What Goes Through Your Mind: On Nice Parties and Casual Racism
January 5, 2016 12:19 PM   Subscribe

"All these thoughts steamroll through my mind in the span of a few seconds, calculations firing while my cheeks burn and I stare at my plate. For the last time, I consider defending myself. Just giving voice to the confusion and anger and mortification I feel boiling in the pit of my stomach. But I know, in an instant that reminds me of countless others like it, that I’m not that person. The truth sinks in: I am the only one who can make sure that everybody keeps having a good time." Nicole Chung on what it's like when your holiday dinner is ruined by racism.
posted by zeusianfog (175 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I don't understand. Why do you think someone would tell me that?"
posted by cmoj at 12:34 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


When some bullet-head starts talking madness, that's where the party ends.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:35 PM on January 5, 2016 [54 favorites]


"As the faint roaring in my ears subsides"

nodding.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:35 PM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


I am only about three paragraphs in and I am thinking those are the exact words that were running through my head right before I got up and left the dinner table and spent the better part of an evening fighting off tears and most of the night quietly sobbing.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by invokeuse at 12:43 PM on January 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


I can't even imagine the thought process (or lack thereof) that leads to that sort of question.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:51 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


The social pressure on people of color to keep the peace, not get mad,

... to give the benefit of the doubt, to reassure everyone that yes, of course we consider that the person was just trying to be nice/give a compliment/is socially awkward before we go accusing them of the nearly impossible*: that they said something racist. Yeah. Exhausting.

* heavy sarcasm on the "nearly impossible"
posted by rtha at 12:58 PM on January 5, 2016 [42 favorites]


I can't even imagine the thought process (or lack thereof) that leads to that sort of question.

If we're going to give her the benefit of the doubt and decide that she ISN'T just another fucking racist halfwit, then the short version is called "sheltered white obliviousness" and the longer version is like, 5-6 hours of me clutching people by their lapels and shaking them while sobbing "for god's sake people do your best to live your lives in places where actual diversity exists because otherwise your kids are going to grow up into adults who say shit like this" until everyone is really uncomfortable.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2016 [108 favorites]


Any satisfaction I felt would no doubt dissipate in the face of my questioner’s shock and anger. Our friends and family would feel obligated to jump in and mediate, and I would be the bad guy.

I'm fortunate enough that if I called a dinner guest on a grossly insensitive, stereotypical and just plain stupid question directed at me, I don't think my friends and family would feel obligated to jump in and mediate, nor would I be the bad guy.
posted by layceepee at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am the only one who can make sure that everybody keeps having a good time.

I'm white, and so I can't speak about racism-but when sexist or homophobic shit comes up, it's like. Do I wanna assert my humanity or refrain from ruining the situation? (I have social anxiety so you can guess which one always wins).
And that is, really, an unfair amount of pressure. Which is why I urge you: white people speak up. And do so on your own. Don't do it expecting the person of color to back you up, don't try to pull them into it. Don't give them sideways glances like "I'm trying to save your ass here, step in at any time". The repercussions on people of color who speak up against racism are more severe, and they should not have to decide between being punished or being respected.

Racism is about power, and if white people are pulling some shit, it should be other white people (people w the same amount of power in the racial hierarchy) that calls them out and cuts them down.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [108 favorites]


This is where you have license to be a mirror and make the racist's idiocy obvious even to them.

"Really, I look like EVERYONE on the show? So I look like the husband? No? What about the wrinkly old woman, do I look like her? OK, what about the 9 year old boy, do I look like him? So it's just Constance Wu I look like? That's nice because she's very attractive but would you mistake me for her in the street though? Right, we don't actually look alike. "
posted by w0mbat at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


My white privilege leads me to just want to say, "Aw, fuck it," and start the conversation that needs having. I don't have a problem being "rude" at the table. My family hates it when I get started on conservatives, for instance.
posted by Chuffy at 1:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is where it helps to develop a long history of saying things that make people feel awkward. The correct response for me in that situation would be "Well hello racism, I didn't expect to see you here!" Then, of course the racist would say something like "hey, that's not racist, I'M not a racist!". And the fun goes on from there.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


Do I wanna assert my humanity or refrain from ruining the situation?

It's already ruined, though, and you are not the ruiner.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2016 [73 favorites]


W0mbat, do you have any experience being the person of color in a mixed setting? Because when you say "you have the licence to be the mirror", that's a licence that comes with a price so high we are rarely willing to pay it.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2016 [41 favorites]


I recently was called a Chink, for the first time ever, and it was by a 60-ish white lady in a public space on the morning of Christmas Eve.

I couldn't even hear the word at first, because having almost never heard it spoken it didn't even occur to me that a stranger would use such a word in real life. The sounds didn't initially make sense! That was an interesting, and unexpected, detail.

The second interesting, unexpected point was that it didn't hurt in the way that microaggressions do. I do think it was a combination, both that "chink" doesn't have that currency to offend for someone relatively young and privileged like myself, and also that clearly it was supposed to mean a word of power given that she attempted to wield it (the older woman had a British accent and this happened in Canada), amongst other factors.

But I'd say the key difference is, when a racist is being direct and willful about it, there's no ambiguity. I almost laughed, and it was liberating in that specific way. You're not asked to do all this processing and self-questioning of sanity and second-guessing, which, together, become an internalized mechanism of oppression.
posted by polymodus at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2016 [85 favorites]


I wonder if there's an epilogue wherein Nicole approaches her in-laws and asks never to be invited to a gathering where the newfound racist is in attendance. That would be a conversation she could control without being the bad-guy and making a holiday scene (since she states she's not 'that person' inside).
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:10 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


white people speak up

I'm really sorry to ask this because I understand the problems with asking people of color to take the time to help me when they're already dealing with this terrible nonsense, but please know that I am asking this sincerely and if people don't feel up for answering that's totally cool but if people do want to offer suggestions I am totally excited to hear them.

If anyone has any insight on the ways they would be most comfortable with white people, especially white people they don't know, speaking up, I would be really grateful to hear them. I want to make sure that if I speak up in a situation like this I'm not calling attention to something the person at whom it was directed would rather ignore, or making it about me, or taking up someone else's space to speak. I genuinely do want to be helpful but I also want to make sure I'm prioritizing the needs of the person of color over my need to say something and I really don't want to make anyone in this situation feel embarrassed or infantilized which is how I worry I would feel if a stranger decided to "stand up for me". That said, of course it shouldn't be on her to deal with this so if anyone does have insight into how they would rather a white person who wants to help should handle this (or links to resources) I would appreciate it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:15 PM on January 5, 2016 [40 favorites]


And it doesn't matter who's fault the ruining actually is. Nobody likes a party pooper, and once you've asserted yourself in the role of the one who creates the fuss, you will bear the consequences.

The terrible thing about the microaggressions is perhaps not the aggression itself but the way it pits you agains the social group in its entirety. You stand once more before the fact that no one has your back, that your acceptance in the group is predicated on being slotted into the entire group's racist framework of thought, and on having to at the same time reassure the entire group that you see no racism.

One person can take on one racist. But not the entire group on whom she depends socially.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:16 PM on January 5, 2016 [43 favorites]


This is where it helps to develop a long history of saying things that make people feel awkward. The correct response for me in that situation would be "Well hello racism, I didn't expect to see you here!"

But at your in-laws'? Family of origin is one thing; I have almost no scruples calling out my own parents and sister. But with my partner's family? Oh hell no. I already feel kind of timid around them, and I wouldn't jump at the chance to make people feel awkward there. I'm a little appalled her husband didn't say anything in her defense--they're his people.
posted by witchen at 1:17 PM on January 5, 2016 [13 favorites]


like one time i was stopping by my mom's super fancy building and i held the elevator for a tiny little dapper old man who thanked me very profusely and wished me happy holidays and then after inspecting me for a few floors asked if i was "in service" in the building and i was just like "my mom lives here" and he was just like, the most embarrassed and apologetic any human being has ever been before in the history of human shame and it was so obvious that this was probably his first conversation in all his 95 years with a POC lady who was not a servant that i couldn't really get het up about it.

that's sheltered white obliviousness, and it doesn't even register to me on the same scale when compared to the overt racism shown to me by the fur-coated 70something white lady visiting my office who bypassed our (white) receptionist to hand me her coat and tell me how she liked her coffee.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:19 PM on January 5, 2016 [55 favorites]


This is one thing that strikes me about the recent grumpy, flatulent complaining about freedom of speech on campus, in the media, and in other publically moderated arenas. It imagines that by instituting rules to insure that instances like this don't happen to a student (or an employee, or a customer, or the viewing public), you're tamping down all speech by limiting what can be discussed. This is because it (infallibly) takes the perspective of a person lecturing, and fails to notice (as this article points out) that most speech (even didactic, classroom speech) is a conversation. When you say something ass-headed, you are forcing the other person to respond. Forcing people to respond, especially if that person is in the minority, means that you are forcing them to delegate how the conversation then proceeds - and that means that you're forcing them into difficult, if not impossible, situations where they have to balance contextual social concerns (maintaining the atmosphere of a party, in this case) against their dignity. Simply being forced to make that sort of evaluation is a form of violence.

The people who harrumph about "political correctness" often mistakenly imagine a sort of platonic ideal of free speech where the person who has to defend their human dignity against an idiotic comment is often operating in some sort of free flowing, equal playing field of ideas. Instead, there are very real political, social, and economic repercussions to asserting yourself, and if you're in the minority position going against the majority, the odds are not stacked in your favor. It's an invisible cost (likely obscured by the privilege of never being forced to do it oneself) that is simply ignored in conversations about equity by people who value an imagined ideal of a right above the actual reality of that right as experienced by others.

In other words, "politically correct" rules in officially moderated spaces like campuses aren't hindering free speech - they're protecting it.
posted by codacorolla at 1:23 PM on January 5, 2016 [86 favorites]


My only question about the whole "hey, white people speak up" approach is the tricky negotiation of when it's helpful versus cutting someone off from their own defence - aka running the risk of offending the attacked party by not allowing them to defend themselves and appearing parentally protective or some such. It probably doesn't matter and it's just another attempt for my brain to get out of doing something.
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:25 PM on January 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm appalled that not one person at that dinner table said a word to call out that woman for her ignorant question.
posted by orange swan at 1:27 PM on January 5, 2016 [17 favorites]


There's an intermediate step that sometimes works: state bluntly that the comment could be taken as offensive, ask if they were aware of this, and whether or not that was their intent.

It shifts the attention back to the speaker, as well as the burden of trying to keep the peace.

Importantly, it gives an out for well-meaning but tone deaf people to defuse the situation they created. Most people will back pedal and apologize, including those who knew they were being offensive. (It's one thing to be casually insensitive or deliberately insulting, it's quite another to admit to it) And those who become defensive or combative just dig their own holes deeper, all by themselves.
posted by Davenhill at 1:28 PM on January 5, 2016 [28 favorites]


I think to prevent white knighting, white people should call out racism because it offends them personally, and not to protect the non-white person.
That is, don't look at the non-white person for support, don't talk about her. Just say, "racism's not cool dude. I don't want to hear stuff like that."

Fight your own fight. Make it clear to the clueless white person that they're spoiling the party for you.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [145 favorites]


FirstMateKate:
Racism is about power, and if white people are pulling some shit, it should be other white people (people w the same amount of power in the racial hierarchy) that calls them out and cuts them down.
qcubed: So, like, I'm sure that wasn't your intention here, but it almost sounds like, I dunno. White savior here?

The caution is an important one, but I do think the style (and ethics? not sure that's the word I mean) of the intervention matter. I.e. "Hey, do you see that what you just said offended Nicole" = white savior... but I think that "hey, what you said offends me" is just and necessary. All of us need to see racism and microaggressions as challenging and hurting us, no matter whether we're the "offended" parties or not.

I recently helped lead a workshop in what --at my institution-- we call something like "Challenging Conversations," and we had people do homework watching Jay Smooth's video on challenging racism. About half the people mentioned that the dental hygiene example ('hey, you have something in your teeth') was tremendously helpful because it took calling out racism or sexism away from the realm of challenging a person into helping them take care something they failed to do/notice, but can (and should) now rectify.
posted by correcaminos at 1:31 PM on January 5, 2016 [22 favorites]


tl;dr of my comment, what Omnomnom says.
posted by correcaminos at 1:32 PM on January 5, 2016


think to prevent white knighting, white people should call out racism because it offends them personally, and not to protect the non-white person.
That is, don't look at the non-white person for support, don't talk about her. Just say, "racism's not cool dude. I don't want to hear stuff like that."

Fight your own fight. Make it clear to the clueless white person that they're spoiling the party for you.


Wow, this is perfect. And yeah, I've learned the hard way that you ROON EVERYTHING SO ROONED if you speak up about microaggressions as a minority.
posted by sweetkid at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2016 [29 favorites]


thanks for this thread
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 1:39 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think maybe something that would be great is just not making the aggrieved person necessarily the ruiner.

So I recently had a vaguely similar experience, in that someone at a family gathering said something so awful and hurtful and offensive that I was just staggered by it, with the plausible deniability of helpful cluelessness. And I told some family members about how hurt I was, and they were like "oh man that sucked!" And then it happened again the next time I was at a family gathering. And again. And the last time - at Thanksgiving - I told the hostess that I was leaving, that I could not deal with this relative's offensiveness.

We were not invited for Christmas celebrations. We were left hanging on a usual gift exchange. And maybe it's something else I don't know about, but I strongly suspect that it's because I'm the squeaky wheel that gets offended, and Offender is just an old dear and can't help but be offensive and she means so well!

And it stings. And I kind of wish I hadn't said anything and had just shoved my mouth full of All The Pie and sat there silently hating everything instead of leaving. And I really wish family instead of just being like "I know, right, so crazy!" had actually quietly, behind the scenes, said something to the woman - had taken the pain of the confrontation on themselves, especially since they supposedly agreed that it was out of line.
posted by corb at 1:43 PM on January 5, 2016 [31 favorites]


“Do people ever tell you that you look just like everyone on that show?” she asks.

This question strikes me as so bizarre, so beside the point, that at first I think I’ve misheard. “Excuse me?” I wait for her to clarify, change course.

She repeats her question. She appears to be perfectly serious: “You must get this a lot,” she adds, when I don’t immediately respond.


This is painful because racism sucks.

But this kind of interaction adds an extra level of irritation when it's wrapped up in an apparent obliviousness. I would say ignorance, but that has been used as a description for people being racist before and doesn't quite get at this particular social texture. It's more like a negligent lack of awareness about which a significant portion of the world has learned to feel shame about saying stupid stuff like that any more. There's such an inwardly directed lens on life that it presents itself as genuinely oblivious, but it comes out like it's normal and unashamed, even with social cues prodding in a better direction. It sometimes feels like an important part of the soul is missing that allows people to be functionally empathetically on the most basic level.

