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Perceptual Segregation
January 18, 2010 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Perceptual Segregation [pdf]. A Columbia Law Review article by Russell K. Robinson: . . . While many whites view race-consciousness as an evil that must be strenuously avoided, blacks tend to see race-consciousness as critical to their survival in white-dominated realms. . . .

Blacks and whites are likely to disagree on the very definition of “racial discrimination.” Whites are likely to share the view of the current Supreme Court majority, which defines discrimination primarily as an aberrational form of bad intent. I will call this the “colorblindness perspective.” It believes that most white people are colorblind, and deviations from this norm are unusual. . . . Black people, by contrast, are more likely to be unapologetically race-conscious . . . According to this view, which I call the “pervasive discrimination perspective,” racism . . . regularly manifests itself in daily interactions . . .

The interaction between the invisibility of modern discrimination, because of norms making overt bias relatively rare, and the visibility of traits such as race and sex require a rational outsider to assume that bias is always a possibility. . . . Many outsiders [broadly speaking, in the US, many people of color and women of whatever color] have learned that performing exactly like insiders [broadly speaking, many men and self-identified whites] is insufficient to guarantee success. . . . As [divergent life] experiences accumulate, disparate perceptual frameworks are created and reinforced.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus (163 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
i hesitated to comment because I noticed myself reading through the FPP and thinking "oh I dont need to deal with right now, its bad enough, what's going on"

sigh.
posted by infini at 2:24 PM on January 18, 2010


Yes, I really like this! It's very clear and well reasoned.

I have not read the whole thing but the idea that culturally we all draw from different wells of experience rings true. It is these wells of experience that construct the patterns of psychological discourse, really inform the Self... It is the very formation and complementation of these mindlessly competing discourses that yields intractable antagonism.

But here is a question: If we really are blinded, cognitively, to some larger truth of the matter at hand, then how can we center our knowledge and experience on that unknown? There is something encoded here, a sort of liminal cause and effect, that strives to deny peace..

I say to really affect this encoded pattern, we really need to disrupt the larger overall pattern. Really, the two are linked right?
posted by kuatto at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2010


From the Introduction......

"This Article opens a new field of legal scholarship and complements the implicit bias literature by drawing on empirical studies to explicate the cognitive processes of outsiders in interpreting potential incidents of discrimination."

Wow. 1 hour 25 minutes form original posting and NO-ONE has posted a single comment, not one.

2 posts shortly after that timemarker.

I can't comment on the article, I found it incredibly unpleasant and difficult to read, nothing to do with the content, which seemed to be potentially interesting and very comprehensive.

Is this a case study in how to balls up communicating your point by writing about it really really badly. Maybe its legalese to avoid any potential misinterpretation, but am I alone in being amazed that this has generated so little interest ?
posted by Boslowski at 2:30 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a former member of the CLR, this article lost me early on as the author described his involvement as an abused innocent in an academic spat, for which the identities are very thinly disguised, then tried to draw some universal observations from it. I would hope there is better work out there on this important subject.
posted by bearwife at 2:54 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The chair/discussant was a white male professor, whom I will call Professor Miller.
I had never met nor heard of Miller. Miller became frustrated with me because he perceived that I failed to comply with his request regarding the submission of papers prior to the conference. On May 27th, about one week before the panel, I had emailed Miller to confirm that he was the chair and to ask whether I could use a PowerPoint presentation. Miller never acknowledged my email, but he did send the following email to all the panelists on May 30th:

Dear paper givers,
1) While enlisted as discussant, I discover now that I am supposed to act as chair as well. I have written for instructions on format, but of the 1h45 allotted for our panels, I propose to give you each 20 minutes to present your work. I will ruthlessly stop you at the 21st minute. As I do not believe that there is any utility whatsoever in having meetings without discussion, this will preserve a good 35–40 minutes for discussion, including my comments.
2) I have yet to receive anyone’s paper. If I do not get your paper by tomorrow (Tuesday, May 31) at noon it is exceedingly unlikely that I will have time to receive or print it out, no less to read it. I look forward to meeting you all. Thanks in advance for your prompt response to this message.
Yours,
Phillip Miller

Miller sent his email at 4:32 PM and required us to submit our papers by “noon” the next day. I received Miller’s email in the evening. Since classes had ended, I was running errands that day, working from home and not checking email as regularly as usual. Although I had not planned on working on campus the next day, I rearranged my schedule so that I could stop by campus and email him the latest draft of my paper, which was only on my work computer, by 11:15 AM. Miller perceived that my paper was late and announced this to the audience.


This was published in a law review? Where were the CLR editors?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:10 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


A rather tedious bit of self-examination; Certainly the organizer/Mr. Miller comes off poorly, but the author's long, sprawling (published, natch) response seems to approach parody.

Maybe it's just jealousy on my part- I wish I could get into 'Columbia Law Review' with a piece on my reflections of bad treatment at a conference. Complete with snide commentary on my persecutors. Then they'd listen! They'd see my unappreciated genius!
posted by mrdaneri at 3:11 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think once you get past the beginning part with the conference story, it improves.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:20 PM on January 18, 2010


Wow. I mean, the topic is solid, and the quote from the post above is interesting but the first seven pages (aka as much as I'm going to read) are all about some stupid spat he had. Also, he admits his paper was submitted late (he submitted it Pacific time, Mr. Miller was in Eastern time).
posted by fermezporte at 3:24 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Let me emphasize that I do not present this information in an attempt to prove that outsiders
are more accurate in their assessments of allegations of discrimination. I cannot fully address that rather difficult question in this Article, which focuses on describing the phenomenon of perceptual segregation.37

37. In declining to resolve the accuracy question in this context, I do not mean to
imply that I am neutral or agnostic on the question of whether black or white perceptions are more accurate regarding the prevalence of race discrimination. Further, I do discuss the tendency of some outsiders to minimize discrimination in order to cast doubt upon the popular explanation for perceptual differences, which is that outsiders are generally paranoid or hypersensitive."


I relented and forced myself to read. His story of maltreament at the hands of Mr Miller was interesting, and the polarised reaction of those he recounted his tale to, also interesting.

However, his stated intention to suggest changes to process without proving accuracy lost me and my sympathy.

These doctrinal spaces might provide a starting point for using the law to bridge perceptual differences. I focus, however, on some voluntary structural reforms in workplaces that might prevent discrimination and reduce Title VII claims, including positioning outsiders on hiring committees to debias the committee’s deliberations and deter perceptions of bias.

Surely there is nothing new here, beyond Korzybski's general semantics (the map is not the territory etc etc). I have no problem agreeing that black and white people, men and women, view the world differently. I mean goddamn, just ask either side of a heterosexual partnership, and you know that there will be agreement on at least one thing - that men and women view the world / parts of the world differently.

Surely the only thing that moves us forward is some framework that allows a truly objective assesment. He does not address this question, and as such I am resigned to relegating his article to... meh.
posted by Boslowski at 3:41 PM on January 18, 2010


In a way I have Metafilter to thank for helping me to understand just how differently white people tend to view racism. It's always been obvious to me that racism is in all the little things, and in the institutional principles that uphold the notion of white superiority. Everyone has been influenced by these things, therefore, everyone has subscribed to racist ideals to a certain degree. Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.

But when I started reading here I learned that for many white people, "racist" is one of the worst things you can say about anything they've done (I've since learned that men say the same about "sexist" and "misogynist"). It's supposedly some kind of grave accusation to insist that something was racist, but to me, it's an obvious part of life in the stratified societies we live in.

Speaking as a former member of the CLR, this article lost me early on as the author described his involvement as an abused innocent in an academic spat, for which the identities are very thinly disguised, then tried to draw some universal observations from it. I would hope there is better work out there on this important subject.

Speaking as a black girl living in the ghetto, I was cringing the whole time I was reading the account because I knew what he was experiencing. I thought it was a great way to introduce the different ways we perceive discrimination. Everyone acknowledges that racist discrimination is "bad" but in this case people aren't even likely to see the racism. You frame it as an "academic spat" where he was the "accused innocent" and I can smell the sarcasm from here. His point was that he was already under pressure not to live up the racial stereotypes associated with black men. The humiliatingly public accusation of lateness would undoubtedly rankle anyone at least a bit, but Robinson is a stand-in for his entire race, or at least for black academics. Even when attempting to calmly speak up for himself, he had to worry about "coming off" as "the angry black man." I personally thought he was being treated as an inferior, and I thought of how black men would be called "boy"; that's how the public dressing-down struck me.

Others at the panel, all white, agreed that the white man's behavior was jerkish and rude. But here's the thing, and I see this ALL THE TIME in discussions about racism (and other oppressions). They would say anything to deny a racist element. ANYTHING. Here we have a white professor who not only public humiliates a black man (while ignoring a white woman who actually was late), but who has also ignored previous contact attempts and proceeds to excoriate the man's paper outside of the normal space granted for discussion and critique. The white professor nitpicks and grumbles and doesn't even acknowledge that the issue as described in the paper exists. Even the way Miller critiqued the paper reminded me of so many of these kinds of discussions I've had before: basically arguing that Robinson didn't explore everything from the beginning of time to show every link.

This is how oppressed people are routinely treated, their own experiences dismissed as "anecdotal" and "hypersensitive". We can only prove something is racist using the paradigm established by white people, and they don't even acknowledge that aversive racism exists. Like Robinson, we're accused of seeing things that aren't there (note that all of the professors of color could see the racist undercurrents, and I can see them even though my experience of academia is limited to some online classes). Even in this case, the more he tries to explain his reasons and the more people he asks for their perceptions, the more he is dismissed for blowing up over something minor.

No one can read anyone's mind nor can we know everything that has influenced our own perceptions. I accept as a fact of life that racism is everywhere, and the pressure of having to overcome it while not being able to name it has got to be even worse the higher you go up the food chain.

I look forward to reading the rest of the paper as I've only just read the intro (and I think it's quite readable, in fact much more so than academic papers tend to be).
posted by Danila at 3:47 PM on January 18, 2010 [32 favorites]


Boslowski, it's a scholarly paper in the Columbia Law Review. "IANAL" nor am I familiar with that publication, but I wouldn't be suprised if this article was the most readable thing in the entire issue. (In fact, I was suprised that it began with a personal anecdote.)
I suspect that a lengthy, footnoted PDF on any topic is just not going to get as much attention attention on Metafilter as the typical post does. I think the purpose of such an article is to present its ideas in the kind of format that's effective in the legal sphere, not to make a good blog post (although I'm glad it was posted here, and based on skimming most of it I think I agree nearly entirely with what the author is saying).

If it helps discussion, here are a couple of my own thoughts on this topic:
(a) It's obvious that minorities have a much different views on discrimination than what the article calls "insiders" (whites, especially male whites). Remember those polls during the OJ trial that showed a *huge* disparity between whites and African Americans on the question of OJ's guilt? To me, those were more interesting than the trial itself: they spoke to a similarly huge disparity in experiences with law enforcement, the court system, etc. If you're a white male like myself, you can pretty much go through life not having to think about discrimination as a bad thing which happens to other people. If you're on the receiving end of it on a daily or even yearly basis, it's going to affect the way you think about it. That should pretty much go without saying, but it *shouldn't* go without saying in the kind of legal, scholarly way that could end up affecting how the judicial system deals with these matters.
(b) That said, what to do about the gap? There might be some hypersensitivity on the part of the "outsiders", based on their upsetting experiences, but it seems to me the under-sensitivity of the "insiders" is the constructive thing to tackle. I think the key is to move away from confrontational rhetoric ("you're a racist") that's only likely to provoke defensiveness to a more gentle approach ("I know you mean well, Senator Reid, but you might like to know that a lot of people aren't keen on the word 'Negro' these days"). Because we're not talking about genuine, conscious racism here, we're talking about unconscious attitudes that need some tweaking. I thought the author's suggestion that this sort of criticism from "insiders" might be more effective (less likely to provoke defensiveness) was quite astute.
(c) I see that in the long time I've taken to write this there was a comment about the opening personal anecdote, a.k.a. "stupid spat". Frankly I found the story pretty interesting -- the author feels he may have been treated badly by someone on account of his race; his minority colleagues say yeah, it's racism, his white colleagues say nah, the guy's just a jerk. That led me to the reflection that a white person's worst experience with racism is probably being accused of it; after all, it's a pretty awful thing to accuse someone of. So I found myself wanting to give the guy the benefit of the doubt ("it sure sounds like it could be, but it would be great to have more evidence before accusing the guy of *that*") -- which I think speaks to the defensiveness I was talking about in (b).
So it's dawning on me that I may be suggesting that by treating racism a little more lightly, we might actually be more effective in getting rid of it. Again, I'm talking about the subtle, unconscious kind of racism. As far as I'm concerned, "KKK" stands for "KKKill me now". So please set your flamethrowers to "stun".
posted by uosuaq at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


No one can read anyone's mind nor can we know everything that has influenced our own perceptions. I accept as a fact of life that racism is everywhere, and the pressure of having to overcome it while not being able to name it has got to be even worse the higher you go up the food chain.

i'll tell you, as a brown woman in the food chain (for some reason I feel like trilling tra la la la ) that its much easier to deal with and acknowledge and move on from in places like South Africa where it was bloody obvious wasn't it?
posted by infini at 4:02 PM on January 18, 2010


Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.

This is a racist assumption.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:04 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


after all, it's a pretty awful thing to accuse someone of

As a white cisgender straight girl, I have done things and said things that were racist, heterocentric, and cis-centric. Being accused of racism was not "pretty awful". White people LOVE to take conversations where they're accused of insensitivity and turn them around to make the accuser sound insensitive. To take the charge of racism and pretend that it's the worst thing ever. It's really, really not. Perhaps the disconnect is that I recognize that we are all steeped in a culture of racism, so it's not a shock when I realize that I've done or said something stupid.

This is a racist assumption.

No, it's not - if anything it's a bit ethnocentric, but that's understandable given that this is a website that often focuses on the Western world and western ideology. I suggest you look up the "prejudice plus power" theory.
posted by muddgirl at 4:15 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


@muddgirl -- Well, to clarify, I wasn't trying to accuse any accusers; I was suggesting that many of us well-meaning white males (and maybe I should only speak for myself?) find the accusation of "racism" pretty awful. It brings up images of slavery and lynchings and lesser things that, well, I never said "the worst thing ever", but pretty god damn bad stuff if you're someone who hopes to be a decent person. In fact I like your suggestion of "having done or said something stupid" -- that's the sort of talk that doesn't provoke the kind of defensiveness that I think can get in the way of progress rather than helping it.
posted by uosuaq at 4:24 PM on January 18, 2010


Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.

Yeah, having a blanket negative label applied to you simply by virtue of the color of your skin is pretty insulting. There is simply no place to go from there?

I mean if you live your life consciously doing the right things, actively participating and funding rights causes at great expense, even risking your life for the cause of equality, and yet no matter what becuase you're a given skin color you're still a racist?

So. Then what the fuck? Why care anymore? Why not exploit your advantages and fuck attempting to do all the right things? Becuase it's the right thing? How can it be if "doing the right thing" still condemns you and never gains you any redemption. Fuck this redemption is in heaven bullshit.

Hell. My life sure would be even easier if I bought into the exploitation system even further. Making all those short cuts in life would buy me a much nicer retirement and probably add alot more security to my life. And trust me it would be so easy.

I don't think guys like me are looking for medals but we sure as shit don't deserve being saddled with the sins of our fathers. What the fuck good does that do?

So Yeah. I choose to call bullshit on that idea. Because I personally want to keep doing the right things in the hope that we all can be liberated from the sins of the past. Isn't that the whole point?
posted by tkchrist at 4:40 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Certainly all white people are racist,

And this is the point where 99% of white people tune you out. You might even have had something interesting to say, I don't know, I moved on to the next comment.
posted by MikeMc at 4:47 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a bit of background: the paper's anecdotal, story-telling approach is common in critical legal studies and especially critical race theory. Some critical race theorists present their arguments through person anecdotes or stories, others present their arguments in the form of entirely fictional stories (and of course still others use other methods). It's very different from the rational, empirical, precedent-oriented approach commonly employed in legal scholarship.

For a taste of the fictional side of things, see Derrick Bell's short story The Space Traders.
posted by jedicus at 5:11 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


danila: "Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact. "

hwat
posted by mullingitover at 5:15 PM on January 18, 2010


The problem that Boslowski identifies is pretty central to this paper, and his refusal to answer it undercuts a lot of its other points. To restate, the author says "Unlike some scholars writing in these fields, I do not argue that outsider experiences are more accurate or truthful. It is not necessary to address that question in order to make my central point." (footnote 299). I disagree strongly.

For example, part 3 of the paper deals with whether black people and women are "hyper-sensitive" or "paranoid" to discrimination. The paper concludes that they are not after citing some papers that show that "outsiders" report less discrimination than they feel exists (they also report being discriminated against less than the discrimination visited on their group as a whole). But without any benchmark for evaluating whether their claims are true in the first place, this criterion doesn't prove anything except that people feel discriminated against, perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly. For example, the author cites several studies about how black students and black people more generally are likely to hold the belief that the US government created AIDS in a lab to control black people without ever mentioning that this is obviously a false belief.

The author's position on the subject of the accuracy of perceptions of discrimination basically boil down to the "syllogism":

1)There are different standards in play here regarding the possibly accuracy of a claim of discrimination
2) I don't know which standard is more accurate
3) I don't have any proof of which standard is more accurate
4) I think most claims of discrimination by "outsiders" are accurate

I think the paper would be stronger if he had trimmed many parts of it and focused on answering the question of which set of standards are more useful, or interesting, or even more just, in evaluating claims of discrimination. Another possibility might be how the differing standards could be reconciled in some way.

Pt 4 has some really crazy implications. I'm not sure if they're intentional or not, but to replace "reasonable person" with "reasonable African-American" or "reasonable woman" etc. in anti-discrimination law is to open a giant can of worms about racializing the legal system even moreso than it is now.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


And this is the point where 99% of white people tune you out. You might even have had something interesting to say, I don't know, I moved on to the next comment.

The point of my comment, as well as the point of the article, is that "racist" doesn't mean the same thing to me that it does to you. Why not explore that rather than just shut the discussion down? This discussion is not something I, or any other "outsider," has the privilege of ignoring or tuning out.

Yeah, having a blanket negative label applied to you simply by virtue of the color of your skin is pretty insulting. There is simply no place to go from there?

