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February 20, 2001
6:17 AM   Subscribe

This article about the stereotyped Black man offered up by nearly every reality TV show broadcast in the US ends just as it's getting to the essence: why is this the "reality" the networks -- and damningly the audiences -- are choosing?
posted by sudama (80 comments total)

 
Looking for noble representatives of their race, sex or ethic culture on any of these "reality shows," is like fishing for marlin in your bathtub.
posted by darren at 7:04 AM on February 20, 2001


In nearly every way these shows are bottom-fishing. They're not trying to appeal to the educated members of society because those people disproportionately don't watch network television. The audience for the big networks is disproportionately concentrated among those who are less well educated and less affluent, which is to say those who are more likely to think in stereotypes.

Moreover, as the article itself points out, the casting is done with an eye to creating interesting situations. A show like this wouldn't be interesting if everyone was sweet, cooperative and lovable; ratings would plummet. It's more fun if there are identifiable villains.

It's unfortunate, but there's really nothing that can be done. I certainly object to the stereotypes, but then I object to the shows overall. But they are constitutionally protected speech, and the only answer is to ignore them and hope they'll go away. I actually think this will happen. Eventually the audience will realize that it's being manipulated, or some scandal will happen where it's revealed that the spontaneity is actually planned, or something like that. (Or worse, something really tragic and spontaneous will happen, like a murder.) Witness "Who wants to marry a Millionaire?" That travesty contained the seeds of its own destruction. It got high ratings but no-one will do anything like that again.

Then the whole reality-conflict thing will implode and leave only a nasty taste in the mouth.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:35 AM on February 20, 2001


Just so long as you don't make me stop watching "Big Brothers", the show where skinny white men try to survive life surrounded by large black convicts.
posted by snarkout at 7:39 AM on February 20, 2001


This is the "reality" the networks are choosing to show for a very simple reason: the BBG is a quicky and easily recognized "character," one the audience already "knows" from countless television shows and movies - same as the audience "knows" "Rudy the cranky old man" and "Rich the evil queen" on "Survivor" (I'm sure there are other examples, but that's the only show of this ilk that I've even seen snippets from...). They are stock types as surely as Arlecchino and Pantalone were stock types of the commedia dell'arte. These "short cut" characters allow the entertainment to swiftly get started, without the need for character exposition.

It's important to remember, though, that nobody ever confused Pantalone with a real-life miserly old man; it's hard to imagine anyone with any intelligence confusing Taheed guy with a real-life black guy. And yes, I know, I'm sure there are some people out there in TV-land who think this is, in fact, "real" - just like there are some people who think the Apollo 11 moon landing was filmed on a soundstage and some people who think Elvis is working at a Burger King in Michigan. At some point, you just have to shrug your shoulders and worry about things that actually matter. If you are so sensitive that you cannot bear the thought of these stock characters parading about and behaving as the stock characters they were hired to be, perhaps you should watch another program.
posted by m.polo at 8:17 AM on February 20, 2001


Yeah, that black dude on the new Survivor, he's a real scoundrel, yeah. And an underachiever, too. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket.
posted by grimmelm at 9:33 AM on February 20, 2001


Good point, grimmeim. An African-American Harvard Law student is so trite & sterotypical.
posted by darren at 9:48 AM on February 20, 2001


Grimmelm: One of the episodes of Survivor had a segment where a contestant made a point of calling Nick (i.e. "that black dude") lazy. So far, that's almost all viewers know about the guy.
posted by rcade at 10:11 AM on February 20, 2001


Surely subconscious stereotypes affect the casting agents. Watching reruns of RoadRules at a motel in the summer of 97, i remember seeing one guy who differed from the stereotype-a quiet 'nice' guy. Perhaps stereotypes also affect our memories.
posted by ella at 10:17 AM on February 20, 2001


I don't think stereotypes are nearly as harmless as we'd like to believe they are. See this Atlantic Monthly article and read about Jane Elliott's blue eyes brown eyes exercise. There's plenty of solid evidence that stereotypes affect our performance and behavior.

Of course the shows are constitutionally-protected speech. What can do is expose the hate speech for what it is.
posted by sudama at 10:26 AM on February 20, 2001


(...what we can do, that is)
posted by sudama at 10:28 AM on February 20, 2001


"Hate speech"?! You are seriously deluded - or, at least, have absolutely no idea how commercial entertainment products are created - if you think some executive casting guy at Fox is sitting around his office, trying to figure out ways to negatively portray "the noble black man." That's utter bullshit.
posted by m.polo at 12:00 PM on February 20, 2001


The point's already been sketched out (especially well by m.polo and the dell'arte) but these shows are closer to what Baudrillard would call "hyperreality": a manufacturing of situation, which brings with it a manufacture of character.

