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September 7, 2011 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race. 'Once I realized I was racist, it was, well, what am I going to do about it?' says Winn, a mild-mannered white guy in his 30s. 'That shifts the defensiveness.' [...] 'The test of how racist you are is not how many people of color you can count as friends,' I recall someone telling me—I can't remember who now. 'It's how many white people you're willing to talk to about racism.'
posted by shakespeherian (256 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mike Stivic: Hey it just occurred to me, Mickey Mouse is black.

Archie Bunker: Mickey Mouse ain't got no race. He represents all men.

Mike Stivic: Oh, I guess that's why Walt made him a mouse.
posted by clavdivs at 8:40 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


His charge is that by admitting to racism, even though I described it as a problem that had to be named in order to be solved, like any other problem, I could only have been trying to recruit white supremacists.

Ugh, concern trolling at its highest level.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


kinda of a discussion killer ain't it cooter.
posted by clavdivs at 8:47 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's almost like a contest.
posted by spicynuts at 8:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to work out the comparison between calling someone racist and Godwin-ing someone. Interesting, for sure, wondering if it's valid.
posted by k5.user at 9:01 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know, k5. Pretty much everyone carries around some sort of racial prejudice with them. Not everyone is Hitler.

People do tend to act like accusing someone of being racist is like being Hitler, which stops a lot of conversations from ever happening.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:05 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


It's how many white people you're willing to talk to about racism.

What?

Huh.

Would've thought it had something to do with working to see people as individuals and being thoughtful about systemic issues.
posted by weston at 9:06 AM on September 7, 2011


And of course one has to be REALLY good at ignoring CLASS.
posted by spicynuts at 9:10 AM on September 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


Would've thought it had something to do with working to see people as individuals and being thoughtful about systemic issues.

Well, given that white people tend to run the system, I would imagine that talking to them would probably help.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:10 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Would've thought it had something to do with working to see people as individuals and being thoughtful about systemic issues.

Which translates to being willing to talk about racism and work for social justice instead of telling each other how progressive and color-blind we all are.

Which is the point the article makes.
posted by Scattercat at 9:11 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


Nonwhite high-school graduation rates in Seattle are significantly below white graduation rates—even if you're Asian

Was anyone else a little surprised by this sentence?
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:12 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know times are hard in the media biz, but do they not have editors on The Stranger?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:13 AM on September 7, 2011


And of course one has to be REALLY good at ignoring CLASS.

Shetterly? Is that you?

Which translates to being willing to talk about racism and work for social justice instead of telling each other how progressive and color-blind we all are.

But "Stephen Colbert" says he doesn't see color, and we all know every good American should follow his example!
posted by kmz at 9:13 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, that sentence is surprising. Because why would it be news that being Asian leads you to find the same graduation rates in Seattle high schools?
posted by DU at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I noticed that often, white drivers would honk at the men to move aside. It seemed to me the reason they honked was that they were irritated at having an experience that people of color know well: that you're not just entitled to live anywhere you please, that there might be consequences. Honking was an attempt to reassert privilege.

Or perhaps it was a way to say GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE STREET.

Jeesh.
posted by chronkite at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [24 favorites]


ain't no contest spicynuts (umm, clove), died at the starting gate...then the post stays up because, hey lets discuss, all the while forgetting it's metafilter... and I consider shakespeherian a protagonist in this here invention.
posted by clavdivs at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to work out the comparison between calling someone racist and Godwin-ing someone. Interesting, for sure, wondering if it's valid.


I don't think it's valid, but I'm certain there are people who feel that way. People who think the word "racist" is a sort of trump card that, if played against them successfully, would allow the person who "played the race card" to "win" and have the moral high ground, allowing them no response or rebuttal.
posted by straight at 9:16 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's Racist!

NPR had a discussion on some of these ideas a couple weeks back. They did it better.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:16 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, given that white people tend to run the system

SHHHHHH. There is no The System. Do not talk about The System.
posted by Hoopo at 9:17 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I respect that talking about racism is both incredibly hard and incredibly important, but I really wish that the people trying to promote some kind of open discussion wouldn't shoot themselves in the foot by jumping at specters of inequity and privilege where they don't exist, because it damages their credibility in the eyes of people who are distrustful of these conversations. This bit drove me crazy, for example:

Driving the narrow streets, I'd notice that young black men would sometimes walk in the middle of the street and refuse to move for cars.... I would drive slowly behind them, as in a funeral dirge. We were getting nowhere. But I noticed that often, white drivers would honk at the men to move aside. It seemed to me the reason they honked was that they were irritated at having an experience that people of color know well: that you're not just entitled to live anywhere you please, that there might be consequences. Honking was an attempt to reassert privilege.

No, honking was an attempt to reassert that THE ROAD IS FOR CARS, GET OUT OF THE DAMN ROAD. There are a lot of privilege problems in our society and they're far more pervasive than a lot of privileged people are likely to notice on their own, but not everything is a power struggle, man.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:17 AM on September 7, 2011 [35 favorites]


From the article: "affirmative action has been struck down for being racist."

I know it's not a popular sentiment around here, but I think if we're being honest, we have to admit that affirmative action programs are racist. They're well-intentioned and designed to combat other problems that can stem from racism, but affirmative action programs are about striking a balance of racism, so that the end result of education/housing/university admissions/etc. doesn't look like the prod.uct of racism. They're not capable or even trying to eliminating it.

That's fine; I'm not coming down on a pro- or anti-affirmative action side here, and certainly those programs might be justifiable in an ends-justify-the-means sort of way, but they are clearly and by-design predicated on the same sort of generalizations as the racism they're trying to fight.

Two sides of the same coin, etc. etc.
posted by Vox Nihili at 9:18 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was profoundly embarrassed recently when at a student event at my local FE College I got talking to the Asian besuited man at the back with a staff pass. I assumed he was the security guard when it turned out he was the new shit hot principal recruited from up north. The thing is I realised the reason for my assumption was that he was speaking with the thickest Brummie (Solihull to be specific) accent I've heard since I moved to the UK, it genuinely had nothing to do with his colour. (well to be fair there was also the context, a student disco, him standing at the door, etc., but it really is indefensible that I had him marked as non-professional because of his Birmingham accent. Luckily the only person who knows this is my daughter who worked there and now all of Metafilter)
posted by Wilder at 9:19 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Personally, I feel deeply about white racial issues every time I bang my non-white wife. Her and my kids seem to be just fine in my New England community, but every now and then I wonder how we'd do in the American South.
posted by Oso Mocoso at 9:19 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm enjoying the article, but also find some parts to be frustrating and irrelevant:

But how would the conversation be different if Seattle were as progressive on race as it is on the environment? This city isn't as green as it should be, but at least we'd like it to be—nobody proposes color blindness when the color in question is green.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2011


affirmative action programs are about striking a balance of racism, so that the end result of education/housing/university admissions/etc. doesn't look like the prod.uct of racism. They're not capable or even trying to eliminating it.

No, they aren't and yes, they are.
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2011


ain't no contest spicynuts (umm, clove), died at the starting gate...then the post stays up because, hey lets discuss, all the while forgetting it's metafilter... and I consider shakespeherian a protagonist in this here invention.

I don't have any idea what you said, but hey thanks!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am enjoying the article and the topic -- very important, thanks.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who think the word "racist" is a sort of trump card that, if played against them successfully, would allow the person who "played the race card" to "win" and have the moral high ground, allowing them no response or rebuttal.

Consider that being called a racist leads to a certain amount of social opprobrium regardless of how one personally feels about racial issues.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


as oddly written as this article is, the author is right on about how fucking weird race relations are in the pacific northwest. interesting that the article does not talk a lot about asians though, since asians are the most populous minority in seattle.
posted by beefetish at 9:26 AM on September 7, 2011


I don't have any idea what he said either.

Love,
Clove.
posted by spicynuts at 9:26 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the best piece on race I've read in a while. It's funny to me that people are falling all over themselves here to discredit it.

chronkite: “Or perhaps it was a way to say GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE STREET.”

IAmUnaware: “No, honking was an attempt to reassert that THE ROAD IS FOR CARS, GET OUT OF THE DAMN ROAD. There are a lot of privilege problems in our society and they're far more pervasive than a lot of privileged people are likely to notice on their own, but not everything is a power struggle, man.”

Yes, you're both right. I'm certain that the way black people and white people interact on the street has nothing to do with attitudes about race. I'll bet if we want to, we can come up with a long list of things in this article that have nothing to do with race. I'm sure that wouldn't be missing the point.
posted by koeselitz at 9:26 AM on September 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


So, I recently moved from a basically all white neighborhood to a gentrifying, but still majority black and fairly poor neighborhood, and I've actually been thinking about how whites and blacks seem to jaywalk differently.

The article is fairly consistent with my experience of driving in the poorer, minority neighborhood; while I don't think I see much of the "walking slowly down the middle of the street" thing, the jaywalking there seems to be more studied, more about asserting a small bit of dominance, and absolutely refusing to yield to cars. In my old white neighborhood, there was just as much jaywalking, it just more took the form of dashing/darting into traffic and trying to get out as quickly as possible. There's probably a bit of confirmation bias at play here, but it did seem like a genuine phenomenon.

I also (even as a white person) don't honk, but that's because I basically never honk at anyone ever.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:27 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or perhaps it was a way to say GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE STREET.

Jeesh.


Please don't read this as an attack, but I feel like this is a perfect example of the sort of thinking this article criticizes. I don't think the author is trying to say that the black kids in the street were doing the right thing and those white men in cars were just trying to stomp all over their righteous self-expression. Her point as I understood it is more that there's a history and a context running through events like that that we should look at honestly and try to untangle, because treating it as a simple, contextless issue of a daily annoyance or the rules of the road or politeness or etiquette or whatever is missing an important point.

but not everything is a power struggle, man.

This part of the article is relevant:
Backstage during rehearsals for Brownie Points, Hairston had asked each cast member how important race had been for them growing up. Their rankings, on a scale of 1 to 10, ranged from 2 (a white actress) to 10 (an African American actress).
So, the point being, growing up as a target of racism in America kind of does make everything a power struggle, because your daily life is likely to be full of small instances of someone else asserting their power over you (even if sub- or unconsciously).

Great article, thanks for the link.
posted by invitapriore at 9:28 AM on September 7, 2011 [34 favorites]


Inspector.Gadget: “Consider that being called a racist leads to a certain amount of social opprobrium regardless of how one personally feels about racial issues.”

So does being called a shithead. We just have to accept the "social opprobrium" and move on, prepared to actually confront what racism is and to talk about it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:28 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm trying to work out the comparison between calling someone racist and Godwin-ing someone.

You know who else was racist?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


So does being called a shithead. We just have to accept the "social opprobrium" and move on, prepared to actually confront what racism is and to talk about it.

Right but my point was that it isn't only people who are all bothered about "the race card" that dread being called racists, given the fact that a public accusation will lead at least some people to shun them no matter how thin the evidence.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:33 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Right but my point was that it isn't only people who are all bothered about "the race card" that dread being called racists, given the fact that a public accusation will lead at least some people to shun them no matter how thin the evidence.
I keep hearing people say stuff like this, but I don't really get it. Where is an example of someone being 'shunned' after being accused of on the basis of thin evidence?
posted by delmoi at 9:35 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dear People Who Write Articles About Social Problems,

"Inequity" does not mean "inequality." They are two different words.

Love,
O. A. Gator
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:36 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would really love it if Jon Stewart would read this article. As much as I love The Daily Show, he really does fall all over himself trying to excuse just about any act labelled as racist as "harmless misspeaking" or "just being kind of a jerk" or "using a metaphor." Sometimes he's right, most of the time, not.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:37 AM on September 7, 2011


It's funny, because on reading the article I couldn't help but think that the Seattle people being discussed were an awful lot like MeFi.

Not the same, but still, the Venn diagram has a lot of overlap, right?

Great article. thanks for the post.
posted by EricGjerde at 9:39 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Her point as I understood it is more that there's a history and a context running through events like that that we should look at honestly and try to untangle, because treating it as a simple, contextless issue of a daily annoyance or the rules of the road or politeness or etiquette or whatever is missing an important point.

The more someone (other than this author, apparently) sees black men loping in the streets obstructing traffic the more they're going to think of black men as being the type of people that lope in the streets to obstruct traffic.

Is that racist?

Or are they forming opinions based on personal experience?

Seems obvious to me that part of being an equally respected member of a society is adhering to its most basic conventions, like don't play in traffic.
posted by chronkite at 9:42 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


jesus fuckin christ chronkite
posted by beefetish at 9:43 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Which is the point the article makes.

Article? That is a book. Which I doubt got read by most of us in here. Skim skim clip italicize comment.
posted by cashman at 9:45 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is that racist?

I feel like a big thrust of the article is that the accusatory/defensive 'is that racist?' is a dodge that white people use to avoid their very real privilege and the ways in which we (white people) are, all of us, racist. I'm racist. I benefit from racism. What can I do about it, instead of hurling it at other people as a weapon?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Obligatory.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:47 AM on September 7, 2011


DU, posting inflammatory stuff like a direct, unconditional disagreement with someone else's point while providing no actual argument, discussion or thought is kind of silly in a thread that's about how to converse better about difficult topics.

It doesn't help that you're really, really wrong. Affirmative action programs are about using controlled racism in an attempt to balance out all the uncontrolled racism that's been going on for roughly forever. I don't know how you can argue with that. I guess maybe you could actually not know how affirmative action programs function.



koeselitz: This is the best piece on race I've read in a while. It's funny to me that people are falling all over themselves here to discredit it.

It's weird that you would call me out for "falling all over myself to discredit" the article when my comment was about how sad I was that the author was making such a dumb comment that people disinclined to participate in the discussion might use to discredit him. It's almost like you didn't actually read what I wrote.


Yes, you're both right. I'm certain that the way black people and white people interact on the street has nothing to do with attitudes about race. I'll bet if we want to, we can come up with a long list of things in this article that have nothing to do with race. I'm sure that wouldn't be missing the point.

This isn't the way black people and white people interact on a street. That phrase refers to an (extremely broad set of behaviors, at least some of which are obviously going to be affected by attitudes about race. You're trying really hard to conflate this one incident with all incidents, which is nonsensical. Overabstraction is not a useful tool. We are talking about this one specific incident, wherein people walk slowly in the middle of the street and obstruct traffic. It is reasonable to be upset at these people and honk your horn at them, and--and I know this is going to be a point of ridiculous contention--that's true regardless of the skin colors of any of the people involved. It's not okay to walk down the middle of the road and block traffic. I can't believe we're actually arguing about this.
Second point: It is not "missing the point" to point out that this incident is not racially motivated and has nothing to do with race. The author was using it as an example of how privilege derived from race drives people's actions. Pointing out that this is not true is, in fact, directly addressing the point. I know you didn't read my comment very closely, but the bit where the author is making this point is actually quoted in italics right above my words. I have no idea how you missed it both there and in the actual article.

Also, finally, saying the opposite of what you mean in a really obvious way doesn't make you look clever. It makes you look belligerent and, honestly, kind of dumb. This is the sort of thing that teenagers do in movies when the writer wants you to think "What a jerk." Why would you want to associate yourself with that? This is not a productive way to have a conversation, and a more suspicious person might wonder if you actually aren't interested in discussing this topic at all.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:47 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm certain that the way black people and white people interact on the street has nothing to do with attitudes about race.

Her point as I understood it is more that there's a history and a context running through events like that that we should look at honestly and try to untangle, because treating it as a simple, contextless issue of a daily annoyance or the rules of the road or politeness or etiquette or whatever is missing an important point.

I was not aware of this "black people walk down the middle of the street" phenomenon. I have never seen this, in any city I've been to. The rules of the road are not racist, they hopefully prevent people from getting hit by cars. I'm not sure the thing to do as a white person driving in this situation is to drive slowly behind the person and meditate on racism and cultural differences.
posted by Hoopo at 9:48 AM on September 7, 2011


I'm going to try to address more than half a paragraph of the article, as for some reason, everyone seems fixated on black people walking in the road. Because addressing that one concern invalidates the rest of the article.

