Black people don't have that luxury to be able to tap out...
December 17, 2014 2:06 PM   Subscribe

"Too often, when I'm using my fiber-optic space to share, vent, rant, and process the realities of being Black in America, I'm faced with White people responding with comments and private messages that I'm attacking, disappointing, angering, or hurting them. Or, they use patronizing language like, 'Stacey, you're much smarter than this,' or 'I thought you were a more reasonable person.'

"How do I let them know that when I say things like 'White supremacy needs to be destroyed,' that I'm not talking about personally destroying them? How do I not become frustrated at those who jump in to debate and discredit what Black people are experiencing, in our own threads?" White Women, Please Don't Expect Me to Wipe Away Your Tears, by Stacey Patton at Dame Magazine.

I Don't Know What to Do With Good White People – Brit Bennett, Jezebel
"The problem is that you can never know someone else's intentions. And sometimes I feel like I live in a world where I'm forced to parse through the intentions of people who have no interest in knowing mine. A grand jury believed that Darren Wilson was a good officer doing his job. This same grand jury believed than an eighteen-year-old kid in a monstrous rage charged into a hailstorm of bullets toward a cop's gun.

"Wilson described Michael Brown as a black brute, a demon. No one questioned Michael Brown's intentions. A stereotype does not have complex, individual motivations. A stereotype, treated as such, can be forced into whatever action we expect.

"I spent a four hour flight trying not to wonder about the white woman's intentions. But why would she think about mine? She didn't even see me."
Hat-tip: Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (74 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
That Patton piece is good. I just don't understand how people who think they're not racist, that they're good white allies, can take a pretty obvious statement like "White supremacy needs to be destroyed" and think it's about personally destroying them. But then I remember how many men react to a statement like "the patriarchy needs to be destroyed" and I sigh and look for a cat to pet.
posted by languagehat at 2:47 PM on December 17, 2014 [64 favorites]


In an Ask I participated in, someone posted this really excellent piece of writing: Walking While Black

I am reposting it here for this reason: The piece hit a nerve for me as a homeless white woman. I don't think I get harassed by cops all that much, but, in the almost three years in which I have been on the street, I have dealt with the cops more than in the 46 or so years I lived before that. "Walking While Homeless" is apparently another form of offense.

I have had cops called on me for walking through nice neighborhoods. I have also had cops stop me and tell me someone called them because they thought I was unsteady on my feet and/or disoriented and they were concerned for me. They then ran my ID to see if I had outstanding warrants and warned me to not walk in the bike lane (which other people do all the fucking time on that stretch of road because there is no sidewalk on that side) and mentioned that they were nicely not going to ticket me for it today, out of respect for me being homeless and destitute and those tickets would be a lot of money.

I imagine he was trying to paint himself as a nice guy, being kind to me, and expected me to appreciate it. But if you were concerned about your grandmother, would you call the cops on her? Would they run her ID to check for outstanding warrants? Would they then warn her this is an illegal thing she is doing and she could be ticketed? Please realize that having been warned once, I am now at increased risk of being ticketed. If the same cop stops me again, he can say "I warned you once. Now I have to ticket you." So I now need to worry every single day about where I walk and I now go out of my way regularly to avoid being in that bike lane, while other people continue to walk down that bike lane and no cops stop to tell them they shouldn't do that. Of course, most of those folks are not committing the offense of Walking While Homeless. They are merely taking the shortest path from the nearby transit station to wherever it is they need to go.

If you were concerned about your grandmother, I imagine you would stop and ask her how she was or call an ambulance, not the police. But I have to be polite and accommodating in the face of this crap, lest it lead to me be ticketed or arrested or attracting police harassment.

I don't pretend that makes me understand what black people live with. But it does make me understand that many white people honestly have no idea how insulated they are. That isn't intended as apologist. I am not saying it at all justifies terrible behavior on the part of whites. Nor do I do know what would work to effectively get through to such people. But I am saying that I think many of the whites that this article is criticizing seriously just do not get it.

I will again reference what I referenced in the AskMe answer that I linked above: The scene in Soul Man where James Earl Jones says he apparently learned what it is like to be black and he says "No sir. If I didn't like it, I could wash it off." I can still wash off homelessness. I just need to get off the street and cops will quit helpfully and concernedly running my ID to check for warrants because I am tired and walk with a permanent limp and have committed the offense of Walking While Homeless. But many other whites have had no such experiences and I think they simply cannot fathom what it is like to live with the threat of being stopped just because you are walking somewhere or questioned just because you exist.

I am really tired of being homeless. I would like to get off the street. But I am genuinely grateful for some of things it helped me understand.
posted by Michele in California at 2:51 PM on December 17, 2014 [66 favorites]


But these types of down-for-the-cause White women, like my friends, are few and far between. More commonly, we find ourselves trying to have discussions where we seem to be talking at, but never to, and certainly never with each other.

Something I've been noticing a lot in my ongoing study of American white women. (I'm also a white woman but I've always felt like I've been observing them from the outside looking in as long as I've been around them. White women who have actually befriended me in a real way have also been few and far between. So that's my bona-fides.) There is a huge, huge cultural emphasis on propriety, politeness and positivity. Anything that comes up in a social context that's out of line with the three P's makes their brains short-circuit. I think that's where this stuff about "divisiveness" is coming from. You're supposed to be saying "Perfect!" and "No worries!" and "#Blessed", and if you're not, then you're off script and I'm frightened and confused. It doesn't matter if you're talking about reality or the way things really are or your lived experiences.

