Thursday, March 08, 2007

Anti-racism, race traitors, and whiteness.

There's been interesting discussion about these issues in the blogosphere lately, and I'm not going to add to that particular discussion. But I did want to make this the topic of a post because it's been on my mind.

I am afraid that what I write will sound sanctimonious. I'm also afraid that I'm going to sound like I think white people are supposed to be the saviors of the world. I don't. But I'm going to write this anyway and hope you guys understand the spirit of what I'm saying if I don't get all the words right. What I'm trying to get at is not "how to make white people happy," but "how to get more white people 1) less racist and 2) involved in antiracist work."

When I teach about racism to white students, they get overwhelmed. Now - before anyone gets pissed off at the notion of privileged youth who are overwhelmed by the idea of racism but don't actually suffer from it, let me make my point: it is a big burden to take this on, this "I am responsible for the unearned privilege I get on a daily basis." It is. It doesn't mean that it is not a necessary burden, nor that it is a larger burden or even an equal burden to the burden of suffering from racist oppression, but let's just remember that sick, awful feeling that comes from the recognition that one is profiting from systematic campaigns that hurt other people. That sick, awful feeling, because you thought that you were just an innocent bystander, and then you realized that there are no innocent bystanders.

And there aren't a lot of public examples of ways to take responsibility for it. We don't have a lot of white heroes who are heroes for being antiracist. White people are always the fuck-ups in the stories about racism, right? So my students - and, quite frankly, I - need some models for what the hell to do to make a difference, to actually be anti-racist.

And because examples don't always come readily to mind, my students - and I - get stuck. The easy thing is to push it away (like we push away Darfur or AIDS or whatever else is too horrible to think about). I want to say first that this is a measure of privilege, this ability to push it away and think happy thoughts. Sometimes it's necessary to push the ugliness away and let it simmer in the backs of our minds for a little while while we gain perspective, but it's still a luxury to be able to do this at all.

The hard thing, though, is to bring it to the fore and start examining what racism means in our own lives. I can think of embarrassing and painful stupid-ass racist things I've thought and said and still cringe about, and I'm sure you all can, too. I have the uncomfortable feeling that there will be more of them to come in my life. And when anxiety and fear about this overtake us, this is white guilt.

White guilt is not a useful emotion. It makes us focus on shame and embarrassment, and it makes us feel yucky, and it doesn't usually prompt us to anti-racist work. So we sit there, and we either feel guilty, or we conquer that guilt by 1) insisting that the racism isn't occurring, or 2) shifting the focus away from ourselves by focusing on other people's racism.

I think white people who want to do antiracist work, to move past that white guilt, need to do four things:

1. We need to talk about racism. We need to do it openly, among ourselves. I say "ourselves" not to exclude anyone from the conversation, but to suggest that people of color do not need to educate us or pronounce us "cured." We are capable of having smart conversations about race and we are capable of unlearning racism, and we can do it if we make a space to talk about the contradictions we find, the confusing issues, the shameful moments, the questions about what to do next. We need to approach this like it's not a dirty secret but a process of unlearning and recovery.

The concept of white people living in families of color and how that affects them and their families, how other whites view them, how their racial sense of self changes, how their white-skin privilege can both be intact and still, somehow, altered, depending on circumstance - all of these are important topics. But, as we've seen, these are topics that require careful, nuanced discussion. Which brings me to number two:

2. We need to educate ourselves. We need to take responsibility for educating ourselves, and this education doesn't come from our friends of color, primarily. It comes from reading, from immersing ourselves in the world, from knowing what is going on.

And once we know, we have a duty:

3. We need to work in coalition with people of color in our communities on their issues (which are our issues, as well). We can't be antiracist in a vacuum. And antiracist struggle is not won through theory alone.

And then, finally:

4. We need to point out examples of how white people can do antiracist work. This is not to lionize the efforts of white people but to teach white people how to fight racism. We need to think of teaching moments, for example. How many white people know what to say when someone, seeing white skin and thinking they have an ally, makes a racist comment? I will tell you that I have no clue how to respond to this most effectively. Is it the time to educate? Is it the time to curse and yell? Do I go for education? Blowing off steam? Simply taking my business (for example) elsewhere after delivering a scathing explanation of why I won't give my money to a racist business owner? What will work? I ask these questions, not because they have simple answers (I would bet that the best reaction to each would depend on the situation), but because these are the kinds of questions white people need to be asking ourselves and each other. We need to be sharing our success stories, the times when we said something that made the racist person stop and think, or the times when we helped correct a wrong in our communities. We need to know what to do so that we can do something.

Barbara Smith once said something at a conference that I took to heart. She talked about how afraid white people are when it comes to working with Black people, that we are afraid of their anger. Sure, she said, sometimes you'll get anger. But, she went on, as a white friend of hers who did antiracist work had told her, she was surprised to find that much more often she met with generosity and kindness.

