Once you let yourself see it, it’s there all the time.
July 13, 2015 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I, Racist "Here’s what I want to say to you: Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America."
posted by scaryblackdeath (68 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are some really great sentences in here. For example:

She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist.

I've encountered this a lot in conversations about race. It's difficult to say "You said a racist thing" without somebody else hearing "You are racist," but it's important to keep the two separate - sometimes, if only for the purposes of a productive conversation.
posted by entropone at 11:51 AM on July 13, 2015 [16 favorites]


This was thought-provoking. Thanks for posting it. I especially liked this:
White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.

But arguing about personal non-racism is missing the point.
A simple, yet really important distinction.
posted by zarq at 11:52 AM on July 13, 2015 [36 favorites]


Silence, and hurt feelings; each, separately. White people have no idea how to be silent when their feelings get hurt.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:06 PM on July 13, 2015 [23 favorites]


White people have no idea how to be silent when their feelings get hurt.

Nobody does until it's beaten into them.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:09 PM on July 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


When will the beatings commence?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


Those, however, are facts that my aunt does not need to know. She does not need to live with the racial segregation and oppression of her home. As a white person with upward mobility, she has continued to improve her situation. She moved out of the area I grew up in– she moved to an area with better schools. She doesn’t have to experience racism, and so it is not real to her.

Nor does it dawn on her that the very fact that she moved away from an increasingly Black neighborhood to live in a White suburb might itself be a aspect of racism. She doesn’t need to realize that “better schools” exclusively means “whiter schools.”


This reminds me of a quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates in Benjamin Wallace-Wells' review of Coates' new book Letters To My Son (previously):
Coates’s quarrel isn’t really with Obama, in the end, or with civil-rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. It is instead with the metaphors through which they made a compromise with the country — Obama as the embodiment of hope and King the embodiment of dreams. These formulations gave white liberals a pass. Coates plays with both these words in his book, reconsidering them, twisting them around. In the very first scene, he disdains white Americans’ “reveling in a specious hope”; later, he urges his son to accept “the preferences of the universe itself,” among them the preference for “struggle over hope.” The Dream became a controlling metaphor for white innocence. “That what your ancestors did doesn’t matter,” Coates explained. “That you went out to the suburbs, and the houses grew from nothing and it’s not contaminated by anything. The idea that you’re entitled to it, and people who don’t have it are either pathological or lower than you. That nothing’s wrong.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:13 PM on July 13, 2015 [24 favorites]


Well, the corollary is:

What do racists say?
Racist things.

So then who are the racists if saying racist things (and upholding the status quo through those statements) does not make one racist?

Is racist an identity that can only be applied if the person themself agrees?
posted by hal_c_on at 12:18 PM on July 13, 2015


that's just the agent-structure debate recast though.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:19 PM on July 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't think there's a real debate between racism being a structural problem and there being a whole lot of racists killing, deporting, and generally oppressing people who don't look like them. Both of these things are true, frequently at the same place and time, which makes it pretty unrewarding to maintain the distinction, but, you know, gotta have decorum.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


This article is so completely true, that it's mind-boggling to admit that it does not capture the totality of the institutionalized racism.

It can only hint at the truth that so many people have lived, and so many cannot understand.

I know for a fact that while I agree with everything this article says, and Ta-Nehisi Coates' writings, I can't understand its totality. I can only understand it intellectually, from a distance.

If I care, and I want to care, but I know that I'm still a racist, and that I cannot possibly understand the whole truth, what does that mean for all of us as a country? When so many are not interested in caring or hearing the truth?

I continue to hope that kids are better. It's the only hope left. When I was younger, more naïve, and ignorant all these problems seemed theoretically solvable. But now it seems only true that it's hard to have a nation of truly free people when we're still emotional slaves to racism. Only children unburdened with our terrible doings have a shot.
posted by Strudel at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Your kids don't get to opt out of the system either.

Don't let the perfect keep the good out.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:33 PM on July 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Racism is the fact that “White” means “normal” and that anything else is different.

Racism, or white privilege...but yeah, that.

I remember arguing about my own privilege with people who think along the lines of "...White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it."
posted by Chuffy at 12:37 PM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


White people have no idea how to be silent when their feelings get hurt.
...
Nobody does until it's beaten into them.
You guys are both white, right? White offs aren't helping either, tbh.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2015 [21 favorites]


I am currently helping a family member make sense of a very public callout she experienced in her workplace over a microaggression. It's been very hard, but she's doing the work - reading everything she can and doing some very honest soul searching.

She and I are talking a lot about White fragility, about the need to withstand criticism, about not expecting credit or absolution or welcoming arms at the end of the process (or even for the process to "end").