It's a similar sort of irritation I felt when reading the thread about narcissistic mothers who were emotionally abusive, but genuinely thought that any negative feedback or abandonment was always about other people. It's like the people in the grocery line who comment on who they think your baby's father is with a straight face and have such a lack of imagination that they can't imagine why that would make anyone uncomfortable.

It might just be good old narcissism that should know better but also never self-corrects, even when the evidence is swirling around them. You point it out, and people are genuinely like, Huh, what? That can't be right. Dude, it is, and you are probably bad for not noticing by now.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:43 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


qcubed, I wasn't at all advocating that white people speak over people of color in calling out racism, and I'm not sure how much clarification i can give without it coming across like I'm talking over you. You're right, it's hard to tell when those instances are, but I think it important that white people speak up when people of color are not in a position to do so. Without a doubt the voices of people of color are vastly more important than those of white people calling out other white people. We need to uplift the narratives of POC; but in places where they're not able to be said, white people need to step up.

Omnomnom outlined what I was trying to say better than I did- when I mentioned not dragging the person of color into it, and not asking them for backup, I meant for white people to take full and personal responsibility for the call-out they're doing. 1)Because you should be offended at racism whether or not a minority is near you, and 2)The repercussions you face as a white person are basically nothing compared to what a person of color would face. (Which I did touch on in my original comment).
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think Omnomnom and FirstMateKate are spot on, speaking as a white hetero 40-something male.

And still speaking for myself, as a moderately socially awkward nerd-type, it's often hard to find the courage to say something... but I keep telling myself it's worth it, and it always is, every time.
posted by ZakDaddy at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


When something like this happens, I've realized I have a bad habit of breaking out into the chorus of "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from Avenue Q.

So far it's worked out in my favor, as it is apparently hard to get angry at someone singing. Easier to get embarrassed when everyone else starts giggling. And most of the time it has led to some good conversations, but I have great friends who are willing to talk about their own shortcomings.

Never tried it with my in-laws though. I guess we'll have to see next time we head back to Virginia....
posted by sharp pointy objects at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


I was in this situation once, I was in the husband's position. I didn't do the right thing either-- I stood up and started yelling at people and pointing fingers, and stomped around the house. I brought up past wrongs, said I was taking my family home, and basically made a fool of myself.

It didn't actually help anything and in retrospect it almost made it seemed like, why would he be so sensitive if the racist suggestions weren't true on some level? It made me look bad and sadly made my partner much more uncomfortable than if they had handled it themselves, or just ignored.

I've since learned that the absolute best way to handle these kind of situations is just make the racist talk, and talk. Ask inane questions, "How so?" "Can you explain?" "Why would you think that?" They either make the micro into macro, which starts to dig their own grave, or their immediately recant or apologize.

The master of this style of talking is Nathan Fielder from Nathan For You. Obviously a totally different goal and context, but whenever anyone he meets on his show says something odd, he immediately and very benignly asks them to elaborate or explain.
posted by cell divide at 1:54 PM on January 5, 2016 [25 favorites]


w0mbat: "This is where you have license to be a mirror and make the racist's idiocy obvious even to them."

My preference, as the white spectator, is to ask them to make the subtext into text. Calmly and politely, with modest surprise: "Wait, are you saying that all Asian people look the same?" I then allow them to frantically backpedal and let the social embarrassment do its own work.

I ran into this a LOT in school board-related situations where people were talking about "busing" or "neighborhoods" as code for "I don't want black children in my kid's school" but I couldn't really outright say, "Yo, that's racist" because of the power dynamics of being on the board ... but I couldn't let it pass because I was in a position of responsibility over the WHOLE community and I wasn't going to let SOME of my kids suffer racism. Calmly inquiring about the subtext in a very bland tone was quite frequently the right tack to take.

(It did one time end in a super-racist woman saying something like, "Are you one of those ASSHOLES who doesn't like how I'm raising my kids?" and I was like, "I guess I am one of those assholes, ma'am.")

Being calmly bland to people saying racist things DOES require me to rant to my husband afterwards about "crazy racists" to the point that my children decided "cwazy wacist" was the worst insult you could call someone and attempted to put this insult into practice, and I had to modulate my ranting slightly or wait until they went to bed. But personal stress from not being able to shout YO YOU SUCK aside as is my instinct and preference, calm bland inquiries into what they really mean generally managed to stop the behavior and/or let the racist person dig their own grave, without starting a big fight or looking like the uptight/bad/mean/PC person.

On a couple of occasions when I was in charge of the meeting I just got really explicit and said stuff like, "While I know you mean well, the things you are saying reference a history of racism and are making the black people in this room very uncomfortable, and there's not really a way for them to make that complaint without coming across as combative, which turns into a lose-lose situation. So while I appreciate your input and I am not trying to silence dissent, I think you need to find different words to make your point, because the ones you are using are hurtful to other members of this community and I'm not comfortable with that." When you're chairing the meeting you can go into a little mini-history of racist subtext of common expressions. You can't really do that (very easily) in social settings. (But even in that setting, there were definitely some unpleasant personal consequences to drawing that line in the sand and refusing to hear that kind of speech.)

cell divide: " something odd, he immediately and very benignly asks them to elaborate or explain."

Yeah, this is my strategy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:01 PM on January 5, 2016 [69 favorites]


I've since learned that the absolute best way to handle these kind of situations is just make the racist talk, and talk. Ask inane questions, "How so?" "Can you explain?" "Why would you think that?" They either make the micro into macro, which starts to dig their own grave, or their immediately recant or apologize.

Yes, my strategy is one of polite confusion. It didn't start as a strategy. It is just that by nature I am a polite person.

"Do you mean everyone on the show looks exactly the same? I'm afraid I don't understand."
"No, nobody has ever made that comment to me before!"
"You mean, we all look the same because we are Asian? Is that it?"

Every so often the asker is just a confused person who may even have a bit of dementia or something. In that case, you also come out of it as patient and kind.
If they meant it as a barb, they end up looking as awkward as anyone would who is trying to explain why a tasteless joke is funny.
posted by vacapinta at 2:11 PM on January 5, 2016 [25 favorites]


I kept reading and re-reading to find the part where the in-laws apologized to her or her husband reprimanded them for not apologizing to her, but I couldn't find it. I guess maybe that part was edited out, just like the part where her husband defended her.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


When I was a 20-something freshly-minted militant queer living in a city with no visible gay community and having to fight for respect every day and being pretty outspoken about it, I had spent time practicing responses to casual and deliberate hate directed toward me. Some of the responses were laced with humor, some of them were quite sardonic, and others were full-on counter-attacks.

I think it's important to spend time outside of these situations thinking about how to react to them and to have a full hand of cards to choose from and play depending on the setting and context and exactly how far you personally want to get involved with the rest of the conflict. This is something that women, queer folk, and racial minorities need more training in. Because without being taught these skills, it's all trial and error, and the error part of that often leads to more problems because you simply didn't know how to approach and respond to the situation. And thus far in my life, I've never encountered a class or workshop on "How To Respond When Someone Is A Bigot Toward You".
posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on January 5, 2016 [21 favorites]


the older woman had a British accent and this happened in Canada

Yeah, my girlfriend called her mom in Glasgow and asked what she had for Christmas Eve dinner and she said "curry from the chinkies down the street."
posted by Huck500 at 2:32 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


This fall I went dove hunting with my husband and a guide. The guide was a nice older white man and despite it being a little too warm for the doves to be out, we were having a nice time. We'd chatted about where we were from (the South) and what brought us to the Midwest. Eventually, the conversation circled around to the fact that my husband and I live in St. Louis, and in the city limits. (Which apparently is a Thing.) And he brings up Ferguson and the racial tensions. He then dropped the bomb.

"Yeah, I always thought that you folks down south had the right of things. It's a shame they lost the war on that."

It wasn't a family Christmas and I'm a white girl, but I did have one of those moments where I had to sort through the red haze of rage at an insanely racist comment and find a way to say something that was appropriate and still indicated how fucking wrong the speaker was.

It's hard. Because my instinct is to make light of uncomfortable situations and to keep the peace, but this was one of those moments where something had to be said. Added to it is the fact that I'm related to one of those fuckers that started the whole mess down South and I've done tons of research on the Civil War and African American Emancipation. So I had A Responsibility.

As the red mist cleared, I said, "Please understand, I've done a great deal of research on this subject and trust me, nothing about slavery was a good thing. Not to anyone. On either side. No one who says someone is less of a human than another person will ever have the 'right of things'. Ever. Treating humans like property is a sickness that this country is still trying to recover from and I don't know that we ever can."

He backpedaled quickly and tried to get to a better footing and I just shook my head. He ended up making some sort of nonsense noises about the Lord and greed being the root of all evil and I did my best to calm down and forget I had a loaded shotgun in my hands.

We left soon after and I'm still surprised that only a dove or two died that day.
posted by teleri025 at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2016 [76 favorites]


i love nicole chung so much. her writings that touch on race, adoption, and/or motherhood are especially impactful - this one is no exception. i also keep revisiting this piece of hers, Language Lessons: On Adoption, Identity and Loss.
posted by nadawi at 2:36 PM on January 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


Wait what the FUCK? Teleri025, you are a goddamn saint.
posted by corb at 2:39 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


As a child, my mother was fairly anti-racist, to the point that she smacked me clear across the face when I used the n-slur as an eight-year-old (I had no idea what it meant). In recent years, she's expressed some garbage opinions about Asians, mostly when we're in enclosed spaces where no one else can hear.

This is difficult for me because there's no good way to respond. If I come back with a simple "not cool, Mom," she'll make some excuse about how she was only kidding and "Chinese people" say XYZ offensive stereotype about them all the time, and why are you so serious all the time, can't you take a joke. I've started to just ignore her, but then she lets out this little machine-gun giggle, as though she's a kid who got away with something.

She knows that I'm far more liberal than she is on a lot of issues, and on some level she's probably doing this to get under my skin. I feel like there's no good way to deal with it, because she knows better than to pull this shit where someone could hear her. So I stay silent.
posted by pxe2000 at 2:56 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


What would happen if you said "I really don't think it's funny, and I don't care if you think I'm 'too sensitive.'" Every time you make a comment like that, I'm going to leave/hang up the phone." And then you did that.
posted by rtha at 3:06 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Speaking as the white spouse of a Taiwanese-American person, I'm not sure hating on the husband is fair here. Maybe it's a little different since I'm the wife in my relationship, and sexism definitely intersects with racism in all kinds of cute & charming ways, but I think once I took his last name a lot of people now see me as "practically Asian" and discount my opinions on these matters. I.e. "well of course YOU don't think they all look alike," as if once I started having sex with an Asian I got mailed the secret decoder ring to tell Those People apart.
posted by town of cats at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2016 [32 favorites]


polymodus: "I couldn't even hear the word at first, because having almost never heard it spoken it didn't even occur to me that a stranger would use such a word in real life."

Yeah, this. My mind does a similar thing when someone farts their mouth at me. I've been lucky to have blatantly anti-asian stuff directed at me, and of the few times, it was part of a coming-close-to-fists situation anyway, so part of the mindless hurtful language that comes out in those times,
posted by King Sky Prawn at 3:12 PM on January 5, 2016


"The Germans have have this fantastic word. Fremdschamen. It means embarrassment on behalf of someone else, this is what I feel for you right now! Wow, you must feel so mortified by what just came out of your mouth. Lord knows I am."
posted by Jubey at 3:12 PM on January 5, 2016 [32 favorites]


This year, I got to be the white person having exactly the same "rugs are oriental, people are Asian" conversation with other, blankly staring, white people, at two separate holiday parties with different sets of people in a row. And on the one hand, my brain kept whirring over how completely identical both exchanges of dialogue were, like is this the set phrasing I'm supposed to be using in the call-and-response of this rote casually racist moment? Is this special racism that is saved especially for Christmas week? Do I ring a bell or mark it on a bingo card? While on the other hand my brain shut down into conversational autopilot, because oh my god random party person did you just say "Orientals" about your own Filipino sister-in-law, Jesus whatthefuck Christ.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:17 PM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Great article, great thoughts and suggestions expressed in the thread. Having found myself in situations where old white people, sometimes relatives, sometimes clients, say insensitive, shitty, racist things I find it almost impossible not to react. With family I tend to just come out with a blistering -- "Really? No. REALLY?" and I try to tack on a stare that would melt the chrome off a Buick. With clients I just stare.

I get so angry when anyone tries to shut me down with "Oh, relax, he's OLD." Nope. Old does not get you a get out of jail free card. Old is not an acceptable excuse. Old to me means, you should really know better. But it is especially hard at the holidays because everyone really, really, really wants everyone to get along for one bloody night. So I have found myself just walking out of the room when the conversation turns political because I have to get out before the racist comments start rolling. Ugh.
posted by pjsky at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2016


why can't we just spray them in the face with the KITTY NO bottle
posted by poffin boffin at 3:22 PM on January 5, 2016 [108 favorites]


The people who are open about their racism are perplexing to deal with. Whether with strangers or friends.

On New Year's Day, riding the subway at 2 am, a drunk white person complained about the immigrants who were apparently insulting her, and also the one who videotaped her confused SO pulling a knife before getting shouted down and later handcuffed. Among the rant about America being for Americans, here were quite a few shouts of "Go back to India!"

Thing is, the people I think she was complaining about were Latino. And everyone she complained to was colored, and most of them Latino/Hispanic as well.

Where do you even start

Obviously in this case you don't argue racism when there's a drunk pulling a knife but yeah
posted by halifix at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


In some cases I just stare back blankly. Apparently the stare I do in some of these types of situations is really unsettling and squirm inducing. I like to say that I purposely tried this one day but it I discovered this by accident. I was at this big flea market and was chatting with the owner while I was buying some things. Said I was from out west and he starts talking about how 'ethnic' it's getting blah blah. My brain started working on a response, I was uncomfortable and words were failing hence the stare. He doubled down and started blabbering about accents on the phone and I kept staring. The guy visibly started getting uncomfortable. He finally stopped and said "Oh, you don't agree with me." All I said was no and that I didn't want the stuff any more and walked out.

Some time later I was at a concert with some friends a couple of which were Haudenosaunee and some guy behind us made a racist remark. No idea if my friends heard, I expect they did and just ignored it. I turned around at just stared at them. Again they got visibly uncomfortable and eventually the guy said quietly "Ah um sorry".