What's interesting is that the British equivalent -- last year's "Big Brother" -- had its own outrageous clichés: the self-seeking public-school city boy (Nasty Nick), the Irish lesbian ex-nun (Anna), and the not-very-bright, heart-of-gold, alpha-male Scouse brickie (Craig). But there was much more of the regional stereotyping that marks British culture than any particular racial profiling, and I think that's because there's less recent history of ghettoising television. (You don't really get "black television" along the lines of the WB channel's output, for instance.)

But I definitely agree with rcade's point on "Survivor": Nick hasn't been presented in any role other than "lazy black man, lying in the hammock". Over four weeks, that's a bit suspect.
posted by holgate at 12:12 PM on February 20, 2001


Wow. You mean shows designed for (and largely by) morons are portraying people moronically? Gee. And I thought reality shows were finally going to open the door to true human unity. Sudama, it may be wise to pick your battles a little more carefully.

Q: What one thing is true of a network television program, that is untrue of every other aspect of society?

A: If we ignore it, it WILL go away.
posted by Optamystic at 12:15 PM on February 20, 2001


I don't agree, m.polo; I think sudama has a point. The linked article isn't claiming that there's any conspiracy or deliberate attempt to make black men look bad. It's merely demonstrating that the many individual decisions which went into casting all these shows had that result: an entire season full of shows featuring unlikable black men.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:17 PM on February 20, 2001


I wasn't responding the original post, Mars, I was responding to the very specific comment later on:

What [we] can do is expose the hate speech for what it is.

The article didn't say it was "hate speech." Sudama said it was hate speech. And I say, "That's utter bullshit. It's the quick-n-easy, character-in-a-jiffy, don't-make-me-do-no-thinkin' world of commerical television."
posted by m.polo at 12:26 PM on February 20, 2001


The battle isn't against network executives ("if you kill me, two more will take my place") but against ignorance and complacency. This shit is serious. Like it or not -- watch it or not -- TV is a huge factor in shaping the public imagination, in which Black men have always been criminals, and more recently entertainers and athletes.

I really can't believe so many people can watch these shows and not be horrified by the stereotyping. To my mind, that's the real problem. The reality shows are just a crystal clear case study.
posted by sudama at 12:32 PM on February 20, 2001


There's more to it than character-in-a-jiffy, methinks. I'd love to see producers and other decisionmakers called on the carpet for the choices they make re: black male characters, but I wouldn't file hate-speech charges (and I doubt that's where Sudama -- who can speak for himself -- was going with that).
posted by allaboutgeorge at 12:34 PM on February 20, 2001


What I meant by hate speech was that it has a similarly destructive effect....

posted by sudama at 12:44 PM on February 20, 2001


I don't think it will go away if we ignore it. Do you really expect people of the intelligence to believe these stereotypes in the first place will ever come to the realization that they are being manipulated? Highly doubtful. Yes, it's dumb TV for dumb people but that doesn't mean that we can't call some one out for perpetuating a stereotype, no matter what the context.
posted by jennyb at 12:49 PM on February 20, 2001


fwiw, here's another perspective on the issue:

BEHIND THE MASK.(helping African American men feel secure) by michael eric dyson

incidendentally, there was an episode of daria on last nite about advertising in the schools. the point was that it undermines the school's authority and legitamacy as a place of public learning. anyway, the show features as a "joke" two "token" black characters that are always portrayed in the best possible light. it's pretty "funny."
posted by kliuless at 1:07 PM on February 20, 2001


The problem is that we're all of us subject to the influence of stereotypes -- not just some imaginary "dumb" class of people. I encourage you to read the articles I linked earlier.

Probably the dumbest are those who think they are somehow above being affected by mass media. It's very very easy to deny the extent to which the media affects our attitudes and beliefs and very very hard to discover the depth at which we are corrupted by this stuff.
posted by sudama at 1:13 PM on February 20, 2001


Great point, sudama. After changing careers to one in which I come into contact with a much more broad cross-section of society, I've rethought my old notions about the stupidity of the masses. Regardless of an individual's relative intelligence, their life will be impacted by these stereotypes, either directly or indirectly.
posted by gimli at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2001


Probably the dumbest are those who think they are somehow above being affected by mass media

How is it that my attitudes toward black men are affected by a show that I don't watch, and in fact, have total contempt for?