We're talking about the need for a new way of thinking that is based entirely on cumulative social outcomes and not on individual intentions. It requires accountability, yes, but it also requires us (White people) to think on a macro scale, to get used to discomfort, to resist our own need to for closure, to suspend our defensiveness even when we feel scapegoated.

It almost feels like taking a religious vow; putting our faith in a process that might not even bear fruit in our lifetime. That framing is helpful for me.
posted by ducky l'orange at 12:40 PM on July 13, 2015 [31 favorites]


I don't think there's a real debate between racism being a structural problem and there being a whole lot of racists killing, deporting, and generally oppressing people who don't look like them.

I know several people who will insist that they themselves are obviously not racist because they, in their heart of hearts, do not harbor evil prejudice toward African-Americans.

They are just rationally responding to economic incentives by moving to neighborhoods that don't have any of "those people" in them, they are just looking out for their kids by putting them in schools with none or almost none of "those people," they are just looking out for their livelihoods by avoiding that "affirmative action hire."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:45 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


We use the same word to mean "a person who uncritically participates in and perpetuates a structurally racist system" and "a Klan member."

It's not, however, the job of the people who are deeply and permanently injured by that system to soothe bruised feelings, when people do not like being called a word whose meaning they refuse to fully comprehend.

The first step for me, as a white lady who is trying to do better, is this: I need to remember that if someone tells me I have said or done something racist, my feelings about that are a distraction from the real issue of figuring out what damage I have caused, and fixing it to the best of my ability.

"I am upset, because someone told me I hurt someone" matters vastly less than "I hurt someone, and I need to make it right," or, just as importantly, "I need to learn from this, and not cause this hurt again."

Not long ago, a friend of a friend said some shockingly racist things in my presence, and I told her as much in fairly strong language. My friend apologized to me for her friend, telling me she was old and contrary and set in her ways; she herself later apologized "for upsetting me." I told them both that my upset was not the issue; that the attitudes behind her words caused measurable harm to real people who I care about, and that is the real problem.

I don't think it sunk in. But I am trying.
posted by nonasuch at 12:51 PM on July 13, 2015 [33 favorites]


... just looking out for their livelihoods by avoiding that "affirmative action hire."

I believe you? I don't think that constitutes a debate. You're just describing the type of semantic bickering that white people get up to in order to exculpate themselves, sort of like in the sermon linked above. If there was a debate, the conversation would be about whether the personal question is personally bigoted or acting bigoted as a result of their place in society. That might be a good conversation to have! But the type of person you're describing isn't debating that subject, though they often try to make it look that way. The conversation they are actually having is "why it's not my problem".

Distinguishing various shades of problematic behavior can be all kinds of useful if you're actually interested in the distinctions.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:58 PM on July 13, 2015


My girlfriend send me this a few days ago, as part of an on-going discussion about race that we, as an inter-racial couple, don't have the luxury of ignoring. (I sent her the "Maybe White People Don't See Race" piece that was on the Blue about the same time.) We looped around to a consistent theme of talking about segregated spaces, particularly the large swathes of this country that are overwhelmingly, blindingly, never-actually-meet-a-black-person, white, and how that affects discussion of race.

Part of the problem, and in-line with the article, is that the residents of those super-majority white areas would never describe themselves as "segregated." To them, an overwhelming racial majority is just "normal," so long as that majority looks like them. Their general lack of personal interaction with any POC of color, and any black people in particular, means their viewpoint that their own cloistered experience is anything other than normal never gets challenged. They will not have the experience of, as my girlfriend routinely does, checking to see if she will be the only black person at an event before deciding to attend. Nor will they have someone who, at an integrated event, will note how all the white people are hanging out together on one side of the room and all the black people are hanging out on the other side of the room.

These segregated groups get the privilege of seeing their own worldviews as normal. That viewpoint gets further reinforced by popular media, where the white worldview is assumed, and which may be their only regular "interaction" with POC. So you have a large swathe of white people who might not actually know any black people, might not actually interact with them if they do, and probably don't have a relationship where they can discuss these things freely and frankly. Instead they have as their template mass media, which really just serves to amplify the casting of black people as The Other in society.

I really like the point that racism in media is subtle and that too often we look for racism in the form of snarling dogs, fire hoses, and southern Sheriffs; the Civil Rights Movement template, when racism was very out and open. Instead, when we see these tropes used now, it's like a pat on the back to these segregated white people, assuring them that, since they've never burned a cross or called someone the n-word, they're not really racist. The story excoriates the caricature of the racist... and then returns to the "normal," all-white, central cast.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:58 PM on July 13, 2015 [23 favorites]


You guys are both white, right? White offs aren't helping either, tbh.