As I've gotten older I'm much better at coming up with the right thing to say and it gets easy the more I do it but I've found that for me at least the stare and not reply tactic works well with some people and in certain social situations.
posted by Jalliah at 3:32 PM on January 5, 2016 [18 favorites]


why can't we just spray them in the face with the KITTY NO bottle

Try new and improved Racist-OffTM - now in 3 strengths:
  • Racist-Off, Classic
  • WTF?!!
  • Old Fart
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2016 [15 favorites]


As the red mist cleared, I said, "Please understand, I've done a great deal of research on this subject and trust me, nothing about slavery was a good thing. Not to anyone. On either side. No one who says someone is less of a human than another person will ever have the 'right of things'. Ever. Treating humans like property is a sickness that this country is still trying to recover from and I don't know that we ever can."

That was a good response. What is unbalancing is that you don't anticipate this kind of nonsense out of the blue, and you often think of a better response later after the shock wears off. I ran into some guy at the car wash the other day, and we had somewhat of a friendly exchange over lost change in the cleaner dispenser. Out of the blue (perhaps because he was comfortable with me), he starts spewing about local traffic congestion being an immigration issue, and how he was infuriated about [expletive] [particular minority group]. On and on he went, variations on the same theme. He was so damn proud of his observations. It was so unexpected that I looked at him and said "have a nice day," and walked away. I'd pay a thousand dollars to be able to go back and say, "My daughter is [particular minority group], you ignorant idiot." I feel sick at times about that missed opportunity, like I let someone down in a big way.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:45 PM on January 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


One strategy for white people in this situation is not to get bogged down in the "Is that racist?" discussion at all, and instead call the person out for saying something mean.

"Why would you say a mean think like that?"

"What? I wasn't being mean?"

"It sounded like you were trying to make her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome here."

"I didn't mean it that way. I was just trying to make conversation."

"Well she obviously doesn't look like every character on that TV show, so it sure sounds like you were trying to make fun of her being Asian or something."
posted by straight at 3:48 PM on January 5, 2016 [15 favorites]




Ages ago, when I was very young, I lived in a community where POC were very, very few. Except in the very small place I was in. They were always met with deference and respect. BUT, all of us white people carried a lot of prejudice, learnt from American movies and British and French literature. So a kid like me would think and say stupid stuff. Hurtful and ignorant words. And happily, I/we would get called.
I'm grateful for those conversations, because - how else would I know? I had no references and all the adults around me were ignorant. I was at an international school with children of diplomats, and my Asian and African friends would just bluntly tell me when my assumptions were stupid.
Obviously, the situation in the article is very different, but sometimes I still think the direct communication is more useful.
posted by mumimor at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


I had a strange experience today, at a job I recently started in Switzerland. Two coworkers were chatting in German, which I don't yet understand, when one turned to me and said, "No offense." He explained that he was complaining to our other colleague about some kitchen product from China (it had a weird smell)... and I guess he thought that I might be offended or even just interested, with my being Asian, despite my inability to understand their conversation. I wasn't even bothered, just confused -- the first thing that passed through my mind was, "what... does that have to do... with me?" There was nothing insensitive, just a little off, about the remark. In fact if I had said something I probably would have come off as an over-sensitive American. But anyway I have already been confused twice with the only other Asian guy in our group, despite his being much taller and older than I am.
posted by Peter J. Prufrock at 4:03 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think this is a key point here that some are missing:

and anyway it’s only been a split-second since the words left the woman’s mouth and no doubt he’s running through the same agonizing, silent calculus I am, trying to think of what in the world he could say that would acknowledge the offensiveness of her comment without ruining the party.

It's easy to say, after the fact, what she could have said, or what her husband should have done. But we only have a split second to make the decision, and in this instance it occurred unexpectedly and in a safe environment.

It was interesting to me to read what went through the author's mind. And I wonder if all the "she should have done this / this is what I would have done" type comments above aren't missing the point.
posted by kanewai at 4:10 PM on January 5, 2016 [13 favorites]


If anyone has any insight on the ways they would be most comfortable with white people, especially white people they don't know, speaking up, I would be really grateful to hear them.

I wonder about this too, but I decided that it's better to speak up than to wait for Jay Smoove to come down the chimney with a roguish grin and a sack full of charm.

Racist speech is not solely about the immediate victim: you want to respect their needs, but Persons of Privilege have a duty to speak up even when no victims are present. When I speak up I don't reference the person the aggressor was attacking or subordinating; I say that I think the comment was racist; that I felt offended. I hope that by doing this it shifts the focus away from the victim and into the realm of socially-acceptable behaviour among PoPs. My theory is, people might think I'm being a jerk about an innocent faux pas, but at least they'll acknowledge that it was a bad thing to say.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:19 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


I once had an argument with some relatives about homophobic language at a family dinner party (3 against 1, defending homophobic sayings like "that's so gay") -- and for the next several years, I was the one who was warned "please don't start an argument". I was the problem person.
posted by jb at 4:24 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


As a POC I have always struggled to articulate why casual, "mild" racism bothers me so much and this article lays it out very clearly. Thank you for posting.
posted by mossicle at 4:25 PM on January 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


What is unbalancing is that you don't anticipate this kind of nonsense out of the blue, and you often think of a better response later after the shock wears off.

This is the worst. I was coming home from a physical therapy appointment on the night before Thanksgiving. Michigan Avenue in Chicago was blocked off by (amazing, awesome, inspirational) protestors, protesting the Laquan McDonald killing by the Chicago police and subsequent coverup. At one cross street, police were not even allowing pedestrians to walk on the sidewalk. The only option was to turn east and try to find a parallel street. So I did this, and a woman alongside me followed. As we walked on a parallel street, she asked if it went through to a specific cross street and I said that I didn't know but it was worth a shot! It was a friendly enough interaction.

The parallel street got us both around the police blockade, and as we crossed Michigan Avenue she asked what the whole thing was all about. I said, "Oh, it's a protest because of what happened to Laquan McDonald." Her response, all smiles and lighthearted: "Oh, right, I heard about that. Why don't they just get over it? It's in the past!"

Unfortunately in my shock and rage all I could stammer out was "Seriously, woman?! They killed someone!" which is not exactly the eloquent speech I would have liked to make about systemic racism in our police department leading to cops killing black kids in the street and the whole system covering it up for a year.

And that was a complete stranger. I can't imagine the shock and heartbreak and rage hearing that from someone in a supposedly safe place. What a well written article to articulate the terrible, no-win instant decision making that has to go on when it happens.
posted by misskaz at 4:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [23 favorites]


Calling out inappropriate remarks when they happen is difficult. I can't even do it with strangers -- most recently I failed at calling out sexism when a power company tech came to the door to ask me to move my pickup so that he could get to the light pole it was (legally) parked next to... I apologized for being slow to the door b/c I had to put a couple of screws in the sheet of drywall I was affixing to the ceiling. He said, "No problem. I like a woman who works."

I did my very best goldfish impression (mouth opening and closing without sound, plus bug eyes) and finally just asked him what he wanted.

Worst part is this was before xmas and I am still beating myself up for not doing a better job of handling the situation. He doesn't even know there ever was a problem. *sigh*
posted by which_chick at 4:36 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


FirstMateKate: "Which is why I urge you: white people speak up. And do so on your own. Don't do it expecting the person of color to back you up, don't try to pull them into it. Don't give them sideways glances like "I'm trying to save your ass here, step in at any time"."

I've been guilty of doing this a couple of times. Although, in my (perhaps feeble) defense, I don't think I did it so much to try to hand it over and not have to deal with it, and more because I wasn't sure I was doing it right, and was afraid I'd fuck up and say something wrong or offensive or make things worse. Which, I guess, shows I need to not just speak up, but make sure I'm better informed and educated.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:02 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Slight sidetrack, but omg nadawi, that article about adoption is absolutely amazing, and I kind of want to print it out and keep it with me at all times.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:13 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was raised in a small town in Georgia.

I am grateful to every person who gently corrected my language and phrasing, and awkward attempts to fill time with really stupid and occasionally offensive questions, rather than condemning me as permanently and irretrievably ignorant.

I am also grateful to the inquisitive nature that led me to read, listen to, and watch so many culturally educational stories, articles, and essays while I was growing the rest of the way up in Atlanta.

Most of my college classmates -- who studied mainly technology -- didn't even think to do this. Most of the people I grew up with in that small town didn't even realize it was an option.

Feelings are real. It makes me feel awful to realize that I might have unintentionally hurt someone's feelings when I was younger. It also makes me feel awful to think that, but for some luck, I might still not know any better.
posted by amtho at 5:22 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


An oldie but a goodie.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:33 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a child, my mother was fairly anti-racist, to the point that she smacked me clear across the face when I used the n-slur as an eight-year-old (I had no idea what it meant). In recent years, she's expressed some garbage opinions about Asians, mostly when we're in enclosed spaces where no one else can hear.

In the spirit of not letting offensive remarks go unchallenged, I'm disturbed that a woman would slap an 8-year-old child for using a word the child didn't know was offensive and more disturbed that the victim of the assault would describe it years later as something that, in some sense, redounded to the credit of the slapper.
posted by layceepee at 5:44 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


I almost feel like the example in the article is perhaps too obviously, overtly racist. Not a fault of the article, at all, it was a great piece. But I think the takeaway of a lot of people is "I would definitely 1) spot the issue, and 2) speak up about it." What happened to her - it's so outrageous, and no one SAID anything? Jesus! That's not me. Nuh-uh, I would've raised hell. And it makes you feel kinda good about yourself.

Except you HAVE BEEN that person, many times over. Most microaggressions are such that the POC is the only one who is even aware of it. It's not advertised with a big neon "WTF" sign. And there probably is no awkward pause as everyone figures out what to say next.

Most likely, the POC immediately laughs it off or responds politely, because the immediate instinct is to defuse and make comfortable. So ultimately no one is the wiser that the microaggression occurred.

While we're all patting ourselves on the back that we would handle the situation in the article, just be aware - there are hundreds of situations like this that have already occurred that you didn't even know about.
posted by naju at 5:55 PM on January 5, 2016 [43 favorites]


I am white, but I had something like this happen to me right after I had returned from a year as an exchange student in Zimbabwe. I had only been back a few months and my family traveled to see extended family a couple states away. Christmas day all the family gathers at my Grandma's house for dinner. My mom had 10 brothers and sisters, plus spouses and kids are there so we had a full house. One of my aunts walks up to me and says, "Where's your shoe polish?" Now, I had been expecting something, so I thought, I am just going to make her say it. I looked at her calmly and said, "No, why?" to which of course she replies, "You know, for your blackface!" She was thinking she was the funniest person on earth. The room got quiet and I said, "You know that's not funny, right?" Pins were dropping all through the house. Then my Grandma, bless her heart, came up to me, grabbed my arm to pull me over to the shrine to all her grandkids (of which grand and great grand combined were something like 150 at that point) and points to a couple of pictures, and says "You know your uncle Jim's daughter, your cousin Carol, married a black, these are her kids, and my darkie babies are the cutest of all my grandkids!" And everybody just looked over and collectively seemed to think, Grandma has spoken, time to drop this shit.

I know what she said sounds kind of awful, but let me tell you, this was 1988 and my Grandma was in her mid 70s and we were in southern Ohio. I was expecting an argument from my Aunt and anyone who wanted to back her, but my Grandmother, although using language that we might not think appropriate today (I firmly believe it was the only language she had and her heart was right) taught everyone a lesson. She shut down the bullshit and gave a positive roll model. A little more background. Carol's own mom wouldn't speak to her anymore after she married her husband, but my Grandma, a farm wife from the sticks, made sure to keep in touch and let her know she was still wanted and part of the family.

I guess the moral of the story is, people can surprise you when they get the opportunity to speak. I never would have known what a progressive she was had I not allowed myself to challenge my aunt in an uncomfortable situation. Although, I suppose it could have just blown up too.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 6:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


I was at a holiday party attended by a Chinese exchange student among others and was there when a young relative (who has been to Asia numerous times and should know better) made one of these type remarks (regarding word pronunciation, I bet you can guess.) I had my back to the student, but me and my (white )friends were looking at each other in abject horror wishing she would realize what she was saying and SHUT UP ALREADY and knowing if we said anything she would be so oblivious she would make things ten times worse.


I don't know what he was thinking as I don't really know him (he was a friend of the hosts's sons) but I can confidently affirm any horror on his part was felt by every other human in the room (and finally the oblivious one got it and then the collective cringing was even worse.)

I guess my point is that a lot of times it's not overt racism but just blazing ignorance with a heaping helping of foot in mouth disease. Not that that probably makes it any better, I guess.

But I felt I could not say anything for fear I would embarrass the student.

Don't know if that was the right thing to do as much as maybe the only possible thing to do.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:35 PM on January 5, 2016


you know, I've been here before. I tend to call people out and that tends to somehow morph into long debates about power in society and history of racism and all that and maybe 5% of the time that turns into something meaningful. one, because me having to regulate myself on an emotionally fraught topic tends to be pretty taxing in and of itself. having to go from raging hard to rational and persuasive about a topic that is really important to me personally that someone just took a dump on isn't super easy. so I get mad and that boils and boils and boils and then finally I'll say something mean and then the conversation instantly turns into 'look, you're just an asshole looking for an argument, calm down'

the second reason is that there are very rarely any situations where the people I'm with give even a fraction of a flying fuck about the discussion anyway. I mean, the discourse around race right now is popular online but living 25+ years of your life in which you're the only person who gives a modicum of shit about the topic kind of instills this sense that you're pretty much alone in that conversation. that sense of betrayal that the author felt from her husband? yeah. I've been there. a lot. and, imo, it's already a lot of good faith on her part to assume that he was thinking the same thing that she was. I've talked to enough close friends and partners about topics like this only to, once again, hit a fucking wall of 'are you sure you're not just being overly sensitive' that I don't have enough optimism left in me to assume that my white 'allies' are anything but that in name. you can talk to them and talk to them about how much shit like that just ruins your day and you'll still be the only person who speaks up about it. and, at that point, you're already fulfilling everybody's 'overly sensitive minority' stereotype. because that's just your personal fucking trauma on display for everybody at the table. it's not some grand moral principle that supersedes race, it's just you and your anxiety

I mean, the white people here are anxious enough about ever speaking up against racism. in this fucking safe ass space. as if I needed anymore cynicism in my life
posted by runt at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2016 [17 favorites]


My white person objecting to racism in groups of white people/ straight person objecting to homophobia in groups of straight people approach shifts depending on the group and my comfort level, but I have had the most success with "please don't use that word in front of me" or "please don't say things like that in front of me".