My attitudes toward African-American men are affected by one thing, and one thing only. How I am treated by the particular African-American men in question. Same deal with regards to any other group. If you treat me poorly, I will think poorly of you. If you show me kindness and respect, then I will hold you in the highest regard. And Rupert Murdoch and Viacom don't have a damn thing to say about it either way.
posted by Optamystic at 2:15 PM on February 20, 2001


I've said it before: a lot of times we seem to want it not just both ways, but all possible ways. Why is it that purportedly negative racial stereotypes on TV magically affect my thinking, but we poo-poo reports that TV magically makes kids light themselves on fire, shoot other kids in school, or do a lot of drugs? On the one hand, TV and other media invite men and women to worry a whole bunch about their bodily images, and we make a big stink about what turds the culture-sellers are. So if we've all been brainwashed into becoming a nation of bulimics and Soloflexers, why are we as a nation so goddamned fat? Oh, right . . . the advertisers of junk food. Are they that much more attractive media manipulators than the Vogue advertisements and the Playboy spreads? Or--maybe--is the real story just a whole lot more complex than pointing a finger and saying, "That made me fat. That is making people racists."

I'm not accusing anyone here per se of doing that, but I seem to catch whiffs of it. I'm also not advocating just sitting back and letting bullshit parade by and not raising up against it, but I am saying that people are ultimately responsible for their own actions, thoughts, and beliefs.
posted by Skot at 2:31 PM on February 20, 2001


Everybody is influenced by attitudes and motivations that they aren't 100% conscious of. Anyone here never sabotaged a relationship? Anyone never said just the wrong thing at the wrong time and wasn't sure quite why? Anyone never seen themselves on videotape displaying body language they had no intention of exhibiting?

Stereotypes in the media filter into us in countless ways. If you're that rare person who has acheived the Buddha's right mindfulness, more power to you. The rest of us are struggling with this human existence, in which we leap to mental shortcuts against our own will.
posted by sudama at 2:32 PM on February 20, 2001


I've never done any of those things.

There's nothing wrong with stereotypes as long as you recognize them as such and don't confuse them with real people. Almost all classic literary characters are stereotypes.

The rest of us are struggling with this human existence
No pseudo-humble, holier-than-thou-ism please. I understand exactly what you are saying, (although I could do without the phrasing) and I'd agree that we are not always aware of all our motivations but I'd say that the media is a lot less influential in this regard than the family and "real" (for lack of clever word) environment.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:44 PM on February 20, 2001


My attitudes toward African-American men are affected by one thing, and one thing only. How I am treated by the particular African-American men in question.

But, it really is impossible to approach any situation with a completely clean slate, no matter what, people are going to treat you as they have been treated by you. And treated can be just the vibe you give off, the way you look at someone, the tone of your voice, your clothes, etc. etc.

So if you agree that there is bound to be some level of interaction before the specific interaction takes place, do you think that that can be influenced by media?
posted by cell divide at 2:50 PM on February 20, 2001


Probably the dumbest are those who think they are somehow above being affected by mass media. It's very very easy to deny the extent to which the media affects our attitudes and beliefs and very very hard to discover the depth at which we are corrupted by this stuff.

Wow. Damned if we do, damned if we don't, huh?

Look, if you aren't smart enough and educated enough to retain a clear concept of what mass media is, how it produces its messages and how those messages are processed by you and by others, well, that's you... You have no right to assume that the rest of us are equally unskilled, whether it has to do with your alleged stereotypical casting or with our choice of furniture polish or any other of the zillion messages we're sent every day, all day. I am absolutely certain I have lots of preconceptions as I approach any situation, but I defy you or anyone else to demonstrate that my interaction with black men is somehow colored by Taheed Watson's behavior on a show I've never watched.
posted by m.polo at 3:11 PM on February 20, 2001


But, it really is impossible to approach any situation with a completely clean slate, no matter what, people are going to treat you as they have been treated by you.

I am a white man. On three separate occasions, over the thirty-one years that I have been alive on this planet, black men have held guns to my head and robbed me. Three times. No member of any other race has ever done this to me. Only black men.

Now, if I encounter a black man walking down the street, and I am distrustful of him, due to past treatment from members of his race, am I racist, or just smart?

The answer, of course, is that I am racist. Because during the rest of that time that I have been alive on this planet, I have met many more black men who were not deserving of my fear or distrust, and, in fact have shown themselves to be worthy of my highest esteem.

The same holds true for the black man who is approaching me from the other direction. It is his responsibility to excercise his good sense and realize that I'm not forming my opinion of him from a television show. I will be forming it from whatever contact happens to be imminent between us. If he treats me unkindly due to his belief that I am biased against him, then he is just as wrong and as racist as I would be if the shoe were on the other foot.
posted by Optamystic at 3:20 PM on February 20, 2001


I defy you or anyone else to demonstrate that my interaction with black men is somehow colored by Taheed Watson's behavior on a show I've never watched.