I would like to see whites being generous and kind to each other, as well, when we struggle. All too often - and maybe this was particular to my own grad school environment - I have witnessed (and participated in) a kind of smack down whenever someone would inadvertently reveal her unconscious racism. We never gently corrected. We publically humiliated. And I'm quite sure that this approach only leads to more fear and guilt, and not to confident, antiracist work.

I'm not sure if I've said anything of value here. I hope, at least, that I haven't come across as a self-important asshole. These are things I've been thinking for some time, and they're things my students often ask me about. I want to clarify, too, and say that of the four points I list, I think the most important is number 3. Number 3 is taking action. The other points are supplementary, but necessary.


I didn't talk yet about race traitors. I think if we do these things, that does make us race traitors - in the sense that, as the journal, Race Traitor says, "Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity." What the journal focuses on is rejecting white privilege, refusing to see ourselves or let others see us as white. But rejecting white privilege - to the extent that that is even possible - alone doesn't cut it. We have to take action.


I'm curious to know what people think of this.

42 comments:

Renegade Evolution said...

Good post PF, and valid ideas and thoughts as well. Racism isn't natural, it's learned. Look at little kids, they will notice they look different, color wise, but it is not a big deal. They still play and work and learn together...to them, it does not matter who is what color...my niece is a blue-eyed blonde, she doesn't seem to notice that her grandfather is VERY Asian looking, because, well, no one has bothered to make her think about what race IS yet...and not that race and culture should not be discussed or thought about, but racism is a learned behavior...and any learned behavior can be unlearned...it just takes time and work.

Anonymous said...

I am probably going to be labled a racist for this, so be it:
There is no way to respond to this with out sounding racist..until the day comes that folks of all races are willing to see that there is also race hatred and discrimination from other groups towards whites.
Where we stand today in the conversation is that it's ok to point out white racism, but not instances of black, Native or Asian racism against whites and against each other.
What we need to do is stop excusing it, no matter who does engages in it and admit we all have issues, and deal with them openly. Just focusing on one race's problems and glossing over the same feelings in other races is just adding to the problem.
Just my humble opinion.

Trinity said...

"When I teach about racism to white students, they get overwhelmed. Now - before anyone gets pissed off at the notion of privileged youth who are overwhelmed by the idea of racism but don't actually suffer from it, let me make my point: it is a big burden to take this on, this "I am responsible for the unearned privilege I get on a daily basis." It is. It doesn't mean that it is not a necessary burden, nor that it is a larger burden or even an equal burden to the burden of suffering from racist oppression, but let's just remember that sick, awful feeling that comes from the recognition that one is profiting from systematic campaigns that hurt other people. That sick, awful feeling, because you thought that you were just an innocent bystander, and then you realized that there are no innocent bystanders."

YES.

Thank you, PF. I think there are a lot of people doing various sorts of anti-oppression work who get tired of this reaction and all the defensiveness and anger and fear that go with it. But it is a common reaction, and it is a common reaction for a reason. I don't think that means we should coddle people who wallow in their guilt and never get past it... but it is the natural first response (and one that's very VERY easy for anyone to slip back into), and I think a lot of people forget that.

plain(s)feminist said...

Where we stand today in the conversation is that it's ok to point out white racism, but not instances of black, Native or Asian racism against whites and against each other.

Technically speaking, that isn't racism. It's prejudice, or in certain situations it might actually be discrimination, but it isn't racism. Racism is a systematic, institutionalized oppression of a group of people based on race. There is no such system in this country (or any other than I'm aware of) that oppresses whites in this way.

However, I agree that we do need to talk about *all* of this stuff, and stop excusing it, and admit we have issues, and talk about it openly, just as you said.

plain(s)feminist said...

Thank you, PF. I think there are a lot of people doing various sorts of anti-oppression work who get tired of this reaction and all the defensiveness and anger and fear that go with it. But it is a common reaction, and it is a common reaction for a reason. I don't think that means we should coddle people who wallow in their guilt and never get past it... but it is the natural first response (and one that's very VERY easy for anyone to slip back into), and I think a lot of people forget that.

Exactly. And I think helping white people through this is a good job for those whites who have made it past that first stumbling block.

Danielle's Daily life said...

I had a hard time following this post. What is the problem you are trying to expose?

Personally, I never had any guilt for things white people in the past did, just because I am white. They weren't my ancestors. My ancestors were Greek, and the Greeks weren't the guilty ones. Even if they are your ancestors- they still weren't you. No reason to feel bad for someone someone else did. As long as you know you aren't a racist, don't worry about it.

From what I have observed, it seems like most of what is interpreted as racism on the part of people who are not white is actually classism.

plain(s)feminist said...

Hi Danielle,
The problem, really, is the question of how white people can be anti-racist.

No reason to feel bad for someone someone else did. As long as you know you aren't a racist, don't worry about it.

On one hand, I totally agree. But on the other, I benefit from a system that privileges white-skinned people. And people of color don't. So I'm responsible for either trying to change this system or for ignoring it and keeping my privilege.

From what I have observed, it seems like most of what is interpreted as racism on the part of people who are not white is actually classism.

