Airing the dirty laundry in public?

I often wonder about pieces which are critical, topics that are taboo in a community and the consideration that needs to be given when publishing a piece of writing. 

For example, a particular outlet published a piece on FGM a while back that I was then told was originally written by and for a particular community. The article was picked up by said outlet and I felt it contributed to stereotyping and generating racism toward Muslim women. Written for an entirely different audience, it missed the mark when published by a mainstream publication in a different country. 

I remember I created this blog with the sole intention of hosting my own thoughts, for me. That I found a (very modest) audience has been gratifying, but I haven’t sought out the mainstream in any real way aside from one or two half-hearted attempts at being published on White alternative news sites. 

I have ideas for really large stories, or pieces that are critical, or pieces that are opinionated and it always comes down to where I should publish. Do I go for community publications like Tracker, Koori Mail, NIT or do I try to get published in things like The Guardian, Crikey, New Matilda and the like? This debate always makes me second guess – Who am I writing for? How do I reach them? What is my motivation for writing this?

If I write something exposing a taboo subject, or something that is critical of a community norm – Am I exposing the community to an unwanted and unduly harsh outsider gaze? Is my opinion reaching the community? 

Legitimacy is also a consideration for me. Do people in our communities seek out opinions that have been legitimised by the mainstream? If so, do I then have to write in the mainstream to reach them? 

It’s a fine line between wanting to be recognised for your work and pitching your work at who you want to be the ultimate reader. I guess that is the problem with being part of the ‘minority’…

Would love to hear more thoughts on the matter from those around me. Let’s start a discussion on this. 

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9 thoughts on “Airing the dirty laundry in public?

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head a few times with this post.
    – I want to express myself on my own blog, but I don’t want the msm to get it and take the whole thing out of the context I created for it.
    – If I do decide to head down the msm path and create appropriate content, I know that a bunch of that audience will find their way to my own spaces. But I don’t really want their clicks, as I know that that brings a whole other layer of unwanted engagement.
    The fact is, as writers and site owners, having an audience is a part of the game, but at what cost? Always an internal struggle Celeste (@Utopiana) seems to be managing the juggling act very well right now. Thanks for writing.

    1. Thanks for your comment Leesa. I agree, Celeste is someone I’m looking up to in this space. She negotiates her writing really well and it’s really inspirational for someone like me. I’ve been thinking of ways to boost my audience in my ‘target market’ for lack of a better word, on this blog – blackfellas – but not sure how to do that. Was thinking of a facebook page and maybe I should tweet more, but not sure how I will do.

  2. I think you raise all the right questions when it comes to the dance between mainstream and community based audiences. It seems to me that the question is personal and political – do you want to make your voice visible in a way that is about creating waves and making a stand and where do you want to take this self-determined voice – is it a predominantly Indigenous/Indigenous friendly space or speak back to the relatively Indigenous free mainstream.

    For me, it has to come down to the issue, how much contribution I think I can make and what my voice can strategically do in any given space. A month or so ago I was asked to comment in a ‘business’ paper on racism in the AFL – for me it made much more political and personal sense to respond by giving the journalists a reason why replicating the story over and over only goes to upholding a racist discourse followed by a suggestion that they do some positive stories on Indigenous entrepreneurs.

    People I look up to in this space include Celeste Liddle and Anita Heiss.

    1. Hey Michelle, thanks for responding. I definitely agree that case by case is the way to go. In terms of your example with the AFL stuff, I really need to be more considered like this. It’s hard when you are starting out not to feel flattered and to be more considered and thoughtful about what messages you are putting out there.

  3. I’ve never really felt part of any community. Different communities accept and reject me at different times. Sometimes they insist I be one of them until they hear my views on certain issues and conflicts. Sometimes they reject me for my accent or colour. And because I’ve tended to be on the fringe, I am happy to engage both “mainstream” and “community” publications.

    My experience is that editors of mainstream publications far more sensitive and incapable of taking criticism. They are also less likely to publish outside voices – unless you don’t insist on being paid. Even then, they always reserve the right to screw up your content with an imbecilic headline.

