The scientific way to train white people to stop being racist
April 15, 2016 9:15 AM   Subscribe

No one wants to be called fragile. And if you’re white, what you feel reading the title of this article may be indicative of the term. “White fragility” refers to white people’s low emotional tolerance for discussing topics of race and racism. What makes race so hard for white people to talk about? And more importantly, what can they do about it?

It would be a good idea if we could keep the lessons from previous MeTas about racism in mind in this thread.
posted by sciatrix (166 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the first thing to do is demonstrate you're not racist through your actions every day.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am pretty much white and I am more racist then I want to be. This is excellent.
posted by Marinara at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I wanted to comment about the article, but while working through those lessons from previous MeTas, I forgot what I wanted to say.
posted by sour cream at 9:30 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I feel like this thread from earlier today answers "what makes race so hard for white people to talk about" pretty well. So many of my fellow white folks interpret being made to confront white supremacy and privilege as a personal attack. (See also: I personally am not racist, therefore your experiences of racism can't be as bad as you say, etc.)
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:32 AM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Sure, it does. But so does the article linked in this fpp.
posted by sciatrix at 9:33 AM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh I'm not saying that we can only have one White People Are Obtuse About Race thread per day or something -- just that the feelings expressed in that article are pretty typical of the reactions I've had to attempts at this conversation.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:35 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the article: Resist your defenses and keep listening.

I did a play years ago for an Omaha nonprofit that dealt with matters of race, and, wisely, in preparation for it, the organization set up a series of community interviews to discuss the subject of race. And the thing that stood out for me was that white people mostly thought racism was a thing of the past, and not something that happened all that much any more, limited to a few backward neonazis and Klan members of whatever.

The black respondents, in the meanwhile, described racism as something they experienced constantly, and not just institutionally, but that interactions with white people were constantly fraught. It was the first indication I had that one of the privileges of being white is that racism can be invisible to you. And not deliberately invisible -- although there are plenty of white people who want to argue away any example of racism they are confronted with. I mean, without the confrontation, they just don't see it at all.

It wasn't until I started following a lot of black publications and writers that the various ways racism is a constant, insidious presence started becoming visible to me. So, yes, listening. And not passively. It's very possible for white people to go through their day-to-day experience not really interacting with POC in meaningful ways. You have to actively seek out voices.
posted by maxsparber at 9:40 AM on April 15, 2016 [55 favorites]


Thanks for the link-I saw that Dr. Derald Wing Sue is mentioned in the article, and for anyone interested on a great book on related matters, they could check out his Microagressions in Everyday Life which presents a research-based, coherent approach to practically talking about this stuff.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


maxsparber - That's exactly right. I only started being more aware when I started following more POC on instagram and twitter. It's been really eye-opening.
posted by Marinara at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


maxsparber, Marinara, anyone else:
This is going to sound stupid and so, so white... Any suggestions on finding non-white voices? I'm not necessarily asking for a list served to me on a plate, but how do you go about finding people?
posted by Baethan at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ok, that Time piece the article linked to, the one by the Princeton dude, infuriated me so badly that I had to get up from my desk and do deep breathing before I broke something. I have to say that when I read stuff like that, I feel real despair. And that piece is by someone who's intelligent and had every advantage and has little or nothing to lose by engaging in a bit of self-reflection.
posted by holborne at 9:55 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


One thing I've noticed among white people of my acquaintance (including me, honestly, though I try to be aware of it), is that to us, "racism" is this horrible, all-or-nothing binary switch. Either you're A Racist in which case you support the Klan and probably have swastika tattoos, or else you're a nice, normal, color-blind person who doesn't make any conscious decisions based on race [1].

Like maxbarber said, it seems like for a lot of members of visible minority groups, racism is more often like tinnitus. It's like a little hum that's there in the background, sometimes more annoying than others, but it never quite goes away. And in most cases, when POC refer to instances of racism, they are referring to this background hum, not a singular, violent event like the church shooting in Charleston SC.

[1] "oh, uh, we moved here because it's, uh, a good school district, that's all."
posted by theorique at 9:57 AM on April 15, 2016 [31 favorites]


This is going to sound stupid and so, so white... Any suggestions on finding non-white voices? I'm not necessarily asking for a list served to me on a plate, but how do you go about finding people?

Search for #BlackTwitter, both metaphorically and literally. Find out who is tweeting / instagramming about minority issues and follow them,
posted by theorique at 9:58 AM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Any suggestions on finding non-white voices?

Recently, I started to follow POC writers and commentators on Twitter, mostly based on people who regularly appear on this site, or elsewhere. Probably not ideal, but, you know, W. Kamau Bell is pretty great wherever you locate him. And then I followed people he retweets and interacts with, as just one example, and the people they retweet and link out to, and pretty soon I had a pretty diverse group of commenters from the so-called black Twitter in my feed, and, at the very least, it also provided a regular diet of articles and commentary.
posted by maxsparber at 9:59 AM on April 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


Twitter is great for finding POC voices. Mikki Kendall, Feminista Jones, Mychal Denzel Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay...there are so many incredible voices out there. I follow a lot of them because I am interested in the conversation and learning without asking any of them to teach me. And man, some of the shit that gets tweeted at them and they retweet? Just un-fucking-believable.
posted by Kitteh at 10:05 AM on April 15, 2016 [31 favorites]