I don't agree that it's mostly classism, but I do think that racism and classism are becoming more and more intertwined, esp. as people of color disproportionately make up the poor in this country (and in the world).

womansspace said...

I found your comment about how white people are fuckups in working on race oppression really rang a chord with me.

I've been student of racial oppression for a while and the firther i go, i find the less I know. I believe that a hero role for a white person in a race story is that of "like glue" supporter. I don't think white people can ever speak for blacks anymore than men can speak for women because of a very real phenomenon called social standpoint. The oppressions of faces alters outcome and outcome is reality. Because I am not oppressed in the way a black person is oppressed. I will never be able to speak directly for a black person's experiential world.

There is an old saying from the second wave:

People don't get radicalized fighting Other people's battles.

Whites can't be radicals for black people. Men can't be radicals for women because of what's in our respective faces.

We can call white people for racism. we can insist upon equal valuation at work, work as one in our communities (As one is tricky - because white people are likely to miss places where we are not as one) we can insist on legislation which confronts racism.

But the most important thing i can do is to listen and recognize how my own white privilege blinds me to the issues faced by black people.

Trinity said...

"Personally, I never had any guilt for things white people in the past did, just because I am white. They weren't my ancestors. My ancestors were Greek, and the Greeks weren't the guilty ones."

So were mine. I come from an immigrant family. We can, if we choose, pat ourselves on the back for never having been slaveowners, as if we know for sure we wouldn't have been or wanted to be if we'd got here sooner. (And as if people deserve pats on the back for NOT OWNING OTHER PEOPLE...}

But that doesn't mean I don't benefit from being white in a culture that still sees black people as less worthy.

Danielle's Daily life said...

I wasn't "patting myself on the back".
I simply stated, why should I feel guilty, when it wasn't my fault?
As for benefits for being white in our society- it depends on what you are trying to achieve and what you are doing.
A lot of times, I benefit from looking hispanic.

Ravenmn said...

Plain(s)feminist wrote:

White guilt is not a useful emotion. It makes us focus on shame and embarrassment, and it makes us feel yucky, and it doesn't usually prompt us to anti-racist work. So we sit there, and we either feel guilty, or we conquer that guilt by 1) insisting that the racism isn't occurring, or 2) shifting the focus away from ourselves by focusing on other people's racism.

Anonymous wrote:

Just focusing on one race's problems and glossing over the same feelings in other races is just adding to the problem.

Danielle wrote:

why should I feel guilty, when it wasn't my fault?

One step in anti-racism training is the need to repeat and repeat and repeat to white people the lesson that plain(s) mentioned in her post and that anonymous and Danielle missed.

It is such a common reaction that there's actually a pretty good brochure about it written many years ago, "Detour Spotting for White Anti-Racists" by jona olsson. There's a pdf version here.

plain(s)feminist said...

Ravenm - thanks for the link - it looks awesome!

evilcityjane said...

Plain(s)feminist,

Thank you for this post! I too have thought about how as a white person I can actively be anti-racist. I tend to take a colorblind attitude, which is much different from active awareness of and opposition to racism. I guess I just feel like I don't know what to do.

I took an education class through university extension a while back that focused entirely on white privilege, but didn't bother to bring up how white people can actually work against racism -- it only hammered into the heads of the Caucasians in the class how guilty they were, and stopped there. Very unhelpful! But I also agree with womansspace that whites cannot literally speak for blacks, like men cannot speak for women.

"We need to work in coalition with people of color in our communities on their issues (which are our issues, as well)."

I totally agree - and in this area I suppose I'm a big coward, afraid that when I walk in the room I'll be perceived as the condescending white person come to deliver aid, to observe and judge problems I couldn't possibly relate to, and that perhaps I even helped to cause in the first place!

Tough topic....

Danielle's Daily life said...

I see what you all are saying now. (I just didn't at first).
I think that being white has an advantage if you want all the typical American Dream stuff. White collar career, white picket fence, keep up with the Jonses, big cars, that kind of thing. But that's not everyone's goal in life. I have been in situations where it has been beneficial to have darker skin and to pass off as Hispanic. Especially since this is Texas and there are a lot of hispanics here. It just depends on the situation what the "privilege" is.

belledame222 said...

Here's my take:

Why is it that learning about other people is always presented as a burden?

Yeah, guilt comes up; but what about y'know, just plain ol' curiousity? What about the idea that one listens to other people talking about their experiences not because it's a duty, but because it could actually be pleasurable, not just painful?

plain(s)feminist said...

BD - YES!!!

And here's a fer instance.

Last night I went to hear a Native American band perform. I suspected that it would be a bit new age-y for my taste, not necessarily what I'd choose to listen to on the radio, but I wanted to go anyway.

I'm so glad I went. While I was right about the music, I felt incredibly honored that the group shared so much of their culture - explanations about the instruments and how they were used and made; very personal stories of living as Native American people; traditional stories and dances.