It's not based on the color of your skin but on the fact of your socialization. It's also not an end of the conversation, but a beginning! I'd also say that insofar as all of us who live within Western societies (thanks for the correct, muddgirl) have absorbed the ideology of White supremacy to a certain extent, we will all do and say racist things. But we cannot even begin to change that if the very notion of "racist" is defined by those who have the most to gain from maintaining the status quo. You gotta let everyone else in, but the racism inherent in assuming that the dominant perspective is the correct one will keep other perspectives out. I suppose it's something of a catch-22: perhaps we will only be able to eliminate racism when we're not racist anymore.

Because I personally want to keep doing the right things in the hope that we all can be liberated from the sins of the past. Isn't that the whole point?

It's funny that it's usually minorities who are accused of living in the past. I'm talking about racism right now, in the present, and the future of anti-racism. I didn't say white people are racist because of anything their "fathers" did, but what people are doing right now: racism denial. I acknowledge the work that you and others have done to try to make society fairer and more equal. I'm a little surprised that in all of that struggle you never realized your own racist tendencies. I have certainly realized mine and been confronted with them for years and years.
posted by Danila at 5:29 PM on January 18, 2010 [19 favorites]


For instance, 84.1% of the black respondents reported that it “might possibly be true” or is “definitely true” that “the government deliberately makes sure that drugs are available in poor Black neighborhoods,” while a mere 4.2% of whites agreed. Roughly 60% of blacks stated that that it might be or is definitely true that “the virus that causes AIDS was deliberately created in a laboratory to infect Black people”; 9.5% of whites concurred.

I'm not denying that white people don't see all racial discrimination, because clearly that's true, but when I see things like this, I can't help but want to double check any claims that come up. I don't really feel good about that, but what am I supposed to think when an idea which to me seems ridiculous on its face has 84.1% acceptance in the sampled black population?
posted by TypographicalError at 5:43 PM on January 18, 2010


tkchrist, I'm a white person and I find it blindingly obvious that all white people are racist. I also find this statement:

So. Then what the fuck? Why care anymore? Why not exploit your advantages and fuck attempting to do all the right things? Becuase it's the right thing? How can it be if "doing the right thing" still condemns you and never gains you any redemption.

pretty offensive, as a white person. Because first of all, it suggests that white people are only interested in trying to improve the situation if they benefit personally from that improvement, and second, it suggests that the "outsiders" owe us gratitude for trying to fix things. Guess what? They don't. If your grandfather stole a bunch of money from my grandfather, and my grandparents and my parents and I all asked for it back, I'm not obligated to prostrate myself with thanksgiving if you finally give it back.

Have race relations gotten better in the US since Reconstruction? Of course they have. Do they have a long way to go? Yes, of course they do. You and I might not have had a hand in making things bad to begin with, but I don't believe that absolves us of our duty to continue working to make things better. Not for redemption, or gratitude, but yeah, just because it's the right thing to do. That's leaving aside the fact that having someone say "Wow, gee, it sure is racist in here" is hardly "condemnation."
posted by KathrynT at 5:47 PM on January 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


Why not explore that rather than just shut the discussion down?

It's kind of like trying to start a conversation about feminism by first establishing the fact that all men are rapists. As a man that really doesn't work for me. By defining me as racist from the get go we would immediately start the conversation with me in a defensive posture. Always. Being able to walk away from a conversation that begins with the assumption that I am a racist, and therefore a "bad person"*, may be white privilege in action but sometimes the kit in the invisible knapsack comes in handy.

* I'm sure you don't mean to infer that all white people are Klansmen or Neo-Nazis or somesuch but society in general defines racism and racists as bad.
posted by MikeMc at 5:47 PM on January 18, 2010


Did I mention the defensiveness thing?
posted by uosuaq at 5:49 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. Claim everyone in a particular group is racist.
2. Wait until someone says "hey, I'm not racist!"
3. Use their own denial as evidence against them, since only a racist would engage in "racism denial."

Clever.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:54 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's also not an end of the conversation, but a beginning!

In light of your knowledge that "for many white people, 'racist' is one of the worst things you can say about anything they've done," I don't understand how you expect a conversation to develop from a comment like "certainly all white people are racist".
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:00 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your grandfather stole a bunch of money from my grandfather, and my grandparents and my parents and I all asked for it back, I'm not obligated to prostrate myself with thanksgiving if you finally give it back.


I think a better metaphor might be if Joe Smith's grandfather stole a bunch of money from your grandfather, and now he's trying to give it back, but some of the in-laws and siblings are making it difficult, and you go around talking about how those Smiths are a bunch of thieving scumbags. It might be largely true, and Joe Smith might have benefited from the stolen money, and he might not be working as hard as he can, but it's still going to tick him off.

That said, my little metaphor can't really be stretched to adequately fit race relations now, given the cultural hegemony that white people have. I suppose I could try and make the Smiths monarchs or something.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:16 PM on January 18, 2010


I wonder, sometimes, if the problem isn't rooted in a good deal of well-meaning childhood education of white kids.

When I learned about racism as a little white girl, it was in lessons about the civil rights movement, and scary stories about the Klan and about the evil rednecks who threw stones and bombed churches and killed little black children. There was absolutely no connection between this and the kindly everyday white people I saw around me -- or about the unremarked fact that they just didn't happen to have black friends, or send their children to school with black people, or joke about the flashy clothes and cars that "they" had. No, when I was little, we learned that racists were monsters. So, it's very possible that someone who hears the words "Certainly all white people are racist . . ." is hearing the words "Certainly all white people are supporters of the KKK."

As a grownup, I gradually learned that racism isn't a filthy disease or a mark of Cain. It's something that people have to teach themselves not to do. (All people, towards different races, to one degree or another.) I have some racist reactions that I keep the hell shut up, and work on, and chastise myself for. It doesn't make me a good person, or a special white snowflake for doing that job. It's just trying to be decent, every day.

Maybe it's different now, and some kids these days are being taught that racism isn't just a Southern affliction but a rotten habit, like greediness or selfishness, that you have to watch for, inside of yourself, every day. I don't know. It'll never be easy.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Well, sure it might tick him off. But if he's still holding and benefiting from the stolen money, the fact that it ticks him off doesn't seem to be the greatest problem with the equation, really.
posted by KathrynT at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2010


I mean if you live your life consciously doing the right things, actively participating and funding rights causes at great expense, even risking your life for the cause of equality, and yet no matter what becuase you're a given skin color you're still a racist?

Dude, you're soaking in it. Sexism too. You just have to deal.

Nobody's calling you a bad person. You're a product of your environment. So am I.
posted by mneekadon at 6:20 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.

I'll admit it I'm white and I've never even tried not being white. I'll try harder next time.
posted by nola at 6:21 PM on January 18, 2010


what am I supposed to think when an idea which to me seems ridiculous on its face has 84.1% acceptance in the sampled black population

I think this is in part a matter of sociology, which is not so much concerned with whether or not perceptions are true in some undefined objective version of reality, but with the impact of our varying social constructs. In particular, this may be a matter of ethnosociology as argued in this paper (I have access through my school, don't know if anyone else can access Jstor).

One of the interesting findings:

Contrary to a psychopathology approach that treats conspiracy theories as delusions, an ethnosociology approach expects that believers will be better acquainted with the social facts that are explained by conspiracy theories: Unknown facts require no explanations. Indeed, the data show that believers are better educated and more informed than are their skeptical counterparts.

There is a lot in the paper that I find interesting, including discussion of why educated, middle-class blacks are more likely to express belief in "conspiracy theories," as well as an examination of whether or not calling these constructs "conspiracies" is accurate.

By defining me as racist from the get go we would immediately start the conversation with me in a defensive posture. Always. Being able to walk away from a conversation that begins with the assumption that I am a racist, and therefore a "bad person"*, may be white privilege in action but sometimes the kit in the invisible knapsack comes in handy.


I can accept that you feel you have to do that, but then again, who says this conversation today needs to involve you or any other white person? The conversation doesn't have to be over just because a white man has said "I'm done!"

In light of your knowledge that "for many white people, 'racist' is one of the worst things you can say about anything they've done," I don't understand how you expect a conversation to develop from a comment like "certainly all white people are racist".

Well I said all white people are racist, I didn't say white people are too sensitive, or unable to have challenging discussions, or too stupid to comprehend nuance. I didn't say nor do I believe any of those things, so of course I don't see why a white person is incapable of participating in this conversation.

When I learned about racism as a little white girl, it was in lessons about the civil rights movement, and scary stories about the Klan and about the evil rednecks who threw stones and bombed churches and killed little black children. There was absolutely no connection between this and the kindly everyday white people I saw around me -- or about the unremarked fact that they just didn't happen to have black friends, or send their children to school with black people, or joke about the flashy clothes and cars that "they" had. No, when I was little, we learned that racists were monsters.

Countess I think that has something to do with it. I learned about racism from my interactions with white people, every magazine I read, tv show I watched, the things people said around me that they thought were benign, my white friends and schoolmates, and through the experiences of other people of color. I actually felt less oppressed by the people who called me a nigger or threw things at me when I was in the "wrong neighborhood" than by the oppressive system that surrounds me, and the barriers I perceive between me and so many "well-meaning" people.
posted by Danila at 6:28 PM on January 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


but what am I supposed to think when an idea which to me seems ridiculous on its face has 84.1% acceptance in the sampled black population?

That maybe, just maybe, it may not be as ridiculous as you think?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]



It's not based on the color of your skin but on the fact of your socialization.


That is not what you said. I quote you:

"Certainly all white people are racist"

you could have phrased with actual nuance. But you didn't. It is you shutting down the discussion.

If I walk in a room and declare that I assume all blonds are stupid I'm hardly attempting a nuanced discussion on how society incubates gender roles based on sexual attractiveness.

Your statement was offensive and inflammatory. And you'll certainly not foster any productive discussion with statements like that as your thesis. So you end up with a self fulfilling prophecy where you get exactly what you ex[ect out of interactions with people when you start them with lazy labels.

Jesus. You want to change things for the better or not?

It suggests that the "outsiders" owe us gratitude for trying to fix things.

Oh for fuck sake KatherynT could you read what I wrote with any less charity? That was such a deliberate idiotic mischaracterization of my statement it's absurd.

I'm not asking for people to prostrate themselves for my "good works", I'm simply asking to not be insulted when the discussion of what the works are intended for comes up. It doesn't take much imagination to understand that.

If the starting point of the discussion is "you're a [insert bad thing here] because of [the class of people I assume you belong to]", what is my motive for continuing the discussion let alone working with you for a solution to the problem? Nothing productive will come of it.

I suppose instead one could start with the true assumption that all humans have the capacity for racism and those of us with social insider status have hidden benefits not shared with people of outsider status. That is not being refuted. The problem is when I work pretty fucking hard to share my insider status and I get shit on for even trying to do so. When that happens, ,when you immediately issue blanket negative generalizations without caveat or context, all you do is alienate the very people that can implement the most change: The god damned insiders.
posted by tkchrist at 6:55 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can accept that you feel you have to do that, but then again, who says this conversation today needs to involve you or any other white person? The conversation doesn't have to be over just because a white man has said "I'm done!"

You are most certainly correct, this conversation doesn't need to involve me or any other white person but were might that leave you? It might leave you having the exact same conversation with the exact same people you've always had it with leaving you exactly where you started.
posted by MikeMc at 6:57 PM on January 18, 2010


Well, sure it might tick him off. But if he's still holding and benefiting from the stolen money, the fact that it ticks him off doesn't seem to be the greatest problem with the equation, really.

Actually it could easily be the greatest problem with the equation. If the family ticks "Joe" off enough enough he just may say "You know what? Fuck you! I really don't care where my Grandfather got his money and I'm sure as hell not giving you any of my money." Actually this is the far more likely scenario anyway.
posted by MikeMc at 7:02 PM on January 18, 2010


Nobody's calling you a bad person. You're a product of your environment. So am I.

I disagree. When somebody labels me something seen as extremely negative in our culture, something that get's people fired from their jobs and socially ostracized, exclusively based on the color of my skin, I seee that as being called a bad person.

There are myriad of less inflammatory ways to enter a productive discussion.
posted by tkchrist at 7:06 PM on January 18, 2010


Actually it could easily be the greatest problem with the equation. If the family ticks "Joe" off enough enough he just may say "You know what? Fuck you! I really don't care where my Grandfather got his money and I'm sure as hell not giving you any of my money." Actually this is the far more likely scenario anyway.

So, what's the takeaway here? "Don't do anything to piss off the people who are benefiting from inequality for fear that they might decide to make things worse?"
posted by KathrynT at 7:09 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


tkchrist, I don't see the conflict between my two statements. White is a social construct, so when I say "all white people are racist" it doesn't mean I think the skin color itself causes racist beliefs. I could say it this way, all white thinking is racist. White thinking (e.g. racist stereotypes upholding white supremacy) is exhibited by everyone in Western society, regardless of skin color, but the social hierarchy makes it so skin color and ethnicity have a lot to do with where you are on that hierarchy. Those are separate but interrelated things. White people are less likely to see or acknowledge racism because of their socialization; they were socialized in this way based on the color of their skin (and that of their forbears).

you'll certainly not foster any productive discussion with statements like that as your thesis

First, I don't agree that there can't be productive discussion. This is productive discussion to me, and yet I made the statement. Even if all we discuss is how my words "shut down discussion". Second, that was not my thesis. My point was on the different ways we perceive "racism" itself, which is also the point of FPP.

It might leave you having the exact same conversation with the exact same people you've always had it with leaving you exactly where you started.

MikeMc, first let me just say that I have never made that statement in "mixed company" before. I have never ever said it where white people could hear it. So for me, this has already been productive. In addition, since I've never said it where white people could hear it, I've also never said it here, at Metafilter. So I most certainly won't be having the conversation with "the exact same people."

I'll also say that I have never caused any controversy with that belief before, primarily because the few times I've said it out loud I have been with other black people. The conversations I have had in which that statement was made are interesting ones too. Even if you (or any other white person) feel you cannot have a conversation with that statement out there, know that plenty of other people can and have. And people in your position can gain as much from listening as talking.
posted by Danila at 7:17 PM on January 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


So, what's the takeaway here? "Don't do anything to piss off the people who are benefiting from inequality for fear that they might decide to make things worse?"

The takeaway that "Joe" is under no obligation to make the other family whole for his grandfather's theft. By pissing Joe off he may just become bitter and angry and abandon his effort to recompense the other family. Who benefits from that? Bitter Joe? The family that will now never see a dime of that money?
posted by MikeMc at 7:19 PM on January 18, 2010


"Joe" is under no obligation to make the other family whole for his grandfather's theft.

. . . what? Of course he is. Why wouldn't he be? It's not his money; it was stolen property.
posted by KathrynT at 7:22 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.
This seems right to me, and as a white male, it's why I don't care about racism. Racism isn't particular actions or attitudes held by an identifiable group of people who can be "fixed", and as a result, it's very much not my problem.
posted by planet at 7:29 PM on January 18, 2010


Of course he is. Why wouldn't he be? It's not his money; it was stolen property.
posted by KathrynT at 9:22 PM on January 18 [+] [!]


This is the point in our play where bitter, angry Joe says; "Prove it. Prove the money in my wallet and bank account is the money stolen from your grandfather. Now, I know Granddad stole $5,000 from your grandfather but he blew that money on liquor and whores back in '51. My money is clean money, hard earned, every cent. I thought I was doing the right thing but it appears I was wrong. Good day." And that's pretty much how the play always ends...
posted by MikeMc at 7:44 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the point in our play where bitter, angry Joe says; "Prove it. Prove the money in my wallet and bank account is the money stolen from your grandfather. Now, I know Granddad stole $5,000 from your grandfather but he blew that money on liquor and whores back in '51. My money is clean money, hard earned, every cent. I thought I was doing the right thing but it appears I was wrong. Good day." And that's pretty much how the play always ends...

What's your point? Who's the hero of that particular play? Who has the responsibility for changing that dialogue?
posted by KathrynT at 7:45 PM on January 18, 2010


(from above)It's kind of like trying to start a conversation about feminism by first establishing the fact that all men are rapists. -
No. Replace rapists, with gender biases. or sexism... rape is a physical power, rape is a coercive use of physical power.... meanwhile sexism... as racism (as Danila fantastically described, so I feel dumb adding this) are uses of power that are not physical, or even consciously enacted... they are inculcated via cultural means.

and yes, once we replace rapists, with Gender-prejudiced...it's like saying that all (99.999999) men have been raised in a society where men are simply treated better, and given some sort of mythical status as "hunter-killers", "tough", "leaders", "strong".... and a whole bunch of other evil (yet not Easily identifiable factors)

and then we can have the start of a more clear conversation... because this article and the people living in the world can see that it is not that there is "raping" (or the equivalent level of violence with racism) being done every day... it is a thousand and one Micro-racism factors... small things, that add up, and I think this article is very interesting in how it looks at the way the various environments of living create different
"disparate perceptual frameworks are created and reinforced."
(Second time today seeing Levi-Strauss Approved materials.)

This thread seems to be a microcosm of the very things being described- ie. the more someone tries to lock down and describe in words why something is or isn't racist... the more people say prove it, and the more one must begin giving examples from life, which leads to more people saying a pile of anecdote doesn't make anecdata...which leads to frustration... which... well, I'm white, and I know it exists, but I don't know how to describe the impact of it... but it is there, I can see it, and I have had it described to me.
Equality of opportunity does not equal equality of situation.
and situation hugely impacts opportunity.
Importantly;
It's not "one" white guy that makes or has made society the crappy unequal way it is... but One white guy can make a difference in bringing about a BETTER way of having our society interact and come together. And one white guy can also have a NEGATIVE effect on the overall levels of equality.
One person at a time stopping and thinking about society, and understanding that the inequality is not inherent... it is derived from previous inequalities and exploitations... the world as we see it today did not just fall together with no prior history or events.. (I say this because there is a tendency to immediately get defensive, or want to stop a conversation when non "name-calling" racism, or the kind that is experienced, and real, but not seen, or heard by so many parts of society, is brought up.)
posted by infinite intimation at 7:57 PM on January 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


What's your point? Who's the hero of that particular play? Who has the responsibility for changing that dialogue?

Maybe it's a refutation of the concept of collective guilt or the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons. As for the hero,well, there isn't one.
posted by MikeMc at 7:59 PM on January 18, 2010


Hell. My life sure would be even easier if I bought into the exploitation system even further. Making all those short cuts in life would buy me a much nicer retirement and probably add alot more security to my life. And trust me it would be so easy.
What, specifically, would you have done differently? I mean the whole question of privilege is that it's a question of how other people treat you. I don't think you can really 'play up' your white maleness in a way that actually benefits you.

