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...so we need to move away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse towards the dental hygiene paradigm of race discourse...
November 17, 2011 11:06 PM   Subscribe

"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race". Recent talk from Jay Smooth presented at a local TED conference meet up at Hampshire College. Previously.
posted by catchingsignals (27 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent, excellent talk. My own preferred solution is to straight-up admit that I'm racist, and move from there.
posted by cthuljew at 11:47 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seemed like he was improvising towards the end, or he was stumbling a little bit?

Loved the video. I'm impressed by the deep wisdom he brings to discussion.
posted by justalisteningman at 12:02 AM on November 18, 2011


I've listened to a lot of his videos and enjoyed them a good deal. It's a shame he's a reader, not a leader.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:13 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read that as JB Smooth!
posted by DanCall at 1:08 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's reading off an iMac prompter. Interesting method, I wonder how often this is done.
posted by polymodus at 1:36 AM on November 18, 2011


LOL: "We need to move away from the tonsils model of prejudice to the dental hygiene model."

Thanks very much for the post. I'll fwd this far and wide.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:38 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seemed like he was improvising towards the end, or he was stumbling a little bit?

I think about half way through he realised he was out of material and had five minutes to fill. Not really important, as the point he makes is one that bears repeating.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:13 AM on November 18, 2011


That was better than I was expecting. His general point - that being "good" is an ongoing maintenance process, not a fixed, immutable condition - applies to a hell of a lot more than race issues, of course.
posted by Decani at 3:13 AM on November 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


That's the first time I've heard him speak without a jump cut where every breath should be.
posted by pracowity at 3:27 AM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I read that as JB Smooth!

Obviously you meant "Smoove" and yep, guilty as well.

Next, I'd like to read it as Smoove B
posted by ShutterBun at 4:08 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for reminding me of how much I love this guy. I now have a backlog of youtube videos to watch.
posted by Shutter at 4:41 AM on November 18, 2011


Whether you're talking about dental hygiene or tonsils, you're talking to your dentist.

Whether you're talking about unconscious bias or lynching, you're talking to a racist.

In either case, you're talking to someone you're probably a little bit afraid of.

That's probably not going to be a friendly conversation.

Some people can make it a productive conversation, anyhow. Some can't.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:18 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Paraphrasing (as accurately as I can) for truth:

Whenever you are dealing with race, you are dealing with an artificial social construct that was designed not to make sense in order to irrationally justify indefensible acts.


It's not surprising that we all get tripped up on such a thing now and then and make mistakes that are potentially hurtful. We need to be able to recognize that, apologize, make a change if necessary, and move on.
posted by straight at 6:56 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whether you're talking about unconscious bias or lynching, you're talking to a racist.

Those two examples of racism are rather far apart on the racism continuum and conflating the two as part of an identity rather than seeing racism as a series of actions is what he's arguing against. (5:02). He's not trying to give people wiggle room for racist comments or actions. He's saying that when you call out someone's racism by identifying "what they are" vs. "what they did," then instead of getting them to acknowledge that a particular action was racist the (unfriendly) conversation ends in the "I'm not racist" dance. He thinks the missing acknowledgement is important, and that thinking of racism as a binary identity gets in the way of reaching it.

Most people already do the "what you did" thing with certain instances of racism. "Gypped," for example.
posted by postcommunism at 7:06 AM on November 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Most people already do the "what you did" thing with certain instances of racism. "Gypped," for example.

"I got Gipped" is racist against Reaganauts.
posted by Winnemac at 7:34 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we also need to talk about ignorance - as in "not knowing" - as opposed to racism (believing that certain races are superior to other races). Until recently, I had never made the connection between "gypped" and "Gypsy", given that I live in a country where Romani are not a large and discriminated against minority; this had to be pointed out to me by someone who studies contemporary European history. I have absolutely no ill-feelings towards Romani (rather, I hold strange positive stereotypes that are as untrue as the negative ones), but I was ignorant of the origin and meaning of this term. Similarly, I am very ignorant about many other people's cultures and customs. I only recently found out why some black women don't swim - because if they have a weave it may be damaged by the clorine in a pool (I was swimming with a black aquaintence who was telling her boyfriend not to get her hair wet, and I had no idea why - but once she told me, I understood).