They could save you a bunch on taxes.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:59 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Don't read the comments" applies to here, but there is one exception I think everyone should make. About 2/3 of the way in, Metta writes, "And White people, every single one of you, are complicit in this racism because you benefit directly from it."

There then follows a series of people trying to play "Gotcha!" by saying that this argument means that Metta himself benefits from:

- Child labor/slavery in textiles

- Discrimination against women

- the genocide of Native Americans

Metta replies to each of these commenters by affirming that he is complicit in, and benefits from, these forms of oppression. It's a very direct show of him backing up, and directly demonstrating, the message in his article.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:13 PM on July 13, 2015 [20 favorites]


That mentality of over-sensitivity and defensiveness, combined with just pure ignorance about how things work and have worked in this country w/r/t race, help me understand a little better about "reverse racism" and why so many white people insist it's a thing.

For example: an email forward from my racist relative went into all this first-person narration of how they walk down the street and people shout at them "honky!" and "you cracker, you!" and how much it is just so terrible. Despite the fact that this has almost certainly never happened to the white narrator (I mean really, where to start), the point of the email is that racism goes both ways and that white people's feelings can be hurt, too. Etc. etc. And I don't know if it's just in my family, but if you try to talk about systems of privilege that benefit white people, they start inventing injustices like "being called a honky" and "affirmative action," and (bonus round) "Black History Month."

Pieces like this should be required reading, and schools should do a better job teaching racism as one big messy system with lots of subtlety, rather than sealing it in a time capsule with burning crosses and slavery.
posted by witchen at 1:14 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


The article is effective because it does a great job of protecting white feelings while at the same time pointing out the inherent racism of silently benefiting from a racist societal system.
posted by caddis at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


As soon as I hit submit on my comment, I thought "oh my god what an Annoying White Guy thing to say, I should shut the hell up." But, as so often happens, the self-awareness that I can muster only musters five seconds too late.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I once had a conversation with a Pakistani man. He had spent many years working in the UK, but decided against applying for British citizenship and choose, instead, to work in the UAE. He found the racism in the UK unbearable, he said. As an example, he recounted an incident where he was walking home from work, and some random guy called him a Paki, and it ruined his whole evening. What was interesting to me was that he would prefer the UAE, because in my experience, the US or UK are far more comfortable places than the UAE to be South Asian. And he talked about how, as a consultant engineer, being a Pakistani meant that every time his firm in the UAE wanted to assign him to a client, they had to do extra work to convince the client that being a Pakistani didn't make him incompetent.

To me, the random name-calling jerk (the individual racist) would be a lot easier to dismiss than a system where my professional qualifications and record would always be called into question because of my ethnicity (to me, a much more institutional racism), but he obviously felt differently. It's puzzled me for the several years that have passed since that conversation. The powerful injustice of structures seems so much more evil to me.
posted by bardophile at 1:35 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


There then follows a series of people trying to play "Gotcha!" by saying that this argument means that Metta himself benefits from:

- Child labor/slavery in textiles

- Discrimination against women

- the genocide of Native Americans


I find it revelatory that there are people who would consider pointing those out to be "gotchas".
posted by deathmaven at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


bardophile, perhaps the name calling made him feel afraid he might be physically attacked, and the tradeoff for treatment elsewhere was less upsetting. More probably, that was probably only the tip of the iceberg of the ways he was badly treated in the UK.
posted by emjaybee at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am a white lady in a primarily white industry in an increasingly white city. It was only in the past few years (and thanks in large part to discussions here on Metafilter) that I was able to admit to myself that yes, I am totally getting preferential treatment and benefiting at the expense of many other people. But now I'm not entirely sure what to do about it.

I would love a more diverse group of friends and have learned a lot from my friends of color when they were in my sphere. But I can't exactly go approach some random person and be like, "Hey! Be my friend and help me learn things!" The onus shouldn't be on them. But that leaves me in my bubble where my friends and their friends and the friends of those friends are predominantly white. I want to start getting more involved in my community, which is actually pretty diverse. I am hoping that will broaden my circle of acquaintances and help me see beyond my own perspective. I don't want to be in an echo chamber but I'm not sure how to get out.

Likewise, I feel really conflicted about trying to talk to other white people, or really anyone, about race. It grosses me out that I would potentially be listened to when there are so many other voices who have much more direct experience. I feel the same way about Jon Stewart's response to the Charleston shooting. I think it's wonderful that he got so many people to start thinking and talking about the issue, but it makes me really sad that we white people couldn't hear those ideas, which have been well established by black voices, until a white man expressed them. I have nothing of value to add to the conversation personally, but I don't want to stay silent and tacitly consent. I've been trying to amplify messages that have resonated with me, like this essay. And I donate from time to time when I can.

