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A trip to the grocery store
August 24, 2013 6:35 AM   Subscribe

But what would have happened — I can’t know for certain — if the black woman said “This is unfair! Why are you doing this the me?” A glimpse at white privilege and how to use it for good.
posted by Deathalicious (122 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite

 
A necessary point, well made.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:49 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Powerful...and challenging to those of us who, despite our best intentions, often take that privilege for granted.
posted by darkstar at 6:57 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw this yesterday and thought it was really powerful. This woman is such a riveting storyteller also, I could watch her read the phone book or something.

Of course the initial comments I saw were "she must be exaggerating."

Grr.
posted by sweetkid at 6:58 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't be too harsh on the "she must be exagerrating" people. That's what privilege does to you when you grow up with it. I imagine it actually takes an event like this to happen right in front of you before you even realize that you have it, and even then it can be difficult to comprehend.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:12 AM on August 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


There's a point when they look at you with a flash of confusion in their eyes as if to say "why you doing this?, why are you on their side". I know this because that's the point where I lose my shit and I go from super whitey librul hero to scene-making crazy motherfucker. I wish I was a better person but fuck man, I ain't on "your" side you fucking idiot, you're on ours.
posted by fullerine at 7:15 AM on August 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


sweetkid, where did you see people saying "She must be exaggerating"... there weren't any in the YouTube comments, and generally YouTube comments are the worst of the worst.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:15 AM on August 24, 2013


I'm pretty conflicted about how I would act in a similar situation, because I also don't want to act as if people don't have their own voices. If I were witness to that scenario, and took the same action that DeGruy's sister-in-law did, I'd expect an equal chance that the other person would be thinking, "Mind your own business! I just want to get this over with, not make my life even more difficult by turning it into a conflict that I don't have time/emotional energy for right now."

If I, as a white person, choose to use my privilege to intervene in this kind of interaction, I am in effect deciding that the POC's decision to stay silent is unacceptable and has to be overridden. "You're not advocating enough for yourself, POC! White person to the rescue!" DeGruy and her sister-in-law know each other well enough that it was OK, but as a total stranger, I don't think I would do that. Instead, I'd probably go straight to the manager later.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:19 AM on August 24, 2013 [33 favorites]


sweetkid, where did you see people saying "She must be exaggerating"... there weren't any in the YouTube comments, and generally YouTube comments are the worst of the worst.

I saw the comments on the Upworthy Facebook post.
posted by sweetkid at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2013


When you remove the politically-charged buzzword "white privilege" from this story, what remains is a tale about a racist store clerk and manager.

Remaining calm and shaming this sort of racism--perhaps loudly so that most of the store can hear it--is far more effective than losing your cool.
posted by cleancut at 7:25 AM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is a great story. Though overeducated_alligator summed up my reservations. White knighting isn't always going to be welcomed. Sometimes other approaches like speaking to the manager will work out better. You might not get a cookie, but there's still some good that can come of it.

But there are a lot of instances where we melanin-challenged folk can and absolutely should be more proactive, working within the spaces we inhabit and people we interact with on a daily basis to make our personal space more open and understanding for all people.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 7:34 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


When you remove the politically-charged buzzword "white privilege" from this story, what remains is a tale about a racist store clerk and manager.

A tale of about a racist store clerk and manager has, of course, no political charge whatever.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:46 AM on August 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


If I, as a white person, choose to use my privilege to intervene in this kind of interaction, I am in effect deciding that the POC's decision to stay silent is unacceptable and has to be overridden. "You're not advocating enough for yourself, POC!

What's the effect of calling her a "POC?"
posted by Mike Smith at 7:47 AM on August 24, 2013


Anxious to get home quickly, I took my passage in the first steamer that left Navy Bay—an American one; and late in the evening said farewell to the friends I had been staying with, and went on board... ...Before I had been long there, two ladies came to me, and in their cool, straightforward manner, questioned me.

“Where air you going?”

“To Kingston.”

“And how air you going?”

“By sea.”

“Don’t be impertinent, yaller woman. By what conveyance air you going?”

“By this steamer, of course. I’ve paid for my passage.”

They went away with this information; and in a short time eight or nine others came and surrounded me, asking the same questions. My answers—and I was very particular—raised quite a storm of uncomplimentary remarks.

“Guess a nigger woman don’t go along with us in this saloon,” said one. “I never travelled with a nigger yet, and I expect I shan’t begin now,” said another; while some children had taken my little servant Mary in hand, and were practising on her the politenesses which their parents were favouring me with—only, as is the wont of children, they were crueller. I cannot help it if I shock my readers; but the truth is, that one positively spat in poor little Mary’s frightened yellow face.

At last an old American lady came to where I sat, and gave me some staid advice. “Well, now, I tell you for your good, you’d better quit this, and not drive my people to extremities. If you do, you’ll be sorry for it, I expect.” Thus harassed, I appealed to the stewardess—a tall sour-looking woman, flat and thin as a dressed-up broomstick. She asked me sundry questions as to how and when I had taken my passage; until, tired beyond all endurance, I said, “My good woman, put me anywhere—under a boat—in your store-room, so that I can get to Kingston somehow.” But the stewardess was not to be moved.

“There’s nowhere but the saloon, and you can’t expect to stay with the white people, that’s clear. Flesh and blood can stand a good deal of aggravation; but not that. If the Britishers is so took up with coloured people, that’s their business; but it won’t do here.”

This last remark was in answer to an Englishman, whose advice to me was not to leave my seat for any of them. He made matters worse; until at last I lost my temper, and calling Mac, bade him get my things together, and went up to the captain... ...and so, at twelve o’clock at night, I was landed again upon the wharf of Navy Bay.”

- "Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands."

posted by Segundus at 7:56 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's the effect of calling her a "POC?"

An attempt to correctly acknowledge that racism happens to people of a wide range of colors? People, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is pretty standard language in the social justice community. Not an attempt at dehumanization, as sometimes happens with calling someone "homosexual" or "female."
posted by C'est la D.C. at 7:57 AM on August 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Larger and perhaps a too obvious point, beyond "using white privilege" is that is not up to black people to end this pernicious racism, it is up to us white people.
posted by kozad at 7:58 AM on August 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


Only thing surprising about this story is that checkers took personal checks.

Supermarkets in New York, you used to have to go to the manager with your two forms of ID and he would issue a card that you could show the checker. If you didn't have the card they wouldn't take your check no matter who you were.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:00 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting it - it is very interesting. I share some of the reservation about putting people at the center of an interaction they might not welcome. At the same time, I've also seen such effective responses to bias throughout my life. I think one takeaway is that this is an important kind of concept to share with people who resist the very concept of privilege at all because it feels to them negative, like an attack. If you don't want privilege to be read as a universal negative, then find ways that you can use it to do good.
posted by Miko at 8:07 AM on August 24, 2013


It is pretty easy to stand up to bullshit racism when you see it happening to your friends or family. I don't think of my friends by their color until situations like the one in the video happen. And when I say something I'm coming to the aid of a friend. I'm less likely to be a "white knight" to some stranger, regardless of their color.

I was thinking about the woman's story and imagining the scene. I think in the time since people wrote checks and there was a bad check book that there would be less racism at the checkout counter. Maybe it is that I haven't lived in lily white communities where a brown person is a novelty in a store in decades. If anything I'm the novelty white guy these days.
posted by birdherder at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I think in the time since people wrote checks and there was a bad check book that there would be less racism at the checkout counter

I like your optimism, but people still write checks at Safeway, there are still lists of people not to accept checks from, and I'm pretty certain there's plenty of racism at the checkout counter.

Did I miss her saying this happened years ago? As far as I can tell, it could have happened last week.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:19 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I live where it's majority white and the story does not surprise me. A lot of people still write checks at grocery stores, too - more than seems sensible to me, but it's still a thing. One local mom and pop grocery here is one of those places where they actually have the bad checks posted by the register.
posted by Miko at 8:20 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The part that makes me think it was a while back was she says "my daughter who at the time was 10 years old". Stands to reason her daughter is at least 11 now.

None of that changes the story. I'm just used to everyone being treated like a criminal.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:24 AM on August 24, 2013


If I, as a white person, choose to use my privilege to intervene in this kind of interaction, I am in effect deciding that the POC's decision to stay silent is unacceptable and has to be overridden. "You're not advocating enough for yourself, POC! White person to the rescue!" DeGruy and her sister-in-law know each other well enough that it was OK, but as a total stranger, I don't think I would do that. Instead, I'd probably go straight to the manager later.

What would going to the manager do, though?

If you're worried about taking the POC's voice, you could do it after they left. Or be helpful--swoop in with a big smile and start shoving your own ID in the checker's face. "Oh, I noticed you never checked MY ID, you must have forgotten, here, wouldn't you like to make sure I'm not in the bad check book? And the person before me, you didn't check theirs either! What a pickle, perhaps I can still catch them in the parking lot for you?"
posted by schroedinger at 8:27 AM on August 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


You don't have to white knight in this circumstance as it's happening. If you see someone doing something racist, confront them about it afterwards.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2013


I always feel conflicted about stepping in for someone else in any situation, because I assume it assumes that the person who is being put-upon (in my opinion) isn't able to handle it themselves. Which is really a terrible thing to worry about, because shouldn't we all be helping one another as much as possible?

