Dear White Supremacists: Why Would You Cite Me?!

Dear White Supremacists: Why Would You Cite Me?! September 14, 2017

Everybody hates being taken out of context. But there’s an additional level of awfulness when it’s being done by white supremacists.

The text says "DECOLONIZE." Graffiti in Detroit. Seems appropriate here.
The text says “DECOLONIZE.” Graffiti in Detroit. Seems appropriate here.

Let’s slowly get back into blogging, she said. It’ll be fun, she said. Let’s start with a blog post on finding balance and happiness during a transitional time, and then do a blog post exploring a favorite fairy-tale plot. Let’s ease back into the more political topics and…

…that’s totally not happening. Because a folklore colleague alerted me to the fact that a white supremacist is citing my work, and that’s not okay.

Self-styled folklorist Carolyn Emerick has a blog post about folklore’s roots in the Romantic era and nationalist movements of that time. She gets a number of details wrong and I don’t really recommend reading the post (though if you want to, here’s a link to archive.org’s snapshot of it).

Her citation of my work does not actually make the points she thinks she is making. I’ll paste in the references to my writing:

I would argue that anyone claiming to be a “folklorist” who denies that folklore as a discipline and nationalism go hand in hand is the one blinded by modern politics so that they cannot see their own field’s history clearly. Not only has this point been defended by quotes mentioned above, but folklore blogger Jeana Jorgensen seems to begrudgingly confirm this.
On her non-political blog, “Foxy Folklorist,” Jeana Jorgensen says:
Because the history of folklore studies is deeply entwined with nationalism (a topic for a separate post, perhaps?) it’s important to recognize the origins of the word that has become emblematic of the academic study of folklore in the English-speaking world.
On another blog post, she discusses the meaning of the term “folk” as it relates to “folk group”:
A folk group is any group of people with at least one common factor. That factor could be nationality, language, religion (which tends to make for a large folk group), or it could be something shared by fewer people, such as a hobby, family ties, or a small region/neighborhood. Not every folk group has face-to-face contact, though many do, but most of them will share a common core of folklore, even if not every member knows every item.
In an article hosted on the website “Folklore Thursday,” Jeana Jorgensen mentions:
Folklore studies often became a rallying cry for groups wanting to assert their shared cultural heritage.
Perhaps in an example of modern socio-politics influencing opinion, Ms. Jorgensen states that this desire was common among colonized or oppressed cultures, but as we shall see (in future articles), oppressed is PRECISELY how many Europeans felt at the time of rising nationalism concurrent with the development of folklore, and they CERTAINLY had the pressing desire to “assert their shared heritage.” In fact, we will see that this was a driving force for the Brothers Grimm, as well as many others.

Where to begin? Of course folklorists acknowledge that the nationalist movement played a role in the evolution of folklore studies. It is a multi-faceted role, and so I suppose that someone could cherry-pick quotes from scholarly writing about nationalism to make them fit a particular argument.

Second, my blog posts are only one outlet of my scholarly writing. If Emerick had bothered to look up any of my academic articles, she would have found a lot more writing devoted to actually marginalized and oppressed perspectives, like those found in queer studies, not imagined-oppressed perspectives like she’s trying to make out white Europeans to be.

I’m not sure how Emerick arrives at the conclusion that my blog is non-political, seeing as it’s quite explicitly atheist, academic, feminist, and activist in nature.

Emerick clearly has not spent much time in academic circles, as she refers to me as “Ms. Jorgensen” rather than “Dr. Jorgensen” as would be the convention when you’re describing those with a PhD. Maybe she was intentionally being rude? I’m not sure. She also cites folklore scholars Alan Dundes and Marina Warner in her post, but uses their full names, sidestepping the issue of salutation.

But here’s the thing: if you are citing contemporary folklorists to support your views that white Europeans are beleaguered and in need of propping up through the activism of white nationalist/supremacist groups… you’re doing it wrong.

Because folklore studies is not an apolitical field. We try to be as objective as possible, as do scholars of most stripes. Yet we study how individuals respond to tradition, and that involves a nuanced awareness of power relations. Most folklorists, like me, lean liberal. We support diversity and we uphold the rights of marginalized and oppressed people. We ally with social justice organizations. We are actively anti-fascist, anti-white-supremacist, and anti-Nazi. We study labor unions, migrant workers, and immigrants. We are not fooled by claims that white Europeans are being oppressed and must band together to protect their ethnicity.

Folklorists know that race and ethnicity are cultural constructs. We know our history, both world history and disciplinary history. We know the shady role that nationalism played in our discipline’s inception, and we work to educate the next generation of folklorists about this – and the general public – on a regular basis.

Do not make folklorists out to be your allies in this movement. We are not. I am not, and I’m baffled that my work is being cited (however badly) in this capacity.

I’m tagging this post with folklore pet peeves: we dislike being instrumentalized in other people’s fascist agendas, especially when they’re held up with shoddy research.

Besides, if you think that quoting a queer Jewish feminist is going to help prove some point about white supremacy… you may want to rethink that.


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