I don't think the phenomenon being discussed comes from a place of racism or thinking one race is better than the others in any way. It just comes from a cultural emphasis on not talking about anything unpleasant and feeling empowered to enforce that when it's not appropriate to.
posted by bleep at 2:53 PM on December 17, 2014 [13 favorites]


Sometimes I end up in public facebook threads, the white to black racial hatred is so ignorant. Someone from my HOA forwarded an email joke" less looting less shooting and pull up those pants!" I blocked the forwards. The race baiting is at an all time level, but maybe I am just seeing it fully now. Yoko Ono to paraphrase said women are the bottom rung of the world's social ladder. I fear for my daughters' well being and they are white. I don't blame you for ditching apologists who in some contorted drama queenery can't just be supportive of your well founded fears for the safety of your families and beloveds. The me first exceptionalism is hard to take from associates you think would know better.

There is a significant, ugly, upwelling of racist animosity in our nation, but just because it seems new to me doesn't mean it hasn't always been there, and now just more loud thanks to mass communication, and the anonimity it offers to bigots of every cut and persuasion. It is like, oh, the internet has stumbled across the limbic brain of humanity, yeah, and it is primitive not nearly human. What could we become as humans to do better with enjoying our remarkable diversity? The fear based knee jerk policing, the antequated social structures, shall the monied become the only universally accepted group, or maybe they will be the only ones who can afford the security?

Lady Mcbeth said,"Kick against the pricks." Do it because it is not over, humans take advantage often, along any line they can define. You have the right to define your boundaries in any encounter. I don't tolerate race shaming, gender shaming with regard to me. I don't tolerate the ill treatment of anyone in my presence. I wish you joy, safety and luck avoiding the big awful that lurks on this world, and the million form little awful that erodes what could be sweet moments.
posted by Oyéah at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


#NotAllWhiteWomen
posted by djeo at 2:58 PM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


bleep:

I don't think the phenomenon being discussed comes from a place of racism or thinking one race is better than the others in any way.

First, can you explain how you are not simply playing out the phenomenon addressed in the article(s)? I'm puzzled why you think you can diagnose where white women's denial is "coming from" better than the author(s).

Second, I think it would help if you learned more about systemic white supremacy; the entire U.S. is a "place of racism" so it is hard for anyone, especially white folk, not to be coming from there.
posted by allthinky at 3:04 PM on December 17, 2014 [13 favorites]


I didn't mean to contradict the author. Obvious racists are obvious. I'm talking about those discussions that get the response of "Don't post stuff that makes me uncomfortable please." There is no room for discussions that make us uncomfortable and that is a problem.
posted by bleep at 3:06 PM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am not going to take any shit about being a woman, or being a white woman. Talk about my human skills or lack thereof, but misogyny or racism, they are wasted on me. No one gets to mistreat the mother of my children.
posted by Oyéah at 3:07 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have come to believe that the most important thing that I, as a white lady, can do is shut the crap up and listen.

I'm still learning how to do so, and I definitely have room for improvement. After all, I have opinions, and I want to say things, and have this fairly regrettable impulse to demonstrate solidarity.

But, honestly, not one of those things matters so much as taking the time to sit down and pay attention when someone with direct experiences of frustration and discrimination is speaking.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:13 PM on December 17, 2014 [34 favorites]


As a lifelong beneficiary of The Patriarchy and White Supremacy, I wholeheartedly agree that we really do need to destroy both, even while accepting that, yes, it will have a negative effect on me. How could it not? That absolute truth that Scalzi expressed that we have the Lowest Difficulty Rating has made most of us incapable of competing on a TRULY level playing field. And losing the privilege might not be as painful as losing the illusion that we don't have that privilege, something so many of us built our lives around.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:22 PM on December 17, 2014 [10 favorites]


What a privilege, to concern yourself with seeming good while the rest of us want to seem worthy of life.

--From the Jezebel piece. Goddamn.
posted by allthinky at 3:22 PM on December 17, 2014 [47 favorites]


And it is our racism and our white supremacy that makes us uncomfortable with those discussions, not misplaced politeness.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2014 [20 favorites]


My first feeling when reading this was defensive (as a white lady) and I thought and wanted to say out loud 'But...not ME!' And then I told myself to shut the fuck up. It seems like part of white privilege is the luxury of being oversensitive...
posted by kitcat at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2014 [23 favorites]


Alternately, to quote Stacey Patton from the first article in the FPP:
We need you to listen, rather than trying to assert dominance or challenging us to prove our worth. We need you to stop deflecting the hard conversation and join us in trying to have it in an honest, authentic, and respectful way.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:24 PM on December 17, 2014 [7 favorites]




The effect of implicit, unconscious racism (and sexism, and ableism, and fatphonia and.. and.. and...) cannot be underestimated. There's growing evidence that our assumptions shape not only our beliefs but also our perceptions - that is, when a white person "doesn't see" a black person, that really can be a perceptual error, and the cause is literally how our brain processes things.

Similarly, in cities with very few bikes there are more incidences of car shitting bikes because the drivers don't see the cyclists.

What this means, though, is that it absolutely has to do with race. Not consciously, but unconsciously, we decide who matters and who is important and who we should pay attention to based on an individuals' characteristics. That gets bent a little online depending on social cues, but you can see similar things played out where race is more obvious, based on the discussion, associated images, or shared information. As can be seen in presumed-anonymous areas, the assumption is that one is unmarked until one marks oneself, and marking oneself is seen as a choice, and often one inviting harassment.

I really recommend the Project Implicit, which is addressing and studying implicit bias and how it affects people and culture.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:31 PM on December 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm talking about those discussions that get the response of "Don't post stuff that makes me uncomfortable please."

No, it's because it's about race, not because it's generically unpleasant. You're missing some serious clues in the article that these responses are not just coming from a relentless and misplaced emphasis on positivity; she describes that the response is racial.

"My dog got hit by a car" does not get the same response. Negative news stories that are not about endemic social injustice to not get the same response. People complaining about issues that effect them--again, if not about endemic social injustice--do not get the same response. It's when the issue is endemic social injustice that many people who have benefited feel uncomfortable and want you to shut up.

