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A black Harvard student, running at night to catch a bus, hears, ‘What did you steal this time?’
July 17, 2012 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Is America a post-racial society? Not yet, says Kenny Wiley.

While running to catch a bus one night Wiley, a black man, was shouted at by a group of white people asking: "Bro, you running from the cops or something?" and "What'd you steal this time?"

When he stopped to confront them, he was told that they were just joking and that “[w]e saw a black guy running at night, so why wouldn’t we say that?”
posted by asnider (102 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
BUT OBAMA.
posted by broadway bill at 7:39 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


My faith teaches me that every person has inherent worth and dignity. Every person matters.

That's Principle Number One, in fact!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


My faith teaches me that every person has inherent worth and dignity. Every person matters.

But in that brief moment, those folks demonstrated that if they have inherent worth or dignity, it was a truly small amount.

Seriously, what is it about people that causes them to jeer at others, even if it's not racially motivated? Just leave people alone.
posted by explosion at 7:45 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


He should be more upset they called him "Bro". Them's fightin' words.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:48 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, no. DUH. says Saxon Kane, noted notorietyist.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:48 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a dream that someday, we will be a post-prefix society.
posted by jonmc at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Clueless Young White Boston Assholes Still Casually, Unapologetically Racist
posted by mubba at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2012 [14 favorites]


good article. and i'm glad that race is being discussed in the press in this way in my home town. I'm actually really excited to see this discussion play out here. I only wish you'd fleshed out the fpp a bit. This is a topic that's been written on more-than-weekly since Obama took office. No shortage of meat. I honestly hope (and kinda expect) that this thread will be fleshed out with links enough to keep this on the fp.

Meanwhile, I'm not helping that effort or taking this to the gray properly, so I may just be par of the problem.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:51 PM on July 17, 2012


Okay, a really crappy but fairly inconsequential thing happened to one dude, who blogged about it. And... ?

Really, what is this thread going to actually accomplish? Does even one MeFite truly believe we're in a fully, 100%, post-racial society today? Don't most MeFites at least agree "We're making progress from where we as a society have been, even if things aren't perfect"? Isn't the most that many of us can really do is focus on improving our own behavior and awareness, checking when our friends and family say or do things that are rude to full-on racist, and then hope that this leads to a slow but inevitable change?

I mean, no one here thinks this was a good thing. No one here will defend the words of those four people. But I assume we'll just form lines like a dance hall, and one group that is feeling the outrage in full force will lob accusations that the other side is implicitly pro-racism simply because they aren't foaming at the mouth after reading the story.

And what the hell is the point of all that?
posted by hincandenza at 7:51 PM on July 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Wow, some group of drunk bros shouted something vaguely racist one night to an upper class black man. It was a bullshit thing for them to do, but this essay comes off tone-deaf and privileged to me

*Most* of the America has it worse than this guy, which is actually sort of his point - "look how awesome I am and people still do this". Great dude - given that, can you try to imagine how it is for everyone who didn't have lawyer parents to send them to Harvard Divinity school?
posted by crayz at 7:54 PM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


es_de_bah: I was looking for some more links to flesh out the "lighten up, it's only a joke" angle, but couldn't find anything recent. As a result, I decided to leave the post as-is. It probably could do with more fleshing out, though, and I'd be happy to give it another shot tomorrow if the mods decide that it's not FPP-worthy tonight.
posted by asnider at 7:56 PM on July 17, 2012


The whole point was to get your opinion, Hincandenza. We can end the discussion now.
posted by Knigel at 7:56 PM on July 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Not yet, says a cursory look around.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:59 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


*Most* of the America has it worse than this guy, which is actually sort of his point - "look how awesome I am and people still do this". Great dude - given that, can you try to imagine how it is for everyone who didn't have lawyer parents to send them to Harvard Divinity school?

so, you see the point he was making but you wish he made the point that he made, and the piece wasn't very good because he should have made the point that he made. makes sense to me.
posted by facetious at 7:59 PM on July 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


Kenny Wiley needs come down South sometimes.
posted by c13 at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2012


Really, what is this thread going to actually accomplish?

Can we talk about a complex, nuanced social issue like reasonable people? I don't know if will accomplish much, but I'd like to give it a shot.
posted by mhoye at 8:03 PM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm not necessarily sure that a 'post-racial society' is a good thing.

I'll say right off the bat, I'm a black dude from a lower middle class background. My fear is that in a post-racial society, we would not only diminish/eliminate the bad parts of a 'racial society' but the good parts as well. Namely, the solidarity between members of a minority and the idea of minority-strong neighborhoods in which minority businesses and organizations thrive.

You might say that it would be best for all these businesses and organizations to exist in completely mixed neighborhoods, or for minority solidarity to be more open to folks outside that minority. But I see that as...wrong, for lack of a better term. Misguided, maybe? We can get to a point where we overlook skin color and appearance, sure. But there's a shared cultural history present for blacks, for Hispanics, for immigrants from China or Japan or Korea that's extremely important to who we are as people and as a community.

The pursuit of a society in which external appearance is not a factor, that's a great thing. But I think people get caught up in saying that we should also move past race/ethnicity entirely, which I think is a bad thing. My shared experience as a black man with other black men is extremely important to me, much more than my experience as a middle class person or as a person from the Midwest. And doing away with that, well, I'm not sure about that.

I think we should strive to be a racially conscious/conscientious society in which folks are aware of their relationship towards minorities (whether you are of the majority, a different minority, or within that minority culture), are very aware of that minority's culture, and are very aware of what is wrong to do or say to a person of a different cultural background than them (not just majority to minority, but minority to majority and minority to minority). We're close to this point, to this race-neutral society, and I hope that we don't tip over the edge where we simply ignore race flat out.
posted by Modica at 8:03 PM on July 17, 2012 [29 favorites]



Kenny Wiley needs come down South sometimes.


What do you mean?
posted by sweetkid at 8:08 PM on July 17, 2012


Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in his sight


Except purple people, who are a different kind of organic matter altogether. Eat them!
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:08 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we should strive to be a racially conscious/conscientious society in which folks are aware of their relationship towards minorities (whether you are of the majority, a different minority, or within that minority culture), are very aware of that minority's culture, and are very aware of what is wrong to do or say to a person of a different cultural background than them (not just majority to minority, but minority to majority and minority to minority). We're close to this point, to this race-neutral society, and I hope that we don't tip over the edge where we simply ignore race flat out.

We're never going to not notice race unless we go blind, or somehow are able to return to a pre-Colonial era when people tended to group more by shared nationality and community than skin color. I think when people talk about "post-racial" in a positive way they mean the "race-neutral" attitude you're talking about. The only people I know who claim they're "post-racial" or "they don't see race" are white people who seem to confuse saying "I'm not racist" is equivalent to not being racist.

Also, from the standpoint of someone who knows a lot of white people who mostly only know other white people, I would say we are pretty far from that race-neutral point.
posted by schroedinger at 8:12 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is America is a post-racial society?

I am frankly flabbergasted anyone is asking this. Umm... no? Obviously? Duh? What?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:20 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, sweetkid, it's just seems weird that someone would bother writing so many words to state something so bloody obvious. So I think this guy should perhaps get out more.
posted by c13 at 8:22 PM on July 17, 2012


Who's pretending racism is over, other than racists themselves? I mean, Wiley is in the right, but the only audience for this piece (in the sense of, 'group of readers to be disabused of contrary notions by its arguments') is a bunch of racists, and I don't see it doing squat to convince any of those assholes.
posted by axiom at 8:23 PM on July 17, 2012


Kenny Wiley needs come down South sometimes.