Sincerely though, what else can I do to fight against racism while respecting that this has never been my personal experience? I have learned to start recognizing the problem and now I want to help be part of the solution.
posted by chatongriffes at 1:50 PM on July 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


The article is effective because it does a great job of protecting white feelings while at the same time pointing out the inherent racism of silently benefiting from a racist societal system.

If you prefer something that goes straight for the jugular: Why White Men Have Every Right to Be Upset About Diversity.

(That one only turned up on my FB feed twenty minutes ago. I wish I'd seen it before posting the Metta piece, because I would've posted them together. I think they contrast beautifully (as in "ouch") in style and tone.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2015 [28 favorites]


I've been trying to actively, purposely read these articles whenever I find them (and thanks, Mefites, for helping me find them), and applying them to my own life. I recognize that while consciously, on purpose, I try not to be racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, etc., I know I don't always succeed, sometimes due to ignorance, and sometimes due a failure of imagination, thought, or simple fairness.
There are a lot of people I know who never use the wrong word or say the wrong thing, but benefit every day, or offend by exclusion. I'm one of them.
Trying to improve, both myself and my world, is what I can do; actually improving is what I can expect of myself.
posted by librosegretti at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


that's just the agent-structure debate recast though.

It's only a debate to people who have yet to comprehend that self-agency and systemicism aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by polymodus at 2:14 PM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


...about not expecting credit or absolution or welcoming arms at the end of the process (or even for the process to "end").

"You will not be welcomed or granted absolution until you AND everyone else improves."

One concept that Christianity (and many other religions, but I know Christianity best among them) has that should be more common is that it treats true repentance (not an "I'm sorry" but a demonstration that you have made a change for the better) as a joyful step in the process toward holiness. The process never ends, but withholding any acknowledgement, any absolution, any welcoming of change is also abusive, however righteous it may feel. Everyone, religious or otherwise, who revel in condemnation and don't even make a tiny bit of room for gladness in small steps is missing a lot of the point.

Everyone should feel a little good about doing a little good, and continue on the process. Often it's that little bit of welcoming or little sense of absolution rather than relentless shame that maintains someone's motivation to change for the better.
posted by chimaera at 2:25 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Even when we make shit up, we want it to be white.
posted by infini at 2:28 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Re: witchens' anecdote about "honky" reverse-racism--this is addressed beautifully in this essay: The Revolution Will Not Be Polite.
posted by Sublimity at 2:35 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


But I can't exactly go approach some random person and be like, "Hey! Be my friend and help me learn things!"

Well, no. If that's why you want someone to be your friend, they are unlikely to be interested in being your friend, and you are unlikely to be a good friend to them.

There are a few different problems at work here, all tangled together: for a start, it's much harder for post-college adults to befriend total strangers. We tend to meet new people through the social networks we already have, and if those networks are not diverse they tend to stay that way. An adult human being is not likely to want to befriend a clueless but well-meaning stranger who desires their friendship in order to be taught how to be less racist.

Like, if a stranger with whom I shared no common interests came up to me and said "I don't have any Jewish friends-- would you like to be my token Jewish friend and teach me how to be cool around Jewish people?" I would be gone so fast I'd leave a me-shaped hole in the nearest window.

But there are people of color in the world who share your favorite doorstop fantasy novel series. There are people of color in the world who like making conversation in line at the grocery store. There are people of color in the world who are wearing incredibly cute shoes and you really really want to know where they got them.

Start by being friendly, without wanting anything in return. Be interested in the people around you. Work on the assumption that you have something in common with most people, even if they seem very different. You will, at the very least, have some interesting interactions and perhaps make some new acquaintances; friendship can grow from there.
posted by nonasuch at 2:55 PM on July 13, 2015 [25 favorites]


(also, if am coming off as condescending here I apologize-- that is super not my intent and honestly a lot of this stuff I did not figure out even as far as I have until pretty recently. and the fact that I've gotten this far is thanks to POC doing a lot of eye-opening writing and speaking and WORK that I was not entitled to and am super grateful for.)
posted by nonasuch at 3:09 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's only a debate to people who have yet to comprehend that self-agency and systemicism aren't mutually exclusive.

That's a smugly dismissive way to characterize a fundamental and unresolved debate about how the world works and how to conceive our role as agents in that world. Anyway, its wrong too: its not about exclusivity, its about what's more relevant/important/ a better explanation at any given moment.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:20 PM on July 13, 2015


I'll be honest, every time I have a conversation with a (usually) white person regarding this topic, I get ever so close to the event horizon.