Ever seen Birth of a Nation? Ever seen a minstrel show? Most people haven't. I haven't. But both of those have had a greater influence on our attitudes towards Black men than we'll ever know. Our behavior, of course, is our responsibility -- but don't kid yourself that you're free of prejudice. It's simply not possible.
posted by sudama at 3:51 PM on February 20, 2001


Sudama, if you have freedom of behavior, then any prejudices you might have do not matter. All that matters is how you act upon your thoughts, ie. exhibiting prejudice. And it is possible to be free from that.
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:04 PM on February 20, 2001


One of the indirect ways that these negative stereotypes can affect even the most enlightened of us is in the chilling effect it can have on efforts to reach out or open up to each other. If I felt I were being unfairly portrayed in the mass media, I would be very hesitant interact with people who I felt were under its influence. Some of the most brilliant, talented people I know are African Americans, and one of the saddest things I can think of is how unnecessarily difficult the early stages of friendship can be as we "feel each other out." A waste of energy that could be much better spent.
posted by gimli at 4:14 PM on February 20, 2001


Sudama, you've been pounding that same drum forever, and you're just plain wrong. You don't know me. You don't know what my prejudices are, whether they be racial, or economic, or political, or something more abstract. If it is impossible for you to free yourself of racial prejudice, then I am very sorry for you. But don't project onto me your inability or unwillingness to do so.
posted by Optamystic at 4:15 PM on February 20, 2001


What sonof said...

When did I say I was free of prejudices? Of course I'm not free of prejudices, I've been alive, haven't I? I had parents and I'm immersed in a culture and, God help me, I have on occasion watched television (although, I might quickly add, never "reality" shows...) I simply said that I am aware of how mass media operates and consequently consider myself in a position to make an informed choice with regard to acting on its messages.

And since you asked, yes, I have seen Birth of a Nation, in fact several times. I have seen at least a recreation of a minstrel show (mounted, in fact, by several prominent black entertainers including Maurice Hines, although to what purpose other than exposition has always escaped me). Ah, but poor me, I grew up in an upper middle class, Nantucket summerin', yacht club goin', polo playin', trust fund receivin', church-on-Christmas-and-Easter Northeastern suburb where the only black people I saw drove trucks, swept tennis courts - or were, like our neighbor across the street, a senior vice president of the Xerox Corporation or the co-salutatorian of my senior class.
posted by m.polo at 4:20 PM on February 20, 2001


"why is this the "reality" the networks -- and damningly the audiences -- are choosing?"

We're human. We talk a good game, but at the end of the day we enjoy mass-media drivel, react to people based on stereotypes, and are largely selfish and apathetic.

When we encounter people who are different, we make fun of them. When things support our stereotypes we notice, when things break stereotype we don't.

I hope that people won't be that way. I hope that we all will aspire to be better. But I don't see much of that.

Furthermore.....

Changing laws is one thing. But changing the way people subconsciously think and react by thought-policing the media is futile.

I could ramble on, thread after thread, about the unrealistic and unfair stereotypes I see on "Friends" or "Will and Grace", but how would that be relevant to anything? It would be silly. And (IMHO) picking out black TV stereotypes for analysis is just as silly.

If it makes you feel good then go for it. But don't kid yourself.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:22 PM on February 20, 2001


Optamystic -- that post you linked is about white privilege, not stereotypes. Is that what you meant to link? I wonder exactly what you think I'm wrong about.
posted by sudama at 4:41 PM on February 20, 2001


Probably the dumbest are those who think they are somehow above being affected by mass media.

"Dumbest?" Maybe the most ignorant, not that I necessarily agree with you.

It's very very easy to deny the extent to which the media affects our attitudes and beliefs and very very hard to discover the depth at which we are corrupted by this stuff.

It's easy for you to say that, but what do you prove by saying the truth is hard to discover? Nothing. It's just an excuse not to prove, or try to prove, this idea that everyone is corrupted by the mass media.

I'm not saying that the mass media has absolutely no effect on me, but I doubt I've been "corrupted" by something I haven't watched for many years. Although I speak only for myself.
posted by gleemax at 4:51 PM on February 20, 2001


quoting sudama from the post that I linked:
It's a game of semantics I've learned not to play, but the point is that all whites are responsible for racism -- NOT for the racism perpetrated by dead whites long ago, but for the racist institutions and cultural norms and expressions which confer unearned privileges and advantages upon us at every turn.

The point I'm trying to make is that if you go around looking at every situation through the "White folks are inherently racist" prism, then you are robbing yourself of the fullness of life.