He's from Texas, champ.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:29 PM on July 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


No one here will defend the words of those four people.

You've been here HOW long?

Seriously, just wait. It will happen in this thread before the month is out.
posted by hippybear at 8:29 PM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, we already have people criticizing the writer because his experience of racism wasn't a big enough deal.
posted by sweetkid at 8:30 PM on July 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't think a post-racial society is a realistic goal.
posted by PJLandis at 8:34 PM on July 17, 2012


Things are better than they have been, but there's still room to improve.

For instance, K. Wiley could improve his racism confrontation technique. Nothing has to get heated, even if someone's tipsy. Keep the focus on what was said and how it was wrong/racist, not on who said it. Etc.

Anyway, this post is kinda lame. That it exists begs the question of a post-racial anything, so what is there left to do but sit around and bicker at each other?
posted by carsonb at 8:35 PM on July 17, 2012


"I am frankly flabbergasted anyone is asking this. Umm... no? Obviously? Duh? What?"

I think his use of the phrase more addressed the fact the people who shouted at him seemed to assume that they did while acting in a obviously contrary manner.

And academically speaking, this is common question for discussion and debate; do we want a post-racial society? A race conscious society? I can't count how many times this was mentioned in a course during my undergrad degree, twice during my post-grad degree.
posted by PJLandis at 8:39 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think I've been anywhere or known any national group that spent more time thinking -- hell, agonizing -- about the not-very-useful concept of 'race' than Americans.

So the answer to the question (which isn't a great one to start with), as has been suggested, would be a fairly emphatic no, I'd say.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:08 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or one could say, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Or, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," and the like. To me the most important point to remember about white privilege is that I have the luxury of not thinking about race. In the places I have lived, mostly the South, but also the Northeast, people just don't want to think about it.

Among the most devastating effects of systemic racism is the tremendous imbalance in the criminal justice system between the sentencing and incarceration of whites and people of color. The recent series, Louisiana, Incarcerated investigates the system that led Louisiana to head the list of governments that incarcerates the largest percentage of their citizens. The Sentencing Project collects the statistics and is a clearing house for information about racial disparity in the justice systems.

Only a couple of links, but any person who pays attention can cite dozens of instances of racism every day in my city alone and yet there is a great deal of genuine neighborliness and cooperation and friendship across racial lines in this city. The racism is so entrenched, however, that white people must diligently seek to recognize it and fight against it in themselves, in the community and in the system. The hard part, again, is that white people don't have to care about race. People of color do have to care--their lives depend on it.

One last link, Southern Horrors is a Project Gutenberg e-book of editorials by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, published in 1892. She had a newspaper in the City of Memphis when she published these editorials. She lost her newspaper and very nearly her life in retaliation. Yet the truth of every charge she leveled at white people then has left a recognizable vapor trail in the fabric of the city of my birth. This same unreasoning racism was responsible for Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination 76 years after Wells-Barnett leveled her pen at the city. Perhaps every 70 years or so, we can say that things are definitely better, but until white people are willing to look and take the responsibility for eradicating racism, white people will continue to grow up overlooking overt racism of the sort described at the link in this FPP and our systems will remain tainted by it.

As a woman, I am certain that men have the power and influence to diminish the prevalence of rape and domestic violence. But, as long as they don't have to think about it, their unruly peers are free to continue.
posted by Anitanola at 9:24 PM on July 17, 2012 [19 favorites]


Morgan Freeman: So, the election of an African-American president has not cast us into a sunlit utopian "post-racial" society? "No, not at all, instead the whole thing uncovered" he pauses in sorrow or anger, "plenty of maggots still squirming around there under the stone."
posted by homunculus at 9:25 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


My shared experience as a black man with other black men is extremely important to me, much more than my experience as a middle class person or as a person from the Midwest. And doing away with that, well, I'm not sure about that.

I get what you're saying, and there is a similar debate happening in the gay community. Basically, kids like my son grow up not being really repressed* for being gay, and so don't appreciate the suffering that bought those freedoms. And it changes the culture and nature of being gay.

I laid it out in somewhat more detail here, so I'll just link that.

I'm not saying you're wrong; I just don't know how culture/race/ethnicity/whatever can be used simultaneously for the good parts of tribalism without bringing the bad parts along for the ride.

* this is in comparison to history, not that things are super awesome now
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:35 PM on July 17, 2012


[Fixed the typo in the post, carry on]
posted by jessamyn at 9:40 PM on July 17, 2012


My shared experience as a black man with other black men is extremely important to me, much more than my experience as a middle class person or as a person from the Midwest. And doing away with that, well, I'm not sure about that.

Am I allowed to have the same sentiment about my fellow white men? That race takes precedence over class or geography?
posted by 5ean at 9:45 PM on July 17, 2012


Who would be in the position to disallow that?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:51 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cambridge is a deeply conflicted city when it comes to racial relations. In the most visible cases it seems like the city struggles with its identity as part of Boston and the legacy of segregation that comes with that and how that past conflicts with the identity it casts for itself as a beacon of progress. In addition to the things that the Cambridge PD has done to get itself in the news on this subject, I have had my own small experiences that didn't do much to redeem them. I was once let go with a warning and a joke about good thing I was white haha in a situation where I pretty much certainly should've at least been given a ticket. I've also seen the CPD show up in riot gear simply because the Middle East, which hosts packed shows on a weekly basis and has for decades, held a hip hop show.

I wish I could say that this incident surprised me.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:51 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Am I allowed to have the same sentiment about my fellow white men?"

So, do you feel that being a white person is an important part of your identity? Do you have white experiences, other than a sense of superiority, that you feel need to be shared?

If so, sure, if not, which I suspect, it's kind of an empty argument.
posted by PJLandis at 9:54 PM on July 17, 2012


Is there something particular about Boston that makes this unsurprising?

Because if I heard it took place here in Hollywood, I would likewise be unsurprised. And that's a very disappointing fact to me. It also doesn't surprise me that the people tried to justify their racist comments by saying it was just a joke.

Yes, it was a joke. It was a racist joke. That you made to a black person who had the temerity to pass you trying to catch transportation at night.

Congratulations for that, you gorgeous samplings of human excellence.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:55 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Simply being an aware adult (which I know may be rare) helps me see that I have white experiences which end up being an important part of my identity, at least as far as others in the US perceive me and interact with me, which could possibly be entirely different if I were a black man with similar haircut/beard working a similar job taking public transit to and from work, shopping in stores, etc.

I don't really feel like it's an important part of my identity as far as my self-perception is concerned, but then fish don't know they swim in water.

But I don't kid myself and think that people of other races don't have different experiences in similar circumstances. I know they do, as I've seen it happen.

(Actually, I've HAD it happen to me... the difference between being a bearded hippie 20 years ago and being a bearded hippie now is largely 9/11, so the airport security and border patrol guard stations are much less interested in me now than they were then. Part of this is racism, part of this is having grey in my beard. But I'm not unaware of the change in attitude away from me and toward those perceived to be much more foreign than me.)
posted by hippybear at 10:02 PM on July 17, 2012


I was shocked to read it - and I read it aloud to two other people who were all like, "Whaa? did they actually say that?"

I'm very aware of racism, but I'm just used to it being so much more subtle.