I mean since I'm a guy, I don't have to put up with a lot of the annoyances that women have to deal with. It makes no difference how pro-feminist or sexist I might be. other people's behavior towards me doesn't change.

Anyway, I do think it's a little ridiculous to say, "All white people are racist". It's like that movie Crash where everyone is racist some way, even the minorities. And that movie sucked, right?
I don't really feel good about that, but what am I supposed to think when an idea which to me seems ridiculous on its face has 84.1% acceptance in the sampled black population?
Well, look how many people thought Saddam had a hand in 9/11. How many white conservatives think Obama is a Muslim or wasn't born in the U.S? Incorrect beliefs permeate our society; obviously those beliefs are going to be culturally bound.

Also, keep in mind that the CIA really did did support drug traffickers in the past. In fact, right around the time of the so-called "crack explosion" the CIA was working with Nicaraguan rebels who were importing cocaine directly to LA. Cocaine is the main ingredient in crack.
I could say it this way, all white thinking is racist. White thinking (e.g. racist stereotypes upholding white supremacy) is exhibited by everyone in Western society, regardless of skin color
The problem with that is that it's very racist. I mean suppose you take some negative stereotype about black people and called it "black thinking" And then say something like "just because you're black doesn't mean you have to be 'black thinking'". It would be pretty offensive. Like Robert Byrd's "White Niggers" comment.
posted by delmoi at 8:11 PM on January 18, 2010


Maybe it's a refutation of the concept of collective guilt or the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons.

Who said guilt or sin has anything to do with it?

If the son didn't steal, then the son isn't guilty, or sinful. But if the son is collecting interest on stolen money? That's not right, and he needs to give it back. And in truth, that's a lot of what (white|male|whatever) privilege is, is collecting interest on stolen money. The original theft might be "in the past," but the subtle opportunity costs persist, and persist, and persist.
posted by KathrynT at 8:13 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


TK, I see what you are saying (about it being a taboo to be called racist today, but I think we should see the point being made... that more 'white' people being aware of how skin colour, and other artifacts of differing lines of ancestry affect how we are treated in society.), perhaps this is a problem with how society behaves... maybe we make such a huge deal over people who are called obvious racists (and ARE obvious racists, and should be ignored, and knocked out of the discourse by voices of cooperation and voices seeking true solutions, voices who aren't afraid to look at reality and say, that inequality is unacceptable.) so that we don't have to look deeper and see more of the ingrained biases... the ones that are not acted, but are in every one of the institutions that effect us day to day...

I mean we have institutionalized profiling of Muslims... that was ok (to some) but now there was a man who was not "Muslim looking" (whatever that is) and was from Africa... so is profiling African Americans ok now? (btw, a recent poll showed that 35% of American Muslims describe themselves as African American)

FRAK NO. That is not ok.
(But as anyone who has seen numbers on cases of DWB, or experienced it themselves will say... we have racial profiling as an institutional practice... and it seems to be more popular by the day.)
posted by infinite intimation at 8:13 PM on January 18, 2010


This is productive discussion to me, and yet I made the statement.

Well, good for you. I'm glad we could be a breakthough moment for you. Where do I send the bill?

Are we to judge how productive a discussion on this community is by weather or not you personally get off on racially stereotyping millions of people?

I was like you once. But then I was lead to realize that utilizing Metafilter threads for the purpose of ones personal therapy at the expense of insulting huge swaths of the community is bad form.

You seem to have very personal and overly broad definitions of concepts like "Racism", "Discussions", "Nuance" and "Productivity." Perhaps your conception of the term "Troll" is equally broad. I hate to assume so.

I guess I have finally met somebody with more tenuous grasp of the concept of Metafilter as a community than myself. Congratulations.

This depresses me. If attitudes like yours flourish —ones that lazily generalize and alienate based on race—then little will change in this world. I honestly wish you the best and sincerely hope you one day see the mistake you're making here.

A really wise woman told me this once: you will find what your looking for— just be sure on what it is you're seeking.

Good luck.
posted by tkchrist at 8:17 PM on January 18, 2010


The problem with that is that it's very racist. I mean suppose you take some negative stereotype about black people and called it "black thinking" And then say something like "just because you're black doesn't mean you have to be 'black thinking'".

I should have been more clear. Everyone in this society falls prey to this type of thinking and racist ideology, not just white people. These are ideas promulgated to maintain the status of the dominant group. It's the attitudes and the beliefs that underlie assimilating, or "acting white" . I could have said "white supremacist thinking" but I'm not talking about (just) the KKK, I'm talking about anyone who has an interest in upholding white supremacy. People of color think this way too at times, in order to survive, and for many, in order to assimilate. It's not even always a conscious thing. I agree that "white thinking" wasn't the best way for me to describe what I meant.
posted by Danila at 8:25 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


What's your point? Who's the hero of that particular play? Who has the responsibility for changing that dialogue?

Who do you think your trying to convince with this hostility of yours. What are you attempting to achieve. Because it';s nothing productive for the community.

Look, if hypothetical Joe has stolen property then that has to be proven in a court of law for him to be legally compelled to do anything. Right? You literally cannot force Joe to anything without some sort of legal action. In court of law one is innocent before PROVEN guilty. And so far in this country this method has not worked out so well. But you can pursue it.

OR.

You want to return this property to who you believe are it's rightful owneres, right? That is your compelling moral motivation. The end result of helping people get back what was once thiers, right? This is called JUSTICE, right? Something that benefits all of society as a whole. Not merely something punitive.

So. What you CAN do is convince Joe of his moral obligation to return stolen property. How do do that?

By calling Joe a racist, sight unseen? Before you know shit about Joe as an individual. All you know about are the sins of his fathers. But it could be Joe is a respected member of his community and does right by his outsider-group neighbors. Do you really think your gonna compel Joe to help you achieve justice with inflammatory rhetoric? If so then you are not interested in justice. You're interested in bullshit.

No, you have to convince him that A) his property was indeed stolen. And B) Returning it is net good for everybody (and not against his self interest - IE he wont get shit on for doing so).

Do you see my point here.

You can make a compelling moral argument by being an asshole and insulting people. If you want to do that then nothing will change because you don't have the power, with anything other than useless outrage and hate, to MAKE them change with this tactic.

That I have to convince you of this simple fact about creating an environment that fosters real justice on MLK day is astounding to me.



.
posted by tkchrist at 8:32 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can make a compelling moral argument = You can't
posted by tkchrist at 8:35 PM on January 18, 2010


Who do you think your trying to convince with this hostility of yours. What are you attempting to achieve. Because it';s nothing productive for the community.

I'm not sure why you think I'm being hostile; perhaps you're conflating me with someone else?

What I'm attempting to achieve is to demonstrate that 1) when you grow up in a power structure that favors you, that favoritism colors your worldview no matter how much you wish it didn't and 2) the discomfort of the favored on being called out is not the greatest harm done by favoritism. I believe that this discussion IS productive for the community; otherwise, I wouldn't keep doing it. Why do you believe it's not?
posted by KathrynT at 8:38 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


And in truth, that's a lot of what (white|male|whatever) privilege is, is collecting interest on stolen money. The original theft might be "in the past," but the subtle opportunity costs persist, and persist, and persist.

Well that's the rub isn't it? Many, if not most, white people in America don't believe they are "collecting interest on stolen money" and any effort they put forth in the area of race relations isn't because they feel obligated but that it's the right thing to do. Sooo, when someone comes along, looks and their efforts and says "What? You expect me to to thank you for that?" they're apt to become confused or frustrated or angry (or any combination thereof). tkchrist expressed it very succinctly: "So. Then what the fuck? Why care anymore? Why not exploit your advantages and fuck attempting to do all the right things?" And many people do just that. Nobody is asking for a ticker tape parade, they're just asking for the acknowledgment that they're making a sincere effort to improve things.
posted by MikeMc at 8:43 PM on January 18, 2010


I see that in the long time I've taken to write this there was a comment about the opening personal anecdote, a.k.a. "stupid spat". Frankly I found the story pretty interesting...

I might have found the story interesting too, but not the way he framed it. I'm not the target audience for his article, but I bet anyone even tangentially related to field could figure out who Mr. Miller is with all of the identifying details he left in the article. Maybe I'm used to science papers, and this is totally a-ok in law papers (in which case I apologize for my derailment) but I find using an academic journal for character assassination distasteful and supremely distracting to any point being made. He could have easily written an anecdote about an acquaintance who was reamed out at a widgets conference, or just used an example that wouldn't be identifiable. It would have gotten his point across rather than the latest lawyer conference drama.
posted by fermezporte at 8:44 PM on January 18, 2010


I believe and understand that people are apt to become confused, angry, frustrated, whatever when they aren't thanked (or aren't thanked sufficiently) for doing the right thing. But I also believe and understand that the fault there lies in the people who are expecting to be thanked, not the ones who aren't doing the thanking. I mean, I don't expect the ASPCA to call me every evening and thank me for not kicking puppies; I just don't kick puppies.
posted by KathrynT at 8:46 PM on January 18, 2010


No. Replace rapists, with gender biases. or sexism...

No. What images come to mind when you examine the terms "racism" and "racist" through the lens of American history? Rape, murder, lynchings, slavery, genocide, plantations, reservations, The Middle Passage, The Trail of Tears, cross burnings, church bombings, fire hoses, attack dogs on on and on. I think rapist is an analogous term in the context of this discussion.
posted by MikeMc at 8:51 PM on January 18, 2010


when you grow up in a power structure that favors you, that favoritism colors your worldview no matter how much you wish it didn't and

First off nobody is disagree about the favoritism afforded by ones skin color. Nobody. But then you characterize the statement with "no matter how much you wish they didn't." that is a strawman. And pretty combative.




2) the discomfort of the favored on being called out is not the greatest harm done by favoritism.

We are talking about the people HERE in this community right now objecting to being called racist only because of the color of their skin. That is NOT a way to engage people. It's a way to inflame people.

Your talking to the converted here. 90% of us here freely understand our privilege. Some of us have worked pretty hard and trying to change things.

I believe that this discussion IS productive for the community; otherwise, I wouldn't keep doing it. Why do you believe it's not?

Oh. Gee. I don't know. Maybe when you came in accusing me of wanting people to prostrate themselves to me just because I don't want to be shit on because of the color of my skin. When I spoke of my self interest I was referring to the fact that I'm a business owner. There is a significant amount of pressure for me to compete by utilizing what I think are exploitative practices. I consciously resist this at expense to my livelihood so I can do the right thing. When I get shit on for doing the right thing, and that's what you do when you assume I'm not working to make things better, and calling somebody a racist implies that to me, it makes me question why I work so hard. Why not take short cuts like everybody else?

Yes. I take offense at being called a racist because I have fought my whole life against racism and supremacy. I tell you what when you get the shit beat out of you by skinheads, come talk to me. But you don't know shit about me and you make an assumption simply by virtue of my skin color. Maybe that had something to do with me not thinking you wanted anything productive to come out of this.

Look. If you interested in making things better for people, for ALL people, then the punitive 'YOU'RE ALL RACIST" is not a very good start. It will not help. You have to convince people of their moral obligation AND their long term self interest. Insulting them is not a method that yields results even if you feel the insult is an objective truth.
posted by tkchrist at 8:54 PM on January 18, 2010


I mean, I don't expect the ASPCA to call me every evening and thank me for not kicking puppies; I just don't kick puppies.

Would you expect them to thank you for donating your time and/or money to support their efforts to end animal cruelty? There is a difference between making a positive effort to do something good and just not doing something bad you know.
posted by MikeMc at 8:54 PM on January 18, 2010


I believe and understand that people are apt to become confused, angry, frustrated, whatever when they aren't thanked (or aren't thanked sufficiently) for doing the right thing.

Man. I so want to tell you to fuck off right now. But I'm gonna assume good faith and you don't get it.

Nobody wants to be thanked. Okay? What is so hard for you to understand here? There is a light year between asking to be thanked and asking to not be stereotyped negatively.

When you assume I'm racist you assume I'm not interested in social change and social good. that is very insulting to me.
posted by tkchrist at 8:57 PM on January 18, 2010


I don't expect the ASPCA to call me every evening and thank me for not kicking puppies; I just don't kick puppies.

Yes you do. You still exploit and are cruel to animals. Which is just like kicking puppies. And by that accusation I mean you support an entire system that benefits from the cruelty and exploitation of animals.


See how that works?
posted by tkchrist at 9:00 PM on January 18, 2010


a propositional theory..

Language; barrier to discourse, or the greatest thing that people have invented. (hint, greatest human invention)

Getting positive action completed seems to be made more difficult by our language simply having so many trigger words and emotionally tied words, and historical political connotations attached to them (ALL of our words have subtext)... because our language has so many ideas and underlying "nuanced connections" from each word to various historical events and time periods and belief systems; in order to say ANYTHING Danila would have to write that paragraph simply explaining herself every time she posted, amongst which the tl;dr'ers would just skip over everything she was saying... whereas, she said 'white thinking'... we all knew what she meant, and maybe it made some people go, woah, I'm not racist, but my European ancestors were white skinned... but I'm not racist... but then once you were paying attention, she explained, and we moved on, hopefully taking in the actual point that was being made (and made very well, and not related to anyone in this thread, but white people are some of the most sensitive people I know regarding "racism"...or rather "reverse racism" or whatever that phenomenon is being called today, yet it seems that the slightest suggestion that there exists in our society a pervasive racism towards the non dominant culture (which is "Modern",western "Enlightened" "Liberal" "Democracy"), leads to a strange anger by so many folks.


On preview, aren't we losing sight of everything with this hypothetical joe now?
I mean, if the guy who stole something was refusing to even acknowledge that it had ever belonged to anyone else, or that anyone else deserved a piece of it... then the thief isn't going to change their mind just because the person who lost out sat silently and didn't raise a fuss, and didn't get mad at an injustice... and said nothing to them from the back of the bus... well, as it happened, Joe didn't CARE that his grandpa had stolen the neighbors entire possessions
...Until a Woman stood up and recognized that all power is not coercive, and she seized the inherent power of taking action, and decided to make a deal of it (she wasn't standing against a whip... but rather the pernicious and vile racism that happened to be actually harming HER in her life.
second preview, MMC, see.. but that's not the entirety of racism though... and to deny that there is more to racism than the parts where we were ACTUALLY torturing physically our fellow human beings... while a vile and horrible PART of racism... it is putting aside the point that is being made about the larger history of Racism.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:00 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tkchrist and MikeMc: Please try to remember that you speak only for yourselves.

I'm sure I'm not the only person, white or otherwise, completely unconvinced by your assertions about the lack of potential for productivity in speaking about race and racism the way that Danila, and her community that she refers to, does.

Ironically, it's your (unrelenting) insistence that certain ideas and phrasings of ideas can only stifle conversation that are actually stifling the conversation.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:09 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Infinite intimation: the problem isn't language it's the unappologetic use of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotypes.
posted by tkchrist at 9:09 PM on January 18, 2010


Oh for fucks sake tkchrist you poor oppressed little white person. How difficult it must be for you to live in this world where the meager white people are held under water by those mighty brown folk who obviously have it in for you. I'm so sick of your sophomore bullshit that I can hardly bring myself to make a coherent response to your nonsense. "Reverse racism" is the most vile bugaboo the right-wing has ever released on western society and you buy it, hook, line, and sinker. It's so completely, utterly obvious to everyone else that the U.S. is a ridiculously racist place - and by racist, I mean, white people abusing colored people - except you feel you are being abused by being lumped in with the rest of us. It's a bullshit, empty position. I have so much respect for you otherwise and it frustrates me to no end seeing the nonsense you espouse in these threads.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:12 PM on January 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


Ironically, it's your (unrelenting) insistence that certain ideas and phrasings of ideas can only stifle conversation that are actually stifling the conversation.

I was speaking for myself. And your free to disagree. But. We'll see how productive you think it is when some white dude pops in with an equally absurd racial stereotype, right?

Anyway. Have at it. This derail has run it's course.
posted by tkchrist at 9:13 PM on January 18, 2010


There is no such thing as reverse racism.
posted by tkchrist at 9:14 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


How difficult it must be for you to live in this world where the meager white people are held under water by those mighty brown folk who obviously have it in for you.

I can't speak for tk but the only people that give me a rash are liberal white know it alls. Wait, I just got a call from the "brown folk" they all said thanks, you just made life better on metafilter. I'm gonna show how smart I am by being hard to cypher.
posted by nola at 9:21 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The focus on people in here doesn't make sense... this is becoming an ad hominem (not just meaning calling names, but rather making the discussion "about the person") discussion... all about the few people in here... rather than the wider issues, of which there are many.
No, I don't think it makes sense to come out here and thank the specific people in here... without some context how can the people looking at these ideas with you know if you do or don't kick puppies, or if you donate to the WWF, or if you use shampoo tested on rabbits... who can know, we can only know what is said here, now.
And a dismissal of other personal experiences out of hand is equally hard place to get out of, as is talking in Races (biologico-statistically; there is more genetic difference between two individuals who are identified as the same "race" in terms of the colonialist definitions of race.. as there are between two people of "different" "races"... so that's my horse in this race... I think we are all a whole load more the similar than we are different.)


But again I have to suggest that this is a microcosm of the exact point being made by the article.
As the discussion unfolds it is clear that there is awareness of issues of inequality, AND statements from a position of compassion for others from everyone here.. so really we are all reading the same book... just a few pages off.
I'd end with;
It's just not about us here on MF, there is a lot more understanding of historical inequalities here in THIS particular community, and how prejudice manifest themselves in the present is not the same as the past... so for us to simply rail against Slavery... would miss out on all of the time, and history that occurred since then.
Lastly I'd say there really has been a furthering of the discussion here... this really isn't a loss, and I have seen some really interesting thoughts written out here.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:24 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tkchrist and MikeMc: Please try to remember that you speak only for yourselves.

And here this whole time I thought I was speaking for you and tkchrist was speaking for me.

I'm sure I'm not the only person, white or otherwise, completely unconvinced by your assertions


There's some potential "speak for yourself" snark here but it's time for me to turn in...
posted by MikeMc at 9:24 PM on January 18, 2010


But again I have to suggest that this is a microcosm of the exact point being made by the article.