But the audience was somewhat disappointing. People left, in what seemed like droves. Most of the audience was still there by the end, but I had the sense that many left because they weren't into the music. But the style of music they played was only a small part of what they were doing.

I don't know - perhaps this isn't a good example of what you mean. But darn it - people can't even sit through a concert if it isn't Death Cab for Cutie?? It can't be enough to be gifted by this kind of sharing??

Maybe it's that instant gratification thing - it's easier to just ask a random Native American person to explain something than to take the time to learn when the opportunity is presented...

Britgirl said...

I also found it difficult to follow the point you were making on this post, but I think it's an interesting topic. Here's my opinion - for what it's worth.

In my opinion white liberal guilt is as nauseating as racism and IMO is the result of an over abundance of navel-gazing. Black people can be just as racist as white people, but the bigger issue is that black people tend not to be in positions of power (economic or political) in the Western world so the impact of "White racism" is greater.

A racist view/person can prevent people of another colour from having jobs, and ecomonic parity of their white colleagues - if those people in positions of power choose to keep the preventive barriers in place.

THAT is why racism is so pernicious and so debilitating. Make no mistake it is is about institutionlized power - economic power and political power - unless this is understood we're missing the whole point.

And that is why "black racism" isn't as important. It's a side issue and used as a diversion from the larger isseue.

That does not remove the fact that it is damaging - prejudice is damaging, but in a different way.

It is silly for white people to be forever harking back to the past of what their ancestors did and feeling guilty.What does that do? It's a waste of effort and what I see is a load of useless "woolly liberal" hand wringing guilt that is self-serving to say the least.

No amount of white liberal guilt, beating of chests or teaching about racism is going to make up for what generations have suffered, because unless you have been on the receiving end it's impossible to know just how damaging it is. So, my view is what is the point? Unless it makes people feel good because they are "talking about it". Why not just get on with the job of not repeating the mistakes of the past and move forward.

By looking at the part they can play now, what they teach their children (as has been said, much racism is taught but it is also encouraged to grow unless checked) and how, if they are in a position to speak out, they can do that and how they can dismantle barriers in their own way and own sphere of influence.

Teaching children to treat their fellow person as they would be treated themselves - regardless of colour or ethnicity.

Though I probably have reason to, I personally don't spend my time worrying about white privilege, male privelege or any other privilege for that matter. It isn't going to be taken away,neither should it.

Talking about it puts others on the defensive and is a little like politics and religion - it polarises people. The thing to do is to ensure that the playing field is leveled in the ways it should be - so that people aren't excluded because of the colour of their skin (or, when we think of the former Yugoslavia,their ethnic origin).

I consider myself privileged in many, many ways. For the record I know exactly what racist behaviour feels like. I know when my face hasn't "fit." But I (and my family) also know how to go beyond it through my own hard work and taking advantage of every opportunity I can to get to where I want to.

And there are enough people who have done that to make me 100% sure that it can be done.

Sorry for the long comment!

Britgirl said...

By the way, I should add that I am not saying that racism should never be talked about. It should just be done with some purpose and reality - as to the damage it does and what part each person plays in ensuring no more damage is done. From industry to politics. And it starts in the home... where parents are the CEO's, the CFOs, The Senior Execs, the Bankers, the political individuals that make up parties, etc, they should be showing/teaching their children what is right, not what has been right for them.

Danielle's Daily life said...

"Why is it that learning about other people is always presented as a burden?"

I don't feel that way at all. In fact, I love to learn about other cultures.

I highly recommend the 500 Nations documentary, hosted by Kevin Costner.

belledame222 said...

yeh, I'm with britgirl--guilt doesn't really accomplish anything. More to the point, insidiously enough, it still ends up putting focus right back on the "guilty" party: "woe is me, I suck, I suck, I suck" still isn't letting myself hear -you.- furthermore, sooner or later all that hairshirt wearing ends with a backlash--yes, THAT is one of the major causes of backlash:

people swallow a bunch of "I'm bad and there's nothing I can do to change it," which may or may not be the message of the angry oppressed person, is more likely a very old tape that was recorded in another context entirely, but starts up again only too readily at the slightest pressure.

sooner or later they spew it back up or lash out; and most of the time what they're lashing out at, i'm pretty convinced? isn't the oppressed person or what sie represents at all, it's that old old message of "you don't deserve to be here; you suck."