Many white people respond this way because it makes them uncomfortable, but it makes them uncomfortable because it's about race.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:31 PM on December 17, 2014 [38 favorites]


bleep: “I don't think the phenomenon being discussed comes from a place of racism or thinking one race is better than the others in any way.”

There is no such thing as "a place of racism." Racism has nothing to do with what people think of other people. Racism has to do with what people say and do.

Take a parallel case – theft. Say a person steals a biscuit. A biscuit is a small thing. I've stolen biscuits – from family or friends at least, which is really the same thing technically. So if a person steals a biscuit, does that mean they are, in their heart of hearts, a thief, through and through? Isn't it possible that they were hungry at that moment, or that they thought it probably wasn't a big deal? Or maybe in this case they were just grabbing their roommate's last biscuit from the package in the pantry, figuring their roommate would forgive them. Does that really make them a thief?

All of this is a stupid way to talk about theft, because theft is pretty simple: it's taking something that doesn't belong to you, and if you do it, you are a thief. We can argue all day long about what a person was thinking in their heart of hearts; we can argue about whether they're really a "thief" through and through; but that's all just a distraction, because if they stole the biscuit, then they stole the biscuit. This is very simple.

Racism is doing or saying something that harms minorities in particular disproportionately. It doesn't have anything to do with motivations. It doesn't have anything to do with what anyone is in their heart of hearts. It has to do with what people do and say, and it's pretty simple to identify it.

Yes, it's tempting to insist that people who do racist things might not be racist in their hearts, just as it's tempting to insist that someone who steals something might not be a mendacious thief trying to hurt others. But that is nothing but a distraction. Racism is racism, and theft is theft.

It's not about motivations at all.
posted by koeselitz at 3:35 PM on December 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


Destruction of the white power system should have a markedly positive impact on many white people, since black people currently aren't contributing nearly as much as they could be to the economy.
posted by jpe at 3:45 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Does that really make them a thief?

Yes. They intended to steal a biscuit and they did so. Motive is irrelevant, it's intent that counts.

A better example: say you grab my biscuit, thinking it's yours. Are you a thief? Nope.
posted by jpe at 3:49 PM on December 17, 2014


I remember sitting in an airport once and watching people on a small flight go through the gate. There was a preferred line, which is the new First Class, and a regular line. The preferred line is supposed to always be taken first because they are paying extra.

In the preferred line was a young black man.

In the regular line were several white people, men and women.

Quiz question: in the battle between "first class" and "race", which won?
posted by Deoridhe at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


What?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:55 PM on December 17, 2014 [25 favorites]


I've been using my "White Lady With Privilege to be Listened to by Some White Racist People" voice on facebook to amplify things that black friends and internet people have shared with by liking and reposting. I want those messages to reach my white racist family and friends. I don't want to elevate my irrelevant experiences and speak for people who are speaking for themselves, but I want to both make sure my silence doesn't imply consent and try to bring a few different perspectives to the Fox brigade.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:01 PM on December 17, 2014 [13 favorites]


jpe: “Motive is irrelevant, it's intent that counts.”

Not with racism. Racism is not about intent. It's about actions and words. Nothing else.
posted by koeselitz at 4:07 PM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can tell you a story, if you are in the mood. None of this is because I am so freaking great.

My brother married a woman who at the time, and probably still, suffers from gross ignorance, which includes racism. Sitting in my living room, in her thick Texas accent asked,"Y'all know what I really like about Salt Lake City?" Smiling, what is it? She said,"Y'all have hardly any n-words here!-(she used the word.) I said that is not a word we use in my house. My brother tried to call me down. When my nine year old asked,"Mom what is a n-word?" I told her it was a name some people call others to show they don't like people with dark skin. My littlest daughter said that she had a girl from India in her class, and she has the most beautiful skin it is all the same brown all over!

Blinking my new sister-in-law asked,"Well if you don't call them that, what do you call them?" I said,"Well, we talk to people rather than about them, and call people by their names."

Big silence all around. You have to keep up in each sucessive moment, pay attention, stay out of the rabbithole, don't be afraid to learn, but you get to be yourself, and steer your flesh machine, whatever it may be. There are some awfully wonderful people on this world. It is really nice when you run into them. Later on I got a new and improved sister-in-law.
posted by Oyéah at 4:08 PM on December 17, 2014 [21 favorites]


I don't know why white people take these statements personally unless they secretly have something to feel guilty about? I'm white but when I read statements like "white people are ruiners" etc., I don't get upset because I'm not one of the ruiners and thus I know that it's not about me.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:28 PM on December 17, 2014 [13 favorites]


There is a huge, huge cultural emphasis on propriety, politeness and positivity. Anything that comes up in a social context that's out of line with the three P's makes their brains short-circuit. I think that's where this stuff about "divisiveness" is coming from. You're supposed to be saying "Perfect!" and "No worries!" and "#Blessed", and if you're not, then you're off script and I'm frightened and confused. It doesn't matter if you're talking about reality or the way things really are or your lived experiences.

I agree with others that such an attitude reinforces racism and so it doesn't really matter if it comes from racist intent or not, but I think bleep's comments very much describe how the "White women's tears" thing plays out in terms of race. There's a definite cultural narrative (as described by the author of the first linked piece) that (white) women are supposed to play out when saying something that could be construed as negative about another woman, one which generally requires the person who is upset to issue copious apologies for even bringing up the subject and pre-emptive "Not all X" to indicate she does not hold anyone in the room personally responsible for her upset and assurances that she herself will try to do better in order not to be upset in the future, and that narrative very much gets in the way of talking about race in any real way. And I think white women get thrown off course when black women talking about racism don't follow that narrative and instead insist on hold white people accountable (as they should!), and so they start crying (in an in-person conversation) or acting miffed (online) as a way of reasserting that cultural narrative assuring them that they didn't do anything wrong.

