Intellectual theft is still theft

April 9, 2008

Anyone who reads BFP regularly knows that she has done a lot of writing on immigration and particularly the racism and sexism faced by immigrant women in the US during the current climate of hysteria.

And now, she is understandably upset that Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon has published an article that happens to make all the same points BFP has made time and again and her blog – and yet, at no point has BFP been linked.  Sylvia at Problem Chylde has a post up showing the eerie similarities; she links to a BFP post for every point Marcotte makes.

Intellectual theft is still theft – Marcotte is, by her own account a regular reader of BFP’s blog.  Even if she genuinely believes she came up with the ideas in her article completely on her own, (which, I personally doubt given how widely BFP has blogged about this, and the fairly damning evidence of Sylvia’s), she must realise the extent to which BFP was an influence, and at the very least should have made mention of the fine work BFP has done on this issue.

It’s all too easy for white women to get away with stealing the ideas of women of colour.  Women of colour often have less access to the mainstream media or mainstream academia, making it harder for them to become known to a wide audience.  Adding to the temptation is the fact that white women will get credit for being remotely anti-racist in a way that women of colour will not.  A white woman with an Audre Lorde quote for every occasion can build an entire academic or media career out of being an “intersectional” feminist.  A woman of colour who raises any of these points is just “angry” (ironically, the same thing that men say about feminists).

I would also like to raise, however, the opposite issue – white women citing women of colour as an alibi, without actually engaging with any of the ideas, or letting any of the ideas influence their actions.  Not only, as I pointed out above (and as BFP says in her post) can you build an entire academic career around this, but the Audre Lorde quote for every occasion is also used to avoid ever actually discussing racism.  I’ve witnessed this first hand – try to bring up racism in a predominantly white feminist group, someone will quote Audre Lorde and then the entire conversation comes to an end.  Because surely no one who has read Audre Lorde could possibly be racist!

At this point, BFP is thinking of rejecting the label feminist.  Hell, I’m thinking of rejecting the label feminist, and I’m about as white and privileged as you can get.

WE WILL NEVER BUILD A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT IF WHITE PRIVILEGED WOMEN CONTINUE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE AND GENERALLY MISTREAT WOMEN OF COLOUR AT EVERY AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITY.

So the question is – do you want an Academic Career?  Or do you want a Revolution?

Sudy has also written about this, as have Belledame, and Questioning Transphobia, all of whom reinforce the theory that Marcotte did not come up with her post independently.

26 Responses to “Intellectual theft is still theft”


  1. [...] I’ve been wondering what exactly brought on Sudy and Belledame’s posts yesterday. Now this morning I notice that BFP’s site is gone (archives appear to be still there), and we have clarification from Gwen at High On Rebellion. [...]


  2. [...] of you have read about this already and I’m the other half would really like to know what happened. (Hat tip to belledame for pointing me to a good summary… and be sure to follow the other [...]


  3. [...] here, here and here for summaries on the [...]


  4. [...] but it was particularly bad this time around . (If you guys want to know what went down go here: http://highonrebellion.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/intellectual-theft-is-still-theft/ and make sure to click on the links provided) I completely understand her decision to leave, you [...]

  5. whatsername Says:

    Great sum-up. Thank you.

  6. Rene Says:

    I am a woman blogger and my research and work is ripped off all of the time by bloggers, national newspaper and magazine writers, book authors and professors — men, women, black and white. Lack of ethics appears unrelated to gender or color, in my experience. There are lots of people who don’t hesitate to steal other people’s work to further their own careers. I really understand how she feels and I often feel tempted to delete my blog, too.


  7. [...] Power Natalia Antonova Belledame Renegade Evolution Kevin Andre Elliot Plain(s)feminist High on Rebellion Sudy (here, here, and here) Blackamazon Sylvia/M (here and ESPECIALLY HERE) Feministe (which also [...]


  8. I loved BFP’s writings. Shit shit shit. *huge sigh*


  9. [...] High on Rebellion: Anyone who reads BFP regularly knows that she has done a lot of writing on immigration and particularly the racism and sexism faced by immigrant women in the US during the current climate of hysteria. [...]


  10. [...] links: Half of you have read about this already and I’m the other half would really like to know what happened. (Hat tip to belledame for pointing me to a good summary… and be sure to follow the other links [...]

  11. Ace Says:

    Theft is theft. It’s a bit of personal irony that I came upon this because I was thinking about the ways in which white people will take up the causes of POC communities without actively engaging those communities, fighting for racism and what they believe we want without actually asking us what we want or allowing us to use our own voices to stand up for ourselves.

    I heard the woman behind BFP on NPR. She’s articulate, smart, and a voice that will be greatly missed in this world. I’m sad that her run had to end in such an awful manner.

  12. Danny D Says:

    You said:

    “WE WILL NEVER BUILD A REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT IF WHITE PRIVILEGED WOMEN CONTINUE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE AND GENERALLY MISTREAT WOMEN OF COLOUR AT EVERY AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITY.”

    Why do you have to devolve this into talk of race? Isn’t this more accurately a PLAGARISM issue? Why does it make ANY difference AT ALL what color the blogger who was stolen from is?

