Paris Lees deserves better.

I am sitting here cringing in solidarity with Paris Lees for having participated in a “debate” with Julie Burchill at the Spectator. It didn’t go well, but she seems to be dealing with the horror of her experience much better than I would. She has some handy, astute things to say about progressive concepts such as intersectionality, which seems to be catching a lot of flak from British white cisgender feminists lately. I will share her insights, as she is much more gracious than I am.

Intersectionality is a fairly unattractive word to describe a fairly useful concept. People face multiple forms of prejudice and intersectionality is simply about recognising the difference, say, between being called a “slag” and being called a “black slag”. Burchill says she doesn’t “like” intersectionality – but it’s not a case of liking. You either accept that some people have more to struggle against than you, or you don’t. And you either wish to help them, or you don’t. What she really means is that she doesn’t like transgender people objecting to her cruel and inaccurate jokes – just as some people say they “don’t like” political correctness because really they don’t like gay people asking to be treated with respect.

I see nothing unattractive about the word, but whatevs, it’s a term that’s in use for the discussion of social justice issues, and you’re either invested in those issues, or not.

Also, this happened:

Burchill also accused me of being a privileged graduate who probably spent my time at university learning academic jargon at sit-down protests. The truth is that I’m even more common than she is and turned to prostitution to put myself through higher education. It was more “lie down” than “sit-in”.

I’ve seen a screencap of Burchill’s writing in which she says that sex workers should be shot as collaborators with capitalist patriarchy. Maybe she’s developed a more nuanced view since then. For some reason I’m not interested in extending the benefit of the doubt.

Solidarity, the sort that Burchill says her dad believed in, was about everyone who was less well-off helping each other to achieve a more equal society. It’s a lovely idea but it wasn’t always successful. Increasing rights for workers didn’t necessarily apply to women, for example.

And fighting for better conditions for women doesn’t necessarily work out as improvements for women across the board. It’s like, some marginalized people are less marginalized than others, and the less marginalized aren’t necessarily interested in the concerns of those who deal with multiple oppressions. Working-class white cis women aren’t necessarily standing up for the rights of homeless trans women of color, for example.

On Road, the organisation that manages All About Trans (a project that introduces media professionals to young trans people), also works with homeless people, undocumented migrants, travellers and people with mental health issues. Intersectionality isn’t a competition, it is about promoting equal rights for everyone. I suspect that Burchill knows that, deep down, and couldn’t care less.

I think the qualifier of “deep down” is too generous.

Lily Allen, what is that I don’t even.

If you haven’t seen Lily Allen’s new video, “Hard Out Here,” go look it up on YouTube. I’m sure it won’t be hard to find. Your friends are probably linking it on Facebook already.

So, you’ve seen the video, so compare that with some of the criticism it’s received:

The video is meant to be a critique and satire of popular culture and manages some deserved jabs at Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” videos among others, but in the end it just reduces itself down to elevating Lily Allen’s white female body and objectifying and utterly denigrating those of the black female dancers she deliberately surrounds herself with from start to finish.

Right? Okay. Maybe the criticism seems unfair. Maybe we think the critics just didn’t get her joke, and she wasn’t objectifying her dancers; she was satirizing the way the music industry objectifies them? With that in mind, compare the actual content of the video, including the song lyrics, to Ms. Allen’s response:

Privilege,Superiority and Misconceptions

1. If anyone thinks for a second that I requested specific ethnicities for the video, they’re wrong.

2. If anyone thinks that after asking the girls to audition, I was going to send any of them away because of the colour of their skin, they’re wrong.

3. The message is clear. Whilst I don’t want to offend anyone. I do strive to provoke thought and conversation. The video is meant to be a lighthearted satirical video that deals with objectification of women within modern pop culture. It has nothing to do with race, at all.

4. If I could dance like the ladies can, it would have been my arse on your screens; I actually rehearsed for two weeks trying to perfect my twerk, but failed miserably. If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see. What I’m trying to say is that me being covered up has nothing to do with me wanting to disassociate myself from the girls, it has more to do with my own insecurities and I just wanted to feel as comfortable as possible on the shoot day.

5. I’m not going to apologise because I think that would imply that I’m guilty of something, but I promise you this, in no way do I feel superior to anyone, except paedophiles, rapists murderers etc., and I would not only be surprised but deeply saddened if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of,or compromised in any way.

6. Ask the ladies yourselves @shalaeuroasia @monique_Lawz @ceodancers @TempleArtist @SelizaShowtime @melycrisp

“It has nothing to do with race, at all”? She must think we have shit for brains.

Oh, and this happened, too:

Nope. You fail. Go sit in the corner and think about what you've done.

Nope. You fail. Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.

Which Suzanne Moore is that? Oh, yes, it’s that one.

I don’t expect Ms. Allen to see this, and if she does, I don’t expect her to get anything from it except yet that yet another humorless driver of the White Guilt Bandwagon doesn’t get her use of sarcasm. So I’ll just use her as yet another bad example of responding to accusations of racism. Fellow well-meaning white people, particularly those in creative and performing professions, what can we learn from Ms. Allen’s experiences here?

Sometimes, satire fails. The message you’re trying to get across doesn’t come through. The message that’s “clear” from the Hard Out Here video is not the one that Lily Allen wanted us to get. The video doesn’t suddenly become non-racist, non-objectifying, or non-exploitative simply because she says she didn’t mean it that way.

Punching up is more impressive and effective than punching down. If she’d done more skewering the men who scold her for not staying thin after having two kids, and less slo-mo of her dancers jiggling their asses and pouring champagne on themselves, it would’ve been a better satire.

Asking the backup dancers themselves for “proof” that your video design isn’t problematic doesn’t prove the criticism wrong. It simply means those dancers are trying to make a living and are not inclined to alienate a famous artist who might give them more employment or references in the future.

There is no room to say something like, “if I thought anyone came away from that video feeling taken advantage of,or compromised in any way.” There’s no IF here. People are telling you how they feel about your video. The harm has already happened. It’s worse than people taking offense.

If you’re going to do effective satire, you need to be ready to offend people. “Light-hearted” is no excuse for crappy content.

If you’re in a creative line of work, you need to be able to handle criticism. If people think your music sucks, they’ll tell you. If part of your expression is analysis of sociopolitical issues, you will receive criticism for that, too. If you aim to push back against one type of oppression and your execution contributes to another type of oppression, you will be criticized for that and you will do well to take that feedback seriously rather than throw a tantrum on social media.

Finally: just because you didn’t WANT to be oppressive, doesn’t magically make everything okay. White folks are in no position to determine what is or is not racist. That way lies madness.