I sometimes try to be sort of indiscriminate in who I follow, because there is a risk of white people curating their experiences with POC to make it comfortable for themselves. I try to avoid unfollowing people just because they are challenging me. Sometimes somebody just talks about, I don't know, what they eat all the time, and I unfollow them. Although if they eat really good food, I follow everyone they follow, because I always want to know about good food.
posted by maxsparber at 10:12 AM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I followed Raquel Willis, who I knew in college, and DNLee, who is a professional in my field recommended as someone really cool by my boss. And then as I followed people I knew through my job network (I'm mostly on Twitter to talk to other academics) I made a special effort to look out for women of color saying cool stuff in particular, which is how I followed Ambika Kamath, and as others said things snowball from there. It's not even something you have to specifically target people who are primarily activists to pick up on. I've learned just as much from listening to people who I originally found cool for totally different reasons but who also sometimes tell stories about the racial microaggressions that they put up with.
posted by sciatrix at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Twitter has really been a godsend in this. I am so grateful to the PoC there who allow me to follow them and listen and favorite and very very occasionally, reply or offer my opinion.

That last part's real important, I think.
posted by emjaybee at 10:14 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ok, that Time piece the article linked to, the one by the Princeton dude, infuriated me so badly

Ugh, without even having to look it up I knew exactly which one you were talking about.
posted by teponaztli at 10:20 AM on April 15, 2016


Seems like a pretty solid intro-type piece. Although, it mystifies me that the article is entitled "The scientific way to train white people to stop being racist", given that it doesn't seem particularly more scientific than any other reasonable, experience-based advice from intelligent commentators. It strikes me as a little counterproductive since the implied valorization of "the scientific way" downplays the extent to which racism is not a technical problem, and also the fact that for most people, moving to become less racist just has to involve a whole lot of fuzzy emotional self-work.
posted by threeants at 10:22 AM on April 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


And more importantly, what can they do about it?

really glad that this is a part of it because this is so often left out of a lot of things.

["...] to us, "racism" is this horrible, all-or-nothing binary switch"

one way I heard someone talk about this once, and I'm not sure how viable it is although I've used it with decent results, but when discussing these things you can distance people a little bit from their words and maybe tamp down that defensive response a bit by pointing out "that thing you just said/did was kind of racist"

I'm having trouble finding the words so please bear with me, but you're still saying they're responsible for their actions, but you're also giving some room to say, look, your actions don't define who you are now and forever, or who you have to be. and it isn't meant to absolve them of whatever results from their actions or words. the 'your actions don't define you' thing, which is my own incredibly poorly worded explanation, could be argued, but it seems like a decent approach to get results in my admittedly limited experience. anyway yeah, it shouldn't be other people's jobs (especially POC's) to coddle white people's feelings in these discussions, but when trying to be a white ally this seems like an approach that is likely to produce better results

ymmv though and please correct any of this thinking if it's... off.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 10:26 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think you're remembering Jay Smooth's video How to tell someone they're racist
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:27 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


This article was excellent in so many ways. I have a clarifying question though:

There’s an understanding in the field that people of color may have a greater access to what it means to be white than white people....it’s a product of living as a minority.

It strikes me as fairly obvious that PoC have a greater access to what it means to be perceived as white (how white people are actually treated rather than how white people think they are treated)....... but "what it means to be white" also includes the lived experience of white people. We say on this site that we value lived experience very highly - even if it may be perceived through a faulty lens - and that people who question someone elses' lived experience often get the smackdown.....

What's a sensible approach for a white person to take to when an observation from a different (likely less privileged, minority) perspective clashes with their lived experience, and active listening/introspection doesn't resolve the clash?
posted by lalochezia at 10:30 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Am I dumb or did I miss the scientific way to train white people to stop being racist? I see the challenges listed and then things white people can do to work on themselves, but not really a scientific way to train white people. Was it writing this article? Is it spreading it/its lessons?

If this is an idiotic question I'm sorry.
posted by ODiV at 10:31 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


The only proven way to keep white people from being racist so far in America is to send armed federal troops to force them to stop. Not saying that will always work but, hey, maybe consider it Obama?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:31 AM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


"oh, uh, we moved here because it's, uh, a good school district, that's all."

That's pretty judgmental. Lots of people of every color, realizing the importance of their kids' education, make that decision all the time. I wouldn't live in a trashy white school district any more than I'd live in a trashy non-white school district.
posted by resurrexit at 10:32 AM on April 15, 2016


"good school district" is always code for "mostly if not entirely white."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2016 [45 favorites]


And "trashy" isn't even code.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:33 AM on April 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


I've had success using "racial" in place of "racist." Less reflexive defensiveness to that word.
posted by prefpara at 10:36 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


"good school district" is always code for "mostly if not entirely white."

I beg to differ. "good school district" is always code for "mostly, if not entirely, upper middle class people." Hundreds of years of pervasive systemic racism make those two statements fundamentally equivalent, but I think you'll find that the "good school district" people want, for themselves, and their children, to associate along CLASS boundaries, not RACE boundaries.