Does the systemically oppressed person have those messages too? But of course. And, yep, there're special ways in which it happens for the systemically oppressed person *on top of* the familial/personal/just born into this vale o' tears way that the guilty oppression-representative -does- share. And, it is annoying as fuck when the "guilty" aka privileged party starts a luxuriant mea culpa/whine for reassurance, and the systemically oppressed person -still- doesn't even cross hir radar. Which causes everyone to feel worse some more, and lash out some more, and...

anyway, PF, i saw this at nezua's and mentally linked back to this convo:

I would just end by saying what people have to get over is the shame of admitting they are not perfect as-is; admitting that they soaked up some terrible views and thoughts and ideas while growing up absorbing American culture. We have to get over our idea that the work of becoming a Grownup is over—the work of improving ourselves, of continuing the climb toward being a helpful and healthy human being. We should search out these grains of harmful thoughts in ourselves like joyful detectives. Because when you can find them, you can change them. Just seeing them begins that change. Just wanting to see them is a part of that change. This is my idea of changing the world for the better.

belledame222 said...

there's also this rant, which i found myself nodding to:

And yeah, I could identify myself as poor. I could identify myself as bi. I could point out that fact that my grandfather changed the family name so that we wouldn’t get the anti-Polish crap that was floating around the area at the time. I could point out that I’m closer to my immigrant roots than the people who insist that anything I might say about illegal immigration comes from a hatred of immigrants. I could identify myself as a lot of things and point out even more so that I can escape this label. And I could refuse to do that just to prove the point that a cookie cutter is still a cookie cutter. No one should have to play the victim just to point out that you’re completely lost when it comes to common sense.

No one should have to play the victim just so that they won’t have a label spewed at them when they don’t toe the line. Not the line of what’s right and wrong, but the line of what somebody wants. Throwing this shit around when you want to win an argument or score a social point is Very Bad Form.

...I get it. I just see no reason why I should hate myself in order to save myself, so that you won’t spit on me for pleasure.

belledame222 said...

CS/britgirl: per history, though, it does seem like a fine line. While I agree, again, that wearing the hairshirt for sins committed by long-dead people isn't useful, I do think that it behooves one to learn that history and understand how its effects reverberate even unto -today-; one can't really go about systemic change without first getting some understanding of how that system works, including the foundations on which it was laid.

plain(s)feminist said...

one can't really go about systemic change without first getting some understanding of how that system works, including the foundations on which it was laid.

Yes, and I think one of the problems is that whites, in confronting this and in determining to change things, are faced with needing to give up privilege. I mean, stuff like not buying clothes made in sweatshops even though they're cheap and cool, like fighting for a living wage even though that might mean that we're affected in ways we might not like, like writing letters to the editor in support of treaty rights even though we might own a cabin in the Black Hills (on Lakota land), like supporting affirmative action despite fears that we might be less likely, now, to get that job (this has been disproven, incidentally - white men, in fact, have benefitted most by affirmative action, followed by white women - but it's still a fear whites have).

I also think that white people tend to worry too much about being called racist. I'm not saying being called racist is a good thing, or necessarily something that we should ignore - I think if that happens, we need to examine it - but just because someone calls racist doesn't mean that person is right. You know, sometimes that person will be wrong. And other times, we'll make mistakes and then we'll try again and hopefully get it right.

This is one of the things that I find unproductive (in terms of promoting actual change, not in terms of self-affirmation - it's very productive for bolstering individuals who need to be affirmed) about claiming that men can't be feminist. It's one thing to talk about what kinds of problematic dynamics we might see when men work on women's issues. It's another to say that men simply can't be feminists. I'm not saying that *all* men are or will be feminists, but I'm not willing to write them all off because we all haven't unlearned our gender roles yet. So there they are steeped in their male guilt, esp. white men, esp. het temp. able-bodied white men of the middle-class whom everyone sees as oppressors, feeling very much like they are the scapegoats because, like the rant you quote, BD, they CAN'T play the victim.

And I've seen a lot of men in Women's Studies and in Men's Studies, particularly, reaching out to other men to kind of help them across this bump. So there are men taking responsibility for educating themselves and each other, which I think is a sign of moving past that guilt stage toward helpful action.

Ravenmn said...

We don't have a lot of white heroes who are heroes for being antiracist. White people are always the fuck-ups in the stories about racism, right? So my students - and, quite frankly, I - need some models for what the hell to do to make a difference, to actually be anti-racist.

This is a really important point. I also can't point to a lot of examples. Because race is not discussed often, we have no tools for handling the many emotions that arise and our immediate reactions.

The first time is going to be hard and the denial reaction is going to be there. So how do we develop techniques to get handle our natural inclination to say, "But I'm not..." and get to a place that is more productive?

Donna said...

Anonymous,

Our "racism" is informed by experience. We are treated like subhuman stupid animals quite often and not just by the Stormfronters but by "nice liberals" too. The only difference is that the Stormfronters think we are dangerous, vicious, animals and the liberals think we are their pets to condescend to, save, and dismiss if we get too uppity.

Your racism is informed by sitting on Grandpappy's lap and hearing him say, Niggers are stupid criminals. Or the neighbor saying, Injuns are lazy drunks. Or your best friend saying, Spics screw like rabbits and steal all the jobs. All in their nice all white neighborhoods and none of whom have ever come into contact with blacks, native americans, or latinos.

Now that I have gotten uppity on ya, you'll probably run off and console yourself that the neighbor was right and I'm a lazy drunk.

Danielle, as long as you are living in America you are benefiting from the massacre of my ancestors. You are living on stolen land, getting cheap minerals and other resources from reservation land which native americans are paid pennies on the dollar in worth by the mismanagement of your government.

