What's wrong with anti-racism?
May 13, 2009 12:54 PM   Subscribe

What's wrong with anti-racism? A Unitarian-Universalist answer: Why Anti-Racism Will Fail by Thandeka. A socialist answer: Race, class, and "whiteness theory" by Sharon Smith. A conservative answer: The Lightness of Critical Race Theory by Winkfield F. Twyman, Jr. For background and more criticisms, see the Wikipedia entries for Whiteness studies and Critical race theory.
posted by shetterly (134 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is it racist to avoid articles written by people with names like "Winkfield F. Twyman, Jr."? I hope that's a nom de plume.
posted by muddgirl at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Marxists linking to intellectualconservative.com for validation? MY HEAD IS EXPLODING. Are dogs and cats living together in harmony? I'm afraid to look.

Wake me up when the state has withered away, and I'll join you in a chorus of the Internationale.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:03 PM on May 13, 2009


I'm working my way through these, by the way. The first article seems to be a response to an older form of "anti-racism", one that ignores intersectionality and pretends that white oppression has no negative effects on any white people.
posted by muddgirl at 1:06 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


the second problem I have found in UU anti-racist strategies: the errant assumption that white America works for white Americans. Any one who cares to look will quickly discover that it doesn't -- at least, not for the vast majority of them.

There are a lot of New York City taxi drivers who could enlighten her on this point.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2009


Whiteness studies. LOL. I had to take one "X Studies" class in college and I ended up taking Asian studies. It was pretty interesting but I'm sure I would have taken "Whitness studies" if it had been offered.

Anyway there are obviously fringe views all over the place on all types of things, like those "academics" who thought that Obama wasn't "really" black, stuff like that. It's all absurd.
posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wake me up when the state has withered away, and I'll join you in a chorus of the Internationale.

The point of Marxism is that it kind of requires the international working class to join in a chorus of the Internationale first in order to get to the point of the state withering away, no? (Though I may be a little touchy, because Sharon's a friend of mine.)
posted by scody at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2009


The very idea that white supremacy works and benefits all white people as a whole has come under a great deal of questioning in the last few decades. Especially if you look at labor history, a great number of arguments can be made that the overwhelming racism in the South went hand in hand with the resistance of unionization. In fact, Ira Katznelson makes a strong point in his book When Affirmative Action was White that the primary motivation of Southern legislators to push through the Taft-Hartley Act was to continue to economically disenfranchise African American workers. Katznelson gives the Southern Democrats a great deal of power during the Roosevelt adminstration and credits them with inacting massive and systematic exclusions of jobs from Social Security that were most likely to be done by African Americans.

A ton of unionization efforts in the South failed miserably and these failures are often linked to white racism and the desire to cling to segregation. If, at any point in the early 20th century, poor white Southerners had realized just how similiar their lives were to poor black Southerners, things might be very different in the South today. Not just on a racial level, but on an economic level as well.
posted by teleri025 at 1:21 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


The first link is pretty interesting. Given the concept of original sin, I don't know how a white person proves to the anti-racist crowd that they are not racist. For all the whining amongst conservatives about how people of color are too sensitive, I think most accusations of racism are actually lobbed about between whites, and so there's the curious task of proving one's non-racism to other whites. If we just say, OK, we're all at least a little bit racist, then there needs to be some line drawn between "normal racism" and "omg horrible racism," otherwise the entire concept is pretty useless. I don't see that line being drawn, and I think that leads to a lot of defensiveness that doesn't necessarily need to be there. Someone who clutches their iPod tighter in the elevator when a black person boards is not necessarily going to burn a cross on said black person's lawn, yet both activities have their source in racism. I don't know that shaming the first person really leads to productive dialogue, or if it just makes them a lot more reticient about what they say.
posted by desjardins at 1:22 PM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Well, the Intellectual Conservative article opens with "Webster’s Dictionary defines ..." and that's where I closed the tab. If you can't use a structure for your article more sophisticated than a sixth grader's book report, chances are it won't go well.

The International Socialist Review piece was pretty interesting, though. In particular:
To be sure, Roediger pays homage to revered civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois. Indeed, the phrase “wages of whiteness” harks back to DuBois’ classic work, Black Reconstruction in America, noting the effects of racism on Southern white workers:

[T]he white group of laborers, while they receive a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools.

But Du Bois’ quote, taken out of context, is misleading. Du Bois positions the above comment between two others that clearly show his intention to explain how the ideology of white supremacy prevented Black and white workers from uniting as a class, to the detriment of both. First, Du Bois argues, racism drove such a wedge between the white and Black workers that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.

A few paragraphs later Du Bois adds, “The result of this was that the wages of both classes could be kept low, the whites fearing to be supplanted by Negro labor, the Negroes always being threatened by the substitution of white labor.” [Emphasis mine]
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:24 PM on May 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


The point of Marxism is that it kind of requires the international working class to join in a chorus of the Internationale first in order to get to the point of the state withering away, no?

The point of anti-racism and intersectionality is that it kind of recognizes that many human beings who belong to "the international working class" are people who are targets of racial as well as class discrimination, no?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:39 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


DuBois's point, that racism is fomented by an exploitative class in order to keep poor people of all colors occupied with something other than class struggle is a good one.

However, something DuBois never lost sight of is that the exploitative class in the US is vastly disproportionately made up of white people. Many people quoting him, on the other hand, seem to forget that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:41 PM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


I found that first article to be an intriguing read. It made me think there's perhaps more of an intellectual tradition and dialectic in the Unitarian Universalist church than I tend to assume.
posted by freebird at 1:43 PM on May 13, 2009


However, something DuBois never lost sight of is that the exploitative class in the US is vastly disproportionately made up of white people. Many people quoting him, on the other hand, seem to forget that.

I don't think many people are unaware that the exploitative class is made of white people. We all know the top of the pyramid is snow white. Nor do I, personally, think being a white blue collar worker or member of the working poor comes with some privileges not afforded to black blue collar workers or members of the working poor. But racism is used and has been used, time and again, by the ruling class to keep workers squabbling with each other instead of uniting for common goals.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:50 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoops! I meant "I, personally, think being a white blue collar worker or member of the working poor comes with some privileges not afforded to black blue collar workers or members of the working poor." Omit the "Nor do" please.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:51 PM on May 13, 2009


But racism is used and has been used, time and again, by the ruling class to keep workers squabbling with each other instead of uniting for common goals.

Absolutely.

And fighting racism would therefore be an important step toward building a stronger working class, in addition to improving individuals' lives, yes?

I mean, the idea that people who are targets of racism should just ignore it and focus on classism seems like a very convoluted response to the point adumbrated so well by DuBois.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:58 PM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


The problem is the term "Whiteness" - I don't think it's a special attribute that only fair-skinned Europeans have. I think it's the tendency of any social group to subjugate others through discrimination - unless you think the Japanese or Han Chinese are models of tolerance and inclusiveness. Well, here in the US, they might very well be. In Japan or China, not so much.

It's all bipedal ground-monkeys, no matter the plumage, and so sociology, economics and psychology are far better tools to understand what's going on between social groups, no fair-skinned exceptionalism necessary.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:58 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting. The first article is a nice response to some ideas that (along with other things) drove me away from UUism as a teenager.
posted by brundlefly at 1:59 PM on May 13, 2009


I mean, the idea that people who are targets of racism should just ignore it and focus on classism seems like a very convoluted response to the point adumbrated so well by DuBois.

I don't know what others have been recommending, but I wouldn't recommend "ignoring" racism. I'd contend the contrary, actually, that racism needs to be trapped like some wild beast, shot with a tranquilizer dart and vivisected. A brutally honest examination of the origins of our prejudices could be one of the most effective ways of exposing the divide-and-conquer bullshit of the ruling class.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:01 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The timing, context, etc. of this post tells me anti-racism is doing it's job just fine. After all, we've got bingo!
posted by yeloson at 2:04 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


A brutally honest examination of the origins of our prejudices could be one of the most effective ways of exposing the divide-and-conquer bullshit of the ruling class.

I agree with you. I would suggest that the OP does not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:08 PM on May 13, 2009


Womanist Musings can be refreshingly abrasive reading for nascent progressives;I think her posts on whiteness are top-notch. Especially this one:
Yes I am going to once again talk about whiteness. I do so not because I have an obsession with it but because whiteness has a tendency to dominate most conversations even when the subject matter is clearly about the oppressions faced by people of color. Whiteness continually centers itself in the debate through either attempting to relate when their is no causality or pointing out the various ways in which it also experiences oppression
posted by muddgirl at 2:14 PM on May 13, 2009 [7 favorites]




On second thought, maybe my last comment should have gone in the racism thread on Metatalk instead :)
posted by muddgirl at 2:17 PM on May 13, 2009


On second thought, maybe my last comment should have gone in the racism thread on Metatalk instead :)

Nah, it's good here.

But don't listen to me--I'm angry and un-cordial and engage in childish hissy fits. So what do I know?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Smith article, for me, failed for two interconnected reasons.

First, her argument is inextricably linked to a series of ideological assumptions. For instance, the claim she's arguing against is that white people benefit equally from and are equally responsible for racism, which I've never seen seriously claimed. Or she says, "The working class has no interest in maintaining a system that thrives upon inequality and oppression," which treats class consciousness as the over-riding individual motivation—it's entirely consistent that individuals act in a manner not in line with their class interests. Writ small, it's the prisoner's dilemma; writ large it's the Republican party.