She writes: "I can’t have a conversation with them about the details of a problem if they don’t even recognise that the problem exists. Worse still is the white person who might be willing to entertain the possibility of said racism, but still thinks we enter this conversation as equals. We don’t."

It is pretty awful, to hear time in and time out that maybe I'm the one who's introducing racism into it, and maybe she really was just a talentless hack meant to be the scapegoat. Sometimes, I don't know why I bother.
posted by qcubed at 3:40 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is good stuff.

But I feel duty-bound to point out yet again that the Samaritans are and were an ethnic/religious minority who were looked down on by the audience of the parable.

The phrase "Good Samaritan" sets my teeth on edge, because the whole point of that tale was "But what if he's One Of The Good Ones, eh? What then?"
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:01 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


The phrase "Good Samaritan" sets my teeth on edge, because the whole point of that tale was "But what if he's One Of The Good Ones, eh? What then?"

The connotations of the common name of the tale itself notwithstanding, I think you misunderstand the point of the parable. The parable's point isn't "what if he's One Of The Good Ones?" as a question, but rather the assertion "The Good Ones Can Be Found Everywhere." It's a subtle difference, perhaps, but I think it's important.
posted by chimaera at 4:07 PM on July 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


We basically need a red pill for White people. Once you take that, well... Somewhere, somehow, someone gave one to me and I took it. Of course, it was very difficult to swallow, did not go down easily at all. Which is not to say that I wanted to spit it back up, but that it was like a square peg in the round consciousness of my life experience.
posted by PigAlien at 4:29 PM on July 13, 2015


nonasuch, thank you for your thoughtful feedback! I definitely did not mean to make it sound like I just want people of color to be my friend as a token or to teach me lessons! You were very gracious about that. My previous groups of more diverse friends were founded on friendliness and common interests, as you describe. Because people moved and investment in our common interests wax and wane, I am no longer in touch with many of them. My life was richer with them in it and I miss them. I am hoping that getting more involved with my diverse neighborhood will help. And I'm always willing to befriend someone over shoes!
posted by chatongriffes at 4:54 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's a smugly dismissive way to characterize a fundamental and unresolved debate about how the world works and how to conceive our role as agents in that world. Anyway, its wrong too: its not about exclusivity, its about what's more relevant/important/ a better explanation at any given moment.

Yes, I am smugly dismissive of invalid debates, e.g., debates that are argued in bad faith and serve the interests of racists under the guise of some quest for grand philosophical truth.

People who want the armchair discussion about problems in the nature of action and agency, in attribution bias, in the various legacies of Durkheim or Marx, and so on, I'm all ears. But the actual content of discussion is never about these things, but the ideological weaponization of these concepts. I hate it.

And finally, it is wrong because a claim that "its about what's more" either preemptively answers the debate, or serves as the continuous extension of the discrete exclusion relation.
posted by polymodus at 4:55 PM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


We basically need a red pill for White people.

Let's not forget that at least one person who took the red pill regretted it and then decided to try and destroy everything they and their erstwhile allies worked for.

Ignorance truly is bliss for a lot of these people. Disabusing them of that, while probably good, is going to be awfully messy.

What drives me up the wall, though, is that a lot of those complaining about how minorities get a lot of benefits, like that fucking moron who didn't get into UT, seem to think that being a minority gives you "privileges" like money raining down from the government or favorable laws. They rant and rail, but it comes from a position of staggering ignorance.

If being a minority was such a nice thing to have, they they oughtn't worry because they'll get that treatment soon enough.
posted by qcubed at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am convinced that the cure for racism is to make a supreme effort to be kind and compassionate. I mean real compassion and kindness. Not a fucking easy thing to do. We are isolated as individuals and even the concept of community is fractured. What is left to bring us together? We have to change our hearts first. It hurts to face the conceits we carry in our hearts and minds. That is where the healing starts, facing the ugly thing that racism is and accepting that it comes from a place of pure small-mindedness and fear. We humans need to grow up and try super hard time see beyond ourselves and be truly kind to other people.

If I can't change my own world, which should I bullshit about changing the larger one?
posted by thebestusernameever at 5:49 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sincerely though, what else can I do to fight against racism while respecting that this has never been my personal experience? I have learned to start recognizing the problem and now I want to help be part of the solution.