Also, the woman in that video is one of the best storytellers I've heard in a long time.
posted by xingcat at 8:30 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're worried about taking the POC's voice, you could do it after they left. Or be helpful--swoop in with a big smile and start shoving your own ID in the checker's face. "Oh, I noticed you never checked MY ID, you must have forgotten, here, wouldn't you like to make sure I'm not in the bad check book? And the person before me, you didn't check theirs either! What a pickle, perhaps I can still catch them in the parking lot for you?"

Yeah, that's an excellent idea -- all the public embarrassment for the perpetrator, without necessarily inflicting involvement on the victim. I like it.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:33 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like your optimism, but people still write checks at Safeway, there are still lists of people not to accept checks from, and I'm pretty certain there's plenty of racism at the checkout counter.

The last time I wrote a check in a Safeway, the clerk scanned checks and the pos system had the bad check list. The clerk didnt have a choice not to run rhe check through machine before placing it in the till. The last time I saw the bad check list at a major supermaket chain was back when Reagan was in his first term.

I'm sure there is racism at the checkout counter today, too. The racists are probably just asking to see ID when people use a credit card. Or in many states when they want to vote.
posted by birdherder at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly as a man I can't imagine a scenario where I could swoop in and help a stranger at a checkout and not have someone call security.

I wouldn't want to browbeat a woman checker and a male checker would most likely want to get aggressive once I inserted myself. If I helped a man he would most likely take it as an affront, and I wouldn't want to imply a woman couldn't handle it herself by just swooping in to rescue her.

I might however find the manager and say "look what your checker is doing over there".
posted by Ad hominem at 9:00 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Using privilege to wake people up to the realities of what they're doing is one thing -- I hope I'd be able to carry it off in a similar position.

Using it to exploit the status quo, even for a good reason makes me feel really icky. A few years ago I was in the office of a small business owned by a friend, and the office manager was on the phone wrestling with some worker in a county clerk office. She got off the phone frustrated and confided in me that she'd been trying for a long time to get them to approve some permits and was getting nowhere.

The owner of this business was in Europe on business and would be for a while longer. I said to her... "well, I really hate to say it but sometimes a male voice can make a difference. Would you like me to try?" She says "at this point I'll try anything, this has been going on for weeks." So I called them, in my best "I shouldn't have to be dealing with this personally" voice and in moments was transferred -- as she had never been -- to the person in charge. In under two minutes he agreed to send an inspector out the next day.

I was glad it worked but ashamed of having been a part of it, of my maleness being the magic that did it. Maybe it was my phone manner and the persona I put on as well. But it left a bad taste in my mouth and I felt like apologizing to the office manager for helping her and for succeeding for such a contemptible reason. Maybe I should have chewed the guy out for the fact that they gave me something that she was entitled to and I, faker that I was in that moment, was not. But she needed this thing done and wouldn't have thanked me for confusing the issue with crusading.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:06 AM on August 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Or be helpful--swoop in with a big smile and start shoving your own ID in the checker's face. "Oh, I noticed you never checked MY ID, you must have forgotten, here, wouldn't you like to make sure I'm not in the bad check book? And the person before me, you didn't check theirs either! What a pickle, perhaps I can still catch them in the parking lot for you?"

I did something like this. I was on a Greyhound bus going from Laredo, Texas to Austin. About 25 or so miles north of Laredo there's a CBP checkpoint. An agent gets on the bus and tells everyone that they need to show proof they're legally in the US. I'm the only guero on the bus. He's scrutinizing everyone's ID until he gets to me and skips me. I ask him of he wants to see my passport and he just rolls his eyes and takes my seat mate's us passport. I say how do you know I'm a citizen? Maybe I'm a Canadian that overstayed my visa? Or are you just targeting people who look Mexican today? He turns bright red and even though there were a few more rows of people on the bus he turns around and gets off the bus. I spent the rest of the ride to SA talking to the guy next to me about what racist fucks he has to put up with even though he's been a citizen and his family has been in Texas since about the time Texas was Mexico. I was scared when I did it because south Texas CBP agents are total pricks to everyone and they could have ruined my day. But I thought the whole border checkpoint was bullshit (the CBP checks people when you get on the bus in Laredo. And the bus doesn't stop until the next checkpoint. It is a complete waste of time and money)
posted by birdherder at 9:14 AM on August 24, 2013 [27 favorites]


I think people are missing the point. She is not asking for people to white knight for her, or to to do anything other than recognize that even though we have a black president, we are not living in a post-racial society. I think she also wants people to understand why she doesn't stand up for herself in situations like this. And ultimately I think she would like us to recognize just how deeply ingrained white privilege is in almost every aspect of life. We can all pat ourselves on the back about how awesomely not-racist we are, yet still not even fathom what it's like to be a second class citizen.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:29 AM on August 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't think people are missing the point. The discussion so far has been a very civil discussion of the logical extension of the video - after acknowledging privilege exists, what steps can/should be taken in the given scenario? It is not always a straightforward issue, and, as some have pointed out, informed by numerous other factors, such as whether you are a man/woman.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:38 AM on August 24, 2013


The saddest part of this story to me was that the checker did not engage with her and did not remember her, even though she'd been going there far longer than the apparently-white sister-in-law whom the checker did cheerfully engage with.

The checker may not even been racially profiling in a conscious, direct way, as in following a "black people's checks are suspect" rule. She may have been following a "the checks of people who are not regular customers are suspect" rule, and the racial profiling was a matter of who she remembers and engages with as a person. Which is a subtler problem to solve, and makes me less angry and more sad than the other possibility.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:39 AM on August 24, 2013 [19 favorites]


Ignoring the technicalities of check verification here, I can say that one way to protest racism if you're white that doesn't involve making a storm with an already-beleagured person of color at the center, is to say:

"That's the most racist thing I've ever seen. You know what, I'm not going to buy these groceries today. I'm not coming back to your store. And I'm telling my friends that this place is run by racists." Say it loudly. Say it twice if you want to tell the manager personally. Then go write a letter to the paper, to the store, to the chain's CEO, and on your Facebook. And don't patronize them anymore.

This isn't always possible, of course, but it often is. And it might do some good. Like the bus story upthread.
posted by emjaybee at 9:50 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


When you remove the politically-charged buzzword "white privilege" from this story, what remains is a tale about a racist store clerk and manager.

The idea of white privilege dates back to at least 1935, when W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in Black Reconstruction in America that white workers, even when paid badly, nonetheless received a "psychological wage" in terms of numerous social benefits that are not extended to non-white workers.

Writer Theodore W. Allen may have named it white privilege back in 1965, when he began a 40-year career investigating the subject. The subject has been the focus of an Academic Conference since 1999.

I don't know if it's politically charged, but it's hardly a buzzword.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:59 AM on August 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's weird that some white people would be conflicted about intervening in this situation. One of the common refrains in sexism threads is the need for men to speak up when they see sexism occurring, so the idea that white people should be quiet when they see racism happening is a bit maddening.

If you have power to help, then try to help. Yes, it may be rebuffed, even angrily, but so what? Then you can go about your business, secure in the knowledge that you at least tried. Why wouldn't someone try to help in such an obviously wrong situation.

...what remains is a tale about a racist store clerk and manager.

There's is nothing to indicate that the store manager was racist, so please don't tarnish him as such.


Otherwise, there are so many vectors and anecdotes packed into this incident, I think I could write all day about it. There's the racial profiling of black people. The bad checkbook might be filled with mostly black people, which touches on how blacks haven't always been knowledgable in budgeting and financing due to institutional racism. Jesus, one could write books about that. Then there's the nasty question of whether the cashier should be profiling and whether management made this rule and if so, what's the criteria for evaluating customers who write checks.

Then there's the black person having to deal with the profiling. Then there's the black woman having to mentally gauge how she could react. Would she react differently if the cashier was white male? What if the two younger white women behind her and white male cashier? What if the women behind her were Asian? What if the cashier was Asian? Different scenario's require different tactics.

Then there's the black mother, keenly aware that her child knows what's going on and is looking to her to see how to handle this profiling. Is this an obvious teachable moment for the child or just a situation to plow through and get over with. Maybe the woman was running late for an appointment or some such? Then what?

Then, armed with the knowledge of the 'angry black woman' stereotype with its embedded understanding that the black woman is being unreasonable or insane, how does one respond? What tone of voice is correct, what words does one use with that tone? Do you engage directly or appeal to higher authority? That involves sizing up the cashier, then the manager and repeating the whole "people can" all over again.

Finally, what do you do if the cashier, manager or two elderly women really don't care about the injustice and are content to look the other way or mutter about you're holding up the line or worse, outright lie?

All this shit, just because you wanted to pay for some damn groceries. A steady diet of these situation is enough to make anyone angry.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:17 AM on August 24, 2013 [30 favorites]


I think she also wants people to understand why she doesn't stand up for herself in situations like this.

My take away from her description of her thoughts was the whole mental role-playing she was involved in at the moment her sister-in-law intervened. It's that second-guessing every-damned-thing-so-you-don't-make-it-worse which really gets me... ( see also, the TSA thread... )

It's time for Us Americans to forget how to kow-tow..
posted by mikelieman at 10:27 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I understand the underlying sentiment, but I don't think it's appropriate to say that everyone should react to a given situation in the same way. Of course everyone needs to recognize their privilege. But different people have different comfort zones, levels of social grace, etcetera. Some people may be able to directly intervene and navigate the situation and others may not. Which is important when there are situations where intervening can lead to violence.

Conversations like this are good because they encourage people to explore different ways that they can challenge racism. Your average person isn't going to start out as a Level 50 Ally on their first try. I fully understand if a POC, who experiences daily racism, rolls their eyes at this. You don't have time for these basic conversations, to educate white people. But these are good conversations that need to happen somewhere, so please don't shut them down for not being enough.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 10:53 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it is that I haven't lived in lily white communities where a brown person is a novelty in a store in decades. If anything I'm the novelty white guy these days.