The advantages of this approach are manifold:

-I don't have to explain what was offensive about it, or if it was a joke or not, or the level of offensiveness
-By making the request about my comfort level, it makes people less knee jerk defensive I WOULD NEVER I VOTED FOR THAT ISN'T WHAT I
-but, at the same time, it implies that they are going to say cruel things when I'm not around, which is an implication that sticks with them
-I haven't used the words "offensive" or "racist", words which awaken screaming monstrous lizard brain self defense mechanisms for so many people-- but I have IMPLIED them, so they are still invoked

It offers them the plausible deniability that I'm just being "overly" sensitive, but by offering that plausible deniability, I have found people are therefore more able to admit they were wrong in the first place.

Maybe not the best approach, but it has gotten more grudging apologies and changed behavior than more direct confrontations ever did.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:50 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


although, on second thought, a lot of people are already shouldering a lot of emotional labor. asking them to take on more because it's particularly laborious for you is unfair

but it would be nice to have people speak up more often. or, at the very least, grievously insult the offending party who is generating the labor for who knows what fucking reason. that's my minimum response to when I detect issues of sexism/classism/other forms of racism/etc. maybe one day that karma will pay off
posted by runt at 7:08 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is such an interesting conversation. Thank you for posting.

I saw this on Facebook earlier today and I don't know what it was, I've read dozens of articles on microaggressions and etc, but this one really hit the mark for me on what it feels like in the moment - the "roaring in your ears," pause, temporary paralysis. Let me tell you, I think about these things. I'm ready with responses. Usually they're not even new microaggressions, people aren't that original, they're ones that have been said to me in the past and that I've already thought up a snappy response to after the last time I failed to put a racist in her place. But first time slows down and I have to think, "Is this really happening?" because even after all these times it can be hard to believe. And then I have to consider the situation - if it's a rando on the street I have to assess my safety; if it's my boyfriend's Uncle Harry* and we're sitting with his nice aunts and uncle I have to think about all that social stuff. You also have to think about how much plausible deniability the person has, if they're going to back down and make you look like the crazy one (and you think you'd always be on the side of the person calling out the racist, but if the initial remark went over your head and your first hint that something was wrong was hearing "ARE YOU SAYING THAT BECAUSE I'M ASIAN???", how comfortable would you be, all of a sudden?). And maybe I'm just exceptionally slow, but by the time I've gone through all that in my head, something dumb and semi-placating has usually already come out of my mouth, and the moment has passed.

*fuck you Uncle Harry
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:15 PM on January 5, 2016 [15 favorites]


No, it's not "not overt racism" or "foot in mouth disease" or "ignorance" or "old people." It's racism. We call them microagressions because they build up over time into crushing racism, but it's not like, more minor or oopsie racism.

What the author is describing is not an example of a person being ignorant, or "what were you thinking" it was an example of a person being racist, and a person saying pretty clearly, "do you realize you don't belong here? you're different, and I've noticed, and I'm putting it on you."

I'm sick of it and if white people just don't have a clue, they need to get a clue. But I think they know. Enough of this already.

And yes, corb, your story about speaking up and then magically never getting invited to things again, I know that one too.
posted by sweetkid at 7:16 PM on January 5, 2016 [24 favorites]


I guess I hope, optimistically, that what I'm seeing in some of the responses is a variation on "I give advice to the person who wrote in asking for advice" like in AskMe - even though the racist is clearly the person who needs to do better, we're addressing what the author could do instead since we're in her POV. But even though she expresses her questions and doubts in the article, she's not asking for advice, she's telling a story of what happened to her, and asking us to listen and understand. And saying "she could have just..." is the opposite of understanding. The piece is about how it's a trap, how you can never "just..." do anything.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:23 PM on January 5, 2016 [33 favorites]


When I was 12, one of my father's older brothers and his wife, and his older sister and her husband came from down South to our house for Thanksgiving.

My father's brother was a federal judge (I said here once that he sat on the Fifth Circuit, but that isn't true; I looked up the roster subsequently, and it turns out it was my father's uncle, not mine, who was on the Fifth Circuit).

After desert was mostly over, and everybody was trying to get more comfortable, my uncle, for whom I am named, and who'd had quite a bit to drink, started talking; he started talking about the "nigras", and all the trouble the "nigras" were causing, and how we had to to something about the "nigras."

After about the fourth "nigra", I slammed my water glass down on the table and shouted "YOU ARE A DRUNKEN BIGOT, AND NOT FIT TO SIT ON THE BENCH!"

There was a moment of total ringing silence, during which my uncle could not have looked more stunned if I'd broken my chair over his head -- and then everyone but him and me rose from the table as if levitated, and all started talking at once and clashing the dishes and silverware for all they were worth as a giant production was made of clearing the table and taking the dishes into the kitchen.

Not a word was said to me -- then or ever -- about what I'd done. Not by my parents or by any relative.

Would I do it again?

No -- because that one blow broke the family in two and it never healed.

I wouldn't have minded being ostracized; I was used to it even by then.

But they took it out on my father, and when he died, his doctor and I were the only two people in the room.
posted by jamjam at 7:46 PM on January 5, 2016 [57 favorites]


Sometimes the best response is just to get up from the table, gather the children, check to see if the spouse is following, and LEAVE.
posted by homerica at 8:31 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is why the Fabulas never go to family Christmas with my side of the family - we're not invited.

I'm white, and was raised by racists. Not your little cutie-bunny "tee hee!" racists. My brother was investigated by the FBI for burning a cross on the lawn of our then-new neighbors. My great uncle was the hired man at a farm owned by an official of the local klan.

Events like those described in the article happen often enough at my family gatherings that nobody bothers to look at the aggrieved party for a reaction any more. They look at me. I've never said anything like what I wish I would say in circumstances like these. The most recent example, the one that resulted in my husband and I getting banned from family Christmas, ended with me saying "What in the actual fuck!? Can you even hear yourself when you talk like that?" I was really loud too; I lose track of my inside voice pretty fast when I'm upset. I think if I saw the scene in a movie, I'd probably find it funny.

... and the evening ended like so many had before it, with me crying horrible tears of shame and hate. That's no way to fight for racial justice. I don't think for a minute I made even a dent in their racism. Far from it. I think I came across as a crazy shrew, not somebody whose ideas deserve consideration.

Moral: Don't do like me.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:42 PM on January 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


I want to use this space to urge folks to reread sweetkid's and sunset in snow country's earlier comments. They're not that far, page/scroll up, read again.

It's great white people don't have to deal with all that mental calculus and anguish described in the article, it's great folks have a better idea of what to do when they witness such a situation.

That work doesn't stop me and others from getting ambushed in the first place.
posted by zix at 8:56 PM on January 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


Jesus H Christ, jamjam. That sounds harrowing.

You must have been one hell of a 12 year old.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:13 PM on January 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Well, to be scientific about it, there's something called the cross-race effect, where people tend to recognize faces of people of their own race better than the faces of other races. So, some Chinese people would say that all white people look the same. Which is wrong, right? Obviously *you* don't look like every other white person. Would you feel funny if someone claimed the opposite? The good news is, the cross-race effect decreases the more you interact with people of a different race. So if you think that all Chinese people look the same, it means you need to meet more people of Chinese descent. And yes, I did feel funny when you said that all Chinese people look the same."
posted by storybored at 9:19 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know if that theory works in cultures where people are extreme minorities in a majority culture - for example, the case described in the OP. It's also weirdly othering and I'd want to hide under the table if people started talking like that.
posted by sweetkid at 9:28 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Every Christmas my mother-in-law sets aside the card from her one other relative who married an Asian woman so that she can show me photos of their kids and keep me up to date on that other mixed race couple in the extended family. There are other relatives and kids she could tell me about but that's the family she makes sure to mention as if to remind me there's another Asian in the family. I never know what to say, her intentions are kind, so I smile and nod. There's some shared experience there that I should appreciate perhaps, and I imagine she does the same thing to them, telling them about us. But I would never even think to do this to the only two non-Asians that married into my extended family. But to her we're alike and special in the same way.
posted by girlhacker at 9:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't know, I guess it's just easier to imagine what the OP should have said or what other people would say than to try to empathize with this extremely shitty and unacceptable situation?
posted by sweetkid at 9:29 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


"I almost feel like the example in the article is perhaps too obviously, overtly racist"

You'd think so, but I have met so many people who would either completely condone this remark (e.g. that lady has got a point, they do all look alike) or who find it such an inoffensive stereotype that it doesn't rise to the level of 'real' racism. I've tried to point out why this exact remark is racist in many ways -- polite, questioning, confrontational, angry, calm -- but I never cease to be amazed at how people can be so willfully oblivious to the real pain and feelings of isolation that POC experience all the time.
posted by viscosity at 9:30 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know if that theory works in cultures where people are extreme minorities in a majority culture - for example, the case described in the OP.

Psychologists continue to study it. I was a participant (aka test subject) in a study on race and facial recognition, only they wanted to test races which I would only have been exposed to later in life, so they used Star Trek aliens. They were seeing if one could gain recognition - I was part of the Trekkie group, and there were non-Trekkie controls.
posted by jb at 9:32 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


In any case, I think it's inappropriate in this context. I don't know if the OP would identify as "Chinese people" and that's all a bit thorny.
posted by sweetkid at 9:34 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


To all of the white people going "well, this is what she should have done" here: you have missed the point.

The point is that when you, as a "white person", try to step into the shoes of a person of color, you make the mistake of putting aside "white" when it is actually "person" that you should be discarding. You imagine speaking through our mouths with the weight of individuality; but what is the weight of a single human being when compared to the weight of expectation that you speak for all racial minorities? The pressure of being the one bare and straining thread of string in which the scrutinizing mass of all cordiality and relationships dangle upon? The timescale of society's erosion of everything you ever took for as solid about you, though countless reductions and microaggressions? We are each Atlas, constantly holding up the world. But unlike Atlas, we are not giants. When you view the Earth from space, you do not expect to resolve any one single human being. Yet, when you place yourselves in our shoes, you expect to swell to comical proportions, the load of the weights we carry trivial in comparison to your ego and entitlement.

The point is that racism is a cage. Our actions are constrained by the thick bars of the narrow cage we have been crammed into, so tiny that our backs are hunched. That there is no point in yelling "stand up, stretch out", because when we do so, we only hit solid iron. The trick here is - not always. Sometimes, the cage is poorly constructed enough such that it falls apart with just a little pressure. But every time we have managed to do so, we find ourselves captured and in another cage within minutes, within hours, within a day. The cage, one day, may be the dinner party. But it will also be your interaction with the store clerk; the police officer that paid particular heed to you when you walked by; the group of friends you thought you knew well enough. The exhilaration of your first and second and third and fourth moment of jailbreak quickly becomes replaced by the dread of your fifth and your sixth and your seventh and your eighth's realization that you'll just be in another one within moments. By the ninth, you don't even bother straining anymore because - what's the point? Then, a white person waltzes by, remarks upon the poor construction of the ninth cage, and attributes your apathy to a lack of trying or intelligence or cleverness or persistence or something.

The point is that we live in different worlds, with different laws of physics. In your world, sound waves carry. You can reasonably assume that people will hear what you said, as you said it. In mine's, apparently, it is a notoriously unreliable phenomenon. Waveforms get jumbled - sociological explanations and discussions of etiquette become grievous insults and dire accusations. Tenor warps: what is said in a calm, mild way suddenly becomes a hysterical raging fit. Sometimes, it doesn't even reach your recipient, with key bits of your message omitted, if not the entire thing. It must be nice, to live in a world where you can say something so simple and agreeable as "racism is bad" to a room of respectable adults, and have them all nod their heads. In mine's, when I try, I get reactions where I can only assume that my sound waves had been warped along the way, to something akin to me justifying the holocaust, apparently.

How absurd it is to me, that despite my having played through this situation a thousand of times in my life, a white person who has only glossed over it a single time through a secondhand account magically has the solution?
posted by Conspire at 9:37 PM on January 5, 2016 [87 favorites]


I'm not sure we're talking of solutions here. None of us are going to "solve" racism. The best we can manage to do is to tilt the field, a smidgen towards (in the best case), its necessary levelness.
posted by storybored at 9:48 PM on January 5, 2016


That's what she did by writing the article and inviting people to understand what one experiences in such a situation. It's too much to ask us to do it on the spot, every time, perfectly, forever.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:57 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't know, I guess it's just easier to imagine what the OP should have said or what other people would say than to try to empathize with this extremely shitty and unacceptable situation?

The OP specifically says she wishes someone would have spoken up rather than just (at best) empathizing with her shitty situation. It seems to me that most people in this thread are not critiquing what she did but rather trying to figure out what would be the best thing to do if and when we are in the situation to be that person who could speak up.
posted by straight at 10:00 PM on January 5, 2016 [13 favorites]


She's talking about a million things going through her mind and what others might have said is just one of them.
posted by sweetkid at 10:09 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


Part of knowing what to say in a given situation is understanding the constraints that a PoC being targeted is under, both within that situation and on a systematic level. There is no single one canned response one can give that would be appropriate 100% of the time; developing this level of empathy is essential to intuiting what might be the best course of action at the moment, given the person, given the situation. What has really grated upon me and prompted my response, is that a number of white people in this thread have approached the question from the assumption that PoC have the same degree of freedom as a white person does. Which is very germane to the topic of the FPP that it goes unremarked as a major microaggression by a number of white people (judging by the responses I got), for reasons mentioned by naju above.
posted by Conspire at 10:14 PM on January 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


I mean, just to preempt the white people who are going to ask "who said that", see: the very first comment in the thread. That's not something that I can personally really casually gloss over. Then it happens again and again. Maybe white people aren't as perceptive to microaggressions as they think they are?
posted by Conspire at 10:23 PM on January 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


I guess, that's the nature of privilege, it masks things.

I do think most white people here have been talking with the intention of rehearsing strategies they themselves might use in future and hope could be helpful, and reviewing what hasn't worked in the past and maybe why. If, in addition to expressing and naming the author's experience, the piece was a call to action, it worked.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:36 PM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Conspire, no one is suggesting that there is a single canned response that will work. Given that the whole point of the article was that the writer didn't feel, that as a POC, she could speak up at a family gathering and defend herself, I think just about every poster here knows they don't have the same freedom as a white person to speak out. Everybody is just horrified and brainstorming suggestions. Now, maybe they're not all helpful, but what would you suggest as an alternative, that we let it slide as what happened in the article? Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you stifle discussion, nothing can change.
posted by Jubey at 10:41 PM on January 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


Here's me being optimistic again: I would like to think that people posting possible responses are doing it for the cathartic value of getting to "respond" to the jerk in the article and feel like they showed her what was what. I get the impulse, I also do it a lot in the "bye Felipe" kinds of threads.