Seconding the importance of the article and people trying to discredit it. However, the author does himself a disservice when he dismisses the study about whites seeing race as a zero-sum game. I think that explains a great deal of the attitude about race that he explores. If white people perceive the discussion of privilege and the economic equalization of people of color as a direct threat to their way of life, of course they are going to oppose it.


The rationalization that the destruction of support tools for disadvantaged people is not racist, as they simply want all people to be treated equally, no matter their race is a construction that needs to be attacked and destroyed.

I've seen this in the discussion of literature to be covered. The accusation of bringing in black writers to replace "classics" presupposes the fact that of course the books written by black people will be inferior. There is no consideration that their books may have been left out of the canon not because of their quality, but because of past racial injustice.

Reading the comments in this thread reminds me of my time in Portland, Oregon, one of the whitest cities in the nation. The place where driving while black can get you shot (occasionally, but it seemed that while I was there, at least one black person was shot in a traffic stop every year). Also, one of the most liberal cities in the nation. A place where to see a black person, you had to head up to NE Portland or (gasp!) North Portland. A city where MLK drive stops right about where the black neighborhood does and switches names.

Racism is built into America these days. No one needs to be overtly racist, society takes care of that for them. And yes, we have a black president, but on the whole, black people are worse off than white people. It doesn't mean that there aren't rich black people or poor white people. It just means that if you are black in America, you are playing with the deck stacked against you. It's like gambling in a casino. Some people do walk away with more money than they started with, but most people don't.

Being aware of privilege is the first start. It's not about jay walking. (I love how everyone has focused on that one thing, instead of, say, the "slave ship" remark or the statistics about kids getting expelled from elementary school.) It's about realizing that as a white man, I get to play with a stacked deck and trying to unstack the deck just a little.
posted by Hactar at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


'The test of how racist you are is not how many people of color you can count as friends,' I recall someone telling me—I can't remember who now. 'It's how many white people you're willing to talk to about racism.'

What specious, lazy drivel. The test of how racist you are is how you act towards, and feel, think and talk about people of other races. End of. Stop dancing around the bloody point.
posted by Decani at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh and also, why the assumption that it's only white people who need talking to about racism? That's pretty racist, dude.
posted by Decani at 9:51 AM on September 7, 2011


I am a white woman. I did the same thing as the writer in a class I was teaching 20 years ago. Then I explained that racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that eliminating racism in myself is an on-going process, something that I've been working on since I was a little kid and first sensed that racism existed. I told them I could never absolutely be sure that I was 100% free of racism.

On another note, in my racially mixed neighborhood in Savannah black people do tend to walk in the street a lot, I think it's partly a vestige of rural habits, dirt roads don't have sidewalks. I also think it's about being out in the open, and possibly fear of being attacked by dogs or humans. I think I'll ask the next few people I see. I'll report back.
posted by mareli at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The more someone (other than this author, apparently) sees black men loping in the streets obstructing traffic the more they're going to think of black men as being the type of people that lope in the streets to obstruct traffic.

Is that racist?


yup
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:52 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


decani because this article was written in and about a town that is 66% white and has extremely weird attitudes toward race............
posted by beefetish at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2011


I don't think the assumption is that only white people need to talk about it, but rather that white people, like everyone else, need to talk about it.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2011


jesus fuckin christ chronkite
posted by beefetish at 12:43 PM on September 7 [+] [!]


ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOT ALERT
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Decani, the assumption that white people need to talk about racism is because white people don't talk about racism. Do you think that black people don't talk about racism? Go to the comments about how the reporter was told by her mother to always dress better than white people around her. Go look up the article in which a black mother tells her sons who play painball to always keep their guns in a case when not on the range. Black people are affected by their race daily. So they talk about it. White people are not. So we don't.
posted by Hactar at 9:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


white people don't talk about racism

You're not from around here, huh?
posted by Hoopo at 9:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seems obvious to me that part of being an equally respected member of a society is adhering to its most basic conventions, like don't play in traffic.

The concept of "jaywalking" was imposed by the privileged owners and manufacturers of cars to redefine society's basic conventions to their own benefit and the detriment of pedestrians:
Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong. Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces, where practices that endangered or obstructed others (including pedestrians) were disreputable. Motorists' claim to street space was therefore fragile, subject to restrictions that threatened to negate the advantages of car ownership. Epithets—especially joy rider—reflected and reinforced the prevailing social construction of the street. Automotive interest groups (motordom) recognized this obstacle and organized in the teens and 1920s to overcome it. One tool in this effort was jaywalker. Motordom discovered this obscure colloquialism in the teens, reinvented it, and introduced it to the millions. It ridiculed once-respectable street uses and cast doubt on pedestrians' legitimacy in most of the street. Though many pedestrians resented and resisted the term and its connotations, motordom's campaign was a substantial success.
posted by grouse at 9:57 AM on September 7, 2011 [50 favorites]


We are talking about this one specific incident, wherein people walk slowly in the middle of the street and obstruct traffic. It is reasonable to be upset at these people and honk your horn at them, and--and I know this is going to be a point of ridiculous contention--that's true regardless of the skin colors of any of the people involved. It's not okay to walk down the middle of the road and block traffic. I can't believe we're actually arguing about this.

Not to be all shetterly in the thread, but here is a case where I think the behavior really has a lot more to do with class than race. I walk and use mass transit pretty much exclusively, and the main bus hub in my city is pretty much surrounded by people crossing the streets, usually to catch a bus or get from the bus to somewhere else. The wealthier people (guessing by their clothes, who knows what is going on) of all races seem to cross at the crosswalks and move speedily. They have places to go, so get out of their way. That's how they show dominance. Really poor people (and, to a lesser degree, students) who don't seem to have anywhere to go in a hurry, cross where they like at their own pace. Again, I think this is how they show dominance.

Elsewhere in the city, I tend to see jaywalking more commonly in poorer parts of town (and on side streets), maybe because the wealthier parts of town are more likely to have conveniently placed crossings.

I read somewhere that defiant jaywalking started with Shaft, but that thesis seems a bit suspect to me.

As for the rest of it, as a white male, I think talking to whites about racism and men about sexism is part of my part in the struggle. It's not a line on a checklist, but when it comes up, I try not to shy from it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


The more someone (other than this author, apparently) sees black men loping in the streets obstructing traffic the more they're going to think of black men as being the type of people that lope in the streets to obstruct traffic.

Is that racist?


Is this a real question? That is absolutely racist.

Oh and also, why the assumption that it's only white people who need talking to about racism? That's pretty racist, dude.

White people are totally the most oppressed, amirite?


And for all the people talking about road obstruction, do you feel the same way about Critical Mass rides? Hey, stop slowing cars down, bicycle jerks!
posted by kmz at 9:58 AM on September 7, 2011


chronkite: “The more someone (other than this author, apparently) sees black men loping in the streets obstructing traffic the more they're going to think of black men as being the type of people that lope in the streets to obstruct traffic. Is that racist? Or are they forming opinions based on personal experience?”

It's racist.

I'll explain this if you want. You can say this about almost anything; 'seeing black people who are poor leads you to think of black people as inherently poor,' for example. But it isn't as simple as that. The people you encounter on the street are such a vast minority that it's not possible to form assumptions about a race as a whole that way. Everyone knows this by now. The black people you meet are not all the black people. Isn't this clear? There's no deep human tendency to assume that everybody of a certain skin color is exactly the same; that's a logical and social error called "racism."

But I don't know where you're going with this. I thought your point earlier was that this doesn't have anything to do with race – it's just a matter of traffic law. So: what do you mean? Are you saying that it's natural for white people to assume in this situation that black people don't care about traffic laws? I don't really get it. That doesn't seem like an argument against seeing this as a race issue.

“Seems obvious to me that part of being an equally respected member of a society is adhering to its most basic conventions, like don't play in traffic.”

Traffic laws are not the most basic conventions of society; for one thing, they change frequently, and are by and large very specific to local ordinances. To assume that anyone who doesn't follow a traffic law is thereby not worthy of being an equally respected member of society is to rule out nearly everybody. Or are you going to tell me that nobody you know has ever broken a traffic ordinance? Gone faster than the speed limit? Crossed the street outside a crosswalk?
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Hey, stop slowing cars down, bicycle jerks!

Exactly!
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:01 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I also think it's about being out in the open, and possibly fear of being attacked by dogs or humans. I think I'll ask the next few people I see. I'll report back.

This is only one (anec)data point, but when I lived in a neighborhood in Detroit that was - shall we say - streetlight optional a lot of the time (thanks DPL!) I found myself walking down the middle of the street at night for precisely those reasons: safety, visibility, awareness of surroundings, etc.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:02 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And for all the people talking about road obstruction, do you feel the same way about Critical Mass rides? Hey, stop slowing cars down, bicycle jerks!

... yes? I do, at least.
posted by kafziel at 10:02 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


The concept of "jaywalking" was imposed by the privileged owners and manufacturers of cars to redefine society's basic conventions to their own benefit and the detriment of pedestrians

Yes, the invention and popularization of motor vehicles led to more of these being present on roads and increased the dangers to pedestrians. The use of roads and the rules of roads changed. Almost a hundred freaking years ago!

Also, I love that Critical Mass has been brought up, that's going to help this discussion.
posted by Hoopo at 10:08 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, the invention and popularization of motor vehicles led to more of these being present on roads and increased the dangers to pedestrians. The use of roads and the rules of roads changed. Almost a hundred freaking years ago!

Yet in Europe, the invention and popularization of motor vehicles did not result in explicit privilege of automobile traffic on neighborhood streets and the criminalization of previously accepted pedestrian behavior. To paint this as a fait accompli is simply incorrect.
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, there kind of is a deep human tendency to form broad generalizations about groups based on a few interactions. Also a tendency to lump similar-looking things together and to prefer the company of those most similar to us. A lot of this is hard-wired in.

This is not to say that we can't rise above it or that we shouldn't struggle to overcome the biases built into how our brains function. One of the nicest things about the human brain is how plastic and programmable it is. But racism is totally a natural tendency that needs to be taught about and guarded against, which is precisely why it's so necessary to talk about it, especially among those groups to whom it is least visible, i.e. the ones benefiting from it. (Thanks to another of our built-in tendencies, which is to assume that good stuff happens to us 'cause we deserve it but bad stuff happens to us 'cause of some kind of external evil, and vice versa for all those people who aren't us.)
posted by Scattercat at 10:12 AM on September 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


IAmUnaware: “This isn't the way black people and white people interact on a street. That phrase refers to an (extremely broad set of behaviors, at least some of which are obviously going to be affected by attitudes about race. You're trying really hard to conflate this one incident with all incidents, which is nonsensical. Overabstraction is not a useful tool. We are talking about this one specific incident, wherein people walk slowly in the middle of the street and obstruct traffic. It is reasonable to be upset at these people and honk your horn at them, and--and I know this is going to be a point of ridiculous contention--that's true regardless of the skin colors of any of the people involved. It's not okay to walk down the middle of the road and block traffic. I can't believe we're actually arguing about this.”

I'm sorry; I'm not trying to be abrasive here. But I disagree, and I think your understanding here is founded on a misreading of the article.

No one is saying that this is always how black people and white people interact on the street. I am not trying to conflate one incident with all incidents. I don't think this necessarily says something huge about our society as a whole, even, although it might be rooted in issues that have something to do with all of us. Furthermore, I'm well aware that there are traffic rules, and that in general we expect people to follow those rules. Sometimes people who break traffic rules get honked at. Honking a car horn is not of necessity a racist act.

All I'm saying is: sometimes race is involved here. That's all the article claimed, in fact; the author brought this up as an example of an interesting and uncomfortable race dynamic she'd seen. She didn't say "all black people are like this," or "all jaywalkers are like this," or "all people who honk their horn are racists." She said this was a specific example of an uncomfortable race dynamic. And I buy it. It's possible, at least. Not all jaywalkers are black – but I can imagine a situation where young black men jaywalk for the reasons she perceives. And I can imagine a situation where white people honk at those young black men out of a nervous desire to reassert privilege.

That doesn't mean all the white drivers in that scenario need to be strung up for the crime of racism. It just means that, in that situation, it's worth thinking about what's going on and pondering our motivations.

“Also, finally, saying the opposite of what you mean in a really obvious way doesn't make you look clever. It makes you look belligerent and, honestly, kind of dumb. This is the sort of thing that teenagers do in movies when the writer wants you to think "What a jerk." Why would you want to associate yourself with that? This is not a productive way to have a conversation, and a more suspicious person might wonder if you actually aren't interested in discussing this topic at all.”

This part is absolutely true, and I'm sorry for doing it, IAmUnaware. I don't need to be snide and shitty and petty like that in here, where people actually want to talk about the issues involved. Thank you for responding gracefully. I suspect that on some level we actually agree a good deal about this; I'm only concealing that fact by being belligerent.
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Relevant article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004 about Garfield High School.

I'm from south Seattle - I grew up in the Rainier Valley and the Central District, and GHS is my alma mater. Articles like these, and the comments they prompt, tear me up inside. Long way to go.
posted by illenion at 10:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Black people are affected by their race daily. So they talk about it. White people are not negatively affected. So we don't.

FTFY. Part of being non-asshole white people involves acknowledging our privilege. It's not white people at the baseline with black people suffering down in the gutter. It's white people living on an artificially high playing field. It's not quite a zero-sum game, but most resources are limited in this world and you and I get easier access than blacks. So often the argument against any attempt to level the playing field begins with "why should *I* lose something I've earned by hard work!?"
posted by pjaust at 10:14 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yet in Europe, the invention and popularization of motor vehicles did not result in explicit privilege of automobile traffic on neighborhood streets and the criminalization of previously accepted pedestrian behavior. To paint this as a fait accompli is simply incorrect.

Erm, it did in many, many places. Where neighbourhoods were not rebuilt as they were in the US specifically for motor vehicle traffic, you are correct for some parts of Europe. I'm not sure what your point is w/r/t Seattle here.
posted by Hoopo at 10:20 AM on September 7, 2011


Where is an example of someone being 'shunned' after being accused of on the basis of thin evidence?

Williams Aide Resigns in Language Dispute.

Please note that I'm not arguing for or against this particular incident. The call for an example just reminded me of it.
posted by cereselle at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2011


we have to admit that affirmative action programs are racist

I disagree. Actually, all we have to admit is that such programs are designed with an awareness that racism as a problem has not been solved yet and that the legacy and ongoing realities of racism against minorities in the US are still causing measurable economic effects that the government has a responsibility to try to equalize. That is all. It's not necessary to view the programs themselves as racist, once you consider their whole purpose is to counteract the remaining, still measurable effects of previous generations of more brazen institutional and cultural racism. Affirmative action is not, like it might seem under superficial analysis, about trying to make two wrongs equal a right: it's about trying to correct for the ongoing economic imbalances that racism has caused and is still causing. The racist realities that affirmative action programs are designed to address weren't created by affirmative action--they were already there! Correcting existing socioeconomic imbalances does not necessarily require creating new ones.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


So often the argument against any attempt to level the playing field begins with "why should *I* lose something I've earned by hard work!?"

The corollary I often hear to this is "Well, some minority people do work hard and succeed! Therefore it's possible for all of them, and those who don't are just lazy!"

I am white. I am, more often than not, a lazy-ass motherfucker. I have a decent management job (after 5 years of professional school during which I was supported by my family), no student loans (family paid), and a home loan with exceptionally favorable terms (thanks, Bank of Dad). Don't try and tell me I've achieved everything I have with hard work. From birth, I have been remarkably privileged, and ignoring that and claiming that I've accomplished all this on my own is willfully blind, and dare I say it, racist.
posted by cereselle at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


This all sounds like a bunch of mostly white folks arguing about racism instead of asking those actually disadvantaged, really listening and believing them, and taking it from there. Hmm.
posted by meinvt at 10:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Making racism be the Worst Thing Ever has backfired, because now many people either refuse to admit that they're racist, redefine themselves out of being racist, or otherwise refuse to talk about racism, except for the idea that racism is an evil thing that Other people do or have.