Which, again, completely reinforces racism.
posted by jaguar at 4:32 PM on December 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


I can only speak for my experience in Hawaii, but out here I catch a glimpse of what life could be like with less white male privilege and, you know, I (as a white man) don't so much lose anything as everyone who isn't white and male around me gains something.

If I can draw a parallel to marriage equality, I as a straight person lose nothing when everyone can marry. My life is gloriously unchanged (except for my excitement that my friends can finally marry the people they love).

That's what would ultimately happen in America if we suddenly found ourselves treating everyone fairly. The lives of white people wouldn't change at all because they're already treated that way - but they could feel glad that everyone was treated fairly.

Thus, its hard for me to read the suppression of black voices (#alllivesmatter) as anything other than a deliberate attempt (albeit occasionally from a point of ignorance or naivety) trying to maintain the status quo via denial and suppression. Or the #notallmen think as anything other than an effort to push women further back from fair treatment.

Putting it another way, if a friend tells me she's currently on fire, I'm not going to scold her for forgetting that I was once on fire or could one day be on fire; nor am I going to make excuses for the flames. I should do the sane thing and help extinguish the flames.

Fellow white people, you're so vain, I bet you think this quote is about you.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2014 [35 favorites]


> I don't get upset because I'm not one of the ruiners

Or maybe you are! (Also, maybe I am!) That's a big part of not acting racist: acknowledging that sometimes you are the one who's being a jerk and sometimes the article does apply to you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:37 PM on December 17, 2014 [32 favorites]


Racism is doing or saying something that harms minorities in particular disproportionately.

Disproportionately to what? Or whom? What if it's disproportionately less?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:40 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's a big part of not acting racist: acknowledging that sometimes you are the one who's being a jerk and sometimes the article does apply to you.

Quoted for truth.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:41 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the thing about the whole "white people are ruiners" thing is, first of all, white people ARE ruiners, this is obvious from even a cursory examination of history or current events. Second, to the extent that I personally am not a ruiner, obviously it's not addressing me. And third, to the extent that I AM a ruiner, I need to hear it!
posted by KathrynT at 4:47 PM on December 17, 2014 [37 favorites]


Sometimes I just ask, "How can I help? Where can I throw my privilege? Where would it be useful to have a white lady being a bitch about this?" I am really good at being a bitch to The Man. Then I do what I've been told is helpful. Sometimes this means I fold fliers in the mailroom instead of being the guy out in front giving passionate speeches. That's okay!

(Sometimes I get told by my friend that I work with a lot on local inequality issues, "We want to show this is a community-wide effort with broad-based support," and I'm like, "You mean you want a white lady who's a mom and owns a house?" and my friend will be like, "EXACTLY," and I am like, "Cool I will go sit and look pretty and say mom-ish things if called on." Sometimes just sitting there showing tacit support is what's needed!)

Jacqueline: "I don't know why white people take these statements personally unless they secretly have something to feel guilty about?"

I think because racism is terrible and "racist" is a really bad thing to be called, white people get tense and defensive because they're upset. White People: IT IS OKAY TO BE UPSET. RACISM IS UPSETTING. At a certain point it occurred to me (in the world's most awkward meeting that I will leave to your imagination but involved a guy saying the phrase "CAN I TELL YOU WHAT I THINK ABOUT THIS AS A WHITE PERSON?" I literally almost died it was so bad) that being called "racist" or "insensitive" was NOT NEARLY AS BAD AS BEING SUBJECT TO RACISM and it's okay if your questions are dumb or wrong or you set your foot wrong. I think well-intentioned white people get really anxious and defensive because they are really trying, and they're terrified of the consequences of putting a foot wrong or of hurting someone's feelings. And it is legit terrifying! Being told you said something racist is AWFUL. Having made someone feel unwelcome or unloved or unwanted because of their race, even for two seconds, is THE WORST. Those are terrible things for a social primate and it is a normal human emotion to be terrified of those consequences! But that horrible sinking feeling in your stomach you feel before you speak up and say something you're not sure is the right thing to say? THAT IS NOT THE WORST THING. Imagine being black and having to speak up against the whole spectrum from crazy-ass racists to well-meaning people who are just a bit ignorant, and you're not always sure which is who, and you're going to be considered a representative of your whole cultural group, and some of these asses would literally like to kill you, and your white-person fear is nothing compared to that. Put a foot wrong. Apologize. Feel humiliated. Move on. Do better. Most people don't want to punish you forever. They want you to do better.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:01 PM on December 17, 2014 [72 favorites]


"it's okay if your questions are dumb or wrong or you set your foot wrong"

I mean it's not great if you hurt people's feelings or say something moronic, but it's better to go for honesty and education than to get defensive and avoid things because you're scared you might fuck it up. If you fuck it up, you should feel bad -- that's what learning feels like in this case -- but it's not the end of the world. You will survive that horrible feeling. Now listen more, and do better. I believe in you!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:04 PM on December 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


Just as a general guideline, if your first response to criticism of how white folks can unconsciously or consciously perpetuate a racist system that works to their advantage is defensive, you are part of the problem. Any sort of equivocating or finding a way to prove that you aren't part of the problem is only devaluing and undermining the issue.
As a liberal white lady who has read a ton of books, I understand and have had that first reaction of "but I'm not like that!" However I am slowly learning that reading about it doesn't equal living it and the best thing that I can do to make this world a better place is listen.
Listen and try like hell to do better.
posted by teleri025 at 5:11 PM on December 17, 2014 [11 favorites]


Once more, Andrew Ti of yo, Is This Racist? Makes the good point that, if your immediate response to being called a racist is to get really angry, you are probably a racist.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:40 PM on December 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