I’m often, even normally, the only white person in a place, even at the supermarket. One thing that throws me is when a Black clerk will be friendly and nice to me, and then rude to a Black customer. I sometimes don't know if I’m imagining it, or they actually know the person, who knows the situation? It’s sometimes subtle and sometimes very obvious, but I don’t for sure what’s motivating it. I do know it makes me uncomfortable and annoyed. Of course the opposite sometimes happens, but not as often.
posted by bongo_x at 11:43 AM on August 24, 2013


It's weird that some white people would be conflicted about intervening in this situation. One of the common refrains in sexism threads is the need for men to speak up when they see sexism occurring, so the idea that white people should be quiet when they see racism happening is a bit maddening.

Yeah, didn't we just have a post about this? The author pointed out overturning privilege does not stop at simply recognizing it, you have to be actively involved in attacking the structures and behaviors that reinforce it.

I've told a story here about a situation where I was sexually assaulted in an empty subway car. There was me, the perpetrator, and a guy sitting in the front of the who did absolutely nothing while I was screaming and shouting and the entire situation occurred. I'm well over the sexual assault. I'll never get over experiencing first-hand the knowledge that the presence of other people is no protection.

Sure, there are probably times when the victim of racist or sexist behavior will bristle at you (literally) white-knighting the situation. But there will also be times where the victim feels utterly alone, harassed yet again by the behavior they encounter every day. And the silence of the faceless people around them serves as an endorsement of the attack on them and a reminder they're considered to be on a lower rung of society.
posted by schroedinger at 12:10 PM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


As a POC, I would definitely advocate that white people intervene as several people above have suggested, even at the risk of the POC victim taking umbrage at the intervention. From experience, it's really really really really really hard to convince people about their privilege, but the most effective times I've seen it is coming from someone that shares that privilege. My white wife has gotten through to people that are otherwise looking to disregard my comments and stats, whether we're talking about issues I'm facing or we're talking about a wholly separate category (e.g., we're discussing issues faced by black people while I'm ethnically Asian and the person I'm addressing is white).

As I've gotten older, I've let more and more instances of privilege go by unchecked because I am exhausted. I can't keep fighting it every day, every week, every month. I have to pick and choose my battles, to make sure its an instance where my limited reserves of energy will have maximum impact. And when I do, I have to keep it measured, to remind myself while this is the umpteenth time this has happened to me, the privileged party won't understand all the history that comes with my flare up. This makes it even more of a mental exercise, contributing to my attitude of "fuck it, there's no hope."

If you're privileged, and you have the chance to pick up the flag for me that one rare instance that you are "gifted" that opportunity, I will be grateful. In turn, I do what I can when I see male privilege or hetero privilege, for the same reasons.
posted by shen1138 at 12:56 PM on August 24, 2013 [18 favorites]


Rustic Etruscan: A tale of about a racist store clerk and manager has, of course, no political charge whatever.

I can't speak for cleancut, but I suspect that s/he meant that the term "white privilege" is kind of a loaded one that can put the audience on the defensive. It sorta crams the audience into one category or another within the identity politics of the speaker—regardless of whether the audience themselves agree with, or identify with, those categories. I don't want to be spoken to as a white person. I want to be spoken to as a person.

kozad: Larger and perhaps a too obvious point, beyond "using white privilege" is that is not up to black people to end this pernicious racism, it is up to us white people.

I've heard similar things before (e.g., "it's up to men to stop rape"), and I confess that I don't really understand the sentiment.

Not that I think it's up to black people to stop anti-black racism, or to women to stop rape, but—it just seems weird to plop the issue in front of [white people | men] and say "Here; this is your problem to solve."

Surely these are problems that all of us can, and should, work together to solve? I mean, rather than painting the battlefield as "white people vs. racists, with non-whites waiting on the sidelines", shouldn't it be "non-racists [regardless of color] vs. racists"?

I guess the idea is that, as a white man, I'm presumed to have more social influence over would-be [racists | rapists], and can therefore intervene in a way that their victims wouldn't be able to? I feel like this idea overestimates the amount of influence ("privilege", I guess) that I actually have.

I'm a total wimp, but I'd like to believe that I would intervene if I saw anyone in immediate danger of harm, or being harassed egregiously. And I certainly make my feelings known if someone expresses racist or intolerant views around me. But it's not like other white dudes are constantly telling me "hey man, I'm gonna go rape some women and do some racist stuff tonight, see you around", and I'm just not saying anything about it, and that's why racism and rape still exist.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:58 PM on August 24, 2013


I'd like to believe that I would intervene if I saw anyone in immediate danger of harm, or being harassed egregiously.

A lot of sexism and racism isn't egregious, though. It's the million tiny cuts that happen each day from everyone that are just as bad as the egregious actions of the few. Part of recognizing privilege is acknowledging the that there are a lot of negative experiences that POCs, women, and other groups have that we don't as white men. And those experiences influence how people interpret the world around them. Privilege is not having to be aware of those experiences, or consider them when interacting with other people. So the fact that what someone said or did (or didn't do) wasn't meant to be offensive is irrelevant, if it still reinforces those negative experiences and contributes to a toxic atmosphere.

So the place to start is to try to understand those experiences, and think about words and actions in the context of those experiences. Nobody has an excuse not to be doing this.

And with that, I'll bow out and stop dominating the thread.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 2:01 PM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't get the handwringing. You have in this video a black woman who is ASKING those positions of privilege to intervene. How much more clear can you get than that?

Look, if you aren't comfortable standing up for others, when they ask you to, be honest with yourself about that. But don't pretend you're worried about stealing their agency by doing it. They don't have agency. That's the point.

If any of you ever see me being the victim of racism, yes, please be my ally. You won't be hurting my feelings. The times it's happened to me I've been in such shock or rage that I've been unable to say or do anything. And there's nothing worse than feeling like everyone else around thinks yeah, this is ok.
posted by danny the boy at 2:02 PM on August 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't get the handwringing. You have in this video a black woman who is ASKING those positions of privilege to intervene. How much more clear can you get than that?

She can't ask on behalf of all POC in all cases. I am quite sure there are cases where my intrusion on a situation would be unwelcome.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:16 PM on August 24, 2013


I'm a total wimp, but I'd like to believe that I would intervene if I saw anyone in immediate danger of harm, or being harassed egregiously. And I certainly make my feelings known if someone expresses racist or intolerant views around me.

Like C'est says, it's a million tiny cuts. It's the comments about "those people", or a comment about "hysterical women", or the comment about "with that dress on, hur hur hur", all of these really minor-seeming instances of racism and sexism that go unchallenged that create the environment where really egregious acts are seen as acceptable. You may not see any burning crosses day-to-day. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of racist and sexist stuff going around you.

I guess the idea is that, as a white man, I'm presumed to have more social influence over would-be [racists | rapists], and can therefore intervene in a way that their victims wouldn't be able to? I feel like this idea overestimates the amount of influence ("privilege", I guess) that I actually have.

Also: Part of privilege is not realizing the extra power you have to influence these things. Another example: My boyfriend and I are part of the lifting community, which is very male-dominated. I taught him Olympic weightlifting, which is a sport that compromises two lifts. These lifts are very technically challenging and success is very dependent on good technique, so having a good coach with an eye for technical errors is very important.

My boyfriend is not a big name in our gym, he doesn't lift a ton and isn't a top athlete by any means. But since he started lifting he's had guys come up and ask for advice and coaching, even when he (and he says this) barely knew what he was doing. I've been doing the Olympic lifts for years and had someone approach me for help maybe once. He tells these men that I'm the one who taught him, and I'm more knowledgeable than he is. Even though he's not a popular or influential guy in the gym, even though I'm clearly coaching him, even though my performance indicates I've been in this sport longer, a man has to say I'm competent in order for people to take me seriously.
posted by schroedinger at 2:16 PM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


escape from the potato planet: "She can't ask on behalf of all POC in all cases. I am quite sure there are cases where my intrusion on a situation would be unwelcome."

Have I missed something? So far not one POC has raised their hand and said, yeah, don't do this because I would be offended. But several have said this would be welcome and helpful. I allow that it's possible someone out there would reject your help, but at this point we're just denying the reported experiences and wishes of several POC, and injecting our own.

Which you know, is a thing that privileged people tend to do a lot.


As an aside, I find the term "white knight" to be really gross. The way it is normally used implies that the only reason someone is standing up for another is because it's a pathetic and disingenuous attempt to curry the favor of the person they're defending. It's belittling and unsophisticated--because it assumes there's nothing actually worth believing in, or standing up for. It's the sort of thing you hear from your average 15 year old on the internet and it reflects very poorly on the person using it.
posted by danny the boy at 2:30 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't speak for cleancut, but I suspect that s/he meant that the term "white privilege" is kind of a loaded one that can put the audience on the defensive.

It's the right word. We repeatedly have threads where language created by people to describe their own experiences is challenged by people who don't have those experiences, just because they feel somehow implicated (and sometimes properly so -- "privilege" does implicate those with privilege, because it names something they benefit from.)

And then comes what functionally ends up being concern trolling: Well, it upsets people, so maybe it's not the right word. But it's not the choice of word, it's the idea it expresses that people dislike, and no amount of using comforting euphemisms is going to make the idea any less challenging, and successfully divers the discussion from the idea presented by the word to nitpicking over the language used to express the idea.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:36 PM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't get the handwringing. You have in this video a black woman who is ASKING those positions of privilege to intervene. How much more clear can you get than that?