It's analogous to how people raised by overly strict parents often wind up being avoidant and deceptive. They often become screw-ups later in life because they can't just say, "oops, I fucked up xyz, sorry about that" without fearing that the hammer's going to come down.

This situation isn't really anyone's fault. Talking about racism without feeling like you have to confess to being Adolf Eichmann is a start.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think this is the best written article on contemporary racism I've ever read but I don't understand the backlash. My mother focused a lot on this when we were growing up:

Automatic or subconscious stereotyping is that which everyone does without noticing. Automatic stereotyping is quickly preceded by an explicit or conscious check which permits time for any needed corrections.

White people are raised in a dominant culture thick with stereotype. I don't know how you can avoid picking up on that, and I don't know how that doesn't make you racist. The best you can do is be vigilant about applying critical thinking to assumptions.

Am I doing it wrong?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am white. I am, more often than not, a lazy-ass motherfucker. I have a decent management job (after 5 years of professional school during which I was supported by my family), no student loans (family paid), and a home loan with exceptionally favorable terms (thanks, Bank of Dad). Don't try and tell me I've achieved everything I have with hard work. From birth, I have been remarkably privileged, and ignoring that and claiming that I've accomplished all this on my own is willfully blind, and dare I say it, racist.

I think stories like this is a huge part of the reason that talking about white privilege is difficult, because your story doesn't read like most white people's stories, even though they're also benefiting from privilege. As a white person who has almost 200K in student debt, is currently underemployed, and has no idea when I'll be able to afford a house, your story doesn't make me feel privileged, even though I am.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:33 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


white people don't talk about racism

You're not from around here, huh?


When I lived in SE PDX, I hardly heard it discussed. The most memorable exchanges I had about it (outside of the classroom) were when my friend wrote his undergrad thesis on police/black community relations in Portland. It was discussed some in college, but in part because there was a very vocal black professor who was able to be heard.

So maybe I'm not from Seattle. But I did live in Portland for six years. (2000-2006)

Or are you talking about metafilter? I'm talking about in real life, with people you know. Admittedly, this is anecdotes, not statistical data, and if you have a poll or study to refute me with, please share.
posted by Hactar at 10:34 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the race/class division -- it's not like the two can neatly be untangled -- especially in the US race serves as a pretty good indicator or class. Not perfect, of course, but as a general rule. For the Irish (and, I expect, the Italians) defining themselves as "white" was a significant step towards defining themselves as "not-poor" and, therefore "consequential" (and, therefore, "privileged" (or, at least, "worthy of privilege")).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:39 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


First I read an article claiming that white Americans are unable to discuss race, then I get to read a MetaFilter thread demonstrating exactly that.

Fabulous.
posted by Aiwen at 10:39 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think stories like this is a huge part of the reason that talking about white privilege is difficult, because your story doesn't read like most white people's stories, even though they're also benefiting from privilege.

Oh, sorry. I'm used to arguing with my family, during which I have to point out the massive advantages they've given me, that most people don't normally receive. You're right, my story is not the average white person story.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack was one of the pieces that educated the hell out of me. It led me to realize that racism isn't just saying or thinking racist things. It's the water all we fish swim in.
posted by cereselle at 10:43 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or are you talking about metafilter?

Yes
posted by Hoopo at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2011


Thanks pjaust. I think that might just illustrate how hard it is to totally acknowledge and understand privilege from my possition.
posted by Hactar at 10:45 AM on September 7, 2011


"Racism" as a word, as a concept, as a serious social problem lost a lot of its punch in recent years as it continually gets bandied about at the sign of any perceived slight, from basic scientific terminology to Internet memes. The fear of being accused of racism can often be just as harmful as actual discrimination - from small annoyances, like the National Parks Department no longer providing crowd estimates after major events; to downright dangerous, like the Portland Baseline Essays (written by someone with no educational credentials) getting implemented into the curriculum of public schools across the country and promoting scientific illiteracy.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy is hilarious, talking to us about race from his lilly white SWPL-ville, Seattle. Notice how he says when the neighborhood becomes whiter, it isn't becoming more diverse, it is becoming "homogenized."

"To me, this loping was a form of historical communication, intentional or not: This is our street."

Love how he projects his enlightened liberal political consciousness onto the local black dudes walking slowly on the street. Such arrogance.
posted by Acromion at 10:53 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


First I read an article claiming that white Americans are unable to discuss race, then I get to read a MetaFilter thread demonstrating exactly that.

It's kinda an internet law of privilege: whatever you're pointing out about power dynamics and behavior, someone will come along and demonstrate it, usually while arguing it doesn't exist.

The usual classic one is misogynist slurs being aimed at women who point out sexism, though the highlight for me was talking about racism in D&D and the 14,000 visitors from 4chan who felt the best way to disprove my point was to give me pages of comments going, "niggerniggernigger".
posted by yeloson at 10:55 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


This guy is hilarious

The author is a woman.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


The fear of being accused of racism can often be just as harmful as actual discrimination

I dunno. I don't think people are being denied loans, running water, functional levees, being shot in the back by police, locked in ICE detention without access to lawyers, or put through human trafficking out of "fear of being accused of racism".

Maybe I'm not reading the right new sources?
posted by yeloson at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


This guy is hilarious

The author is a woman.


I am so tired of people saying women can't be as funny as men.
posted by Hoopo at 11:00 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


In the small rural town I used to live in in Maryland the kids would get out of school and walk home past my house, which was right on the edge of a predominately black neighborhood.

Almost every day, a group of fifteen or so black kids would go to the Qwik-E-Mart, buy snacks and sodas, then walk home throwing the wrappers and cans and napkins down on the ground.

For weeks I picked it all up after them, then got sick of it and asked them "Who do you think picks all this trash up?"

They looked at the trash in my hands and laughed.

"You, motherfucker!"

Whattaya know, that event affected the way I looked at those kids from that point on.

Next time I told one of them to pick his trash up out of my yard, he said he'd "fucking stick me and burn my house down".

That also had an impact on my opinion of him and his friends.

They were the racists in this situation. I saw them as a bunch of dumb kids that needed a lesson in civic responsibility, and they saw me as identical to every other white person, The Man, a cracker motherfucker they could laugh at and threaten and intimidate, and who would always clean up their mess.
posted by chronkite at 11:03 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


A lot of this is hard-wired in.

No, the capacity for tribalism and forming in/out groups and social hierarchies, etc., seems hardwired, but the specific expression of these capacities in the form of racism is likely a function of culture. That's why there are so many historical counter examples to the idea that racism is hardwired throughout the world (and there are plenty of them).

For my own part, I'll admit it: I used to get little racist twitches sometimes when I was a younger man in the kinds of situations that typically set off such anxieties among the stereotypical, subtly racist whites. Then I started noticing what was happening, and paying attention to it--specifically, I mean my physiological responses in such situations--and for a long while (back when I still had the self-discipline and enthusiasm for it) I meditated on these physiological responses and made a note of consciously observing them every time I was in a situation that might otherwise set my little inner bigot's nerves a-twitter. I would closely note my own breathing rates, anxiety levels, etc. (sort of taking a cognitive behavioral approach to "curing" my instinctual/learned racial biases, although I wouldn't pat myself on the back too much over it because a mind needs constant tending like any garden, and I have no doubt this particular strain of).

Now, I can't say this approach would work for everyone, but it really seemed to for me. I tried to be acutely conscious of any subtle feelings of racial tension that might otherwise have gone unobserved whenever these situations came up in life, and after doing this for a long time pretty studiously, I eventually felt I was able to overcome the immediate, instinctual stress responses my latent racist tendencies gave rise to. I guess it worked, because when I took the implicit bias test posted here previously on the blue, my results showed no negative biases against the images of blacks in the study, and in fact, I had a slightly negative bias against the images of whites. And I don't really get nervous anymore when I'm approached by some black dude in the parking garage late at night or whatever. It's worth it for the extra little bit of peace of mind alone.

My own experience in this area has led me to conclude, that implicit racial bias at least (evidence of which is usually offered up as proof on the "racism is natural and hardwired" side of the debate) is not biologically innate, though it has biological components, and that it can at least in some cases be deliberately overcome or mitigated through intentional conscious effort and certain kinds of deliberative and/or meditative practices.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:06 AM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


("...and I have no doubt this particular strain of psychological flora could quickly take root there again without ongoing maintenance.")
posted by saulgoodman at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2011


They were the racists in this situation.

Or, not.
posted by cashman at 11:10 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


The author is a woman.

OMG you still believe in gender specific pronouns? Seriously, check your privilege at the door before you comment on this site. Next thing I know, you'll be telling me "guy" isn't a pronoun.
posted by Acromion at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2011


They were the racists in this situation

They sound not necessarily racist, but just your garden-variety asshole. I mean, they could definitely be both, but your description sounds more like everyday punk kids.
posted by modernnomad at 11:12 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you think being threatened with a knife and "I'll burn your fucking house down you white motherfucker" is the same as "a black girl made fun of me in school" you're in a waaaay different headspace than me.

But most everyone is, so whatever.
posted by chronkite at 11:15 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I was 16 I attended this one-week summer camp for Los Angeles area high school students called "Brotherhood Sisterhood Camp". It was run, until 2003, by the National Conference of Christians and Jews-now the National Conference for Community and Justice [they didn't have to change all that logo stationery!] I don't know why they stopped running the camp, but it was a transformative experience in my life that I still think back to.
I was a 16 year old white, jewish, straight "progressive girl. I attended public school my entire life-LAUSD magnets-where we had more than enough "diversity and tolerance" training, both formal and just in living. 3 days before the camp began, I returned from 6 weeks in Poland and Israel with a bunch of other kids who were just like me.
Anyway, here's a crappy transcript of the piece NewsHour did on the program while I was there.
It was an intense experience-but also one of the most well-run operations I've seen. Each of the days of camp was themed by a way to divide: race, gender, religion, immigration status, sexual preference, physical appearance-on each day in addition to the kinds of programs and "games" you might expect [things like guys having to walk down a catcall line of women as part of gender day], on each day you had a process group [that was intentionally diverse] of 6 or 7 kids, and also sat in groups based upon where you fit in to that theme [I was in the white group, the straight group, the female group, the Jews, etc, etc]. The adult leaders were therapists, guidance counselors, and social workers-the really good kind, who were capable of both leading us in new directions, following wherever our conversations went, and making everyone feel like it was a safe space to really explore all of these issues/ideas. B/S Camp is where I first learned a skill I continue to employ today-the intentional "I" statement.
In the transcript, closer to the bottom, they start talking about the "power grid". It's a really simple exercise in physically and visually manifesting societal hierarchies. Before the program, each "race group" was asked to list how we thought "society" viewed the different racial groups vis a vis power and privilege. The floor of this large auditorium was broken up by masking tape lines. Everyone started together at the back of the room, and then the leader read off one of the group's list, asking groups one-at-a-time to move into the slots on the floor. Slot one was the stage of the auditorium. And so 5 times, I [and all the other white people] walked from the back of the room and up on a stage to look out over everyone. And 5 times the Native American kids stood in the back of the room. (There was some interesting shifting in the 2,3,4 slots, but I don't remember what it was anymore). [PBS totally has footage of 16yrold me bawling my f'in eyes out while standing on a stage of other white kids looking down at the the rest of the room.]
That was the day I discovered Privilege.
I didn't, and still don't, self-identify as I white person. For a variety of personal and social reasons I saw myself as a Jew, emphatically NOT a white person. That night I realized that while it was important/good/right to self-identify as I chose, it also mattered that the rest of the world saw me as a white, blond haired, blue-eyed woman-and treated/treats me as such. And I can't disavow that privilege because I choose not to self-identify as white. It's my responsibility to recognize it as well as the [literal] privilege it provides me, and to work to find ways to privilege everyone. It was hard to pretend that privilege didn't include me-I was standing on a fucking stage.
The transcript also quotes some of kids who weren't white. They were confused why the white kids were so upset by the whole activity-we were on top! which is awesome. And, duh, didn't we already know this?
And that's sort of the point. I was 16, but i wasn't stupid. I intuitively understood the broadstrokes and effects of this Privilege-but I was different! I abdicated that privilege. Yeah, you can't. It doesn't work that way. But it's a really startling thing to begin to understand something you should have known all along. [And when you're 16 that means you cry. Oh, there was so much crying.]
I'm unsure how to explain to you that this wasn't some sort of "see you men and how it feels to be catcalled! You're bad! Change!" kind of a week. It most emphatically wasn't. It wasn't about shaming or ridicule-it was about being put in a position to make these kinds of discoveries about the world and beginning the baby steps of communicating with each other about them. I think that was the last place/time I felt that secure [with others] to explore about all of those kinds of things.
posted by atomicstone at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2011 [24 favorites]


A lot of this is hard-wired in.

No, the capacity for tribalism and forming in/out groups and social hierarchies, etc., seems hardwired, but the specific expression of these capacities in the form of racism is likely a function of culture. That's why there are so many historical counter examples to the idea that racism is hardwired throughout the world (and there are plenty of them).


Yes, that was more or less what I was trying to point out. The tendencies are always there, and they can be avoided if one is aware of them and works to counteract them. It is not impossible to stop being racist; it is impossible to have a population of standard-issue humans without any risk of racism arising. The first step is clearly to be aware of the tendency towards tribalism, in-groups, hierarchies, the fundamental attribution error, and so on.

Or, for shorthand and specifically in modern America (and most Western nations, really), to be aware of the fact that everyone really is a little bit racist. Our culture is emphatically NOT one of the lucky ones that built mechanisms that kept the monkey-brain in check.
posted by Scattercat at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2011


They were the racists in this situation. I saw them as a bunch of dumb kids that needed a lesson in civic responsibility, and they saw me as identical to every other white person, The Man, a cracker motherfucker they could laugh at and threaten and intimidate, and who would always clean up their mess.

They said you were the person who cleaned up their mess because that is exactly what you were. When you asked them, "Who do you think cleans this stuff up?" you asked them while cleaning their mess up.

They thought they could laugh at and threaten and intimidate you because they were punk assholes (evidence includes the fact that they were littering without a care in the world) and because there were fifteen of them and one of you.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:20 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I know times are hard in the media biz, but do they not have editors on The Stranger

Well, they do have a public editor.
posted by y2karl at 11:20 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That also had an impact on my opinion of him and his friends

Just him and his friends? Or did it, by extension, impact your opinion of black kids as "being the type of people that" act this way?
posted by naju at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or, not.

See, this is part of why white people are so tentative about discussing race -- the very definition of "racism" shifts from moment to moment. In the original article, the author wants to shame her students, so she uses the very broad definition "[ever] had a negative thought based on racial bias". But when someone in this thread tries to point out an example of non-whites acting on racial bias, suddenly racism is only, narrowly, "structural oppression of non-whites".

I remember this shell game well from when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley ('88-'92), and my response is (a) to continue not engaging or supporting oppression of non-whites and (b) never to talk about it.

(BTW, I'm not talking about it now. Nope.)
posted by The Tensor at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


chronkite -

These smug liberal whites can't conceive of their pet minorities acting in a racist way. It is one of the tenets of the Church of Diversity that People of Color are incapable of racism. They know this because they read about it in a sociology text book at their liberal arts university. Despite their condescending rhetoric, their political views are a matter of fashion, and are hardly ever acted out in a politically significant way. How many of these people would actually send their kids to a mostly black school?