    If you choose to deal with MSM, always do so on your own terms. Set the terms yourself. And there is more than just the opinion page.

    1. Irf, I like your unique opinion on this because it reminds me that you can’t please everyone and that in community there will always be detractors – inspiration to just write and wear the consequences.

      Also thanks for sharing your experiences of MSM – I really look up to you in this regard.

  4. I agree with all of this. One of the problems with a lot of articles in the mainstream media that attempt to discuss sensitive issues (FGM is a good example), fail to incorporate the broader discussion. At best they don’t do this cos it’s impossible given the length and time they have with the subject, but I suspect that’s far too kind and it’s often because it’s less sensational, doesn’t contain a protagonist and doesn’t present a problem solved by the writer of the publication. Anyway in some ways that’s the stuff out of our hands and i some ways that’s what happens when ideas go out in the world. I think this is true no matter what we do in the public sphere, I know it’s as true of my research as it is about what I say about my family or community. I think we can idiot-proof it to a certain extent, but we also have to have a space where we can be permitted to reach a wider audience with an idea and have some agency over it. To this end, I think the Guardian have been great. Look, I’ve loved reading Celeste Liddle’s stuff in there over the last few months. Problem is that in addition to her brilliant work, there are comments. I’ve just recently realised that the comments are ridiculous and that for my part I only read them for the titillation of knowing that there are still these idiots in the world. Well, I also want to read some others ideas on it, so maybe there’s that. But I also recognise that they are nearly always anonymous and they are on the fringes of society, in terms of how much agency they have… it’s why they whinge about us. They don’t actually represent the mainstream, it’s their lie that says that they do and sometimes I believe it.

    I recently called off my blog, mostly not because of anything I wrote on my blog,but because I commented on Celeste’s blog and then had a number of people threaten my work. I kind of decided I didn’t care enough about it to fight. Yet. But I might do it one day. And in the meantime, we have to have discussions about these sensitive issues within and outside of our community/ies. We all straddle communities (in the way that you’re talking about, above) and that straddling is so helpful in all of us understanding BUT sometimes we write stuff that doesn’t need the interjection of others and isn’t about educating others. You should feel that you can write about something like FGM and not have ME (as someone who knows very little about the issues, but just has their own out-of-culture perspective) chiming in cos I have a thought. It takes away from the discussion, means that you have to step out to ‘educate me’, and it also means that you end up having to convince me (because my education is so poor in it). And it stops intra-community discussion because it alerts that there is this external panoptic gaze.

    The main problem I have had, though, has not been from racists or critics, it’s from those who operate as ‘God’s Police’ – in the rhetoric of my own blog and FB that’s been people who are purportedly left-leaning (and God’s Police is a bit of a misnomer, cos they are usually atheist), supporting of other cultures, UNLESS it doesn’t gel with their own perspective… then it’s evil and perverted. That kind of passive-aggressive support is the worst.

    Yeah, I think this rant means keep writing, to some extent ignore others who are commenting on whatever they are commenting on, and keep having the conversations in spite of them, not because of them.

    1. COMPLETELY AGREE! Especially about being titillated by the comments – this so explains why I continually read comments even though I know they will make me angry lol.

  5. Dear Ms Flyingenie,
    As fellow writer I find that there are no right or wrong ways of expressing yourself as long as it’s done in a tasteful responsible way without prejudice or the unnecessary use of colourful profanities.

    And even when you take the utter most care with what you’re wanting to communicate and direct it to the people that you feel need to hear it, sometimes things still get lost in translation.

    People will also find different ways of interpreting the information you put out. Once it’s out, it’s out of your hands. Honor your commitment to share your voice and opinions and trust yourself.

    Let the ‘God Police’ do their policing. It’s their job and right, just as it is your right to write opinions on matters that affect the community that you’re in and the lives of those you care about.

    Wonderful pieces of work. Hope the wrath of the ‘God Police’ doesn’t put you off. Don’t let them win. They are not God himself, nor the chosen ones. I know you are not catholic but one of my favorite biblical saying (and no I’m not religious) is ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’.

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