Look, if you aren't comfortable standing up for others, when they ask you to, be honest with yourself about that. But don't pretend you're worried about stealing their agency by doing it. They don't have agency. That's the point.


I can only speak for myself. But it really is not that, at least for me. Telling people things they don't want to hear, when I think they are behaving abominably, is something that I have a strong urge to do naturally. Especially when those people think they hold all the power or can get away with whatever they want to do with no consequences.

This individual woman is asking people to intervene, and so I would be overjoyed to intervene if I saw something racist happening to her. But other individuals HAVE said that they specifically do not want help from white people, that help from white people is not help at all. (just as one example, in Malcolm X's autobiography, he was approached by a white college student who asked what she could do, and, at that time, he replied "Nothing.")

But beyond that, even if someone has no overall stance on whether or not they want help from white people in those scenarios, different people have different ways of dealing overall. Some people just want to get through their day with a minimum of hastle and becoming even more of a focus of attention would make a humiliating situation even more humiliating for them. I honestly would love to jump in, every time, but I really, really would not want to make something worse for someone.

I wish there was a way to tip my toe in and see if my involvement would be welcomed by the person in the situation or if they would just feel like it would make the situation worse, because honestly, I would be happy to do the whole cannonball.
posted by cairdeas at 2:36 PM on August 24, 2013


Oh, and let me add, "white privilege" doesn't describe a theoretical phenomenon that we can have a debate over. It describes a real-world circumstance where, all things being equal, two people, one black, one white, will have different experiences, with the experience of the white person being better than the experience of a black person. And this has been proven to be the case again and again. That security guards will follow black people and not follow white people. That two people of near-identical backgrounds will receive significantly less pay, and, repeatedly, the only difference will be skin color. That prison sentences are different for identical crimes. That measures intended to address the popular in general will exclusively be applied to people of color. It has been studied, documented, peer reviewed, and is a fact.

So if all we're arguing about is whether or not "white privilege" is the best word -- well, it describes the circumstances effectively, and it has consistently been the one that people of color apply to their experience, and I think it is weird for the people with the privilege described to say "No, that word was not vetted with me, I didn't get to vote on it, I don't like it, and therefore it's the wrong word."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:44 PM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ok, if I see this lady or any of the other people who have spoken up get into it with someone I will jump in and help however I can.

Every other situation I will use my best judgement.

If it is my girlfriend I wouldn't put myself in the line of fire. She once cursed out a guy at Duane Reade because he wouldn't tell her where the ice was, he didn't even work there, he was just wearing a blue polo shirt. Then she got mad at me for telling her I didn't think he was a racist, he just didn't know where the ice was. I don't want any of that.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:46 PM on August 24, 2013


Ad hominem, you alright babe?
posted by howfar at 2:55 PM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


cleancut: "When you remove the politically-charged buzzword "white privilege" from this story, what remains is a tale about a racist store clerk and manager."

But the whole point is that the black woman could never point out the racism of the situation without being the "angry black woman". Her "white" sister-in-law was able to use her privilege to point out the racism without coming across as confrontational.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:58 PM on August 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ad hominem, you alright babe?

Sure, why wouldn't I be.

I'm just saying sometimes it is best to stay out of it. It doesn't mean I don't care about injustice that some people I would just stay out of the way and watch the fireworks.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:03 PM on August 24, 2013


danny the boy: "You have in this video a black woman who is ASKING those positions of privilege to intervene. How much more clear can you get than that?"

The black woman is not representative of all black people or of all people of color. I'm an Indian that would sometimes rather let a comment about my race slip by than start a discussion. For example, if someone made an ignorant comment at a party, I'd probably just leave the party and avoid the person in question rather than make a big deal of it.

By pointing out the racism, you're forcing me into a confrontation that I might not have time for or feel comfortable with. You're also pretty much forcing me to agree with you— if I'm silent, it's interpreted as implicit agreement. If I disagree with you, it can be interpreted as endorsement of the original racist comment.

In other words, I don't think it's so clear that using your privilege like this is necessarily going to empower the less-privileged person, at least in the short run.
posted by yaymukund at 3:08 PM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


birdherder: "I did something like this."

I'm ashamed to say I didn't do something like this -- not really. I was in a Mexican restaurant in what I later found out was a semi-bad part of town. It was during the time that my wife was in hospital during/after the birth of our child (I honestly can't remember if it was before or after the birth; it's all a blur). At some point as I was finishing my meal, the place was clearly transitioning from a restaurant to a nightclub, and suddenly a bunch of police officers came in and started frisking all of them men for weapons. When he got to me, I made to stand up but the officer sort of waved me away and I left soon after rather than insisting on being frisked just like everyone else.

I'd like to think that while my race did play a part, he was more convinced by the fact that I was a bewildered, clearly exhausted and decidedly non-macho-looking guy who had a hospital bracelet on his wrist.

By the way, even though nearly every guy there had a date, the cops frisked the men only, so pro-tip if you want to knife a guy in Norristown: have your date bring a weapon in her handbag.

Also, the food was really delicious. Norristown, PA has a high concentration of Mexican immigrants so it's a good place to get authentic food in the Philly area.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:08 PM on August 24, 2013


Sure, why wouldn't I be.

Sorry, only joshing ya. Just sounded like you're still fuming about that incident!
posted by howfar at 3:11 PM on August 24, 2013


Yeah, I guess y'all are right. My expressed sympathy for the cause of racial equality is just a front. The giveaway is my failure to enthusiastically agree 100% with the academic social justice world's interpretation of these issues (which is the only legitimate way to approach them). Obviously, that's not just an honest difference of opinion—it's actually my way of surreptitiously devaluing the experiences of persons of color.

My bad; carry on.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:16 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, only joshing ya. Just sounded like you're still fuming about that incident!

I'm more still chuckling about it. It was a kid with a tour group so he had a name tag, which further confused the issue. He was clearly scared to death that he was in New York and some woman shouted at him.

I wouldn't get in her way though if someone pisses her off.

My mom is the same way, if her husband tries to jump in she just says "Excuse, I'm speaking here" and continues berating whoever pissed her off.

I think we can all use our best judgement and if someone looks like they are handling it, we should let them handle it.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:17 PM on August 24, 2013


I'm not 100% certain race has much to do with this, but at a movie theater recently, the black guy by himself two seats over from me at the end of the row got up for a few minutes. While he was away an older white guy came and sat in his chair. Black guy comes back stands there like he doesn't know what to do. After what seemed like a long time I decided to lean over and say, "sir? I think you're in this gentleman's seat." Old guy looks to his left, jumps slightly, says sorry and leaves. Black guy sits down, turns to me and says "thank you". i just nod.

Thing is he was perfectly capable of speaking up for himself, so I'm not at all clear on why he wouldn't want to. He was a tall, fit looking guy whose manner and dress seemed middle class and educated. I just assumed he was either shy or race had something to do with his reluctance to oust older white guy; like he didn't know how the code covered this situation.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:31 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously, that's not just an honest difference of opinion—it's actually my way of surreptitiously devaluing the experiences of persons of color.

This discussion might go better if you didn't respond to a difference of opinion by behaving as though you were attacked. Your paraphrase completely recast what I said to make you a victim, and I would ask that you not paraphrase, but instead address what I actually said.

Anyway, I reckon there are two ways to look at intervention. Either you're there to save the person, in which can see concerns about white knighting and making sure the person actually wants help -- although I consider this a tricky proposition, because sometimes people who want help don't make it clear for fear it will escalate the situation, and I don't want somebody walking away from a situation saying "Well, I guess every white person in that room thought racist behavior was okay, and so the only person I can count on to speak up about it is me, even though that may escalate."

But the way I look at it is this: If I see somebody letting their dog crap on somebody's lawn, I don't track down the lawn's owner to ask if they want my help. I tell the person to clean up after their dog. Because I don't want to live in a neighborhood where there is dog shit everywhere and everybody is either okay with that or chooses not to speak up.

Racist behavior is the equivalent of dog shit. If I see it, I will say something, not because I want to rescue somebody, but because I don't want that sort of behavior in my presence.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:34 PM on August 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


So helping the victim is incidental? It may help, it may not, all that matters is everyone knows you are not racist?

I don't disagree with you, I think seeing that not everyone is racist can help. I just don't know about potentially adding to injury and still feeling good about it.

I gotta think about this.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:51 PM on August 24, 2013


So helping the victim is incidental? It may help, it may not, all that matters is everyone knows you are not racist?

I interpreted what Bunny's saying as more as a kind of "be the change you want to see in the world" thing. Not, "I am superman and I will save you" but "I am a member of this society and I will not be party to this behavior even passively". (Not that i can speak for him.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:55 PM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


So helping the victim is incidental? It may help, it may not, all that matters is everyone knows you are not racist?

Your ascribing a very odd motivation here. I'm not speaking up so that people know I am not a racist -- it's not a hand-washing exercise. I am speaking up so that people know that there are people who think racist language or behavior is unacceptable.

On preview, yes, thanks George. That is what I meant.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:55 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I think there is an odd presumption here, one I don't understand: Speaking out against racism is likely to cause more harm than standing idly by. When I don't know what the outcome will be, which is almost every time, I'm just going to go ahead and assume that it's better for me to say something than not.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:58 PM on August 24, 2013


Sure ok, you want people to see that there is at least one person that doesn't condone racist behavior or language.That is certainly laudable. I just don't think you can separate the victim from the situation. They are standing there, it may do more harm than good for you to show that you don't condone racism at that moment.