The outcomes are the same, of course, but most white people aren't going into the 'good school' districts because they don't have black people, but because they don't have POOR black people.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 10:42 AM on April 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


(or poor white people, for that matter)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 10:43 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


It strikes me as fairly obvious that PoC have a greater access to what it means to be perceived as white (how white people are actually treated rather than how white people think they are treated)....... but "what it means to be white" also includes the lived experience of white people. We say on this site that we value lived experience very highly - even if it may be perceived through a faulty lens - and that people who question someone elses' lived experience often get the smackdown.....

What's a sensible approach for a white person to take to when an observation from a different (likely less privileged, minority) perspective clashes with their lived experience, and active listening/introspection doesn't resolve the clash?


I don't think this is a bad question, but can I just say it feels like one that is impossible to answer in the hypothetical? I don't think there is going to be a one-size-fits-all best practice here.
posted by threeants at 10:44 AM on April 15, 2016


[Comment and some replies removed, please refresh to make sure you're not chaining off of a deleted comment.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I beg to differ. "good school district" is always code for "mostly, if not entirely, upper middle class people." Hundreds of years of pervasive systemic racism make those two statements fundamentally equivalent, but I think you'll find that the "good school district" people want, for themselves, and their children, to associate along CLASS boundaries, not RACE boundaries.

This Pro-Publica piece makes it pretty clear that no, it's not a class thing.
posted by damayanti at 10:48 AM on April 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


I like how this article has now triggered case examples in point of exactly the kinds of defensive derails it describes. Makes you think.
posted by sciatrix at 10:56 AM on April 15, 2016 [39 favorites]


It's worth remembering also that if our societies weren't racist, we white people wouldn't have to work so hard (if at all) to overcome our personal racism. We should of course keep doing so, though we're unlikely to ever completely manage that. But we also need to help change the power structures.
posted by iotic at 11:01 AM on April 15, 2016


Seems like a pretty solid intro-type piece. Although, it mystifies me that the article is entitled "The scientific way to train white people to stop being racist", given that it doesn't seem particularly more scientific than any other reasonable, experience-based advice from intelligent commentators. It strikes me as a little counterproductive since the implied valorization of "the scientific way" downplays the extent to which racism is not a technical problem, and also the fact that for most people, moving to become less racist just has to involve a whole lot of fuzzy emotional self-work.

The discourse about what is 'Scientific' is also tinged with white supremacy--I would beware universalising a concept or method before I've even contextualized it to a place and group of people.

For example, this paper and article are within the context of the united states, which has a particular history with white supremacy. And that's rather high level--what actually binds a nation together, if the nation was and is based on an extermination and removal policy with slavery and racialized caste system?

Before most (white) people can think about that, I find that my (white) friends with whom I'm having these discussions have more breakthroughs into understanding, empathy, hope, and inspiration if the context is a bit smaller. When the context is smaller, all of these concepts become more clear, we can generally figure out next steps, and there is not as much (tiresome) hand-wringing about all the things you have now figured out you will never know.

So if you read the article within your gaming group, or your book club, your accountant's office, your soup kitchen, your church group, or your state political party, these kinds of discussions seem more tenable. These notions of how white fragility separates people in a space should probably be first discussed alongside whatever work that is bringing people together, and reminders of what people love about that work, otherwise (white) people can quickly fall into despair.

What worries me about online discussions like this is that these notions can get too abstracted and universal for many first-timers; the context here is metafilter, so I find it's difficult to have a discussion unless we wanted to write in metatalk about practices to make metafilter a more welcoming online space for all people.
posted by eustatic at 11:02 AM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's not just white people who are racist. It's all of us.

In antiracism activism, in most social justice activism, it's assumed that all of us are, deep down, enculturated, *-ist.

That's one of the central tragedies that I see, as an activist:
Activist: "Hey, what you did there, that's problematic, racist."
White person: "Hey, don't you call me racist! I'm not RACIST!"
Activist: "Hey, sibling, we're all racist, but what you're doing is a racist behavior, and you could stop."
White person: "How dare you accuse me?"

But we start out being racist. And activists fight against it most of all because we know it and we know what it does to us, not only to act it but to have that nagging impulse.
posted by kalessin at 11:05 AM on April 15, 2016 [18 favorites]


And i'll add that people in the United States desperately need to have political discussions of how to dismantle racism at the national level, where a lot of racism operates; it's just that it may not be the best place to start
posted by eustatic at 11:05 AM on April 15, 2016


I find it's difficult to have a discussion unless we wanted to write in metatalk about practices to make metafilter a more welcoming online space for all people.

e.g.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:06 AM on April 15, 2016


I remember reading something a while back about how a lot of white people have grown up being told that racism is hating someone for the color of their skin, and that, well, they don't hate anyone for the color of their skin, just for the content of their character, right? It makes it really hard to talk about this sort of thing when you're trying to argue against such a narrow and convenient definition of racism.
posted by teponaztli at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I should note that I've conflated racism with prejudice in my comment above. The formal definition of racism is (institutional/systemic) power + (personal) prejudice. So I should probably have said we're all enculturated to be prejudiced. White privilege turns that prejudice, when acted upon, into racism. My stuff is formally understood as prejudice, especially if I hold it against white people, because then the power part isn't part of the equation.
posted by kalessin at 11:11 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've had success using "racial" in place of "racist." Less reflexive defensiveness to that word.