But it does get harder to believe that when the ongoing conversation among Asian Americans (Canadians, etc) here is about how saying "she should have done x" is not helpful, and people are still posting that stuff. I know not everyone reads all the comments and all buuuuut.

(I also think the conversation upthread about how white people can respond as witnesses to this crap was super great and I have no criticism there. I'm mainly talking about the comments that just have an imagined response, in quotation marks. I get it, you're on our side and I appreciate that, but think about what you're implying, too... It's kinda like in the street harassment threads where dudes swoop in to say "But have you considered carrying a baseball bat everywhere" and you're like OH MAN GREAT IDEA THO.)
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:42 PM on January 5, 2016 [23 favorites]


Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you stifle discussion, nothing can change.

I pointed out a microaggression going on in this very thread. Can I point out this is the exact response I get all the time from white people whenever I try to point out racism? That people are trying very hard and have their hearts in the right place doesn't mean fuck-ups aren't fuck-ups. I don't understand why the response is always to blame the PoC pointing that racism is there for attacking allies and stifling "discussion" rather than to address the racism that is actually there despite good intentions, and I don't know, this might be a stretch, and thank them for bringing it to people's attention?
posted by Conspire at 10:47 PM on January 5, 2016 [22 favorites]


Like, come on, how are we going to have "discussions" about racism if PoC can basically expect with 100% certainty an accusation of "stifling discussion" whenever they present any racism that is too challenging for white people?
posted by Conspire at 10:50 PM on January 5, 2016 [21 favorites]


I'm mainly talking about the comments that just have an imagined response, in quotation marks. I get it, you're on our side and I appreciate that, but think about what you're implying, too... It's kinda like in the street harassment threads where dudes swoop in to say "But have you considered carrying a baseball bat everywhere"

Help me understand why the former is like the latter.
posted by storybored at 10:56 PM on January 5, 2016


Help me understand why the former is like the latter.

For one, it is patronizing and whitesplainy. Like, come on. We've all been through these situations countless times in our lives. You don't think that we never once thought about the one thing you came up with upon looking at a secondhand account of the situation for five minutes? You don't think we ever even tried it maybe a few times and then got bad or mixed responses and backed off on it? That is incredibly naive.
posted by Conspire at 10:58 PM on January 5, 2016 [17 favorites]


I don't know, I guess it's just easier to imagine what the OP should have said or what other people would say than to try to empathize with this extremely shitty and unacceptable situation?

People want to fix it. It's an understandable, even commendable, thoroughly misguided impulse. When you tell someone about the racist thing that happened to you, and they say, "I don't know, maybe he meant this instead?" they're trying to fix it so that the racist thing wasn't racist and you don't have to be hurt by it. That's not how this works, that's not how any of this works, but bless them, they know not what they do and so on. People don't like the feeling of sitting there and going, "yes, that sucks", and they definitely don't like admitting to that feeling of paralysis, of doubt, of the noose tightening around your neck and Conspire's cage slamming shut.

So because they want to fix it, they imagine all the ways in which the situation could have been handled differently, when the essay isn't about how to handle this situation differently, it's about this: The down side to every option on the table, for the person of color facing that decision, is that the fallout is then perceived as our responsibility. That's true even when the action is the white person's action. Whether the white person agitates for accountability or stays quiet out of social calculus, the differing costs of each of those actions is assessed to the person of color, sometimes even when they were never in the room.

Then what happens is that we get this cumulative experience of white racial fantasy, where stares are hard enough to melt steel and each voice is more outraged than the last, and the story ends with "and then he got uncomfortable and left" or "then she mumbled an apology", because for white people, that is where the story ends. That isn't where any of these stories end for people of color. The fallout lasts for days, weeks, longer. That apology, that backing down, isn't when it's over, because it's never over for us. It's really hard for people to see that their various attempts at alternate history have the inadvertent effect of ignoring and invalidating the experience.

People want to make it better, and on the whole that's a nice instinct. It's just not possible, and because it's not possible, it gets frustrating to watch well-intentioned people go down all the same roads we've all been down a million times, "what if you said this, would this work", "just leave". Saying something is, on the whole, probably better than not saying something, in the sense that it may be more ultimately salutary, but it's not like saying something changes anything. You say something because your internal metronome demands it this time, or you don't because you just can't again with this shit, but racism is indelible. The damage is done. The thing you actually say doesn't remotely matter. That is an incredibly hard lesson to learn for anyone, and it's just that we already learned it and white people haven't yet. We've already learned that shadowboxing doesn't actually prepare you for the moment when you are struck by the full force of the hierarchy arrayed against you, when you are blindsided by yet another manifestation of power you didn't know was there. We've already learned that the technique of your riposte counts for nothing.

It sucks that that is true, but it is true. Recognizing the no-win scenario and ceasing your attempts to win it anyway are two different things, and the latter is really hard. You can't move out of checkmate, but every amateur player spends thirty seconds trying all the moves anyway, just to be absolutely sure. It's inexperience.
posted by Errant at 10:58 PM on January 5, 2016 [49 favorites]


I'm impressed that you know the race of every poster here to be able to say that they're a POC or not, and where their intentions lay. That's some ability you have.
posted by Jubey at 10:58 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm impressed that you know the race of every poster here to be able to say that they're a POC or not, and where their intentions lay. That's some ability you have.

I don't recall making any specific mention to your race in my response to you. All I said was that being berated for presenting things too challenging for white people in the exact same words you said is a thing that I very frequently get from white people. That doesn't exclude the number of times that I've been told that I'm too screechy by other PoC who want me to cater to white people by only presenting simple, agreeable things.

To be very clear about my role: I'm not here to hold the hands of white people through the magical journey of understanding racism. I'll point out microaggressions where I see them and where I feel comfortable to, and it's then their job to take it or leave it. I see no reason for me to be accused of stifling discussion for taking this stance.
posted by Conspire at 11:04 PM on January 5, 2016 [18 favorites]


Sure, storybored - without context, just posting a possible response sounds (or can sound, anyway) like what you mean is "Yes, I just read this article explaining in articulate detail why responding to microaggressions is an impossible double bind, but THIS is the correct response." It can also mean "Man, I know this stuff is tough but in a perfect world I wish she had said THIS, that would be so sweet," which I acknowledge in my comment (I love it when it means that!), but when most of the Asian Americans in this thread are taking it as the former and taking offense, it's worth adding a little context if that's not what you mean.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:05 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Got it, thanks! I hope to add some context tomorrow morning.
posted by storybored at 11:13 PM on January 5, 2016


"I don't think for a minute I made even a dent in their racism. Far from it. I think I came across as a crazy shrew, not somebody whose ideas deserve consideration."

Good point. Several people in this thread have mentioned being cut off from their families for speaking up, and obviously it didn't do a lick of good there for anyone. I think another thing to add to your mental calculus of "object or not" has to be "how much good is this going to do to tell this particular ass off?" and "am I willing to keep fighting this particular battle with someone who's either not gonna respond well or is outright hostile?"

Not a racial example and yes, I'm an asshole in this one and I concur that fact: So in my hearing recently, two people of my acquaintance used another word (not racial, but very not-PC), repeatedly. I was not super thrilled at this. However, both times in that moment I was all, "do I WANT to take on this fight right now? And is it going to be worth the pain and arguing?" It's not like I can cite a friend or relative with X Problem to tell them to shut it. It's an outmoded term of insult and if certain people hear them saying that, it'll tick 'em off. I'm not sure if that argument would do any good coming from me, especially since god knows I'm not persuasive with anyone IRL.

The first person, I didn't know very well at all, seemed nice enough otherwise, but I am aware that he comes from a military culture and uh....yeah, that sort of talk is probably rampant there. The second person I knew well enough to know that she'd argue with me for a bit and then blow it off entirely. Either way I did a mental calculus of "this is probably going to cause me more drama and fighting (and I am well stocked up on that shit already in life) if I speak up than good," and thus I shut it. They'll have to learn the hard way from someone else. That doesn't speak well of me at all, and I should be defending the group of people that were being referred to, but...oh hell, I just didn't want to have to argue, "Don't say things like that." And frankly, said insult wasn't exactly a personal thing to me (like I said, don't know anyone with that issue) so I don't feel as strongly about it as if I had to listen to someone's racist grandma or religious bigot aunt. I'm less likely to want to become an advocate.

I probably would have just sat there thinking of quotes from Avenue Q in this situation, honesty, because I'm not sure what to say to "they all look alike" people. The cross-race effect is a thing, and hell, I think I can tell white people apart a little better because there's more likely to be a variety of hair and eye colors, so I suppose to some folks "they all look alike" (if literally everyone has black hair and brown eyes, anyway) might seem somewhat reasonable. Especially if they don't exactly hang out with lots of people of other races. I think the "have an idea of what to say already rehearsed in your head" is probably the best way to handle that one. Or the open mouthed staring, that sounds good too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:21 PM on January 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Add me as another person who was rather disappointed that so much of this thread turned into, "Well, this is what *I* would have said" or "This is what her or husband should have said" or "Here's a tangentially related story where I, being the awesome person that I am, had the perfect rejoinder when someone made a similarly offensive remark in my presence", because such comments seem to miss the point of the column. What was so affecting about this piece was the author's description of the perfectly impossible situation she found herself in where the only available options were to either absorb the psychic blow of letting a racist comment towards her go undefended or else be known as the person who made a scene and ruined everybody's good time at an otherwise lovely party.

I have some very personal experience with this (in my case dealing with a thoughtless anti-Semitic remark made during a similar holiday gathering rather than a racist one) and what I was left with was the realization that many people seem to put a MUCH higher value on the offended party just getting over it and not making a fuss rather than hampering the event, fantasies of having the greatest "Oh, SNAP" comment at the ready notwithstanding.
posted by The Gooch at 12:34 AM on January 6, 2016 [13 favorites]


There's a lot in what you said, jenfullmoon, but I wanted just to touch on

I think I can tell white people apart a little better because there's more likely to be a variety of hair and eye colors,

I think maybe it's more because you're also white (I assume?). Don't know if this little anecdote makes sense, it's kind of an example of the reverse effect, relating to ethnicity. My family's from an Eastern European country (I'm second generation, first to be born here). Until I was in my late teens, I spent most summers over there, and extended family would come here (with regularity and at length). Until many of them passed away, there were a couple of divorces, I decided I wanted to see and do other things - anyway, visits in either direction slowed way down, to 1-2/decade. And I don't really hang out with that many people "originally from" that area over here. (Just for an idea of frequency of contact.)

Anyway - I grew up only seeing the differences between the people I knew, each person's individuality. I recently looked at the vacation pics of someone who went over there, and my honest thought was, "holy smokes, people look incredibly similar, how have I not noticed this?" (also, "how is it I'm having that thought, wtf?"). (FWIW there is a variety of eye and hair colour - mostly brown/brown but a fair bit of blonde & blue/green.)

Here's a neat article from The Root on the cross-race effect & whether talking about that effect as it's experienced by an outgroup member is racist; some research is summarized in there. Like that there is just as much variety within a group as without it, it's just that an outgroup member picks up on a single category; experience and contact is the main thing that shifts people's use of categories; and that knowledge about the cross-race effect can minimize stereotyping:

So the ability to distinguish one face from another depends on both past experiences and motivations, Hugenberg said. And while you can't control where and how you've lived, "you can absolutely control motivation," he told me to assure you. For example, in one encouraging study, when he and his colleagues told subjects that they were likely to fall victim to the cross-race effect, people were able to eliminate their confusion. They did it simply by deciding to pay attention to what made individual out-group members unique.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:48 AM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


This thread, I swear.

She did not do anything wrong at all. I want to state that. She did nothing wrong. There is no problem to solve here that involves her in the solution in any way, shape or form. None. "Um, no" is actually a fantastic answer under that kind of pressure and I worry about the pushback I've seen even the softest of soft nos incur from people who are a-okay with their racist old missing stair of a dear getting their missing stair all over people, but I have hope that she and her husband are prepped to deal with it and I'm so sorry that they even may have to prep! "Um, no" is not an incendiary, and yet, some people.

She did nothing wrong. Everyone else at that party did her wrong. Every single one could have stepped in the moment the racist old dear said that. Every single one could have backed up Chung and they didn't. Every single one let the racist old dear double down unchallenged. Every single one was content to let all of that pressure she describes fall on Chung. Even if you can't manage words! Even if you're not sure you heard it! Especially if you're not sure you heard it! A dubious "eerrrRRR?!" is something. "What do you mean?" is something. "What?!" is something. "Excuse you" is something. "Excuse me" is something. "Oh, my" is something. "That's a bit general" is something. "Wow. Pass the butter" is something.

All these tepid, wishywashy fractions of the slightest acknowledgement that somebody said something unacceptable (because racist!) and they didn't. even. do. that.

They didn't even try. Not a bit. They all just let it hang on her. That collective willingness to load all that pressure on her is the problem. It's not her. It was never, never her. They failed her. She trusted them and they failed her, and let's get into how many times this has likely happened. Thousands? Let's go with thousands. Thousands and thousands of collective willingnesses to just let the pressure be hers and not to even try. They failed her.

So bearing that in mind -- anyone else remember from the emotional labour thread "I could've got you flowers, but I didn't"? Let's not do that shit to the people of colour in this conversation who are performing tons of emotional labour before they even open the FFP and scroll down. Let's not. It's a failure too and admitting it doesn't make it any less of one.
posted by E. Whitehall at 3:06 AM on January 6, 2016 [24 favorites]


This reminds me of this article on the moral logic of bullying. Ignoring the slightly annoying framing it makes that the point that often bullies gradually increase their aggressions. Often the victim doesn't respond or tries to rise these actions. But at some point the victim responds in kind. In the mind of the bully this action is the moral justification for their bullying.

This kind of microaggression is analogous. If the POC responds aggressively then that's the justification that it was all their fault anyway.
posted by Erberus at 3:18 AM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


They didn't even try. Not a bit. They all just let it hang on her.

I was once at a table with four of my closest, dearest, most enlightened white friends when a random West Indian at the bar decided to hang out with us for a while and decided that the best way to do that was to casually refer to me as a paki over and over. Four dudes. Not one word from any one of them. Not when I stood up sputtering in rage, not when he sneered at me, not when I stared him down, not for the next twenty minutes as I fled to "get drinks"/avoid rage blackout and they chatted awkwardly with him, not when he left, not after he left. Not a word until a few days later, when I pulled each of them aside to tell them how much that sucked. Then, they had plenty to say. "You're right. I'm sorry. Next time. Well, hopefully there isn't a next time, but you know. I got your back."