Second, her dismissal of Mouffe's "web of antagonisms" seems blinkered—as antagonisms don't necessarily have causal linkage, she dismisses identity politics because it's not consistent with her International Socialism. This leads her to conflate, as I mentioned above, the idea that all white people benefit from racism (which is, as the Thandeka essay noted, perhaps best understood as negative privilege) with the idea that all benefit equally, and that different privileges are equal.

Finally, I'd note that different approaches to racism are abstractly useful, but not necessarily totalizing. That means that differing emphases can be instructive without having to encompass the whole of difference experience.
posted by klangklangston at 2:22 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


A link I should've included: Against Diversity by Walter Been Michaels.

Please note that no one's saying racism should be ignored--at least, I'm not, and none of the people I've linked to are. The question, for me, is finding the best way to end inequality, and that means addressing how it manifests itself in the way our society is structured.

But many middle and upper class anti-racists hate talking about class so much that they make "class issue" a square on the racist bingo card. Anti-racism is a very comfortable ideology for the rich and middle class--once they say racism is wrong, they don't have to feel any guilt about having most of the money. The disconnection of privileged anti-racists from class issues may be part of the reason almost 40% of black Americans believe there are now two black races, a poor one and a richer one.
posted by shetterly at 2:38 PM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


What, there's not enough room in our heads to fight both racism and poverty? Or should we ignore the fact that that class and race issues are essentially inseparable? It's like these commentators took a woman's study class in 1985 and have completely ignored social theory since then...
posted by muddgirl at 2:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


yeloson, in general, I think bingoism is intellectually dishonest--humans and their beliefs are more complex than squares on a card can convey. But I love that particular Bingo card beyond measure. I used it as my LJ icon until its makers protested.
posted by shetterly at 2:47 PM on May 13, 2009


It should also be pointed out that if there was a conspiracy to use racism to separate the white and black workers, it was a philosophy that the white workers bought into eagerly. In fact, the workers obviously had their own reasons for taking racism to heart.
posted by happyroach at 2:57 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It should also be pointed out that if there was a conspiracy to use racism to separate the white and black workers, it was a philosophy that the white workers bought into eagerly.

"Conspiracy" sort of implies this is some fringe idea, but it is factual that using the Other as a means to divert the attentions of the underclass is a centuries-old strategy.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:09 PM on May 13, 2009


Which is to say, yes. White workers did buy into racism. They bought into the exploitation of their fears based on pseudo-science, they bought into the star-bellied sneech privilege system. No question about that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:10 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Twyman essay was utterly useless as a critique of Critical Race Theory; the reader who had never read any CRT would come away from Twyman still not knowing what CRT was about or why they ought to find it objectionable ("narrative" and "stories" being the only real clues). OTOH, there was a germ of a genuinely interesting idea in there: that CRT has, in effect, become a purely academic intellectual exercise, suitable for generating enough articles for tenure requirements but having no substantive legal or political impact. CRT thus works very well for establishing a career path, IOW, but does not actually perform the critical work claimed for it. Ellen Messer-Davidow has argued that women's studies programs inadvertently subverted their original political mission, thanks to institutional demands, the nature of professional academic work, and so forth; it's possible that her assessment of women's studies might well find parallels in other disciplines. However, Twyman would need to do a lot more work to substantiate such an interpretation. Pointing out the lack of citations in Westlaw is a start, but he would also have to demonstrate that concepts from CRT have not made their way, unsourced, into judicial decisions--which is a much harder task.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:17 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The point of anti-racism and intersectionality is that it kind of recognizes that many human beings who belong to "the international working class" are people who are targets of racial as well as class discrimination, no?

Sure. But I was pointing out that it seemed you were sort of putting the cart before the horse in your dismissal of Marxism -- i.e., "wake me when the state's withered away and I'll join in a chorus of the Internationale" reads like "wake me when the revolution's happened without me and I'll join in."
posted by scody at 3:20 PM on May 13, 2009


- once they say racism is wrong, they don't have to feel any guilt about having most of the money.

Wait... how does that work? So, the upper class say that racism is wrong and thus tacitly admit that this is how they got their money, yet somehow obviating their guilt because hey, at least they know it's wrong?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:20 PM on May 13, 2009


What's wrong with being racy?

/Spinal Tap-esque
posted by sourwookie at 3:22 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow.

You're the science-fiction author Will Shetterly who had his hat on his ass during the huge Sci Fi Racefail discussion going on over on Livejournal and a a couple outside blogs. I remember you trying to punish people calling you out on your behavior by trying to connect their on line identity with their off line one in the hopes of causing mass chaos in their lives.

You posting that the anti-racist movement is a failure does not surprise me. You fail to stop digging when you're in a hole.

I hope that google picks this up and web archive holds this tight, and that in some corner of the internet there is forever is a searchable record that you, Will Shetterly, are a racist dick.
posted by FunkyHelix at 3:28 PM on May 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


grapefruitmoon, it baffles me, too. But they just don't like to talk about class.

FunkyHelix, that's the narrative at sites that ban people who might offer another story. Try this and this for what they omit. Coffeeandink had been making public posts about her legal identity on her LJ since 2006.

I do realize that the anti-racist community rejects dictionary definitions, so you're welcome to call me a racist or a xylophone, as you please.
posted by shetterly at 3:48 PM on May 13, 2009


I was pointing out that it seemed you were sort of putting the cart before the horse in your dismissal of Marxism

Sorry, that wasn't a dismissal of Marxism. That was a dismissal of this particular FPP. Although I disagree with your friend's essay, I think it is a thoughtful and honest argument. I apologize for having been unclear.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:57 PM on May 13, 2009


grapefruitmoon, it baffles me, too. But they just don't like to talk about class.

I don't think grapefruitmoon was agreeing with you, shetterly. I think grapefruitmoon was trying to advance a reductio ad absurdum, which was unnecessary in this case.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:01 PM on May 13, 2009


shetterly: I wasn't agreeing. I was trying to point out that talking about race to avoid talking about class is ricockulous.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:08 PM on May 13, 2009


Sidhedevil: ah, gotcha. Sorry I misconstrued.
posted by scody at 4:08 PM on May 13, 2009


Sidhedevil, if you or anyone can explain why upper and middle class anti-racists are afraid to engage with class issues, I'd love to hear it.
posted by shetterly at 4:13 PM on May 13, 2009


Sidhedevil, if you or anyone can explain why upper and middle class anti-racists are afraid to engage with class issues, I'd love to hear it.

Because for upper and middle class anyone to engage in class issues is to admit that they're at the top of a hierarchy that they CAN control. You can't control your gender. You can't control your race. You CAN control (to an extent) your class. To be anti-racist is to fight against something you, personally, have no control over. To talk about class issues...

... is to admit that you, with your money, have earned said money off of the backs of people who have a lot LESS money.

This is why NO ONE from the middle class on up, no matter what their feelings on race, wants to talk about class issues.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:24 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is why NO ONE from the middle class on up, no matter what their feelings on race, wants to talk about class issues.

I think this is broadly true, but not monolithically. I was in the ISO for years (that's how I know Sharon; I even used to volunteer as a copy editor for the International Socialist Review back when it started in the '90s) and while I knew plenty of people involved in class politics who indeed came from working-class backgrounds, I also knew plenty who came from middle-class/upper-middle-class/upper-class backgrounds as well. (The ones who came from really well-to-do backgrounds even laughed about being class traitors, since by definition they were dedicating their political activity -- not to mention their money -- to eradicating the very class from which they came.)
posted by scody at 4:37 PM on May 13, 2009


I think this is broadly true, but not monolithically.

Well, yeah, I was speaking broadly to answer a broad statement. There are of course outliers and exceptions and people who just plain don't fit whatever mold you're talking about. I don't have the brain power right now to construct a more detailed explanation of class politics, so yeah, I just busted out with a general statement.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:52 PM on May 13, 2009


Dittoing scody. This is why the mention of intersectionality is especially confusing from anti-racists who won't talk about class. The intersections that interest them have to do with gender and sexuality. The Angry Black Woman, for example, has a subtitle with her issues: "Race, Politics, Gender, Sexuality, Anger."
posted by shetterly at 4:57 PM on May 13, 2009


The first article seems to be a response to an older form of "anti-racism", one that ignores intersectionality and pretends that white oppression has no negative effects on any white people.

That first article isn't arguing anything of the sort. Did you even bother to read it? Or was it your personal preconceptions that stopped you from actually getting any real sense of what the article was actually saying?

"I realized that being white for Dan was not a matter of racist conviction but a matter of survival, not a privilege but a penalty: the pound of flesh exacted for the right to be excluded from the excluded. Dan's tears revealed the emotional price of his ongoing membership in the "white" race."


You continue:

What, there's not enough room in our heads to fight both racism and poverty?

Well, if I was limited to reading just your comments, I might easily get that impression. However, I fail to see how the prescription for action in that first article would lead anyone to such a conclusion. The focus is on unhelpful and divisive rhetoric. Again, I quote from the article:

This anti-racist rhetoric and its fall out must be stopped. I have three suggestions.

First, read. Start reading groups in your local congregations that will help you figure out how to talk sensibly about the link between race and class in America. Learn how the creation of the so-called "white" in this country was a means to exploit this person's labor. Discover what white Americans have in common with other people of color and work on a language that takes into account the fact that the racial socialization process in this country makes racial victims of us all.