It also neatly sidesteps one of the major problems of discussing race and racism, which is that the word "racism" has essentially lost any kind of coherent meaning. Or more to the point, it's become a catch-all term that can describe precisely what you mention: racial language/dynamics that create a measure of discomfort. The academic definition of racism as (crudely stated) prejudice + power differential is wildly different than the dictionary definition, which is essentially "racial prejudice," and those are just two examples. There're also issues of essentialism, inherent in the traditional dictionary definition, which must completely discarded to get a more elastic definition, and "microaggressions," which are their own weird little subcategory.

There's also the problem that anytime someone says "let's have a conversation about race," what they mean is, "let me lecture you about race," which is rarely a good place to begin a dialog. And it's worth noting that a dialog isn't really what most people want. They want to correct others' wrong thought/speech/etc., which again is going to net you a lot of resistance.

In my experience, the best method to get people thinking about race is twofold: (1) ask them questions (the Socratic method) to get them thinking about common categorical errors (without using that term) and (2) try to tap into their capacity for empathy. Improving race relations begins on a very personal one-on-one level. You have to get people to generalize from the particular, and then invest them in the particular in positive ways. It takes patience and subtlety, something a lot of well-meaning people lack.

Likewise, I tend to ask progressives to think about the end game of our efforts. What are we trying to accomplish? An end to or at least minimization of systemic/structural racism? Equality of access and opportunity? What are our measures of success? Are current methods measurably contributing to that success? I know this opens me up to all manner of glib/snarky replies, but it's important to think about.
posted by echocollate at 11:14 AM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


In antiracism activism, in most social justice activism, it's assumed that all of us are, deep down, enculturated, *-ist.

And that's a vital perspective. But I feel like that is just a tactic, designed to open people up, perhaps people who are ready to be challenged. That tactic ain't always going to lead to good places.

There are other tactics, such as the Jay Smooth tactic linked above, or someone mentioned calling things "racial" rather than "racist," or maybe you switch back and forth between "racist" and "unfair" and "foolish" so you're not wearing people out. You've gotta read the room / dinner table / high school reunion / quarterly meeting.

Another organizing rule-of-thumb is 'diversity of tactics.'
posted by eustatic at 11:20 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seems like a pretty solid intro-type piece

Yeah, but for whom? Who is the target audience for these kind of articles? I'm glad it's sparked a conversation that people here are getting something out of, but really, who was this article written for?

The people who should read it -- need to read it -- aren't going to. Or, if they do, it will only cause them to react negatively (fragile-ly, even). These kind of "daily reminder that the world is racist and unfair" articles aren't going to change anyone's perspective that didn't want it changed to begin with. It just feels like an exercise in back-patting, an opportunity for all the Right Thinking White People to congratulate themselves on their moral rectitude and race consciousness.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:21 AM on April 15, 2016


Panjandrum:
"I'm glad it's sparked a conversation that people here are getting something out of, but really, who was this article written for?"
It's written for the people who are getting something out of it who will then move forward and hopefully use a little of it to help those around them get a little better about the issue.
posted by charred husk at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


The discourse about what is 'Scientific' is also tinged with white supremacy--I would beware universalising a concept or method before I've even contextualized it to a place and group of people.

Yep, certainly, this.

Yeah, but for whom? Who is the target audience for these kind of articles? I'm glad it's sparked a conversation that people here are getting something out of, but really, who was this article written for?

Yeah, I was trying to interject a little positivity before going into my criticism of the article, but I definitely don't really disagree with this.
posted by threeants at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


You've gotta read the room

In other words, self-tone police.
posted by kalessin at 11:32 AM on April 15, 2016


I think there's a kinda false dichotomy of "people who get it" and "people who are never gonna get it" in that framing that neglects the gooey middle that's complicated but where a lot of incremental progress will be made.

Sometimes people have a fragile reaction to something and also come out the other side better for it; sometimes people who kinda get it still have a lot of getting it to do and reading and thinking about it more is helpful; sometimes people are never gonna get it have some moment that changes where they are from "never" to "starting to a bit".

I think it's fine to say "this article isn't going to solve all problems or work for all people", and I think that's totally true, but I think it's also a mistake to reduce that to either the idea that it's just preaching to the choir or the idea that said choir is already batting a thousand and can't benefit from some more reading and thinking.
posted by cortex at 11:36 AM on April 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


The two things that have made me become aware of my own inherent racism (Irish/German ancestry/suburban upbringing) are 1) my current job in a very diverse public agency that is based in downtown Oakland and 2) reading comments here on Metafilter. Every day, really, every day I am confronted with assumptions I have that are wrong and racist--things I've just "known" from childhood. Because of Metafilter, I have been making a real effort to practice a mindfulness with my racist thoughts/assumptions. (I'm not saying I'm unusually racist or that my thoughts/assumptions are particularly hateful--just your basic, dumb stuff--I'm just realizing I'm not the liberal, color-blind person I wanted to believe I was). When I become aware of a problematic assumption (or am made aware by my generous and awesome coworkers) I try to examine where it came from and own it and resolve to change my thinking. The Black Lives Matter folks have really helped me as well. From being confused and indignant initially at their actions, I've come to really appreciate that being indignant is an ignorant and insensitive response and that what they are doing is powerful, important, and necessary. I've got a long way to go, but just simply being more aware and asking questions and checking in with others is helping me to change.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:36 AM on April 15, 2016 [21 favorites]


For example, this paper and article are within the context of the united states, which has a particular history with white supremacy. And that's rather high level--what actually binds a nation together, if the nation was and is based on an extermination and removal policy with slavery and racialized caste system?