And I competely agree with you. And the point is how do you discuss it in a community of people fairly?
posted by tkchrist at 9:26 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is "fairly" the most important adjective? Is it more appropriate to discuss racism and the problems it brings fairly than it is to discuss them accurately, or truthfully, or meaningfully? How many experiences should we be prepared to leave out of the discussion for fear of hurting some white person's feelings?
posted by KathrynT at 9:44 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I completely agree with you. And the question becomes, are we discussing it honestly, if a whole lot of the posts in the experience of non majority experiences are about how someone else discussed it? (just implying that the true snowflakes can sometimes get lost in the bucket of water and beans).
Maybe the MeFi wide institution of a mandatory emoticon policy, so that we will know how people are making their points, :) happy, sad :( distressed :\ ... sometimes an amazing comment can be ignored simply for how it was made... :| this is my serious face.

Sometimes "societal fair", and "conversation with friends fair" don't line up, I personally think we need some "unfair" things to be said occasionally so that we can see how important it is to talk about the enormous list of issues in the modern world. Actually, pretty much what Delmoi said way up there.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:49 PM on January 18, 2010


Why is "fairly" the most important adjective? Is it more appropriate to discuss racism and the problems it brings fairly than it is to discuss them accurately, or truthfully, or meaningfully? How many experiences should we be prepared to leave out of the discussion for fear of hurting some white person's feelings?

When your prepared to drop the constant strawmen then I suppose a discussion can begin.

Things can be discussed fairly AND truthfully AND meaningfully. But I have the sneaking suspicion you may not be interested in any of those things.
posted by tkchrist at 9:52 PM on January 18, 2010


I admit that I didn't think the statement "I think all white people are racist" would be as controversial here, mainly because it's partially what the FPP is about (the differences in how we perceive "racism" and the segregated perceptions that ensue), and also because I thought I made pretty clear in the very next statement that this perception of mine isn't the end of the matter.

Robinson's primary point is that white people and black people define racism differently, and this leads to different interpretations of the same event/act. He argues that whites tend to present (not necessarily actually have) a more colorblind perspective. It seems to me that many do not like being reminded that color exists and that it matters, so when black people point it out, this exposure is viewed as more racist than whatever racist thing we were pointing at.

This is just another example of white supremacist belief. This colorblind perspective is the "proper" one to have, and if you "see color" whether you are a person of color or one of those KKK racists, then you have the wrong perspective. As Robinson points out, white people will see you as "negative" and "pessimistic" if you say that racism is everywhere in spite of racial progress. Perhaps they will even call you "hostile" or accuse you of being the real racist. However, colorblindness itself leads to a perpetuation of racist stratification.

The other perspective Robinson calls the "pervasive prejudice perspective" and he describes it thus:

This definition of discrimination is interactional and is not predicated on bad intent. Blacks tend to believe that race-consciousness is necessary to detect racism leaking out in the numerous interactions with nonblacks that happen each day. While many whites view race-consciousness as an evil that must be strenuously avoided, blacks tend to see race-consciousness as critical to their survival in white-dominated realms.

I really don't feel hostile towards whites at all. Racism just is, it's a fact of life right now. The pie has to be divided up and someone has to have the most, and this society has decided to divide the pie along racial lines. But it doesn't have to be inevitable, and I believe honesty is the best strategy for overcoming racist tendencies in our lives. I have had to be more aware of not only the racism of others, but my own self-hatred and racism because otherwise I honestly would not have survived.
posted by Danila at 10:01 PM on January 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I personally think we need some "unfair" things to be said occasionally so that we can see how important it is to talk about the enormous list of issues in the modern world.

This is not unreasonable.

And in fact there much of Danalia's post I found very interesting. In fact I don't think she is bad person at all and as I said to her I see a great deal of myself in her words. Good and bad. But that's not the point.

If one person is given the latitude to be "honest" then one must extend the same courtesy to all members of the site.

A topic like this emotions are going to run high, as is the propensity to adhoms and strawmen (as we have seen), so why exacerbate the dialogue with intentionally inflammatory statements?

If we accept that as necessary then we'd better accept it from both sides of the coin. Which frankly I'd rather not see.
posted by tkchrist at 10:03 PM on January 18, 2010


Black people in this thread: "Hey folks, racism is more than just lynchings and shouting slurs at people and "No blacks, no Irish, no dogs" signs."

White people in this thread: "SHUT UP I'M NOT RACIST I'M A GOOD PERSON AND I REFUSE TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY THAT ANYONE LESS BAD THAN THE KU KLUX KLAN IS RACIST BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING WORSE THAN RACISM WHICH IS A PERFECT, TOTAL EVIL AND I AM NOT THAT"
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:04 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pope nobody even came close to saying that. God this is depressing. So much for honesty. Bye y'all.
posted by tkchrist at 10:07 PM on January 18, 2010


tkchrist: A topic like this emotions are going to run high, as is the propensity to adhoms and strawmen (as we have seen), so why exacerbate the dialogue with intentionally inflammatory statements?

Like these?

Well, good for you. I'm glad we could be a breakthough moment for you. Where do I send the bill?

Are we to judge how productive a discussion on this community is by weather or not you personally get off on racially stereotyping millions of people?

I was like you once. But then I was lead to realize that utilizing Metafilter threads for the purpose of ones personal therapy at the expense of insulting huge swaths of the community is bad form.

You seem to have very personal and overly broad definitions of concepts like "Racism", "Discussions", "Nuance" and "Productivity." Perhaps your conception of the term "Troll" is equally broad. I hate to assume so.

I guess I have finally met somebody with more tenuous grasp of the concept of Metafilter as a community than myself. Congratulations.


For what it's worth, I'm white. I think I'm a part of this community. I wasn't insulted by what Danila had to say, and I'm glad she stuck around to expand on her point.

That I have to convince you of this simple fact about creating an environment that fosters real justice on MLK day is astounding to me.

Now *that* I found insulting.
posted by bakerina at 10:13 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


"real justice" is that special kind of justice in which we all pretend that racist behavior isn't ongoing and nigh-universal. Wouldn't want to hurt white people's feelings, after all, and like all things in our totally not racist society full of totally not racist white people who are trying their hardest doncha know, race relations must only be discussed in a manner that puts the feelings of white people front and center. We must only discuss American race relations if we can do it without offending white people or making white people feel bad, because how white people feel is more important than any other factor in the discussion.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:18 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


This may not be a completely unique observation, but it strikes me that the differing perspectives on the word 'racist' is a dim mirror of the difference in privilege. On the one hand, you have a group that's disinclined to perceive a problem with discrimination, because they will never experience that discrimination, even if they try. On the other, is a group that doesn't find 'racist' especially insulting, because that term would be extremely difficult to stick to themselves.

To phrase it another way, it seems that it is as clear to black people that racism is still a problem, as it is clear to white people that 'racist' isn't something you call someone lightly. That seems to be about where this discussion ended up.

Now obviously, one of these things is not like the other, and it sounds like white people need to sack up and get used to the parlance of our times.
posted by breath at 10:56 PM on January 18, 2010


That I have to convince you of this simple fact about creating an environment that fosters real justice on MLK day is astounding to me.

tkchrist, on real justice (and fairness, and equality), a few things Dr. King said:

Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.

A good many observers have remarked that if equality could come at once the Negro would not be ready for it. I submit that the white American is even more unprepared. via here and here
posted by Danila at 11:03 PM on January 18, 2010


Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.

Fixed that for you. There is nothing special about white people being racist.

Seriously, every people, in every country in the world is brought up - educated and informed from birth! - to believe a whole variety of racist assumptions. And it's really difficult (I would contend, impossible) to be completely free of them.

Now, we can draw a very fuzzy distinction between say, aggressive and passive racism (ie, "god i can't stand [group x] because they... [blah blah blah] I wish they weren't here" and "oh really, you're a [profession not normally associated with group x]?". The former is sort of an active dislike and a desire to keep separate, while the latter is the result of indoctrination about what to expect of people from different racial/ethnic groups. I don't think that most people are aggressively racist (although there are plenty of them out there!), but I think pretty much everyone is passively racist. All colours, all countries. And all in their own unique way. Because you cannot escape it. Prof Miller could well have been passively racist and a jerk to boot - somewhat unaware of why this guy rankled him more than the others.

Anyway, I thought the premise of the article was very interesting. Or at least the terminology of outsider vs insider. I read it as making the point that to the outsider, passive racism permeates everything. But to the insider, only aggressive racism exists, and that is such an extreme accusation to make, that the insider *needs* to believe that the accusation is always false.
posted by molecicco at 12:07 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


or lets throw out black and white and race and talk about casteism.

no difference really, in how the untouchables are treated in India. worse than apartheid since no law can be changed to remove it, root it out of society in which it has been embedded. religiously since millenia.

they as for a 'voice', what becomes their platform for "civil rights" for centuries of discrimination and outright 'shunning'

we're talking about dominant logic and the system of self entitlement it permeates
posted by infini at 12:29 AM on January 19, 2010


I should clarify, I don't want my comment to come across as "everyone is racist what's the big deal" - I do think racism is a big deal. And I think the racism of the group which is economically and politically on top is especially a big deal, because their racism more often manifests itself in very real, and constant, consequences for those who are not in the dominant position. (Ie Han Chinese racism against Uighurs is more important to address than the reverse).
posted by molecicco at 1:32 AM on January 19, 2010


"microcosm", "community".
posted by kaspen at 2:19 AM on January 19, 2010


I found Danilas statements extremely enlightening and though-provoking throughout, including her seemingly "inflammatory" claim, and I think it didn't shut down dialogue at all. It shocked me into thinking about how pervasive racism is. It also made me see the parallels between racism and sexism (I'm a white female).
Sexism and racism are not attitudes we have. They are attitudes which have us.
There should be more discussions like this, even if they are uncomfortable for both sides.
posted by The Toad at 2:45 AM on January 19, 2010


Pt 4 has some really crazy implications. I'm not sure if they're intentional or not, but to replace "reasonable person" with "reasonable African-American" or "reasonable woman" etc. in anti-discrimination law is to open a giant can of worms about racializing the legal system even moreso than it is now.

This is not new and his approach to it is totally derivative -- over the past three decades, scholars of critical race theory and feminist jurisprudence (such as Catherine MacKinnon) have been talking about the idea of expanding our conception of a "reasonable person" to recognize people's experiences of race and gender with far more clarity than the mumbling happening here. This guy comes off like a third-rate Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, and the article reads like an undergraduate sociology paper.

As a bit of background: the paper's anecdotal, story-telling approach is common in critical legal studies and especially critical race theory. Some critical race theorists present their arguments through person anecdotes or stories, others present their arguments in the form of entirely fictional stories (and of course still others use other methods). It's very different from the rational, empirical, precedent-oriented approach commonly employed in legal scholarship.

Yes, but is article is a poor example of this approach, which can often yield compelling and insightful analysis. I highly recommend the writings of Patricia J. Williams (only one among many others) for a lucid and bracing take on the role of personal experience in thinking about how we make and see the law.

I wish we had a better launching pad to discuss the questions raised by scholars in the Critical Race Theory movement. I think some of the more tendentious elements of the discussion here are a result of the sloppiness of this article.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:47 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I could say it this way, all white thinking is racist. White thinking (e.g. racist stereotypes upholding white supremacy) is exhibited by everyone in Western society, regardless of skin color

The urgent problem with this statement is not its racism, but that it is upheld by the very same circular reasoning that girds nearly every discussion of race on this site - that White is not merely a racial descriptor like Black, but a construct synonymous with unearned social privileges; and that these two meanings are loosely interchangeable, and that such lazy substitutions give us deep insight into nearly any situation in which race plays a part.

Proponents seem to think they have discovered a lean, neat algebra that can pressed into telling us why bad things happen to Non-White people. Not quite. What you have found is a way to talk about certain social dysfunctions as matters of social injustice. But this way of talking - while compelling as a call to arms, and with its ready antagonists on which to hang blame - is no more universal or true than these two classes of social ill are identical. Making synonyms of Whiteness or maleness and power - even the powers conferred by race or gender - is as reductive as pointing fingers at invisible cabals, Jews, or witches. Waving a PhD whilst doing so only makes it more embarrassing.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:30 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I first read the invisible knapsack idea, I have to admit as a white male it made me angry. It took me some time to get over that and to get down to really thinking about what it means. I see now that I have privileges that are inherent in what I am. But I also think that people who aren't white males are using it as a convenient shorthand for the advantages that come with being white and male without thinking about what might be in the invisible knapsack that they carry.

If you live in the United States or any other western democracy, than you have a great deal in your knapsack that others in the world do not. If you live in the United States and you speak English as your first language, than you have advantages that others in our country do not. If you grew up in a middle or upper class family, than you have advantages that others do not. If you were born with a greater than average intelligence, than you have advantages that 50% of people do not.

I think that an important part of the idea of the invisible knapsack for me was asking what is in MY knapsack. If you are just throwing around the idea of privilege without thinking about the advantages that YOU have, than in my opinion you are missing at least half the point. Being a woman or being a different race may put different things in your knapsack but your knapsack is not empty.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:07 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Late to the party, but the terms "racist" and "racism" are clearly getting in the way, and aren't of much use in other situations where a dominant social group has inherent advantages over other social groups in the same culture. (Lower-caste Indians, for one, or Japanese burakumin for another.)

"Racism" has three strkes against it. One, it assumes that race and not cultural dominance is the issue. Two, it smacks of an exceptionalism that just isn't there - the USA is not a special little snowflake unique in all the world in this regard, and white people don't have a "dominate dark-skinned people" gene. Three, it has cultural connotations that go far beyond academic discussion, and is a very bad word indeed for most whites. The term itself is broken beyond use because of this last point alone, and will get you =no= traction with otherwise intelligent and sympathetic white people. It's a word they use when confronting hard-core prejudice in their fellow whites, the swastikas-and-burning-crosses stuff, and when academics use it, it's totally not on the same plane. The conversation is mixed up and lost, and no-one knows where anyone is coming from.

So say "social privilege." Same thing, only capable of lots more layers of nuance and exploration and far less fighty.

White minorities, like Jews and Mennonites, now get to join the discussion - you may find their problems unimportant and trivial compared to those of Black Americans, but to say they simply don't exist, or stem from some other sociological phenomenon is wrong. Also, racial minorities who have seen themselves (wrongly) as not being subject to the "racist" problem get to be part of the discussion, too - South Asian and ethnic Arab or Perisan immigrants, for instance.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:31 AM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, let's frame the discussion so as to making addressing the white supremacist structure of American society impossible. Good idea.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:25 AM on January 19, 2010


i'm white. i'm racist. how can i *not* be? i grew up racist, in a racist society. i grew up seeing and hearing profoundly ignorant depictions of race, learning racist and sexist jokes that i am now embarassed to know, benefitting from all that demographic profiling, etc etc. being called a racist is not the worst thing that can happen to me. i'm not even a Nice White Lady.

somewhat related, a very good reddit comment about a post where someone confesses to having made a pretty racist outburst at someone.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:47 AM on January 19, 2010


i fail at html.
i'm not even a Nice White Lady
posted by rmd1023 at 9:56 AM on January 19, 2010


Yes, let's frame the discussion so as to making addressing the white supremacist structure of American society impossible. Good idea.

It's impossible if you use the word racist. Hell, white supremacist is also a loaded term. Nothing will get done unless you get rid of the loaded terms. I know, it sucks, you'd love to cram white-supremacist racist into every white man's face... but that solves nothing and knocks back progress on the issue. It sets up an us-vs-them mentality... and I hate to break it to you, that's what got us neck deep in this shit to begin with. This is politics, and you're going to lose every political battle this way by alienating otherwise sympathetic and supportive elements.

Re-frame the debate, or lose the debate. Your choice.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:10 AM on January 19, 2010


Thanks, Danila.
posted by cashman at 10:14 AM on January 19, 2010


I know, it sucks, you'd love to cram white-supremacist racist into every white man's face

I'm white myself, as a quick click on my username will reveal. I do want all white people to acknowledge the power structure and our role in perpetuating it.

This is politics, and you're going to lose every political battle this way by alienating otherwise sympathetic and supportive elements.

And my point remains that this is a naked call to permit the powerful to determine the terms by which, and the frame within which, the issue of power will be discussed. More than that, it's a demand that the individuals least interested in having an open and honest examination of the way power is distributed in our society be granted veto power on that examination.

Metafilter tends to come out against allowing Exxon to write environmental regulations and against allowing AIG to write banking regulations, but when it comes to the terms and conditions under which we discuss oppressive power structures, be they racism, sexism, or heterosexism, the demand is constant: that segment of the dominating class which is most against the discussion must be permitted to write the rules, and must be permitted to veto any idea or terminology or framework which makes them uncomfortable. To do otherwise is described as being outright immoral, as resistance to that absurd and obscene demand is characterized as being against progress, since progress can only be made by the consent of those who are against it.

This is insane and ridiculous.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:44 AM on January 19, 2010 [16 favorites]


What I find interesting is the strong personal reaction to the idea that 'all white people are racist'. The idea that an individual reading that could feel like they were being singled out and getting 'shit on', that their personal behaviour is being judged and found wanting, etc...

I tend to think of such personal identification with identity issues as markers of minority identity, more than the normative group (eg., I can listen to jokes about white people, men or straight people without feeling personally offended, because as the dominant group it means nothing serious to me. I'm an individual who is rarely described as "that white straight guy"). Anyway, I guess i was wrong about that, that for some people being 'white' is more of a conscious character than it seems to me.
It was interesting to read the reaction of someone who reacted to the charge of racism with the idea that people get fired and socially ostracised when labelled that way... I tend to think of the personal problem of racism in terms of improving my own character, and less about the social consequences of non-overt acts (or "averse", as mentioned above) racism, and have never thought about how owning a business would change the issue on a personal level.

The fact that there is systematic, institutional, and personal problems with racism ideas in our society doesn't seem like an offensive allegation to me. It seems like the reason everyone is trying to deal with racism where we find it. If the victims of racism see and feel stuff we don't notice don't they have a duty to speak up? How else will we know about it, get a chance to think about it? It's at least a socially awkward thing to have to do to make yourself the person who calls out bad behaviour... So, thanks to the original poster and Danila and the people who came in after, this has been an interesting read for me.
posted by ServSci at 12:04 PM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Stuffing things like race neutral band-aids into endless putative knapsacks has never been an honest examination of the way power is distributed in our society. It isn't even a particularly good thought experiment. It's a Rage Against the Machine song. It's a tremendous cry for justice, but not for information, a lot of heroic White navel-gazing that offers no more insight into the situation of the truly powerless than does a political cartoon.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:09 PM on January 19, 2010


Three, it has cultural connotations that go far beyond academic discussion, and is a very bad word indeed for most whites. The term itself is broken beyond use because of this last point alone, and will get you =no= traction with otherwise intelligent and sympathetic white people.