    The truth is – you will never build a revolutionary movement if you continue to see problems where they don’t exist. You call this racist, and that misogyny, because it justifies your dismissiveness, and justifies your arrogance.

    If you stopped to look for other rationales for whatever the issue is, you might not see injustice! privilege! racism! every where you looked.

    Yeah, plagiarism isn’t right. But that’s it. If Blackfemipower is taking this as a race issue – she needs to check her privilege. And if you think crying racism isn’t an exercise of privilege, then you need to look at your own privilege, and the way it allows you to wantonly dismiss as reasonable conduct from a black person that, coming from a white person, you would find unreasonable.


  13. [...] the discourse of more mainstream feminism. Especially since the two issues that have come up, the one around Marcotte and BfP and the one around Seal Press are linked by the fact that Marcotte’s book is out of [...]

  14. Lena Says:

    Good grief. Audre doesn’t seem racist, but your BS about “white women” is utter crap. Good summary of what happened to BFP, though. I agree with Rene – lack of ethics is entirely unrelated to colour.

  15. Gwen Says:

    For those of you who have been in moderation for a while – sorry, I’ve been swamped with work and had very liimited internet access.

    Lena, Rene & Dan: I’m not saying that white people are more likely to plagiarise than people of colour, or that the latter are more “ethical”. What I’m saying is that because of systemic racism, it’s easier for white people to get away with it. White feminists are more likely to have book deals, academic posts, and access to the resources that make plagiarism easier. If a really well-known white feminist appropriates the ideas of a lesser-known woman of colour feminist, then a lot of people will just assume the white feminist came up with the ideas independently, because they’ve never heard of the woman of colour feminist.

    Furthermore, white feminists get “credit” for being anti-racist, while women of colour feminists get accused of being angry & jealous. I’ve experienced this myself – when I bring up racism with other white women, they usually respond as I outlined above – quote Audre Lorde in order to demonstrate that they are not racist, while not actually doing anything to address the problem.

    The point is though, other white women are usually anxious to show they agree with me when I discuss racism – so we can all be good white anti-racists together. No one accuses me of being bitter, or “jealous” of white women.

    Dan: Racism, sexism, capitalism -they all still exist. They all are systemic – meaning they are integral to modern society. And they all appear “natural” to the people who benefit from them. Think of the changes in the status of women in the last 100 years – a century ago, it was seen as “natural” that women were meant to be housewives and not vote. Today, that’s considered ridiculous. You may not see racism or sexism, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still exist. I would never have learned anything about racism if I hadn’t been willing to listen to people of colour, because I have not experienced racism first-hand. If you are genuinely interested in building a revolutionary movement, can I suggest a quick trip to your local library to pick up some feminist and anti-racist books?

    Lena – I’m sure Audre Lorde would be thrilled that you don’t think she seems racist. Have you read Audre Lorde? I really recommend her. But don’t stop there – try Black British Feminisms by Heidi Safia Mirza, for example.

    And Racism = prejudice + power. As white people are undeniably in charge in society, it’s untrue to say that a person of colour is racist against a white person. S/he may be prejudiced against white people, but society’s power structures are very much opposed to that prejudice. A white person prejudiced against people of colour, though, has society behind him/her.


  16. [...] keeping up, you can read here La Chola’s/WOC/brownfemipower’s final blog post. Others here and here and here discuss the background of the controversy. It is difficult for me to read [...]


  17. [...] in protest to an incident wherein Amanda Marcotte, a notable white feminist blogger, was accused of appropriating BFP’s ideas. On the heels of the controversy that had reverberations in the feminist blogosphere [...]

  18. TC Says:

    Hey, I just left a nice review on amazon. I’m a black male, hetero, hiphop, revolutionist. It’s a shame to see the back stabbing. The programming from slavery, and probably before, is still alive and well. Take care all. Keep doin what ur doing, I need u!

  19. Adam Smith Says:

    What? There’s no such thing as “intellectual theft”. “Intellectual property” is not real property, and it can’t be stolen. Legally, there is “copyright violation” (even the Government doesn’t call it “theft”) if you’re in it for the money, but that’s it.

    If you really care about your ideas, you want them to go as far as possible. If not – you’re not an activist, you’re just a profit-generating author. And when you’re that, I don’t really give a fuck about whether you keep above water.

  20. Luci-Kali Says:

    Hi,
    I was wondering if I could link up your post, in regards to a post that I’m writing on appropriation and privilege? Also, can I link up your blog to my blogroll?

    Thanks!

    L-K


  21. [...] light of the recent discussion of race and feminism in the blogosphere I’ve decided to post a few books that might be [...]


  22. [...] someone please just direct Amanda Marcotte to a Cultural Sensitivity 101 class?  After a couple of very recent fiascos on the WOC/feminist blogosphere, you’d think the woman would think twice [...]


  23. [...] Amanda Marcotte, High On Rebellion argues that “Intellectual Theft Is Still Theft”: Anyone who reads BFP regularly knows that she has done a lot of writing on immigration [...]

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