A good definition of SWPLs (Stuff White People Like)

Post-Ethnic West-Caucasians who try to prove their un-whiteness; having been saturated in affluence, and having filled their need for identity through gross consumerism, they play the anti-white-status game in attempt to gain affirmation from others and so obtain self-actualization.
posted by Acromion at 11:24 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


jesus fucking christ, acromion
posted by beefetish at 11:26 AM on September 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Acromion, I'm trying really hard not to police my own thread, but please cut that shit out. The whole point of the linked article, as I read it, is that 'racist' needs to stop being a term that we use to label other people as bad and start looking at how we, each of us is racist and how we can attempt to better that behavior.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Acromion there's a lot of loaded wording in your comment - we'd have an easier time listening to what you say if it were the sentences didn't have little spikes and barbs all over them.
posted by closetphilosopher at 11:29 AM on September 7, 2011


Always use Preview, kids.
posted by closetphilosopher at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2011


See, this is part of why white people are so tentative about discussing race -- the very definition of "racism" shifts from moment to moment.

What? It's pretty much been the whole structural thing from the beginning. Equalize society and MLK Jr. wouldn't have cared if you called his momma a peacock. If it was one, or even five white people saying they were going to burn down black people's houses, nobody would care. It's the societal monster that gives it force.

But most everyone is, so whatever.

I'm sorry that happened to you. Those people were jerks.
posted by cashman at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know, chronkite, I agree with you that littering is bad. On the other hand, though, maybe they weren't dumb kids. Maybe they were smart kids who didn't grow up getting the same education about civic responsibility that you might have. Maybe they grew up in a community that was bitter about suffering from discrimination for hundreds of years. Maybe they already knew they would have less opportunities in life than you and your kids. Maybe they already knew that this country messes with black people by being less likely to hire them for jobs and more likely to arrest and incarcerate them. Maybe they knew that littering and calling you names was about as much as they could do to get back at the system that was messing with them.
posted by snofoam at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


One of the huge traps when talking about racism is reductionism: making race monolithic, turning power and morality into binary values.

Race is one spectrum of power and privilege. Gender is another, as is class, language fluency, citizenship, education, sexuality, and so on, and all of these spectrums overlap like bars on a cage. People aren't ever trapped by just one, and you can be trapped on the outside of the cage just as surely as on the inside.

There is always more going on. Take the jaywalking example. The scenario described is one wherein race, class, wealth, infrastructure allocation, national and regional history, federal law, state law, city law, and car ownership all intersect, or could intersect.

The best discussions on race—on most anything—are ones that acknowledge multiple narratives and recognize the value of different models of events even when they conflict with each other. Not ones in which people try to argue about which particular model of events is wrong. They're all wrong; that's why they're claled narratives and models.
posted by jsturgill at 11:37 AM on September 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


called narratives...
posted by jsturgill at 11:38 AM on September 7, 2011


the very definition of "racism" shifts from moment to moment

Well, aside from the "white/non-white" dichotomy it's more or less standard for the academic study of racism even if it's not always what's meant in common discourse. The white/non-white thing really needs to be put into the context of a majority-white society for it to make sense, because otherwise by definition there would be no racism in Japan or China for example, which more than a few foreign nationals living in those countries might object to.
posted by Hoopo at 11:42 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


See, this is part of why white people are so tentative about discussing race -- the very definition of "racism" shifts from moment to moment.

What? It's pretty much been the whole structural thing from the beginning.


Oh, I agree that the structural thing is a more workable definition when it comes to addressing the social problem, but have you read the article? The author does this to her students:
So I throw it out there: Raise your hand if you're a racist.

As my students do that thing where they sort of just look at you, perplexed, I raise my own hand. I am deeply embarrassed, but I feel I have to be honest if I am asking them to be.

"You've never had a negative thought based on racial bias?" I ask.

Very slowly, arms begin to rise. I understand their confusion. Theirs is a generation in which we have elected a mixed-race president, but affirmative action has been struck down for being racist.
For the author, racism is a thoughtcrime.
posted by The Tensor at 11:45 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These smug liberal whites can't conceive of their pet minorities acting in a racist way.

WTF? What are you trying to do here? Of course there are some blacks who harbor racial resentment against whites. Has anybody here really suggested otherwise? The point I think some were making is that the aggressive behavior of these guys would probably have taken more or less the same form regardless of any of the racist cultural content of their speech.

If they'd been a pack of "macho" white rednecks from my high school, for example, they would have probably abused you in basically the same way, only they might have harassed you on the basis of effeminacy or some other bogus rationale (called you "queer" or "bitch" just to give themselves an opportunity to feel socially dominant over you due to their aggressive young male psychologies--yes, that kind of thing happens a lot, too. Hell, back in PC when I lived there, I remember countless incidents when bored rednecks just started following kids I knew around town in their big monster trucks to harass them for sport; the young male demographic just contains a lot of aggressive, potentially dangerous assholes in general).

All the same, whether the underlying motivators behind those kids' threats and abuses toward you were strictly racist or not, that's no excuse for how they treated you.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


See, this is part of why white people are so tentative about discussing race -- the very definition of "racism" shifts from moment to moment. In the original article, the author wants to shame her students, so she uses the very broad definition "[ever] had a negative thought based on racial bias". But when someone in this thread tries to point out an example of non-whites acting on racial bias, suddenly racism is only, narrowly, "structural oppression of non-whites".

Well, except one is a teaching moment (whether well- or ill-handled) as part of a class and the other is the basic definition. There are a couple of things going on in this thread:

1. The idea that gross racism is the only racism. This belief is a serious problem, since it masks much of the machinery of racism. Yes, the KKK were racist, but organizations like that are only one visible manifestation of racism. Denouncing the Klan is great, but it is not the end of racism. Or, you know, the poor would not be disproportionately black.

2. Racism is tied to power. So the kids throwing shit on the lawn, above, were being jerks, but not racists in the general sense, even if they express their jerkiness via racial language. chronkite, as a white homeowner, has a lot more tools to use, should he decide to use them -- the police are far more likely to take his side in a dispute, for example. I am not excusing the kids, but, if push came to shove, they are not the people who have the apparatus of the state on their side. I go on at more length here.

3. Race is not Class, but they are related. As I point out above, race and class are tightly bound together (especially in the US), and it's easy to dismiss situations as "that's race" or "that's really class," when they are bound together. Going back to cronkite's situation, that group of kids sounded as much like poor kids (with "less to lose," especially if they were pretty certain that cronkite couldn't identify them and talk to their parents) as black kids. The interaction would have been pretty much the same.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


(Or rather, for how they treated Chronkite, not Acromion, since it was his comment on Chronkite's behalf I was addressing.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2011


But doesn't she lead off with saying:
and it hit me that because there wasn't a black person in the room, things were getting abstract.
So she's talking to a class full of all or almost entirely all white people, in American society, who are part of that structure, who benefit from it. The power comes from that societal backing.
posted by cashman at 11:52 AM on September 7, 2011


I remember this shell game well from when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley ('88-'92), and my response is (a) to continue not engaging or supporting oppression of non-whites and (b) never to talk about it.

Being silent on matters of race contributes your personal implicit support to racial oppression. So, by doing the second, you're not really doing the first one.

Anyway, I'd prefer it if you didn't refer to us "non-whites" in terms of what we're not.

For the author, racism is a thoughtcrime.

No. For the author, racism is endemic and much more prevalent than most people believe, but if, as is her thesis, everyone is a little bit racist, then by extension the presence of racism in one's thoughts is not criminal but inevitable. She raises her own hand first. It's been a while since I read Orwell, but I'm pretty sure I remember what happens to people accused of thoughtcrime, and it's hard to imagine anyone volunteering for it.
posted by Errant at 11:53 AM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


It sucks to examine your own life and realize you have done/thought racist things, and then come to the realization that you will likely continue to to do so. We of the privileged white folk are really well socialized to avoid this. This kind of thinking, this kind of self-awareness is anathema to much of white culture.

The Tensor, I respect that you have a problem with racism defined as "thoughtcrime," and certainly that is benign when compared to the institutional oppression that most folks are talking about around here, but I can also understand and agree with the author's intentions behind the exercise. Yes it's a controversial way to discuss it, but it's also jarring, and a great way to help young people who've never really thought about it before, to shock them into a state of doubt about their own perceptions. Doubt, in my book, is always a good thing because it usually leads to better knowledge.

Just like it's important for researchers to recognize bias and compensate for it, isn't also a good thing to recognize racism, even if it only lurks in the dark corners of our minds, to ferret it out and into the sunlight so it doesn't have a chance to grow into something far worse?
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:56 AM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was not aware of this "black people walk down the middle of the street" phenomenon. I have never seen this, in any city I've been to.

I actually see this quite a bit. I live in South Seattle, in Rainier Valley, and in my immediate neighborhood, black people are by far the majority. However, I only see this on the side streets. I haven't seen anyone try to walk down the middle of MLK or Rainier Ave.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:03 PM on September 7, 2011


Being silent on matters of race contributes your personal implicit support to racial oppression. So, by doing the second, you're not really doing the first one.

See, this is why I don't talk about race. I raise a pretty straightforward point about discourse and definitions and in short order get accused of being a racist. Do you understand how incredibly off-putting that is? Does that seem like a productive way to build support for racial equality?

Anyway, having received the traditional reward for talking about race, I'm done. Have fun talking about knapsacks.
posted by The Tensor at 12:05 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


See, this is why I don't talk about race.

You were take your ball and go homing it from the first post. Really, your attempts to make it everybody else's fault but your own that you don't talk about race aren't really working. If you don't want to talk about it, and would prefer to work on just being nonracist, okay, come back when you're ready. But really, nothing is stopping you. If you're worried that you're going to feel uncomfortable trying to navigate what is and isn't racist, and get weary having to think through things that occur, welcome to real life.
posted by cashman at 12:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


not to be a dick tensor but if you're already on the top of the racism heap maybe it's a show of good faith to not take your ball and go home if you (plural) get criticized for being racist. maybe the fact that this seems to be something that makes you hella uncomfortable bears examining. just saying, not saying.
posted by beefetish at 12:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jinx, you owe me a racist coke, beefetish.
posted by cashman at 12:12 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Initially at least, laws and affirmative actions do help to bring the barriers down. Someone upthread said things about the people discussing this topic here that put them down.

I'd just like to say thank you for not only talking about it this far down the line of how far society in your country has come, for all its shortcomings you may point to, but also for the understanding that there is still further to go.

This is where I lived for past couple of years, the last 6 months of which were unemployed after a sudden termination of my contract. There are no laws, no EEO&E, and whenever I'd ask my friends why such blatant discrimination was allowed, they would tell me how theirs was a democratic society, and everyone was equal, therefore there could not be any discrimination. Because putting in such laws would then give one segment a leg up over the majority, i.e. not making it equal.
posted by infini at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I raise a pretty straightforward point about discourse and definitions and in short order get accused of being a racist.

No, you weren't. At least, not by me.
posted by Errant at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2011


and in short order get accused of being a racist.

Who isn't racist? Show of hands?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:14 PM on September 7, 2011


'The test of how racist you are is not how many people of color you can count as friends,' ... 'It's how many white people you're willing to talk to about racism.'

The test of how racist you are is how you act towards, and feel, think and talk about people of other races. End of. Stop dancing around the bloody point.


Decani, what you're describing there is more like prejudice than racism. Racism is about more than personal attitudes. It's about all the ways our society is set up so that black people (on average) have a much harder time in life than white people do.

It's great when people are not-prejudiced in their personal attitudes, but I think it makes sense to say that for someone to really be not-racist, they need to be willing to at least recognize and talk about--if not actively work to help fix--the things in our society that make it harder to be black than white. Someone who refuses to even discuss the ways that our society is racist is really still part of the problem, part of the racist system.
posted by straight at 12:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe that's not clear enough. You can't not support racial oppression if you never openly confront racial issues. You are in here talking about those issues; that's fine. You don't have to talk about them here, of course, but you do have to confront them overtly somewhere. Never talking about the unequal power structure reinforces that structure, especially when you benefit from its inequality.

For what it's worth, being called a racist shouldn't be the end of the world, which is the point the article is making, but I guess that's not the subject we're on now. Not talking about race ever is your choice to make, but you cannot then claim to not support oppression, when you're choosing of your own volition to be a bystander. You can't do your a) and b) at the same time, so if you want to do a), you're going to have to discard b). If you think that's me calling you a racist, well, ok, but you have to want that reading pretty bad, I think.
posted by Errant at 12:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe that's not clear enough. You can't not support racial oppression if you never openly confront racial issues. You are in here talking about those issues; that's fine. You don't have to talk about them here, of course, but you do have to confront them overtly somewhere. Never talking about the unequal power structure reinforces that structure, especially when you benefit from its inequality.

This.
posted by infini at 12:31 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I raise a pretty straightforward point about discourse and definitions and in short order get accused of being a racist.

I think there's a real misunderstanding here. You think people are using the word "racist" to say "You are a bad person" when they are trying to use the word "racist" to say, "We live in a society with serious problems, are you willing to help fix them?"
posted by straight at 12:33 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


You're at the card table, the dealer slips you an extra card every so often - you didn't ask for it. You decide to keep schtumm. You're not saying anything about it either way right? Yeah, no complicity there, you're golden.

Why is everyone else going on about the extra cards? It happens to everyone, right?Guys?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:38 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


It sucks to examine your own life and realize you have done/thought racist things, and then come to the realization that you will likely continue to to do so

I struggle with this, because I try as best I can to not harbor racist or bigoted thoughts, but the problem is that I often don't realize they are in there until one bubbles up and I'm caught off guard wondering "Where the shit that came from?!"

I try in life to be as equatable in my friendships as I can; judging people on the quality of their awesomeness, not the color of their skin, the religion they do or don't believe in, or the gender they are attracted to, or other things that are important to them as a person, but not to my ability to treat them fairly.

But I still constantly worry that my unconscious prejudices shape me more than I shape them, and that I'm saying or doing something that is offending people I care about.

I sure hope not, and more importantly, I hope that I've established myself to my friends as the kind of person that can be called out when needed.
posted by quin at 12:39 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also obligatory, and better than my last snarky link.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:43 PM on September 7, 2011


You can't not support racial oppression if you never openly confront racial issues

He said he was, although with actions instead of words. That's not a bad thing, actually.
posted by Hoopo at 12:47 PM on September 7, 2011


Gaddamnit.

Everyone out of the pool. Now!
posted by black8 at 1:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were the racists in this situation.

The only one mentioning race in your story is you.
posted by kmz at 1:14 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If Avenue Q taught me anything, it's that everyone's a little bit racist.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:24 PM on September 7, 2011


> I think there's a real misunderstanding here. You think people are using the word "racist" to
> say "You are a bad person" when they are trying to use the word "racist" to say, "We live
> in a society with serious problems, are you willing to help fix them?"

This is so far away from actual--and supremely well known--everyday practice it's breathtaking. In 99.99% of instances people who call others racist intend it as a fighting word and are saying "this is a bad person." (Except when they mean "These are bad people.")
posted by jfuller at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


A few weeks ago, I spent all day at the USCIS office (9am-4:30pm) for my citizenship interview. I, a white woman, finished my interview with a black woman at 12pm. I then waited for over four hours to get my ceremony notice ("Come back in two weeks," they said). A black man came in after my interview was finished, around 1pm, got interviewed, and left with his notice at 3pm. He was interviewed by the same black woman.

Now, if all those colors were reversed, do you think that my friends would be saying "damn, your interviewer was racist!"? Somehow, I have a feeling they would.

Not saying it was. Just saying that things go one way and don't seem to work the other way. And that may not be entirely fair. Yes, I'm a privileged (albeit Jewish) white person, la di a.
posted by litnerd at 1:43 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


the author wants to shame her students

I understood the author to have the opposite intent.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the small rural town I used to live in in Maryland the kids would get out of school and walk home past my house, which was right on the edge of a predominately black neighborhood.

Almost every day, a group of fifteen or so black kids would go to the Qwik-E-Mart, buy snacks and sodas, then walk home throwing the wrappers and cans and napkins down on the ground.

For weeks I picked it all up after them, then got sick of it and asked them "Who do you think picks all this trash up?"

They looked at the trash in my hands and laughed.

"You, motherfucker!"

Whattaya know, that event affected the way I looked at those kids from that point on.