Oh no, otherwise intelligent and sympathetic white people will choose to be unintelligent and unsympathetic because they don't like a word. Cry me a fucking river.

I'm really way past the point of caring about traction with "intelligent and sympathetic white people", because the "debate", as you put it, always has to be on their terms, because they're so intelligent and so sympathetic, so they must be right and just. If it's not on their terms, then I "lose". So much for sympathy; so much for intelligence.

I was just talking about this the other day with a friend of mine, and he said to me, "Well, dude, you're pretty white." What he meant was, "You're a lot like me, same class, same education" which to him means "white". I said, "No, I'm really not," and he said, "Yeah, you are," and that was pretty much the end of the conversation, because there's nowhere to go from there. Even my best friends unconsciously believe that "white" is the highest claim to which one can aspire, and that by virtue of my class and status I have managed to transcend my "race", which to them is to my credit.

So excuse me if I'm feeling disinclined to abide by the terms of the "debate" as you have set forth, because if I have to reframe the debate in order to win it, what I really have to do is reframe myself into something more palatable to white people, and that doesn't sound awesome. Thanks anyway.
posted by Errant at 12:25 PM on January 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


He might have meant that you're quite privileged, and in ways that an awful lot of White people are not, and that the practice of using White as a shorthand for privilege was, in your case, quite funny.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:44 PM on January 19, 2010


"I really don't feel hostile towards whites at all. Racism just is, it's a fact of life right now. The pie has to be divided up and someone has to have the most, and this society has decided to divide the pie along racial lines"

This is getting to the crux of the problem. The thing is, white people like TKChrist have defined "Racist" to their own advantage: as in "Racists are those evil evil people we see in films. I am not an evil evil person, therefore I am not racist. So what are those silly colored people talking about?" As a white person, he has the privilege of using HIS version of the definition to set the conversation, or to derail any actual conversation on racial privilege, as the case may be.

Whereas the people actually affected by racism see racism as "the shit we have to put up with every day, and which advantages people like TKChrist". It's not an assessment of personal evil, it's a statement of what's going on. TKChrist and company are beneficiaries, but not necessarily active supporters. In fact the advantage of institutionalized racism is that people like TKChrist may reap the benefits, while still being solidly against "White Defined Racism".

Now one may say "well in that case, why not use a different, less loaded term?", and that has been done, with terms such as "white privilege". That gets into the same problem though, of deliberate misunderstandings to the advantage of the white audience "what do you mean privilege? I'm not privileged! Are you calling me racist?". And then we get into the same old derailment process of denial that one is racist, that one loves People of Color, and is doing all kinds of good things, and calling people racist is racist, etcetera, so on.

The bottom line though, as long as people like TKChrist are preoccupied with TELLING people of color what racism is, instead of actually LISTENING to what PoC are talking about, racial progress is going to be stalled in this country. And unfortunately I see no sign that white people at large are willing to listen, since they're so busy being loudly and aggressively defensive.
posted by happyroach at 12:51 PM on January 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


He might have meant that you're quite privileged, and in ways that an awful lot of White people are not, and that the practice of using White as a shorthand for privilege was, in your case, quite funny.

I think he did think it was funny. I get called "pretty white" by a lot of white people, and all of them seem to think they're being hilarious, and not one of them seems to think they might be insulting. Funny, that.

The problem I have with "Re-frame the debate, or lose the debate. Your choice." is that it is entirely accurate. I begin from a position of losing, white people begin from a position of winning, and unless I work hard and actively to win, I am going to lose. Which is to say, I have to convince those intelligent and sympathetic white people that this problem exists, in language that doesn't cause them to walk away insulted, and if I fail to convince according to whatever terms the person in question has decided, then there is no problem. That's a mug's game, and I'm uninterested in playing it.
posted by Errant at 1:04 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


if I have to reframe the debate in order to win it, what I really have to do is reframe myself into something more palatable to white people, and that doesn't sound awesome.

Not too big a straw-man, there. Why do you assume this has anything to do with you? There's a word that's pretty hurtful to white people... "racist"... that's being misused as a jumping off point for discussion. This has nothing to do with your self-identity, but respect for others' self identity. If you don't like being called white, I don't like being called racist, even if in both instances it's meant kindly. I'm an intelligent and reasonable person, and I absolutely rankle at the term. The term is so overused, and misunderstood, yet so inadequate and limiting, it needs to be retired in political contexts unless it's applied waaaay more selectively. This may not be the reality that pleases you, but it's the one you got.

You can either get whites to acknowledge they're racist because they're white, or you can get them to support affirmative action, oppose racial profiling, and patently explain to right-wing weirdos why that's not hypocritical. I really think you can't do both, except at the far-left edge of the political spectrum. The mountain isn't going to come to you. Come up with a different way to explain class privilege... like explaining it as class privilege, and how people unfairly get assigned to their rung on the ladder. Racism is as phony a construct as race itself, plus it's a fighting word.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2010


Happy roach I said repeatedly that I understand my privilege. Repeatedly. I have said over and over agree and understand the concept of the invisible knapsack. Please quit mischaracterizing what I have said here. What I do not like is being labeled becuase of the color of my skin. Yes. I have hold a differing conception of the term. the more common one. the one that actually stigmatizes and harms people accused of it.

The ONLY comment I disagreed with, ONE comment (other than ever subsequent facile characterization of my comment and then me getting emotional and pissed) was the absolutist statement "All White People Are Racist." To me this is a very different thing from a nuanced discussion of priveldge - even though Danalia went on to elaborate.

I can't NOT be white. So there for if you accept the statement "All White People Are Racist" as fact then white person can never, ever, not be racist. No matter what they do. I asked where do we go from there/ What can I then do to ever be considered not racist? Is it possible? As long as there are white people there will then be racism.

And, if you believe the statement to be true and you're white then... first, I'm not sure why I should listen to the advice of a bunch of all but admitted racists who will always be racist. Second please all of racists put "I am a racist" in your profile for all to see. I dare you.

But you won't. Becuase it everybody ELSE that's the racist. People are more intersted in grudes and pileons and accusations that actually understanding where I'm coming from. Everone, ironically but Danallia.

No matter how much you think you agree with Danalia's interpretation of the concept NONE of you enjoy being called a racist. And if your white, you're a racist.
posted by tkchrist at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2010


it hurts sometimes the sting of realizing that someone has tarred, brushed and labelled you based on something you cannot change but must live with every single day
posted by infini at 1:33 PM on January 19, 2010


-Jay Smooth (YouTube)

"...the 'what they are' conversation on the other hand takes things one step further and uses what they did and what they said to draw conclusions about what kind of person they are. This is also known as the "I think you are racist" conversation. This is the conversation you don't wanna have. Because that conversation takes us away from the facts of what they did into speculation about their motives and intentions and those are things you can only guess at, you can't ever prove, and that makes it way too easy for them to derail your whole argument.

...because the 'what they are' conversation is a rhetorical Bermuda Triangle where everything drowns in a sea of empty posturing."
posted by cashman at 1:42 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please quit mischaracterizing what I have said here. What I do not like is being labeled becuase of the color of my skin. Yes. I have hold a differing conception of the term. the more common one. the one that actually stigmatizes and harms people accused of it.

Perhaps it's time to let this one go Mr. Quixote, there's no "middle ground" to be had here.
posted by MikeMc at 1:44 PM on January 19, 2010


This may not be the reality that pleases you, but it's the one you got.

Yes, this reality that I got is one in which people present themselves as being smart and sensitive and all too willing to be on my side, if only I present reality in terms that do not offend them.

The mountain isn't going to come to you. Come up with a different way to explain class privilege.

No. First, here we go with the "it's not race, it's class" thing, right? Second, I just got done explaining how I'm not going to let the owners of privilege in this context dictate to me the terms of my experience, the same as I should not dictate those terms in contexts where I am the holder of privilege. So, no, I won't come up with a different way of explaining things just because you don't like the one I'm using. You can choose to listen, or not, that's up to you, and your choices will tell me where you stand.

Racism is as phony a construct as race itself

Purely anecdotal, but I only ever hear this "there's really no such thing as race" line from white people. That may not be universally true, but I think it's interesting.

plus it's a fighting word.

Good. Let's have a fight, then. That'd be a lot more honest than this whole thing of, "I'd totally be on your side, if only your side were different than it is."

For the record, I don't think "all white people are racist." I do think all white people do racist things, because we live in an institutionally-racist culture, the same as I and all other males do sexist things because we live in an institutionally-sexist culture. But I'm not going to retire either of those words just because they're painful to hear, as long as they remain accurate, and frequently they're all too accurate.
posted by Errant at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


For the purposes of the dare, do we have to just write "I'm a racist"? I'm worried that might sound like pride. Could we do something like "not perfect, yet" or "Although in the middle of an ongoing process of education, this poster's comments may still unintentionally exhibit one of the following: racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.."
posted by ServSci at 2:09 PM on January 19, 2010


For the record, I don't think "all white people are racist." I do think all white people do racist things, because we live in an institutionally-racist culture, the same as I and all other males do sexist things because we live in an institutionally-sexist culture.

And I agree. And it has never been otherwise.

For the purposes of the dare, do we have to just write "I'm a racist"? I'm worried that might sound like pride.

Yes. You do. Because the statement was not qualified. And when I attempted to qualify it from my perspective I was shit on by whole bunch of other racist white people. So yeah. If you agree you're a racists come out and admit it with out all this qualification.

Not so easy, huh.
posted by tkchrist at 2:26 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not so easy, huh.

no, you have a point. it makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it.

If I felt like the statement "all white people are racist" was directed at me, I guess I'd be as defensive about it as you seem to be. Somehow I didn't read it that way... I kind of expect other minority perspectives to be different than mine, and don't have a hard time believing that Danila was just describing the facts from her perspective.
posted by ServSci at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2010


I think it's a mug's game from both angles, Errant, since in the course of the average privilege conversation, our "intelligent and sympathetic" White person is expected to buy a number of sheer absurdities.

First, they must accept what might be called the null hypothesis: the existence of certain invisible power structures, condensed out of thin air by the unconscious doings of White people, massive and tectonic, yet infinitely subtle.

Already this is a sort of blank check, since we haven’t said what exactly White privilege is yet. In fact, for White people, it doesn't really matter. The clever little coda rounding out every privilege list is the privilege of blindness. Any member of the group in discussion must, as a rule, rely on the eyes of others. They cannot supply their own observations in testing or falsifying the claims. The ontology is all up front; the qualia can be variously defined later, by PhDs and PoCs acting on implicit authority. Just agree that it is.

Next, they must accept that White Power underlies issues of importance. It must be exigent, actionable. It is one thing to claim that baseball is our national pastime, that baseball is everywhere; so what? But if someone now claims that half the broken windows in Brooklyn, or broken heads, have been put there by nothing other than errant baseballs, there is a cause for alarm. So we must agree that some (preventable) disaster - mandatory drug minimums, or the casting decisions of some throwaway movie, or the aftermath of hurricane Katrina - is directly attributable to White Power, and not to some other explanation.

Last of all, they must surrender to the idea that they are already the unwitting beneficiaries of White Power. That no matter their station, they have availed themselves of some secret handshake. They are illuminati without robes, chieftains in their trailer parks. They have marked hands, carry guilt that can only be rubbed away by conversion to the cause of social justice.

So much of this is about conversion, so little about inquiry. These are the logical turns and contours of a conversation about witchcraft, a subway lecture about the provability of Zionist cabals; not a test of any scientific theorem. See, we’ve already quit the realm of debate. You can be intelligent and even sympathetic without opening the door to Mormons.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:23 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry for miss-spelling Danila's name all this time. Sorry about that.
posted by tkchrist at 3:34 PM on January 19, 2010


...[I] don't have a hard time believing that Danila was just describing the facts from her perspective.

Me neither. And I was explaining it from mine.
posted by tkchrist at 3:36 PM on January 19, 2010


For the record, I don't think "all white people are racist."

Well thats a step forward from many of the posts here today. I have to say that whatever else can be construed from this discussion, whatever implications living in today's culture has on behaviour and belief, one accurate definition of racism is applying blanket assertations based on the colour of someone's skin.

Academic musings, however accurate they are, have expanded that definition, and certainly with good measure too. But they have not changed the original defintion - it still stands (alongside the additional definitions - which I think is the point of the fpp? (which most certainly has not been adequately discussed KathrynT - and because of the derail to boot).

Therefore the statement 'all ------- (specific races omitted) people are racist' is certainly and clearly racist. Its a fucking stupid place to start a discussion that wants to explore avenues (even if that exploration is simply a discussion) to improve the lot of people affected by racism (whichever definition you want to employ).

Danallia expanded her point, explained what she actually meant - which for the record contained a lot more information than the original blanket statement and TK has acknowledged much of what she was trying to say.

Which brings me to the next point. Many people here have posted some appalling and offensive slurs. I am disgusted by the amount of vitriol thrown at TK. IF he has been honest, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, we have a man who has happily and constructively tried to live his life by a code of behaviour that should be applauded by those seeking to minimise the impact of rascism. So what if he is white. So FUCKING what. His behaviour, which is the only thing you should be judging HIM by seems to be pretty upstanding. There is even an allusion to him being beaten by skinheads for presumably defending his belief that black people should be treated fairly and justly.

So what if he did it under the reality of a society that has implicit white privelage. If white is the power structure, which it is, then short of a violent uprising, the transfer of power to a more just scenario is more likely to come because the white people, who will take a beating on behalf of their belief that all men should be treated equally (and before I provoke offense - most clearly not on behalf of black people, but on behalf of his belief ...etc. The fact I even have to spell that out is ridiculous), are willing to do exactly that. Put their bodies on the line for a good principle.

Those of you that have only read his incensed defence of the insults thrown at him and accused him of parochial behaviour should be fucking ashamed. Those of you that read all of the thread and still saw fit to massively degrade his character, well .....
posted by Boslowski at 4:12 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it's a mug's game from both angles, Errant, since in the course of the average privilege conversation, our "intelligent and sympathetic" White person is expected to buy a number of sheer absurdities.

Your fantasy of imagined secret power and racism as poorly-played stickball does not actually bear resemblance to any view I've put forward. You seem to believe that I require that all white people submit, unquestioning and penitent, to their hereditary guilt. I have suggested in many places that not only is submission undesirable, not only are questions necessary, but that the guilt is misplaced and unwanted. The fact of privilege is not cause for the sort of liver-gnashing you've described here.

Racism is not invisible. Privilege is, sometimes, when it is unexamined, but it is not automatically or irrevocably so. The implicit authority to which you darkly allude is the authority I make explicit, that I get to say what my experience is and you do not get to say for me. The reverse is also true. The inquiry, the dialogue, occurs when we start hearing each other instead of projecting fevered conspiracy and ulterior motive into every interaction. Yes, it is true that white people must rely on the eyes of others, but that is so the others can describe what they've seen, not so that white people cannot have eyes of their own. But, you say, white people are not allowed to test, verify, or falsify the claims of others. How would you go about doing so? How will you tell me that my life is not my own, that my experience is not what I think it is? How can you know? Your defiant protection of the right to debunk my life is precisely what privilege is.

You seem to believe that I require your baptism; I don't even require your agreement, much less your allegiance. You seem to believe that the entire privilege conversation is a construct explicitly designed to disenfranchise whites by convincing them of their true inferiority, which is so far from the actual dialogue that I wonder how you could have arrived here, and why the merest hint of equal discussion sends you spinning off into that strange shadow realm of your own creation. All I ask for, all I have asked for, is the right to speak and be heard. If that conversation only interests you inasmuch as you are able to tell me how wrong I am, then you're right, we're not going to get anywhere anyway.

You clearly had a lot of fun writing out that short story of cabals and original sin, so I don't want to ruin it too much for you. I'll just say that it is true that the realm of debate has been quit, but not by all, and not by me.
posted by Errant at 4:18 PM on January 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


. . . the existence of certain invisible power structures, condensed out of thin air by the unconscious doings of White people, massive and tectonic, yet infinitely subtle.

We're using those structures unconsciously every time we walk around a store without being trailed by security, every time our ethnic names don't disqualify us from job interviews, every time we can get a cab without any trouble.

The analogy of Joe's family, above, is a red herring. White privilege is something you can't quantify or give back. It's just living life as a Default-American. I can't demand to be treated badly in stores, can I?
posted by Countess Elena at 4:52 PM on January 19, 2010


Thanks Boslowski I appreciate the concern. But don't sweat it. The main bulk of personal attacks are from a couple of well known petty grudge holders and noise makers. I've pretty much learned to tune them out.
posted by tkchrist at 5:35 PM on January 19, 2010


White privilege is something you can't quantify or give back. It's just living life as a Default-American. I can't demand to be treated badly in stores, can I?

Just hang out in Barneys with a GAP sweatshirt on.

I honestly don't think anybody here, and why I need to say this every three posts I don't understand, is arguing that being Caucasian looking in America imbues most of us with a fairly hefty set of privileges. I think the disconnect is the word "RacIST" by virtue of being born white. And to me having privilege and being racist are very, while related, different things.

Like I said before I can't change being born white anymore than somebody in an outsider class can change being born what they are. I can not NOT be (mostly) white. If I am to be condemned for something I cannot change, rather than what I do, I have been placed in prison from which I can never, ever, make a difference, I can never, ever, help promote justice, and we can never, ever, be equal. Do see what I'm getting at.

In the absolute statement "All Whites Are Racist" there exist no room for me to change. No where to go.

We are discouraged here from making absolute statements and negative stereotypes. While I appreciate the qualifications of that statement that came later it was not refuted but rather somewhat entrenched and conflated with this notion of privileged. I recognize my privileged. I make steps to reconcile my privilege. But being labeled a racist by virtue of birth means all that is for nothing. And that is a very depressing notion.

I appreciate that this was an honest perspective. My perspective is also honest. But more importantl that perspectives is the objective reality that we cannot go on with a racist society repeating the same vindictive cycles. No meaningful change can occur without giving people the latitude to change.
posted by tkchrist at 5:52 PM on January 19, 2010


And to me having privilege and being racist are very, while related, different things.