I'm not saying stand idly by all the time, and it may certainly be the case that it will do good the majority of the time. I'm just saying we already heard from one person that would prefer people stay out of it. Do you think you should still jump in?
posted by Ad hominem at 4:04 PM on August 24, 2013


Is it likely to do more harm than good? Do we have some numbers on this?

I know from recent sexism threads that an overwhelming number of women said "Speak up! Do something!"

And, I mean, I'm Jewish. If somebody is being antisemitic in my presence, and my non-Jewish friends say nothing and do nothing, and afterward they say "I didn't want to make it worse," my response will be "well, you did make it worse."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, obviously I have no numbers. I only have the one commenter that said they would prefer people stay out. I'm trying to take their wishes into consideration too.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:09 PM on August 24, 2013


Yes, if somebody indicates to me that they want me to butt out, I will butt out. But in the absence of that, I think not doing anything is a decision that passively supports racism, and I think it helps address it if there is a general sense that racist behavior is widely socially unacceptable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:10 PM on August 24, 2013


I'm not at all clear on why he wouldn't want to.... I just assumed he was either shy or race had something to do with his reluctance to oust older white guy; like he didn't know how the code covered this situation.

Remember the part in the video where the woman narrates her internal monologue where she tries to decide how she wants to handle this at this moment in her life? I think it's at least possible that you saw the moment of mental stalling where the guy had to ask himself a lot of questions like that. I've had this happen to me in situations where I think maybe I'm being treated unfairly because of my gender or class - you have to take a minute to ask things like "Okay, am I seeing what I think I'm seeing? Is there another interpretation? Am I maybe in the wrong here? Should I say something? Should I just ignore it and go about my business? If I do say something, what? And in what kind of a tone? Am I alone in here, or are there other witnesses? Is this person possibly dangerous? What's the best outcome I could hope for here?" and so on. If you're at all inclined to considering before opening your mouth, there can be a significant delay while you parse the whole situation.

Which sucks, and which is why it's exhausting to confront biases in the course of your regular day, which is usually tough enough.
posted by Miko at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yes, if somebody indicates to me that they want me to butt out, I will butt out

I'm just saying I don't want to make people have to tell me to butt out. That I can use my discretion whether I should jump into a confrontation already in progress.

I would be all for calling the perpetrator an asshole at an opportune moment, I would be all for complaining to the manager, I would be all for telling the victim I agree after everything calms down. I would jump in if someone was being browbeaten or totally trod upon but I don't think I would get between two people shouting at each other.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2013


Strangers, mind you.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2013


I'm just saying I don't want to make people have to tell me to butt out.

I dunno. I don't think they have any more invested in shaping that interaction than anyone else. I think in many ways it's one's duty to remind people that there are smoother, nicer (and ultimately more efficient) ways to act in those kinds of situations.

I don't dispute in terms of value. I think some people do want to feel they can get their own back and sometimes in a shouting match just bearing witness can be enough.
But then there are potential preconceptions/prejudices as to where you stand.

I heard a comedian say - and it's generally true and has been my own experience - that some black folks have told him he doesn't know anything about racism because he's white.
His response (funny, but also true) was that he knows all about it because he hears what people say when you leave the room.

So in some ways getting involved dispels any preconceptions that you may be on the side of the person with the racist thinking.

And of course, I have the luxury of being intimidating. But a few words can go a long, long way. And sometimes it's worth taking the "Butt out!" hit to make sure the person in the wrong knows you're not with them.
And, as in this case, that can encourage others who feel the same way to speak up.

OTOH, yeah, it's a pain when you try express your solidarity and empathy and get told off.
But silence, on the whole, is worse.
I mean ultimately, you're doing it because you believe in rectitude and equity, whether you feel sympathy with the person getting shafted or whether they approve, disapprove or are indifferent.
Silence can polarize you into one side of the argument based on prejudices. And that's usually much worse because whether you were accepted or rejected by the side you sympathized with, you now have to explain you weren't in fact tacitly supporting the bad behavior.
And then, of course, you'd have to explain why you didn't say anything to the person getting trod on.
Sometimes it's a no win.
But at least you've shown where you stand.
Again, easier for me to control the space around me. But it doesn't make me Lycurgus.

It's a comfort to know your ally is truth and justice and equality and you spoke to propagate that rather allow than inequity and ignorance through silence - whatever any one or two people's in an argument opinion of you might be.
Even if you get a smack in the chops.
Not that it's not worth weighing, but I think our duty is not to the two strangers or the sister-in-law and the clerk, but to ourselves and the principles we want to see held in our affairs. The only one in your head at night is gonna be you.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:22 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's weird to me that in these discussions about sexism and racism, there's this default response to want to know what "the rule" is that should govern their behavior. The point is that there are no rules.

Sometimes you might speak up, sometimes you don't. Use your judgement. All anyone is asking is that your judgement take into account the life experiences of someone not like yourself. Making a rule just ensures that you get to avoid the messy, problematic and often paradoxically confusing inner engagement that some of us have no choice but to undertake.

As far as the Malcolm X quote that there was nothing a white person could do to help the cause...He later went on record saying he regretted that encounter. And what makes that book one of the most important American biographies is the end. The part where he returns from Mecca and realizes that the real problem is any ideology that refuses to acknowledge that our shared humanity comes before any notion of black or white.

Forget Black and White..."When I see a human being hurting another human being, do I help?" The answer has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with courage and opportunity.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:39 PM on August 24, 2013 [18 favorites]


That was really well said, both of you. Thanks.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:41 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I guess the idea is that, as a white man, I'm presumed to have more social influence over would-be [racists | rapists], and can therefore intervene in a way that their victims wouldn't be able to?

Spoken like a true white man.
posted by anguspodgorny at 5:46 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spoken like a true white man.

I presume this is meant sarcastically, and don't really follow what the value is in this discussion, but there is evidence that white people with unconsciously (or even consciously) racist attitudes are more likely to be influenced by other white people than by black people, whose criticisms they often unconsciously reject.

Additionally, I guess I figure racism is a problem that white people made, and it's a little unfair to expect it to be a problem that black people solve, and that informs my decision to publicly speak out against racism when I see it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:20 PM on August 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


A lot of people here looked at this from the position of the half white sister and the white privilege. "What would I have done in her situation?"

I think it is more interesting to look at it from the non-half white sister's point of view. She wasn't recognized as a customer that had been coming there for years. She didn't feel she had the right to speak up, even though the situation was getting worse and worse and her daughter was starting to cry.

The problem is not so much her sister's white privilege as her lack of privilege. Their response to her sister is what put it in stark relief.

I think the best thing we can do in general to make the world a bit better is to always look into the person's eyes to actually see the person, not just a skin color. I'm ashamed to say that more than once in a situation like this I've been on automatic and caught myself not really seeing the person, even when they are looking at my eyes and trying to make a friendly connection. And when I caught myself and really looked back, what I saw was the person shutting down, a bit, inside, in response to being invisible once again.
posted by eye of newt at 7:03 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


billyfleetwood: It's weird to me that in these discussions about sexism and racism, there's this default response to want to know what "the rule" is that should govern their behavior. The point is that there are no rules.

Sometimes you might speak up, sometimes you don't. Use your judgement. All anyone is asking is that your judgement take into account the life experiences of someone not like yourself. Making a rule just ensures that you get to avoid the messy, problematic and often paradoxically confusing inner engagement that some of us have no choice but to undertake.


Not sure if this was a reply to my comment or someone else's, but if it was to mine, I'm definitely not arguing against this.

I'm not looking for a rule on what to do in any racist situation. I know that there is no rule, and there's nobody who could speak for everyone else to give one.

The reason I said I wish there was a way to tip my toe in and see if my involvement would be welcomed by the person in the situation is not because I want to avoid messy, problematic, and confusing inner engagement.

If I wanted to avoid that, I wouldn't have even wondered about a clue to see if my involvement would be welcome. I could just assume it was and plow full steam ahead in any racist scenario. The reason I'm looking for clues to see if my involvement would be welcome is because I DO want to be engaged, I want to be thoughtful, I know that it's messy, I know that it's confusing, and I want to navigate that the best I can to avoid hurting anyone or ruining their day more than it already has been.

It's not always easy to know what to do. I say that not because I want someone to do the engagement and thinking for me instead of me using my judgment. I say that because I know my judgment is not always right and if I'm going to be using it on other people, I appreciate all the guidance I can get. That's all.

Hearing from a variety of people who get targeted with racism does help give me that guidance. One thing I have been told many times is that individual people of any race often get called upon to speak for their whole race, and that is an impossible, unrealistic, and unwanted task. Believing that is the only reason why I'm still worried even when I hear one person say they would like one kind of response. It is because I have heard many times and deeply believe that it would be incredibly disrespectful to assume that just because one person of a certain race said they would like something, then everyone of that race would. So yes, I know that I need to use my judgment in every scenario. That's what I'm trying to do, and am still trying to listen so that it can improve.

Forget Black and White..."When I see a human being hurting another human being, do I help?" The answer has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with courage and opportunity.

But if we forget black and white and just generalize this to humans overall... it's the same question.

