Shut Down —
Strong4Life launched its campaign largely on the basis of a single claim:
I’ve spent three months hammering home the fact that this claim is not based in fact. More recently, I pointed to their shift in strategy, which included a new claim, including citations from a medical journal.
Of course, that allowed me to review that journal and pick it apart until their claim was nothing but a flimsy bit of nonsense.
Strong4Life only created this new cited claim after the NIH condemnation and after they banned from their Facebook group anybody who even mentioned the Phase 1 ads.
“This isn’t the purpose of our campaign,” they said. “The real issue is helping the children of Georgia get healthier, and we will only focus on that.”
But as you can hear in my conversation with Tim Whitehead, VP of Marketing and Communications for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Strong4Life used the ads with the false 75% claim as part of a “stunt” to kickstart a dialogue on children’s health.
Now, in order to simplify, let’s set aside our disagreements with CHOA over whether fat kids need to lose weight or whether their general mission to save fat kids is wise, let alone plausible. Let’s just agree with them that fat kids need their help eating healthy foods and getting exercise.
So, CHOA wants to raise awareness of a problem (unhealthy kids), but in order to do that, they decided to release a series of attention-getting ads, and justified their harshness by pointing to a study that they will not provide to the public. But when we ask for that study, when we ask for them to elaborate on their claims, they tell us that discussing the ads was derailing from the “real” conversation that should be about health. They then proceeded to censor their web page to remove any comments that tried to discuss the complex effects that the original ads may have on the environment, the conversation and the kids they are claiming to want to help.
In my view, that is what is happening with the NOLOSE letter as well. NOLOSE wanted to raise awareness of a problem (POCs being left out of fat, white activism), so in order to do that they released an attention-getting letter that suggested that I told a POC that if they wanted diversity, they should do the work. I was the example used to illustrate the need for greater attention to diversity in Fat Acceptance, but this wasn’t about my actions, I’m assured. And others keep saying the same thing: there’s good information in this letter, so don’t get hung up on the fact that you were used as an example.
Except the thing is, that example was misleading at best, and an outright misrepresentation of fact (aka a lie) at worst. And until NOLOSE clarifies the context of its letter and explains whether they believe that I demanded education from a POC (as opposed to inviting what appeared to be an expert on diversity to help us), then this awareness-raising letter will ring hollow for me.
This segment of the letter also implies that part of my real offense was inviting Starkey to join us, rather than going to Starkey, or whoever, in the first place and asking how I could support them. This shows up in the list of suggestions:
POC in the fat justice movement demand and deserve allies showing up to the table of our campaigns and work, rather than constantly being told they have made a place for us at theirs. [emphasis mine]
So I have asked, where was your campaign, NOLOSE? I googled for people who were working against Strong4Life and posted everything I found on FatKidsUnited. Who did we leave out? Are there people who were speaking out against this and whose feedback I didn’t solicit or whose viewpoint I didn’t promote? Where was this other table, this other campaign, and how do I find it?
Because I was told by Rachel in email that it was inappropriate for me to ask specific POCs for their feedback or their help, and that I could make “unintentionally racist waves” by soliciting their opinions and feedback on issues of race.
And in this thread, [person who defends NOLOSE] elaborates on why social media is flawed:
I think the letter outlines pretty clearly that crowd-sourcing as a method of activism is exclusionary to POC much of the time. It leaves them out when white people are the originators of a crowd-sourced campaign because our social networks are almost always filled with lots of other people like us, so a white person will end up crowd-sourcing to other white people. It also leaves POC out because white people have a disproportionate amount of access to social media.
Okay, so I can’t ask specific POCs for help and I shouldn’t use crowd-sourcing because it excludes POCs. The solution, I’m told, is that I have to educate myself and find the answers for myself. It’s easy, I’m told, because Google holds all the answers.
Well, let me give you an example of how Google does not hold all the answers.
The video I created yesterday included two pieces that I have since removed. At one point, Whitehead says that the harshness of the Phase 1 ads was okay because this is how fat kids already feel. This reminded me of the Clark Doll Test, where black kids were offered a choice between a white and black doll, and they chose the white doll. This, I explained, was not an indication of how children should feel, but about how they feel because of the environment they live in.
I felt this example was appropriate because the work of Dr. Rebecca Puhl and weight stigma is founded almost entirely on the existing research on racial stigma. In fact, in the interview I did with Dr. Puhl, she makes a point of explaining how the health problems associated with weight are similar to those associated with racial stigma.
So, these two issues are definitely related, but I wanted to get feedback from POCs. This is when I was told that asking a POC for specific feedback was offensive. And while I understand that a single black person does not, and cannot, represent the views of all black people, I can’t find anything through Google that will help me navigate this grey area.
So, I did consult two different POCs, and one said they had no problem with the comparison, while the other recommended that I not bring up colorism because she personally tuned out to people who drew these kinds of comparisons. She also said:
It should really be a standing thing that if you’re not talking about race, or issues that intersect with race directly; not a comparison with race not to bring it up.