The same goes for slavery. America was built on slavery, many of the wealthiest families in America got that way from slavery. Probably you or someone you know is employed by one of these former slave owners. Or you are buying, selling, or receiving goods and services from them. It works the same way that plain(s)feminist mentioned with the sweatshops. Many northern businesses prospered because of slavery because they bought the raw materials for manufacturing cheaply from slave owners.

I'm not saying you should feel guilty. I am saying you should not be oblivious.

It always angers me that now that we have had everything stolen or we have been used to get what the white people wanted, now we need to get over it and start fresh. If some big goon muscled you out of your house and took it and everything you own over, then you find out that the law is NOT on your side, you are left in a shack on the edge of town and that squatter says to you, Get over it. Let's start fresh. Yeah, you'd be ready to let bygones be bygones, I'm sure.

Donna said...

Plain(s)feminist, you wrote a wonderful post. I loved it! I just want you to know that the only reason I am giving the smackdown is I hate when some white people try to turn the tables on us POC. Like having a black woman get snippy with them once (RACISM! OMG!) is anything near what that black woman has to put up from white people every day.

I'm sick of these supposed liberals who want to whine about the mean ol' POC who hurt their feelings and we can't overcome racism until POC give them the loooooooove and respect they are entitled to.

Donna said...

One more thing. I hate it when people say the only difference between white racism and POC "racism" is that POC aren't the ones in power. It assumes that our "hatred" comes from ignorance too and that if we had the power we would do the same to white people. It's one of the reasons why alot of white people are scared witless that someday soon whites will be the minority in this country. Just listen for the undercurrent in conservative tv and talk radio, it's about the PAYBACK BLOODBATH to come. There may be some extremists who think this way, but most of us would be content to have fairness and need no revenge.

plain(s)feminist said...

The only difference is that the Stormfronters think we are dangerous, vicious, animals and the liberals think we are their pets to condescend to, save, and dismiss if we get too uppity.

The thing about "pets" - I would agree that white liberals often treat POC this way. I think that they/we are often completely unaware that this is what we/they are doing. The conscious thinking is the desire to help, but not at the expense of having to recognize uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our behavior.

(The parallels between men (as a general group) and feminism are definitely there!)

Your racism is informed by sitting on Grandpappy's lap and hearing him say, Niggers are stupid criminals. Or the neighbor saying, Injuns are lazy drunks. Or your best friend saying, Spics screw like rabbits and steal all the jobs. All in their nice all white neighborhoods and none of whom have ever come into contact with blacks, native americans, or latinos.

But I want to add that, for many of us, this isn't what we learned. Many of us *don't* grow up hearing these sorts of things. Many of us are taught that the above examples are racist and not ok. But we don't necessarily learn about how we are benefitting from the status quo, or how others are hurt by it, or what to do about it.

I'm not saying you should feel guilty. I am saying you should not be oblivious.

Right on - but I think the enormity of waking up to what's going on can't help but to make most people who are benefitting from it feel guilty, at least for a moment.

It always angers me that now that we have had everything stolen or we have been used to get what the white people wanted, now we need to get over it and start fresh.

Yes. John Mohawk has a great piece that I think I've linked to before about peace making, and he says that it's important to recognize the old wounds and not just move on. We're talking about irrevocable, lasting damage. We can't just pick up from genocide and slavery and move on as if we don't live in a world that has been violently altered.

plain(s)feminist said...

One more thing. I hate it when people say the only difference between white racism and POC "racism" is that POC aren't the ones in power. It assumes that our "hatred" comes from ignorance too and that if we had the power we would do the same to white people.

That's an interesting point, Donna. I have to think about that. I tend to think that, no matter who is in charge, humans have an unlimited capacity for hatred and cruelty. I think the issue is one of power - the idea that power corrupts, and so the only way that we would have a peaceful existence is if we were all living in an egalitarian society.

But, I may be talking about something different than what you are saying. I certainly don't believe that POC are desirous of bloody revenge, just fairness, as you say. Look at the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam - none of those groups have been about violence at all. (And then look at the white supremacist movements...)

belledame222 said...

yeh, what PF said.

or, well, I'm gonna put that back in a context I'm more familiar with personally: the (mostly white) feminist wars, and the whole cultural-feminist presumption that women might, indeed, make a better world, simply because...well, what? Because of our gonads? Because we've suffered, and -because- of that suffering we wouldn't turn around and do the same to anyone else? I don't buy either. I think we're all -capable- of doing tremendous evil as well as good. That doesn't mean we're currently guilty of -actually doing it,- or that we automatically -will- do what other people -really are actually doing-; that is an important distinction.

belledame222 said...

but i mean: well, here's the question. Do we believe any one group of people is -inherently- more likely to commit violence, genocide, etc.? Certainly there are people like Heart who do indeed seem to center the locus of "badness" in Class Man; or there are people who talk about y'know "ice people" and "sun people." It's...a narrative. I don't know how true that makes it, though; or how -helpful- such a thing is, except perhaps as a way for the narrator to counter the psychic weight of the injury done to hir, by taking the narrative that justified those injuries and standing it on its head.

belledame222 said...