You could support the ACLU and other organizations working to end institutionalized racism:
Though generations of civil rights activism have led to important gains in legal, political, social, employment, educational, and other spheres, the forced removal of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of those of African descent marked the beginnings of a system of racial injustice from which our country has yet to break free. From our public schools where students of color are too often confined to racially isolated, underfunded, and inferior programs, to our criminal justice system that disproportionately targets and incarcerates people of color and criminalizes poverty, to the starkly segregated world of housing, the dream of full equality remains an elusive one.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:06 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


"facing the ugly thing that racism is and accepting that it comes from a place of pure small-mindedness and fear"

Personal prejudice comes from small mindedness and fear. Racism comes from powerful people in history who wanted to exploit people for their own personal gain, and who created a system that allowed them and their children to do that. Part of that system was teaching personal prejudice to their children and children's children so that system could perpetuate itself.

You don't have to be small minded or fearful to believe a lie.
posted by PigAlien at 6:39 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am convinced that the cure for racism is to make a supreme effort to be kind and compassionate.

There were nine people who were kind and welcomed a stranger to bible study.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 PM on July 13, 2015 [23 favorites]


I saw this about two weeks ago, but I'm glad someone shared this. It can really change your point of view.

For extra credit, I would strongly recommend paraphrasing it into the perspective of women, and seeing whether what it says resonates with you.
------------------------------------------

To understand, you have to know that women think in terms of women. We don’t see a vicious rape, assault, or a murder of an innocent woman as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is raped, assaulted, or murdered...

Men are not compelled to think in terms of we. They have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are “you,” I am “one of them.” Men are often not directly affected by sexism even in their own community.... They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.

What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my uncle, the suggestion that “men are sexist" is an attack on him as being sexist. He is unable to differentiate his participation within a sexist system. . . from an accusation that he, individually, is sexist. Without being able to make that differentiation, Men in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-sexism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.

The result of this is an incessantly repeating argument where a woman says “Sexism still exists. It is real,” and a man argues “You’re wrong, I’m not sexist at all. I don’t even see any sexism.” My uncle’s immediate response is not “that is wrong, we should do better.” No, his response is self-protection: “That’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything. You are wrong.”. . .

Sexism is not simply sex slavery, which still exists in virtually every country of the world, with approximately 20,000 victims in the US alone. It's not avoiding the use of the word bitch. The women's movement did not end sexism. Sexism is a cop or a prison guard using his power to sexually harass or rape a woman. It is a young woman being drugged or raped with no meaningful legal way to seek a conviction of the guilty party, simply for being a social being who has every right in the world to decide for herself who she does and does not want to have sex with.

Living every single day with institutionalized sexism and then having to argue its very existence, is tiring, and saddening, and angering. Yet if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we’re being angry. In fact, a key element in any argument on sexism is the Angry Woman, and discussions on sexism shut down when that person speaks. The Angry Woman invalidates any arguments about sexism because they are “just being overly sensitive,” or “too emotional,” or– playing the sexism card. Or even worse, we’re told that we are being sexist. (Does any intelligent person actually believe a systematically oppressed demographic has the ability to oppress those in power?)

------------------------------------------
(I would expand and clarify this by saying)

When a man is angry and forceful, they are viewed through the prism of being an individual and showing strength. Often, they are rewarded for their behavior. But similar behavior from a woman or a black person would be horribly damaging, possibly even career-destroying, leading to the widespread use of the Angry Woman or Angry Black label. And so, we are forced to censor ourselves and be more tactful... only to be widely accused of being not only angry, but phony and a sellout, unable to properly and fully articulate the hardships of others who face the same thing every day.

------------------------------------------------------------

Here’s what I want to say to you: Sexism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the sexist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.

That’s what I want to say, but really, I can’t. I can’t say that because I’ve spent my life not talking about sexism to men. In a big way, it’s my fault. Sexism exists because I, as a woman, don’t challenge you to look at it.

Sexism exists because I, not you, am silent.

But I’m caught in the perfect Catch 22, because when I start pointing out racism, I become the Angry Woman, and the discussion shuts down again. So I’m stuck.

Men are in a position of power in this country because of sexism. The question is: Are they brave enough to use that power to speak against the system that gave it to them?

So I’m asking you to help me. Notice this. Speak up. Don’t let it slide. Don’t stand watching in silence. Help build a world where it never gets to the point where an innocent woman is bloodied and broken.

As for me, I will no longer be silent. I’m going to try to speak kindly, and softly, but that’s gonna be hard. Because it’s getting harder and harder for me to think about the protection of men's feelings when men don’t seem to care at all about the loss and destruction of so many women's lives.
posted by markkraft at 7:44 PM on July 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's amazing how our assumptions make this whole situation so much harder.