I liked the essay - the title was a bit enh, but his overall point is strong: it doesn't matter that he is a divinity student, or that he was dressed pretty damn nerdy/middle class or that he is upper-middle class -- all that mattered to those people was the colour of his skin. No matter how "respectable" he is, in their eyes a man with his pigmentation is a criminal.
posted by jb at 10:12 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Racism is a result of ignorance, fear and a lack of empathy. All we need to do as a society is educate, give courage and instill empathy in our children. Is that really so hard?

Just the other evening I was walking to Whole Foods with my wife and another white, mid-30s couple when 7 or 8 rowdy black teens crossed our path. One of them wearing a bandana across his face ran up to us and shouted "I'm black nigga!"

I was a little unnerved by this at the time, but now I find it pretty comical.

"Watch me freak out the squares!"
posted by j03 at 10:23 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


And what the hell is the point of all that?

The point was twofold: to say, hey, racism still happens, quite casually, with detrimental effects ranging from the personal to the macrosocial; and to say, hey, you guys who think you have it figured out, this shit still happens all the time, maybe instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying "but I don't do that" you could address the problem.

Well, sweetkid, it's just seems weird that someone would bother writing so many words to state something so bloody obvious.

You would be absolutely astonished at how not obvious it turns out to be. I mean, like, laid out on your back, staring up at the sky, wondering how this could possibly be the world you live in astonished. I congratulate you on your purported enlightenment, but I would also suggest that if you believe that not every story of abject racism needs to be told and exposed, that awareness is missing a few corners of the room.

I'm very aware of racism, but I'm just used to it being so much more subtle

And that is the point. I think a lot of people believe that the only racism that exists anymore is aversive, institutional racism. It isn't. This conversation happens everywhere, all the time, in lots of places where the majority of us aren't paying attention. It is a detrimental fallacy to believe that we have conquered the very obvious and very blunt racism; it is an error to believe that only the stupid or the inane continue to perpetrate it.

For those of you who are saying "well, obviously racism is bad, so what?": the point is that we must confront it at every level, from the casual comment to the racially-motivated disproportion of imprisoned citizens and beyond. There isn't a level past which it is beneath your attention.
posted by Errant at 10:32 PM on July 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Modica:
The pursuit of a society in which external appearance is not a factor, that's a great thing. But I think people get caught up in saying that we should also move past race/ethnicity entirely, which I think is a bad thing. My shared experience as a black man with other black men is extremely important to me, much more than my experience as a middle class person or as a person from the Midwest. And doing away with that, well, I'm not sure about that.
See I can't get behind this. And I think this is due to my experience as a 'mixed-race' individual. I can remember growing up, not thinking that my parents were different. And I can remember the time as a child when I was forcibly introduced to the idea that my parents were not the same, and that clearly I should feel that was important for some reason. And sure, I have my prejudices instilled in me, same as anyone else. But the memory of that feeling, how race-awareness was imposed on me, gives me hope that we can really get beyond this at some point. Because it is not innate, nor does physical difference have to be so intrinsically tied to identity as many racists so desperately want us to believe. There is another way.
posted by aiglet at 10:34 PM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Okay, a really crappy but fairly inconsequential thing happened to one dude, who blogged about it. And... ?

Really, what is this thread going to actually accomplish? Does even one MeFite truly believe we're in a fully, 100%, post-racial society today? Don't most MeFites at least agree "We're making progress from where we as a society have been, even if things aren't perfect"? Isn't the most that many of us can really do is focus on improving our own behavior and awareness, checking when our friends and family say or do things that are rude to full-on racist, and then hope that this leads to a slow but inevitable change?

I mean, no one here thinks this was a good thing. No one here will defend the words of those four people. But I assume we'll just form lines like a dance hall, and one group that is feeling the outrage in full force will lob accusations that the other side is implicitly pro-racism simply because they aren't foaming at the mouth after reading the story.

And what the hell is the point of all that?
"

You know, I used to post things like this, especially in feminism threads, and at some point someone pushed back against me on it, saying that I was making a couple of mistakes. The first was that threads are supposed to have a goal, a teleology. Some do, I guess, but I don't think there has to be a goal outside of sharing a story (and this is well-written) and maybe having a discussion, which is happening. The second mistake was that if I didn't think the thread could go any but one way, well, not only was I imposing a bit of self-fulfillment on my pronouncement, but that it wasn't even really true — it was more a statement that I couldn't accomplish anything with the thread, and even that's a pretty fragile assertion because a temporary failure of imagination on my part doesn't preclude something later.

So I was both wrong and making things worse by sort of reciting a fallacious "common knowledge," and making my ignorance the default state, and that wasn't really fair to other MetaFilter members or the discussion.
posted by klangklangston at 10:54 PM on July 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


Post racial? Holy jumping Jesus on a goddam pogo stick!

I just got an email from a teabagger in Louisiana, off on a rant about "ragheads" that own a 76 service station / Mini Mart, who refused service to a National Guardsman in uniform, claiming that they "don't serve his kind" (military personnel). The video was several minutes long. The truculent narrator used the R word several times, although he admitted that he didn't really know where these guys were actually from--maybe Pakistans or somewhere like that. I won't bother to further characterize this joker's presentation.

He notified his friends, so several members of the community were shown in the video, outside the Mini Mart, whipped into a patriotic frenzy, carrying protest signs demanding that all True Americans shun these ragheads' business.

Naturally, the event they were protesting never happened. This was just a reprise of the same old racial stuff that shows up now and then, where people like this drape a flag over the cesspool of their moral tenets and show their ignorance at the top of their lungs. Then they pass it along to all the other racists on their email lists, who forward it uncritically to everyone else in the whole goddam world. When you try to reason with them by showing that the incident was a misunderstanding they just shrug and say that, well, they don't make it up, they just pass it along.

Okay, maybe post-racial is the wrong word. Terminal stupid is better. I am not a member of an ethnic minority, so I don't have a dog in this fight, so to speak. But racism really is a bad thing, for many reasons. I also resent it when racists wrap their venom in the flag. They are dangerous, because although they are weak minded, they still can get their cold clammy fingers around their triggers, and so stupid that they can't even imagine what asses they make of themselves with their narrow-minded hate-mongering. Worse yet, these bastards are guaranteed the right to vote. Okay, the voting rights are fair enough, it's just scary that there seems to be so goddam many of them.

I could go on, but I guess you get the drift of this rant.


Nah. Racist assholes is the right word.
posted by mule98J at 11:53 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Okay, a really crappy but fairly inconsequential thing happened to one dude, who blogged about it. And... ?

Well, now imagine that the people he ran into were a couple of off duty cops, who made the same assumption (Black guy running = criminal) and didn't joke, but attempted to arrest them? Before you know it you have another "innocent Black man shot down because they were mistaken for a thug".

That's one side of it.

Then there is the point that, as a Black person, you can be priviledged through your class and wealth and gender, but you still run into so many more incidents like this, where you are judged for your skin colour, than your white counterpart does. That this can often be forgotten by those who only see the wealth and priviledge and don't have the personal experience of how much race still matters.

Finally, for the dude in question his post was of course as much about blowing off steam for being profiled that way as it was to seriously enlighten people that, no really, America still isn't a post-radical paradise.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:58 PM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not necessarily sure that a 'post-racial society' is a good thing.