Second, empathize. Learn to replace moral judgment with loving compassion. All of us have made decisions and acted in ways that compromise our moral integrity. Use our collective power as a religious movement to help each of us heal our crippled ability to relate with the full integrity of our humanity. Create new rituals in your Sunday services that allow persons to feel the healing power of a beloved community.

Third, Organize. Build coalitions using your new vocabulary and your new commitment to empathize and work with other UU congregations and other liberal religious groups who are also tired of race-talk separated from talk about class issues. I believe that we have the power to transform America because of who we are: We are Middle-America. Transform this group and you transform the country because we are the majority. All we need is the moral courage to practice what we preach. And we will generate this moral courage through love.


Now while the woo-woo church talk leaves me cold, that's definitely a prescription that I recognize as progressive, committed to social justice, desirous of repairing the injuries inflicted by both race *and* class, while at the same time, avoiding the kind of divisive cul-de-sac that can only be produced by a politics that unfairly seeks to allocate guilt and blame. It's a recipe for political and social action grounded in intelligent and rational analysis that seeks to build inclusivity and community rather than division and strife.

Presumably, you don't regard yourself as part of this racism that needs fighting, and so your righteous anger is reserved for identifying and rooting out that secret racist impulse in other deluded white folks?

Oh, and as far as intersectionality goes, were you ignoring the fact that this first article was aimed at a specific faith community of which the author was a member, and so was presumably intended primarily as a political intervention on her part aimed at shaping the nature (and the political context) within which that specific community operates?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:01 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it is weird that intersectionality seems to end with class. I do think, from my experience/education/whatever that the underlying reason is control. Can't control race. Can't control gender. Can't control sexuality. (Admittedly, some people are willing to debate that one.) Can control class.

It's hard to admit that you have privilege because of your skin color. It can bring about feelings of guilt that you didn't earn it. Class on the other hand... you *did* earn it, at some point. Either you or your family *earned* class status. And it's wicked hard to discard that and say "You know what? This is bullshit."

(Oh hi, I'm overeducated AND tired. I peppered a discussion on intersectionality with the word "wicked.")
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:03 PM on May 13, 2009


Just on the unionization issues, as a union organizer, in a lot of drives it does play a huge factor. The employer usually figures out ways to pit different groups against each other, and in the drive I just worked on this definitely happened.

There were huge divisions in the hospital, and one of those key divisions was race, moreso than any other division (age, gender, job title, etc.). Organizing a union is hard enough, never mind trying to confront race issues in the process (i.e. all of the black workers are lazy and that's why they want a union).

Unions themselves have not figured out how to deal with racial issues, since a large majority of union leaders are white, even though their memberships are much more diverse than that. I think some of those issues were confronted lightly during the Obama campaign but there still is a lot of work to do.

I believe, strongly, that the overwhelming thing that has been driving a lot of this all of these years, is not so much the race issue, but more the economic issue, as some above have pointed out.
posted by hazyspring at 5:04 PM on May 13, 2009


Huh, I like talking about class. I guess I must be poorer then I thought.
posted by delmoi at 5:07 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's power, plain and simple- the power of whites over POC, the power of straights over GLBT, the power of men over women, the power of rich over poor.

The idea that one particular kind of power is the most important is ridiculous and absurd. Power must be fought and dismantled in every instantiation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:18 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also I don't know if it's unbelievable that shetterly of all people would have the sheer gall to post this nonsense or simply an extension of past bbehavior. And shit, why is this an FPP and not part of the open Metatalk thread about this sort of thing? That desperate for attention?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:20 PM on May 13, 2009


Also I don't know if it's unbelievable that shetterly of all people would have the sheer gall to post this nonsense or simply an extension of past bbehavior.

Would you like to pass on a clue for the rest of us playing at home or are you trying to derail the thread to be about the OP instead of the links?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:25 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sidhedevil, if you or anyone can explain why upper and middle class anti-racists are afraid to engage with class issues, I'd love to hear it.

Anti-racists are not "afraid to engage with class issues." Your premise is a priori false.

Cornel West, for example, engages class constantly in his work. Patricia Hill Collins engages class constantly in her work. Myra Marx Ferree has devoted an entire academic career to the intersections among class, race, and gender discrimination.

There's nothing to "explain" because you're invoking a strawman.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


FunkyHelix already laid it out, grapefruitmoon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2009


Class on the other hand... you *did* earn it, at some point. Either you or your family *earned* class status. And it's wicked hard to discard that and say "You know what? This is bullshit."

You can always just pretend it doesn't exist. You know, like when someone whose prep school and university education was paid for (at least in part) by a trust fund positions themselves as the Great Working Class Savior.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:37 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]




Oh. I see. I take it all back.

I'd be among the last people to rally around "What are YOU doing posting this?" But really? What are you doing, shetterly?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:42 PM on May 13, 2009


I'm more interested in talking about the post, rather than why we shouldn't talk about it. Thanks.
posted by hazyspring at 5:44 PM on May 13, 2009


hazyspring: Y'know, that is how I feel 99% of the time, but really, look at the background info that FunkyHelix linked and it's directly applicable to the subject matter at hand.

The OP has laid out some pretty strongly racially biased arguments elsewhere (publicly, under his real name) and is now posting that "Anti-racism won't work" which has a fishy smell to it given his previous (again, totally public) statements. It's disingenuous at best to have someone who claims that their "life would have been no different had [they] been born black" make a post decrying anti-racist efforts.

I'm not at all trying to get anyone not to talk about the post - I would just like to have, in addition to that, an explanation from the poster of where he's coming from on this vis-a-vis his previous public statements on race.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:51 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dear folks trying to derail the discussion, the post is about anti-racism in a spiritual, liberal, or conservative context. I realize posters shouldn't play moderator, but MeFi's guidelines do encourage staying on topic and avoiding ad hominem arguments.

grapefruitmoon, my position is and always has been that racism is a problem in America, but classism is the greater problem because it provides the structure for racism. I made the mistake of debating this with a subset of anti-racists who claim that class is derailment when discussing privilege; at the time, I didn't know their ideology.
posted by shetterly at 6:18 PM on May 13, 2009


"The idea that one particular kind of power is the most important is ridiculous and absurd. Power must be fought and dismantled in every instantiation."

Despite my earlier critique of socialism as ideological lens, I do believe that the C.R.E.A.M. factor (dolla dolla bill, y'all) is generally the most important.

And saying that power is always bad is a stupid argument to make—power is amoral, and the imperative is only to use it in the service of justice. The power of police to keep folks from shooting me is welcomed; the power of police to shoot others with impunity is not.
posted by klangklangston at 6:31 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


grapefruitmoon, we crossposted. The notion that any white person who disagrees with a person of color is racist is, well, inevitable, I suppose, given your premise. I used to be very sensitive to that charge because racists made the early years of my life hell, but once I learned more about the anti-racist philosophy, I realized that of course I'm racist from your POV. Out of curiosity, are all people of color prejudiced according to Critical Race Theory?
posted by shetterly at 6:45 PM on May 13, 2009


I think it is very difficult to quantify which is a "greater" problem. I just think you can't look at one without factoring in the other.

When I have conversations with other white people about the race issue, especially in my union, I always talk about class with them. I do argue, that if we focused on issues such as poverty and education, then all people would have greater opportunities in life, and that is what is important.

When I talk about it in those terms, it is easier for people who do have issues with race to understand and relate. But there is a certain element of xenophobia to many people who are racist, and I don't think that can be completely explained by classism.
posted by hazyspring at 6:49 PM on May 13, 2009


racism is a problem in America, but classism is the greater problem because it provides the structure for racism. I made the mistake of debating this with a subset of anti-racists who claim that class is derailment when discussing privilege; at the time, I didn't know their ideology.

It seems like you're arguing that: because classism provides the structure for racism => racism always involves classism.

a) if YES, that's what you're arguing, then not only is it bad logic, it's incorrect. We can start at the simple fact that racism involves discrimination based on biologically determined skin color that one can't change and that is always visible -- and that classism involves wealth/education, things which are not easily visible, or are easily hidden. Class is not a visual attribute. Race is. Discrimination that happens involving the way people look like can involve racial issues without involving classism issues. That's one example.

b) and if NO, that's not what you're arguing against, then to quote muddgirl upthread: "What, there's not enough room in our heads to fight both racism and poverty?" What's the point of this thread? You're in danger of setting up this strawman argument to fight anti-racism.

It's like someone saying, "yes, people call Joe "nigger", but there are more important issues at hand such as the fact that Joe's pretty poor, so let's not derail the discussion talking about how the n-word is harmful and inappropriate."

once I learned more about the anti-racist philosophy, I realized that of course I'm racist from your POV

Can you elaborate on this? The articles you post and the stuff you've written about has no connection to your strange dislike of anti-racists that's pretty strong to the point that it's really weird.
posted by suedehead at 6:52 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The idea that one particular kind of power is the most important is ridiculous and absurd. Power must be fought and dismantled in every instantiation."

Some people like to think all forms of oppression are equal--the usual phrase is "don't play oppression Olympics." But they aren't. The idea that Condi Rice is doubly oppressed and a homeless white guy is doubly privileged is silly. The greatest oppression is poverty.