You don't want to talk about race in front of me - for it could give me the liberty to confirm my biases that support white privilege. I'm too embarrassed to talk about privilege in front of you - the energy required for you to "assume best intentions" is exhausting. And I'm too proud to be vulnerable in revealing how out of touch I may be.

On the radio this weekend Terry Gross interviewed an author with mixed ancestry. Even for someone whose a person of color in a somewhat ambiguous nature, there's a palpable tension in acting like yourself when the people around you don't know what permissions society has given you.

At a point in my 20's, by weird twists of circumstances, I ended up in a group of friends that was largely black and Hispanic. Racism as classically conceived (for example, a loudmouthed bigot at a bar or a Georgia frat boy moving out of the dorm to avoid a black roommate) they talked about that stuff when I was around. No one talked about white privilege when I was around. One week at work we were all encouraged to take the Harvard Implicit Association Test. No one would be surprised by my score (surprise! I'm biased towards people who look like me!) but no one felt comfortable asking what the results were when it came to race. We played it safe.

But who can blame us? When I moved to a notoriously segregated city, I rented in the neighborhood close to the bad neighborhood.

I started typing up a Facebook post trying to explain white privilege to my Oklahoma family. I'm not a writer, or a philosopher, or a preacher. I knew hundreds of people already explained it better than I ever could. With more authenticity. But I assumed since I was white, my family was more likely to listen to me. Oh yes, the privilege runs deep in this one. Maybe someday I will figure out how to talk about privilege without becoming the reeking paragon of festering self congratulation.

Yeah, our assumptions make this pretty fucking hard alright.
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:56 PM on July 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


"For extra credit, I would strongly recommend paraphrasing it into the perspective of women, and seeing whether what it says resonates with you."

One thing that's been troubling me more and more is the license certain "non-racists" I encounter in life have in making a race based jokes or remarks around me because we're both liberal whites (I guess?). But "it's okay cause I have a..." Filipino wife," or black friend, or Cuban fuck buddy, or whatever. Oh you interact with people of color on a daily basis and have sex with them? Yeah, you couldn't possibly be prejudiced against people you slept with. Goodness knows never in the history of man have dudes ever treated our spouses as something worth less than us.
posted by midmarch snowman at 8:07 PM on July 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


You don't want to talk about race in front of me - for it could give me the liberty to confirm my biases that support white privilege. I'm too embarrassed to talk about privilege in front of you - the energy required for you to "assume best intentions" is exhausting. And I'm too proud to be vulnerable in revealing how out of touch I may be.

It is exhausting. And it sucks. How is someone to know whether the other has the best intentions, when one finds so frequently the other does not? Or that the other is only willing to go so far, before seeing the abyss and drawing back?

I know a person whose best friend is truly well-meaning. That best friend, however, has a strange tendency to always try to find an alternate explanation. He doesn't even realize that he does this, and when it gets pointed out to him, he pauses, reflects, and then does it all over again the very next time any remotely similar discussion happens. Again, that best friend has the best fucking intentions--he could pave the road to hell at least a thousand times over, but it doesn't seem to matter--because there are always other possible explanations. Or that maybe racism, or sexism, or whatever other ism, might not be a real factor, in that case. Or instead, he clutches onto the hope that history's tide is always for the better, ignoring the fact that the tide goes in, and it goes out, and one can't always explain that.

And so this person frequently gets to the point of, "Well, we'll agree to disagree," wincing yet again from the lingchi, while the best friend gets more and more frustrated, feeling as if the person is just slowly giving up on those discussions.

When even those with the best intentions still make it a frustrating, exhausting, Sisyphean experience, why should anyone of any minority really try and bother talking to those they don't know well? How does one even dare to deal with the curse of hope?
posted by qcubed at 10:42 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am convinced that the cure for racism is to make a supreme effort to be kind and compassionate. I mean real compassion and kindness.

What is the difference between those that continue to turn the other cheek as they are beaten repeatedly, and those who are not given the option of a response when beaten repeatedly?

I assume the assumption for the former is there is some moral high ground, which is a great hill to get martyred on.
posted by qcubed at 10:52 PM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


These revelations, in the public eye and in print, over the past year, have been a bit of shock to many young Africans, who've always swallowed the media generated version of America.

The Economist on the other hand, takes it upon themselves to write about "Free blacks coming over" - Excuse me??

And the sneaky thing is that that's the sentence that shows up in google news search but isn't the subhead once you click through. WTF? Have they lost all claims to any kind of unbiased reporting with this kind of nonsense?

Furthermore, since I'm on this rant anyway, there's a new media site purporting to be focused on African business etc out of NY, by a branding/marketing media org, whatever that may mean. Their job is to take regular old articles and twist the headlines into the worst interpretations they can find. The slant is shamefully obvious and very little to do with the content. Yet when I dig, I discover that its mostly 'african-american' editorial board. What's up with that, then?