I also think all that pent-up anger and potential violence doesn't just disappear; it turns inward on itself, either as internecine violence (physical or otherwise) or as personal self-injury in some fashion or another.

which is part of, i expect, the fear that people in power have;

that "dream deferred." Most people understand perfectly well that you don't go directly from easing up the foot on peoples' necks and dreams (yes I'm mixing metaphors, deal) to "and they all live happily ever after." There's a lot of pent-up energy there; and yep, chances are, there'll be explosions first; it gets worse before it gets better.

i'm talking psychologically, understand, not saying that'll necessarily manifest itself in any particular concrete way. Certainly exploding with verbal rage is preferable to picking up the AK-47 and climbing the belltower.

doesn't matter; people are still terrified of it; it's partly holding onto power, and partly it's an atavistic fear of anyone else's strong (negative, directed at oneself in particular) emotions. that shit's deep, actually.

and y'know, it's not like Revolution is never violent; consider the position of yer average French aristocrat during the Revolution. Did they get what they deserve? You can argue about that; point is, the guillotines were real enough. And, consider: Robespierre. Was he powerless? by the end of it?

Donna said...

Your racism is informed by sitting on Grandpappy's lap and hearing him say, Niggers are stupid criminals. Or the neighbor saying, Injuns are lazy drunks. Or your best friend saying, Spics screw like rabbits and steal all the jobs. All in their nice all white neighborhoods and none of whom have ever come into contact with blacks, native americans, or latinos.

But I want to add that, for many of us, this isn't what we learned. Many of us *don't* grow up hearing these sorts of things. Many of us are taught that the above examples are racist and not ok. But we don't necessarily learn about how we are benefitting from the status quo, or how others are hurt by it, or what to do about it.

===

I'm sorry I wasn't clear on that. I was talking about the type of person who would say that POC can be racist. That's not your ordinary white privilege that makes a person say something that ignorant.

Donna said...

I also see that my meaning might be taken to say that if POC had power we wouldn't abuse it. Nope. I'm sure there would be some abuse of power, corruption, and all that. But what I really mean is that I do not see a race war coming. Do you really think that if POC had power there would be a massacre like the native americans went through? Or that white people would be enslaved like what black people went through? I can't help smile thinking that for once I would have brown privilege though... LOL

plain(s)feminist said...

I'm sorry I wasn't clear on that. I was talking about the type of person who would say that POC can be racist. That's not your ordinary white privilege that makes a person say something that ignorant.

Ah - thanks for clarifying.

IME, this is a HUGE problem, not just for whites but in general. Most people I talk to about this - and they would largely be my students, because that's the situation in which I usually have these conversations, so usually late teens, early twenties - seem to think that racism simply means not liking someone because of their race (or "skin color"). They don't think of it as being a systematic, institutionalized oppression. Beverly Daniel Tatum has a great article on this whole issue, by the way, and I'll have to see if I can find it and post excerpts or find it online and link because I've found that it's really helpful for explaining this.

Do you really think that if POC had power there would be a massacre like the native americans went through? Or that white people would be enslaved like what black people went through?

Not exactly. I mean, no, I definitely don't think a race war will happen, and I don't think that POC would exact revenge in this way. I do think, though, that the U.S. has done such deplorable things to people outside (and within, for that matter) the U.S. - and that the U.S. is hardly the only country to do so - that it seems to me that the only model for having power that we have is abusing it, and so I think whoever is on top will likely abuse power unless we change the whole system - which is probably what would have to happen to radically change the power structure, anyway. Does that make sense? I'm sorry if I keep confusing your point, Donna - I do get what you are saying, and I agree with you.

plain(s)feminist said...

My kid is yelling for me to come read him a story, and I didn't find the article I was looking for, but here's a link to another piece by Tatum that looks well worth reading.

plain(s)feminist said...

Sorry, I messed up that link. It's on the front page.

Donna said...

You didn't confuse my point. I don't think I was clear. And it is true that POC are likely to abuse power if they follow the existing power structure, because it is happening already. I was explaining on another site what our original government was like and it's nothing like the government that is imposed on us now by the Canadian government. If you asked anyone on my reservation if our government is corrupt, anyone, they would answer, "Hell yeah!" It's all about paying off the ones who got you into office and ignoring everyone else. Nothing to do with the greater good. Sound familiar?

Britgirl said...

I like to look at the analogy of what happened in Major League Baseball ( and as a Brit I mayn't get it right).

Part of the reason is that there was a reward to the racist structure for changing the status quo. The reward was a huge pool of untapped black talent. It took Branch Rickey to see that opportunity - someone who was motivated to do what was right - and potentially a goldmine for the Dodgers.
It is not perfect and fans still make racist heckling in some parts of America, but it is a whole lot different from the all-white sport it was. It took a great deal of time and the process is still on-going. And MLB is still trying to increase the percentage of black executives.