Now, I have read blog posts and comments from people about not comparing weight and race, or any other identity group, which makes sense and I agree with. But in this particular case, it seems as though the issue of weight and race stigma do intersect, and that the results of the Clark Doll Test could teach us that living in an environment that stigmatizes children will drive their perceptions of what is desirable and undesirable.
If I posed this same question to a large group (as I am, in a way, now), responses would vary based on personal experience and understanding, but ultimately it would be a mish mash of individual opinions.
So what do I Google to get this spectrum of viewpoints on such a specific, and tricky, issue? Aside from asking POCs their personal opinions, how do I find a reasonable answer to my reasonable question?
But if I’m not supposed to rely on crowd-sourcing or individual POCs for clarity, then what happens if I Google it and I get the wrong answer? What if I researched my questions on using the Clark Doll Test and concluded that it was okay to use because of the intersection between weight and race stigma? And if someone thinks I came to the wrong conclusion, do I get another letter from NOLOSE?
Because here’s the thing: people keep dismissing my time constraints and saying I “just” need to do this and I “just” need to do that, and it’s quick and easy and so on.
As if that weren’t presumptuous enough, I then have the following encounter on NOLOSE’s white allies group, where I asked the questions similar to the ones above regarding this other table that was mentioned.
The answer I received from [another person who defends NOLOSE] ?
I’m getting really frustrated with how bogged-down this has gotten. The reason that I have not addressed any of your specific questions that you note are going unanswered is because first of all, they all feel to me like derails of the “if you won’t educate me how can I learn” variety. Secondly, those are answers that I believe will become more apparent to all of us as we explore this compassionately with one another. But the answers are not going to come in a bulletpoint format, because these are questions about multi-layered issues of empathy and intersectionality, and they deserve more attention than a reduced dissection of the who/what/when/where of past events. When you post repeatedly about these details and demand immediate answers or threaten to leave if the discussion does not remain focused on these questions that you have, I feel emotionally manipulated to halt all other work on this group that I have been doing for the last three days and emotionally caretake for you, and that feels frustrating, inappropriate, and derailing to me in this situation. [emphasis mine]
Isn’t this exactly what offended Julia Starkey? Haven’t I been called out for not dropping everything I was juggling at that moment in order to educate myself on race and privilege?
My response to Starkey was based on the fact that I have a full-time job and a family, and that I was juggling these responsibilities AND the activism I had already committed too, and that in that particular moment, I was unable to commit myself to the time-consuming act of educating myself.
In fact, the reason I chose crowd-sourcing as my method of activism is because it does not require as much of a time commitment from me. Without crowd-sourcing, or social media, I would not have been able to do what I have done for this campaign.
But we all have time constraints and we all have to prioritize our efforts. And it is incredibly presumptuous for others to step in and demand that we reprioritize our efforts in response to the complaints of a single person I have never met or worked with before.
In her response to my list of question, Rachel responds to my time constraint issue by saying, “I get the stretched thin thing and understand. I think maybe it would have been great to put it out there that you needed help with this. No one expects you to be all things to all people, but inclusivity is really important.” [emphasis mine]
Everyone working on this campaign is a volunteer and everyone working on this campaign is committed to encouraging diversity of bodies, lifestyles and viewpoints. Some of us are better versed in diversity strategies, while others, like myself, are flying by the seat of our pants. I am totally open to any recommendations, but I am squeezing this campaign between my real 9 to 5 job and my family, and it has taken its toll on both.
If you would like to help us improve the diversity of the community, we welcome you with open arms. [emphasis mine]
I failed because I asked this POC (who I did not know was a POC) to do the work. Rachel explains that asking a POC for their opinion, rather than doing the work myself, would be just as offensive to me as a fat blogger:
If some person came to you saying “Hey fat person, I need your opinion on this thing to make sure it won’t offend all fat people and is inclusive of a world view of fat people.” You’d feel kind of weird, no? Tokenized? So yeah, don’t do that to a POC. You don’t speak for all fat people and no one POC speaks for all POC.
I’ve got news for you: I contacted Strong4Life myself and told them I wanted to work with them. I sent them this message multiple times. I offered to give them my perspective and suggestions on how to improve the campaign without shaming or stigmatizing children.
I did this because I knew that they did not have any fat people on their staff and that they could benefit from a fat person’s perspective.
Was I offering to represent all fat people? No. But I was offering my perspective to help them understand why their approach was wrong. And had they come to me first and asked for my help, I would have gladly jumped on board.
That’s because I have always viewed my “activism” as primarily that of an educator. I have never, EVER told ANYONE to Google it. You know why? Because Google is a fucking search engine and not a Magic Truth Machine.
I am a Fat Acceptance blogger and I have taken it upon myself to run a blog where anyone can ask any question and if they are respectful, even if ignorant, I will answer them with equal respect.
Do all FA bloggers do this? Nope. But those bloggers also drive off those who are genuinely interested in learning more.
Which brings me to my final point: Tone.
I’ve read about how the tone argument is a derailing tactic, and that white people have no right to demand that POC activists soften their tone when talking about racial issues. I agree with this. POCs have every right to address these issues as they see fit. I’m constantly being told how I’m doing it wrong, how I push people away, how I should be nicer, not curse, not do this or that. I totally understand why it’s wrong to try and dictate how people express themselves on the issues that are so integral to their lives.