I think I have a lot of white fragility. I also do much of what the article and comments recommend for addressing it: read articles like this one, read many POC writers who discuss their experience of racism, try to listen and shut up when POC say something is racist. But that fragility diminishes only gradually and I find myself always needing to do more work. I grew up in the U.S., in a nation built on white supremacy and in a city defined more by its history of racism and segregation than by anything else. We are swimming in white supremacy here, it is a deep part of how we even conceive of freedom and fairness and justice, and articles like this one can't switch on a lightbulb for every reader and solve the problem of white defensiveness instantaneously; they just crack the door a little bit more. I think people expect more from the article than it can possibly do. If you're white and inclined to dismiss any part of it (and I say this not as some superior right-thinking white person but as someone who struggles with this personally), think a little more about what your reaction might say about white fragility. Thanks for this post.
posted by thetortoise at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


>I think the first thing to do is demonstrate you're not racist through your actions every day.

I had a pretty good chuckle reading this (and the first comment, too!). It's like every trope about well-intentioned but ignorant white people wrapped up into one sentence.

All white Americans are racist, that's just the truth (probably all white people, but I'm less equipped to speak on that). We live in a society where we are the boots and PoC are the faces. The clothes and food and electronics we buy are products of racism, both figurative and literal. We live in a society where we can't even talk about race without people freaking out about it.

Actions are possibly the last thing white MeFites want to be truly judged by. Most of us are upper-middle class and upper-class professionals who have benefited from racism in every step of our lives, from elementary schools in "good" neighborhoods made possible in part by poor schools in poor neighborhoods, to college admissions where white families had the time and resources for college prep made possible by extra cash due to historic and modern prejudice, to having white names and white faces which make getting interviews and jobs easier. Literally every aspect of white lives in the US are direct beneficiaries of our racist system.

Even if we want to pretend that the systemic stuff isn't our problem and only claim that we aren't racist on an individual level, we all unconsciously absorb a certain amount of racist crap just by existing in America, and that stuff doesn't magically go away just because you want it to. I am quite ignorant of the ways that race affects people's everyday lives even though I try not to be - you can't see the water you swim in. Unless you don't have gills, in which case it's VERY noticeable.
posted by zug at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2016 [21 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. "I don't think race exists" isn't a good direction to go anywhere that isn't explicitly an e.g. academic philosophical/taxonomical discussion of cultural concepts of race, which this definitely isn't.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:50 AM on April 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


What's interesting to me is we've started to see more and more depictions of the world as viewed by women. For example - that youtube video of the woman walking the streets of new york, Aziz Ansari's depiction of a woman's walk home in Master of None, etc. Speaking as a hetero male - those (and many other recent examples) were enlightening lenses on the world that I thought I knew.

Speaking as a person of color, I have yet to see something that's been as effective or as apt in terms of racism. Comedians like Louis CK will touch on it with bits like black people and time machines, but IMHO this sort of thing really hasn't penetrated to the same degree.

So - as a person with one foot firmly in the power structure (hetero male) and one foot firmly not (ethnic minority), I've kind of arrived at the opinion that people just have a hard time seeing past their own concerns, in general. As in, yes, you've experienced racism - but you don't really treat the women in your life all that well. Or, yes, you've experienced sexism - but you also have zero non-white people in your sphere of influence. Affluence/privilege are similar (and tracks with race, but not exclusively so).

We not so recently has someone at my workplace transition from male to female. I think what's helped there is none of us really knew what the "correct" things were to do. At the time of her announcement, the thought actually occurred to me that because people think they know how to deal with matters of race (or gender), they're actually more susceptible to unconscious offenses. It's interesting to me that some of my more conventionally sexist colleagues are actually on much better behavior with the co-worker who transitioned vs. the other women in the office. There's probably lots of reasons for that, but I like to think at least one of them is they're forced to not be on autopilot

Short version: because we think we know how racism is supposed to work, because certain ways of interacting are already in our collective muscle memory and categorized as "ok-ish/not white robes, hood, and burning cross" that actually makes us more prone to more insidious errors. It's getting better, but you need to get people off autopilot - and that's hard.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:54 AM on April 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


All white Americans are racist, that's just the truth

This also points to a difference between the way many white people see the subject of racism as compared to many POC. If you see this as a world profoundly shaped by institutionalized racism, as it was, then when a white person does something obliviously racist, it's an expression of the system. They shouldn't have done it, and, if POC are in the mood, they'll let the person know. If you're the one getting told, unless you're a cheerleader for racism, it's not necessarily a condemnation of your whole person.

Like, I'm anti-capitalist, but I still buy things with dollar bills, and so I still participate in capitalism, and so I am still functionally a capitalist, even though I think it's a shitty, destructive system. I think racism is shitty and destructive, and try not to participate, but I didn't build the system the benefits me, and am often oblivious to it, and support it without knowing, and when you participate in a racist system and benefit from it, you're functionally a racist, the same way you're functionally a capitalist when you pay for a candy bar.