I agree with you. Further, I don't find it terribly helpful to think about this in terms of who is or is not a racist, cause who cares about that? If you (this is the general/hypothetical you, not necessarily you, tkchrist, specifically) act in a racist way, I'll call you out on it, and we can have a conversation about it, but I'm not interested in telling you who you are. I'm more interested in how you act and how your actions affect me or others (and, hopefully obviously, vice versa). What matters to me is behavior, and if one is not acting in a racist way, what do I care? People often use the stepping-on-foot metaphor to describe racist behavior, and if you're not stepping on my foot or anyone else's, it doesn't make much difference to me how you walk.
posted by Errant at 6:29 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't NOT be white. So there for if you accept the statement "All White People Are Racist" as fact then white person can never, ever, not be racist. No matter what they do. I asked where do we go from there/ What can I then do to ever be considered not racist? Is it possible?

I like the proposition by Barbara Trepagnier that instead of racist/not racist we could have more/less racist. In order to be less racist, you first have to be more aware of the experiences and perspectives of minorities. You have to seek out these perspectives and actually listen to them. So long as people continue to focus on whether they are blameless as individuals then institutional racism will continue to flourish.

The goal isn't to turn yourself into a perfect, blameless non-racist. As I said, the overt racism exhibited by klansmen has less of an impact than the aversive/silent racism that fuels the institutions that exclude and oppress people of color. The goal is to change the institutions and structures that continue to be guided by the racist ideology of white supremacy.
posted by Danila at 6:30 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


So long as people continue to focus on whether they are blameless as individuals then institutional racism will continue to flourish.

And. Conversely as long as we focus on blaming individuals for being racist then institutional racism will continue to flourish.

The goal is to change the institutions and structures that continue to be guided by the racist ideology of white supremacy.

A laudable goal an done that I have sought at every opportunity.
posted by tkchrist at 6:38 PM on January 19, 2010


Your fantasy of imagined secret power and racism as poorly-played stickball does not actually bear resemblance to any view I've put forward.

But Errant, in exactly the same way that your cry me a fucking river was addressed to a particular class of responses, and not merely the behavior of one single poster, so does mine address three of the more common impositions upon the skeptical reader of Knapsack. If your own standards differ, great. I am not calling you out. Sorry if it sounded like I am.

That doesn't change the fact that we are situated in a larger conversation with its own sense of propriety and truth: where White Power is sometimes used, totemically, to account for all kinds of improbable things, where White posters who disagree are easily dismissed as blind or troublesome, and where air-dropped links to bell hooks and Tim Wise constitute something between hard evidence and goddamn revelation. It's not exactly a skeptic's paradise. It has much of the airy adamant of organized religion, impossible knots of belief.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:08 PM on January 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


And. Conversely as long as we focus on blaming individuals for being racist then institutional racism will continue to flourish.

No, the converse is not true because the people who call out individual racism are usually minorities who are not in a position to decide the ideological thrust of societal institutions. Institutional racism is only served by racist actions and beliefs, and it is not racist to call out racism.

I notice you keep using the word "blame" and the concept of "guilt" but at least in this thread I haven't seen where individual blame comes into play.
posted by Danila at 7:09 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Institutional racism is getting a subcontractor agreement that goes directly to court, unlike the local one which says mediation is the first choice. I guess they figure why negotiate with hte furriner?
posted by infini at 3:00 AM on January 20, 2010


But Errant, in exactly the same way that your cry me a fucking river was addressed to a particular class of responses, and not merely the behavior of one single poster, so does mine address three of the more common impositions upon the skeptical reader of Knapsack.

No, it was a response to one person's statement, not to a class of people or responses. This is the whole point: I am not the proxy for every person, of color or otherwise, with whom you've had a conversation. Neither, of course, are you. If you are going to quote me and respond to me, then talk to me. While your "common impositions" do indeed sound like impositions, they aren't common and they don't bear resemblance to any argument put forward here. You can choose to address this fearful anti-white amalgam of your own conjuration, or you can choose to address the actual people actually saying things here. Choosing the former demonstrates the kind of adherence to totemic religiosity that you claim to disdain.
posted by Errant at 11:11 AM on January 20, 2010




Oh. Gee. I don't know. Maybe when you came in accusing me of wanting people to prostrate themselves to me just because I don't want to be shit on because of the color of my skin. When I spoke of my self interest I was referring to the fact that I'm a business owner. There is a significant amount of pressure for me to compete by utilizing what I think are exploitative practices. I consciously resist this at expense to my livelihood so I can do the right thing. When I get shit on for doing the right thing, and that's what you do when you assume I'm not working to make things better, and calling somebody a racist implies that to me, it makes me question why I work so hard. Why not take short cuts like everybody else?

What do you want, a fucking story in the newspaper?

LOCAL MAN FAILS TO BE IMMORAL ASSHOLE
IS GIVEN KEY TO CITY, FELLATED

You don't do the right thing because of the reward. You do it because it's the right thing. Now I know that a dude who prides himself on being Upright Rockhard, Third-Dan Wing Chun Master, Ladies Man and Bar Brawler is going to get a little upset at the very idea that he could be racist or sexist, but it's true. All white folk have racist attitudes. I do. I think everybody else does, as well, frankly: white, black, brown, whatever - we all have that issue. Is it so hard to be mindful of that instead of pretending like you have never, ever, ever, ever had a racist thought?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought you said the derail was over!

I am white. I am a product of a very racist environment and family. Since a young age I have fully embraced everything I ever read or learned about equality and love and fairness, determined to rise above the ignorant slime all around me.

But you know, we all have our ugly, uncharitable moments. We have the moments when we fear or contempt someone for irrational reasons, and their ethnicity often contributes to these thoughts. I have never knowingly treated anyone poorly because of racial differences, but seeing how much of behavior is unconscious, I am sure that racism has been a factor in some of the split-second decisions I have made or reactions I have had. Also, others' prejudices may have cause them to misinterpret some of my completely innocent actions as being tinged with racism. It could keep you up at night, looking back over your interactions with people who were profoundly different from yourself, wondering if they might have taken something the wrong way. And the reason I wonder and remain so vigilant is that I really have no idea how polluted I really am. Thanks a lot, grandpa.

When we are angry, when we are in pain, when we are confused, when we are afraid, humans are prone to regression. Even at the best of times, we often overestimate the the purity of our intentions. Honestly, tkchrist, reading your big slobbery fit in here has made me feel a little confused. I don't really believe that you are somehow magically less racist than anyone else -- exposure to racist ideas, even the kind we get from learning about history, gives our unconscious mind plenty to draw from later on. What harm is there in acknowledging this and building outward from that acknowledgment? If anything the fierceness of your arguments just reinforces the idea of some latent ugliness that can't be covered up by any rational self-knowledge, which is (I think) exactly what was being described in the first place.
posted by hermitosis at 12:27 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's what's been so interesting, if you think that the OP was about people's different ideas about what constitutes racism, and who gets to frame the conversation. How the different perspectives in the thread get weighted and people's expectations about how their perspectives should be received looks, to me, like a performance of the the central theme, more than any attempt to address it.
posted by ServSci at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


All white folk have racist attitudes. I do. I think everybody else does, as well, frankly: white, black, brown, whatever - we all have that issue. Is it so hard to be mindful of that instead of pretending like you have never, ever, ever, ever had a racist thought?

I can't win. I can't. No matter how many times I say the exact opposite of what the Usual Suspects like Pope Guilty and Chime come in her to lay on me it won't matter.

I'm sorry I said a god damned thing. I'm sorry I went after Danila mostly because she was pretty cool and I agreed with 99% of what she said. I'm sorry I even tried. I wasn't clear. Then overly clear. Then angry. Then defensive.

This little game that get's played out here over and over with these pile-on fools just reinforces that it only takes that 5-6% of losers who have nothing else in their lives to spoil a fairly decent place.God damned that this place tolerates these fools.

Fuck it. Have it. I'm tired that this place get's dominated by assholes like Chyme and Guilty. And what I become in response. It's not me. And It's not worth it.
posted by tkchrist at 6:28 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you're watching from heaven, tkchrist, I'd like to point out that Optimus Chyme posted 2 comments in this thread. You posted 24. Instead of getting up and walking away, or sitting back and watching quietly, you completely overwhelmed this thread and contributed obsessively toward its total banana-smearing insanity. I hope you cool down and un-disable eventually, but I also hope you will read back over this thread later on and see how misplaced your blame is.
posted by hermitosis at 6:59 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, don't quit TK.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:29 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


The clever little coda rounding out every privilege list is the privilege of blindness. Any member of the group in discussion must, as a rule, rely on the eyes of others.

This is a major misreading of the privilege of blindness. Many of the ways in which white folks benefit from privilege are impossible to get away from—all the ways our world is set up to benefit us to the exclusion of others. But blindness in this context is the ability of whites to ignore privilege, not the certainty that whites can never see it.

The way you've written your post sounds like you speak from experience, that you've presented (or seen presented) scientific counter-arguments to the idea of white privilege and had them dismissed out of hand by anti-racists—so many witches, anti-semites, and Mormons. That's certainly not what I see in this thread nor does it match my experience. Can you elaborate?
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:09 AM on January 21, 2010


Shit. This has been a really difficult thread that I failed to properly respond to previously because it was really too much to muster proper comment, but it has been weighting in the back of my mind these past days and I'm really sorry to see it "end" this way, kind of a wimper and kind of a bang. tkchrist your voice was a little strong in this thread as often, but you were saying difficult things which I think, despite the palpable tension and seeming immobility, were in fact getting somewhere, eventually, towards something. Someone commented at the very beginning of the thread noting that the post had elicited so little comment after so many hours, and attributing that to a failure of the article. Well, perhaps it's just a long stewing one. I think there is a conversation here that was happening, and I hope in time you can come back to it. I don't think there are any clear winners and losers in this purported debate, and I see and sympathize with everyone's points and purposes. Part of me is just incredibly frustrated with language, its limitations and its uses, as this is the apparent result. Honestly a little I feel this is, at least in extension, something of an American issue, or a particularly American chargedness, despite and witnessed by attempts and resistance thereto to turn the debate towards ethnic power balances rather than whiteness and otherness. Not the issue itself, but the language and the extremity. In the end, you and everyone should know that there are always more players than are evident participating in the conversation, people do in fact read the comments down here, and perpetuity. This shit matters, that's why we're here. It's not the pettiness of caricaturesque trolls, this is people. I'm sorry I don't have more to say to the topic at hand and the difficulty itself, I just want to underscore that I care about what happens to the discourse here, and I know a lot of other people do too.
posted by kaspen at 3:15 AM on January 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Someone commented at the very beginning of the thread noting that the post had elicited so little comment after so many hours, and attributing that to a failure of the article

That was me. And it wasn't 'so little comment' but actually no comments at all (at the time that I started writing my initial comment) that i was surprised by. Much like yourself I felt compelled to return, read through some of the difficult legalese in the article and then sat back watching the horror show that the thread became. My first thought was, ok, now I know why nobody wanted to post.

I found three things difficult :-

1. The assertion that all white people are rascist as an absolute and unchangeable reality

2. The sheer agression from white posters towards tk when he was offended and defended himself against statements he found offensive. It is very interesting to me that most of the teenage name calling came from posters who said things like 'blah blah blah ... and I'm white, what do you want a fucking news story'. Danila, and others that identified themselves as black (I'm being very careful to make no assumptions here), actually debated the issues. Thats a very interesting counterpoint in my opinion.

3. Massive dissapointment that we didn't get anywhere near a valuable and detailed dissection of the actual document at the heart of the fpp

Danila expounded the theory she originally referenced and explained some very interesting concerns / issues / positions. But all relating to the 'white people are rascist' derail, not the fpp, although clearly interlinked.

For his part in return TK asked some very relevant questions which still haven't been answered. Or if they have I didn't understand / realise.

I have one pointed question, which is this.

If the biggest problem facing minorites is the silent, unspoken, institutionalised rascism of all white people (as opposed to the overt and often violent rascism of say the application of laws against prostitutes in New Orleans to classify them as sex offenders or even lynch mob style rascism) then what are white people, such as tk, supposed to do. He clearly wants to change things for the better.

This isn't a snarky combative question. Its a genuine inquiry. What is the path to change, and how will it work ?
posted by Boslowski at 5:44 AM on January 21, 2010


i've learnt awareness is key. as a privileged upper class Indian, my trips home are a nightmare of incorrect signals of respect to a human being given and misinterpreted by the receivers as an invitation to rape. see this
posted by infini at 5:54 AM on January 21, 2010


Metafilter tends to come out against allowing Exxon to write environmental regulations and against allowing AIG to write banking regulations, but when it comes to the terms and conditions under which we discuss oppressive power structures, be they racism, sexism, or heterosexism, the demand is constant: that segment of the dominating class which is most against the discussion must be permitted to write the rules, and must be permitted to veto any idea or terminology or framework which makes them uncomfortable. To do otherwise is described as being outright immoral, as resistance to that absurd and obscene demand is characterized as being against progress, since progress can only be made by the consent of those who are against it.

This is insane and ridiculous.


Certainly it would be wise to allow Exxon to have some say in any regulation that applies to them since they will be the ones to implement it, they will be in a good position to advise of the feasibility of what they can and cannot do, and just maybe any given regulation may interfere with a possible higher standard Exxon promotes to protect the environment.

But you are never going to know for certain unless even Exxon is allowed a place at the table to speak their peace.

The actual substance of what Exxon has to say is seemingly less important than the flag-bearer of what they represent. Even more perversely, if the exact same regulation proposed by a self-appointed spokesperson for the environment carries more validity than Exxon making the claim; what's the point in discussing anything?
posted by quintessencesluglord at 6:16 AM on January 21, 2010


For his part in return TK asked some very relevant questions which still haven't been answered.

He also sprinkled the thread with cluster-bombs such as "Reverse racism does not exist."
posted by hermitosis at 6:24 AM on January 21, 2010


Maybe I missed the grueling back and forths over the years that led to the big red button, because I can't imagine this of all things would be the straw. Unless I'm misremembering, I recall him talking about how rough his family is, especially around the holidays, and telling lots of hilarious stories about how hard core they were/are.

Oh how I wish I could just take my ball and go home when I was labeled in a way that was unpleasing to me. Come back dude. You're better than that.
posted by cashman at 7:21 AM on January 21, 2010


The assertion that all white people are rascist as an absolute and unchangeable reality

I never said this. I'm not sure if someone else said it, but I didn't. I've done nothing but talk about how that reality can be changed. First it must be acknowledged that this perspective exists. Acknowledging the existence, legitimacy, and even the superiority of other perspectives besides white ones is a key. And while I am not claiming that all black people or all people of color would say that "all white people are racist," I do think that a lot of us at least acknowledge the difficulty of any white person who is raised in or lives in a racist society that advantages whiteness to somehow be free of racism. Not only overt racism, but to do nothing to uphold institutional racism, and to successfully avoid the aversive racism that is built into every social structure and interaction.

People talk so passionately about being anti-racism or trying to defeat racism without the knowledge that their definition of "racism" may be quite limited from the perspective of the very people they're trying to help. This is a benevolent racism that appropriates the experiences of people of color (lynching, discrimination, church bombings, racial slurs). and interprets those experiences through a self-serving white lens ("I could never support anything like that, so I'm not racist). And then when they are made aware of other perspectives, they react with anger and attempts to shut down the conversation.

Massive dissapointment that we didn't get anywhere near a valuable and detailed dissection of the actual document at the heart of the fpp

I know you were trying to do that, boslowski. Now that I have had a chance to read more of the article, I can see that many of the concepts Robinson explores have been done before and perhaps better.

However, this thread has served as an example of what he was talking about. In my first comment, I was trying to demonstrate that Robinson is pointing out something real, that exists, and that needs to be heard.

If the biggest problem facing minorites is the silent, unspoken, institutionalised rascism of all white people (as opposed to the overt and often violent rascism of say the application of laws against prostitutes in New Orleans to classify them as sex offenders or even lynch mob style rascism) then what are white people, such as tk, supposed to do.

I really need to point out something here. The racist application of laws against prostitutes in New Orleans is not overt, violent racism (even though it is both violent, and to many of us seems overt). This is the very definition of institutional racism. The sex offender laws are ostensibly being targeted at all prostitutes, regardless of race. Disproportionate and racist application of law is something people of color have come to expect, but white people often do not acknowledge. The Law itself is one of those "institutions" that people are talking about when they say "institutional racism". This is why when people argue "well the law says this or that" some of us tend to disregard it, or at least regard it suspiciously. "The law says" is not the end of a matter.

I think one thing well-intentioned white people can do is realize just how tiring this conversation is for people of color, and why. We're not using the same definitions or the same perspective. We are constantly having to work with the white perspectives that are also the normative ones, and trying to find a way to explain our position within that limited point of view, or else be branded radical, dangerous, and racist ourselves.

That being the case, I actually don't spend too much of my spare time thinking about what white people can do about racism. I do understand that they need something more than blame and helplessness, but I also think it's a bit much that we have to solve this problem for them. It's not like we haven't had a lot to say on the subject, but it's often the case that they haven't read or listened to what we have to say.

If it's still too much to expect a well-intentioned white person to actually seek out and listen to the words of people of color on the issue of defeating racism, then here is a book by a white person, and a video too.
posted by Danila at 4:13 PM on January 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The fact that everybody participating here agrees that of course! it's obvious! that people's experiences are different, leading to different definitions and interpretations of racism, was heartening. I was half expecting to have to trot out my "My experience with being the target of deliberate or thoughtless race-related prejudice and discrimination is much, much more frequent than yours, so why don't you stop insisting that my perspective can't possibly be true, or honest, because you've never experienced it?"argument again.

I posted this article because I was delighted that someone had named the phenomenon where [person from demographic typically marginalized or Othered due to skin colour, call her Mary] says "That's stereotyping / discriminatory / racist / ignorant," then [person from not-so-marginalized-due-to-skin-colour demographic, "Anne"] says "You're playing the race card!" and both are entirely sincere. Critiques of the article as a whole, posted above, are appreciated. I was aware that it fell down in certain respects but I hadn't thought about them clearly. I posted anyway because I found the name "perceptual segregation" an immensely helpful shorthand for what I've previously spent a paragraph or two spelling out to people who insisted that my statements about what I'd experienced were out-and-out wrong, or disingenuous. I figured others might find it helpful too.

If the biggest problem facing minorites is the silent, unspoken, institutionalised rascism of all white people . . . What is the path to change, and how will it work ?

