This is late in coming, and I wish I had a better excuse than, “I was away at an intensive week-long workshop in a different country.” Last week, I posted a piece about our worth as academic writers/creators, and in the original post (since revised) I linked, but didn’t mention my friend and colleague Kathi Inman Berens’ talk from #DH2013. I was (rightfully) called out and I worked as quickly as I could (given the limited access to a computer; these things are impossible on a mobile device) to fix it. But I still feel badly about it, because this underlines the point I was trying to make in my post about the value (and valuation) of our work. By not naming Kathi, I was in a very important way devaluing (if not outright erasing) her work.
Around the same time, it was revealed that the online media outlet Gawker outright plagiarized blogger @thewayoftheid. Another blogger, Trudy, points out in a must-read post that this practice of “content trolling” by mainstream media outlets, particularly from WOC’s Twitter streams or blogs, is pretty widespread. As Trudy points out, this is an exploitative practice, plain and simple.
We need to do better, plain and simple. In the same way that we get on students to properly cite their sources, we need to be more vigilant in our own uses of materials, information and ideas. We want the free circulation of knowledge, but this only works if people are properly compensated, somehow, for their work and their ideas. As Tressie McMillan Cottom points out, as does Trudy in the post linked the previous paragraph, these instances of “borrowing” are damaging to those being borrowed from, as they remain invisible, erased, and unable to benefit, either financially or symbolically, from this kind of practice.
Higher education is just as complicit in this exploitation, by expecting adjuncts and graduate students to produce more and more research and writing, but with varying degrees of credit. We also expect underpaid adjuncts to keep producing research, in the faint hope that one day we’ll achieve a tenure-track job, but we also expect that it be given away. And before you get nasty in the comments about how you aren’t like that and that you are ethical and devoted to justice, remember that a week ago, I would have said the same thing about myself.
I am continually trying to resist being the kind of white feminist who remains ignorant of her own privilege and using the stories and words of others to prop up my own narrative. I don’t expect a medal or anything for this. I just think we need to be more aware. We need to admit when we are wrong and fixed it. We need to call out this kind of practice when we see it.