But of course, there's less reward for that.

I am using MLB as an loose analogy always aware that there was huge opposition to the change. But the point is, change it did.

Let's not forget that while we would prefer people not to be racist, implementing a THOUGHT POLICE State is not a good idea.

People know how to keep their mouths shut far more effectively. It isn't just a matter of looking for the white sheets and burning crosses any more.

Anonymous said...

I am white. Why should I support 'anti-racism'? By definition, its only purpose is to disadvantage white people. Now you may argue that 'white skin privilege' is unearned and unfair and thus we should work to abolish it, even if it does disadvantage us. To that I can only ask, why? Do you really believe if the tables were turned and instead of 'white skin privilege' there existed 'dark skin privilege' that those with dark skin would be falling all over themselves to purge their society of the advantages it afforded them? I don't believe that.

Some may argue that even if we could not expect such moral reciprocity were situations reversed that we should press on to abolish 'white privilege' regardless, because it's the right thing to do. Again, I must ask why? Is it supposed to result in the making of a better world? Let's consider the example of South Africa. I cannot think of a nation in which the white population has proceeded further or faster with the abolishment of their 'white skin privilege'. What has been the end result? What was once the most modern nation in Africa has been reduced to a violent, corrupt hell hole. Crime is so bad that the nation had been referred to as both the rape and murder capital of the world. A great deal of this violence is directed against the dwindling white population by the black population. Such is the extent of the anti-white violence that Genocide Watch has stated that the actions of the blacks are warning signs of the beginning of a genocide against whites in the country. See here:

http://www.genocidewatch.org/BoersSlain01.htm

Have the anti-racist actions of the white South Africans to dispel their 'white skin privilege' resulted in a better world? It certainly hasn't for them. Far from creating harmony and peace, the actions the whites took to disempower themselves left them vulnerable and essentially defenseless in the face of the violence now directed at them by blacks who utterly hate them. Many of the white South Africans have realized what a mistake they made in surrendering their 'white skin privilege' and agreeing to live under the rulership of an ethnic group that wants to commit genocide against them. Unfortunately, for them, it's too late. Why, as a sane white person, would I want to put myself in the same position these white South Africans have? There is no reason. There is absolutely no reason a sane person would want to submit themselves to the power of a group with such hostility toward them as the black South Africans have toward the white South Africans. There is no reason at all - the very notion is insane.

The experience of the white South Africans is hardly unique. Nearly anywhere in the world where whites are a minority they are treated with contempt and hostility by the non-white majority. If you are white and doubt this, I invite you to take a trip - unescorted - thorough one of the 'minority' neighborhoods of your nearest large city. Or, better yet, why don't you go for a short vacation to some nation in South America, or Africa - and don't just stay in the tourist areas. To get the full experience you need to really meet the natives. Another wonderful place to visit would be nearly any of the nations of the Islamic world. Again, don't just stick to the tamed tourist zones, you want to experience the real culture. Most of you would be quite hesitant to do any of these things because you know to be true what I have been saying all along - most of these people *hate* you. As the white South Africans learned, no amount of anti-racist action on your part is going to make them hate you any less. The only thing your anti-racist activities can do is to serve to make you more vulnerable to their hate. Why would any sane human being want that? I certainly don't.

There may be some of you reading this who believe that whites are so evil and have such a history of oppressive behavior that they deserve to be hated and mistreated. There may actually be some of you reading this right now who feel that the world can only move forward once the corpse of the 'white race' has been cast into humanities collective ditch. Sure, you may think to yourselves, the dismantling of the white race may be violent and unfair to many but the overall good it will do will outweigh any such considerations. I've seen similar things written before, and I have no doubt that some of you share this view. I cannot hope to dissuade those so warped from such insane beliefs. Anyone white person who thinks that way is so consumed with pathological self hatred that reason is utterly lost on them. I can only say that your anti-white 'partners' in anti-racism will see that you are properly rewarded for your activities.

As for the rest of the people reading this - normal, sane people who don't hate themselves and don't want to submit themselves to the governance of groups that despise them - you need to ask yourself why in the hell you support this sort of a movement. It will not help you in the short run or in the long run. Helping to empower those who hate you while disempowering yourself is nothing less than cutting your own throat. Why do it? Those you are 'helping' sure as hell wouldn't do the same for you. Wake up, before it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Once again whites get the blame just for being whites. I'm under no obligation to apologize for slavery on account of my race. Slavery was wrong, but I didn't take part in it. Do blacks have to apologize for the Bloods and the Crips? Do Italians have to apologize for the Mafia? Do Hispanics have to apologize for the Mara Salvatrucha? So why do whites have to apologize for slavery?

Plain(s)feminist said...

Anon,
I just skimmed back over my post. Would you kindly point out where I suggested that white people need to apologize for slavery? If you think that what I said about recognizing and taking responsibility for and interrupting white privilege means "apologizing for slavery," then you didn't understand what I said, at all.