No doubt, many white folks are racist. But it is possible that you may encounter some that are not. And if you treat them like they are automatically racist, then you are the one who is being racist.
posted by Optamystic at 4:57 PM on February 20, 2001


argh. that's not what i said.
posted by sudama at 5:13 PM on February 20, 2001


quite obviously, this is a drum that needs to be pounded. racial tension affects everybody in some way or another. tending to be affected by racial stereotypes in either direction, at any time is just part of the basically lazy human nature. we are a bunch of lazy people, many of whom sit around watching television and being influenced by portrayals which were lazily put together... everything will slowly change like it always does.
posted by ella at 5:20 PM on February 20, 2001


I believe that positive change will only be achieved through proactive effort. How many people do you know who got their first good job by knowing the "right people"?
A friend, a parent of a friend, a friend of a friend gets them that foot in the door. A truly level playing field can't exist unless there is absolutely no impediment to completely free association among all people. Even if you are not a racist as an individual, you have to make a concerted effort to overcome the effects of racism in society.
posted by gimli at 5:53 PM on February 20, 2001


White people can't change -- they're automatically racist. Sudama says so, and he (?) knows. I'm doomed. Despite the fact that I've tried to live a good life and treat everyone I meet as people instead of races, despite my numerous non-white friends, despite the fact that I'm a xenophile, I'm a racist.

Positive change is impossible -- Sudama says so. Never mind that my parents tried to make sure that I was part of the change and that I have too. It doesn't matter. Since I'm white I'm automatically racist. My skin is more important than my brain, and I'm racist because of the color of my skin.

I see the light now. I am doomed. I will spend eternity in hell because my skin is pale. Pardon me while I go commit suicide. I wouldn't want to inflict my racism on the universe any longer.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:56 PM on February 20, 2001


Steven, don't be absurd. I didn't say anything of the sort. And please don't champion your color-blindness or exploit your friends of color for the sake of this argument.

Positive change comes from rejecting the system that privileges pale skin over dark. If that's what your parents taught you then we're on the same team.
posted by sudama at 9:40 PM on February 20, 2001


i'm with steven and optamystic - that's the gist i've been getting from you all along, sudama. i wonder if you've thought about the other side of this. when you say "all white people are inherently racist unless they RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE", you are saying "if i saw you on a street, i would assume that you are judging me on the basis of my skin color." i'm not trying to turn this around into "poor white people", but i think that's incredibly divisive. when you say things like that, it makes me become more wary around black people when i see them simply because i don't want them to think i'm racist. if i were black, i would hate it if people walked on eggshells around me, trying to avoid being thought of as a racist. i would hate the idea that people were trying to placate me. but what the hell else am i supposed to do? if i act normally, i'm a racist because i'm white. if i go out of my way to be nice, i'm a racist because i'm placating someone and implying that they need my help or kindness more than another. you've painted me into a bit of a catch-22, i'm afraid.

i'm also curious how exactly you propose that people break out of the system that favors pale skin over dark. you keep making vague fightclub-esque comments about rejecting the system, but never have you told me what exactly to do. i think that in and of itself makes you sound less like you're working towards unity and more like you're stereotyping white people right back. if you have a plan, i would absolutely love to hear it.
posted by pikachulolita at 10:31 PM on February 20, 2001


That white people benefit from unearned privilege is not a stereotype but an observation of fact. To say that partaking in this system of privilege is racist is not to stereotype but to propose the foundation of a critical theory of race. Forgive me if this proposition offends you; I do not intend to argue nor do I believe that all white people are willfully prejudiced against people of color.

My plan is to educate white people about their complicity with racial oppression in hopes of reaching a tipping point where we'll collectively decide to put the lie to the fiction of whiteness.

It's not a lesson most whites want to learn, though I'll grant that I have a long way to go as a teacher.

(For those of you who are new to this discussion, btw, I'm a white man.)
posted by sudama at 11:08 PM on February 20, 2001


Positive change comes from trying to treat everyone exactly as you'd like yourself to be treated. That's what I do. I deal with everyone I meet as individuals, not as members of groups.

And how the heck am I supposed to prove to you that I'm not a racist when you won't let me present any evidence to the contrary? I think my friendships are relevant. But you've already decided I'm guilty and so as to not have to reconsider that you've decided that nothing I can say will change that, because it's all just rationalization on my part to fool myself about my inherent racism. Bah.

I just ran into this and thought it was an interesting look at what happens when the issues of racism are dealt with in broad strokes -- it shuts down brains and makes people think with their reflexes.

Now for an 8 year old girl, that experiment was incredibly mature. She used a control group, she mixed up the stimuli to see which stimuli the preferences followed, and while her sample is small the result is so striking that I think it's statistically significant. It would be interesting to try the same experiment using photographs of two women who exchanged dresses the way she did with the dolls, and using a much larger sample.

More to the point, however, is that the school district decided to "shoot the messenger". The girl herself showed no sign of racism; she did an interesting experiment, found a very interesting result, and reported it honestly. And her result was suppressed because it might offend people. And that's wrong. We're never going to deal with racism until we look at it honestly, to see who is actually affected by it and who isn't.

I read an interesting comment once made by a black man to others in the civil rights movement. I can't quote the exact words, but it went more or less like this: We can't win this fight without getting white people on our side, and if the only position in this movement for white people is "villain", then none of them are going to help us. So we better find a way to include them that doesn't include laying a load of guilt on them.