Me neither. I suspect any truly post-racial society would be a homogeneous society and one in which you'd wonder where the bodies were buried.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:02 AM on July 18, 2012


MartinWisse: Well, now imagine that the people he ran into were a couple of off duty cops, who made the same assumption (Black guy running = criminal) and didn't joke, but attempted to arrest them? Before you know it you have another "innocent Black man shot down because they were mistaken for a thug".
Why would anyone make that assumption? Because then it would be a different situation, and it wouldn't be a "fairly inconsequential thing", would it? If you're going to change what happened into an arbitrary hypothetical, it's not clear what point you'd be making in doing so.

And those events do happen- leading even to death during the arrest or custody- that it seems those would make a more meaningful FPP. And they happen often enough that I don't think anyone is saying "Wow, we are totally living in a post-racial America, you guys!".
Finally, for the dude in question his post was of course as much about blowing off steam for being profiled that way as it was to seriously enlighten people that, no really, America still isn't a post-radical paradise.
And again, the key here is, who exactly is supporting the strawman that we are living in a post-racial America, free from prejudice and bias? Who is this privileged young Harvard student "seriously enlightening", exactly?
posted by hincandenza at 12:57 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're going to change what happened into an arbitrary hypothetical, it's not clear what point you'd be making in doing so.

I found the point clear and hardly arbitrary or hypothetical: That a racist assumption that seems inconsequential when one group does it can have quite serious results when another group does it.

But of course cops would never assume a black person is a criminal because of the color of their skin.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:12 AM on July 18, 2012


America is one of the few western countries that it would scare me (as one half of a mixed couple) to visit with my other half.

Don't know how post racial you are, but the international reputation of the USA is pretty bad from where I'm standing.
posted by zoo at 1:43 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


And again, the key here is, who exactly is supporting the strawman that we are living in a post-racial America, free from prejudice and bias?

That's an interesting question. Every time I see the phrase "post-racial America" it's being used by someone arguing that America is not post-racial. A Google search for "post-racial" returns gobs of arguments that "post-racial" is a myth and indications that the phrase might have been used positively by a couple of magazines when Obama was first elected but nothing since.

At the same time, the article in the FPP certainly seemed relevant and timely to me. I have little doubt that the strangers who yelled their racist "joke" would deny that they were in any way racist. Racist statements more severe than that can be found massively upvoted/favorited/liked on popular websites like Reddit every day, maybe every hour. Yet they too claim they are not racist at all. It is my experience that there are very few places I can go on the internet where I am not reminded that my blackness makes me inferior. If there is a picture of a black person associated with a news article, whether the story is positive or negative, there will be racist comments. It's no different from a black person (or Arab person, or female person, or anyone else "marked") being unable to walk down the street without someone trying to put them in their (inferior) place.

Yet even though blatant racism runs rampant, not only will the people who engage in it say they are not at all bigoted, but the majority of them will claim that if anything, they are the victims. Whites rated anti-white bias as more prevalent in the 2000s than anti-black bias. Conservatives argue that whites need a civil rights movement. That article concludes with a sociologist who claims America is becoming a place where race doesn't matter.

How to explain these disparities? I'd say it's the emergence of colorblind racism which is now entrenched in mainstream American culture. Colorblind ideology (not seeing race leads to less racism) underlies post-racial theories (race doesn't matter so much).
posted by Danila at 1:49 AM on July 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


Typical. They don't consider themselves racist because to them doing this proves they aren't racist. Like they are so cool with everyone they can throw racial stereotypes around and everyone will laugh and grab a beer because we are all bros here. It is not a big leap from laughing at Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle doing jokes about stereotypes to making the jokes yourself. We are cool though right? I heard that joke on Showtime at the Apollo so it's all good.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:57 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


And again, the key here is, who exactly is supporting the strawman that we are living in a post-racial America, free from prejudice and bias?

Presumably the 50% of Americans who do not support affirmative action.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:10 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Racism is a result of ignorance, fear and a lack of empathy. All we need to do as a society is educate, give courage and instill empathy in our children. Is that really so hard?

Yes.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:15 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I want is for us to stop pretending. I want us to stop pretending that racism is over. If it were, tipsy strangers wouldn’t have heckled me. I want us to stop pretending that it’s not harder to be female than male, that it’s not harder to be gay than straight. I want us to stop pretending that we live in an equal society. We don’t. It isn’t one person or one group’s fault. Instead of blaming or evading, we can encourage and confront, together. Instead of pretending that all these “isms” are over, we can say “Things are better than they’ve ever been, and there’s so much more to be done.”

I don't know if this can ever happen. We seem to automatically fear and exclude people who are different from us no matter how slight those differences are.
posted by francesca too at 5:34 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


unfortunately racism is alive and well in "Amurica", however this group of "a-holes" would have probably jeered at anybody running by that looked different from them.
posted by incandissonance at 6:29 AM on July 18, 2012


Except purple people, who are a different kind of organic matter altogether. Eat them!

Aborigines Aubergines?
posted by acb at 6:56 AM on July 18, 2012


I'm not saying you're wrong; I just don't know how culture/race/ethnicity/whatever can be used simultaneously for the good parts of tribalism

I know it's a minority opinion, but I don't believe there are any good parts of tribalism. We don't need those behaviors anymore because we're a global species now that needs to learn to be fully self-integrated. Now, if what was left of race were something more or less empty of social consequence--like an association with a particular regional culture or something like that--maybe I could get behind the idea. But the concept of race from its very earliest historical beginnings has really only been used as a mechanism by imperial and colonial powers to divide groups of people with otherwise common economic interests against each other in order to more easily exploit them. I'm not a Marxist, but the concept of race in particular seems to me to be the prototype for the idea he described as "false consciousness."
posted by saulgoodman at 7:19 AM on July 18, 2012


I am not a member of an ethnic minority, so I don't have a dog in this fight, so to speak.

You should have a dog in this fight.
posted by sweetkid at 7:20 AM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's been my experience, that post racial is the phrase that racists use to say "NOW it's OK to be a racist! Thanks Obama!"
posted by evilDoug at 7:27 AM on July 18, 2012


Another nasty thing about tribes is they have a really bad habit of adopting beliefs and attitudes and even unjustifiably persecuting innocent group-outsiders merely to help reinforce and maintain their group cohesion (since nothing binds a group together better or more permanently than the process of cultural myth-making that goes into self-justifying inhumane treatment or attitudes toward outsiders). Whether a group is a minority or a majority, identity groups will always contribute to some level of social friction and injustice. Hell, people have been known to kill or rationalize away even worse horrors because they identify themselves too closely with their favorite sports team. Even seemingly innocuous forms of tribal identity like that seem to inevitably lead to certain forms of social conflict.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it even worth commenting on the post-racial thing? Of course we're not that.

All the same, I thing it's useful to collect and examine case studies in specific expressions of racism like this, because they help us tease out more of the real-world nuances of how racism still operates in practice in America.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:40 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


ugh. 'think.'
posted by saulgoodman at 7:57 AM on July 18, 2012


Presumably the 50% of Americans who do not support affirmative action.

To be fair, a lot of them probably don't think they live in a post-racial America, they just don't give a shit about helping people from demographic groups who've been culturally oppressed and are in fact just fine with prejudice and bias, historical and current.
posted by aught at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2012


A friend of mine (who is also a Unitarian Universalist seminarian, coincidentally) led a conference workshop some years ago that was about recognizing and confronting the ingrained and unconscious biases even the most well-intentioned people carry around.

It did not go well.

