The life-changing magic of tidying up (your white normative worldview)

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By Slowking — Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31937423

Barbara Ehrenreich was joking. She was just kidding about taking issue with the fact that Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of decluttering, “doesn’t speak English.” Her issue in the Tweet Heard ‘Round the World was not, as she later attempted to clarify, with Kondo’s learned language. She was just arguing that this totemic Kondo’s lack of English speaking, in spite of her prime audience being presumably English-speaking, “does suggest that America is in decline as a superpower.”

Given the backlash, though, did Ehrenreich unwittingly accomplish what she set out to do in her Tweet, by exposing white normativity for all its ugliness?

By deleting her original tweet and offering subsequent explanations, Ehrenreich showed that Twitter is not the place for clunky jokes that end with a critique of someone’s ability to speak English. She also showed that as a woman who enjoys the privilege of her own platform, she runs the risk of being misunderstood. On Twitter, you have 280 characters with which to convey your sentiments. Nevermind your career record. As Kevin Hart will attest, Twitter doesn’t forget.

Ehrenreich’s tweet seemed to fall out of both sides of her mouth, and misaligned her with two camps: one of Old People Who Can’t Speak Internet and one whose sole crusade seems to be rallying for the universal adoption of English speaking in America. Twitter says, pick a lane. Ehrenreich says, Oh, seems my joke didn’t land?

It’s not quite that Ehrenreich is tone deaf. It’s that she’s oddly frustrated that we can’t hear what she’s saying over the din of her own privilege. It’s Kathryn Stockett’s The Help all over again. A woman who passes as white uses her platform to spotlight a woman of color, reducing the woman of color to a one-dimensional cartoon, or, in Ehrenreich’s case, to a foreign merchant whose wares she detests.

Perhaps a tighter revision to the tweet would have been:

I’m not buying what Marie Kondo is selling, but I find America’s embrace of her philosophy refreshing.

But that’s not what Ehrenreich wrote. In fact, her original tweet was an indictment, partly of Kondo and partly of America’s embrace of Kondo as a commodity. The tweet seemed to pull the ultimate switcheroo on Ehrenreich’s social justice platform, built upon years of researching and writing about those who live in the margins of America. Ehrenreich, one would assume, based on the myriad sources whose lives she has been privy to, would be more careful with her language.

Where Ehrenreich lacked care, though, she made up for in clarity. And on the continuum of clear thoughts, her tweet exists between white normativity and white supremacy.

White normativity says, Isn’t that special and exotic that you speak a language other than English, yet your market is English speaking?

White supremacy says, Embracing a non-English speaker must truly be a sign of cultural decline.

Barbara Ehrenreich says, I’m not good at this social media thing. Surely I will learn eventually how to say what I want to say, and I trust you’ll be listening in whatever language it is you’ll hear it.

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