According to the last census figures I saw, approximately half of the people in the US in poverty are white, a quarter are black, and a quarter are Hispanic. (The percentages for American Indians, Asian Americans, and other groups is very small, a few per cent.) Now, it's true that poverty in the US is racially disproportionate. But trying to correct its proportionality misses the point, I think: There's no excuse for anyone to live in poverty given the world's wealth.
posted by shetterly at 6:55 PM on May 13, 2009


I don't know about that shetterly. I would argue that other forms of oppression, especially oppression that leads to genocide is the worst. But again, this is incredibly hard to quantify.
posted by hazyspring at 7:03 PM on May 13, 2009


The idea that Condi Rice is doubly oppressed and a homeless white guy is doubly privileged is silly.

No, not necessarily. There are ways that Rice could be discriminated against (that is, assuming that this hypothetical person disciminating against her doesn't know her as 'Condi Rice' but as 'a black woman') due to her skin color, and there are ways that the homeless white guy could be privileged due to his skin color. This is in terms of skin color. In terms of economic wealth, clearly Rice is privileged. In terms of current political power, of course Rice is privileged. I doubt that anybody, racist or not, will dispute these two latter points. But these other privileges don't 'cancel out' whatever privileging and discrimination that racial issues create.

The greatest oppression is poverty.

Don't play opposition Olympics indeed.
posted by suedehead at 7:05 PM on May 13, 2009


sudedehead, I think you're underestimating class markers in the US, like good dentistry, expensive haircuts and clothes, "proper" accents, etc. Look at how many people speak of "trailer trash" and "hick accents." Passing for a different class is impossible for many people.
posted by shetterly at 7:07 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't play opposition Olympics indeed.

Nevermind this part, misread your argument.
posted by suedehead at 7:07 PM on May 13, 2009


sudedehead, I think you're underestimating class markers in the US, like good dentistry, expensive haircuts and clothes, "proper" accents, etc. Look at how many people speak of "trailer trash" and "hick accents." Passing for a different class is impossible for many people.

I thought there'd be a response like this. First:

YES, class is often indicated through visual attributes. NO, class is not always indicated through visual attributes. And so: YES, discrimination based on the way people look often depends on classism. NO, discrimination based on the way people look does not always depend on classism. Whereas: discrimination based on the way people look always involves racial issues.

So: There are cases, sometimes, where racism doesn't involve class issues. Back to my question above. I'm not sure whether you agree or disagree.

Second: That's another strawman argument. Yes, I agree with most of what you said. 'Hick' accents are a good example as something part of a complicated process of discrimination based on cultural/linguistic differences, along lines of 'cultural' racism or 'neoracism' as some people are starting to call it -- rooted not in biology but in culture. People with less money dress differently, eat differently, maybe have bad dental hygiene, etc.

But nobody's saying that people who are on a lower class (speaking specifically in terms of an economic class) can "[pass] for a different class" -- and thus that even though they may be horribly disadvantaged in terms of economic status and abilities, their skin color means that they have it automatically better off than black people/non-white people. Nobody's saying this. You seem to be saying that anti-racists are saying this. Yet none of the articles you link to elaborate on this (save for maybe the third article, which was a horribly illogical skeleton of an article that spoke for about two sentences about why Critical Race Theory was Bad and instead talked for the rest of the article about how it was too bad that CRT is bad.
posted by suedehead at 7:20 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


*"dress differently, eat differently - than those who have more money"
posted by suedehead at 7:25 PM on May 13, 2009


The essay behind the first link is amazingly good. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it. Thank you, shetterly.

The greatest oppression is poverty.

... half of the people in the US in poverty are white, ...percentages for American Indians [are] very small...


I know you know this, but I think it needs to be reiterated in this discussion because it shows there is a depth of evil in racism with which no feature of classism can begin to compare: genocide is the greatest oppression, and the fundamental reason there is such a small percentage of American Indians among the poor of this nation is that we had killed almost all of the Indians by the end of the 19th century, and forced the pitifully tiny remainder into concentration camps under desperate conditions.
posted by jamjam at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


hazyspring, agreed that genocide's the worst. Officially moving poverty to the #2 slot now....

suedehead, if something doesn't give you food, shelter, health care, or education, it's a lousy form of "privilege." If I had to choose between a form of oppression with wealth or one with poverty, I would choose the one with wealth mighty quickly.

Agreed that class is not always visual. But then, neither's race--a few people could pass for a more privileged race and class with education and careful study.

As for the rest of what you say, it's possible that I've only encountered a subset of anti-racists online who are extremely reluctant to address class.
posted by shetterly at 7:32 PM on May 13, 2009


jamjam, total agreement about the link between racism and genocide, especially if the definition of "race" is broad enough to include religion to cover the Cathars, the Jews, the Huguenots, etc.

Also, a book recommendation to get an idea of how much may have been lost when the Europeans came to the Americas: 1491 by Charles C. Mann.
posted by shetterly at 7:39 PM on May 13, 2009


Would you suggest a better word to use than "privilege" for things like being assumed the default, belonging to a group that once was explicitly considered "free game" for discrimination and targeted violence (even if it is no longer legal to do so), and so on?

I do find "privilege" to be a term with a lot of unwanted associations for many people--that they think it implies being born into an easy life, when in fact it may just mean the simple fact of being oblivious to certain kinds of stuff. But I don't know of another word that so concisely encapsulates the concept of unasked-for advantages, however inconsequential they may be in a particular context.

I don't think that most anti-racists use "privilege" to mean "you totally have the best life ever compared to everyone without this particular privilege", but maybe it has those emotional associations for you?
posted by rivenwanderer at 7:44 PM on May 13, 2009


[the timing of this thread is a little ungreat - if it's going to stick around it really needs to not look like one person's excuse to fight with everyone else. a little less self-moderation a little more discussion and I think we'll be ok. okay?]
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


jessamyn, my bad. If the thread continues, I'll remember that sometimes it's kindest to ignore people.

rivenwanderer, I think you're right that "privilege" suggests more than anti-racists may mean, especially when speaking of, say, the racial advantages of whites in Appalachia who have been poor since they came to this continent as indentured servants. "Advantage" seems a bit better.
posted by shetterly at 1:21 AM on May 14, 2009


The notion that any white person who disagrees with a person of color is racist is, well, inevitable, I suppose, given your premise.

Wait, what?! That's not my premise at all. I don't know what I said that you're misreading, but it's something.

The idea that Condi Rice is doubly oppressed and a homeless white guy is doubly privileged is silly. The greatest oppression is poverty.

This is an incredibly flawed argument. The homeless white dude experiences discrimination because of his class. Condi Rice has, no doubt, experienced discrimination because of her race. Neither of them ended up where they are BECAUSE of their various privileges, but rather, privilege plays a part in how they interact with society. That the greatest oppressor is poverty makes no sense - yes, poverty leads to the worst living conditions, but is that is not what we're talking about when we talk about the societal tools of oppression. If you put the homeless white guy in a suit or put Condi Rice in a pair of old sweats with a coffee cup on the corner after not showering for two days, their experiences will be VERY different from the other person's daily life based on *race* and *gender.* Cultural oppression is what happens when *all other factors are equal,* not when you're picking examples out of the sky, which in this case is like comparing oranges and hand grenades.

You're missing the meaning of what is meant by white privilege, which is discussed in so much detail in the other thread that I feel like bringing it over here would constitute a derail of epic proportions.

(PS: shetterly, I think part of the reason that you're misreading me is that you might not realize that I'm white. I hate to bring this up at all, but really, you don't seem to get it and the fact that I even find this relevant says a lot about how this discussion is totally, totally flawed.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:24 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Klangklangston: Despite my earlier critique of socialism as ideological lens, I do believe that the C.R.E.A.M. factor (dolla dolla bill, y'all) is generally the most important.

Amen. On the fringes, power is (and will always be) naked force, measured in arms and men. But that world is increasingly edged out by one Polis and one Agora, and power now has a paper trail, a written life by which it inherits between individuals and extends across national lines, and by which it can also be followed, measured, and grappled with. How can one ever articulate what power means to the modern world unless it's sealed in law or in legal tender? Even our civil courts measure acts of force and wrongdoing into specific amounts of common coin, like the weregild of old; our criminal laws encode the acts that no amount of money can pardon or repair.

At worst, the invisible privilege arguments seem to strain the imagination to hear (1) invisible forces, measurable only by the (2) implicit authority of a select population, with another (3) population as beneficiary and/or proximate cause. As a mystic triad for rooting out the ill winds and social malady, these basic concepts are ancient as witch hunting and divining rods. They're not nearly the same thing as saying that, say, the CCPOA spends X dollars lobbying to produce law Y, with the consequence of imprisoning Z people. I feel like anti-racism is equipped quite well to tackle the 19th and mid-20th centuries, and quite poorly to deal with the dysfunctional institutions of our time. The Nazis are in the Aryan Brotherhood now.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:13 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or more simply put, privilege arguments don't give me a skein to trace through something so byzantine as the prison industrial complex, the military, or the drug war, nor can any court strike down one more bad law or practice by arguing 'invisible privilege' in place of 'equal protection.'
posted by kid ichorous at 5:24 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


[Disclaimer: I love the UUs, LRY saved my life, my parents were life-time UUs, etc.] There's this amaaazing letter where the annual youth conference is cancelled in part because (some of) the youth wouldn't participate in anti-racism workshops. 'Cause they wanted to hang out and play frisbee or whatever. Googling, here.