But for a lot of white people, who are blind to institutional racism, it's a complete condemnation of their character. Who are racists? People who burn crosses. Not well-meaning liberals. And so they rankle. They meant well. They don't hate anybody. Some people are too sensitive. I understand this. I have felt it.

But that's a perspective that is a product of privilege. We don't see the institutions of racism, because we don't suffer from it, and we benefit from it, and we assume anything that benefits us must benefit everybody, and anything we don't suffer from everybody must likewise not suffer from. And so we often don't see ourselves as moving through and buoyed by a racist system, and we don't always know when we are defending and supporting that system. And so we're like, how dare you call me a racist, I was just buying a candy bar with a dollar, if I can mix my metaphors.

White people have to get a lot better about being called on racism. I have to get better about it. Because the immediate impulse is to freak out and get defensive, and that helps nobody. It helps me to think of these moments less as challenges to my sense of myself as a good person, and more as a pretty blunt map to an invisible place. "You're racist," doesn't mean "You're an awful person" if you don't want to be racist. It means "here's where you participated in a system that is invisible to you, and it has now been made visible."

Whenever somebody gives you a map, say thank you and read it. They did you a favor, even if it didn't feel like one.
posted by maxsparber at 12:02 PM on April 15, 2016 [41 favorites]


The coming out process for LGBT folk is interesting because you undergo a period of active transition - you begin by being seen as a "normal" person and through that process you get to experience the gradual withdrawal of privilege from your life and the reactions of people who were close to you, often in very painful ways as you watch them go through the process of othering you right in your face.

One of the saddest things for me once I finally came out and claimed by pride as a queer person was encountering prejudice in the gay community. It's like, you SAW and EXPERIENCED the process of going from being privileged to being nonprivileged in real time.. how can you be so pro-gay and yet not understand that disapproving of others for what gender they love is exactly the same thing as disapproving of racial minorities, or women, or trans people? It still boggles my mind at times.
posted by zug at 12:04 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this thread.
posted by clawsoon at 12:05 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


More anecdata:

I live in Hawaii, which is incredibly complicated and weird in terms of race, privilege, etc. Most people are Asian, but there are SO MANY lines being drawn between Japanese vs. Okinawans vs. Chinese vs. Filipinos vs. Koreans, with additional axes around how many generations of your family have been on the island, to which canoe club you belong, what private school you've got your kid in, etc. There's an interracial couple in our school that adopted a kid of a race you don't usually see in Hawaii and that was different from both parents. That kid went to exactly one birthday party last year - my son's. Which was at the end of the school year. In fucking May. I like the other kids/families - but that's bullshit.

So - it's not just white people that are the problem. Every group (however you define that group's cohesion) is going to have "outsiders." The real question in my mind is what you, personally, are actively doing to include. I tell my son that he's going to get it wrong sometimes and we will, too - but we have a duty to do better, instead of simply avoiding doing worse.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. There were extensive Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis this winter, and then the protests were attacked by a group of white supremacists. I'm sure you all read about this.

It was months ago, and several of my relatives in Minnesota are still deeply, deeply angry, not that there are armed bands of white supremacists roving the state, in 2015, intimidating peaceful protesters -- but that the protests happened in the first place. DEEPLY angry. I've never in forty years seen my father so upset.

It's honestly a hard thing to understand or to know how to respond to.
posted by gerstle at 12:18 PM on April 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's honestly a hard thing to understand or to know how to respond to.

I feel like all I have done in the past six months is yell at people on FaceBook for their responses to the Minneapolis and St. Paul BLM stuff. I care very much about my home cities, and the usual cesspoll that is online comments has made it feel like the Twin Cities are populated by people who are thrilled to finally get a chance to be publicly, apologetically racist.
posted by maxsparber at 12:27 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


There are strange cases everywhere. zug's comment about the LGBT community, for example

Yes, that's pretty straightforward intersectionality. I think the point is that this was explicitly an FPP about white people dealing with the subject of racism, and so discussing the fact that nonwhite people also have race issues is moving a little afield from the topic.
posted by maxsparber at 12:38 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's also the problem that anytime someone says "let's have a conversation about race," what they mean is, "let me lecture you about race,"

I feel pretty strongly that this is not the case anytime someone says let's have a conversation about race.

Usually what I've meant when I've say it, and what I've inferred it means when other PoC say it, is "Please, please, please, for the love of whatever deity or principle you respect, stop running away from conversations about race and witness my anger and sadness and believe me when I tell you about my lived experiences. And work with me to be conscious of race because 'I don't see race' and 'It's about class not race" is not going to get us out of the hole we -- all of us -- are in."

If that gets interpreted as "Let me lecture you about race," that's on the listener not the speaker.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:39 PM on April 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


gerstle: It was months ago, and several of my relatives in Minnesota are still deeply, deeply angry, not that there are armed bands of white supremacists roving the state, in 2015, intimidating peaceful protesters -- but that the protests happened in the first place. DEEPLY angry. I've never in forty years seen my father so upset.

Is he (or anyone you're referring to) able to talk honestly about what they're afraid of?
posted by clawsoon at 12:41 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The discourse about what is 'Scientific' is also tinged with white supremacy--I would beware universalising a concept or method before I've even contextualized it to a place and group of people.