Next time I told one of them to pick his trash up out of my yard, he said he'd "fucking stick me and burn my house down".

That also had an impact on my opinion of him and his friends.

They were the racists in this situation. I saw them as a bunch of dumb kids that needed a lesson in civic responsibility, and they saw me as identical to every other white person, The Man, a cracker motherfucker they could laugh at and threaten and intimidate, and who would always clean up their mess.
posted by chronkite at 11:03 AM on September 7 [4 favorites +] [!]


Yeah, well, there was this one Austrian guy in Germany who...
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2011


I think there are times when kids (of various colors) who feel outside of society 'cause they're kids and/or because of the race or class reality will seemingly intentionally do things contrary to civic responsibility, like littering or acting out on the bus e.g. yelling or refusing to share a seat. Which makes grownups (who perhaps tend to feel inside of society) really frustrated. And at least in the urban areas where I have lived or spent time, with the demographics of poor families scraping by on the edges and swaths of middle/upper middle class whites, the kids in those scenarios are pretty diverse and often black and the grownups are less diverse and often white. I have witnessed some interactions that call chronkite's anecdote to mind, and have had my own awkward interactions. I don't have answers but I think one factor is to build relationships. (This is hard because of our residential segregation by class and race.) No kid wants to hear scolding from a stranger adult. But when adults and kids have ongoing interactions, people can hear maybe one another.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:14 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not saying it was. Just saying that things go one way and don't seem to work the other way. And that may not be entirely fair. Yes, I'm a privileged (albeit Jewish) white person, la di a.

How do you know it wasn't sexism? Or the fact that your interviewer was a woman who may or may not have had any sexual interest in you? It's just as likely, if there was any unintentional favoritism in your scenario, that it had to do with sexual politics and the ability of casual flirtation to grease the wheels of bureaucracy? Besides, how do you really know the details of the situation were identical? Did you ask the guy a bunch of questions or follow him along the way?

To just automatically imagine there's some kind of element of racism involved in your situation without any direct evidence of it does seem a little dubious to me.

What if you just have an abrasive manner, but don't realize it, and that makes Joe and Jane Cubicle-Dweller inclined to drag their feet when serving you?

You're just ignoring so many other possibilities and unknowns...
posted by saulgoodman at 2:15 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


To just automatically imagine there's some kind of element of racism involved in your situation without any direct evidence of it does seem a little dubious to me.

But that's exactly my point. If the colors were reversed, it would be colored (no pun intended) as racism immediately and without question. But because I'm white and my interviewer was black, I have to go through every possible scenario and evidence before deeming it so.
posted by litnerd at 2:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the colors were reversed, it would be colored (no pun intended) as racism immediately and without question.

I don't think that's true.
posted by Vibrissa at 2:32 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Accusations of racism against white people, as always, is the wrongeddy-wrongest thing in our culture today. To suggest otherwise is to contradict this one thing that happened this one time all reason!
posted by feckless at 2:37 PM on September 7, 2011


I mean, maybe I'm less aware of racism than many people, and also I have no experience with the process of applying for citizenship so I don't have any idea how it ought to work, but unless there are other racially-charged details you left out, I think if you told me that a white dude got through significantly faster than a black woman after being interviewed by a white woman, I would just assume that those two isolated data points weren't very meaningful and probably his situation was different from hers in some way.
posted by Vibrissa at 2:38 PM on September 7, 2011


This is so far away from actual--and supremely well known--everyday practice it's breathtaking.

The purpose of the article and what some of us are saying is to attempt to move the conversation away from racism as a rhetorical bludgeon, which is its frequent everyday usage, and to a place where racism issues can be addressed by people from all over the diversity spectrum without feeling like they are branding themselves with a scarlet R for all time. It is really, really important for white people to be able to talk about racism too, but that's difficult until the fear of stigmatization is alleviated, and that's difficult until the urge to stigmatize is replaced with the urge to converse messily and openly.

So, yes, it's far away from everyday practice. But everyday practice sucks and doesn't help anyone. Treating people like they are outcasts and thoughtcriminals for harboring racist thoughts, when there's a case to be made that everyone has racist thoughts, causes the subject of race to become taboo. In that taboo, aversive racism festers. When accusations of racism work this way, people either know that they are inevitably bad and feel guilty, or they know that they're not bad and scorn the topic entirely as trying to make them feel bad. Neither outcome is at all useful; neither guilt nor scorn are productive. So the way we talk about racism needs to change for the conversation to be inclusive. One still has to come to the discussion ready to work, but one should also be able to do that work without fear of the occasional mistake or permanent opprobrium instead of honoring a good-faith effort.
posted by Errant at 2:40 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


(By the way, I had one of the simplest and most straightforward naturalization scenarios possible. I've lived here nearly all my life, I've always been here legally, I haven't had any trips outside the country in the last however many years they asked about, etc. Again, I wasn't saying I was a victim of racism. I was only saying, that I think if the colors of the people involved in the scenario were reversed, outsiders would have a very different perception of what happened. I could also be wrong.)

I do think it's wrong to designate racism strictly as a "white problem," which is what I felt this article did. It's a horribly narrow-minded view of a very complicated social issue.
posted by litnerd at 2:44 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


ironically, litnerd, "things go one way and don't seem to work the other way. And that may not be entirely fair"

sounds a lot like the very concept of systemic inequality based on race

anyway lit, it sounds like you are thinking about racism in your comment upthread like the act you are talking about occurs in a vacuum, so the kind of rhetorical weight of a minority taking hella much longer to get processed in some bureaucratic fashion that exists in reality is not considered. in your example, you have to go through "every possible example before deeming it so" because in america, white people are overwhelmingly not the victims of institutional discrimination....
posted by beefetish at 2:48 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


also i cannot say this enough times but for fuck's sake the article is about Seattle, a town that is brimming with white people and (anecdotally) has trouble with white people being willing to talk about race. i do not think this is a one size fits all article.

i do think that it is not good faith for white people to bust into racism talks being all like "WELL BUT WHAT ABOUT RACIST ACTS AGAINST WHITE PEOPLE" because holy shit way to set off the same vein that gets throbby when men are like "WELL MEN ARE SEXISTED AGAINST TOO". OK. yes. this is true. but acknowledging your own privilege is not going to get you struck by a meteor, man, it is not a huge deal among the thinsg of this earth
posted by beefetish at 2:50 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I also used to live up on Martha's Vineyard. Absolutely the most racist shitty classist place I have ever been. Nice beaches though.

Kind of a hard place to get to from Boston, surprisingly. There's virtually no signs or directions posted, and also the bridges over the highways were purposefully built too low for city busses to get under.

Sure, some upper class blacks vacationed on the island, at least on the designated week. At a pond, and I shit you not, called The Inkwell.

In my experience most of the really bad racism in America is institutionalized, and the street level stuff is fine. We're all weirdos.

Here in Tucson I know two black people, one is a nerdy kid who came into the shop that is WAY into Diablo II, and the other is a barista girl next door with very rich parents who faints at the sight of meat. Weirdos.

Also, while I was typing an earlier comment a black girl came into the shop to ask me for three dollars. First time that's ever happened, black or white.

And just now another guy, very friendly and also black, came in handing out fliers for the barber shop he just opened. First cut $5! We discussed the possibility of transforming a big GUCCI tattoo on his arm into a barber's pole.

Looking at things through the lens of race is like the way Dark Side of the Moon matches up to the Wizard of Oz. Your brain sees connections even (especially) when there are none.
posted by chronkite at 2:50 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


litnerd: “I do think it's wrong to designate racism strictly as a "white problem," which is what I felt this article did. It's a horribly narrow-minded view of a very complicated social issue.”

The article was talking about white privilege. Are you seriously suggesting that the article should have dealt with 'black privilege' or 'nonwhite privilege?'
posted by koeselitz at 2:51 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


But that's exactly my point. If the colors were reversed, it would be colored (no pun intended) as racism immediately and without question. But because I'm white and my interviewer was black, I have to go through every possible scenario and evidence before deeming it so.

Is this type of thing really a big enough problem in your life that it seems worth it to you to derail a conversation about institutional racism with a story about that lady one time at the place? It's one of those things that comes up often enough that the onus should be on the spiel monger to seek out for their self some of the common answers to their objections. So, to reiterate, we're talking about institutional racism. Your post about how some black person was maybe racist to you the other day isn't really relevant because it's a rare blip in a sample set that overwhelmingly indicates racism in the opposite direction. To compare what we're talking about with your experience is to severely diminish the scope of the real and biggest problem.

I do think it's wrong to designate racism strictly as a "white problem," which is what I felt this article did.

It's not. I think it's fair to say that whites benefit more than any other racial group from the present lay of inequality in the USA. Therefore getting whites on board with the fact that those inequalities are embedded in our institutions and our culture is probably the biggest hurdle in the way of fixing those inequalities. It's usually a good strategy to attack the biggest problems first, and that's what the article is advocating.
posted by invitapriore at 2:53 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you think being threatened with a knife and "I'll burn your fucking house down you white motherfucker" is the same as "a black girl made fun of me in school" you're in a waaaay different headspace than me.

If you think being threatened with a knife and "I'll burn your fucking house down you white motherfucker" is the same as being reminded every single day of your life that you are "other" and that this one physical characteristic that you have no control over somehow says more about who you are on the inside than who you actually are on the inside, then you're in a waaaaay different headspace than me.

Could you tell that story about those ignorant kids without mentioning what color they were? And if you can, why didn't you? Would their litter have missed the ground if the color of their skin were different? Would you have been less humiliated by their taunts if they were Asian kids?

posted by billyfleetwood at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your post about how some black person was maybe racist to you the other day isn't really relevant because it's a rare blip in a sample set that overwhelmingly indicates racism in the opposite direction. To compare what we're talking about with your experience is to severely diminish the scope of the real and biggest problem.

Isn't EVERYTHING anecdotal? Even the original article was chock full of "Oh yeah well one day..." stories.
posted by chronkite at 2:58 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


chronkite: “Looking at things through the lens of race is like the way Dark Side of the Moon matches up to the Wizard of Oz. Your brain sees connections even (especially) when there are none.”

Indeed. One might even end up calling some uncivil little kids who spit an obnoxious threat "racists" on the basis of the color of their skin, when in all likelihood they're probably just stupid kids who should know better.
posted by koeselitz at 2:58 PM on September 7, 2011


uncivil little kids who spit an obnoxious threat "racists" on the basis of the color of their skin

Dude, they screamed "WE GONNA BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN YOU WHITE MOTHERFUCKER!"

That's not racist?
posted by chronkite at 3:01 PM on September 7, 2011


Isn't EVERYTHING anecdotal? Even the original article was chock full of "Oh yeah well one day..." stories.

Yes, it was, but they were submitted as illustrations with the given that institutional racism exists, not as evidence for an argument. There is plenty of unequivocal, quantitative evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the structures of American society as they are favor white people at the expense of historically oppressed minorities.
posted by invitapriore at 3:03 PM on September 7, 2011


chronkite, your original comment didn't mention that – and yet you called them racists there, as though that were a foregone conclusion.

Tell me this, chronkite. Do you believe that white people in this country enjoy privileges that non-white people do not?
posted by koeselitz at 3:06 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude, they screamed "WE GONNA BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN YOU WHITE MOTHERFUCKER!"

That's not racist?


Sure it is, but who cares?

If I pee in your pool, then yes, you do have urine in your pool. If the guy down the street has a pool that's 80% urine, then yes, you would be correct in saying that you both have experienced pool-based urination. However, Only one of you is gonna smell like pee after your afternoon swim.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:08 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do you believe that white people in this country enjoy privileges that non-white people do not?

Honestly? No, I really don't.
posted by chronkite at 3:22 PM on September 7, 2011


Okay, I'll admit that I think I'm somewhat racist. But... isn't that okay?

I'm a half-Mexican, half-Polish adopted kid who grew up in southern New Hampshire to WASPy adoptive parents. I guess I think of myself as "white", except I don't really think of my race at all as a regular practice (and when we start getting a modicum of sun here in Seattle, I turn the color of cinnamon toast). Living here, I've definitely had those "black people on Metro readily exploit the unwillingness of white people (out of fear or guilt) to point out that they're being loud, obnoxious, or difficult, or overtly threatening violence" experiences similar to chronkite that, while they last and for a few minutes later, make me an unbelievable racist...

... in my head, that is. And I ask... isn't that actually okay? Much like that much-favorited classic comment (which I can never find, by I think grobstein) about "male privilege" really being "the privilege of a few" and the unfairness of suggesting all men get the same magical benefit... I feel like "white privilege" is something of an empty term. Things aren't a pure dichotomy, and everyone has an invisible knapsack they're carrying. And sure, some people have had the feeling that society has it out for them because of how they look... but what really can we do about it besides trying to act impartially ourselves, and supporting the idea of social/governmental solutions and laws?

Intellectually, in the voting booth, and as a matter of policy I support affirmative action programs and systemic solutions to class issues such as housing, health care, education, and job opportunities that have a historically racial element. So, if I have gut reactions at times that aren't pretty... what's the harm if I'm not acting on them? Watching people tie themselves in pretzel knots over the black manager/white woman application scenario... it's silly. You all know perfectly well that was discrimination going in the other direction, and it's no more okay just because it isn't as historically significant- it's just an asshole move, and it's one we on an individual level try to prevent ourselves from doing with any regularity. That's about all we can do.

And is it really so cut and dried as to suggest all white people get a special privilege, and all non-white people do not? Or that it's ever okay for ____ to lash out against _____ because there's a broad historical element of _____ getting the short end of the stick? Sometimes, you're just being a monumental asshole if you litter, or are rude on the bus, or jaywalk in a way intended to be difficult for people.
posted by hincandenza at 3:27 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Honestly? No, I really don't.

*facepalm*
posted by kmz at 3:36 PM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


me: “Do you believe that white people in this country enjoy privileges that non-white people do not?”

chronkite: “Honestly? No, I really don't.”

Does it mean anything to you that every single one of the successful black people you linked there disagree with you on this point? No, I guess maybe not.

But it makes some sense, I guess. If you can dismiss all the statistics and data available, and moreover dismiss the actual experience and testimony of nonwhite people by saying "isn't everything anecdotal?" – then you really have no reason to believe that racism ever existed at all in this country.

So that's the next question, I guess. Do you believe that white people in America have ever enjoyed privileges that non-white people didn't?
posted by koeselitz at 3:46 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Honestly? No, I really don't.

Well, if that's your point of view, then I can understand where you're coming from. Unfortunately, your viewpoint doesn't really reflect reality. Statistically, though not universally, white people enjoy privileges like not receiving death penalty sentences and not being stopped by police while driving.

Legacy candidates (i.e., kids with family who went there in the past) are still four times as likely to get into Harvard than the average applicant. Although it's not explicitly racial, it certainly benefits white people overall, and ends up being a pretty long term effect when you consider many legacies stretch back quite a way. Just think about how many white people benefit today from inherited money that dates back (not even necessarily so far) to times when overt racism was the norm.
posted by snofoam at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


*facepalm*

Ok, so why don't you list the privileges my struggling white ass has that Oprah, Obama, Chuck D, or hell the barista next door don't have.

I suspect a lot of the white folk here are secretly terrified of a world where we really are equal. They'd have to find something else to feel guilty about.

white people enjoy privileges like not receiving death penalty sentences and not being stopped by police while driving.

lol wut
posted by chronkite at 3:49 PM on September 7, 2011


So that's the next question, I guess. Do you believe that white people in America have ever enjoyed privileges that non-white people didn't?

Rosa Parks totally got to sit on the bus so that racial segregation stuff never happened.


Ok, so why don't you list the privileges my struggling white ass has that Oprah, Obama, Chuck D, or hell the barista next door don't have.

The barista next door, statistically speaking, is more likely to face more barriers than a white male would in trying to achieve a comparable lifestyle and set of opportunities. For a number of reasons, many of which together form the basis of institutional racism.