Excerpts: Some youth have been interested only in ‘hanging out’, and showing a lack of respect for physical space, conference and site staff, adult advisors, other youth participants, and Con Con programming. Anti-racism programming has been particularly under-attended, which has been a major concern for us, especially as Youth of Color still feel marginalized at YRUU conferences. ... The lack of support for anti-racism programming among White Attendees has led to Youth of Color feeling unsafe and unable to trust the White Youth at the conference.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:13 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


[To (over) explain: I believe that youth programming should reflect and respond to youth concerns and interests, bottom up, and should not require scold-y participation in officially sanctioned and possibly ideological workshops. Though as a youth I would have attended such workshops I would not have wanted them mandated for all.]
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2009


On the other hand, I feel like you're being overly dismissive of privilege as a whole. These ARE complex forces, and demanding a simple quantification seems naive. Some questions can't be expressed as economic equations. Even given that, there are some ways to quantify privilege if you start from basic assumptions about distributions and equality—from the oft-cited income gap between men and women to the idea that black men draw more fouls in the NBA.

This is a population-level inference of something that happens by individual action, and I don't think it sums up the totality of privilege, as there are plenty of interactions that don't cost anything but do obviously involve privilege, and are even easy to explain, like the cognitive bias that people hold of explaining things by the most obvious difference—that's what makes black characters' actions seem like representatives of Blacks, and it's something that writers have to be careful about because it's pretty well established that this bias exists. That's also one of those things that makes talking about race and class or gender and class or ability and class, etc., so difficult, that class differences aren't nearly as noticeable in out-groups.

So, yeah, I think class is the most important factor in discussions of privilege, but that's kind of like saying that air or water is the most important material need—you can still starve to death if you've got those, and you can still die of exposure if you have no shelter, etc. Class is simply the easiest to quantify, and it's a hugely distorting factor in discussions of race especially. But that doesn't mean that race doesn't distort class right back.
posted by klangklangston at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2009


Obviously, that was an x-post.
posted by klangklangston at 8:29 AM on May 14, 2009


Well, the Intellectual Conservative article opens with "Webster’s Dictionary defines ..." and that's where I closed the tab.

Also because "Webster's Dictionary" is not necessarily a good dictionary. The name "Webster's" is in the public domain in regards to dictionary names; anyone can legally publish whatever they want and call it "Webster's Dictionary." (Merriam-Webster is generally regarded as a publisher of high-quality dictionaries of American English; if you're using one of their dictionaries, say so.) </peeve>
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:52 AM on May 14, 2009


grapefruitmoon, take a poor white guy with bad teeth from years of poverty, an accent from living in the wrong neighborhood, and no clue about the things middle and upper class people take for granted. He might pass in that suit so long as he keeps his mouth shut. Then the game's over. An upper class black woman, on the other hand, can ask in her nice middle/upper class voice with her perfect teeth for assistance, and she'll get it, even in the old sweats you mention, because she was raised in privilege to know the codes that say, "I am of the privileged classes. I should receive better treatment than the poor."

I agree that in rare situations, race is the sole factor. What adopting a white girl taught a black family about race looks like a fine example of something that's just about race.

klangklangston, agreed.

DavilsAdvocate, part of what I liked about Twyman (besides his amazing name!) was that he was willing to mention his definitions up front. Anti-racists often seem to get in disagreements because they're using their own terms and failing to tell others that the dictionary has been thrown out the window.
posted by shetterly at 10:05 AM on May 14, 2009


Yes, but he's not defining "racism," he's defining "lightweight." Is it your experience that anti-racists get in disagreements because they are using different definitions of "lightweight?"

Not to mention that my complaint was not in his defining terms, but rather that he was using an unverifiable pseudocitation intended to give it an air of authority, when in fact it has no more authority than saying "I define lightweight as follows:..." And very often it's fine to use one own's definitions, as long as they're stated up front, but there's no need to perpetuate the myth that "Webster's Dictionary" (with no further qualification) is a meaningful source.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:32 AM on May 14, 2009


An upper class black woman, on the other hand, can ask in her nice middle/upper class voice with her perfect teeth for assistance, and she'll get it, even in the old sweats you mention, because she was raised in privilege to know the codes that say, "I am of the privileged classes. I should receive better treatment than the poor."

Hmm ...

I'd say that because you probably personally experience the effects of class more than race, you're tending to downplay race and emphasize class. Both are important, but certainly I know many people, myself included, who experience those jarring moments where despite class and achievement and whatever else, we are assumed to be something completely different based on ethnic stereotyping.

Just look at the nasty things some people were saying about Colin Powell after his endorsement of President Obama. It didn't matter to them what he had achieved, all they saw was the color of his skin.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:41 AM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


DevilsAdvocate, so he is. I go back to Thandeka's and Susan Smith's essays periodically, but Twyman isn't as useful for me, so I forgot what he was defining. I've only seen anti-racists redefine racism so far.

I agree Webster's is so-so. I like the American Heritage and the OED.
posted by shetterly at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2009


shetterly: What you're talking about now is the experience that individuals have in society to try and make the point that everything boils down to class. When I point out an inconsistency, or try to make the point that class is not the only privilege that matters, you get pickier and pickier about your details. There is literally nothing I can say to further make my point that class privilege is not the only form of privilege in the world, nor is it always the most dominant. You believe that class is the most powerful arbiter of experience. I'm trying to make the point that there are always other factors at play.

And what is with the constant use of the term "anti-racists?" I've never seen it bandied around so much. I, personally, would never define myself as "anti-racism" because that to me says "Oh, I'm against racism" which is a few steps short of "I'm for equality." I'd really rather be pro-humanity than anti-racist. It's like saying that a "feminist" is someone who is "anti-sexist."
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:06 PM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


> I don't think many people are unaware that the exploitative class is made of white
> people. We all know the top of the pyramid is snow white.

Was true when Americans owned America. But it's rather less than true now and becoming even less true every day, as America's foreign creditors swap their immense dollar holdings for real assets whose value is less likely to go *poof* one morning. If you want an image of the current American owner class, you've got to picture Hu Jintao and Tara Aso and King Faisal and lots of other folks who aren't snow white sipping their mint juleps up there on the veranda along with John Jacob Astor.
posted by jfuller at 2:22 PM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


PS: shetterly, on re-reading some of the comments, I think I'm starting to see where you get the impression that "anti-racists" are reluctant to talk about class. They're really reluctant to talk about class with you because you turn any discussion on privilege to be about class privilege. Someone who (like myself) is trying to have a talk about race or gender or sexuality or any other kind of privilege is going to get exhausted when you butt in with "WHY WILL NO ONE TALK BOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF CLASS PRIVILEGE?" every third sentence.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:35 PM on May 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, The Wealthiest Black Americans.
posted by shetterly at 3:27 PM on May 14, 2009


grapefruitmoon, I agree that the name anti-racists chose has problems, but it does reflect their tone. If you've got links to where any of them talk about class before or after I entered conversations with them, please provide 'em!
posted by shetterly at 4:23 PM on May 14, 2009


If you put the homeless white guy in a suit or put Condi Rice in a pair of old sweats with a coffee cup on the corner after not showering for two days, their experiences will be VERY different from the other person's daily life based on *race* and *gender.*

Based on how I see homeless or poor pan-handlers treated every day, Rice would be treated better because she is a woman, and both less threatening and more allowed by her gender-role to be dependent.

As for racial differences - well, it's hard to tell the colour of somone's skin under the tan/grime of living rough. Most living-rough homeless people are identified first and foremost as homeless, secondly by gender (women being generally treated better by both people on the street and institutions), with race coming down the line.
posted by jb at 7:42 PM on May 14, 2009


Note: I realise that there are serious dangers for women on the street - when I said they were treated better, I'm thinking of the interaction between women and most non-homeless people walking by, and how (I believe) there are more beds available per homeless woman than for homeless men.
posted by jb at 7:48 PM on May 14, 2009


Late to the game, but so much to say about the first piece that I don't really even know how to start. Thandeka's essay is an important moment in the history of anti-racism within the UU community, but there is a much greater context in which that essay fits.

Thandeka was right. About everything. And she saw it way before anyone else did. I found this essay again a few months ago and was just floored. She predicted exactly what would happen, and why it would happen.

It is difficult to explain how the anti-racism programming in the denomination was detrimental without attacking anti-racism. The curriculum was a work in process, and it was important work to be doing. Unitarian Universalism is seeping with racism and, because of the strong focus on social justice work in the denomination, many people rightly felt spiritually compelled to take on racism. But we were wrong with our approach, and it cost us dearly. Those of us in the middle of it learned some valuable lessons from the whole thing about the ways in which racism and anti-racism can tear communities apart. I'd like to think we're a bit better than we used to be, but we're all still learning.

I grew up as the Unitarian Universalist anti-racism movement was forming. The first program - Journey Towards Wholeness - I participated in when I was 14 (about when Thandeka wrote this piece). I had the opportunity to sit down with Thandeka that year - her book Learning to be White changed my life. At the time, I was completely unaware of the division between Thandeka's anti-racism work and the anti-racism work of the rest of the denomination.