Keep in mind this at a UU conference, where affirming "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" is almost literally chapter and verse. I'm sure most people going into the workshop were dead certain that they were about to spend an hour or so talking about how other people walk around with half-formed racist opinions, not having their own bona fides as good White liberals questioned. It left some people literally shaking with anger.

Of course, the response may also have had something to do with my friend being known neither for his diplomacy nor his tact and being barely out of his teen years and thus filled with the abrasive self-righteousness of youth and zeal (he's mellowed since). Still, there's a lot of soft bigotry even in places that outwardly repudiate such ideas. The loudmouth on the street who thinks his bullshit is "just a joke" has a counterpart in the progressive who tenses up and metaphorically locks their car doors at sight of a person of color (particularly one dressed a certain way).
posted by Panjandrum at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Even seemingly innocuous forms of tribal identity like that seem to inevitably lead to certain forms of social conflict.

I quite likely agree with your "minority opinion", though I'm not quite sure. (I think we -- humanity -- have a great deal of common cultural wealth arising from small, specific subgroups, and the increased connectivity between formerly disparate chunks of humanity is, right now, enabled largely by destructive, imperialistic, culturally homogenizing forces, so I have reservations.)

The problem you've outlined that is summarized in the above-italicized quote is perhaps one of two very different factors contributing to racism. You mentioned the other, too. There are "natural" (though not laudable, and even sometimes evil) results of friction between groups defined by their own members, and also manufactured conflicts between manufactured groups. The latter type plays a bigger role in American racism than in racism elsewhere, probably, and it's not exactly a form of "tribalism" (although "tribalism"-based racism is also a factor). To me, ethnic conflict between minority groups seems like standard tribalism, while conflict between a majority and a minority has extra systemic elements (since, e.g. a white USA person doesn't have to be a white supremacist, or even really feel strongly about, or particularly notice, her own whiteness in order to exhibit racist attitudes and behaviours).

These two causes of inter-group conflict are even pitted against each other, as in the use of "[group] pride" language as a counter to systemic intolerance. I can interpret that notion in ways that make it make sense -- for example, an individual who deals frequently with systemic intolerance but survives and thrives regardless has a very concrete reason to feel proud -- but pride in group membership itself seems tribalistic to me, and seems to encourage one source of inter-group friction as a means of mitigating the other. That's understandable, though, because it's natural to confront serious problems in the company of others with the same problems, and the categories of people most affected by systemic oppression of specific groups are of course the specific groups, so round and round we go.

Perhaps one way of eliminating both sources of inter-group conflict and majoritarian oppression (manufactured or otherwise) is actually a radical fragmentation by which individual differences are so large and noticeable that the only way to divide people into tribes is by acknowledging consciously-formed, subject-to-quick-change groups that they create and join themselves.

If one adopts this goal, for the sake of argument, one sees how ludicrous the "post-racial" thing is. While it may be true that race is now somewhat less of a factor in limiting the "intentional tribes" that one may join, there is still definite systemic pressure to identify with tribes one didn't choose, whether one wants to or not, in the sense that, because of my race, I am way less likely to even remember to include it when asked for a list of personal attributes, compared to someone of a similar background and any other race.

I guess my point is that the systemic, manufactured oppression has to be addressed before there is any hope of dealing with the more ingrained, "natural" tribalistic aspects of inter-group conflict, and that a lot of the responsibility for doing this lies with members of non-oppressed groups, whether they are actively involved in oppressing anybody or not. This means that the group divisions have to be recognized, to some extent, by the very people who are least affected. On one hand, this squares with what I said about my list of personal attributes. On the other hand, it seems counter to goals involving catchphrases like "post-racial", and one TL;DR comment later, I am no less confused than I was before, and no less disheartened that the best I can do is pretty much just to crack down on my own subconscious racism (for example) when it arises and call other folks on theirs.
posted by kengraham at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


maintain their group cohesion

This is a good example of what I mean by "natural". By and large, under circumstances where maintaining group cohesion conflicts with compassion, or prudence, or even recognition of verifiable fact, humans tend to go for the group cohesion. Often the word "progress", which is problematic in other contexts, gets trotted out to describe situations where this tendency is violated.

This tendency strikes me as a bug, not a feature, of human psychology, but as far as I know it is extremely low-level and widespread. It's also not a big jump from that tendency to consequences like (one type of) racism, xenophobia, etc. Therefore, the best "post-racial" society we're likely to see is one in which race has been replaced by something else as a means of tribal demarcation. I can think of lots of situations in which this could be an improvement, but there are also plenty of situations in which the tribal demarcation is made along non-racial lines and results in equally fucked-up consequences. Another low-level human bug is the tendency to look very hard for such divisions, and even to invent them by amplifying inconsequential differences, a la the Little/Big Endians (and, to a large extent, a la race).
posted by kengraham at 11:29 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]



*Most* of the America has it worse than this guy, which is actually sort of his point - "look how awesome I am and people still do this". Great dude - given that, can you try to imagine how it is for everyone who didn't have lawyer parents to send them to Harvard Divinity school?


What level of accomplishment should he have to achieve to be judged by the content of his character?
posted by kanemano at 1:33 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that America might just be edging vaguely close to maybe allowing itself to be post-pig-f***er RACIST.

Which is a start, I guess. The beginning of one anyway.
posted by philip-random at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2012


kengraham: I share your reservations. But I'm convinced group identity is more a net liability in the modern world than a good, especially when it's embraced too fervently and without any self-reflective sense of also belonging to a broader society of humanity in general. (We need more humanists in the public sphere.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2012


mule98j: I am not a member of an ethnic minority, so I don't have a dog in this fight, so to speak.

sweetkid: "You should have a dog in this fight."

Yeah. You're right. I've been thinking about that since I wrote it.

Instead, I ought to have said that I wasn't trying to pretend I could understand anti-black racism. I let the heat of the moment distract me from re-reading the rant before I hit the send button.

I'm white. I spent most of my teens living with a family of Native Americans, who took me in when I became too much for my mother to handle. Mr. Cruz taught me civility by example, and Mrs Cruz taught me manners by broomstick. Their oldest son and I joined the Army together.

At the end of Jump School, at Fort Benning, Georgia, we were waiting orders that would send us to our duty stations: Jim would go to the 101st Airborne, at Fort Campbell Kentucy, and I would go to the 173'd Airborne, then on Okinawa. We wanted to celebrate getting our jump wings, so we took a base taxi to a diner just outside the gate. (This was in January of 1964, so it was nothing then like it is now around the base.)

We went inside and sat down. This was our first venture off post. We grew up in California, and had spent our basic training and AIT at Fort Ord. Neither one of us had ever been back east, and the recent turbulence there was just so much news-foofah to us: barely 18 years old and more impressed with our jump wings than racial tension.

While we waited for our cheeseburgers we decided to hit the latrine. The waitress pointed a thumb to the back of the diner when we asked where it was. Now, Jim and I noticed that people were looking at us, but we figured it was because we were paratroopers. At the back of the diner we saw three doors: Men. Women. Colored.

This stopped us in our tracks. Jim put his hand on my arm and wondered which door he was supposed to use--he is Navajo, very dark. I shrugged, and we stood there for maybe a whole minute to let this sink in. We talked it over. I have to tell you that we were having a hard time taking this seriously, but we knew that people had been killed over stuff like this.

We decided to use the Colored bathroom, to keep from pissing off the locals by violating their customs, so we both went in there. I don't know if they ever cleaned it, or if it was any dirtier than the other two, but we were used to latrines that were clean enough to serve food from the urinals: okay, army latrines aren't quite that sanitary, but we kept them clean. This latrine was bad. We had to clean the sink before we washed our hands. I won't describe the urinal.