To me a "scientific way to train white people to stop being racist" would imply that someone had tried a bunch of different things, kept track of what worked and what didn't, and is sharing that experience publicly (as opposed to sharing a single anecdote or simply speculating about what they think might work). So I was disappointed that this isn't what the article was offering.

I don't see how that expectation would be connected to white supremacy, but I'd genuinely welcome someone pointing out what I'm missing.
posted by straight at 12:43 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Couple things removed; this is getting kinda meta in a way that's just gonna derail things if taken further, and the whole declaring-intent-to-be-dismissive thing is not a good idea. Please let it lay at this point all around and tack back toward the general thread of discussion.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:49 PM on April 15, 2016


If that gets interpreted as "Let me lecture you about race," that's on the listener not the speaker.

Dialog requires active listening and exchange of ideas, usually in good faith. If that describes your experience with conversations about race, that's fantastic.

Any honest conversation about race requires both parties to participate, and to allow each other space to participate, or it's not a conversation.

(I don't think we're in disagreement. I endorse what you said.)
posted by echocollate at 12:54 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


There are strange cases everywhere. zug's comment about the LGBT community, for example

Not strange. Racism perpetuated by white, usually cis, males. No different from the rest of society.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:01 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Beyond the picture at the top, find me one thing in the linked article that is specific to white people. If I were to find and replace "white people" with the phrase describing the majority group in any other majority/minority context, the article pretty much comes out the same.

There's a point being lost here about what is/isn't allowed to be discussed and who does/doesn't get to draw those lines. That point is intimately entwined with the article at hand (and this thread) and it's incredibly disappointing to see it removed.

Peace out - I know what being marginalized and silenced feels like, and it feels exactly like this. Thanks, MeFi.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:16 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


To me a "scientific way to train white people to stop being racist" would imply that someone had tried a bunch of different things, kept track of what worked and what didn't, and is sharing that experience publicly (as opposed to sharing a single anecdote or simply speculating about what they think might work).

i think that's what the article is offering. it seems to be based on the experience of people who have been doing this a lot - according to the third para "We’ve taught similar anti-oppression trainings at tech companies, where we worked as in-house psychotherapists and emotional intelligence educators, and we’ve struggled with similar challenges. In our experience [...]."

i agree it's not clear that there was a systematic approach (on the other hand, see debate on crappy use of significance levels in current science), but it does seem to be "evidence based" (or at least, "experience based").
posted by andrewcooke at 1:19 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]



Peace out - I know what being marginalized and silenced feels like, and it feels exactly like this.


....wow.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Thinking about the question of what it means to be "scientific," I suppose it gets problematic when you start asking who gets to decide how effective their methods are and what constitutes valid criteria for success.
posted by straight at 1:34 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't seem to figure out how they taught what they taught, so I'm still struggling looking for the "way" that they're talking about. No one else seems to be missing this though, so it's probably just my issue.

I confess I was kind of looking forward to an article and thread in which "What is a helpful way to educate people away from racist thoughts and attitudes?" isn't a dumb derail. Because yeah, when someone is calling out and addressing racism it's not cool to then encumber that person with the responsibility of educating everyone with shitty attitudes. So in a thread explicitly about education and not about any specific act of racism, I thought there might be a good conversation to be had about teaching.
posted by ODiV at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Beyond the picture at the top, find me one thing in the linked article that is specific to white people.

Well, I mean, the first two paragraphs are specifically about white fragility. The third paragraph details how white people will try to move away from discussing race to discussing white ethnicity. The first bullet point is specifically about how white people, in particular, are not used to discussing race, because they are the majority and don't have to. The second bullet point is explicit in quoting white people in describing how racism is invisible to white people.

I mean, there are probably lessons that can be drawn for nonwhites from the article, but it was written specifically to address white audiences about behavior that is a product of white privilege. So, well, I don't know what to say, except I sort of feel like you didn't read the article.
posted by maxsparber at 1:42 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


My fucking God what is wrong with that idiot from Princeton? and with TIME for publishing him? Tal Fortgang, one day you will probably look back and be embarrassed at yourself. At least that's what I'm pinning my hope for humanity on.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:47 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


ODiV, I also came away with no particular understanding of their method, let alone the "scientific" qualifier.

I'm not super mad about this article or anything, but it did leave me, well, cold. Reading it I pictured a bunch of white office workers sitting in a training meeting. Because people of color are all manual laborers or unemployed government teat-suckers or whatever, and we never have to sit through racial sensitivity workshops at work where obnoxiously oblivious-to-race white co-workers say oblivious white-people-things.

The seminar/inservice day approach to Addressing Racial Issues is -- a very problematic way to fix systemic racism and white supremacy, in my opinion.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I do want to clarify that there's definitely some helpful stuff in this article for me to think on and work on. I definitely didn't get nothing from it and wasn't left cold.
posted by ODiV at 1:53 PM on April 15, 2016


On reflection I guess I kind of read it more as "how to be taught", which, hey great, I could totally use some of that.
posted by ODiV at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


So perhaps to provide some potential non-garbage content itt (TBD) here's a story of me being dumb recently and then dealing with it. I was meeting a guy who I hadn't met before IRL at a busy street outside a bar. I knew he was with some people. I saw a guy who looked exactly (in my mind and based on photos I'd seen) like the guy, who was with some people. I texted the guy and this guy looked at his phone. Must be him! I went up to him... "Ramon?" Guy looked at me funny. "Nah." "Oh man I am so sorry, you look just like this guy." His friends crack up. "OH ok all hispanic guys look alike?" "No I mean you look JUST like--" "But he is hispanic right? So you were being kiiiinda racist." His friends still busting up at how raw he's being.