Your other examples overcame these barriers and are truly exceptional by any standard by virtue of having become some of the richest, most powerful people in America. Seriously, are you saying it was just as easy for Obama to rise to the Office of President as it was for Bush?
posted by Hoopo at 3:57 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought that the racial bias in capital punishment (and the legal system overall) was pretty much universally recognized by now, but if you didn't realize it, check this out. For example: University of Iowa law professor David Baldus found that during the 1980s prosecutors in Georgia sought the death penalty for 70 % of black defendants with white victims, but for only 15% of white defendants with black victims.
posted by snofoam at 3:58 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ok, so why don't you list the privileges my struggling white ass has that Oprah, Obama, Chuck D, or hell the barista next door don't have.

You're comparing apples to oranges. And being intentionally imperceptive, I think. IF you want to walk down this path, you would need to compare the rich famous black people to the rick famous white people.
Why YOU are not as rich or famous as Oprah has little bearing on the question. But, arguments about these rich, famous outliers is a bit silly. Because they're outliers.
And we're not talking about you, the individual, but you, the collective and the way that different slices of it [we] interact with other slices-both in institutional ways and socially.
But, sure, Oprah's holding you down.
posted by atomicstone at 4:02 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


lol wut

I think of it this way. My family struggled through the last couple of centuries on small farms in Tennessee and Mississippi. Their privilege was that they got to do that instead of being beaten to death and/or sold down the river at a whim. It ain't a Harvard legacy, but it's real.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:05 PM on September 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Do you believe that white people in America have ever enjoyed privileges that non-white people didn't?

*facepalm*

University of Iowa law professor David Baldus found that during the 1980s prosecutors in Georgia sought the death penalty for 70 % of black defendants with white victims, but for only 15% of white defendants with black victims.


That's institutional racism, for sure, but it's at the outlying fringe of human experience. Murders! They are horrific and relatively rare and very high profile and the prosecutors (especially in the south) are likely white. Perfect storm for a problem. Stamp out THAT PROBLEM, though, and go ahead and honk at the lopers.

Oprah's holding you down.

Mmmm...what's she wearing? Do go on. Lord knows I have a billionaire fetish.
posted by chronkite at 4:07 PM on September 7, 2011


Here's a list of privlieges that white folk, struggling or not, have:

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack

Hope that helps answer your question.
posted by twirlypen at 4:11 PM on September 7, 2011


Surprisingly enough, 22 year-old paper is kind of outdated.

I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

Ha. I'll give you the hairdresser's shop, maybe, but I always see at least one hairdresser in every salon I go to working on textured hair.
posted by litnerd at 4:21 PM on September 7, 2011


Yes, it's all about hair, litnerd.
posted by koeselitz at 4:22 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's institutional racism, for sure, but it's at the outlying fringe of human experience.

Sure, capital murder cases in general impact a small percentage of the population, but the same is generally true throughout the criminal justice system. Like, check this out. If you're a white kid caught with drugs you're way less likely to go to jail than if you're a black kid.

Or check this out:An August 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis shows that 32 percent of black males born in 2001 can expect to spend time in prison over the course of their lifetime. That is up from 13.4 percent in 1974 and 29.4 percent in 1991. By contrast, 17.2 percent of Hispanics and 5.9 percent of whites born in 2001 are likely to end up in prison.

That's a pretty big percentage of people, and it impacts not just the ones in jail, but their families, children, etc. In many states, felons aren't allowed to vote, etc., etc.

If you've (and I'm not saying you personally) ever been caught smoking a joint by a cop and he made you rub it into the dirt but let you go, then that's white privilege.
posted by snofoam at 4:22 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if part of the resistance to thinking about privilege and racism doesn't come from what, at least in some people's minds, the whole discussion might pre-suppose.

Basically, and I'm not saying that this is what those trying to educate others about white/male/straight ect. privilege actually believe, to some people the entire discussion might assume that it makes sense to think of society as a contest that sorts out winners from losers. If we just eliminated all "privileges" according to this line of thought then societal outcomes would be "fair" and "moral" in some way. Barring the actual elimination of those privileges, acknowledging them at least would allow us to excuse the "sins" of certain poor, unemployed, or otherwise economically and socially unsuccessful people provided they belong to groups deemed economically disadvantaged.

If an individual, especially say, a poor or "working class" white male, happens to carry these assumptions, then the whole discourse is triply threatening. It damns him for being "unsuccessful", unsuccessful despite his "privileges", and for possessing unearned privileges that put him above someone else.

I don't think that it is surprising that someone holding those assumptions would be resistant to even participating in the discussion.
posted by eagles123 at 4:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


chronkite: “Do you believe that white people in America have ever enjoyed privileges that non-white people didn't?”

chronkite: “*facepalm*”

Look, what I'm getting at with that question is this:

If you believe (as I have a feeling you do) that at some point in history our society was institutionally privileged toward white people, and you believe (as you say you do) that it isn't now – then when did this happen? What was the magical moment when racism suddenly disappeared? Or when racism became "balanced out," or whatever you'd like to say it is now?

Honestly, maybe you should ask the black people you interact with every day about this. Ask them if they think society is institutionally racist. You may be surprised at some of the things you hear.

chronkite: “Ok, so why don't you list the privileges my struggling white ass has that Oprah, Obama, Chuck D, or hell the barista next door don't have.”

The fact that you've struggled doesn't mean that other people haven't struggled more, and the fact that some people in a group have succeeded doesn't mean that the group as a whole isn't disadvantaged.
posted by koeselitz at 4:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


“Ok, so why don't you list the privileges my struggling white ass has that Oprah, Obama, Chuck D, or hell the barista next door don't have.”

So, if a handful of blacks are doing better than you, then...?
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:31 PM on September 7, 2011


Yes, it's about hair if you make it about hair. And it's about college admissions if you make it about college admissions. And it's about housing if you make it about housing.

Everything is superficial until you put it into context. Sometimes context doesn't fit the interpretation. In this case, the context of the text in 1989 may not fit in 2011.
posted by litnerd at 4:32 PM on September 7, 2011


Well, it's nice that we've narrowed that down. Apparently racism disappeared somewhere between 1989 and 2011.
posted by koeselitz at 4:34 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oops, that is what I get for posting quickly. The last line of paragraph two in my comment should end with "underprivledged or opressed in some way".
posted by eagles123 at 4:35 PM on September 7, 2011


I was tempted to put a disclaimer in with the 'invisible backpack' paper but I didn't think it was necessary.

Ahem: not everything on that list will necessarily be true today. Picking out one thing that is different does not negate the rest of the list.
posted by twirlypen at 4:39 PM on September 7, 2011


Text being outdated =/= Racism going away.

I'm just saying, it may not be the most relevant set of examples for today's societal experience. Trust me, I know racism exists--I live in the South. Does racism exist now in the same way it did in 1989? I'd say almost certainly not.
posted by litnerd at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2011


Just for the record, Derailing for Dummies is only worded as a guide for satirical purposes. Metafilter people aren't supposed to just work their way through it.
posted by jaduncan at 5:03 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Before we get totally lost in why white people don't want to talk about race, maybe we should listen to why black people don't want to talk about race (and consider the really good reading list there!).
posted by yeloson at 5:35 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


jaduncan, I'd like to also point out that my Art of Defending Racism thing was satire and not meant as a genuine how-to guide...
posted by yeloson at 5:36 PM on September 7, 2011


They were the racists in this situation. I saw them as a bunch of dumb kids that needed a lesson in civic responsibility, and they saw me as identical to every other white person, The Man, a cracker motherfucker they could laugh at and threaten and intimidate, and who would always clean up their mess.

They are also kids. You could try to remember that and do the right thing by way of example, rather than harbor resentments. I'm sure doing the latter won't change anything and might reinforce or widen the gap between you.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:43 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


32 percent of black males born in 2001 can expect to spend time in prison over the course of their lifetime

WHAT!??! That's like 1 out of 3! That's fucking shameful.

You know, with respect to sexism and racism, as a kid I thought they were something that was related to attitudes held over from our parents, and possibly our grandparents, generations. It would fade away in time as I and my cohort grew up and they retired, because we were taught differently and shown that racism and sexism were wrong from an early age. Our generation never grew up with segregation or anything like that; girls didn't have to do Home Ec while boys did Shop class; etc.

Now 20 years later it's pretty fucking obvious it wasn't just our parents.
posted by Hoopo at 5:59 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thanks for linking to your blog, Yeloson.

do you have any other entries from your blog you'd like to share?

also could you do a youtube reading of them, for like the blind

also make sure to record yourself actually speaking for people who can read lips
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:35 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just for the record, Derailing for Dummies is only worded as a guide for satirical purposes. Metafilter people aren't supposed to just work their way through it.

Seriously, so many of the comments have been practically textbook derailing, I almost suspect some kind of weird false flag thing. But I know that's giving way too much credit. (And apparently some people here don't realize Stephen Colbert is also satire.)
posted by kmz at 6:48 PM on September 7, 2011


As a side note about the street loping, the first thing that came to mind as I was reading the article is the 1990 Newbery book Maniac Magee, which was one of the first kids' books I read about modern racial tensions.

" There wasn't an eleven year old in the East End who could stand up to Mars Bar's glare. In the West End, even high schoolers were known to crumble under the glare. To old ladies on both sides of Hector Street, it was all but fatal. And when Mars Bar stepped off a curb and combined the glare with his super slow dip stride Slumpshuffle, well, it was said he could back up traffic all the way to Bridgeport while he took ten minutes to cross the street. But not this time. This time Mars Bar was up against an East End lady in her prime, and she was matching him eyeball for eyeball. And when it was over, only one glare was left standing, and it wasn't Mars Bar's.


Anyway. It's a vaguely related cultural reference from 20 years ago.
posted by redsparkler at 7:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Making racism be the Worst Thing Ever has backfired, because now many people either refuse to admit that they're racist, redefine themselves out of being racist, or otherwise refuse to talk about racism, except for the idea that racism is an evil thing that Other people do or have.
Making pedophilia to be the Worst Think Ever has backfired, because now many people refuse to admit they're pedos, redefine themselves out of being pedos, or otherwise refuse to talk about pedophila, except for the idea that pedophilia is an evil thing that Other people do or have.
They were the racists in this situation. I saw them as a bunch of dumb kids that needed a lesson in civic responsibility, and they saw me as identical to every other white person, The Man, a cracker motherfucker they could laugh at and threaten and intimidate, and who would always clean up their mess.
What the hell are you talking about? How do you know those kids wouldn't have acted the same way if you'd been black? The only difference is that if you were you wouldn't blamed all black people for their behavior, just them.

The whole thing about "They saw me as bla, bla, bla" stuff is something you just made up in your head and attributed to them.
These smug liberal whites can't conceive of their pet minorities acting in a racist way. It is one of the tenets of the Church of Diversity that People of Color are incapable of racism.
Except chronkite didn't give an example of racism, he gave an example of dickish behavior. Then he called it racist in order to bolster the idea that white people are just as oppressed by racism as black people. The question is whether or not those kids would have said the same thing to a black guy telling them the same thing. (he later gave an example of someone calling him a 'white motherfucker' or something like that in a different comment)
Ok, so why don't you list the privileges my struggling white ass has that Oprah, Obama, Chuck D, or hell the barista next door don't have.
One of the people you mentioned was Condi Rice. She actually wrote a book about what it was like to grow up in the south during the civil rights era. She may have had a more privileged life then most people, but her parents didn't. Oprah actually grew up in extreme poverty. From Wikipedia
After Winfrey's birth, her mother traveled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee (April 15, 1900 – February 27, 1963), who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her.
Did you have to wear potato sacks growing up? No? Then chances are you had more privilege then she did. Reading the wikipedia article, she actually had a pretty hellish childhood.

Obama is an interesting case. He's half white, He grew up mostly in Hawaii, and Indonesia and was raised by his white mother and grand parents. He went to a elite private school (on scholarship) if there are any 'black' people who experienced "white privilege" it would be him.
posted by delmoi at 7:16 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm really hoping this thread is like some kind of secret MeFi boric acid mound.
posted by threeants at 7:28 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


do you have any other entries from your blog you'd like to share?

You say that as though it was out of place or off-topic.
posted by Hoopo at 7:45 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Making pedophilia to be the Worst Think Ever has backfired, because now many people refuse to admit they're pedos, redefine themselves out of being pedos, or otherwise refuse to talk about pedophila, except for the idea that pedophilia is an evil thing that Other people do or have.

Our modern reaction to the threat of pedophilia is actually a terrific example of how an overwhelmingly negative emotional reaction to a perfectly serious, real problem can unleash extra problems. Making pedophilia to be the Worst Thing Ever really has backfired.

Overly emotional reactions to pedophilia have led to negative outcomes. For example, Megan's Law-type laws hurt released offenders, do not lower recidivism, and do not make people safer. As a matter of fact, they may only increase crime. They only succeed in inflicting extra pain on criminals after they have served their time, in many cases forcing ex-cons to become effectively homeless. In addition, many people run afoul of these laws for decidedly un-pedophiliac reasons, such as public urination, or being the 20-year-old black boyfriend of a 17-year-old white girl.

Concerns over pedophilia have also gotten The Tin Drum banned and sent parents to jail for taking pictures of their own little kids in the bath.

Chris Morris' "Paedogeddon" episode of Brass Eye was an expert skewering of the media-stoked fury over stranger danger, feeding a public fat on panic. It was also strangely prescient - the fake American show The Pedo-Files is the spitting image of the real American show To Catch A Predator.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:48 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


The term "privilege" is problematic. I can see how you can argue for its use, but it carries enough of the idea of unchallenged ease that I think there's a large audience which is likely never going to buy it, and the entire discussion might be forwarded if people started choosing something a little less loaded.
posted by weston at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Making this third of a chicken club sandwich in the back of the fridge from a few days ago be the Worst Thing Ever has backfired, because now many people either refuse to eat the sandwich, redefine it out of being food, or otherwise refuse to talk about the sandwich, except for the idea that the sandwich is an evil thing that Other people do or eat.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:23 PM on September 7, 2011


Sticherbeast: “Our modern reaction to the threat of pedophilia is actually a terrific example of how an overwhelmingly negative emotional reaction to a perfectly serious, real problem can unleash extra problems. Making pedophilia to be the Worst Thing Ever really has backfired.”

I have no idea what delmoi meant bringing it up, but I disagree slightly with your implication that the demonization of racism (or pedophilia) has been a bad thing.

Racism and pedophilia are bad. This known. The problem isn't a cultural perception that they're bad. The problem is sort of complex, but I think a big chunk of it is a lack of self-examination which is wrapped up in a tendency to personalize difficult problems like this. When someone says "that's a racist thing to do," people hear "you're a racist person." But we can talk about racism, even racism in the things we do, without it being an accusation. At this point, that's the only way we're going to be able to deal with it; because racism is so entrenched and institutionalized that it's never blatant overt anymore, even when it's massively destructive.

I think there are a lot of ways that pedophilia doesn't parallel this (hence my confusion as to why delmoi brought it up.) For example, we have a fucked up society in many ways, but I think it would be ridiculous to claim that pedophilia is endemic, much less institutionalized in the way that racism is institutionalized. I think it's good to think about how every one of us is capable of doing (and even has done) racist things. However, I really don't believe we need to consider how every one of us is a pedophile.

In short, it's not the seriousness with which we view racism that's the problem. It's our tendency to be ashamed, to be afraid of accusations, and most of all our unwillingness to examine ourselves and consider our own flaws under the harsh light of day.
posted by koeselitz at 8:25 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The term "privilege" is problematic. I can see how you can argue for its use, but it carries enough of the idea of unchallenged ease that I think there's a large audience which is likely never going to buy it, and the entire discussion might be forwarded if people started choosing something a little less loaded.