I guess they could hear us laughing back in the diner. But anyhow, when we got back the lady informed us that they were all out of cheeseburgers. Coffee, too. Now, we were eighteen, and pretty full of ourselves, and this could have gotten pretty ugly. But it didn't. We laughed and walked out, got a taxi back to base, where we were safe.
posted by mule98J at 10:37 PM on July 18, 2012 [223 favorites]


Thanks for sharing that mule98J.
posted by sweetkid at 4:24 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeesh. Thanks, mule98J. I so rarely get to read first person accounts of stuff like that.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:45 AM on July 19, 2012


> We can get to a point where we overlook skin color and appearance, sure. But there's a shared cultural history present for blacks, for Hispanics, for immigrants from China or Japan or Korea that's extremely important to who we are as people and as a community. The pursuit of a society in which external appearance is not a factor, that's a great thing. But I think people get caught up in saying that we should also move past race/ethnicity entirely, which I think is a bad thing.

I don't think the value of shared experience within an ethnicity/culture is really going anywhere.

I do think that it's hugely problematic to conflate ethnicity/culture with race. "Race" as identified by skin color is so ridiculously arbitrary that it seems mostly just useful for prejudice.
posted by desuetude at 10:48 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure most people going into the workshop were dead certain that they were about to spend an hour or so talking about how other people walk around with half-formed racist opinions, not having their own bona fides as good White liberals questioned.

It took me being pretty blatantly and horribly racist to realize how racist being "colorblind" was. When I was in my early twenties, I worked with adults with persistant mental disorders at a day program which had a van pickup system. Our clientel was broad, with the two main groups being blacks and whites (Asians a distant third). The last two we picked up were a very old, white couple who took forever to get to seats further back on the van, and often we were running late (we had groups to runi nt he morning). One morning, impatiently waiting for them and anticipating another five minutes as they tried to get back to the only seats left, I asked the people in the front seat to move back. One of them did, but the other didn't, and I definitely got aggressive with my wording (though no curses, and I don't remember the specific words, just the feeling of anger and impatience). It took forever, I was late to my group, and then I mostly forgot about it.

A day or two later one of the therapists called me into her apartment and told me the other way of viewing what I'd done. I hadn't noticed the two people I ordered to the back were black. I didn't really pay attention to how the therapist was black, either. I was colorblind, you see, so color didn't matter.

I'd ordered a black man who lived through Civil Rights to the back of the van.

I'd learned about Civil Rights, and the back of the bus being for blacks, and blacks having to give up their seats for whites, but it wasn't a lived, horrifying reality for me until I became that bus driver. I thought I was a good person because I treated everyone the same and that was enough, but it never is; good people need the ability to listen to others, understand their struggles, and then advocate beside them for their rights in order to really be good people. Good people need to become aware of their own implicit biases and combat them by seeking out contrary examples in order to be really good people. Good people is not a passive goal that once reached you get a little trophy, it's a lived reality day in and day outt hat responds to circumstances and people.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:06 AM on July 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


It took me being pretty blatantly and horribly racist to realize how racist being "colorblind" was.

I'm not sure how what you did there qualifies as "racist". Clueless and horribly insensitive, yes. Disrespectful of what people have been though and live with? Definitely. A decision that was itself in any way informed by race? Not so much.

I believe that having the ability to be colorblind and knowing when it's appropriate is an important item in everyone's toolbox. It points the way to where we want to get to, and the fact that it's still a long way off doesn't change its worthiness as a goal.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:38 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


A decision that was itself in any way informed by race?

Racism is an institutionalize system of systematic discrimination that some people participate in knowingly and other people participate unknowingly but all of which reinforces that people of certain races are lesser and should obey others. I was the white bus driver ordering a black person to the back of the bus. That is blatantly, hugely, horrifically racist.

I don't need anyone trying to excuse what I did or pretend it doesn't exist in a context where it took a year of boycotts to begin to dismantle Jim Crow. Frankly, it pisses me off that people do, every time I tell this story, try to make me not racist.

I WAS RACIST.

I still am, no doubt; implicit racism is pernicious and unconscious.

Racism is a system of discrimination. You don't have to know you're racist in order to perpetuate it, in fact your ignorance and implicit racism is a far more difficult problem to uproot because everyone spends their time going, "But this person CAN'T be racist, it wasn't INFORMED by race" while ignoring that ordering people to the back of the bus is a longstanding aspect of Jim Crow that was specifically instituted to make Black people suffer.

I made someone suffer - someone who already had enough troubles on his plate without dealing with a racist fuckwit.

Stop trying to excuse it by pretending it wasn't part of a racist system and thus racism.

ESPECIALLY when I'm typing it to MAKE THE FUCKING POINT that people can be racist without being aware it's racist.

For the gods' sake, I'd love to tell this story sometime and not have someone try to pretend it wasn't racist.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:34 PM on July 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Deoridhe...I still am, no doubt; implicit racism is pernicious and unconscious.

Perhaps so.

I have some uncomfortable memories that are uncomfortable now only because I bothered to write certain things down in a journal over forty years ago, and I can't edit them to fit my present state of enlightenment. My present discomfort over this is, well, comforting. There's no law that says we have to be stuck in the stupid mode forever.

The rule seems to be that you can't see it until you move away from it. Scary. Can't tell where the blind spot is, and you are never sure why people keep slapping you on the back of the head.

I don't see a derail here.
posted by mule98J at 10:19 PM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


For the gods' sake, I'd love to tell this story sometime and not have someone try to pretend it wasn't racist.

I doubt that Tell Me No Lies was pretending anything. They didn't believe in the same meaning of "racist" as you.

If racism is the social system of oppression, then from an outside perspective, it stands to reason that a "racist" is a person who subscribes to that system ideologically, in the same way that a "capitalist" isn't just a person who runs a business, but one who believes in the broad societal value of doing so.

You believe that "racist" is a role a person can play, rather than an inalienable characteristic of that person. That's fine and good and in my opinion more useful than the use of "racist" to describe a believer.

Nonetheless it behooves you, if you want to be listened to, to refrain from assuming that a person who didn't get a memo it is being dishonest. Human ignorance knows no bounds. Intelligence and reasonability can only do so much for it.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:29 PM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm racist, somewhere in my core, I'm pretty sure I am, because - in addition of course to all the ways someone is unconsciously or culturally racist - I try very hard not to be.
posted by madmatx at 10:00 PM on July 21, 2012


Post-racial? I don't even get to be black anymore? Damn they're taking everything.


If anything we're born pre-racial. At some point we have to sit down and plot the points, alone or with help from someone else, to figure out why in varied situations certain people are subtly or not so subtly shitty to us. This post-racial/colorblind talk always sounded like a conspiracy to me. A 'feelgood' attempt to convince people who know better to suddenly stop knowing better and take every racially motivated attack or remark as being personal and not racial.

There's this idea out there that non-whites invented race and are inflicting it on white people. This idea that if people stopped talking about the problems that they would go away but because we can't keep ourselves from invoking the spectre of race it will haunt us forever.

This idea that White Supremacy isn't a central, if quiet, part of the culture of whites in America.
posted by yonega at 2:22 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe you think you are racist, but what you did wasn't racist. If you had asked them to move to the back of the bus because they were black, that would have been racist. You asked them to move to the back of the bus because they were younger and more fit than the other couple.