If we can't talk about racism (which I despise) without you tarring me unfairly with the racist brush, then include me out and fight your fight without me. I'll help you if you accept me as a person and don't treat me as a racist honky. If you won't do that, then you are as racist as the people you claim to be trying to fight.

Any collective statement about a group of people which claims a characteristic is universal among them based only on their skin color is racist and it doesn't matter what the color of that skin is. It is no less racist to say that all white people are themselves racist then it is to say that all black people long to live barefooted and to eat watermelon.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:08 PM on February 20, 2001


sudama, i agree that there is definitely unearned privilege. as a white man, then, how have you stopped partaking in a racist system? i'm not trying to be accusatory at all, i'm just very curious about the specifics. if you're trying to teach white people, try some examples. i think everyone on metafilter is smart enough to see through abstractions until there's some sort of payoff in the realm of reality.
posted by pikachulolita at 11:32 PM on February 20, 2001


Sudama, your theory doesn't offend me. I just think it's nonsense.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:35 PM on February 20, 2001


You still haven't said how we reject "the system that privileges pale skin over dark". Refuse to go to college? Refuse to work any good job that a black person might want? Send our kids to inner city schools? Overthrow the government?

I don't see that as the answer, people can do more good from within, with personal acts of kindness...
posted by dagnyscott at 5:48 AM on February 21, 2001


If I knew exactly how to do that, my plan would look a whole lot different. With racism codified in our legal system and entrenched in our institutions and culture, however, it's gonna take a lot more than personal kindness to overcome.

What I do know is that, as Howard Zinn is fond of saying, you can't be neutral on a moving train.
posted by sudama at 6:35 AM on February 21, 2001


That white people benefit from unearned privilege is not a stereotype but an observation of fact. To say that partaking in this system of privilege is racist is not to stereotype but to propose the foundation of a critical theory of race. Forgive me if this proposition offends you; I do not intend to argue nor do I believe that all white people are willfully prejudiced against people of color.

A spade's a spade and you are a liar. If you didn't want to argue, you wouldn't periodically repost (1, 2, 3) the same inflammatory, "reverse racist" flame-bait and then hide behind pseudo-Buddhist-we-are-the-world-give-peace-a-chance crap. MeFi certainly doesn't lack for liberal thinking where hearts run ahead of minds; I've even come to welcome those challenges to my own more conservative thinking. What it does lack, unfortunately, is a killfile feature to weed out the pointlessly repetitive trollers.
posted by m.polo at 6:37 AM on February 21, 2001


m.p., this is just my opinion, but I just believe that sudama is very passionate about this issue. I've read most of the previous posts you have cited, and I see how they could be interpretated as being inflammatory by those of us who feel enlightened. Bottom line: it's a painful subject with no easy answers. And, like sudama, it's not going to go away.
posted by gimli at 7:02 AM on February 21, 2001


It's called moving on when the point's been made... Sudama's free to repost when he has something new to say. Until then, it remains trolling to bring it up over and over...
posted by m.polo at 7:07 AM on February 21, 2001


Point taken. This thread seems to have run its course. I did get a glimpse at others' perspectives, and it didn't get ugly (very).
posted by gimli at 7:32 AM on February 21, 2001


m.polo, if you parse that sentence again I think you'll see that I was saying "I do not intend to argue that all white people are willfully prejudiced."

I hope it's not the consensus that I am trolling metafilter. I certainly didn't start any of those threads (well, maybe one ;) with the intention of dredging up the same old crap. On the contrary, I was hoping to spark a discussion that would head in new and interesting directions. Unfortunately, it always seems to get turned around into an attack on me for suggesting that whites are responsible for the oppression of people of color.

m.polo, you are free to ignore any thread you don't care for. I'm not to blame for your misinterpretation of my point of view and I certainly didn't force you to get in an argument with me about racism.
posted by sudama at 7:52 AM on February 21, 2001


"I hope it's not the consensus that I am trolling metafilter."

I don't think you're trolling. I DO think you're beating the horse well past the point where it is dead. Your crusade is well and good as far as I'm concerned. HOWEVER.......

We get it all ready!!!!! Why the same thing over and over again? The same exact thing.

And on top of that you don't offer any solutions, and you don't instigate action. You just drone on and on and on and on.......... The same thing. Every thread.

"My plan is to educate white people about their complicity with racial oppression"

We fucking get it already!!!!! We're all racist. We all contribute to oppression. There no way we can avoid it. We get it okay?

Here's an idea - Try offering solutions instead of sanctimonious preaching. Your "plan" has taken on the qualities of a low droning background hum.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:16 AM on February 21, 2001


I don't get the impression that sudama is trolling at all. Far from it, in fact. I think he is rather patiently defending a highly unpopular position.