Okay then. "Advantage".
posted by polymodus at 8:26 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Y'know, as a black guy, I often forget why it is that I don't have more conversations with white friends and associates about racism. Elements of this thread are excellent reminder.
posted by strawdog at 8:48 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I recently read online that the gay community in Seattle is notoriously white-centric. That's pretty ironic, if true. And I know such observations are hard to quantify/verify, but the idea of putting up with that makes make me wary of moving there. That Seattle is cited as one of the top places to live… who the fuck makes those lists, anyways?
posted by polymodus at 9:03 PM on September 7, 2011


I recently read online that the gay community in Seattle is notoriously white-centric. That's pretty ironic, if true.

What do you mean by "white-centric?" Why is it ironic?

Seattle is one of the most segregated places I know. Partly, this is because of a history of segregation enforced via legal means (deed restrictions) and extra-legal means (sundown zones). Until 1948, it was illegal to sell or rent to "negroes" in much of Capitol Hill, which is the noted gay neighborhood in Seattle.

That Seattle is cited as one of the top places to live… who the fuck makes those lists, anyways?

White people? Anyway, I think Seattle is a great place to live, but I'm a white middle-class guy who doesn't mind the rain that much.
posted by grouse at 9:40 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Y'know, as a black guy, I often forget why it is that I don't have more conversations with white friends and associates about racism.

No, man, what you do is go explicit with it. Don't get all Color of Fear with it, just outright say things like "You know if there were more brown people that worked here, this wouldn't be such a problem", and "Surprise, surprise, the white guy got promoted over the black woman again - who knew?!" You'll know you're not using the proper delivery if they start to cry. If you do it with just the right sort of matter of factness, it opens things up and kind of gives them permission to openly observe, process and report problematic events that occur thereafter. If you get to the point where they are hurling racial slurs at you with a laugh, you have done it wrong, and you will need to pull them aside and give them a written warning, and possibly demerits. I can send you a PDF of the workbook I have, if you want it. You seem to have made your yearly comment though, so I'm sad to say you won't see this until 2012.
posted by cashman at 10:12 PM on September 7, 2011


I have no idea what delmoi meant bringing it up, but I disagree slightly with your implication that the demonization of racism (or pedophilia) has been a bad thing.
All I did was replace "racism" with "pedophilia" Sticherbeast's comment. The point is, I don't think most people would agree that destigmatizing pedophilia would somehow make the problem itself better.
posted by delmoi at 11:03 PM on September 7, 2011


You're being needlessly pointless.

The problem with pedophilia as a valid example is that its not insitutionalized (except in some places of worship perhaps), international and embedded. The advantage of pedophilia is that you can grow out of being a potential recipient. Too bad the melanin doesn't fade with age (unless you're bad, you're bad).

This is totally random digression.
posted by infini at 11:13 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to me that the argument makes a strong (and for me, completely valid) argument for white people to start owning there own racism, and nobody here seems to be doing that.

But anyway - maybe someone needs to start.
I'm seanyboy. And I'm racist.
posted by seanyboy at 11:44 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I actually wonder how tourists and visitors to Seattle perceive our diversity as a city, when they take the Link Light Rail into town.

The Light Rail, for those who don't know, goes from Seatac Intl. Airport to downtown Seattle, through Rainier Valley - one of the predominantly non-white populated areas in the city. They pass by Rainier Beach station, and see the Polynesian Deli. Then, they go through Othello station, and the strip malls that are primarily Vietnamese and other Asian stores, with a growing Latino/a presence. Columbia City has some Somalian and Ethiopian stores and restaurants. And all along the way are other stores, restaurants, churches, community centers; the vast majority of them catering to a non-white clientele.

If they were to go straight to downtown and hole up there, they may never realize how segregated the city really is, and that the rest of the city is not like what they passed through.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:41 AM on September 8, 2011


At one point it probably made sense to talk about "racism" as something that "racists" perpetuate. Sometimes it still does, as there are people in this very thread who are taking deliberate action to perpetuate their preferred racial narrative. That's worth talking about.

But now we want to talk about race as a set of abstract and mostly impersonal forces that animate society and inform the way groups relate to one another. That's a pretty fundamental shift in context. In that context, it doesn't make much sense to talk about a racist. Even if some people are trying to perpetuate these forces on purpose, the forces themselves come about more or less by accident, by the combined collective laziness and apathy of some groups towards others.

To make that conversation happen, a context shift is needed. We need to move away from the specific and personal and into the general and impersonal, even if there are some specific and personal ways that the phenomenon we call "racism" is manifest.

This is difficult to do when the word "racism" is still conventionally used to refer to a type of ideology, one which still tends to come up when you're talking about impersonal forces. It's difficult to do when the word "racist" is conventionally used to refer to a person who hates people of a particular race, and that type of person tends to troll your thread when you're talking about impersonal forces.

Might I suggest that a change in vocabulary is needed? If you're talking about social forces, perhaps those should be called "race"?
posted by LogicalDash at 5:37 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is so far away from actual--and supremely well known--everyday practice it's breathtaking. In 99.99% of instances people who call others racist intend it as a fighting word and are saying "this is a bad person." (Except when they mean "These are bad people.")

I think you're right, jfuller. I think at this point "racist" is basically just an epithet for so many people that trying to use it to describe institutionalized injustice is futile unless you're just using it as jargon among the like-minded.

It's like trying to build consensus for progressive tax reform when you've decided the proper technical term for people who make over $100,000 is "assholes." ("It's not meant as derogatory toward individuals...")
posted by straight at 5:52 AM on September 8, 2011


LogicalDash, how about race relations?
posted by infini at 6:38 AM on September 8, 2011


works
posted by LogicalDash at 6:42 AM on September 8, 2011


I can send you a PDF of the workbook I have, if you want it. You seem to have made your yearly comment though, so I'm sad to say you won't see this until 2012.
Cashman, I'd pay cash money for that workbook.
posted by strawdog at 6:57 AM on September 8, 2011


You all know perfectly well that was discrimination going in the other direction, and it's no more okay just because it isn't as historically significant- it's just an asshole move, and it's one we on an individual level try to prevent ourselves from doing with any regularity. That's about all we can do.

Really? Because I honestly don't. The real-world is much more multi-factorial than such a simple analysis would suggest. Seriously: it's just as likely, if not more so, that the black guy got through the process faster because he was male. Sexual interest or social affinity can also be a powerful motivator. Maybe it wasn't racism, but nepotism, because the guy was a friend of a friend or had some other personal connection to the woman or someone else with pull at the naturalization office.

I find that there are lots of every day social biases that effect how we're treated and can result in perceived sleights. Well connected people, for example, almost always get to jump to the head of the line, regardless of race. Sexual desirability also greatly impacts how people are treated.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:33 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love it when white people are like "IF WHITE PRIVILEGE EXISTS THEN WHY AM I POOR AND SOME BLACKS ARE RICH, HUH?" As if your inability to use the overwhelming advantages of being white to succeed somehow should denigrate the efforts of those geniuses who overcame insane odds and triumphed. Sorry you missed a bunch of foul shots Duke, it doesn't make you an underdog vs Butler!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:40 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love it when white people are like "IF WHITE PRIVILEGE EXISTS THEN WHY AM I POOR AND SOME BLACKS ARE RICH, HUH?" As if your inability to use the overwhelming advantages of being white to succeed somehow should denigrate the efforts of those geniuses who overcame insane odds and triumphed. Sorry you missed a bunch of foul shots Duke, it doesn't make you an underdog vs Butler!

Comments like this are exactly why people write off otherwise perfectly valid ideas like white privilege. Not only is this comment needlessly personal and insulting, it skips over substantive points, such as how white privilege is about society and not individuals, and how white privilege is just one piece of a larger puzzle which also includes issues of class, gender, ideology, and so forth.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:44 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Cashman, I'd pay cash money for that workbook.

I guess I'd better get started on designing it then. It can be the new thing people pull out instead of bingo cards. Bingo cards are so 2007.
posted by cashman at 8:00 AM on September 8, 2011


What do you mean by "white-centric?" Why is it ironic?

I read that the gay community in Seattle is white-centric (and I'll not mince words: white-centric, insular, othering, racist). The gays in a West-coast city are intolerant/unwelcoming of nonwhite gays. That is dually ironic.

White people [make those rankings]? Anyway, I think Seattle is a great place to live, but

No, that is too much dissonance for me to handle. The fact that a city is so segregated automatically makes de facto not amongst the greatest places to live. Because if the quality of my life is predicated on the suffering of those near me, then that locale cannot possibly be "great". For example I would not even positively recommend Seattle to any of my friends/family, white or nonwhite. It would be completely illogical to do so.
posted by polymodus at 8:06 AM on September 8, 2011


I read that the gay community in Seattle is white-centric (and I'll not mince words: white-centric, insular, othering, racist).

Where did you read that? I have never heard that the gay community here is racist, although I wouldn't be surprised if it were mostly white, because most things in North Seattle are mostly white.
posted by grouse at 8:21 AM on September 8, 2011


people judge others based on physical attributes all the time, i don't see what the problem is. if i had a car and a hot blonde was in the street you can be damn sure i'd express my inner racist and honk at her.
posted by canned polar bear at 8:27 AM on September 8, 2011


people judge others based on physical attributes all the time, i don't see what the problem is

You can't see, so put on your racial lens; it's not my job to think for you. For example, if someone has romantic/sexual hangups based on an attribute such as race (which by the way is both a physical and social attribute), it tells me they are kind of provincial/small-minded. That's the problem, but thankfully not mine. More generally, I see your line of argument a lot (especially pertaining to dating/attraction), but it naïve reasoning masquerading as common sense. The scientific evidence and sociological literature tell a very different story, and I'd ask you to trust me on that if you're not willing to look into it yourself.
posted by polymodus at 9:17 AM on September 8, 2011


I have never heard that the gay community here is racist

Well have you heard of gay racism, in general? There has been and is such a thing, and again the irony of it is not lost upon those who researched the phenomenon. From that, it's not a big leap that Seattle happens to be a city where such a thing still exists. Disappointing, really.
posted by polymodus at 9:20 AM on September 8, 2011


Well have you heard of gay racism, in general?

Yes. But the existence of gay racism doesn't mean that I'm going to accept that the Seattle gay community, in particular, is racist, when you haven't presented evidence or even anecdotes that this is the case.
posted by grouse at 9:35 AM on September 8, 2011


This Metafilter thread seemed like it was scripted to be an example of what the author was talking about in terms of white people feeling uncomfortable with being implicated in a system of racism. (I was reminded about this article about a woman who is brought in to do anti-racist trainings in feminist groups--a process that breaks down when the group usually realizes that they don't want to be anti-racist after all!)

Using this thread as a specimen, is there anything we can gain in terms of tactics? I thought the article was pretty good and even just interesting as a document about the foibles of race as an intersection between personal identity and social structure, power and etiquette--but clearly race is such a taboo that many people will get incredibly defensive. Part of the reason I read threads like this on Metafilter is because they're very instructive on how even supposedly liberal people can have problematic views on race, while denying to have any views on race. But it seems generally impossible to use the racial vocabulary we have, as I've found so many people on MeFi respond by going into Defcon 1. Do any of you feel like this thread was educational in terms of how to communicate an anti-racist message?
posted by johnasdf at 9:38 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes. But the existence of gay racism doesn't mean that I'm going to accept that the Seattle gay community, in particular, is racist, when you haven't presented evidence or even anecdotes that this is the case.

You're really going to fixate on this particularity, after the other more general points I've made? Besides the fact that imposing a burden of proof is the wrong approach especially given the nature of this post.

(I.e., if the above is the only thing you disagree on, then I feel I've communicated enough; if you disagree with everything else I've said so far because they—somehow—hinge on needing this one piece of evidence, then I feel there's more that I could bring in to clarify, but at this point I feel neither the obligation nor motivation to do so.)
posted by polymodus at 9:45 AM on September 8, 2011


(But do let me know which, and I will think on it.)
posted by polymodus at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2011


You can't see, so put on your racial lens; it's not my job to think for you. For example, if someone has romantic/sexual hangups based on an attribute such as race (which by the way is both a physical and social attribute), it tells me they are kind of provincial/small-minded. That's the problem, but thankfully not mine. More generally, I see your line of argument a lot (especially pertaining to dating/attraction), but it naïve reasoning masquerading as common sense. The scientific evidence and sociological literature tell a very different story, and I'd ask you to trust me on that if you're not willing to look into it yourself.

race noun ( PEOPLE )[C or U] a group, especially of people, with particular similar physical characteristics, who are considered as belonging to the same type, or the fact of belonging to such a group.

everybody to a certain extent is a racist at their very core. argue how you like but nobody is completely unbiased. i don't care how holier than thou somebody thinks they are but they are racist in the literal sense of the word. now, if they use their racism for inhumane and oppressive acts, that is another issue. that speaks more to a lack of empathy towards their fellow human beings and probably some other vile character flaws..
posted by canned polar bear at 9:51 AM on September 8, 2011


Do any of you feel like this thread was educational in terms of how to communicate an anti-racist message?

I am not a psychologist but from both the article, and the behavior of some of yesterday's participants, that it would really benefit from being cast as in terms of a language-therapeutic / cognitive problem.
posted by polymodus at 9:52 AM on September 8, 2011


canned polar bear, what I see as the kernel of truth in what you are saying there is that all racism is inhuman, because it is always impersonal. You yourself believe "that speaks more to a lack of empathy towards their fellow human beings". To make a choice or decision based on a person's race is precisely an example of that.
posted by polymodus at 10:01 AM on September 8, 2011


johnasdf- I came up with a metaphor which I expect to use in the future- looking at privilege as playing with a stacked deck or weighted cards. It doesn't guarantee a win, but it does help. Almost everyone knows that if you go to a casino without either a solid strategy (like counting cards) or playing in a game like poker, you will most likely lose money. Also, I think we should use the two word combination "institutional racism" when discussing this sort of thing, as it may perhaps help get away from the sort of problems that Logic Dash highlights.

I told a friend about this piece and she talked about how where she lived was an area without racism. I wasn't exactly sure how to explain the entire concept of privilege and institutionalized racism over a gchat conversation while we were both working. I think I'll try next time I actually have voice communication.

I think trying focusing on the known inequalities that exist and getting all participants in the conversation to acknowledge them is also a start. The 1 in 3 figure for imprisonment will hopefully move the conversation away from anecdotes of black people getting preferential treatment over a white person or rich black people and towards the situation that most black people face. There was a failure to establish that in the beginning of both the article and the conversation here which I think allowed all the "a black girl called me a cracker" comments to flourish. If you do your best to avoid anecdotes from one side, you can help diminish their use. As an example, I'd look to the discussions of the anti-vaccine movement, where people who do use anecdotes in those tend to be asked/told to focus on the larger picture. Of course, that's only true for Mefi.

In the wider world, I wonder almost if having a pre-built bank of anecdotes would help. A teacher I know once challenged his class to come up with as many instances of 23 showing up in weird places as they could. They had three weeks. He was still able to supply more than twice as many 17s showing up in weird places than they did, most likely because he'd been collecting for ages. So perhaps if for every "black person received an advantage" story, there were five or six "black person at a disadvantage stories," it might help. There is the tendency to see any advantage a person has as unfair and any disadvantage as deserved, but this might be the beginnings of a counter-thrust. One could also compile a bank of stories of white people gaining advantage by virtue of race. That'd be slightly harder to do, as the times the cops don't stop you for walking down the street, your house isn't broken into by a SWAT team working on information by an informer trying to stay out of jail, a home loan was approved with credit right on the edge, etc. don't really make it into our consciousness.
posted by Hactar at 10:03 AM on September 8, 2011


Using this thread as a specimen, is there anything we can gain in terms of tactics?[...]. Do any of you feel like this thread was educational in terms of how to communicate an anti-racist message?

Yes. It taught me how much influence history has on the present day and also, interestingly enough, how much the US could teach other nations attempting to reach a point of leveling the playing field in some small way. I had linked a newsbit above from finland where the conversation is still discussing the basics like this :

Minority Ombudsman Eva Biaudet has commented on the issue, saying that terminating a work contract based on skin colour is an act of discrimination.

They don't have a large population of nonwhites, maybe 100K total and that feels like a stretch so there's no history of having to deal with the challenges that are now arising or that exist in the society.