Anti-racism was, in many ways, shepherded primarily by the youth community called, in UU terminology, Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU). Here's a timeline of the early events. This is for a few reasons. The youth movement is way more diverse than the older population - many people found UUism through the active youth programming, and there are also a large number of UUs of color who were adopted by white parents. Also, the youth movements in the denomination are historically way more radical than their older reverberations - in anti-racism and anti-oppression work, it was no different. The youth communities were a strong lobby, and for awhile, we felt really strong, really powerful, really _heard_.

Anti-racism in those communities was really important, but incredibly divisive. I watched some epic arguments fracture the communities we had been building. At what would turn out to be the last continental gathering of UU youth in 2004, an incident involving someone telling a person of color "I don't see skin color; you're just a cool dude" unleashed a maelstrom in the community. The leadership attempted to address the situation by calling everyone together, and the conference cancelled all other programming to be replaced with processing with a largely white community about how not to be racist. People left that conference feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry. The conversation had broken people down - white folks and people of color alike - and failed to offer the support to lift them back up again. Protests about whether or not that was the right move were met with "we can't focus on building community as long as people are racist." Unintentionally racist comments were made; insults were hurled. The UUA pulled funding after that, and it sparked a series of events that would ultimately kill that incarnation of the youth movement. Many still argue that it was because YRUU was too radical.

I watched as anti-racism experience became a pre-requisite for any positions of leadership in the denomination. [This led to a situation where new leadership wasn't cultivated, which only added to the overarching problem.] As 14 year olds were told, as soon as they entered youth programming, that they were racist. That if they felt guilty, they were doing it wrong. The culture became about accusing each other, turned into a pissing match over who was the "down-est". Lots of people became really alienated and left. Many who stuck with it did so because they felt guilty. Few attempts were made to lift up white identity, to point to anything positive. This was especially detrimental in youth culture, where teenagers were struggling to create identities for themselves. In a spiritual community, this was particularly harmful.

The more anti-racism was shoved down people's throats - teaching them definitions instead of working from people's experiences with race and identity - the more backlash against the curriculum. The more backlash against the anti-racism curriculum, the more alienating the communities became towards people of color. There were walkouts, physical fights, yelling matches, sit-ins, younameit. Message boards became consumed in angry fights over the anti-racism curriculum; the governing bodies stopped governing as they tried to deal with racism; slowly, it took over everything.

In February of 2008, YRUU was dissolved. There were many reasons for this, but the approach to anti-racism had a lot to do with it. May have even caused it. You can read all about it here.
posted by lunit at 7:21 AM on May 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I see that ClaudiaCenter above linked to the letter explaining why ConCon was cancelled.
posted by lunit at 7:26 AM on May 15, 2009


lunit: I watched as anti-racism experience became a pre-requisite for any positions of leadership in the denomination. [This led to a situation where new leadership wasn't cultivated, which only added to the overarching problem.] As 14 year olds were told, as soon as they entered youth programming, that they were racist. That if they felt guilty, they were doing it wrong. The culture became about accusing each other, turned into a pissing match over who was the "down-est". Lots of people became really alienated and left. Many who stuck with it did so because they felt guilty.

Do you feel that the UU youth wing became too dogmatic irrespective of creed or that the anti-racism creed was harmful in itself? Or do I misunderstand what happened?
posted by Kattullus at 7:38 AM on May 15, 2009


Thanks lunit for the insider's review. You came through UU curriculum 20 years after I did. (My generation's formative curriculum experience was AYS (About Your Sexuality), heh.)

Re-reading, oh, lordy, I remember those all-camp/all-conference meetings. In our time (end years of LRY (the youth group before YRUU)) those meetings were usually about drugs and whether/how kids sneaking off to smoke weed or whatever were harming the community. (I always thought, not really ...) Of course, that was the beginning of the end for LRY.

I feel lucky (strange word) to have not been a UU youth during these recent times. It sounds impossible to juggle teenage years with the incredible contradictions (as I understand from reading) of the anti-racism curriculum experience. There would be no right answer, and many easy mistakes to make.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:59 AM on May 15, 2009


"And what is with the constant use of the term "anti-racists?" I've never seen it bandied around so much. I, personally, would never define myself as "anti-racism" because that to me says "Oh, I'm against racism" which is a few steps short of "I'm for equality." I'd really rather be pro-humanity than anti-racist. It's like saying that a "feminist" is someone who is "anti-sexist.""

That's part of the problem here—"Anti-racists" were a specific political program that sprang up in the late '90s. I didn't realize their connection to UU; in my community, they were primarily tied to a couple of "radical" organizations (NWROC and BAMN) that were ultimately funded by Trotskyites. They did not and do not represent all arguments about race, and the Trotskyite connection is one of the reasons why the International Socialist took them on (though Smith puts them in a much larger context, somewhat undeservedly, just from my experience with anti-racists).

Part of the further problem is that the "Anti-racism" movement claims the history of the civil rights movement, so they can be hard to distinguish (similar again to how Trotskyites claim the mantle of radical socialism). I doubt shetterly has any clue on this, but "anti-racists" are an easy straw man for identity politics on the whole.

Where (and when) I grew up, Anti-Racism was an easy sell: we were a college town that had annual Klan marches. You can see the NWROC and BAMN folks claiming the anti-racist mantle here. (A side joke from the time: NWROC stood for National Women's Rights Organizing Committee, but was pronounced "en-rock"; the organization focused almost exclusively on affirmative action and anti-racism when I knew them—the "W" was silent).
posted by klangklangston at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2009


As a side note, I was in UU youth groups for a couple of years, around '92-'94, and we didn't have any of that. It was mostly an excuse to hang around, eat doughnuts and play frisbee. But my parents didn't want to go to UU any more (they called it more an organizing committee than a church), and my best UU friend moved away, so I was fine with dropping out.
posted by klangklangston at 8:03 AM on May 15, 2009


Do you feel that the UU youth wing became too dogmatic irrespective of creed or that the anti-racism creed was harmful in itself? Or do I misunderstand what happened?

It is difficult for me to separate the anti-racism creed from the way that it was implemented in UU communities. That being said, I think that what happened in those communities reflects anti-racism work in white communities in general. I've seen some of the same dynamics play out in local organizing, other "radical" groups, during RaceFail '09... The problems with the way anti-racism was approached in UU communities have wide reverberations elsewhere.

One of the reasons it managed to really rip apart the community is because it became an explicit priority of the leadership. While I would argue it's very important for the leadership to be institutionally invested in anti-racism, this also had the side-effect of feeling very top-down, particularly in youth communities where the turnover was large. Authoritarianism never goes over well in UU communities (or with progressives in general), and even less so when you're talking about something as sensitive as racism.

One of the main problems with the anti-racism curriculum in UU communities was that it had the effect of making people afraid to challenge it. That's not healthy for communities, and particularly for UUs who believe in a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." It created teacher-teachee relationships, when identity and race are much more complicated than that.

Thing is, it's really difficult to not be dogmatic when you're talking about anti-racism because there are a whole bunch of clueless people who are raised with racist assumptions and ways of being who need the same racism 101 explained over and over and over again. Not their fault, necessarily, but it also creates a consistently "racist" space. This makes people impatient, which tends to make people reduce complicated conversations into dogma (see the bingo card above). Because it's not the job of people of color to explain racism to white people, it became the job of white leadership who, in turn, slipped into "I know better" ways of communicating.

Since the whole debacle, the anti-racism curriculum in UU churches has become much more intersectionality-centered, based in personal experience, and meditative. Better. But it took awhile to get there.

Does that help to answer your question?
posted by lunit at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The comment and the essay you cowrote in 2004 that you e-mailed to me answered my question. [Full disclosure: lunit and I are friends in real life]
posted by Kattullus at 9:22 AM on May 15, 2009


UU anti-racism didn't relate closely at all to any Trotskyite interpretations of anti-racism that have been mentioned above. I believe it is more closely related to academic disciplines of ethnology and race theory than to any of the Trotskyite groups mentioned above.

Regarding Kattallus' question, I don't think UU youth were too dogmatic in general; before anti-racism came along there was little dogma present in our spiritual or social practices.

However, what we did have was a pyramid-shaped leadership structure, which began in a bottom-up format but ended up with a top level (the "continental clique") that was self-identified and which became disconnected from the traditional bottom-up processes of leadership development.

Once we adopted an anti-racist ethic, pressure developed to use anti-racism culture as a litmus test for leadership (because if we were modelling an anti-racist organization, the leadership couldn't be ignant of the issues at hand). This had the unintended effect of causing continental-level leadership development to begin to skip the lower levels of the pyramid, where anti-racism culture was less developed.

This meant that rather than working with the denomination we had, developing the leadership that could be pulled from different regions of the country, maintaining the continental clique became more about assembling a "dream team" from anywhere, including other continental-level politically-friendly movements. This disconnected us from the movement and served to further consolidate anti-racism as the primary focus of the movement.

Obviously this should never have happened, but we were all too busy doubting ourselves and each other to notice, until it was too late. We aged out and left a broken organization for the next generation. Predatory, anti-anti-oppression forces in the Unitarian Universalist Association made short work of YRUU and have now annexed youth programming safely under their conservative, counter-revolutionary Religious Education wing.
posted by Embryo at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


lunit, I'm extremely grateful for your perspective on this. I see the UU experience being replayed elsewhere and worry it'll end in scorched earth there, too.

PeterMcDermott, I should've said this earlier: that section of Thandeka is especially fine. The part that I need to come back to more often: "Learn to replace moral judgment with loving compassion."