For example, domestic violence. If you see someone verbally abusing his wife, what do you do? If you tell him off and make him mad, then he might beat her worse when they get home. I used to see this all the time with parents and children on the subway in NYC, things that made me feel terrified for the child and feel like I had no idea what would hurt when I thought it would help. I once saw a man lash out and backhand his TWO YEAR OLD to the subway floor and then casually go back to reading his paper like it was no big thing. What do you do?? If you say, "What the fuck is the matter with you??? How dare you???" what happens when they go home? If you say nothing but run to get the conductor, what happens when the conductor doesn't care, or if the parent and child are gone by the time you get the conductor's attention?

This is not the same as racist incidents but it's just an example of how just jumping in is not always going to get the best result for the victim in the situation and it's very difficult to know the best thing to do when the thing you want most is to HELP.

We had a thread a while back about street harassment by men towards women. And one of the things that was suggested for men to do is just say "is everything okay here?" That gives the woman space to say "it's okay" if she wants to handle it herself or if someone just jumping in would put her in more danger. And it also gives her the chance to say "it's not okay" if she needs help.

It's not that I disagree with you that it is complicated and requires everyone's best judgment, it's actually that I completely, completely agree.
posted by cairdeas at 8:03 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I keep thinking of one of my exes. She was Haitian, one of the sweetest girls I've ever met, and totally the type to let most things go.

The only time I saw her mad it was at me. We were out somewhere and someone wanted to take our picture. The guy said something to her like "smile so the camera gets you". I wanted to make a huge deal about this, and kept needling her about why she would just let it go. She told me "don't try to out-black me". She said "I deal with this every day, you are a tourist because you are with a black woman".

I need to do more, that I agree. I don't know want anyone to be in that position ever again.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:25 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is interesting how in a non-violent incident, where a black woman with her daughter was concerned about being potentially outnumbered by whites has caused some white people to be worried about violence against themselves.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 PM on August 24, 2013


I'm sorry, where do you see that?
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on August 24, 2013


Also, I'm not saying it's never clear what to do. Sometimes it's very, very clear*. It just helps to keep hearing from a variety of people to keep building your judgment on what to do when it's not.

*One time I was taking a walk in a tourist area with two relatives. We were passed by a very happy-looking young couple walking in the opposite direction - the woman in an abaya, the man in a robe. Not two steps past, one of my relatives said, LOUDLY, "I would hate to have to walk ten steps behind the man like that." The most bizarre part is she WASN'T ten steps behind him, they were side by side. I opened my mouth, knowing very well what the result would be, and said, "Please don't say racist things." Oh, the protest that ensued. "That wasn't racist!!!" "Yes, that wasn't racist. That's what they do in their culture." "Guys, they weren't actually DOING that, they were walking next to each other, and please lower your voices, everyone can hear you." "Don't tell me to lower my voice! I haven't said anything wrong!" And so on and so on... But anyway, there was not much of a need to worry about whether or not to say anything in that case
posted by cairdeas at 9:06 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is interesting how in a non-violent incident, where a black woman with her daughter was concerned about being potentially outnumbered by whites has caused some white people to be worried about violence against themselves.

I'm not worried about violence against myself, I'm worried about instigating violence where it could have been avoided
posted by Ad hominem at 9:53 PM on August 24, 2013


yaymukund: "By pointing out the racism, you're forcing me into a confrontation that I might not have time for or feel comfortable with. You're also pretty much forcing me to agree with you— if I'm silent, it's interpreted as implicit agreement. If I disagree with you, it can be interpreted as endorsement of the original racist comment."

"Hey, I appreciate what you're saying, but I'd rather not get into a serious conversation right now." is what you say.

Can you tell me what I should say when I'm at that party and I'm the only non-white person and someone makes a racist joke and all eyes are on me and no one else is saying a word? I STILL have to decide whether or not choose this particular battle out of all the ones this week to make a stand, or just smile politely, though that might be interpreted as implicit agreement.

I'm not sure what confrontation you think you're avoiding; our choices are the same in both. The only difference is whether or not someone with more social capital is willing to back us up or not.
posted by danny the boy at 9:58 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


danny the boy: "Can you tell me what I should say when I'm at that party and I'm the only non-white person and someone makes a racist joke and all eyes are on me and no one else is saying a word? I STILL have to decide whether or not choose this particular battle out of all the ones this week to make a stand, or just smile politely, though that might be interpreted as implicit agreement."

I think we're talking about two different situations. Sure, sometimes the room goes silent and everyone looks at you and then I agree with what you're saying. I was referring to those times when the racist joke goes unnoticed. If you've never experienced a well-meaning intervener that accidentally escalates the situation and makes you even more uncomfortable, count yourself lucky.
posted by yaymukund at 10:59 PM on August 24, 2013


Well, I can say that when I was sitting at a table with a bunch of white friends and in the course of conversation with some West Indian gentleman he started calling me a "paki" over and over again, I would really have liked my friends to say something, but I would have liked even more if they gave any indication of noticing what was happening. My feeling is, fuck it, I'm already pretty uncomfortable, I'm not sure someone else visibly having my back is going to make me feel worse. I allow that it could, I guess, especially if in the process of that defense the backer-upper turns out to have some funky racist ideas of his or her own -- been there -- but generally speaking I'm going to opt for more anti-racism and not less and I don't think that in most cases I'm going to find someone else saying "yo, not cool" very harmful. I guess if they, like, push me aside to start having a much more intense conversation about it or something, but I don't know that I'll ever not appreciate someone else covering me on the "you're just playing the race card" or "everything's always got to be about race" or whatever other bullshit.

I have a funny lunch counter story, but it ends with no one really doing anything except laughing about it because it was so pathetic and petty, so I'm not sure I really want to provide cover for the section of conversation that believes if I'm not doing something to address it every time, they'd better not do anything any time. Gotta say, that attitude kind of sucks.
posted by Errant at 11:48 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking about this thread and it made me think of something really moving that I saw once.

I was walking down the street downtown once and saw a commotion. There was a black teenage boy sitting on the pavement with his back against a building, and a group of 3 or 4 police officers in a semicircle in front of him. It seemed like they were questioning him.

To the side of the group, there was a black woman filming the encounter on her phone. It did not seem like she knew the boy or the officers, she seemed like a random pedestrian. But she wasn't leaving, it seemed like she was going to stick there filming until it was over.

What was really moving to me was when I noticed that she wasn't filming the kid at all. She could have, it would have been easy to capture everyone in her frame from the angle she had. But she had her camera pointed directly at the police and only at them.

It seemed like an incredibly sensitive and insightful thing to do, to avoid adding to any public embarrassment / humiliation of the kid, to not make him endure being filmed undergoing this experience, film that would end up who knows where, to respect his privacy. It's not something that would have occurred to me, even if I had been like, "I'm going to film these police and what they are doing / going to do to this kid," I'm sure I would have just captured the whole scene without thinking about it.

It's having that kind of sensitivity that I want to try to get closer to.
posted by cairdeas at 3:11 AM on August 25, 2013


I can't speak for cleancut, but I suspect that s/he meant that the term "white privilege" is kind of a loaded one that can put the audience on the defensive.

Yeah, well, any discussion about racism is going to put white people on the defensive, preciseily because they don't recognise their privilege. Mollycoddling won't help the out and out racist, nor those that can recognise it when they get their nose rubbed in it.

This is not something that's unique to white people of course; everybody is defensive when they're called on their shit.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:16 AM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm white. I would expect to get carded and checked in the bad check registry if I tried paying with a check at a grocery store. I have never paid with a check at a grocery store because I know it is asking for problems, because the store sees it as a potential problem. Sorry but if this is what there is left to complain about, maybe it's time to stop complaining and move on to real problems in the world. No matter who you are, you will run into people who dislike you based on superficial things, like the color of your skin. But not limited to that by any means.
posted by midnightscout at 3:19 AM on August 25, 2013


I've heard similar things before (e.g., "it's up to men to stop rape"), and I confess that I don't really understand the sentiment.

Strange, because it's fairly simple. The responsibility for bad behaviour lies not with the victims, but with the perpetrators. People of colour can resist white racism, through various means, but they can't force whitey to become less racist, that's something that only we can do. The first step is always to become aware of your advantages that comes from being white (or male, or temporarily able or whatever), then actively trying to limit those advantages.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:21 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm white. I would expect to get carded and checked in the bad check registry if I tried paying with a check at a grocery store.

Did you actually watch the video? The woman passing for white wasn't checked, was treated normally, while her Black sister in law was.

There's no problem if a store cards everybody; there is when it does so based on appearance.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:22 AM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


midnightscout, nobody is saying it's bad or unheard of to get carded and checked in the bad check registry, it's that when you apply "the rules" to one kind of person and not another, it's just one more insult, it's just one more little cut. Just because a million little cuts may be wearing on you doesn't mean there are no big cuts, too. And just adding up these little insults, particularly ones like this, treating black people like they are more likely to be a con artist or thief, leads to the bigger problems, like black people more likely to get shot and killed by the police. The more you reinforce that "these people are more likely to be criminals" the more society acts like that's true, up to and including extreme police brutality and killing of innocent people.
posted by cairdeas at 3:26 AM on August 25, 2013


There will always be people who dislike you or treat you differently based on some superficial aspect of your person. You think I haven't experienced it? You do realize that white people can act like total assholes to each other right? I mean to hear people talk about it, it sounds like "the white people" are always having a fabulous time with each other. People dehumanizing others to give themselves a power rush is amazingly enough not limited to "white people".
posted by midnightscout at 3:44 AM on August 25, 2013


I am white. Plenty of white people have done shitty things to me and/or disliked me in my life. Trust me, I've had an unfabulous time with plenty of white people.