Their slanted version of the original piece.

Sometimes it feels like a losing battle against the prejudice and patronization inherent in headlines, narratives and the media. Meh.

/rant under theme of "once you let yourself see it"
posted by infini at 2:10 AM on July 14, 2015






The most successful female athlete of all time just got body shamed in the New York Times

I don't think that's true. Clicking through to the actual Times article instead of just reading the Yahoo Finance summary, the Times was writing more generally about society's ambivalent and often destructive attitudes about female tennis players' bodies, rather than "shaming" anyone. They talk about several women tennis players, such as Radwanska, Petkovic, and Sharapova, who are ambivalent about having athletic bodies - not just Williams - and include positive quotes about Williams from Pam Shriver and Eugenie Bouchard.
posted by aught at 6:22 AM on July 14, 2015


That said, back to the issue of race, watching some of the women's Wimbledon coverage (particularly the match between Williams and Watson) I found it hard to separate some of the commentary about things like Williams' "aggressive" play, her "powerful" physique, her "bad temper" on the court from racial stereotypes - I'm old enough to remember Jimmy the Greek losing his job for making dumb-ass comments about African Americans. Also troublesome was the overtly nationalist cheering of the crowd against Williams. So... when does nationalist cheering blend into ethnic identification, and that blend into racial bias? Anyhow, while there was some intense tennis during that match, I couldn't help think about these aspects of the crowd's response to play, which included somewhat startling jeering and booing of Williams, particularly given Wimbledon Center Court's reputation for decorum as a venue.
posted by aught at 6:35 AM on July 14, 2015


aught: once again, Key and Peele are pretty much on point.
posted by qcubed at 7:00 AM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


aught: once again, Key and Peele are pretty much on point.

Yep, though the even more disturbing aspect of that Wimbledon match (to me) was the riled-up crowd.
posted by aught at 7:12 AM on July 14, 2015


We've discussed the crappy race-based treatment of Williams here before.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


But arguing about personal non-racism is missing the point.
A simple, yet really important distinction.


This quoted comment is from really far up-thread now, but that's exactly what I'm trying to say when I talk about how so many important discussions devolve into arguments about "identity issues." Instead of talking constructively about the problems, participants get distracted by and sort of knuckle down on defending who they think they are as people. Then it becomes a much harder conversation to have constructively.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think people need to learn how to hold the ideas "I am an okay person" and "I am at least somewhat racist" in their head at the same time
posted by tehloki at 1:36 PM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yet this is the struggle that exhausts PoC every single day. "I'm personally not a bad person" from your reaction to my existence.
posted by infini at 2:04 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I, Tiberius Racist Nero Drusus Germanicus...
posted by Captain l'escalier at 7:05 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


this is an interesting read, of the consciousness being raised, by South African white researchers in deep rural community. Couched in academic language, its nonetheless an "empowering" realization.
posted by infini at 6:30 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think people need to learn how to hold the ideas "I am an okay person" and "I am at least somewhat racist" in their head at the same time

Most won't. We've defined "racist" to be among the worst kind of person and no one wants to think of themselves that way. Easier to just say "everyone is little biased".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:10 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Agreed. I think "racist" is close to "rapist" in our cultural imagination, describing someone who is not just wrong but depraved and evil, which triggers knee-jerk denial, which makes reflection a lot less likely. At the same time, it's important to call things by their real names, so I don't know what to do about it exactly.
posted by ducky l'orange at 10:32 AM on July 15, 2015


An anecdote from a thoughtful article in Jacobin:
When our father was a baby, our great-grandmother would take him to a park in Charleston and ride him around in a baby carriage that she had fancied up with her own handwork — crocheted ruffles and flourishes and so on. It looked from the outside like the equipment of an upper-class white baby. She would go to the park every day taking my father around, where a white Irish police officer would smile at her.

He thought he knew what he was looking at: a servant in an upper-class white family, taking the baby of that family for an outing. But when he came close enough to see there was a black baby in the carriage then everything changed, and he tried to order our great-grandmother out of the park.

What that episode also illustrates is a relationship of class hierarchy between white people. When that police office smiled and was congenial toward the black woman pushing along the baby carriage, he was expressing his sense of subservience to the employers he assumed she was working for. In other words a class relationship between white people took the form of a relationship between white and black people.

Much of the substance was beneath the surface, but his attitude changed after kowtowing to white employers only to realize they weren’t there, that he had actually been kowtowing to a black woman.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:51 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


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