I love those guys to pieces and I'd lie down in traffic for any one of them, but boy, I learned something that day.
posted by Errant at 3:59 AM on January 6, 2016 [26 favorites]


On reading this am I realize that my comment may be read as this is what I would do and therefore as a suggestion of what she could do. I apologize. That wasn't how I expected it to be read but can totally see now why and in context it would be. It's reminded me that in tough conversations like this to try to be better at conveying what's in my head.
posted by Jalliah at 4:54 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know if the OP would identify as "Chinese people"

your right, she wouldn't, because she's korean(-american).
posted by nadawi at 6:33 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was not the person who brought up the cross race is SCIENCE derail.
posted by sweetkid at 6:46 AM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


i realize that. i was quoting your comment because i agreed with you for a bunch of reasons and just wanted to add that clarification to the thread.
posted by nadawi at 6:53 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


got it, thanks!
posted by sweetkid at 6:54 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just the fact that the article is titled "What Goes Through Your Mind" (not "Hey Guys, What Should I Have Said?") highlights the author's intent. But I'm someone who generally dislikes advice, and advice like "you should have done that" in response to a painful account most particularly.*
posted by salvia at 6:56 AM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


(* Not that I don't sympathize with the desire to brainstorm the perfect comeback!)
posted by salvia at 6:57 AM on January 6, 2016


I know that "I just want to clarify" can be another variety of derail/microaggression, but: my post upthread was in no way aimed at the author of this excellent article. Some mefites asked for possible responses to use during future situations of hearing comments like these in groups of people, and I was trying to share some of the ways I try to use my white privilege as a bludgeon on behalf of those who are often not safe enough to speak up (or present, in the examples I spoke about).

It was definitely not my intent to whitesplain/armchair quarterback the context of the actual article in any way, and I apologize for not trying to make it clearer that I was responding to in-thread requests, not as a general response to the FPP link itself.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:06 AM on January 6, 2016


It is that unspoken “better” response that haunts me over a week later.

This is why at those times when someone passing by in a car says something possibly racist to me, I have always just spit out a "FUCK YOU!" loud as shit. It is not clever, and I do not always know exactly what the person meant, but I don't think, oh, man, I really should have countered with anything deterring.

I wouldn't do this at a nice dinner party, though, so yeah, tough situation.

Well, probably not.
posted by ignignokt at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another reason I think some of the "Here's what a great comeback would have been" comments are misguided is that it ignores the very salient point where this incident was described by the author as a microaggression. There is a reason it was termed that way. If the offending party had uttered a more blatantly offensive racist slur at the author, there probably would be no article to write here since it wouldn't have been as easy for everyone at the party to ignore.

That is the insidious thing about microaggressions. Each individual case is just small enough to where there is some level of plausible deniability. The wronged party takes a big risk by acknowledging having taken offense over some "small" thing because it immediately opens them up to accusations of being oversensitive, "looking to be offended", etc.
posted by The Gooch at 8:51 AM on January 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure we're talking of solutions here. None of us are going to "solve" racism. The best we can manage to do is to tilt the field, a smidgen towards (in the best case), its necessary levelness.

This comment really bugged me. Partly in its whitesplainyness, and partly because we always have these threads where the same Asian- American/Canadian etc commenters say "this is how we read this piece, here are some takeaways that are good" or whatever, and then people are still like "well, this is what she SHOULD have said" or "they didn't mean, like, REAL racism" and it's kind of exhausting. (I have gotten several memails about how some thing wasn't real racism or it was sort of racism and I should take into account the specifics of x and y and)

And the whole smidgen thing - this is a white people response, sorry. We're just doing what we can, throwing starfish, etc. We're doing the best we can. Have a smidgen.

I don't think I can say it any better than Hari Kondabolu in "We've Come A Long Way"

"How long do we live? I want it now! How dare you?" That doesn't mean ending racism in this thread, but it does mean not feeling like I have to temper comments based on how good I have it compared to x from the past, or compared to other POC, or whatever.
posted by sweetkid at 10:17 AM on January 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I was not the person who brought up the cross race is SCIENCE derail.

Fair enough - sorry about that. I just wanted to point out that it's not white people's "endless variety" compared to POC's purported sameness that is the issue.

I admit that it is really tempting to want to turn to research for answers or possible solutions. Because I do think there are some there, maybe? Conformity; bystander effect (and e.g. how recognition & affirmation of the reality by others, like "yes this thing is happening & real, you're not nuts" is a crucial first step) ... I feel like useful things have been said about this. But I also see how going to science for explanations can be invalidating, by taking something away from entirely justifiable outrage, and from the the moral impetus to act and just be better... But you're right, a thread where people are talking about their personal experiences of pain and anger isn't the place for that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:21 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


But you're right, a thread where people are talking about their personal experiences of pain and anger isn't the place for that.

Yes, this was exactly my point. And yes white people do not have lots of difference and POC "all look same," that whole assertion is totally ridiculous (not by you cotton red sock, the other person who said that).

Like, I'm Indian American and even Indian people ask me why I look the way I do because it's apparently "wrong" for Indians and I just must be mixed. When my hair is curly people think I'm Hispanic, when it's straight they think I'm Native American or East Asian. People's idea of 'race' is totally absurd and anything I've read about cross race stuff is more nuanced than the pull quotes here.

Also, for variety, look at this video of students in an Indian orphanage. They have really different hair, skin tone, face shape, eye color/shape, etc, and that's just one school.
posted by sweetkid at 12:45 PM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


This comment really bugged me. Partly in its whitesplainyness, and partly because we always have these threads where the same Asian- American/Canadian etc commenters say "this is how we read this piece, here are some takeaways that are good" or whatever, and then people are still like "well, this is what she SHOULD have said" or "they didn't mean, like, REAL racism" and it's kind of exhausting.

This bugged me too. I thought in a thread that actively prompted people to think about the social costs of PoC pointing out microaggressions, people would be more conscious of making these types of remarks to PoC actually pointing out microaggressions. I don't know how helpful the roleplaying and shadowboxing going on in this thread is, because you see people who previously claimed "no, we'd be all over that shit" when prompted and given context actually hurling the shit - and simultaneously presenting and perceiving themselves as the "good white people who get it" - when a situation actually goes down in the exact same context. The number of white people here confidently stating that they get it and actively offering up a story of when they got it makes me incredibly, incredibly weary. Because in my experience, the white people who think they get it are the ones who generate a hundred unknowing microaggressions for every one they point out, and who aggressively cling to that perception of doing good when anything is said to imply that they might actually not be doing a net good on the psyches of PoC.
posted by Conspire at 12:59 PM on January 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


My comment wasn't really directed at any one person or in response to any one statement. I understand the desire to rehearse strategies for dealing with intense or uncomfortable situations, and I appreciate that people want to help. It's just that the cumulative effect of many "I do this and it has worked" stories starts to feel less like "so maybe that will be of use to you" and more like "there are so many options, and she couldn't think of any of them?", especially when the comments are so focused on reusable quotations and specific attitudes to adopt, as opposed to general commonalities.

So I think it is more helpful to be more mindful of the atmosphere of the room, as it were. It's very easy for a white-majority audience to slip into a mode where witnessing racism is made equivalent to experiencing racism, such that strategies for addressing observed inequality supplant strategies for dealing with pain and power, or at least are implied to be equally indicated for the latter condition. I don't think anyone's doing that on purpose, but it's a tendency of power which can be corrected for with concentration and effort.
posted by Errant at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh, no, totally not calling you out, Errant. I can also totally see why folks might see white people rehearsing strategies as supportive, and I get that. But it's just that in my experience, it burns a lot more when white people do this and then don't actually show support and are in fact actively oppressive when things happen. I think part of the reason why it happens is that when PoC call out racism, they are violating social norms no matter what. So it's so easy to align with anti-racist statements when the story has been spun as an after-the-fact account by a PoC, but in the moment, the behavior of the PoV is always going to be rude, shocking, confusing, and transgressive. So that's why we see so many calls for restraint and moderation from Good White People when things actually go down and that is silencing. It's so easy for white people when it's been actively filtered and plattered by PoC, but I don't want to do that all the time. I wish white people could actually perceive racism without this effort.
posted by Conspire at 1:23 PM on January 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


To restate things in a slightly different way, there's a bit of Engineer's Disease here. The article is highlighting a complex situation that has happened many times in her life, how she feels about it, and why it's a Catch-22 that will lead to grief no matter what she does: ostracization and hurt feelings on one end, unchecked racial microaggression on the other (to add to the pile of thousands that gradually drive you insane over the course of a lifetime). She is calling attention to this thing that happens, and will continue to happen to her and to all POC, and she's airing frustrations in a way that is hopefully enlightening to some people, and hauntingly familiar to others. It's not a call to action. It's not about what white people should do. It's an article that is hoping to eloquently point out this very common situation around microaggressions, and these feelings.

The Engineer's Disease here is in approaching the article in a programmatic way, like a piece of malfunctioning software: this is a problem the author is facing, here is the quick debug to address the problem. Or: here is where white people failed in this situation, and this is how to not fail in the situation. But:

1) that's an example of white people, yet again, making it about them, specifically - what would *I* do? How can *I* solve this? How can *I* be better? When the article is not about that; the article assumes this will continue to be a problem for her, despite your best efforts to engineer a solution or place yourself as a do-gooder in the situation, she's still going to face the problem over and over. If it's not about "Asians all look alike," it's about something else. The facts will always change and the potential responses will too. She's not asking you to help, she's asking you to understand, empathize, gain some awareness, become a little bit more aware. She could've concluded the article with a list of 10 actionable bullet points for white allies. She didn't, because it's not about you, and while you can and should help and speak up, nothing will sufficiently debug, or even slightly level the playing field, which is already tipped past the point of no return. You understand that once you truly grasp what she's saying. The best way to help right now is to read, think, listen.

2) Despite, or because of your best efforts to be an Engineer, you will often be the one in the microaggressor role. See: this thread, and how it became about managing a series of microaggressions from well-meaning anti-racist people. Or, if you're not in the microaggressor role, you will not spot the microaggression, or you will innocently question that it even was a microaggression. You will minimize or explain away, or express your confusion, or talk about how well-meaning you are. So your attempts to debug this situation ignores that YOU are the one that needs to be debugged, you're the consistently malfunctioning software. No matter who you are, I guarantee you're often not spotting things, and you're often actively contributing to the problen. Which is why the solution isn't "come up with the best response!", it's quiet reflection, empathy, and growing awareness and nuanced recognition of others' everyday realities.
posted by naju at 2:10 PM on January 6, 2016 [25 favorites]


Oh, no, totally not calling you out, Errant.

For sure. Our comments showed up around the same time, but I think we were both responding to the same thing from different angles, so let me stress in kind that my comment is not intended as a rebuttal or repudiation of yours, nor do I intend to imply that people expressing more irritation have less sympathy. Far from it: I also align with the frustration and the cynicism. To be frank, my instinct when hearing a white person talking about standing up to racism is "I'll believe it when I see it", and I don't very often see it. I see the desire to rehearse as a desire to support, which is nice and all, but that doesn't mean I see the rehearsals themselves as supportive. I think you're expressing that idea quite nicely, I don't have much to add to it, but I'm there with you.

I have a little more energy today than I do other days, so instead of my usual profane "quit it", I thought I might expand on why specific rehearsal has the unintended detrimental effect to which I think you and I are reacting. You make the salient point that it's easy to say what you would have done after the fact, to which I'd add in support that if the author of the article doesn't know what to do in the heat of the moment, with her lifetime of managing aggressions, it doesn't seem terrifically likely that a person with less racism experience is going to have more wit. What I'm saying is that even when those rehearsals have the desired outcome of adequately preparing white people for their next engagement, we're still framing the conversation about racism in terms of the white experience. I agree that racism is white people's problem to solve, but that doesn't mean that the instinct to fix it right this second is well-placed. When your friend gets hurt, usually all they want from you is to keep them company while they heal and talk about how shitty they feel. That can be a long, ephemeral, sometimes unsatisfying process, but it's often the best thing you can do for them, with the most salutary effect. Sometimes the effort involved in caregiving is to restrain yourself from doing more than you should, to make yourself just be present.
posted by Errant at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


On non-preview: pretty much lots of what naju said, plus the rest of what naju said.
posted by Errant at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gosh so agreeable guys.
posted by sweetkid at 2:49 PM on January 6, 2016


Which is why I urge you: white people speak up. And do so on your own. Don't do it expecting the person of color to back you up, don't try to pull them into it. Don't give them sideways glances like "I'm trying to save your ass here, step in at any time

Biracial dude here who is the wonderful combination of not-white enough to get "so where are you really from?" sort of shit on a weekly basis, but white enough to get "what do you care, it isn't about you" when i speak up.

The hardest part about what you're describing, and something you have to mentally prepare yourself for is shitty people who say shitty things and are determined to start a fight with only minorities. Like they'll say something shitty, you give them some pushback, and they go "well what do you care, you're not and they're right there" or even pull a "why are you trying to speak for them? what do they think" and try and do some pseudo SJW combo maneuver. Like as soon as they get a negative response, they try and silence everyone else and start a 1v1 fight with whoever the target of their shitflinging would be, or just whatever visible minority is convienently available(or them and anyone who will side with them Vs any highly visible minorities). These people also employ this if there isn't anyone but white-enough-presenting people there by going "so? it's not there's anyone here whose place it is to get offended" or something else rage inducing.

The next step can and will include calling you a white savior/white knight, the aforementioned "well you don't get to speak for them" or similar.

This is basically a rote chess opening on their part. If you don't have a good response ready you're going to get rapid fire needled, and it works pretty well at getting the room on their side if everyone there was iffy. You gotta shift gears directly in to "just because it's not about me doesn't mean it's not offensive and a messed up thing to say" territory and shift it back off of whether you're qualified to talk about it.

See also "Well, you're not a woman so why do you care so much? What about so and so, she's right there!" often employed by the same assholes.
posted by emptythought at 3:05 PM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


annnnd i should have hit refresh before is submitted -_-
posted by emptythought at 3:07 PM on January 6, 2016


emptythought, what you're describing is exactly what I was talking about when I said that people of color will be assessed the cost of speaking up, whoever speaks up, whether or not they're even in the room. That isn't to say that the white objector will not also have a price to pay, as you also outline and as many in this discussion have discovered, but racism as structural power seeks its natural targets. In a funny way, racists have already internalized the dictum expressed so often to well-meaning allies, that it isn't about the allies, and so the protests of well-meaning allies are easily deflected. "pseudo SJW combo manuever" is a pretty apt description for it.
posted by Errant at 3:31 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I wonder if we white people should even be part of this conversation except when someone needs to let us know we have said something offensive (because even with the best of intentions, the fact we are not POC means that there are going to be things we won't understand until we are told. And many times not even then, unfortunately.) Even the most empathetic of us don't really understand,and couldn't unless we woke up one day a different race, and lived it. Other than that, I guess speak up if a comment either offends us or should offend us, in the way that seems the most useful at the time.