The difference is if one person doesn't like me based on my own random traits, it stops with that person and doesn't affect my life in any other way. At most, they can spread dislike of me within their own little circle of people they know.

When people spread dislike or disdain of others based on their race, it reaches way further than that. It spreads to every aspect of society.

One person merely disliking me on some of my random traits is not going to affect my overall life opportunities for employment, housing, education, how likely I am to be assaulted or killed, and so on, and so forth. Big difference with spreading hatred, dislike, disdain, or bad stereotypes about an entire race.
posted by cairdeas at 3:53 AM on August 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


One leads to the other. My feeling here is that we are bottoming out against human nature.

And it certainly doesn't stop with that one person necessarily. If it grows beyond their circle and eventually becomes an institution of sorts it becomes exactly what is being presented as the resulting horrific events that have been cited.
posted by midnightscout at 4:20 AM on August 25, 2013


I agree, it's just that no matter how loathsome anyone might find me personally, it's unlikely that enough people would care about me either way that it would become an institution. Even if a whole small town hated me, I could move.

You have to stir up hatred against a bigger group of people, just to get enough people caring about it, in order for it to really become an institution.
posted by cairdeas at 4:32 AM on August 25, 2013


My feeling here is that we are bottoming out against human nature.

Human nature is not great. But that doesn't make institutional and categorical racism not real. If you're not able to view this incident in a larger context, you might need to read more about racism and its history. This isn't just about bad checks or not getting along with people. It's about a widespread, widely shared, and widely reinforced cultural bias that expresses itself in a million tiny interactions, like this one.
posted by Miko at 8:54 AM on August 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


My feeling here is that we are bottoming out against human nature.

That's a copout. We're not talking here about people being occasional assholes to each other, but about a systemic defect in our societies that needs to and can be repaired, but not if we're just lazily assuming it's part of human nature to be racist.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:18 PM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do you not think that it’s part of human nature to be racist? I’ve always thought it was, like most of the other things we fight against, rape, murder, etc. and societies are the tool for changing that, not the cause.
posted by bongo_x at 3:13 PM on August 25, 2013


I just want to say, what's happening here, between midnightscout and their interlocutors, is basically exactly what the video hopes to promote, and I'm glad that happens here more often than not.
posted by Errant at 4:59 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you not think that it’s part of human nature to be racist?

Why would anybody think that? It's such a pessimistic view of a species that has accomplished so much through community. I would prefer to think that our ability to get along is human nature and our occasional blind tribalism is mostly a product of institutions of power manufacturing enemies to support themselves.

Most people I know are not overtly racism, and if they unconsciously behave in a racist way, they are mortified. Are most of your friends and family racist? If no, then why think it's inherent to the human condition.

If so, it may be time to reconsider who your peer group is.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:56 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most people I know are not overtly racism, and if they unconsciously behave in a racist way, they are mortified. Are most of your friends and family racist? If no, then why think it's inherent to the human condition.

If so, it may be time to reconsider who your peer group is.


That was weird. I’m not sure why you’re trying to be personally insulting about it.

I would prefer to think that our ability to get along is human nature and our occasional blind tribalism is mostly a product of institutions of power manufacturing enemies to support themselves.

That’s an interesting theory, but I’m not sure that history bears that out.
posted by bongo_x at 6:13 PM on August 25, 2013


The talking has to stop; and the emails to the companies and the larger brands needs to begin when this stuff is seen. Everything is on a video now.
Shamelessly; after having my browned out summer self followed by the store rent a cop for a second time in as many visits to a local grocery ; my own happy fingers and English cut loose in several Emails. Word is she threw a fit and got fired. I feel bad; OTOH, "Hi, I'm in your store to SPEND money." "Hi, I'm now shopping at the other three groceries the same distance from home". H8 this crap, I feel poorly about costing somebody their job, whatever; sucks for me and them because I won't be back for years. bleah.
posted by buzzman at 6:14 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was weird. I’m not sure why you’re trying to be personally insulting about it.

I'm not clear on why you would be insulted by that. Either you friends are not mostly racists, in which case why think it's the human condition, or you have what most of us would agree is a pretty fucked up peer group.

That’s an interesting theory, but I’m not sure that history bears that out.

Well, unless presented with evidence that racism is inherent to the human condition, I am going to say that history is complicated and you can't draw conclusions about the fundamental core of the human psyche from it. I will say that racism has been its most destructive when state-sponsored.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:19 PM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


"When I see a human being hurting another human being, do I help?" The answer has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with courage and opportunity.

I think that's the thing. Not everyone has both. And it's not a slight to say someone doesn't have the courage. I have plenty of courage for some things. I'm not an organ donor though. I haven't adopted a child. Plenty of different kinds of courage, not everyone can go the distance in some things.

I'm not worried about violence against myself, I'm worried about instigating violence where it could have been avoided

That can be a huge problem. Although for me it's mostly not initiating it myself. Mostly it's a lack of patience.
But that's where repetition comes in. We just grind it out as a society day by day. Little actions that respect equality and open disapproval of treating people different based on their ethnicity.

Do you not think that it’s part of human nature to be racist?
I've always read it's learned.
But I don't think we should rely on our natures anyway. We are what we want to be. Personally as well as socially.
Some people celebrate their flaws as something that distinguishes them.
'Oh, we're a ferocious people. Yeah, we killed 100 folks in a train station for no reason, but we're ferocious. It's who we are.'

Part of what I've noticed in group dynamics is that there is a real urge to closer associate with the people you're with through open - showy and/or social - aggression directed at people you're NOT with.

This can be based on any trait - skin color obviously, but religion, politics, geographic location, etc. etc.
Sometimes it's completely unconscious.
Certainly white privilege is a problem, but any privilege based on an arbitrary trait is a problem.
It's why people have country clubs and gated communities and that kind of crap. And often there's this *wink wink* it's ornamental or just for people of a certain taste or whatever.
But it's the Zimmerman/Martin thing (and the subsequent media rebuttals e.g. Delbert Belton) and this sort of passive aggressive exclusion. Always with these big subtextual battles going on.
Zimmerman/Martin is about race, but also about gun control, and plenty of other things but we overlook the fact that the urge to differentiate ourselves in that way - to say "you're not part of us" or "you can't understand" etc. and it's all hidden in the language. Often in language that appears to be reconciliation.
I don't know how many times I've heard "a gun is just a tool" - but what's the job? In the Zimmerman case it seems to serve the same purpose as "white"ness - this vague notion of "security" by separation. The idea that objects carry essences. The gun IS security. The gated community IS protection.

Easier, I think, to dispel the direct association if one is considered part of the group (consider the Deer Hunter "This is this. It's not something else.") and yet the associations still exist in some indefinable ways.

Indefinable because the actual aim is to preserve privilege and that has to be understated otherwise it's prosecutable. And it's not even actual privilege, but the illusion of privilege (The Retreat at Twin Lakes was not that lilly white - eg. higher black population than the U.S. generally and Florida).

...which I suppose is privilege all the same. I mean hell, people kill each other over the interpretations of books that tell them to be nice to each other. So illusion, particularly self-delusion, is a huge part of that.

So, black, but not the "right" black. Or one of the "good" ones - whatever race, religion, etc.

What it comes down to is YOU or YOU. Can you see the other person as being yourself but under different circumstances or not?
I'm great at this. Not because I'm a saint, but empathy is excellent in conflict. So I've had the benefit of not approaching it from a moral "we should" perspective, but rather a more practical application. Know your enemy.
This has had the side benefit of eliminating from my "enemy" set most people who aren't actively shooting at me right now.

For many people though the moral perspective holds, even if they're not superstitious or believe in a certain kind of God(s) or moral agent of fate - many people still believe that a person's fortune or circumstances are indicative of their character. But those are matters of chance.
One's acts is the only indicator of who someone really is.
And even for someone who does act in a bad way, retribution is something we must seek ourselves. Justice must be made. It's something that is not left to some other force.

It's not divine, natural, intuitive or providential.
It's systematic. Objective. Selfless (or at least not-self interested in the sense it impartially empathizes with everyone)

That's how Joy's sister-in-law here differs from Zimmerman. In both cases they took the initiative. In Zimmerman's case though he (apparently) felt invested to act. And beyond the system.
In Joy's sister-in-law's case, she questioned an action that seems arbitrary and extra-systemic.

Zimmerman's actions resulted in violence. Joy's sister-in-law's did not.
The reason being - all other elements in the Zimmerman case notwithstanding - Zimmerman considered himself the agent of protection, he became a symbol himself and so believed he had the power. This is nowhere more obvious than when he disregards law enforcement's directive not to confront Martin.

Joy's sister-in-law didn't become a symbol of anything or associate herself and disassociate the clerk with 'decency' or the law, etc. No wishful thinking. She just delivered clarity.

I think as long as we can do that, not focus on the argument or the conflict and our own opinions more than the principle and remain objective and withhold judgement than we can avoid violence and escalation.

...And now I'm off to deal with some failures to do that.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:12 PM on August 25, 2013


I'm not clear on why you would be insulted by that. Either you friends are not mostly racists, in which case why think it's the human condition, or you have what most of us would agree is a pretty fucked up peer group.

I didn’t say I was insulted; I said you’re trying, and still are, and it continues to be weird.

That’s just a really terrible bit of logic. As far as I know, no one I know is a murderer. I still think violence is a part of human nature (The Human Condition I think of as something else). Human nature is not equivalent to "things the people around me do every day".