I think that their action - in not giving their seats to the elderly passengers, if they themselves were younger and more fit - was very rude and inconsiderate.
posted by jb at 3:00 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the point of Deoridhe's anecdote is that being "colorblind" and not thinking about the history of racism isn't a better thing for society, even if it were possible, because you can end up doing things like asking black people to move to the back of a bus without really thinking about the historical significance of that, which is different than it is for white people.
posted by sweetkid at 7:44 PM on July 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe you think you are racist, but what you did wasn't racist.

Do I get to call this "pretending there's no racism" LogicalDash, or is the bar even higher?

God gods, do you know how long ago Civil Rights were? To call the man I offended rude... I have nothing polite to say to you, jb.

What I did was racist. It was in the context of a racist society and I caused direct and irreparable harm to another human being. If you can't see how shameful that is, then I don't know what to say to you besides "Stay away from me and anyone else you could hurt."
posted by Deoridhe at 11:44 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deoridhe: Maybe it wasn't racist. Maybe it was just inconsiderate and unempathic. A mistake that you've agonised over that you aren't going to make again.

I understand what you're trying to say here, but I think there's a need to differentiate between saying something that is offensive and which is informed by prevailing racist attitudes and saying something that should be harmless but could potentially be triggering because of historical racist attitudes.
posted by zoo at 2:39 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I understand what you're trying to say here, but I think there's a need to differentiate between saying something that is offensive and which is informed by prevailing racist attitudes and saying something that should be harmless but could potentially be triggering because of historical racist attitudes.

So it was racist in effect rather than in cause.

If you insist.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:03 AM on July 23, 2012


>If you insist.
What on earth does that mean?
posted by zoo at 4:53 AM on July 23, 2012


You insist on differentiating between causal racism and effective racism.

I'm not sure why, but I'm happy to provide vocabulary anyway.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:09 AM on July 23, 2012


Sorry fella. I'm still not getting it.

Mayhaps you're making some awesome point that everyone else understands, but I don't know what you're trying to say to me, how that thing fits into the wider narrative and how it addresses anything I said in my one "insistent" comment.
posted by zoo at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2012


I think there's a need to differentiate between saying something that is offensive and which is informed by prevailing racist attitudes and saying something that should be harmless but could potentially be triggering because of historical racist attitudes.

Okay.

something that is offensive and which is informed by prevailing racist attitudes

Racist in cause, or caused by racism.

and saying something that should be harmless but could potentially be triggering because of historical racist attitudes.

Racist in effect, or an effect of racism.

Differentiation accomplished.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2012


Okay - now you've explained how your summarisation of my comment works. Now can you tell me why you summarised that comment and what effect that has within the wider context of either my comment or the thread.

Because apart from a need to paraphrase, I'm seriously not understanding what your point is.
posted by zoo at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2012


I'm glad we've had this conversation.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:15 AM on July 23, 2012


An action whose effect is the same as the effect of a racist act is effectively racist and reinforces the racist narrative even if the individual who did the action is unaware of the racist aspects of it.

It is easy to be unaware of the racist aspects of an action if one ignores race.

And yeah, what I did was racist. I don't agonize about it anymore, though. Now I get pissed off at the legions of people who try to excuse ME and ignore the damage I did to a vulnerable person.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:39 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The experience you're currently having, Deoridhe, is similar to the experience of many people of color when they relate their stories of racism, only to be met with well-meaning attempts to reinterpret an unshared experience that puts things in a more palatable, less disturbing light. I thank you for facing your experiences head-on, evaluating them, learning from them, and trying to do better.
posted by Errant at 7:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thank you for facing your experiences head-on, evaluating them, learning from them, and trying to do better.

I second that. Very cool.
posted by sweetkid at 7:53 PM on July 23, 2012


So it's the middle of the night here, and I'm not sleeping (as I should be) because my wife isn't sleeping. She's not sleeping because she's upset about something somebody said on an internet forum.

I mean she's really upset. I'm not going to lie to you: she's an excitable person, and she gets upset a lot... but this is different. Because somebody on this internet forum (somebody she doesn't know and will likely never meet) has struck a peculiar nerve and sorta-kinda accused her of being racist. She keeps telling me that they told her to stay away from them and all their loved ones.

For context, here's the full quote:

What I did was racist. It was in the context of a racist society and I caused direct and irreparable harm to another human being. If you can't see how shameful that is, then I don't know what to say to you besides "Stay away from me and anyone else you could hurt."

I mean, that's not so bad is it? Internet forum people say worse things all the time. But for some reason this barb went deep. It went deep enough that jb, who is a very careful person, can't even recall it properly. She's seeing red and loosing sleep.

Now, I want to add here that my first instinct is to rush in and defend her, because that's what we do with people we care about. I want to tell you about her upbringing and her life experiences and how I feel about this story of the bus (oh and I have some really cutting comments that I'm just itching to make) and blah, blah, blah... but I'm not going to.

This isn't because I don't care, or because it's not interesting, or even because it's the middle of the night. It's more because I couldn't get over the irony of fighting about this.

I mean you see the irony right? The whole fight is about how bad it is to accidentally upset someone, about how there's sometimes no comebacks, even if what you did is unintentional and apparently harmless... 'If you can't see how shameful that is, then I don't know what to say to you besides "Stay away from me and anyone else you could hurt."' Seriously, what would those great-hearted humans who led the civil rights movement say about a sentiment such as this?

All this made me think of a story, and I'm going to leave off with this story and then go to bed, because I think it's à propos.

We lived, you see, in the US for a time (we're academics). When we lived there, we were in a very segregated, northern city. It was the kind of place where there was a strict dividing line between the 'white' neighbourhood and the 'black' neighbourhood. It really was a very stark dividing line with almost no 'white' people living even one block into the 'black' area, which was not only racially almost uniform, but also mired in truly terrible poverty.

Being foreigners we had no real notion of how to navigate such a social environment. We lived in one of the few truly integrated buildings on the street which divided the two neighbourhoods. Being poor, many of the places we had to go to were actually in the 'black' area, as the local white people tended to drive to special 'white' shops out of town.

But we also liked the 'black' neighbourhood. The people there were friendly and there was life on the streets. Miss Rose, the matriarch who lorded over our building with queenly grace, chatted with us as we came and went. We started to work with the local kids, and soon they began to greet us by name. They gave jb the honour of calling her 'Miss J____'. We were becoming part of the community.

So it was that on an autumn morning I trundled my rickety cart through the back streets to the store, and as I went an African American man fell into step beside me, and struck up a conversation. To be perfectly honest, it wasn't the most coherent conversation I'd ever had. Living in a drug-riddled neighbourhood like that one, you tend to get a sense for when people are high, and this guy was... well he had that kind of twitchy look of somebody on crack. He was talking fast, but he was kind of mumbling, and I still didn't have a perfect ear for the local accent, and I couldn't make out what he was saying.

I've told this story to Americans before, and they always get nervous at this point, because I'm talking about a black man on crack. And yes, I know how that looks, but it really happened that way, and it's an important... factor in how it came out.

You see, drug addicted or not he was perfectly amiable and, to be honest, I was almost elated. People had greeted me every day for weeks, but to have a local person actually strike up a conversation on the street was a real step forward. I felt like I'd arrived. I was a local, now. I was part of the neighbourhood just like Miss Rose and the portly gent who sat on his porch two blocks over, and the lady with all those plastic spiny-things in her yard... I was just a local guy pushing a shopping buggy who another local like me could have a chat with about... something about presidents? I couldn't quite make it out...