Agreed, defensiveness is a problem -- it would be nice if we could get used to the idea of racism as a kind of Original Sin; it doesn't matter if you weren't the one who ate the apple. Just accept that it's built into the system and you've inherited it, and it's not about you.
And for us little people, listening and trying to do our best is, well, about the best we can do. But I think we need fixes at a governmental level, and lots of them...train the police so that 5 of them can arrest one guy without throwing him to the ground and beating on him, for example; fix the economy so that black people aren't so overwhelmingly poor; etc. and etc. and etc. But I don't think we'll be getting them anytime soon.
posted by uosuaq at 5:47 PM on December 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Argh, I realized I missed a huge caveat at the beginning of my comment which was supposed to be - this is something I am working on because I feel strongly about being part of the solution to dismantling white supremacy and such but as a white lady, my original thoughts on this are not so helpful ... SO what I have been trying to do is (...)
posted by ChuraChura at 5:55 PM on December 17, 2014


Motive is irrelevant, it's intent that counts.

That doesn't make any sense.

And in a racial context, what your intents or motives are doesn't matter as much as whether your words or actions are racist.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:50 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: car shitting bikes

Sorry, can't help myself
posted by wierdo at 11:39 PM on December 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


This seems as good of a place as any to revisit a great article linked in the recent all-encompassing ferguson/nyc thread about white activists who present as anti racist, but don't want to talk about race.

I wrote a post on it in there talking about basically well... exactly this stuff.

I mean, i might not be the person to say it, but when i look around at fellow ostensibly well meaning white people, the #1 thing i want to tell them to shut the fuck up and stop doing is decontextualize things. Shit like in the requires_hate thread when it was like "well not just minority women don't deserve this, no one deserves this!". #AllLivesMatter, no fascist police.

Stop feeling like you need to get in on this not-getting-oppressed action, you're there. It's like saying everyone deserves a slice of pizza at summer camp when you already had two. People need to stop acting like, or believing that decontextualizing this shit and not talking about race isn't an inherently racist action. Because i mean, it might all be a continuum, but it's still active vocal racism, putting it above a lot of casual racist shit.
posted by emptythought at 12:15 AM on December 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


I'm having a very hard time getting my head around it.

- the evil of racism is systemic - all white people benefit from it
- it's pretty much impossible not to participate in the system
- what you say or don't say is participating in the system
--- if you say nothing, you're complicit, because you allow evil to go unchallenged
--- if you say something, you're complicit, because you intervene in and attempt to shape the discourse (and by virtue of your privilege, will inevitably control it / oppress or suppress others)
--- even if you point this out, you're complicit, because you're attempting to set yourself apart from / above the system

The first three are obviously true. It's the tension between these last three that's doing my head in, and the last one in particular, which sounds like a Zen koan, despite the fact that they seem to be perfectly logical corollaries of the first three. Saying nothing seems like moral cowardice. Saying something is fraught with danger. The author of the linked article seems to be saying that just by having this discussion, I'm making things worse.

I suspect I'm simply used to being able to speak about and be heard about anything, whenever I feel like it, and to use speech to shape the world around me. The idea that there's a situation in which, by virtue of my privilege, there is no right way to speak or be heard, is a bit of a headfuck. The implication is that I'm an active proponent and beneficiary of evil, but I can't do anything about it. I hope there's something I'm missing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:35 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


obiwanwasabi, I am no expert, but I don't think privileged people are being asked to shut up, period, in all situations. I feel like we're being asked to shut up and listen to the people who've generally been marginalised/silenced/ignored --in this case, black women-- rather than asking them to listen to us talk about how we feel. But I feel like we are also being asked to talk with our fellow beneficiaries of racism, especially the ones who are actively perpetuating it.

That's a good role for white people, because it enables us to use our privilege to make the world a bit better. It's the same as men telling other men to stop cat-calling women: the privileged person has power that the marginalized person doesn't. So, I can maybe move the needle a bit with my ancient racist uncle at Thanksgiving, or my acquaintance who tells dubious jokes, or the cop hassling the black kid -- where a black person is in a less-good position to do that. That's how we can help.
posted by Susan PG at 2:14 AM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


As a white female I learned to not under-estimate the power of just being there, in my body, silently, in solidarity, in some situations. No need to talk, debate, figure it all out, apologize, explain, show your not like that, be at the forefront and at first feel like you're doing much of anything.

Situation: Standing in group of POC while a group of non-POC hurl threats, harass, racial threats. There's yelling and screaming. The police keep the groups apart. There's me, feeling the spectrum. I'm horrified. I feel completely and utterly helpless, useless. Intellectual me is dumbfounded. Analytical me that wants to help fix is paralyzed. Emotional me is overwhelmed.

Afterwards all I want to do is whisper I'm so sorry, over and over. What do I say? What do I do. What do I do to fix. I got nothing. Never felt so out of my element. I say little if anything. If I do it just feels like it would be more about me. Guilt. Lots of guilt. Lots of mixed emotions.

Then comments come. 'Thank you for being there.' 'You know it meant so much that when all those white people were screaming at us that I saw you, a white face, in our crowd just taking it with us.' 'Thank you for seeing what it's like sometimes.' Many hugs. Genuine, sincere, from the gut, thank you's and appreciation that felt undeserved. I didn't DO or say anything except feel completely humbled and useless. It took me a while to get it. Perception changed.

I learned a lot about what solidarity can mean during those times. What at first felt passive isn't necessarily. Make the coffee, wash the dishes, set-up, clean-up, take the crap while standing beside or even behind. No need for words, no need to explain or get everything explained in the present moment. Ask what people would like done.