As I understand it, people throughout history have often been hostile to outsiders and people who were different from themselves. I don’t believe your theory that that was always a result of the majority being fooled by a devious leader and no one being smart enough to figure that out.

martinwisse described racism as "systemic defect in our societies", and not human nature. I wasn’t sure if he meant it like that and I asked him to clarify. I think there are many terrible things that many people engage in that are part of our base nature and that societies help us overcome those instincts. We band together and decide what is acceptable behavior and make rules to enforce that.

I thought we were having a conversation about the causes and solutions of racism.
posted by bongo_x at 7:14 PM on August 25, 2013


I didn’t say I was insulted; I said you’re trying, and still are, and it continues to be weird.

Yeah, I'm not. Please don't ascribe motivations. I'm sorry if it came off weirdly, and maybe I didn't phrase it as clearly as possible, but my point was that unless you are surrounded by racists, it seems weird to presume that to be normal.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:20 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see. We’re having a misunderstanding. I didn’t say, nor do I think, racism is excusable. "Normal", well, much more than it should be. I’ve seen comments that suggest that some people view calling things part of our nature an excuse for that behavior. I’ve never really understood that. I think it’s part of our nature for the big people to take from the little people, I don’t think that’s right though. I’m not a Republican. (joke)
That won’t happen in the Socialist utopia, when I’m dictator. (also a joke)

I think the fear and distrust of "the other" is a part of our base instincts, and we better ourselves in many ways when we band together in societies. Overcoming racism is something new for humans, something that will hopefully continue successfully, and something I can’t imagine being possible without "society".
posted by bongo_x at 7:45 PM on August 25, 2013


I guess I just don't know what human nature is, and don't wish to presume that because a small number of people do terrible things, this must be our true heart. Maybe it is. But human history is also populated with great people doing great things, and people getting along, and common paths and common accomplishments, and, were I to have to choose, I would choose that as our true nature, and not when we behave like wolves to each other.

But its a philosophical discussion that may be a bit beyond the ken of everyday discussions about how to address racism.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:50 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The idea that it's human nature to be racist is definitely a post-Modern era one. Racially essentialist theories are connected to racially based slavery and are the products of early modern civilizations.

A case can be made that certain human cognitive tendencies create proclivities to make distinctions among people based on habits or appearance, and that there may be some genetic or epigenetic basis for bonding in groups which are alike, but much of that likeness is also just the result of bonding within a group - a byproduct rather than a stimulus. And it is every bit as important for human beings to be able to create new social bonds and act cooperatively as it is for them to create new enemies and act divisively. More so, actually.

However, as Bunny Ultramod notes, that case is really limited and does not just automatically scale up to institutionalized, widespread, intentional and often state- or power-sponsored deployment of race theory to create an advantaged class and a disadvantaged class. The Marxist view would be that no form of difference is generally a problem until there is an attempt to commandeer resources in a way that is not equivalent for all participants.
posted by Miko at 9:02 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


(In other words, the very thought that "it's human nature" is part of the complex of ideas that lets powerful people and institutions effectively create divisive forces. If we accept that thought, to some extent we are already accepting that project).
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on August 25, 2013


history is complicated and you can't draw conclusions about the fundamental core of the human psyche from it.

So you believe no conclusions can ever be drawn in regard to the core of the human psyche, or you believe those conclusions must be drawn based on the exact moment in which we are all living, or else on what, the future? History is the only dataset we have in this soft-science. There's baby in that bath water.
posted by perhapsolutely at 10:34 PM on August 25, 2013


Do you not think that it’s part of human nature to be racist?

No, the idea of an unchanging human nature has always been a (rightwing) excuse to not care about injustice or fight for a better society. It presupposes our negative qualities are a fundamental part of us, but not our positive qualities and denies us something that really is fundamental to humanity, our ability to reason and learn.

It used to be that it was god that created us to be selfish bastards, then it became evolution, but it always denies the agency, the ability to decide for ourselves to the overhwelming majority of humanity. The idea of human nature and the need to control it is always an excuse for aristocracy in one form or another.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:11 PM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


o you believe no conclusions can ever be drawn in regard to the core of the human psyche

I don't know. I'm not an evolutionary psychologist. I know that "we're hard-wired to be racist" is sometimes used as an excuse to do nothing about racism, so I find the discussion neither very useful nor encouraging.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:44 PM on August 25, 2013


Have you ever noticed that the people who believe that we're hardwired to be racist are also the same people who believe that race is an artificial construct to which we shouldn't pay attention?
posted by Errant at 2:34 AM on August 26, 2013


No. Humans probably are prone to othering based on physical differences from themselves or "tribe." So what, that doesn't make it ok.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:44 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


No. Humans probably are prone to othering based on physical differences from themselves or "tribe." So what, that doesn't make it ok.

Exactly. I don’t really see the connection. We’re prone to shit wherever we’re standing too, but have decided it’s not a good idea. I don’t see it as an excuse at all, I see it as understanding part of the problem to help do something about it. Like knowing that you may tend toward depression if you don’t get enough sunlight.

I’ve never actually heard the argument that racism is OK because it’s an animal instinct. Except here, just now. I haven’t spent a lot of time around racists though.
posted by bongo_x at 8:32 AM on August 26, 2013


It's not just an excuse that racists make, it's an excuse that conservatives make profiting from racists to drive through policies, e.g. the need for more police funding because we can't end racial violence, just try and control it.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:37 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not just an excuse that racists make, it's an excuse that conservatives make profiting from racists to drive through policies, e.g. the need for more police funding because we can't end racial violence, just try and control it.

I see, I’ve never heard that.

I just think it’s important to try and understand things if you want to change them, not just hand wave them away because it isn’t comfortable to think about.

We teach kids that you can’t just shit your pants. You can't just take the other kids toy because you want it. People are not scary just because they look different than you. (I know that some people’s children are perfect moral angels from the time they were born and didn’t need to be taught these things, and they’re also computer geniuses. I’m talking about the rest of us.) Except that last one doesn’t always get taught right, even if subconsciously. What gets taught is "don’t be mean to different people, but avoid them, they’re scary". Sort of like how some kids get taught "don’t get caught taking things that aren’t yours".

I don’t think most people’s racism stems from an innate hatred of others, I think it’s from fear. Trayvon Martin is dead because Black Kids are Scary. (One of the things that’s pissed me off about that murder is that the idea that it was an unfortunate situation that got out of control. I also ending up yelling at the TV when the news reported that "many Black families were outraged" about the murder. Yeah, I’m not upset, it’s not one of "my" people.)

Maybe what I wasn’t seeing here is that some people don’t like the idea that racism is an impulse because it would imply that they are racist "inside". Frankly, I don’t care about your insides, I only care about how you act. I also don’t see base instincts as something to fear; I have no desire to steal your car, shit my pants, or run naked through the woods eating little rodents. Well, maybe the naked in the woods part.

I understand the statements about how racism is used, but I think people in power have always used racism precisely because it is so primal and easy to exploit, like any other fear (think of the children!). If it wasn’t how would it be so effective? It’s often our worst instincts that are exploited, they’re easiest. It’s a cheap trick that only works if you let it, and doesn’t work well if you understand how the trick works.
posted by bongo_x at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2013


I think it's dangerous to mix up predictable stages of child cognitive development with adult "human nature."

If it wasn’t how would it be so effective?

The primal part isn't the race, but fear of loss of sustenance and loss of status. You're right that these political powers exploit human fear, but it's not a fear of difference qua difference, it's the ancient human fear of being left out in the cold alone to starve.

I just think it’s important to try and understand things if you want to change them, not just hand wave them away because it isn’t comfortable to think about.

Right, and there are much more sophisticated ways to understand the politics of race than "biology makes me do it."
posted by Miko at 10:22 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just think it’s important to try and understand things if you want to change them, not just hand wave them away because it isn’t comfortable to think about.

We teach kids that you can’t just shit your pants.


That's an odd coupling of ideas, as I have never seen a child demand, nor a parent offer, a complete socio-psycho-evolutionary perspective on the development of pants and why we do not soil them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:07 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't have any professional experiences with how kids process race or racial differences, but it does seem like kids process these things at a pretty young age. Which makes me think, that like gender "differences," kids just absorb conscious or unconscious messaging from their parents and other people, media, etc, pretty quickly. It seems that the part that is most "natural" is just an instinct to pick up what others are doing and mirror it as quickly as possible. That seems like a viable survival instinct.

I remember one time when I was very young - my family is Indian American but light-skinned compared to what most people think Indian people look like/compared to many Indian people. We grew up in a very white area, and my best friend's family was all Irish American and blond.

Once we had a family friend's kid over who was much darker than us, and the best friend's little brother, who was like two at the time. He took one look at the other little kid, who was about his age, and started screaming crying. I was about 8 at the time, and remember the adults kind of looking embarrassed and saying he must have seen something on TV that scared him. But the kids, we all knew.

When that family had their next and last kid, I remember their mom put a bunch of pictures of kids of different races and skin colors all over the house at eye level, when the kid was a toddler. I was about 12 by then, and directly recalled the crying incident and though we never discussed it, I felt like that was my friend's mom trying to change something based on an experience she hadn't expected. I'm sure she hadn't expected her kid to start crying those years earlier because he saw a dark kid. No one thought the parents were racist, the kid was racist or anything like that. Like, no one knows where the hell that came from. But I'm pretty sure we all knew he was scared of a dark kid and started crying.

All those kids are grown and not racist in the least, and the place I grew up is more diverse now.

But I saw white people making an effort, as a kid, rather than trying to excuse away with "we're not racist though" and it was cool.
posted by sweetkid at 11:25 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


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