championed himself as a feminist (and also, strangely, a bad boy?) and who has been championed by many prominent, mostly White feminists as a good guy and an example of redemption. He is an abuser who claimed to have gotten past his addiction that “caused him to abuse” and boasted a “redemption” narrative about turning one’s life around to work for good, all the while quietly (and not so quietly) continuing his patterns of abuse, particularly toward women of Color who he admits he could abuse without facing consequences because of his privilege and power relative to theirs. For years, women (but particularly women of Color) have been calling him what he is, but too many of us didn’t listen. It took him melting down and admitting his abuses for too many of us to pay attention.
As I’ve reflected upon all of this since coming back into the world of internet yesterday afternoon, I’ve know that there are a few things that I need to say.
First and foremost, I need to apologize.
Without caveat, I apologize to the women I have wronged by actively and tacitly defending Hugo Schwyzer. I was wrong. More particularly, as someone striving to be an accountable anti-racist ally and pro-feminist man, I apologize to the women of Color whose voices I ignored in hearing what I wanted to hear in this story. I also apologize to the survivors, both male and female, who were traumatized over and over by Hugo Schwyzer and his platform, a platform that I helped to hold up.
Too often I defended the Schwyzer “redemption” narrative because it made me feel safe. It made me feel better about the small and big ways that I have wronged people in the past and the ways that I have fucked up (and continue to fuck up). This is not to say that redemption is not possible for some people, but I let my desire to support a prominent redemption narrative get in the way of my ability to listen, one of the most important things I should be doing should I want to act in solidarity and allyship.
Perhaps more terrible, though, are the ways that I simply said nothing. There were too many times when I saw Hugo write or tweet something disgusting or simply questionable, and I shook my head and moved on to something else. As someone who shares many of the same identity privileges that he does, it is my responsibility to hold people like him accountable, but I didn’t. It was easier not to. And that is not solidarity or allyship.
In addition to apologizing, though, I want to simply put forth some of the ways in which I need to reflect and learn from this terrible situation in hopes of inspiring others to reflection and change.
As a cisgender man who strives to be accountable, to be feminist/pro-feminist, to be anti-racist, to be anti-oppressive, I need to reflect on a number of things, and so should all people of privilege who attempt to ally themselves to those who are oppressed and marginalized.
In what ways do I continue to exploit my own racial privilege for my own benefit or the benefit of others (particularly others like me)? In what ways do I exploit my own gender privilege in similar ways? In what ways do I exploit any of my identity privileges to benefit myself or shield myself from criticism or critique?
In what ways am I accountable to people across difference, and in what ways am I ensuring that my relationships across difference are authentic and not tokenizing or exploitative?
For me particularly as a person who makes his living facilitating and writing and speaking about ending oppression, how can I continue to ensure that my work is accountable, responsive, and in true solidarity and is not simply self serving? Is this even possible?
It is also important to note that I and many others supported Hugo simply because of his privilege. As a straight, White, cisgender man with class privilege, I trusted him. It was easy to do. I saw myself in him, and it was easier to trust him than to listen to those who were crying out about his abuses. After all, those who were speaking the truth about Hugo were/are by-in-large women of Color. And that is wrong.
And this is one of the most important things for me to remember in all of this: Women are and should be wary and mistrusting of men and of men who claim to be feminists particularly. Men should not be given trust simply because we can say the right things in a blog post or can quote bell hooks. We have to demonstrate every day with our actions that we are worthy of trust.
Similarly, White people (and particularly “anti-racist” White people) are and should be mistrusted and considered with speculation by people of Color, and those of us who strive to be White allies have to earn trust through everyday commitment to listening and accountable action.
Yet for me, I get defensive when people are wary of me and consider me with speculation simply because of my identity, and this defensiveness played a role in my trust of someone who shouldn’t have been trusted. If I had done my homework on the man, I would have known that Hugo Schwyzer was not worthy of my trust. But I didn’t.
And there’s a vital lesson in that.