Embryo, I think your last line is a fine example of the problem with the anti-racist rhetoric: It's defined by what it opposes, not what it promotes.
posted by shetterly at 11:04 AM on May 15, 2009


Embryo, a PS: I do agree with you that UUs lost something after the civil rights era, and their experience with anti-racism was an attempt to regain it. Unfortunately, they chose a divisive model.
posted by shetterly at 11:14 AM on May 15, 2009


I'm not sure how my last line seems exemplary of that, shetterly.

I have to say straight-up, though, that I'm as skeptical of people who oppose anti-racism as I am of people who embrace it. For white people the whole issue is full of hidden motivations on all sides. Most of the people who oppose it do so not from a place of understanding its weaknesses, but from a place of fear of change. When it comes to racism this isn't any more acceptable than embracing guilt.
posted by Embryo at 11:15 AM on May 15, 2009


"Obviously this should never have happened, but we were all too busy doubting ourselves and each other to notice, until it was too late. We aged out and left a broken organization for the next generation. Predatory, anti-anti-oppression forces in the Unitarian Universalist Association made short work of YRUU and have now annexed youth programming safely under their conservative, counter-revolutionary Religious Education wing."

You sure there was nothing Trotskyite about that, Embryo? ;)
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on May 15, 2009


Embryo, sorry I wasn't clearer: "anti-anti-oppression". Anti-racism seems to be all about the anti and who's an ally or not. There doesn't seem to be room for other models of opposing racism.
posted by shetterly at 11:45 AM on May 15, 2009


Oh, and judging by your blog post and what I know about RaceFail '09, shetterly, I would say that my critique of anti-racism has much more in common with Thandeka's than yours.

I still very much believe in the principles and practices of anti-racism; it's the approach that I think often needs re-evaluating. Even that I say with extreme caution, because it is so easy for genuine critique of anti-racism's effects on community to be co-opted by people with agendas like yours. I do not believe that Thandeka's essay is support for your overall thesis, either, and I think it is interesting that you would point to it without much of an understanding of the nuances involved in that discussion.

I apologize if I don't need to add this disclaimer, but please don't consider my experiences as support of your overall thesis that anti-racism work is more destructive than constructive. Because I very much disagree with that assessment. Just because anti-racism work is difficult and complicated doesn't mean that the ideas are wrong.
posted by lunit at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't understand the UU connection to the anti-racism in the original post. Thanks for that background. Anti-racism seems to be a much more specific set of assumptions and beliefs than I would have thought. Who doesn't want to think they are anti-racist?
However, while reading the essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", at Antiracistalliance.com, I noticed that many of the items identified as white privilege are states of mind that result from being part of the majority or not a part of an identifiable minority. For example, the first item is"I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time." Other items are about apprehension of possible racist actions or attitudes such as item 5, "I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed." The problem I see is that white people cannot, regardless of how well intentioned, change another person's mental state or their majority status. They can be aware of how minorities may feel in some circumstances and be more sensitive towards those potential feelings, but unless there is some evidence of overt racism there is nothing to act upon.

Then I found these premises about Critical Race Theory in the (free) introduction to Critical Race Theory, The Cutting Edge here.
1. Racism is ingrained in American society and appears normal.
There is some truth here but the racism of 2009 is less and less overt than the racism of 1959.
2. Cultures construct social reality in ways that promote their self interests.
I generally agree but there is an equivocation here of cultures and races. Are African Americans always going to be a distinct culture? If most African Americans don't want to be but some do where does that leave us? Are the ones who assimilate into the larger culture "white" or just "American?" It's pretty clear that African Americans have different ideas on what is desirable just as they have since the days of Marcus Garvey.
3. White elites tolerate advances for blacks only when such advances also promote their self interests - and some, notably Derrick Bell, feel that changes in civil rights laws are a mechanism to ensure that change happens at a pace that white elites can tolerate.
I can see how Derrick Bell might have come to feel that the law was a mechanism for perpetuating white supremacy while sitting in Mississippi courtrooms in the 1960s but his victories, and the victories of other civil rights lawyers, is evidence that the system can change. By claiming that American society is irredeemably racist Bell is ignoring the enormous changes in race relations since the civil rights era. Also, to say that whites or white elites only promote advances for blacks when it serves their interests is to ignore many key examples to the contrary. Did LBJ not think he and the Democrats would lose the South if the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed? Hugo Black, was a southerner and former Klansman, was it in his interest to support Brown v. Board of Education?
posted by Tashtego at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, The Wealthiest Black Americans.

Thanks?

What was this for? Are you confusing me with someone else? Is that it? So we all look alike, eh? Is that how it is? Yeah, I see how it is.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:09 PM on May 15, 2009


Anti-racism to me does not indicate a particular model. It simply indicates a programmatic focus on tackling racism. Indeed, within UUism there were several different models for tackling anti-racism. YRUU's was the most direct, owing to our youthful exuberance. There were at least two other broad models for addressing racism within adult/intergenerational UU circles.

The biggest problem we had with these other models is that they were easy to "go along with". We expected people to confront the problem openly, and not in a token fashion. We had great reasons for this insistence, but in practice, it became an instrument of dogma.

You mind find it interesting, shetterly, that for this same reason, AR quickly became AO (anti-oppression) -- we didn't want to deal with anti-racism half-way, and doggone it, why stop at racism? Classism was another huge target for us. Just so you know. We put a lot of focus on it. The adult UU models of anti-racism that we observed as easy to tokenize due to their patient, deferential styles, also lent themselves to standing in for other anti-oppression efforts that were just as crucial, like anti-classism. Ironically, considering your collection of neurotic responses that motivated this FPP, it was the [i]more dogmatic[/i] approach to anti-racism (ours) that naturally came to envelope efforts to oppose classism and sexism in addition to racism.

Anyway, the anti-anti-racism forces were the elements of intergenerational UUism that treated adult anti-racism in a token way. They weren't ostensibly pro-racism, but they were against our direct, accountable model of anti-racism -- they preferred their slower, more theatrical style. This was in large part because we kept blowing up their spot not in regard to racism, where they had the style thing pretty well down pat, but in regard to classism and other oppressions that we felt anti-racism empowered us to bring to the table.

Anti-racism may define itself in opposition to racism but that's natural when you consider the implications of an approach that is pro-somethingelse (like harmony? justice?) which is easily dismissed or marginalized. We went for the meat of the issue.
posted by Embryo at 12:10 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


You sure there was nothing Trotskyite about that, Embryo? ;)

hahah. yeah, that was just a youthful pejorative. some folks just fundamentally don't want things to change, even if there are great gains at stake.
posted by Embryo at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2009


lunit, I just reread Thandeka's essay, and I still agree with all of it. For example:

...the anti-racist strategies have three basic problems:

* First. They violate the first principle of our UU covenant together to actively affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
* Second. They make an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America; and
* Third, they misinterpret actions resulting from feelings of shame and powerlessness as evidence of white racism.


That pretty much covers my position. Most of my conflict with anti-racists focuses on her second point, about which she says, "The privilege that, according to the anti-racists, comes with membership in white America, actually belongs to a tiny elite." Susan Smith's essay nicely illustrates that.

I have been out of step with Thandeka in one crucial area, loving compassion. But I'll keep working on that.
posted by shetterly at 12:27 PM on May 15, 2009


Marisa, sorry! That was in response to "I don't think many people are unaware that the exploitative class is made of white people. We all know the top of the pyramid is snow white." You might also look at The World's Billionaires. They're disproportionately of European descent, but there are folks from India and China and elsewhere there.

Embryo, by going for the meat, you killed the patient. I think that's why Thandeka stresses healing, not attacking.
posted by shetterly at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2009


"The privilege that, according to the anti-racists, comes with membership in white America, actually belongs to a tiny elite."

I am going to absolutely 100% disagree. I've experienced white privilege and I am by no means in the "tiny elite." I experience it every single time I go into a store without being followed by store detectives. My neighbors have never moved because I moved in across the street. (Yes, this still happens. It happened to my parents' neighbors - and only about three years ago.) I see people who look like me on just about every single TV show. People who look like me are represented in all aspects of pop culture without being cornered into one specific genre, or forced to take roles as "side-kicks." As a nanny caring for white children, no one ever questions "Why is that woman with those kids?" I have never had to explain "white culture" to anybody. "Sheer" band-aids blend in with my skin.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack For the 800th time. Honestly. I don't mean to get into a digression on the "doing other people's homework" but this, really, is a seminal piece on white privilege and I feel that somebody who is going to make a *post* about anti-racist issues should at least be passingly familiar with what "privilege" actually entails.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:37 PM on May 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


so, shetterly, it appears your opposition to anti-racism stems from a rejection of the idea of white privilege.

unfortunately, you're misreading Thandeka's point. She's not speaking in a blanket sense about white privilege. In essence, she's criticizing anti-racism supporters for making the same mistake you are: putting all white privilege, regardless of its form, into one box.

There are many aspects of white privilege that -are- universal to all white-skinned people. Ultimately it's up to each white person to determine how they're going to respond to these privileges that they have regardless of the intersectionality of other oppressions/privileges.

The number one most important of these is the privilege to ignore race. It seems that this is where you've staked your flag, Mr. Shetterly. Unfortunately, Thandeka's not standing there with you no matter how selectively you interpret her words.
posted by Embryo at 12:39 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Most of my conflict with anti-racists focuses on her second point, about which she says, "The privilege that, according to the anti-racists, comes with membership in white America, actually belongs to a tiny elite."