Speaking to the phenomenon of "perceptual segregation" generally, and not having anything to do with tkchrist's comments here (just because if I were going to address tk's comments specifically, it would deserve more time than I have at the moment; but I hope you come back to Metafilter at some point, tk, I often enjoy your comments):

both views are entirely understandable and logical outgrowths of each party's personal experiences. Of course Anne's automatic reaction is "you're playing the race card" because from her perspective, Mary's "evidence" of racism actually can be explained by other explanations, irrelevant to race, so why does she attribute one incident and an ambigous one at that (being singled out for public castigation, or the "'Harvard.' 'Right, Howard.' 'No, Harvard!' 'Right! Howard!'" anecdotes in the article), to racism? The "evidence" is so little or ambiguous as to be nothing. She must be playing the race card or at the very least, she's just wrong about the likelihood that race has anything to do with it. Anne says so. Which launches the argument into the usual well-worn ruts, because

Mary has had a lifetime of interactions regarding her skin colour and the assumptions or expectations that a lot (not all, of course) of people from Anne's demographic associate with Mary's skin colour. (Far more interactions than Anne would ever dream, if it ever occurred to Anne to think about how different Mary's experience of "race" and "racism" is from Anne's.) The interactions run the gamut from 1. blindingly obvious KKK flaming cross remarks or actions, to 2. plausibly deniable slights, to 3. genuinely well-meaning but never-before-examined remarks or attitudes. Mary's evidence for interpreting this "one incident" as race-related is its similarity to hundreds (that's probably an understatement) of others she's experienced over her lifetime. Taken all together, micro-analyzed for likelihood of being race-related vs not, followed up and frequently confirmed with people who were open to having their assumptions questioned (whose reaction is usually, "Hmmm, I didn't realize I didn't have a clue what I was talking about, sorry about that, I'll try not to do it again" or "Oops, I apologize for making unjustifiable assumptions about you, thanks for saying something")...collectively, all of that makes a significant pattern that this "one incident" fits into. Perhaps not definitively, but at least, "provisionally probably race-related until I gain info that confirms otherwise." Robinson gets into why that's a survival strategy, not a mean-spirited lack of generosity, on pp. 1131-1133 (well those pages talk about gender, but the principle's the same).

Anne wouldn't know about any of that, though. Mary has learned that identifying ambiguous incidents as possibly race-related to a few too many good-hearted, well-meaning people of Anne's demographic gets, at best, denials of the possibility of race's relevance, and at worst, charges of hypersensitivity or race card playing. So Anne is unlikely to hear from Mary about these incidents, each time one happens, in all the different contexts they happen in; Anne will probably not be one of the people that Mary runs incidents like these by to get feedback on how likely or unlikely it is that Mary is reading more into it than she should. So why would Anne recognize "one" ambiguous incident as relating to race? She's not equipped to. Unless she's made a point of learning about race-related issues from Mary's point of view. By, eg, listening more.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:15 PM on January 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Couldn't help re-reading certain comments. No doubt I'm overthinking the beans, but here goes:

Danila at 3:47 pm Jan 18: Everyone has been influenced by these things, therefore, everyone has subscribed to racist ideals to a certain degree. Certainly all white people are racist, I've just always accepted this as a matter of fact.

But when I started reading here I learned that for many white people, "racist" is one of the worst things you can say about anything they've done (I've since learned that men say the same about "sexist" and "misogynist"). It's supposedly some kind of grave accusation to insist that something was racist, but to me, it's an obvious part of life in the stratified societies we live in.


"Racist" here encompassing overt and subtle intentional ways, as well as unintentional privilege, I interpreted it as. Not deliberately trying to inflame, offend, or insult, but rather, saying something that's been part of previous conversations on this topic, so it just comes out. I've been there. I forget about the different contexts until somebody in the new context reacts to my words in a way that lets me know, hmmm, I didn't realize my words could be interpreted that way.

tkchrist at 4:40 pm Jan 18: and yet no matter what because you're a given skin color you're still a racist? . . . I don't think guys like me are looking for medals but we sure as shit don't deserve being saddled with the sins of our fathers.

"Sins of our fathers" referring to intentionally hurtful racism, I gather, from the later comments

6:55 pm Jan 18: I'm simply asking to not be insulted . . . I suppose instead one could start with the true assumption that all humans have the capacity for racism and those of us with social insider status have hidden benefits not shared with people of outsider status. That is not being refuted. The problem is when I work pretty fucking hard to share my insider status and I get shit on for even trying to do so. When that happens, ,when you immediately issue blanket negative generalizations without caveat or context, all you do is alienate the very people that can implement the most change: The god damned insiders.

Yeah, the bit in bold is common ground for most people in this thread, I think. Thanks for reiterating it. Re sharing insider status and getting immediately shat on (via a blanket negative generalization) for trying, does that have something to do with previous racism threads? From the timestamps, it doesn't look to me like the "all whites" remark is a reaction to any previous comments.

7:06 pm Jan 18: When somebody labels me something seen as extremely negative in our culture, something that gets people fired from their jobs and socially ostracized, exclusively based on the color of my skin, I see that as being called a bad person.
There are myriad of less inflammatory ways to enter a productive discussion.


8:54 pm Jan 18: When I get shit on for doing the right thing, and that's what you do when you assume I'm not working to make things better, and calling somebody a racist implies that to me

8:57: When you assume I'm racist you assume I'm not interested in social change and social good. that is very insulting to me.

Definitely a different idea of "racist" than how Danila was using it. Countess Elena's breakdown seems accurate to me.

9:09: the problem isn't language it's the unapologetic use of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotypes.

This reminds me of something klangklangston said in a MeTa last year: sometimes our words inadvertently piss people off. Once they're pissed off, it's really hard to argue them out of being pissed off. Some sort of apology is much more likely to re-rail things. (I'm bringing it up in relation to these kinds of touchy discussions generally, not trying to imply that anybody in here should apologize for anything in particular.)

10:03 pm Jan 18: why exacerbate the dialogue with intentionally inflammatory statements?


if one's understanding of "racist" is exclusively "something that gets people fired from their jobs and socially ostracized," ok I can see that "all whites are racist" could be interpreted as intentionally inflammatory. "It's so ridiculous that why would anyone say it except to get a rise out of somebody," kind of thing.

1:27 pm Jan 19: What I do not like is being labeled because of the color of my skin. Yes. I have hold a differing conception of the term. the more common one. the one that actually stigmatizes and harms people accused of it.
if you accept the statement "All White People Are Racist" as fact then white person can never, ever, not be racist. No matter what they do. I asked where do we go from there/ What can I then do to ever be considered not racist? Is it possible?


If "all humans have the capacity for racism and those of us with social insider status have hidden benefits not shared with people of outsider status," then we've all got to work at being less racist and social insiders might have a few more blind spots to work on? Does that work? (But then why any need for specifying "whites" ...well personally I self-edit severely to avoid descriptors like "all [insert demographic here]" because there's too many minefields that way. But I get what Danila was getting at, I think, and in a private conversation wouldn't have thought twice about her words.)

5:52 Jan 19: I think the disconnect is the word "RacIST" by virtue of being born white. And to me having privilege and being racist are very, while related, different things. . . . If I am to be condemned for something I cannot change, rather than what I do, I have been placed in prison from which I can never, ever, make a difference, I can never, ever, help promote justice, and we can never, ever, be equal. Do see what I'm getting at.

In the absolute statement "All Whites Are Racist" there exist no room for me to change. No where to go.


Jay Smooth would agree, since he observes that people tend to infer "motives and intentions..." from "you are." Though I think his idea of "racist" would be more like mine, encompassing both intentional "you deserve to get fired!" stuff and unintentional privilege.

We are discouraged here from making absolute statements and negative stereotypes. While I appreciate the qualifications of that statement that came later it was not refuted but rather somewhat entrenched and conflated with this notion of privileged. I recognize my privilege. I make steps to reconcile my privilege. But being labeled a racist by virtue of birth means all that is for nothing.


Too tired right now to analyze my own uses of racism vs privilege except as laid out above, but I see how distinct they are for you. Cutting and pasting may have distorted some of your meanings since you were replying to several people and I didn't take time to examine those exchanges, so if there are distortions, sorry.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:06 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


wemayfreeze: scientific counter-arguments to the idea of white privilege [had been] dismissed out of hand by anti-racists—so many witches, anti-semites, and Mormons. That's certainly not what I see in this thread nor does it match my experience. Can you elaborate?

Well, nowhere else among educated people have I ever seen argumentative "bingo cards" (or any other such embarrassment of pre-fab strawmen) deployed with a straight face. And I've never studied any subject where to question a list of categorical assumptions made about my gender and race is somehow to strangle or "dominate" conversation, or to threaten the encroach of invisible continents called "boyzone" or “straightzone,” or invite gendered "gaze" where it did not belong. I've never seen so many towering strategies for telling people to shut up in service to such lightweight, accessible scholarship as the Knapsack essay.

As it happens, everyone is racist is one of the axioms of anti-racism that I find more reasonable. But it's still not tautologically self-evident or beyond question from people outside the movement, and TK's unfamiliarity with this bit of club-house language should not be such a goddamn surprise to you people.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:49 AM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dunno if anyone's still checking this thread, but I wanted to say that as a white male, I benefitted greatly from carefully reading Robinson's entire article (and this thread). Some things which had long puzzled me became clear. I looked within myself and asked some tough questions. I've been guilty of most or all of the "microaggressions" in the OP, and I want to change that. As a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, I felt almost relieved by the idea that displaying a false colorblindness is not expected or helpful, especially where it concerns my own place in society.


And Danila, while you may be tired of conversations like these, please understand that there are many "insiders" who sincerely want to change something for the better, but are at a loss to know what that is, or how to bridge across the gaps we see. Insiders' honest attempts to improve their own interactions may be viewed as clumsy at best, or as signals of prejudice at worst, ending with confusion and awkwardness. Now I see why these attempts often backfire: because the insider is unaware of the feelings on the other side of this divide, and/or is unwilling to internally acknowledge that such a divide exists. Your words in particular were revelatory for me and have sparked the beginning of some shifts in my thinking.


I'm inspired by the possibilities of positive change for myself and those around me. As difficult as it may be, more dialogue like this needs to happen, more often.
posted by TreeHugger at 9:27 AM on January 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


TK's unfamiliarity with this bit of club-house language should not be such a goddamn surprise to you people.

I don't think this is the problem, Danila's first comment included a link about averse racism which explained precisely what was meant... and was just building on the argument made in the OP. Unless you're saying it's unfair to expect people to follow the posted links, I don't think being ignorant of the subtleties of jargon is the issue.
posted by ServSci at 9:47 AM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, nowhere else among educated people have I ever seen argumentative "bingo cards" (or any other such embarrassment of pre-fab strawmen) deployed with a straight face.

Two points:

1. "Buzzword Bingo was invented in 1993 by Silicon Graphics Principle Scientist Tom Davis, in collaboration with Seth Katz. The concept was popularized by a Dilbert comic strip in 1994, in which the characters play during an office meeting." This was in reaction to the increasing use of valueless buzzwords in corporate meeting culture. That's from the Wikipedia page on "buzzword bingo". So, now you've seen it deployed among educated people somewhere else.

2. Whatever gives you the idea that they're deployed "with a straight face"? Eye-rolls, disdain, amusement, sure, but hardly as serious argument.

Now, look, I'm no great fan of racism / sexism bingo cards; I think they're a joke too often told and kind of worn out. But you're suggesting that the problem is not the stereotypical, hackneyed, clueless arguments too frequently deployed in these conversations, but the jokes made about those cliche arguments, and I really don't know what to say to that.

You like to use scientific metaphors in your arguments, so here's one: can you question the assumption that relativity exists? Sure, of course you can, it's a theory or idea like any other. But if I go into a physics seminar and say that relativity doesn't exist because I haven't seen it, or demand that the physicists stop what they're doing and explain to me exactly why E = mc squared, I'm going to get laughed at or ignored, at best.

Yet this happens perpetually in social justice conversations: well-meaning individuals continually turn up with rudimentary questions or shallow denial of ground-level assertions, and they expect the conversation to rearrange itself around their elementary education. This is what it means to "dominate" the conversation; this is why people get told to shut up and listen. Questions are great, questions are necessary, and no one is expecting you or anyone else to swallow blindly. But you and I are responsible for asking informed questions at the level of discourse.

So far, in this thread, you've used a lot of hyperbole, decried a number of statements no one made as "absurdities" prima facie, dismissed out of hand a seminal piece of work in this field as "lightweight and accessible", and reinterpreted a story of mine because obviously you know better than I do what happened. But you haven't actually questioned anything; you haven't used one question mark. So I'm not terribly surprised that you and the field are annoyed with each other, when you expect answers to questions you don't ask and serious responses to constructed rhetoric packed with withering contempt. You give off every indication of having already made up your mind, and while that can make for a pretty fun fight (and obviously one that I personally am enjoying), it doesn't indicate a prognosis for satisfying dialogue.
posted by Errant at 12:10 PM on January 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm still checking this thread. I'm still really unhappy about it. That's all I got.
posted by kaspen at 1:28 PM on January 22, 2010


Boslowski: then what are white people, such as tk, supposed to do. He clearly wants to change things for the better. . . . What is the path to change, and how will it work ?

The What Tami Said blog recently provided thoughts on this general question:

Part I, When Allies Fail (comments at Racialicious get into whether "ally" is really the right word)

kid ichorous et al might find more to agree with in Part II, the responsibilities of marginalized people who want to work with allies. Or not.

The book Witnessing Whiteness
(author's blog)

Been thinking about how to answer your question in light of having re-read tk's comments. I'm reminded of a communication technique I got from a couples therapist that felt corny when I first started doing it, but I found it really was productive. IRL I mean. Haven't tried it out at MeFi. It involves rephrasing what the other person said, rephrasing it with details to reflect what you heard (this was interesting for me, realizing that what one person says can be so different from what the other person hears as to be unrecognizable), what you got from it, what you think they meant by it. "When you said xxxx, what I heard was yyyy. Is that what you meant?" I've found it a particularly helpful way to tackle remarks that piss me right off as they leave the other person's mouth.

Mary: All whites are racist, I've just come to accept that as part of the stratified society we live in.

Anne: ...Did you just say all whites are racist?! ...

Mary: Yes. [elaborates]

Anne: ... When you said "all whites are racist," what I heard was "all whites are bad people who can't and don't want to change and will never help bring about social justice because they're too busy deliberately hurting everybody who doesn't look like them. Is that what you meant?"

Mary: No! What I meant was that attitudes putting white people at the top are just something that comes with our socialization, mine as well as whites, and we've all got to work on it.

Anne: You didn't say "socialization" in your first remark. You said "all whites are racist." "All whites are racist" means to me what I just said, that you think I and all whites are condemned to be assholes about race no matter what we do because in the end our skin's still white. Your words came across as offensive and, actually, contemptuous.

Mary: I'm sorry about that. that's not what I intended at all. At all. If I meant "all whites are incapable of changing or bringing about constructive change," I'd have said so. I didn't mean to have that effect on you at all. By "racist" I meant the socialization thing. Sounds like you'd agree with that?

Anne: I agree about the socialization. Not about calling it racist.

[they start arguing about whether to use insider-defined vs outsider-defined terminology, "racist" vs "privilege" vs "blind spots" vs God knows what else]

The technique may not have gone anywhere productive either but it may have short-circuited the derail.

tk clarified a lot of the "this is what 'racist' means to me" several times later in the thread, which by that point had gotten messy and aggravated in several directions so the clarification wasn't as productive as it might have been earlier.

stream-of-consciousnessing here, the generalization "all" was an unfortunate choice of word. The heat in reaction to that remark, I can see why given the clarification "this is what racist means to me", while seeing also that the heat was unhelpful to clear communication. I'd hypothesize that the heat might have been circumvented by having read or listened more about and to anti-racist discussions, blogs, books etc, to have picked up on how a lot of us use "racist" to indicate alternative, more benign meanings... but really since tk says he's aware of and works on his privilege, perhaps he's already done that and I'm barking up the wrong tree.

Well this discussion has clarified my thinking about a few things. Thanks for that.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:38 PM on January 22, 2010


Why isn't defining racism according to my terms (or another outsider perspective) an option? Is there something wrong with the outsider definition of racism besides the fact that it's not the one white people have been telling themselves?

cybercoitus, I understand what you're doing and I appreciate you trying to mediate this, but I get it. I get that my words sparked a lot of heat because of what tkchrist and others hear when they hear the word "racist". But I didn't just throw the comment out there although I could have and I still would have meant it. I acknowledged that white people have a different interpretation of "racist" right after I said it. What I didn't do was alter my own perspective to fit theirs.

It doesn't matter how often or how loudly I am told that I need to change my reality because it's making someone uncomfortable, I can't! The only thing I can do is what I've been doing till now, shut up about it, stop making noise and keep my head down. But reality won't change. They'll be comfortable but I would just die more inside.

My perspective seems more compassionate to me. The system is sick and we are all infected. There's no reason to point fingers at yourself, or to run yourself ragged trying to fit some ideal of "not racist". There is no great dividing line - "You, racist! You're condemned!" - "You, you're not racist. You're a good person!" The great division doesn't exist, so let's stop separating ourselves.

Believe me, if I seem to be pointing fingers at anyone else I am condemning myself all the more. I've already said that individual overt acts of racism have had less impact on my life than the aversive and institutional aggressions (macro and micro) that confront me. What I haven't said is how much my own internalized self-hatred and consumed racism hurts me every day. I can't even look at myself in the mirror without feeling a tiny bit of condemnation for my "ugly" natural hair (mind you, I've had it this way for years but the pang still hasn't gone away). And then I hate myself for feeling that pang.

Or I look at all of the compromises I make and wonder at my own lack of integrity (even as I kick myself for not compromising more). I get angry, I listen to the angry rantings of my brother after his latest encounter with the cops, I see the resigned anger in my father's eyes after years under the boot. Just today I had to listen to my mother's repressed anger as she told me about going to get her anniversary present from the jewelry store and the coldness of the jeweler who thought she had no money. And then I condemn myself for that anger because really, it's so cliche and unproductive and not at all nice the way I want to be. We're not angry people, we're kind and generous folks my family and friends and people. But the pressure is a constant thing, a water torture (I recommend this chapter in bell hooks' "Rock my soul").

Who is to blame? No one and everyone, including me. I am responsible for picking myself up, for being a "strong black woman" and not letting anyone else's words (mere words!) bring me down. And I fail at this "responsibility" every single day of my life. All I can do is survive.