Silent in a body can be a powerful thing sometimes.
posted by Jalliah at 5:19 AM on December 18, 2014 [29 favorites]


I walked while white in a black neighborhood at about one o'clock in the afternoon and got followed the whole way by a Lancelot in a cruiser who wanted to protect me from the demons all around me. There was a toddler and his older sister and their uncle or father or some sort of elder-demon all hanging out in their yard getting up to their terrible demonic business. I don't know what it meant but I remember the smallest demon had a bigwheel and was demonically riding it around. I'd've been eviscerated had the officer not been there to protect and serve me that awful day.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:20 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


- what you say or don't say is participating in the system

Yes and no, depending. There's a difference between "As a white person, I'm going to explain what's actually going on, because I have objective knowledge" and "Black person, I hear you. I may not understand because I can't have your experience of living in this society, but I hear you and I support you." And (I think) what you're considering pointing out one's complicity can range from "Not all white people" exceptionalism to "I realize that I am part of the problem, so I am doing my best to change my behavior while not making this all about me. How can I help you?"
posted by jaguar at 6:46 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Jalliah, as an old white woman, I too will go and lend support by being there, by offering to do anything that I can do, but in the last few years, as I read more articles like the OP, and have taken to really listening to not only what other people are saying, but what I, myself, was saying, I've realized that I am so much more steeped in privilege than I realized.

I think that I probably don't deserve an active voice in the conversation about race. I don't have the knowledge to speak to the experience; I will never suffer the indignities or fears of a woman of color. But I will go stand with them, to show my support. I will carry signs. I will lobby legislatures. I will call shame on the bigots who line up against equality.

But I will not assume that I *know* racism. I know wrong when I see it, and I'll do what I can to combat it, but I've learned to take my cues from from the people who have fought this battle every day of their lives.

That said; how tragic is it that my mother marched with Martin Luther King, and here I am, 50 years later, marching in protests because American still hasn't managed to find our way to equality.
posted by dejah420 at 6:47 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


"...finally, they thank us for enlightening them, and ask what they can do to end racism."
Close your gigantic hopper of a mouth and think about it quietly to yourself for two whole seconds? Don't waste people's time asking for advice you know you won't follow because you don't honestly consider this a problem because it does not effect you at all except inasmuch as it requires you to expend slight effort so that you can appear to care on social media sites? Don't try to enlist the help of oppressed people in your efforts to conceal the coldness and hardness of your heart with spurious yap?
posted by Don Pepino at 6:51 AM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've participated in a lot of conversations about race in which white women get teary or offended, and I've found that the tears seem to be motivated by the thought, "I don't want people of color to think of me as racist," rather than by the realization of "Holy shit, I'm supporting racist systems, and I need to find ways to change that." I think that any actions motivated by the former desire -- to appear in a certain way rather than to change oneself -- are going to lead white people into further propping up racism. It's that desire that turns conversations about racism back around to white people's feelings, that makes "colorblindness" and "All Lives Matter" seem like a good idea rather than erasure, that creates a situation in which being accused of racism is somehow seen as the ultimate low-blow.
posted by jaguar at 6:53 AM on December 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've found that the tears seem to be motivated by the thought, "I don't want people of color to think of me as racist," rather than by the realization of "Holy shit, I'm supporting racist systems, and I need to find ways to change that."

This 100% correlates with my own experience. I had an epiphany recently after hearing a friend talk about the experience of listening to her white, male classmates in a diversity seminar talk agonizingly about the difficulty of remembering the right words to use to refer to people of color "because they're always changing". These people don't actually want to be respectful and supportive, they don't actually want to be inclusive and welcoming. They want to know the magic words that they can say that will get them off the hook so they can go back to being completely worry-free and comfortable about race, meaning they never have to think about race at all. Attempting to explain that that's not how it works is inevitably met with indignant bellows of shock and betrayal.
posted by KathrynT at 9:31 AM on December 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


Also, on an emotional level, I have been having a lot of feels about the really sincere guilty white anti-racist allies that seem to be appearing in this thread. I know everyone's trying really, really hard to be the best allies they can be, and talking about how they are ruiners, and it is definitely useful to have people in a position of power understanding that other people are not in a position of power and the historical and societal impact.

But white people turning the conversation to how they know how very, very guilty white people like them are is kind of exactly replicating the same thing that the second article talks about.
We are not like those other white people. See how enlightened and aware we are? See how we are good?
I understand how coming to a sudden horrified realization that you've been doing things wrong can lead to self-flagellating, but self-flagellating isn't exactly useful to anyone but yourself. It doesn't change people's lives. And talking about how they need to stop talking is actually still talking.

The most effective thing guilty white liberals can do is stop talking, pull out their pocketbooks, and donate the price of their morning coffee for a month to an organization which actually directly serves people of color.
posted by corb at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


They want to know the magic words that they can say that will get them off the hook so they can go back to being completely worry-free and comfortable about race, meaning they never have to think about race at all. Attempting to explain that that's not how it works is inevitably met with indignant bellows of shock and betrayal.

One of the discussions of race that I mentioned was in a grad school therapy training program. Several of the white students said some variation of, "Do we have to study all these different cultures and histories and whatever? Why can't they [the professors] just give us a chart so that we know what to say and how to act with each group?" Apparently asking these students to do the work to actually understand even a small slice of various minority group's cultures, so that they could factor it into a client's problems or wellbeing, was an imposition.
posted by jaguar at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


And if you don't have money, because historic advantage doesn't always translate to immediate in-the-now benefit, donating time at nonprofit organizations doing the boring stuff like putting fundraising appeals in envelopes and addressing them is always very useful.
posted by corb at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


The most effective thing guilty white liberals can do is stop talking, pull out their pocketbooks, and donate the price of their morning coffee for a month to an organization which actually directly serves people of color.