And then what he was saying kind of snapped into focus, like one of those visual puzzles where one minute it's just blobs and lines and the next it's a picture of a dalmatian, or what-have-you. Suddenly through the unfamiliar accent and the mumbling I could understand what he was saying.

"You, you ain't a bad man", he said, "you ain't my slave driver!"

And there I was again. On the outside.

Someone once said to me that slavery is 'America's original sin', and perhaps that's true. But I think that race is its curse. Race, for Americans, a complex net of symbols which ensnarls anyone who touches it.

Outsiders, like jb and I, can never really understand that net of symbols, in much the same way that Americans can never really understand 'class' in Britain. But although I've never been able to untangle even a bit of the discourse of 'race' in America, I have come to think it poisonous.

Those symbols, you see, have this strange power to make people forget humanity. That guy who was talking to me probably thought he was being nice. He'd seen me around, he wanted to let me know I was all right with him. I wasn't his slave driver... I was welcome to visit his neighbourhood.

And just like that, here we are discussing the symbols of race in America, and those symbols reach out from the past and corrupt us. They make us forget that buses are, you know, buses, and that seats are places to sit and that the person on the other side of that computer screen is, you know... a person.

While I've been writing this, jb has gone to sleep (and if you're still awake this far in, good for you!). She doesn't look happy. She's curled up and frowning. But I hope she'll unwind and relax, soon, and maybe begins to dream. And I hope that her dream transcends.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


> And yeah, what I did was racist. I don't agonize about it anymore, though. Now I get pissed off at the legions of people who try to excuse ME and ignore the damage I did to a vulnerable person.

I see that you're trying to make an earnest point about the breadth of racism and its ability to harm. I get that this incident shook you deeply. But the escalating tone of your comments is, um, kinda making this all about you.
posted by desuetude at 8:56 AM on July 24, 2012


Seeing as it started with a story that was about her, I think that's appropriate.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't the point to be more sensitive to others?
posted by desuetude at 6:57 AM on July 25, 2012


"In the Dealers’ room was an Autograph Table where, throughout the convention, pairs of writers were assigned an hour each to make themselves available for book signing. The hours the writers would be at the table was part of the program. At 12:30 on Saturday I came to sit down just as Nalo Hopkinson came to join me.

"Understand, on a personal level, I could not be more delighted to be signing with Nalo. She is charming, talented, and I think of her as a friend. We both enjoyed our hour together. That is not in question. After our hour was up, however, and we went and had some lunch together with her friend David, we both found ourselves more amused than not that the two black American sf writers at Readercon, out of nearly eighty professionals, had ended up at the autograph table in the same hour. Let me repeat: I don’t think you can have racism as a positive system until you have that socio-economic support suggested by that (rather arbitrary) twenty percent/eighty percent proportion. But what racism as a system does is isolate and segregate the people of one race, or group, or ethnos from another. As a system it can be fueled by chance as much as by hostility or by the best of intentions. (“I thought they would be more comfortable together. I thought they would want to be with each other …”) And certainly one of its strongest manifestations is as a socio-visual system in which people become used to always seeing blacks with other blacks and so—because people are used to it—being uncomfortable whenever they see blacks mixed in, at whatever proportion, with whites.

"My friend of a decade’s standing, Eric Van, had charge at this year’s Readercon of the programming the coffee klatches, readings, and autograph sessions. One of the goals—facilitated by computer—was not only to assign the visiting writers to the panels they wanted to be on, but to try, when possible, not to schedule those panels when other panels the same writers wanted to hear were also scheduled. This made some tight windows. I called Eric after the con, who kindly pulled up grids and schedule sheets on his computer. “Well,” he said, “lots of writers, of course, asked to sign together. But certainly neither you nor Nalo did that. As I recall, Nalo had a particularly tight schedule. She wasn’t arriving until late Friday night. Saturday at 12:30 was pretty much the only time she could sign—so, of the two of you, she was scheduled first. When I consulted the grid, the first two names that came up who were free at the same time were you and Jonathan Lethem. You came first in the alphabet—and so I put you down. I remember looking at the two of you, you and Nalo, and saying: Well, certainly there’s nothing wrong with that pairing. But the point is, I wasn’t thinking along racial lines. I probably should have been more sensitive to the possible racial implications—”

"Let me reiterate: Racism is a system. As such, it is fueled as much by chance as by hostile intentions and equally the best intentions as well. It is whatever systematically acclimates people, of all colors, to become comfortable with the isolation and segregation of the races, on a visual, social, or economic level—which in turn supports and is supported by socio-economic discrimination. Because it is a system, however, I believe personal guilt is almost never the proper response in such a situation. Certainly, personal guilt will never replace a bit of well-founded systems analysis. And one does not have to be a particularly inventive science fiction writer to see a time, when we are much closer to that 20 percent division, where we black writers all hang out together, sign our books together, have our separate tracks of programming, if we don’t have our own segregated conventions, till we just never bother to show up at yours because we make you uncomfortable and you don’t really want us; and you make us feel the same way … "

—Samuel R. Delany, "Racism and Science Fiction"
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 1:24 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole fight is about how bad it is to accidentally upset someone, about how there's sometimes no comebacks, even if what you did is unintentional and apparently harmless.

Um, no, that isn't what it's about. It's about how what we think might not be racist often is, and the systematic way people try to deny its racist even when the person who did the act owns the racism.

It's not about accidentally upsetting someone. It's about accidentally reinforcing a racist narrative that is hugely shameful and perpetuated largely through the denial that it is a racist narrative and that racism persists through systematic, unconscious discrimination. It's also about the subsequent denial that what I did was even part of a racist narrative.

I won't comment on your story about being uncomfortable because a black man on crack used the phrase, "you're not my slave driver" around you. I don't have the energy.



But the escalating tone of your comments is, um, kinda making this all about you...
Isn't the point to be more sensitive to others?


Huh. A story about me... isn't actually about me. How curious.

And no, the story is not about being more sensitive to others; it's about how someone who thinks they are not racist can be very, very racist. That is, it's about me, and how I'm racist, and how people keep trying to come up with reasons why I'm not for reasons which I have no charitable explanation for.

It's about how quickly people defended those who assume a black man running must be a criminal, and how quickly people attack any minority who points out discrimination however minor. It's about much broader things, too; denial of sexism in skeptical and geek cultures, for example; denial of racism related to football teams still named for racial slurs; people who take someone saying "I was racist" and internalize it as an insult to them, as if I said "You are a racist."

I have never said "You are a racist" in this discussion. That's not for me to judge. Me, though, I've caught being sexist, and racist, and transphobic, and so I no longer try to hide from those labels because I want to improve the world by not being that anymore and the only way to stop is to accept when I am instead of pretending I can never be, since the latter just perpetuates the system through willful ignorance. I also want to talk about the times I was so that hopefully someone reading along might get shocked out of their complacency the way I was, and learn to accept their own imperfections and fight against them instead of pretending they must be perfectly insulated from their society, and thus above reproach.



Since somehow two people have managed, after me saying the word "racism" and "racist" multiple times and making it central to my story, to neatly remove it from the narrative - I'm adding in a few extra to hopefully take up the slack.

Racist. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racist. Racism. Racism. Racism. Racism.

(Thanks Errant and sweetkid.)
posted by Deoridhe at 1:38 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


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