Piggy-backing on what Embryo said, that's a selective interpretation of this quote. She's trying to explain why tackling class issues is important for white people's understanding of racism. True. But it's not like she's denying that white privilege exists - she wrote Learning to be White, ferchristsake.
posted by lunit at 12:46 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the key points of which was that white privilege hurts white people, too. Something which I also agree with, and which the early incarnations of anti-racism, at least in UU culture, pretty much ignored.
posted by lunit at 12:48 PM on May 15, 2009


Embryo, by going for the meat, you killed the patient. I think that's why Thandeka stresses healing, not attacking.

Shetterly, it seems you have a knack for sounding right while being wrong. It's true that more healing and less attacking would have been good for us in some respects. But when it comes to class -- assuming you care about class, and are not just using it as a shiny distraction from racism -- how does that approach sound to you? Does it sound effective, or does it sound patronizing? It's difficult to draw this line effectively, even as simple as you make it sound when you're wearing the skin of Thandeka.

We didn't kill the patient by going for the meat, we killed the patient by getting so caught up in the meat that we didn't notice how much blood it was losing. It's got more to do with a failure to juggle, to keep perspective, than it has to do with how firmly we held ourselves and each other accountable for changing our racist socializations.

Needless to say this part of the conversation can't be had with someone who is trying to excise their own guilt and self-doubt stemming from being called out as racist by anti-racists using a perfectly reasonable standard of accountability.
posted by Embryo at 12:49 PM on May 15, 2009


Uh, grapefruitmoon, tell that to Thandeka. I only quoted her. Do you think she wasn't aware of the color of her skin? She said that after, I think, writing Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America.

Embryo, yes, there are advantages to being white. You may be misreading me, for which I'm sorry--I fumble a lot, and typo often.

If you focus on oppression in terms of race, it's hard to see it from other perspectives. That's why I admire Thandeka so much. It's why I admire King most when he began to criticize capitalism and sought to draw in poor people of all hues. It's why I think Malcolm X was great, but El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was greater.

I haven't met Thandeka. You've been more involved with the UUA than I have. Did she support you in person? Or do you have other writings of hers to clarify what she meant?
posted by shetterly at 1:02 PM on May 15, 2009


Lunit, we cross-posted. I'm not denying that there's white privilege. I'll make this explicit: White privilege exists. I've never said it doesn't. I'm only agreeing with Thandeka that anti-racism's take on white privilege is wrong: "They make an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America."
posted by shetterly at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2009


Fair enough. I have to dip out, actually, but this has been interesting.
posted by lunit at 1:32 PM on May 15, 2009


shetterly, there is no "anti-racism's take on white privilege". There are a multitude of takes on white privilege. The only take that is patently not anti-racist is yours, which is founded in the notion that white privilege is not worth interrogating. But to justify this, you're reducing white privilege to a ghostly strawman.

If you focus on oppression in terms of race, it's hard to see it from other perspectives. That's why I admire Thandeka so much.

See, but I just explained that our anti-racism movement found that our desire not to shy away from, or minimize, the hardest parts of dealing with racism, opened up doors to understanding other oppressive dynamics like race and class. It's "anti-racism lite", one which lets white people get away with a lot of their privilege and always provides the benefit of the doubt, that tends to let this defanged Fisher Price version of anti-racism stand in for all obligation to oppose oppressions. You ignored this comment.

Thandeka never knew who I was; she was no longer part of the continental version of this discussion when I was between 2002 and 2004. Regardless, your citation of Thandeka continues to ring falsely, because you lack the institutional context to fully understand Why Anti-Racism Will Fail, which wasn't written about "anti-racism" per se but rather about anti-racism in an extremely specific UU context, and I doubt you've read Learning to be White.
posted by Embryo at 1:40 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lunit, me, too, and very much likewise!

Embryo, maybe the anti-racist approach to ending racism is the right one. All I can say is I share your goal.
posted by shetterly at 2:42 PM on May 15, 2009


Uh, grapefruitmoon, tell that to Thandeka. I only quoted her.

I can't tell it to her, she's not in this discussion. I'm telling it to you because the quote you used was misleading and misrepresented what white-privilege actually is. I have no idea what she meant by it, but your out of context quoting read as "Only the white elite is privileged" which is flat out false.

Since you were the one who put the quote in this thread, I'm telling you that I flat out disagree.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:05 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you focus on oppression in terms of race, it's hard to see it from other perspectives.

Have you got any evidence of this whatsoever? You haven't presented anything that suggests that something about being anti-racist interferes with seeing other types of oppression. At most, you have asserted that some anti-racist individuals don't pay enough attention to class issues. And I'm not sure you've even shown that-- from grapefruitmoon's link:

Also, for the record, I do think class is a significant axis of oppression separate from but interacting with race and gender. I just don't think it's the root oppression that is the basis of all other oppression, or that eliminating class injustice will magically cause other forms of prejudice and injustice to fade away.

Is this what you mean by anti-racists refusing to engage on class issues? That it doesn't count if they disagree with your opinion about how different forms of oppression affect each other?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:43 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


EmilyClimbs, I hadn't realized several people from that subset of anti-racists would show up here, and I failed to go to Sidhedevil's profile here, so I didn't realize she was the Empress of Icecream there, and much derailment followed.

Yes, Coffeeandink said that. It's easy to say you're doing things you don't. If you read her earlier public posts, you won't find anything significant about class. Perhaps that's changed recently.

I suppose I should add that your link goes to a page of cherry-picked quotes that make it look like I "don't believe in racism" or something equally silly. It consists of quotes from me where I was focusing on class because I was responding to people who were ignoring or denying it. Context matters enormously. The link about middle-class blacks is especially misleading; I completely agree that racism is a factor within every class in the US, which I was acknowledging by using Doselle Young's catch-all word for all kinds of prejudice, stupidism.

And I disagree with her conclusion. Create a world where everyone has good education, health care, housing, food, and work, and you may still have some prejudiced people, but their prejudices won't hurt anyone else. There's no "magic" in equal opportunity.
posted by shetterly at 10:45 AM on May 16, 2009


grapefruitmoon: I am going to absolutely 100% disagree. I've experienced white privilege and I am by no means in the "tiny elite."

Okay, but we are again in the difficult territory of justifying a set of unsupported generalizations by way of anecdotal examples. This happens in every privilege thread. So, invariably, does this: I'll see your 100%, and raise you.

I experience it every single time I go into a store without being followed by store detectives.

But this argument hinges on the impossible assumption that a "Person of Color" in your shoes - in your clothes and indeed you in every way save skin tone - would be followed every single time they entered a store, or even most times. I haven't met a single person who claims to live that example.

Where do you live? How do you dress? I have a hooded sweatshirt with deep pockets that works reliably as cop bait. In one setting (a crowded auction for studio audio gear), I was followed by enough plainclothes neanderthals that I herded them in a circle. Next time I wore a vest. For similar reasons, backpacks and targus bags are to be avoided.

I see people who look like me on just about every single TV show. People who look like me are represented in all aspects of pop culture without being cornered into one specific genre, or forced to take roles as "side-kicks."

It's 2009. Your experience does not reflect even the background radiation I gather from a moment's glance at TV. Try any variation of American Idol or its numerous spawn; you will see poncified males of every origin and hue transform into pillars of Hot Topic before an approving female gaze.

Furthermore, you may be photogenic, but among most males of Bjorkian stature, or females of non-Bjorkian girth, there are few if any solid parts on every TV show. What you may be experiencing is not White privilege but the privilege of physical beauty, something which is maybe coupled with race, but in ways that are gender-specific and nontrivial.

As a nanny caring for white children, no one ever questions "Why is that woman with those kids?" I have never had to explain "white culture" to anybody. "Sheer" band-aids blend in with my skin.

But please consider how fragile these examples are: that a mere Y chromosome could turn you into an instant suspect; that explaining "White culture" to anybody and everybody, and lecturing White people about their aggregate or individual doings, may be what we're doing right now; and that flesh-toned band aids and crayons both come in multicultural variety packs and fail, in flawless Douglas Adams irony, universally and without prejudice.

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack For the 800th time. Honestly. I don't mean to get into a digression on the "doing other people's homework"

Hastur on a stick. Can we work out a moratorium on thread-dropping this thing as if it were the black obelisk? Like, only after 300+ posts, we get Kubricked? ...and the implications that it's someone else's homework do grate and do not necessarily endear one's point of view. 'Here's a Jack Chick tract, you dummies! Ready to convert now?' Not quite that bad, but close.

posted by kid ichorous at 1:03 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I should qualify all of that to say that I'm not disputing the particulars of your experience, or any one person's experience, but rather their generalization into the sort of one-size-fits-all speculation that gets thrust on people reading these threads. I think it's possible to agree about specific kinds of documented social privileges without accepting the sort of 'White privilege' blank check that ends up turning into an unchecked thought experiment and, along with the perennial abuse of 'rednecks,' the most permissible outlet for racial and cultural scapegoating on the left.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:29 PM on May 16, 2009


Priyamvada Gopal: Anti-racism has to go beyond a facile representation game / Guardian.

And since I'm posting, kid ichorous, I love your point about their touchstone text.
posted by shetterly at 10:35 PM on May 27, 2009


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