Concepts such as political correctness, equal opportunity or even, what is discriminatory behaviour and is it the right thing to do are literally being learned like nursery rhymes.

There is so much to be learnt from the American experience that I would challenge you all to articulate how would you teach it to others who are wholly unaware of their actions and behaviour and its impact on their neighbours?
posted by infini at 10:06 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


polymodus, and i'm saying is that it's involuntary. racism based on skin color, hair color, eye color, religion, social status can be socially programmed or genetically driven. it's how you act towards the target of your racism which makes the difference.

you cannot eliminate judgement or emotion from your thought process because all things being equal you'll be stuck in an infinite look trying to decide what to do with out those things to nudge you in a certain direction.
posted by canned polar bear at 10:07 AM on September 8, 2011


everybody to a certain extent is a racist at their very core.

No, I think this gets it wrong, as I've argued up-thread. Everybody, at their very core, has a deep, abiding need to feel secure in who they think they are, and to define themselves as belonging to whatever tribes or social groups they do or don't identify with as a result of intentional choices or the biasing effects of personal history and background culture. Racism at its most extreme is a particularly nasty and common form that the more general group-identification-oriented social instincts all people have can easily take; it's not racism that's at the core of everyone, but group identification instincts more generally, although these instincts are often manifested as culturally reinforced racial bias since they're completely centered on identifying differences between one's perceived peers and the various out groups that one doesn't naturally identify with. At least, that's what it looks like to me, when I try to look at it objectively.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:14 AM on September 8, 2011


saulgoodman: "I disagree. Actually, all we have to admit is that such programs are designed with an awareness that racism as a problem has not been solved yet and that the legacy and ongoing realities of racism against minorities in the US are still causing measurable economic effects that the government has a responsibility to try to equalize. "

Here's the problem:

Racism as it exists in the law has more or less been done away with for decades. This isn't to say we're in a post-racial society or that there aren't still some lurking instances of racism in one law or another. But, from the standpoint of legal equality, we're done. The various races are equal in the eyes of the law. However, individual racist acts still exist, and we still have the lingering issues of all those years of legal oppression; clearly we're a long way from actual racial equality.

What affirmative action programs do, then, is to enable the law to discriminate for or against people on the basis of race, hoping to create some sort of racially equal output. It's well-intentioned, but the fundamental problem is that we're then using the force of law, and all its onerous, inefficient, monolithic influence to act as a bludgeon against what is primarily a cultural problem. It serves as a net increase in racism; it just tries to strike some pre-defined balance.

...and don't get me wrong, I'm all for the government using its influence to promote racial equality, I just think that affirmative action programs are a very clumsy, and ultimately short-sighted way to do that; especially with so many people who see the spectre of racism in every statistic that doesn't mirror its attendant population.

It's the institutional problem -> individual problem that's at the heart of it.
posted by Vox Nihili at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2011


In feminism, there's a popular current saying that "the patriarchy hurts men too". This accomplishes a few useful things, but the most important one is that it acknowledges that sexism is a problem for everyone. Men are the bearers of institutionally-granted privilege in a patriarchy, but the cost of that privilege is a stratification of gender norms and roles which constrains and inhibits the expression of all parties. Obviously sexism conversations aren't and shouldn't, for the most part, be focused on the suffering of men, but there's some recognition that men do suffer in the structure despite having some advantage.

I think there isn't a corresponding idea in antiracism yet. The topic of racism so frequently gets cast as "things white people do to nonwhite people", and there's not a conception of how the racist structure affects everyone negatively, including racially-privileged people. The conversation is too much about getting white people to admit that they're racist. It's a useful thing for people to acknowledge their implanted biases so that they can operate on them, but I don't think we've made a convincing argument yet for why people should care about smashing the structure that grants them racial privilege. We've certainly made a good case for why active racism is bad for everyone, but the topic of aversive racism has found far more resistance than I would expect, and I think it's partially because the wounds are so open that there's a strong will in the antiracism movement to simply name and shame.

Even in the terminology, you can perceive the underlying antagonism and hostility. "White" versus "people of color": we're rich, man, we're diverse and interesting and cool, we need a whole phrase to encapsulate our awesomeness. You're white: one word, boring, bland, nothing to offer, shut up and listen. I was just going through a couple lists of racism terms, one found here, and you know what's funny? They refer to "White" frequently, usually when describing what "people of color" or "racial minorities" aren't, but they never define the term "White". How can this be? They capitalize it and everything, it's marked in text as being a standout term, and yet they never define what "White" is.

I think that's a problem. I think we blindly assume that everyone knows what "white" means, and I don't think that's true, so white people get really defensive. But the patriarchy doesn't mean "men" as in you, that man there, and "whiteness" does not mean you, that white person there. We need to define the structure against which we war much better, so that we can demonstrate how that adversary sets us artificially against each other to the detriment of everyone.
posted by Errant at 10:52 AM on September 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Racism as it exists in the law has more or less been done away with for decades.

I disagree. The point is that the law is obliged to provide equal protection from discriminatory outcomes, too--it's not just about cases where the rules are explicitly racist, but also those cases when the rules evidently provide too many opportunities for opportunistic racists to discriminate in practice. The law isn't just obliged to be superficially free of racist language, but also in its practical effects to be designed to actively protect people from discriminatory outcomes resulting from protective gaps in the process.

Sure, equal protection applies to everyone, but when the evidence is so clear that the impacts of the system disproportionately harm certain demographic subset of the population, then regardless of the underlying causes, our legal system is and must be obligated to at least try to do everything in its power to prevent outcomes that are racially or otherwise discriminatory in effect, even if the rules aren't discriminatory when taken only at face value.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:57 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, for example, poll taxes and other non-obviously racist Jim Crow-era policies that the courts struck down. I'd bet that, since the Civil War era, most public policies with racist intent have been designed to avoid any conspicuous connection to race.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:01 AM on September 8, 2011


saulgoodman: "Sure, equal protection applies to everyone, but when the evidence is so clear that the impacts of the system disproportionately harm certain demographic subset of the population, then regardless of the underlying causes, our legal system is and must be obligated to at least try to do everything in its power to prevent outcomes that are racially or otherwise discriminatory in effect, even if the rules aren't discriminatory when taken only at face value."

That's not the legal system's job, or even within its power, though. True, judges have some leeway in sentencing and procedural requirements, but we need Congresses at the state and federal levels to adjust the laws being enforced. And even then there's often a hasty call to change laws that are deemed racist because of some disparate impact without looking and deeper problems that affect entire multi-racial strata of society.

Here's an example: consider that blacks are incarcerated disproportionately to other races. It's an issue where there is no end of crying foul about how one type of law or another is racist and in need of reform.

But also consider that blacks have lower rates of college admissions and lower rates of college graduation. An also that educated people are less likely to be incarcerated.

So what's the solution? Reform the laws, as is frequently said? That's part of my concern about affirmative action: this sort of knee-jerk belief that X is disproportionately bad for Y, and is therefore racist. Clearly, in a lot of cases (e.g. education & incarceration), there are so many socioeconomic factors that can address the same problems more directly, precisely and fairly, without resorting to laws that are prima facie racially discriminatory.
posted by Vox Nihili at 2:12 PM on September 8, 2011


Clearly, in a lot of cases (e.g. education & incarceration), there are so many socioeconomic factors that can address the same problems more directly, precisely and fairly, without resorting to laws that are prima facie racially discriminatory.

I don't even know where to begin parsing this. To some extent, I agree. The main problems of disparate achievement is tied to entrenched poverty, which, because of past racist practice, afflicts blacks more frequently than whites. These impacts can be ameliorated by addressing the problems of poverty (but, as far as I know, we haven't identified solutions that are either fair or precise). Also, these socioeconomic factors are so causally intertwined and so influenced by both laws and sociological phenomena that anyone claiming that there is a direct, precise, and fair solution seems to me to be delusional. A child's father or mother is incarcerated, which leads to lower income and less pre-school stimulation and opportunity, leading to less educational achievement, leading to greater incarceration. Where do you start pushing? Take the kids out of the home for fostering or supply money and a substitute parent to provide early childhood learning in the home? Disproportionately? Get more education for the parents prior to incarceration? Disproportionately? Don't these require laws?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:20 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...achievement are tied to..."
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:21 PM on September 8, 2011


i am racist

i fucking love racing
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:05 PM on September 8, 2011


Wait.
Is it not possible to be concerned about race problems, to strive to acknowledge our subconscious prejudices, to wonder why all our friends fit into one mold, to try to overcome this problem, to work for human justice...without being called a racist?
posted by SLC Mom at 7:45 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me answer your question with a question. Let's say that it is not possible. Is being called a racist so distasteful to you that you would cease being concerned with racial issues and working towards social justice, rather than being exposed to that charge?

You say yourself, there is subconscious prejudice, there is a monochromatic palette of friends, there is a problem to overcome. What would you like to call that problem? What word would you like to use to describe your complicity in that system?
posted by Errant at 10:38 AM on September 9, 2011


I love it when white people are like "IF WHITE PRIVILEGE EXISTS THEN WHY AM I POOR AND SOME BLACKS ARE RICH, HUH?" As if your inability to use the overwhelming advantages of being white to succeed somehow should denigrate the efforts of those geniuses who overcame insane odds and triumphed. Sorry you missed a bunch of foul shots Duke, it doesn't make you an underdog vs Butler!
posted by Potomac Avenue


No trash like white trash, huh? Don't worry, you've successfully distanced yourself from poor white folks, we'll just get out of your way now.
posted by Snyder at 9:19 PM on September 9, 2011


Errant: I have a little dysnomia going on that problem. But 'racist' is not the word. Does a person working on the problems of sexism get called a sexist? No. Perhaps 'ethnocentric' works better for me.

What is the word for children who believe that everything centers around themselves, that everything relates to them somehow? 'egocentric?' It is something they grow out of to a certain extent. And we adults and parents teach them to consider others, to help people, to meet new people, try new things, to ask , "How would you feel if...?". But most people still live lives that operate around -guess who- themselves. (I mean, I don't get up in the morning and eat your breakfast and live your life, right?) And someone trying to get beyond his own ethnocentrism, to see and understand the pitfalls of racism and ethnocentric thinking in his own mind, is not a racist.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:04 AM on September 10, 2011


Errant: Also, 'complicity'? That's a pretty loaded word, too. But I don't want to be all grar about it this morning.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:10 AM on September 10, 2011


SLC Mom: “Errant: Also, 'complicity'? That's a pretty loaded word, too. But I don't want to be all grar about it this morning.”

I think what people are saying here – or maybe it's just my feeling – is that the very fact that it's a loaded word is the problem. We have to unload it, unpack it. Moral rightness is not about being afraid of certain words – it's about confronting wrongs, wrongs that belong to ourselves and wrongs that belong to others, and trying to make them right.

So while I appreciate what I think is your question – "why can't I wrestle with racism, try to confront it thoughtfully, without being called a racist myself?" – I think the answer is sort of sideways. One doesn't necessarily have to go through being called a racist in order to confront racism. But one does have to re-examine what "racist" actually means; and I think that means seeing the word lose its "teeth," its bite of taboo – and eventually accepting that it's an evil (albeit a banal evil) that one might even hold closer to one's heart than one realizes.
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 AM on September 10, 2011


A person who confronts issues of sexism is not sexist prima facie. A person who confronts issues of sexism within themselves is inarguably sexist. How could they not be? They have sexist issues. The point I have been making all along is that being sexist or racist isn't great, but it's also not an indelible sin, especially in a society that inculcates its members into a racist and sexist hierarchy. You're not responsible for the damage done to you by your context, but you are responsible for what you do with relationship to that damage. Part of that responsibility is acknowledging the presence of that damage.

As for complicity, we are constantly complicit in all kinds of things we might find personally objectionable. I do not like the wars, but my tax dollars pay for them. I believe in freedom of information, but I work ultimately for Viacom. No one in this world or this society is pure, which should be an indication that purity is a pipe dream. But, conversely, a lack of purity is not an indication of guilt, in a culture that conscripts you before you have the chance to object. You and I have that chance now. What will we do with it?
posted by Errant at 8:49 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


A person who confronts issues of sexism within themselves is inarguably sexist. How could they not be? They have sexist issues.

This is certainly arguable to a person who considers sexism to be a type of ideology.

The distinction between a disposition and an ideology is generally pretty important.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:32 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The distinction between a disposition and an ideology is generally pretty important.

Yes, but in common parlance, both meanings are used. It's very important to specify the narrower meaning if that's what you're using, because I guarantee you will be misunderstood if you don't.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2011


Ok then, argue it. How does one find racism within oneself and not find oneself to be at least somewhat racist?
posted by Errant at 10:07 AM on September 12, 2011


Consider that being called a racist leads to a certain amount of social opprobrium regardless of how one personally feels about racial issues.

Is it not possible to be concerned about race problems, to strive to acknowledge our subconscious prejudices, to wonder why all our friends fit into one mold, to try to overcome this problem, to work for human justice...without being called a racist?

I think this revolves around discomfiture: "being called a racist" and "being a racist" are two different things here. I can acknowledge having racism in me. If someone calls me a racist they may be saying that I am actively promoting a racist agenda, though not necessarily. The latter is potentially an accusation of wrong-doing, whereas the former may simply be a statement of a fact.

I think some here are arguing that a person wrestling with internal racist impulses is, in the broadest definition, necessarily a racist in the former sense. Others are objecting, saying they don't want to be called a racist, that is, they don't wanted to be labeled with a pejorative. I think this is the crux of the disagreement. If there were two words, one denoting the existence of conscious or even unconscious racist impulses or thoughts within an individual and another indicating promotion of racist ideas and policies, this dispute would not arise.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:01 PM on September 12, 2011


Sure, I can see that, and I don't want to go too far in the direction of "what everyone needs is to admit their own racism", because I've already said that I think that's broadly, though not necessarily specifically, counterproductive as a strategy.

I definitely agree with you on the "being called a racist" vs "being a racist" tension. It bothers me less in this discussion than in others; this is, after all, a thread and article about white people taking their first antiracist steps. I guess I would say that there's a further difference between being called a racist and being called out for racism. I think people without a lot of experience with racism tend to think of it in terms of huge, violent, overt acts of maliciousness and destruction, and so it's hard to hear "racism" without thinking of burning crosses. I get the dissonance there.

On the other hand, working on racism issues does not give people a pass against their own racist tendencies, such as they are or may be. It's entirely possible for someone to be making a strong and good-faith effort for social justice and still inadvertently display some of their inculcation. One does not invalidate the other, in either direction. I think that part of that work is learning how to accept that you might well fuck up and what to do about it if/when you do.

The thing is that you can't really prove that you're not a racist. You can provide an extraordinary amount of evidence that you are, but there's not a whole lot of evidence that you're not, except that you didn't do anything racist just now. Conversely, you doing something racist just now is not evidence that you are a burning-cross racist for all time forever; it's just evidence that you have the racist structure of society built into you, like everyone does.

Institutional racism bothers me too, and I think it is very disturbing to discover these tendencies, or even the possibility for them, in oneself. You can't help being born into privilege, but you can work to prevent that privilege from becoming oppression. I don't really think new words are going to help that much, though. That effort strikes me very much as a way of saying, some people aren't going to get on the justice train until other people stop using words they don't like. If justice is important to you, get on board. If it's not, that's where you stand and you can own that. If the occasional harsh word leveled your way is enough to dissuade you from the entire enterprise, you're probably not going to like it on the hierarchy-smashing side of the fight anyway.
posted by Errant at 6:41 PM on September 12, 2011


Ok then, argue it. How does one find racism within oneself and not find oneself to be at least somewhat racist?

You seemed to have moved the goalposts an inch, there. I think that one can find oneself "a little bit racist" without considering oneself to be "a racist". The latter applies the label to the person as a whole, the former applies the label to a little bit of the person.

A trivial distinction? I think not. See my earlier comment for more about that.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:35 AM on September 13, 2011


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