That's all I got.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:09 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


After reading the post and the thread, as someone who identifies as an Asian-American and has witnessed the many, many, many difference ways that intersectional oppression has functioned for me and my friends, I want the privilege to say "You are racist/sexist/homophobic/etc" without worrying about getting killed mentally/emotionally/physically where I stand, and the same goes for my friends with their responses.

I don't care about people with bigoted opinions, unless they understand that they have that type of effect by expressing that type of ignorance and having us educate them. It is a slow death. It is still death by a thousand papercuts. And I think people should recognize that doing these levels of emotional labor is sometimes really not worth it for us...but then who is going to make change? It is so, so, so endlessly frustrating and tiring and full of burn-out.

For now, I'm not interested in anymore in educating people about why they're racist, they should just leave the space. But for the most part, I don't have any power, because I am usually dealing with someone who is of a higher power hierarchy than I am, due to institutional whiteness (at least in my North America context). Do people see why it is so tiring to have to worry about micro-aggressions over, and over again? It doesn't stop until the dominant power structures realize that they're a disease and need to make space for it. The pushback that people are experiencing is such an example of that.
posted by yueliang at 5:15 PM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


Also, I will clarify - how can I ask some people to leave the spaces if they are bigoted, if I can't do so, if I don't have control over that space sometimes? I think it should be obvious that if someone is doing something fucked up, they should leave the space. But it's weird when we are so thoroughly indoctrinated to defend and support the dominant person who makes it all about them, right? And why would dominant power structures want to budge, if they think being bigoted gives them power and kudos? Unfortunately, I have learned from experience that while some people genuinely do feel bad about being a bad person for expressing casual racism, and want to learn to work to change, a lot of people just don't care. A lot of people are willingly racist. They are OKAY WITH IT. What do you expect us to do about it, when it's such a gamble for our lives?

So again, we perform the emotional labor, with care, love, and hope, that maybe you would see the error of your ways. That maybe you would recognize that we are people who have hurt feelings, that we have a common humanity and can you see that clearly? Could you pull off your blinds and grips on power and ego? That maybe, you could fucking get what it's like for once to be fucked up and that you are hurting someone? But I don't know. It hurts and it's a gamble and I'm currently burned out, and trying to find reasons to sustain myself into wanting to do this work again. But I think a lot of us are being way too nice about it. We shouldn't be nice when casual racism and microaggressions actually kills people of color (black men in this example). But y'all want us to be nice. I want to be nice too. But will you listen if I am nice? Will you listen if I am upset? And why should I be nice? Do you know why I am upset?

It's a maddening, maddening loop.
posted by yueliang at 5:24 PM on January 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's discussions like this that make me really love this place. I am constantly learning how to engage in discussions about race and I always appreciate more and better guidance on how to shoulder some of the weight of the emotional burden with race and do something to make this world a little bit better.

Conspire and Errant, I appreciate what you are saying so much and I know I'm not one of the good ones. I know I make tons of mistakes and I'm fortunate that people have been kind enough to point out my errors.

Stories like the OP's help those of us who are trying to have some empathy and realize just how oppressive and exhausting it is to deal with racial micro aggressions and the macro as well.

My story upthread was intended to show how shocking and heartbreaking it felt for me to get hit by that racial shit and I'm white and pretty well prepared to address the question. Honestly that story is one of the few times I've been able to say something more coherent than "What the ever-living fuck?!!"

Thanks again.
posted by teleri025 at 5:53 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying this is the best or only way to think about one's role as a white ally in these situations, but something that was EXTREMELY clarifying for me in "how do I behave so that I am being an ally who speaks up but not a jerkface who turns it into an even more awkward thing, and how do I know when is which and what to say and how?" was -- when you are on school board, ALL of your actions are evaluated as if you are actively putting yourself forward as a role model for the community's children. Sometimes this is super-annoying because you say "sucks" in public and get phone calls (for real). But when thinking about tough issues related to racism, it has been a good clarifying lens for me. What role model would I want the children see in their community leaders, in this situation?

For me, that was not a person who was silent (particularly when I was in any sort of position of authority), because children often don't have the power to speak for themselves and they need to know adults will speak for them and stand up for them. And definitely I would be ashamed if a child watched me back down from confronting racism because I (as a white person in a majority situation) was afraid of social consequences. (Obviously this is a far more complicated calculation to make for a minority, for whom the social consequences are different and often far more serious and I do not presume to make that calculation for anybody else.) But if I were being a role model for children, I would also want to remain calm and (relatively) polite, as losing one's shit in front of children typically just scares them; and, best-case scenario, be clear about the issue in a way that any children who were observing it could understand why what the speaker said was wrong (so, like, a little educational). And I was always, always thinking about what values our community was expressing to our children, and I am pretty firm about standing up for the values I want my community to have. (And not just on this issue -- as you all probably know, I'm pretty forward about approaching badly-behaving teenagers and telling them to cut it out because if there's a community value adults have to transmit it!)

And this covers a really wide range of expression, from, "Do not say that shit," to "That is not okay," to "I know you meant well, but ..." to "I'm going to have to ask you to leave." Like I'm not saying that being a role model to children is about being Mr. Rogers in all situations; sometimes the right thing to model for children is ANGER. Or total refusal to remain in proximity to the behavior. Or other negative reactions. They need to see those too, and to learn how to calmly express their own boundaries or anger.

Anyway, I've found it very clarifying to think not, "what should *I* do?", but to think, "What do I want the children of this community to see adults doing?" It makes the situation a lot more clear to me about being "what ought to be said to make this a more just world?" and less about "oh shit what do *I* say when I think about *me* in this situation?" It also makes it a lot easier for me to accept criticism when my thing was not the right thing, because my concern is doing whatever I can do to make the world more just and to model the right behavior for children, and that is an easy thing to commit to constant learning, whereas when it's like "shit what do *I* do?" and you do it wrong, that feels more personal when you get criticized. (Also PROBABLY there are already groups in your community who totally talk about or even do trainings on "this is what our minority community has decided is an appropriate response to these problematic behaviors in our community and we would like to share them," because when you are focused on learning to build a better community and approaching it as a learning experience, rather than reducing personal discomfort in how you confront racism, there are a LOT of resources and a lot of people volunteering to BE resources and answer dumb/hard/awkward questions.)

Anyway, it started because I HAD to be thinking that way because that WAS my role, but eventually I realized it was a very helpful lens for thinking through troubling public interactions. (Not always a fast way. It doesn't always help with surprise racism where I'm just like "uh ... uh ... uh ... whut did you just say?")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 PM on January 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: I think I know what the answer to this is, but it's a little ambiguous so I'd like you to clarify. In your metaphor of white ally as school board member, who are the children? Sometimes it seems like you mean actual children, as in "I should be the kind of ally I would want children to grow up to be". Sometimes it seems like you mean minorities, as in "children [minorities] don't have the power to speak up for themselves and need an adult [white ally] to speak up for them and stand up for them" or "children [minorities] need to see you [white ally] express anger so they can learn how to express their own boundaries". Which is, well, literally infantilizing, and so perhaps understandably not my favorite way of thinking about things. I'd like to think you mean the first one all the way through, but it reads like the second one in a lot of places, and it's kind of bugging me.
posted by Errant at 8:44 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I really don't want to make anyone in this situation feel embarrassed or infantilized which is how I worry I would feel if a stranger decided to "stand up for me".

Speaking as a well-off, middle-aged white man (and naturally I'm speaking, it's my turn, it's always my turn, shut up and listen, my opinion on this topic - like every other - carries more weight than yours): when I drip vitriol on people who spout bigoted offensive remarks, I'm not doing that for anybody's benefit but my own.

Because, frankly, fuck that noise. I want your experience of talking that kind of crap to become as profoundly, relentlessly, lengthily unpleasant for you as possible.

You're an adult. I should not need to train you like a puppy who doesn't yet understand what to do with its shit. We are way past taking you aside for a quiet word here. Wheel that bullshit out in my company, and I will do my best to make you regret that choice.

The next step can and will include calling you a white savior/white knight, the aforementioned "well you don't get to speak for them" or similar.

This is basically a rote chess opening on their part.


1. d4, fucknuckle. Bring it on.
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Errant: "n your metaphor of white ally as school board member, who are the children? Sometimes it seems like you mean actual children, as in "I should be the kind of ally I would want children to grow up to be". Sometimes it seems like you mean minorities, as in "children [minorities] don't have the power to speak up for themselves and need an adult [white ally] to speak up for them and stand up for them" or "children [minorities] need to see you [white ally] express anger so they can learn how to express their own boundaries". "

Wow, no, I mean the literal 14,000 children from ages 3 to 18 that I was responsible for and designated to speak for. And not just when someone brought racism to our schools (although plenty of that), but also when I had to watch videos or testimony of horrifying child abuse, and speak for that child in a legal setting or otherwise advocate for that child to be protected from that adult. Or when a child was being bullied and being brushed off by adults. A HUUUUUUGE part of my job was speaking for children who were unable to speak for themselves, or who tried to speak for themselves but whose voices were ignored or denied. And a lot of them were little, little kids who are learning HOW to speak for themselves. I definitely don't mean "children/minorities" need "adult/white person" to stand up for them. I feel like that's a kind-of uncharitable reading of my comment particularly given that I was careful to give the school board context so it was clear I mean actual children ("the community's children") over whom I had a certain amount of moral, legal, and educational authority, and I gave specific examples involving children and child development. I guess possibly you're confused in that school board IS NOT A METAPHOR, it was my life for five years?

So, yeah, I mean LITERAL CHILDREN IN MY COMMUNITY who have just heard an adult say something racist, and I am an adult who is also there who recognized it as something racist, what do those literal children need to hear me say so that they feel safe and protected in a community where racist speech is not acceptable and adults will step forward to protect that community value? Much of which I learned by going to community trainings with bullying educators, diversity educators, minority advocacy groups in my particular community, who specifically hold forums to talk about what we value as a community and how we present those values to children ... so if anything I am the student learning from people far better-educated than I am how I should be present myself in those kinds of situations.

No, my filter is literally, "If there were LITERAL children watching this interaction" (which there often are as I have two of my own, and I still spend a lot of my time in schools) "what would I want to communicate about our community values to those children by my actions?" Often that is a VERY CLARIFYING question to ask myself, rather than, "shit, what do I do????" When I think about what "an adult" needs to do, it's a lot easier than thinking about what "I" need to do. And when you're thinking "an adult" and not "me" you also often find there's other adults there who are doing it, and you can join them or back them or be like, "Yeah this seems under control." Because it becomes less about "me" and more about "an adult in this community."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:33 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


What I don't hear from white allies is a lot of empathy, especially in this thread. It's a lot of Here's What I'd Say to That Jerk, plus I Would Never Be That Jerk.

Kind of like when I said above: I don't know, I guess it's just easier to imagine what the OP should have said or what other people would say than to try to empathize with this extremely shitty and unacceptable situation?

Someone said, well she SAID she wanted someone to do something in the moment so we're figuring out what to do.
posted by sweetkid at 9:34 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ok, I guess we're doing this thing then.

If I thought you absolutely meant that minorities were children under your care, a cursory history of my comments will probably indicate to you that there would be far less equivocation and far more fucks in my request for clarification. Which was a request for clarification, not a trap. You can tell, because I said, "Eyebrows McGee, I'd like you to clarify."

I am aware that you were on an actual literal school board governing literal children. Here is the thing, though: when you extrapolate that experience to this conversation, where no one is a child and there is no governing authority, your experience indeed is a metaphor. You have, yourself, made it one, by saying "when I think about this situation, I liken it to this situation". That's absolutely fine. Metaphors are fine. They are useful. I was asking you to clarify the boundaries of that metaphor. So thanks for clarifying that. Now I'm certain I know what you meant to say.

That was the civil part. If you'd like to cut away now, please do.

I could not give 14,000 shits that you have managed 14,000 children to your own credit, in the context of this conversation. In the context of this conversation, what you said was, "When I think about what it means to be a white ally, I think about what it means to mentor a bunch of children." Do you think any of those children are edified by your sudden defensiveness? I told you that I was reading a thing you wrote to be saying something other than I thought you meant, and your reply is all caps freakout.

You know what? Never mind. You're seeing me run out of energy in real time. I could not possibly have been nicer in my expression of uncertainty or my benefit of doubt. And this is how white allies react. Yeah. You're on my team. Good talk.
posted by Errant at 2:37 AM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


I regret the last bit of my statement. This isn't how "white allies" react. This is how some people who think they're being allies react. Jalliah, teleri025, others, thank you for engaging and listening and responding, instead of just getting your hackles up. I do not wish to cast your discussions in the same vein as the previous, however problematic they may (hopefully not) end up being. Thank you for being variations on the theme that I can personally cling to in this minute, instead of flipping off and flipping out.
posted by Errant at 2:50 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Eyebrows, Errant was giving you the benefit of the doubt in asking for clarification on how far the example/metaphor of 14000 stretches, because the implications can be kind of damning. This conversation is not about you personally, nobody's here to give out white-ally stickers, so please don't lash out at Errant for trying to explain why that example could be less useful than it may seem. Instead, do what a zillion people on this thread have already asked for: try to have some empathy for Errant's position, as someone with privilege in this situation, and think about why they may have needed to ask for clarification when they did.
posted by divabat at 4:49 AM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry for saying what I did and I take your points about why it came across in a hurtful way. I will step away.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:31 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have been a white bystander in an incident like this, and I failed to act, despite wanting to think of myself as an ally. I can't speak for anyone else, but my reasons for not standing up were shock, confusion, self-doubt and cowardice. I wasn't sure if butting in would have made things better or worse, more or less awkward for the POC in question. (To be honest, I'm still not sure if I made the right or wrong call.)

The situation occurred at work, where I was in a very junior position (intern). Several coworkers were sitting in the lunchroom, and one of them, B, had been on a holiday and had come back with a tan, which was a topic of discussion. B then began comparing her skin tone with that of another coworker, M, who was South Asian. She put her arm next to M's on the table, commenting on how she still wasn't quite as dark as M, and rattled on about skin colour and ethnicity. Then B said M's skin colour was nice - "really, it's quite beautiful" - and that she hadn't meant anything by it.