Last night after re-reading this thread for the utmost time I felt like I had had a lot of integrity here, and that was a good feeling because I'm not used to it. I felt I'd struck the right balance, you know? Now today I'm crying as I write this because I'm not used to this either. I'm trying to be honest about the pressure of racism as I experience it, I am not blaming anyone not even myself. There's been ugliness and pain in this thread but that ugliness and pain is real and I don't know what else to offer but that.

When I see a white person I don't see an enemy. I do see a human being. And I don't go around thinking "there's a racist" every time I see a white person. But I know that there is a distinction between us, and it's not biological. If I ever tried to forget it then they would remind me! Saying "everyone is racist" doesn't quite cut it for me because there is a difference between the racism of self-hatred and self-preservation (a racism which ultimately harms minorities the most) and the racism caused by having a personal investment in a racist system (even though you didn't build that yourself and aren't even aware of it and would destroy it if you could). There might not seem like a difference to some, but I have to see the difference in order to survive in this system.
posted by Danila at 4:44 PM on January 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


if I go into a physics seminar and say that relativity doesn't exist because I haven't seen it [...] I'm going to get laughed at or ignored, at best. Yet this happens perpetually in social justice conversations [...] you've [...] dismissed out of hand a seminal piece of work in this field as "lightweight and accessible",

I think what sets physics and, in particular, mathematics apart from other disciplines is not just that they draw so many more cranks, but that they've ever managed to discern the Ramanujans and the self-taught from the self-deluded.

Being a mathematician (and not a crank) is not just a matter of learning and imitating a language, or looking at things in a unique way, or speaking out against established powers, or bringing inner fire, or some promethean urge or missionary itch. Those are all fine qualities in a messenger or evangelist, but the greatest of messengers can still be cranks. Mathematics, or the hardest science, is saying true things about nature; things that do not slip away when you hold them to light. There is a razor's edge to what is mathematically real. Most practical disciplines don't waste time walking it.

But this exhaustive care, I think, is what enables the odd physics Gedanken-Experiment to bear fruit, just like the rigor of poetry can freeze a moment’s thought in its tracks. The rigor of one enables the softness of the other. You can only play fast and loose once you've internalized the whole prison of rules and swallowed the key. Saying that (if I understand your analogy) White privilege is like the Lorentz transform because deciding its truth is beyond the amateur's reach is not useful until White privilege is articulated as an empirical and testable hypothesis. Till then, it's not in the same class as any scientific theory. One can only be agnostic about it. I have nothing against Russell's Teapot as a foretaste to knowledge.

Social justice, I'm sure, attracts its share of cranks too. Where I’m puzzled, however, is how it ever catches them. No joke. How do you - within the world of privilege lists alone, of which there are probably hundreds or thousands - spot a crank? What if cranks are actually quite good at leading a charge?

Looking at privilege lists in general, most seem like conscious imitations of Knapsack, attempts to enumerate the social expectations that Whites receive on the basis of Whiteness alone. Fine. It would make no sense to call something White privilege merely because it appeared on someone’s list. And if very many White Americans cannot lay claim to something, or if many Black Americans or Asian Americans could, its inclusion would not enhance the idea of White privilege at all.

You can see where I'm going. Even if White privilege itself isn't presented in a unified, testable way, the purported contents of the Knapsack can be individually examined, even tested.

So, I've have seen this article copied and referenced dozens of times, and imitated countless more. I'm not sure I have ever seen it thoroughly amended. I’ve never seen its admirers cover it with red ink, or admit (for starters) that #17 is painfully absurd in a cultural dialogue that includes red scares, pinko, hippie, and terrorist. I’ve never seen any attempt at a full errata for this list.

My academic background is not in social justice, or American Studies, or anything prefixed with a post-post-, and so I may be missing some significant critical backlash to McIntosh from within her own field. But I haven't seen that online, or on this site. All I've seen is path-grinding imitation and careful reverence. In this thread, asking what is White privilege has elicited several more examples in this mode - from being able to hail a cab, to not being treated badly in stores. See, we could make our own list in this very thread. Would it, too, be canon?

And that’s the difference, from where I’m standing. In science, pet theories knock each other down all the time. It is a courtesy. Wherever this does not happen, you are sheltering and even venerating cranks.

You suggest that I’ve devalued a seminal piece of work. I think I’m treating it exactly the same as any other academic publication that has no methodology, avails itself of no recorded data, makes predictions that are at some odds with observable reality, and seems happier playing bingo than lifting a pen to amend any of the above. Is that unfair?

You give off every indication of having already made up your mind

And I'm unique in this? I mentioned above that I agreed, more or less, with the anti-racist axiom that everyone is racist. I didn't always. Anti-racist literature convinced me of that much, though it didn't change my reaction to the scholarship of Knapsack.

I'll make an effort to check Mefi over the weekend if you want to continue this.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:20 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


kid ichorous et al might find more to agree with in Part II, the responsibilities of marginalized people who want to work with allies. Or not.

Thanks, I will check it out this weekend.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:21 PM on January 22, 2010


I get that my words sparked a lot of heat because of what tkchrist and others hear when they hear the word "racist". But I didn't just throw the comment out there although I could have and I still would have meant it. I acknowledged that white people have a different interpretation of "racist" right after I said it.

Agreed. I in no way meant to imply that you shouldn't have used "racist." Sorry if my words conveyed differently. (I'm not trying to parody myself, honestly, I really do apologize liberally in these kinds of conversations if respondents get a different meaning out of what I've written than I intended.) I suppose I was working tk's meaning out for myself because frankly it's been a long time since i interacted with anybody who used it that way, exclusive of unintentional, subtle meanings. And because I was trying to track for myself the steps involved, in how those differing definitions launched and kept compounding the dissonance.

What I didn't do was alter my own perspective to fit theirs.

Yes. Again, my apologies if what I wrote implied that I thought you should. I don't.

Saying "everyone is racist" doesn't quite cut it for me because there is a difference between the racism of self-hatred and self-preservation (a racism which ultimately harms minorities the most) and the racism caused by having a personal investment in a racist system (even though you didn't build that yourself and aren't even aware of it and would destroy it if you could).

Beautifully put, and thank you for making this point. It's another subtlety that insiders probably don't hear much, if anything, about.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:31 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


first Danila, thank you for writing the words i couldn't and the hair always made me cry in Pittsburgh.

It doesn't matter how often or how loudly I am told that I need to change my reality because it's making someone uncomfortable, I can't! The only thing I can do is what I've been doing till now, shut up about it, stop making noise and keep my head down. But reality won't change. They'll be comfortable but I would just die more inside.


but only until it becomes ridiculous and sheer rational logic demands the best solution for survival. The concept is unsustainable after the webs provided a platform for dialogue like this in the first place.

Think about it, we wouldn't be here having this conversation at all. I live in fnucking Helsinki ;p
posted by infini at 3:23 AM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting, readable article by critical race theorists Stephanie Wildman and Adrienne Davis:

Language and Silence: Making Systems of Privilege Visible
posted by Danila at 3:02 AM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Danila, I'm so glad you posted this article. I was trying to find a way to join the conversation without barrelling in and running roughshod over it. I've been reading this dialogue not only as a person working on her own assumptions about race, privilege and marginalization, but also as a student who is studying with Stephanie Wildman. (She teaches at Santa Clara University School of Law, where I'm a second-year student.)

I didn't realize that there was an online copy of "Language and Silence," but that's just a failure of effort on my part, especially since I'm usually the person who answers "WTF is [noun]?" questions with a gentle suggestion that one try that new Google thingy the young people like so much. I'm happy to see it's there, even if it's been truncated by Google Books, and, again, I appreciate your posting it. No, please let me rephrase that: I appreciate everything you've brought to this dialogue, even when it's brought you pain to do so. Moreover, I'm sorry it's brought you even an iota of pain. I can't imagine how tiring it must be to have the same conversation, over and over.

(Granted, I've had frustrating conversations on gender issues, but I don't think they're comparable to conversations about race. This is much too reductive and really deserves more thought and care than I can give it this morning, but I think that one difference is that well-intentioned men might be a little skittish about their attitudes being called sexist, but well-intentioned white people get *really* anxious, to the point of anger, about their attitudes being called racist.)

If I might be permitted one more moment of shameless name-dropping about Stephanie Wildman: I've heard discussions, both online and here at the law school, about what an angry, militant, humorless woman Professor Wildman must be. This always makes me smile, because she is one of the gentlest people I've ever met. She is very keen to make sure that *everyone's* voice is heard in her class, and she works to make class a safe space for everyone, including conservative students. Santa Clara is a Jesuit university, with a strong taproot in public service and social justice work. At the same time, the law school is well-known, particularly in Silicon Valley, for its high-tech, patent and intellectual property law curricula. As a result, students who come to SCU to become patent lawyers will take a class from the social justice law curriculum, and suddenly find themselves in the midst of critical theory discussions on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, poverty and religion. Professor Wildman is aware of this, and works to help us listen to each other, and to talk to each other, even when talking is difficult and scary. As fierce and fearless as she is on the page, so is she gentle and kind in person.

Moreover, she is *very* soft-spoken. I have heard her quiet down a lecture hall with over 80 people in it, without raising her voice at all. The first time I heard her speak, I thought, "how in the world are we supposed to hear her?," but within seconds, everybody stopped talking, and we could hear every word. I never fail to be impressed by this. She is also witty, droll and very, very funny -- but if I go on, I will derail even more than I already have. So I'll end this the way it began: Thank you, Danila. Thank you.
posted by bakerina at 9:56 AM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I may be missing some significant critical backlash to McIntosh from within her own field. But I haven't seen that online, or on this site. All I've seen is path-grinding imitation and careful reverence.

1. McIntosh would agree to a certain extent, considering she says (section starts around 3:20, quote is at 4:25) "it's a dreadful misuse of my work" to generalize from her checklist or any checklist, because her original list was very specifically drawn from her own life, and she never intended for it to be some kind of Master List applicable to anybody but herself.

2. Much academic research is not made available for free online. Of course imitation, reverence, and superficiality afflict a lot of that work regardless of whether it's online or not, but that goes for most fields.

3. The field is young, and work is scattered across several disciplines. (Young in its current form at least, by which I mean, conducted largely by white scholars. Black scholars have of course been at it for a century, but their work has been trivialized, ignored, and forgotten.) "Young" means that more conceptually sophisticated and empirically grounded studies have begun to come out and be argued over in the past ten years, but those advances will take more time to diffuse out to lay audiences out here in internetland.
"Scattered" means scholars interested in concepts of "whiteness" and "privilege" are
a. tackling concepts and methods at different paces depending on how long a discipline takes to develop a critical mass of scholars interested in this topic -- so cultural studies, pedagogy etc have been establishing theoretical groundwork for a while, and quantitative studies from psychology, sociology etc took longer to get going because (I would think) "whiteness" had to be theorized persuasively enough before anybody's going to bother designing quantitative studies to examine it, and
b. scholars have been busy problematizing "whiteness" and "privilege" under their own disciplines' frameworks, not critiquing the McIntosh list in particular point by point. (but fyi, here's a Women's Studies listserv discussing problems with generalizing from the list; not so much the first page, but the rest using personal experiences get into questions of class and "ambiguous ethnicities". From the same listserv, some theoretical and pedagogical objections).

Some egs of critiques of monolithic ideas of "white" and "privilege," not that they're all uniformly well argued or thought out, but just making the point that they exist (hope nobody minds that I'm not going to spend time on proper bibliographical format, and I've provided links where online versions were available):

H. Giroux, ‘ White squall: resistance and the pedagogy of whiteness’ , Cultural studies 11 (1997), p. 383.
"Where "whiteness' has been dealt with in pedagogical terms the emphasis is almost exclusively on revealing 'whiteness' as an ideology of privilege mediated largely through the dynamics of racism. . . . I am concerned about what it means pedagogically for those of us who engage in an anti-racist pedagogy and politics to suggest to students that 'whiteness' can only be understood in terms of the common experience of white domination and racism. What subjectivities or points of identification become available to white students who can only imagine white experience as monolithic, self-contained and deeply racist?"
[similar objections to equating "whiteness" with "dominance" and "privilege" exclusive of the possibility of anything redeeming or productive, in the "White Noise" chapter of his book]

Rasmussen, Birgit Brander, et al. The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness 2001
p. 7-8, "The work of explaining what happened to the groups who "became white" but who did not profit from it is becoming a more important part of the study of whiteness. . . ."
Also footnote 8 from the intro, "While empirical findings of scientific studies about the historical evidence for and contemporary manifestations of white privilege may not give us a complete picture of white racial identity, they begin to indicate the extent of social advantages for whites in the United States. Among the most prominent of these studies from the 1990s are . . . " [well the three of these I've read are historical and social scientific, not "scientific," but their analyses are well grounded in checkable qualitative and quantitative data; this is just a fraction of studies out there that document historical advantages accruing to people deemed or passing as "white," advantages that didn't end with Civil Rights successes but continue into the present]

Manglitz, Elaine. "Challenging White Privilege in Adult Education: A Critical Review of the Literature," Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2, 119-134 (2003)
re Whiteness Studies, "One perspective views Whiteness as nothing but privilege and oppression . . . the second perspective calls for serious efforts to rearticulate Whiteness into a progressive, antiracist White identity (Giroux, 1997; Rodriguez, 2000) . . ."

Deconstructing Privilege: A Contrapuntal Approach. By: Logue, Jennifer. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, 2005, p371-379
re white privilege, "the first approach, the recognition approach, arises out of contemporary educational theory and practice and aims to identify and challenge the institutionalization of invisible privileging mechanisms that have for too long allowed some to benefit from the oppressions of Others. The [second, the] re-evaluation approach arises out of a return to the insights of anti-colonial scholarship and critical social theories that challenge the inherent valuing of privilege as a good. These scholars theorize "boomerang effects of domination"" and the new technological order with its new forms of domination to demonstrate that the practice of "privilege" damages all, not just the "victims" at the bottom of the social hierarchy."

Privilege: What's It Good For? By: Ng, Jennifer. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, 2005, p380-382
critique of Logue's analysis, though conceding that "although oppressors do reap privileges, the "exercise ofoppression" prevents both the oppressor and the oppressed from achieving their full
humanity."

McDermott, Monica, and Frank L Samson. "White Racial and Ethnic Identity in the United States," Annual Review of Sociology; 2005; 31, p. 249, "a more promising recent trend in research . . . is a focus on whiteness a a situated identity, not as an identity of uniform privilege but as a complex social identity whose meaning is imparted by the particular context in which white actors are located. . . ."

Garner, Steve. "The Uses of Whiteness: What Sociologists Working On Europe Can Draw From US Research On Whiteness," Sociology Volume 40 Number 2 April 2006
p. 264, "While one dimension of whiteness is its dialectic relationship with non-white othernesses, internal boundaries are equally evident. I would argue that whiteness can best be grasped as a contingent social hierarchy granting differential access to economic and cultural capital, intersecting with, and overlaying, class and ethnicity (Hartigan, 1997a, 1997b, 1999; Jacobson, 1998; Orsi, 1992; Wray and Newitz, 1997), as well as gender and sexuality.
262 The economic and psychological wages of whiteness may be more meagre (and thus more precious) the lower down the social hierarchy the white subject is located.
268 Since the hierarchies within the groups referred to as ‘white’ reveal the situational and intersecting nature of power, the challenge in research terms is to find a set of foci that capture the ways in which power and disempowerment are lived by people with differing relationships to social, economic and cultural capital. This approach further underlines the need to combine empirical studies with those concentrating on mapping the actors’ constructions of their life worlds."

Wray, Matt. Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness. 2006
p. 3, "Scholars of whiteness have become extraordinarily sure-footed and nimble when the word that follows white is supremacy, power, privilege, or pride, but they tend to stumble badly when it is followed by trash."

Lawrence Blum, "Reservations about white privilege analysis," Philosophy of Education Yearbook 2008
"[this article raises] several distinct but related concerns about white privilege analysis: its inadequate exploration of its own normative foundations and of the actual structures of racial inequality, its tendency to deny or downplay differences in the historical and current experiences of the major racial groups, and its overly narrow implied political project that omits many ways that white people can contribute meaningfully to the cause of racial justice."

Liz Jackson, Reevaluating White Privileged Ignorance and Its Implications for Antiracist Education. By: Jackson, Liz. Philosophy of Education Yearbook, 2008, p301-304
"when we are talking about racism, White students are disadvantaged in knowing or understanding, and because I believe that systemic racism does not merely provide Whites with an array of material and existential benefits, I thus regard them as, in a sense, disadvantaged subjects of antiracist education. In this context I cannot see how, pedagogically speaking, my asking them to focus primarily on how and why they are complicit and thus racist, despite their interest in effecting antiracist change or the more earnest of their challenges, would be effective for teaching them about racism or considering with them possibilities for antiracist change. Rather, it is making a moral judgment, demanding their sense of guilt, as racism is viewed by most as morally wrong. I am not convinced that my students recognize me as a moral guide, or that they should." [also here]

"The White Privilege Attitudes Scale: Development and initial validation."
Pinterits, E. Janie; Poteat, V. Paul; Spanierman, Lisa B.
Journal of Counseling Psychology. Vol 56(3), Jul 2009, 417-429.
"We conducted the present study to bridge the conceptual and empirical literature through the development of a psychometrically reliable and valid instrument to assess the multidimensional nature of White privilege attitudes. . ."

seems happier playing bingo than lifting a pen to amend any of the above. Is that unfair?

I know you're too smart to seriously propose that internet bingo-playing somehow represents an entire field of scholarship, so I'll assume you were just indulging in a rhetorical flourish.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:32 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cyber - thanks for all the time and effort you obviously put into those last two comments.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:58 PM on January 27, 2010


Well, your own comment laid out your position forthrightly and and I thought I could answer it. I'd been meaning to do a review of the literature anyway. These conversations are important to me. Nothing's going to change unless more and more of us figure out how to do them constructively.

Something else I found that strikes me as very promising -- a theory of marginal whiteness by Camille Gear Rich. There's a draft of the paper online, but I'm not sure if linking would run afoul of its request to "not cite, copy, or distribute" so I'll just link to the abstract.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:54 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


fwiw, this thread of conversation "raised my consciousness" and gave me a lot of food for thought on "keeping silent so that you don't make others uncomfortable" and standing up for self respect and dignity. That contract? I had a meeting two days ago where I was to sign it for the next six months and I took the decision not to go ahead. Dunno what I'm going to be doing next but I do know that wherever and with whomsoever, it will be where there is mutual respect and both parties look each other in eye.

thank you all.
posted by infini at 4:05 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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