That being said, it goes both ways. You, as the angry activist, don’t get to dictate how people respond to your writing. If you want to be an angry activist (as I am), then you have to accept the consequences that others may bristle at your tone and walk away from the conversation.
Yes, you are under no obligation to tone down your rhetoric or put on kid gloves for white people, but those you direct your message to are under no obligation to sit down and shut up.
You are asking the offending person to take your words to heart and to consider investing their time in understanding their privilege and racism, unintentional or otherwise. If the tone you choose prevents people from respecting your opinions, then you have to accept that as a consequence of your choice.
I certainly have accepted that the way I write attracts some people while repelling others. And those who are repelled frequently tell me as much. But I continue to write the way I do. Why? Because my writing does reach a certain audience, and I’m happy with the audience I reach.
Same goes for all angry activists: you write the way you do because it works for you on a certain level.
Well, something happened yesterday which I found to be indicative of the framework that NOLOSE is building this discussion on.
Stacy Bias wrote a piece that many of you read. I read it and was touched by the honesty and raw emotion in the post, and it got me thinking about my own defensiveness about this issue. Others expressed appreciation for the delicate way it approached this subject and presented both sides. I thought it was an incredibly valuable post, as did some members of the NOLOSE board, who were linking to the post as of yesterday.
It was here, but now it’s gone.
Stacy posted an explanation in that Facebook group:
[posts removed at the request of Stacy Bias]
When I spoke out against this, Stacy softened her comments some:
[posts removed at the request of Stacy Bias]
But, I would turn your attention to her original two follow up posts:
[posts removed at the request of Stacy Bias]
[posts removed at the request of Stacy Bias]
To me, this is a person who was pressured into taking down her post. Of course, it was her choice, but it was the choice of those NOLOSE board members to criticize a person who was trying to bridge the divide between differing viewpoints.
This was not acceptable to some members, and they continued to confront Stacy until she felt like she was not allowed to express her reaction to the letter openly or honestly because of her comments on tone.
To me, that is no better than Strong4Life censoring comments about their ad campaign, but in this case, they used pressure to force self-censorship.
I believe these facts reveal the true nature of those NOLOSE members who have been behind this letter and the debate that followed. They aren’t interested in a dialogue. They aren’t interested in hearing complicated viewpoints. And you’re more interested in speaking at me than with me, then I am less likely to stick around for your message, no matter how valid it is.
And here’s the thing: this campaign began on January 5 with a single blog post. Anyone could have started their own effort anywhere at all, online or on the ground. I searched for those groups, those blog posts and those efforts through Google and turned up a handful of blog posts. We asked people to let us know if they were aware of other efforts.
If there was another effort, I was not aware of it and nobody has informed me of its existence. Yet, I’m being told that I should have come to their table. Again, what table? What group? What people should I have contacted? Who was interested in fighting Strong4Life, but wasn’t included?
You can tell me that I was wrong to invite Julia Starkey to our table rather than “showing up to the table of our campaigns and work.” But I cannot show up at your table if you don’t tell me where it is or if I cannot search for it and find it.
So, while I agree with many of the points raised in NOLOSE’s letter (and it is absolutely, 100% their letter… their co-presidents signed it and there was no indication that this letter was written, or intended to be from, any individual caucus), I foundnd the way in which they decided to raise those points to be unethical and dishonest.
NOLOSE would like for us to leave behind the conversation about the accusations they have leveled against me, while its members have accused me of throwing myself a “pity party” for defending myself against these accusations. Well, I’ve gotta say that if a group wants me to respect their opinions and listen to their concerns, then they are going to have to afford me the same courtesy.
I read their letter and I’m willing to discuss their concerns, but not until they read my letter and address my concerns. And currently, my concerns are being dismissed as derailing.
Derailing is insinuating that I engaged in racially-motivated exclusion, then refusing to answer questions about those claims.
Derailing is calling for an open conversation about race, then telling Stacy Bias that her opinions are unwelcome.
Derailing is telling people that the letter is not about me because my name isn’t on it, then lecturing me about all the things I’ve done wrong.
Well, I’m done trying to appease the Julia Starkeys of the world. Anyone who says I am not willing to work on my issues, let alone have a difficult conversation, does not know me and has not followed me any longer than this most recent controversy.
I am always open to criticism and I am always open to revising my outlook and my perspective. What I am not open to, and what I will not tolerate, is the use of false accusations and seedy insinuations to force me, and others, to agree with you.
You can write all the fucking letters you want, but I will continue to focus on what I have always focused on: the science of obesity and health. That is where I invest all of my precious free time. I will continue to have difficult conversations, but I will not yield to those who insist that I put their priorities ahead of mine.
If you want to make the case that I should be reading about this subject or focusing on that subject or getting her perspective or asking his opinion, I welcome those suggestions. But I will not be pushed around by a group that cannot present their case honestly and without resorting to shame.
If NOLOSE cannot admit that they exaggerated or misrepresented my conversation with Starkey, then best of luck to them because I do not respect liars or bullies.