In the context of this thread, this is fine for me. I think the reason why "stop talking" has become a mantra amongst racial movements is because white people constantly use PoC as a captive audience to monologue about their emotions and guilt and character development - inadvertently replicating racist dynamics by making it all about them and turning PoC into tools for their personal development. So that needs to stop for sure.

But outside of that dynamic, I think it's important for white people to talk and work through their feelings about race, and I think it can actually be healthy if they're talking to other white people about race in particular. So it's okay to have spaces for that as well - a FPP talking about white allyship on a majority white website (unfortunately, of course, but there's no stepping around that fact) strikes me as a better place to talk about these feelings than if it were many other race-related topics.
posted by Conspire at 11:49 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why does Brit Bennett capitalize "Black" in reference to race but not "white"?
posted by koavf at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2014


Why does Brit Bennett capitalize "Black" in reference to race but not "white"?

I have found myself doing the same thing, mainly because it seems to acknowledge that Black identity is a movement (kind of like deaf/Deaf) but that white identity should really not be a movement because that gets very dangerous.

I'm trying to train myself out of it, because it doesn't make any grammatical sense, but it makes intuitive sense to me.

And here's another article that quotes this point:
I have chosen to capitalize the word “Black” and lowercase “white” throughout this book. I believe “Black” constitutes a group, an ethnicity equivalent to African-American, Negro, or, in terms of a sense of ethnic cohesion, Irish, Polish, or Chinese. I don’t believe that whiteness merits the same treatment. Most American whites think of themselves as Italian-American or Jewish or otherwise relating to other past connections that Blacks cannot make because of the familial and national disruptions of slavery. So to me, because Black speaks to an unknown familial/national past it deserves capitalization.
posted by jaguar at 2:39 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is also a very good article related to this.
Over the past two weeks, I've seen good white people congratulate themselves for deleting racist friends or debating family members or performing small acts of kindness to Black people. Sometimes I think I'd prefer racist trolling to this grade of self-aggrandizement. A racist troll is easy to dismiss. He does not think decency is enough. Sometimes I think good white people expect to be rewarded for their decency. We are not like those other white people. See how enlightened and aware we are? See how we are good?
posted by emptythought at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2014


emptythought, that's the second link in the original post.
posted by jaguar at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


shows how good i am at this -_-
posted by emptythought at 3:47 PM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


If it makes you feel any better, I didn't read that one until you posted it. I missed it the first time around, only reading the first link in the FPP.
posted by Michele in California at 4:19 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


jaguar: thanks for providing some context—what you wrote is helpful but that is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read, considering how serious the topic is and how the persons writing these things are in fact intelligent and literate.
posted by koavf at 4:33 PM on December 18, 2014


(I tried to pair two great essays together - hope that didn't mean that the second one got overshadowed, they're both 'best of the web' imho.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remember sitting in an airport once and watching people on a small flight go through the gate. There was a preferred line, which is the new First Class, and a regular line. The preferred line is supposed to always be taken first because they are paying extra.

In the preferred line was a young black man.

In the regular line were several white people, men and women.

Quiz question: in the battle between "first class" and "race", which won?


Are you asking whether one black man with an expensive ticket is equal to or greater than several white people with a regular ticket? How many black people could afford either? How many black people were on that plane? How easy would it have been to count them? How did one black man in a preferential line come to represent racial equality and class warfare, all by himself? Why do you believe that a story about one black man in a preferential line is relevant to a discussion about race? Why is this a story at all? Why can you can recite it from memory? Why did this stand out to you? Why do you believe you are setting the quiz questions and not taking them?

Class and race intersect. They're not competing influences, they're complementary influences. This isn't a math equation or a chemistry lab. You can't apply the null hypothesis to it or decide that one is too pervasive and taints any attempt to discover truths about the other. If you're going to ask questions, try asking more than one or assuming that you already know all the answers.
posted by Errant at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2014


...er, based on her earlier comment about implicit bias and perception I'm pretty sure Deoridhe was trying to give a demonstrative anecdote in which the black guy in the express line was skipped over, even though he was in the express line
posted by kagredon at 5:55 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


jaguar: thanks for providing some context—what you wrote is helpful but that is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read, considering how serious the topic is and how the persons writing these things are in fact intelligent and literate.

You're certainly allowed to think what you want, but that doesn't even break the top 100 of intelligent people saying ridiculous things that I've seen. Nor do I actually think it ridiculous; the deaf/Deaf differentiation shows that there's precedent.
posted by jaguar at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


Ok? I don't think that changes any of my questions (which were genuine by the way; I think those are worthwhile things to think about and I'm not presuming I know the answer to any of them where Deoridhe is concerned) or the point I was trying to make afterward. The question itself, however well-intended, is flawed on its face. There is no "winning" between class and race, they're not in competition. They're always active and always happening, and sometimes they're happening even when you don't think they are. I'm not calling anyone a racist or taking shots at who I believe to be on "the other side", or my side for that matter. Our awareness of race goes deep, deep down. We notice things that shouldn't be all that noticeable. We remember things that aren't that remarkable, except they happened to someone of color, and we assume that their color turns every moment into an object lesson. In this case, yeah, he probably did get neglected because of his race. I'm also certainly not saying that his race didn't matter; I'm saying that it did, and it did to everybody. It's one thing to remember something minor that happened to you. It's another thing to remember something that happened to someone else and presume you know what's happening there, even if you're probably right.

Having said that, I did miss that Deoridhe was trying to say that story ends with the black man being passed over in favor of the white people. Or, in re-reading it, maybe that was her point, but she didn't actually say that was her point, she just talked about the other stuff, so I don't feel that bad about responding to the information presented. And I don't feel bad about saying that the question "class or race, which one" is a bad question which leads to bad answers, and it would be even if I had understood her main point.