I don't agree with him on this particular issue, but I think the debate is interesting and he is the main reason why.

Of course, sudama, I still think you're wrong ;-)
posted by Optamystic at 8:23 AM on February 21, 2001


I think sudama did suggest at least one solution: to point out and discourage the perpetuation of negative stereotypes in the popular media. It's not a new idea, but it sure has been slow to catch on.
posted by gimli at 8:38 AM on February 21, 2001


Try offering solutions instead of sanctimonious preaching.

Is that how I come across? If I'm repetitive, I feel like I'm being asked the same questions over and over again -- and worse, misinterpreted in the exact same ways over and over.

If I knew exactly where to go from here I'd be glad to copy and paste my secret formula for peace between the races into this comment box but clearly I don't. The point is to face the issue head on and continue the discussion as it heads into extremely uncomfortable areas.
posted by sudama at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2001


Until then, it remains trolling to bring it up over and over.

New people come to MetaFilter all the time. I don't agree with many of Sudama's conclusions about race, but it's unfair to accuse him of trolling simply because he has a strident position on a controversial issue.
posted by rcade at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2001


sudama,
Since you seem so desperate to defend 'my people' from 'yours', I guess I'll have to try and defend 'yours' from you. :-)
It is undeniable that our society possesses significant racial inequality and some residual institutional racism. It is also true that human beings are naturally prejudiced. (It's a useful way of developing ideas about the unknown. If you were a gazelle and had encountered predatory lions and cheetahs, it's reasonable that you'd run from leopards too. Drawing inferences from limited data is what we humans do.)
You do well to point out the problem of false stereotypes, though I doubt bad television is fundamentally responsible for them :-) Your error lies , as many here have said, in tarring white society with as broad a brush that which is used by white supremacists and the like.
The socio-economic superiority of Caucasians in America is an accident of history, it is merely symptomatic of the human tendency to separate ourselves
As pikachulolita pointed out, one of the things that most annoys me is when I'm having a discussion with people and they feel scared to say something for fear that I'll be offended. That is not the goal that I have for our society. We need to come to the place where we feel free to dislike each other without the fear that because one of us is blue and the other yellow, it'll turn into a 'race thing'.
Difficult discussions about uncomfortable topics are necessary but, to the extent that you continue to antagonize rather than analyze solutions, no progress will be made.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2001


Sorry, I probably shouldn't think up a post while I'm writing it. There may perhaps be some content in it though.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:23 AM on February 21, 2001


it is merely symptomatic of the human tendency to separate ourselves

Even if I grant you this (which I am loath to do), I maintain that it is indefensible to defend the ill-gotten and unjust socio-economic superiority that persists to this day. I simply feel that any white person who receives undeserved benefits from this situation is responsible for taking concrete steps to rectify it. This seems to me a very reasonable position. Before you ask me what steps, ask yourself what your moral responsibility is. If you are committed to positive social change, then let's come up with some steps together.
posted by sudama at 9:37 AM on February 21, 2001


"Before you ask me what steps, ask yourself what your moral responsibility is."

Okay. What's my moral responsibility? To be a fair and good person.

Now....... What steps are you talking about? How should I divest myself of my ill-gotten and undeserved benefits? WHAT STEPS??? Stop tossing it back in my face. What do you want me to do?
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:57 AM on February 21, 2001


Hey guys, sorry I'm late, traffic was awful...

:-)


Okay, so sudama said, "I maintain that it is indefensible to defend the ill-gotten and unjust socio-economic superiority that persists to this day. I simply feel that any white person who receives undeserved benefits from this situation is responsible for taking concrete steps to rectify it."

I agree with him. Having read his argument repeatedly, I think that I can say that it isn't that each one acts like a racist, but are beneficiaries of a system whose inequities stem from racist views and policies.

Off the top of my head, I can think of one way that this has been perpetuated, namely hiring practices.

Speaking from personal experience, all of the jobs that I have ever had came not from interviews with strangers, but from interviews through friends, colleagues, and long-time contacts. While the process may have been competitive, I am sure that if I didn't have those contacts, I would have had to get a lesser job.

To me, the contemporary relative absence of minorities in white-collar employment is, to a large extent, due to the lack of networking opportunities (different schools, social circles, etc.) between those that are employed and those that are not.

So a concrete step that we should take would be to encourage not only economic development in impoverished neighborhoods with large minority populations, but also networking opportunities between those in desired and minority-deficient sectors, and those currently without contacts. We personally should be involved.