I don't think that I am very racist - I don't believe that one race or one culture is inherently better than another, though I'm sure I have (like everyone else) all sorts of unconcious biases. But I'm also very ignorant about other races and cultures - and I don't like that. I want a public conversation on race so that I can learn.
posted by jb at 8:02 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with the dental hygiene analogy is that, ultimately, it's not a very close analogy. If your dentist tells you that you have a little plaque buildup on a molar, it's not a moral judgment. She's not going to shun associating with you if you fail to change your brushing habits. But when you point out that someone is saying something racist, you hope for them to stop. The implicit threat is that if they don't stop you will repudiate them somehow. Otherwise you wouldn't bother to bring it up.

I think a better analogy would be to think of a racist act as comparable to an act of child abuse. Tell your friend, "Whoa, dude, the wa you were just beating the crap out of your kid looked like abuse to me." Your friend's reaction is going to be defensive: Are you calling me a child abuser? "No, I'm just saying THAT ACT was a little over the line." That's likely to be poor consolation.

I'm really not so convinced that a healthy race dialog is even possible. Like every other aspect of public life except maybe sports, race has become so politicized that it is difficult to even appeal to an innate sense of right and wrong. And the binary paradigm is so effective at shaming or diffusing opponents that nobody wants to see it die. For example, liberals think blacks need handouts. If that isn't racist, I don't know what is. Therefore liberals are just as racist, or worse, as any lyncher ever was. It's a high-tech lynching, therefore arguably worse, even. And so on.
posted by xigxag at 8:58 AM on November 18, 2011


I'd prefer a talk entitled How I Learned To Stop Getting Really Annoyed at Dr. Strangelove References.
posted by miyabo at 9:00 AM on November 18, 2011


I'm pleased to learn that I find him equally compelling without the jump-cut editing.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:30 AM on November 18, 2011


My first Thanksgiving with white people
posted by caddis at 1:59 PM on November 18, 2011


That "first thanksgiving with white people" could have been re-named "my first thanksgiving with another family that doesn't have exactly all the family recipes mine does."

I mean - I find exactly the same amount of difference between my maritime Canadian family and my husband's British Canadian family. They have brussell sprouts at Christmas, and no squash!
posted by jb at 2:56 PM on November 18, 2011


My first Thanksgiving with white people
posted by caddis at 9:59 PM on November 18


A post about Thanksgiving in a thread about race? That's so culturalist.
posted by Decani at 3:51 PM on November 18, 2011


That "first thanksgiving with white people" could have been re-named "my first thanksgiving with another family that doesn't have exactly all the family recipes mine does."

I thought it was kind of adorable, honestly, and it seems like the author does, too, in retrospect, especially when she talks about learning later lessons from black people who didn't cook soul food and white people who did.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:54 PM on November 19, 2011


I'm sure Mrs. Smooth is proud of the son.
posted by Yakuman at 9:13 PM on November 19, 2011


For the record I wasn't using a teleprompter, though I surely would have if that were an option! The monitor beneath the stage was for speakers to queue up their slides, and since I foolishly had no slides (and was obsessively rewriting/revising right up until I hit the stage), I asked them to put up one dummy slide with a list of keywords/ideas I wanted to hit, in case I got lost.

Always honored to be mentioned at MeFi, this talk was actually partly inspired by previous discussion here.
posted by jsmooth995 at 5:06 AM on November 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Ah, nice to always have Jay Smooth comment here. I assumed you were using just the keywords off of a teleprompter. Great talk, by the way, I enjoyed it.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:57 PM on November 24, 2011


Yay! It was a fantastic talk, I'm glad you're still hanging around.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:44 AM on November 25, 2011


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