If we say that race won, which I guess is the thing Deoridhe wants to say without saying it, we are implicitly saying that class and race can be compared and weighed in this way. If we ask "class or race", that means that people are justified in saying "class not race", and they're not. If we reduce someone else's presumed experience to a single question, we promote the single story, especially when we believe that the answer to that question is so obvious that everyone will know it; we're implicitly saying that only our answer and no other could happen next. I don't think that's a great way to go about things.
posted by Errant at 6:33 PM on December 18, 2014


...okay? I mean, I don't really want to get embroiled in defending my read of another person's comment and yeah "win" was maybe not the best choice of words to use in the capping line, but I read it as a single anecdote about intersectionality, not a sweeping rhetorical feint. There was also a (deleted) derail upthread where someone was beating the "but the REAL problem is poverty" drum, I think making the point that class doesn't insulate people from racism is all she was trying to do.
posted by kagredon at 6:39 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]



Person of color, if you are doing well than of course your conscience should be pricked and you should wonder if you just mean well or if you are also just part of the problem.


Sorry, late to this, but what does this mean? It sounds like POC who are well off have no place discussing racism/racial politics, which is crazy making to me. Only whites and poor minorities, got it.
posted by zutalors! at 7:05 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I probably reacted more angrily than was warranted because I thought I was seeing the same tired old "class not race" argument and that argument irritates me, although I think framing the point as "race not class" isn't better. Still, my chemistry analogy was terrible and I'll certainly acknowledge jumping the gun probably incorrectly. But the point I'm trying to make now is that to me there's something worth examining in the way that people talk about these things. I'm about to use Deoridhe's name a lot, but I'm just using it as a placeholder to talk about the structure of her anecdote which is like many other people's. I'm not trying to hammer on her specifically, so sorry in advance if this feels pointed, it really isn't.

There was a thread a while back about young Asian-Americans committing suicide under the academic pressure put on them. There were lots of stories about seeing this Chinese kid eating alone or that Japanese kid being depressed all the time. There were relatively few stories from Asian-Americans about experiencing this pressure. At some point, someone said, look y'all, if you saw an Asian eating alone at lunch, you didn't see an isolated and sad Asian. You saw an Asian eating alone at lunch. How she was feeling, what she was thinking, that's her story to tell and not yours to infer.

That's kind of the point I'm making here and, I think, kind of the thing this thread is talking about. If said black man says, "yeah, this thing felt pretty racist to me", and Deoridhe says, "yeah, I was there, that looked really messed up and bothered me too": no problem, great, actually more than great because so many people won't acknowledge this happening in front of their face, good support. If Deoridhe says, "I was talking to this black man and he told me about this messed up thing that happened to him", no problem, seems legit. Even if Deoridhe says, "I saw this thing and it seemed super messed up", that's fine, that was her experience. But this framing of "we all know that it was racism" doesn't work for me. She's not part of the experience, she's viewing it, and in viewing it she's assuming some things to be true. And they probably are true. No one's disputing that. But I kind of have a problem when people tell other people's stories as if they know what that story is.

This isn't a "shut up and listen" thing and it's definitely not a "don't talk about racism, you don't know racism" thing. The distinction I'm making is a fine one, and maybe it doesn't ultimately matter. But we're talking about how to be a good ally and not a Good Ally, and I think this is a way in which good allies can become better ones. When you tell a story, tell your story, but try not to tell other people's stories unless you know what they are. Try not to assume their lectern. It might seem small, but I think it's a way for allies to make the kind of space that we're talking about. If Deoridhe says, "this is a super messed up racist thing, everything's so racist, ugh", it's hard for the other guy to say, "um, I didn't think that was, actually". He'll never want to say that because it'll never be true, but if he did, it would be harder because now he has to gainsay someone. If Deoridhe says, "I saw this thing, it seemed racist to me", there's room for the other guy to say "yeah, it totally was" or "well, actually, I think there was this other thing going on". The other guy has more conversational options and can speak for himself, indeed is invited to speak for himself. The other guy has more of a voice.

Sorry again, Deoridhe. I'm going pretty far afield from your comment, and I did jump on you when I shouldn't have so I'm a jerk, and I've written your name far more than I ever expected to so now my hands hurt. But I genuinely think this is important. I think people should speak, but they should try to avoid the temptation to speak for others without being granted that kind of authority, even when you're pretty sure you can do so accurately. It helps people speak for themselves, and I think that's a big deal.
posted by Errant at 8:08 PM on December 18, 2014


Yes, my story was an anecdote of something I saw once and it was one of those moments when I saw the world friends of mine had told me about but I was usually insulated from. The black man, despite being in the lane which should have gone first, which he paid for, was seated after the white people.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:21 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


A racist act does not make one a racist. An act of thievery does not make one a thief.

> A better example: say you grab my biscuit, thinking it's yours. Are you a thief? Nope.

No, in this case, I am not a thief, but an act of thievery has still occurred and, more importantly, you're still denied your biscuit.

Similarly, isolated unintentional racist acts (or non-acts) are still racism, even if the actor is not racist.

A racist practices racism habitually and/or intentionally, but all humans seem to practice it occasionally.
posted by MoTLD at 11:11 AM on December 19, 2014




I haven't read the responses to my comments yet, and I've been taking a break from the site because of my comments. There was some other shit going on, which I did not recognize until later. Regardless: I apologize, especially to Deoridhe, unreservedly. I don't have any explanation for any of that. It's unrecognizable to me. I'm sorry.
posted by Errant at 11:32 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I stepped away from this thread days ago and just read your comment now - and of course I accept your apology, no question of it.

From my perspective, I am not speaking for anyone when I point out what seems like rather obvious racism. I could have done it in a less "gotcha" manner, though, and so for my lack of clarity, I apologize. I can see how it would have ruffled feathers and been just generally irritating.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


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