But, I think this has to do more with economic disparities rather than racial differences. Perhaps this is because my personal experience has more to do with the former than the latter (for those of you who don't know me, I am a well-adjusted Mexican/Vietnamese mutt).


posted by Avogadro at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2001


If only people would just love one another
posted by Postroad at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2001


I love you Postroad.
posted by thirteen at 10:35 AM on February 21, 2001


no postroad, we just need to learn to hate each other for valid reasons (thanks to Dennis Miller for that nugget of wisdom)
posted by Octaviuz at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2001


I simply feel that any white person who receives undeserved benefits from this situation is responsible for taking concrete steps to rectify it.

Things like this are inflammatory, and I'm hesitant to believe you don't realize it. To many white people, this reads, "Anything you've ever accomplished, you've accomplished because you benefit from being white," or, "You wouldn't be where you are today if you faced the challenges a non-white person does."

Regardless, even if I have received "undeserved benefits," why am I the one who needs to rectify the situation? I've never even been in a position where I could distribute undeserved benefits to anyone. If I was accepted to my particular school because I'm white, and not because I deserved it, isn't the person responsible for the racism to blame? When I see an optional section for my race, I don't mark "white" in the hopes of getting preferential treatment; I don't answer the question at all. I think it's silly to hold person A responsible for person B's actions, even if that A did benefit from B's actions.
posted by gleemax at 11:33 AM on February 21, 2001


I think it's silly to hold person A responsible for person B's actions, even if that A did benefit from B's actions.

I think that everyone would agree with you. However, I don't think that sudama said that; of course A is not responsible for B's actions. However, if B's actions have unjustly given A an undeserved advantage, then perhaps A should do something to mitigate said advantage. It seems that the way to accomplish that is not for A to disable herself/himself, but to make it possible for "C" (as the person with the disadvantage) to work on a level playing field.
posted by Avogadro at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2001


If I'm repetitive, I feel like I'm being asked the same questions over and over again -- and worse, misinterpreted in the exact same ways over and over.

Misinterpreted over and over? Perhaps if you really are trying to say something other than what all the people who've read these threads think you've been saying here and in other threads, you ought to reconsider your own communications skills. We hear you - all too clearly - and it seems most of refuse to accept the reverse racist, redirected white guilt you are trying to pour all over us. If, indeed, your

plan is to educate white people about their complicity with racial oppression in hopes of reaching a tipping point where we'll collectively decide to put the lie to the fiction of whiteness.

you appear to be off to a spectacularly unsuccessful start.

And just in case you hadn't heard, it's been demonstrated to be untrue that rubbing a puppy's nose in a puddle of pee will somehow magically make him decide he'd better not go in the house any more... Even if I were prepared to admit you were partially right, your tactics ("You're white! You're wrong! You're bad!" screeched at me over and over) ensure that you stand no chance in hell of even getting me to listen to you.
posted by m.polo at 12:53 PM on February 21, 2001


m.polo, you are willing to admit that it's a puddle of piss and not lemonade, so that's a start isn't it? :)
posted by cell divide at 1:06 PM on February 21, 2001


If called upon by the teacher, cell, I will admit that it's actual canine wee-wee, yes... Just so long as I don't have to pretend to feel guilty about it, when the pup who's responsible is long gone off to that Doggie Beach in the Sky!
posted by m.polo at 1:49 PM on February 21, 2001


However, if B's actions have unjustly given A an undeserved advantage, then perhaps A should do something to mitigate said advantage.

What if A doesn't know he was given an unfair advantage? For example, how is a white student to know if he was chosen over a black student because of color and not academics? Your solution only works if A is aware of B's actions, and that's not always the case.
posted by gleemax at 2:28 PM on February 21, 2001


It was never about guilt, nor was it about "the sins of the fathers."

At least a few people are understanding me quite clearly, m.polo. You on the other hand have set up so many straw men and put so many words in my mouth that it's derailed the discussion quite severely. You come across as quite invested in this discussion... you use a dismissive tone, but you keep coming back to viciously ridicule me. What is this about for you?
posted by sudama at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2001


gleemax, we're not talking about some contrived situation here, we're talking about every minute of each and every day. It's called white privilege, and it's your birthright. For further reading try Peggy McIntosh.
posted by sudama at 2:48 PM on February 21, 2001


What if A doesn't know he was given an unfair advantage?

And I think that this is sudama's point; folks who have traditionally enjoyed certain structural advantages (income, race, gender, bellies with/without stars, etc.) should examine how it is that they got to where they are.

Yes, it is tiresome to live an examined life and many would rather assume that the advantages that they enjoy are entirely self-earned. But, raising general awareness is a step in the right direction.

Your solution only works if A is aware of B's actions, and that's not always the case.

exactly

sorry sudama, don't mean to talk for you...
posted by Avogadro at 2:49 PM on February 21, 2001


Sudama, how old are you?
posted by m.polo at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2001


25
posted by sudama at 3:30 PM on February 21, 2001


No problem, Avogadro... sometimes I think I need an interpreter.
posted by sudama at 3:32 PM on February 21, 2001


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