I thought: this can't be happening, that is horrendously inappropriate. I tried to read M's expression; she seemed indifferent and unperturbed, but that could have been a mask, or shock. Checked everyone else's reactions. There was some laughter, nervous or not I couldn't tell. And my shocked disbelief was immediately overruled by self-doubt. What was more wrong, to react or to shut up? Did I have the right to express being offended if M wasn't? Would my reaction have offended or embarrassed her? What if I was misunderstanding something? I grew up in another country, and I often seem to have differing views on what is racist or offensive. Would I be imposing myself? Would I get into an argument? These were people I had to work with, and depended on for getting my diploma. And how should I respond? I am socially clumsy and easily shocked speechless. I couldn't think of anything fast and funny that would have simultaniously opened B's eyes to her own boorishness and saved everyone's faces. I was seated on the other side of the room and not included in the conversation, so any response of mine would have gotten everyone's attention. If I said something, it would be big and public, unambiguous and potentially a horrible mistake.

You know those experiments where they let smoke into a room and look at what the subject does if nobody else bats an eye? That was me there, anxiously staying put while the smoke pours in.

In the end, I did nothing, and I will always remember that. To me, it was a lesson about myself: when this sort of complicated shit hits the fan, I freeze, even when I'm just a bystander. I can't necessarily rely on my moral instincts, I should keep scrutinizing my own actions and I shouldn't get complacent about being an ally. I really need to learn and listen a lot. And I feel like I can easily understand why Nicole Chung reacted the way she did, and I would never in a million years question that.
posted by sively at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh man, I've been there (in the South Asian coworker's position.) Microaggressions in the workplace are tough. Offices are not safe spaces, they're minefields. I choose my battles carefully. Basically, if it doesn't rise to the level of "HR might need to get involved," I do not speak up for myself. It's already exceedingly hard to be hired (even considered), let alone keep a job, as a minority in my industry. You're already "not a great culture fit" before you even walk in the door. You're under incredibly more pressure than your white coworkers to be a good, docile team player. The last thing I'd want to do is detonate that over something relatively minor.

As Busta Rhymes advises: "don't play the race card; charge it to the race card."

I can't offer any advice to whether you should speak up on behalf of anyone else in that situation. I wouldn't really blame anyone for not doing so.
posted by naju at 9:11 AM on January 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


I feel a bit sad right now. I don't want all of that negativity, all the complications discussed above in my life. I'm tired.

The thing that I loved most about the article, is how she captured that exact moment in time, those exact feelings we get when we're ambushed with a well meaning little bomb of micro aggression. It's a bad experience but it is good to hear other people talk about how they had those experiences, too. It makes me feel better.
I would have preferred if there were more comments about "that time it happened to me" in this thread.

The least interesting aspect is the point of view of the white bystanders inthis thread. What you did that one time, what you would have done, how you feel about not doing enough, what stops you from doing more, your questions about how precisely to help us. This is a discussion we've had hundreds of times. I get that it's interesting to white people. That's because it's about you white people. I get it. And yes, it is a related subject, and yes, saying that we want you to do more for us of course invites the question of what exactly should you do for us.

So one of you asked that question and a lot of us answered and off we went wheee into a discussion of white people and their feelings, experiences and advice for one another.

You mean well! And I'm actually grateful that you care enough to ask. I don't know anyone offline who would ask, how sad is that.

But this thread wasn't enough about people like me. Not enough for me, at least. I hope more people will share.

And now I'm tearing up because I don't want to be the party pooper in this thread , because you are, most of you, people I admire and like.

And why is everything so stupid?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:36 PM on January 7, 2016 [22 favorites]


I went to my friend's Christmas and his Italian American dad was surprised that I am South Asian because he thought I was Samoan - which is so weirdly specific and I have heard it before and always think they are trying to tell me I'm fat.

Also, they all seemed really surprised that I know the words to the Our Father and I celebrated Christmas at home and I have English relatives and I had to explain all that.

I mean, I just know how to fit in places. I had an hour long conversation about HVAC school while eating rare steak at the Christmas Eve party. In conclusion I am a land of contrasts.

Indian people always ask me 'how I got my last name' and I tell them my father wanted me to have his. That feels like a microaggression to me actually. I could go the whole rest of my life without hearing "But you don't LOOK Indian" it is the most tiresome conversation ever.
posted by sweetkid at 1:14 PM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I do appreciate that no one ever thinks I look like Mindy Kaling. I mostly get Aubrey Plaza.
posted by sweetkid at 1:15 PM on January 7, 2016


If I come back with a simple "not cool, Mom," she'll make some excuse about how she was only kidding and "Chinese people" say XYZ offensive stereotype about them all the time, and why are you so serious all the time, can't you take a joke.

When I hear "just joking" from someone about something I usually respond with "when's the funny part?" Sometimes people hear the "fuck you" that's actually in there, usually people take it as the "well, I don't think it's at all funny," sometimes it operates as "I don't understand, please explain" and they go on about what made it funny. I think I have only once had to say "mmm, no, you're mistaken, hate isn't funny." But I think that's because people who want to talk that sort of shit are primed to hear the "fuck you" since they're in that sort of state of mind to begin with, even if they're trying to pretend to be nice with their sly shit.
posted by phearlez at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2016


I am a white-appearing Latina. I know-theoretically and also experientially-that I experience way fewer microaggressions than my relatives who are not white-appearing. So, in general, I tend to downplay the experiences I do have under the rubric "hey, I have no right to complain"; "this isn't that bad".

I mention this because one thing I've been starting to figure out by reading this (and other) threads is that I want to stop tamping all of those experiences and emotions down. I was at a workshop in June and, in a particular exercise, I realized--for the first time--that I was deeply, furiously ANGRY. That anger was a product of years and years of the small nibbles and bites that grow into gigantic teeth gnashing at your soul.

Nibbles and bites that come within the bounds of intimate (and seemingly safe) boundaries are the hardest. I will never forget how my ex-husband questioned my identification as Latina ("but you don't look Latina") or teased me for my Spanish ("you don't speak Spanish that well"). These are comments that I have heard echoed by others, but is (was) hardest to deal with when it comes from someone from whom I expect(ed) love and acceptance. Nicole Chung says, "All these thoughts steamroll through my mind in the span of a few seconds, calculations firing while my cheeks burn and I stare at my plate. For the last time, I consider defending myself." Her metaphor of the steamrolling feels perfect to me, because the hard thing about microaggressions in supposedly safe spaces is that they turn me into an enemy of myself: questioning myself, my sense of self, my value.
posted by correcaminos at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


No matter who you are, I guarantee you're often not spotting things, and you're often actively contributing to the problen. Which is why the solution isn't "come up with the best response!", it's quiet reflection, empathy, and growing awareness and nuanced recognition of others' everyday realities.

Thanks, naju, that's helpful.
posted by straight at 7:31 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


One obvious thing that I want to point out that no one ever seems to - why do white people even expect us to have all the answers to racism? Like, whenever a PoC talks about their experiences of racism, why is it always the impulse of white people to ask "well, what do you want us to do about it?" It's certain that we can describe the effects of racism on us. Like, if you threw me down a well, I could very much tell you about how cold and wet it is, and how the stones down here feel all mossy. But I'm at the bottom of a well, and you're there at the top. I can very well suggest that you to throw a rope down, but I have no clue of determining that there's even a rope up there, because duh, I can't see where you're at?

To put it another way: our current state of systematic racism is largely the failing of white people. It is white people who have produced the system, and it is white people currently at a vantage of power in it. Obviously, dismantling systems of racism is a lot more complex than getting someone out of a well. But PoC aren't omniscient about racism just because we're the recipients of it - we can just make educated stabs at what might work and give feedback on what seems to be working for us in our own personal contexts or not. Like, okay, I know that you read the parable of the donkey falling into the well and you think the farmer's idea was brilliant, but shoveling down dirt at me here based on a fictional fable isn't really working out. Similarly, standing around at the top of the well where we can hear you and endlessly going "there was one other time I helped get someone else out of a well!" is kind of grating. There's a lot more urgency for PoC to get out of the position we're in - after all, we're cold and we're wet. But that's no excuse for white people, who have shoved us into the well and who are feeling awfully guilty about it, to not put in any legwork either.

I'm sick of it always being the fault of PoC when our advice doesn't work out perfectly. I'm sick of white people blaming us when different PoC give mixed accounts or suggestions or saying that the thing that they're currently doing is not working out. I'm sick of it always being PoC having to suggest every tiny little thing to do from a vantage of power - despite not even having these experiences of power racially to inform that. Why can't white people take more responsibility for themselves?
posted by Conspire at 9:43 PM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Hari Kondabolu on white guilt being a part of white privilege.

(I'm sorry about going on and on about mine; this was not the right thread for that.)
posted by sively at 4:56 AM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I feel like every one of us, white, or not white is stuck in a no win position.

I hate the term "white ally" by the way. Do we need a term to be decent human beings who look out for one another?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:51 PM on January 8, 2016



I feel like every one of us, white, or not white is stuck in a no win position.


Not really. People could just stop being casually racist. Or racist. Just people could stop.


I hate the term "white ally" by the way.


Why?
posted by sweetkid at 6:24 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sweetkid, again, it plays into division by race. All of us, the best of us, can be casually racist and not even know it till told, simply because we don't know what we don't know. To call me a white ally is to "other" me because of my whiteness, and dividing each other into categories is what got us into this mess to start with. Because dividing people into groups so they can be discriminated against and so one group can come out on top is why we are here, looking at each other with pain and suspicion, and mistrust, and every single one of us who deals with that deals with real pain and real reasons for the distrust, and then on top of that being told they have no reason for pain OR mistrust....it just sucks. For all of us. Granted, for some more than for others, no argument there at all.

If all of us can be kind and decent to one another simply because we are all people, why can't that be enough?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:12 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


To call me a white ally is to "other" me because of my whiteness, and dividing each other into categories is what got us into this mess to start with

Ok so the fact that you said this makes you not a white ally so no worries about being called that. Who is doing the dividing? The fact that you think that there's a binary white/nonwhite is very telling of the whole problem - white privilege is the problem, "nonwhite" people is a massively diverse group of people, but we find common ground because white privilege works against us.

Like this post is literally about a person who was othered at a party because someone, being racist, not a kind of racist or clueless or in pain, just racist, wanted to point out that she looked like "All the Asians" on a show. This like, does not happen to white people. It's actually, to me, a very specific Asian American experience, and all the stuff that went through her head are things that I understand and feel.

I don't want to "win" anything, the only reason we call ourselves Korean or Indian or Asian Americans is because we grew up being called Koreans and Indians and we insisted on tacking on the American. because that is what we are. People want to claim that we tacked on the Korean -, Indian-, but it was the American we tacked on, because it's ours too.
posted by sweetkid at 7:19 PM on January 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


it just sucks. For all of us. Granted, for some more than for others

Well, this is certainly one way of putting it.
posted by naju at 7:40 PM on January 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I feel like every one of us, white, or not white is stuck in a no win position.

To be snarky, I would say yeah, I think that pretty well summarizes the human condition.

More seriously, I would say yeah, we all of us, if we have any sort of consciousness, are harmed at least in some way by a racist system and that racist system will harm anyone who endeavors to subvert it.

More practically, I would say that the consequences of "losing" are a whole lot less painful (and almost never fatal) for those of us who are white.

Less generously, I would say this sounds kinda like white fragility.
posted by phearlez at 7:42 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Whenever white people complain about how guilty they feel about racism and how they're being unfairly mistrusted and "othered" and "divided", all that screams to me is, "shut up about racism." Because that is literally what they're calling for, the maintenance of their bubble of obliviousness. The article here is exactly about that, how there's a tremendous amount of pressure on PoC to keep quiet and to keep the peace, because white people just can't deal with having to be aware of racism.

It's just remarkable. It's almost like dealing with a toddler. You bring them to the mess they made, and they start wailing because it hurts them that you're pointing shit out and holding them accountable and making them feel guilty and bad and giving them a big job of cleaning up to do! And then they start covering their eyes, because hey, if they can't see it and if we all just pretended that we were all treated equally, it all magically goes away, right?
posted by Conspire at 8:25 PM on January 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


Sweetkid, I do the best I can to fight racism. I very nearly disowned my own parents because they were being absolutely horrid about my black grandchildren. Look, I get that people of other races are angry about white privilege, and they should be. I get it that as a carrier of white skin sometimes that gets directed at me, and I deal with it because that's just how it is. I just don't like the phrase white ally. I'm an ally, period. Just like I believe my friends of any race would be there for me if I were treated poorly.

I guess my point is this-that stupid white lady that was so offensive to the writer of the article? Yes, that was stupid and racist as hell. But I bet that woman says equally stupid and outrageous and hurtful things to white people simply because stupidity and tonedeafness don't stop at the color line. And I would hope that those of us who hear stupid comments whether racist or not, whether we share a color with the offender or the offended or not, would try our best to figure out a way to support the offended and/or straighten out the offender.

I do understand that racism and race is an extra special crap topping on the crap sundae, I don't want to minimize that. Please don't take it that way.I know my grandsons have to face crap that my granddaughters never will. Just in our family alone, that is true, and that breaks my heart.

I would like to think someone at that gathering pulled the offender aside later and ripped them a new one but sadly, if the gathering was in the South, the default is to treat stuff like that like a fart-we are supposed to pretend it never happened. Well, it still stinks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:27 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


But I bet that woman says equally stupid and outrageous and hurtful things to white people simply because stupidity and tonedeafness don't stop at the color line.

What? What the person at the party said to the author OP was not stupid. It was racist and she did it for a reason. I don't see any example of the author behaving in a similar manner.

Also the "color line" - again, it's not nonwhites vs whites.

You might think you're fighting racism but your ideas are sort of outdated, I don't really know a better way to say it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:37 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


You are minimizing our experiences of racism by treating them as one-off incidents by bad actors, rather than recognizing that they fit into a deliberately constructed system created by white people. Why do you think there's barely any mention of the histories of and impact of historical events on PoC in our school system? Why do you think there's barely any representation of PoC on any media? Why do you think our cities are planned in ways that just "happen" by means of the free market to segregate white people from being exposed to PoC? White cluelessness about racial relations isn't something that just happens because certain people tend to be more careless or mean or awful than others. It's something that has deliberately been cultivated by our society, because it foists white people into a position of power over PoC while retaining plausible deniability. That's the whole reason why we're naming it as the racism it is, and why we're naming it as a systematic white phenomenon. You are not immune, as much as you'd love to think of yourself as a kind and loving person - you're doing it right here, right now, to us.
posted by Conspire at 8:47 PM on January 8, 2016 [9 favorites]


Mod note: One comment deleted. St. Alia, you've already made your point that you think sometimes people are just stupid, so coming back again to say, yes there are racist systems... but going on to dig in again at length about how sometimes people are just stupid isn't helpful, and at this point, the conversation needs to become less about you.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:36 AM on January 9, 2016






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