This guy could not have looked more like Ramon. But how do I know why I think that? I've lived long enough to know I can't trust my brain not be filtering things with fear and prejudice and false categories.

"Yeah, you are right. I'm sorry again." I walked away, feeling judged, being judged. But the fairness of that judgement is not mine to determine. If I want to be on the side of an alteration in justice at every level, it's time to relinquish the gavel & my place behind the bench. Apologize, learn, move on with your day. I found Ramon, we found the people we were meeting and got silly drunk and threw a woven hat onto a moose head. I didn't tell him about what happened though, & out of everything, I think that's what I regret most.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:08 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Any honest conversation about race requires both parties to participate, and to allow each other space to participate, or it's not a conversation.

While I agree in principle, in practice what happens in about 90% of the conversations I have with white folks one-to-one about race is an absolute train wreck of self-coddling, defensive, fallacy-ridden rhetorical bullshit sold to me as "fair participation" along with the expectation that I behave like a supportive, friendly, understanding doormat. It becomes... challenging to extend the expectation of good faith over and over and over again in the face of constant white fragility and meltdowns.

This is why activists and writers like myself are very defensive and very formal when engaging with these subjects, if at all. Because so many white folks are fragile, snowflakey, armchair sociologists in contexts where self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done. Where minorities are treated as tokens and where even basic, fundamental levels of respect to minority participants is frequently elided or simply not done as a precursor or preparation to these "conversations".
posted by kalessin at 2:46 PM on April 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


I mean, there are probably lessons that can be drawn for nonwhites from the article, but it was written specifically to address white audiences about behavior that is a product of white privilege. So, well, I don't know what to say, except I sort of feel like you didn't read the article.


Sorry, didn't see the disclaimer around no PoC audience members - help me find it?

What's interesting is that you (and others) read that it was an article for white people, about white people, that can only be discussed in white people terms. I read it as this is a problem everywhere. My point is white people aren't special in this regard. And yet, white people are telling me "no, we really, really are."

In fact, white people are apparently so special they not only get to argue with me about it, they also are going to delete my comments that take issue with that position.

Your racism is not exceptional. Exceptionalism is what births racism in the first place. I have a hard time believing the path to not-racism goes through that same kind of exceptionalist thinking. That the point that's being made is "this is ours, why are you derailing?" is exactly the kind of (not so) subtle racism that the article talks about at length. Your read of the article is "this is about white people." My read of the article is something you not only feel comfortable passing judgement upon, that judgement says it's tangential or a product of not reading the article.

From the article (and it's endlessly interesting that I'm the first person to quote this part:

"There’s an understanding in the field that people of color may have a greater access to what it means to be white than white people, just as women have a greater understanding of what it means to be male than men—it’s a product of living as a minority."

The response I got from fffm is essentially yada yada, don't take the spotlight off us white people with your derail. Maybe some of you should read the article again.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:53 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


While I agree in principle, in practice what happens in about 90% of the conversations I have with white folks one-to-one about race is an absolute train wreck of self-coddling, defensive, fallacy-ridden rhetorical bullshit sold to me as "fair participation" along with the expectation that I behave like a supportive, friendly, understanding doormat. It becomes... challenging to extend the expectation of good faith over and over and over again in the face of constant white fragility and meltdowns.

This is why activists and writers like myself are very defensive and very formal when engaging with these subjects, if at all. Because so many white folks are fragile, snowflakey, armchair sociologists in contexts where self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done. Where minorities are treated as tokens and where even basic, fundamental levels of respect to minority participants is frequently elided or simply not done as a precursor or preparation to these "conversations".
posted by kalessin at 2:46 PM on April 15


Fucking word. This thread is exhibit 1A.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:53 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The response I got from fffm is essentially yada yada, don't take the spotlight off us white people with your derail. Maybe some of you should read the article again.

Again, that is an uncharitable interpretation of what was deleted, and it is profoundly uncool of you to state this as though it has any relationship to what I actually said. Please stop.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:55 PM on April 15, 2016


In fact, white people are apparently so special they not only get to argue with me about it, they also are going to delete my comments that take issue with that position.

[Heya, moderator here; to be clear, I deleted a string of comments starting with someone else's and also replies to it, including yours. That's SOP moderation on MeFi and isn't about your comments specifically. For the sake of clarity I'm also addressing this briefly here, but if you want to talk in more detail about moderation or site policy stuff that should go over to the contact form or MetaTalk.]
posted by cortex at 2:56 PM on April 15, 2016


Again, that is an uncharitable interpretation of what was deleted, and it is profoundly uncool of you to state this as though it has any relationship to what I actually said. Please stop.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:55 PM on April 15


I am free to take whatever read of your comments as I see fit. You seem to feel free to pass judgement on my read of your comments as charitable or uncharitable. I say that very act of judgement is a shining example of profound privilege.

Don't like my read of your comments - it's your responsibility to either not make that comment, or to make it in a way that it can't possibly be interpreted that way. Or is your privilege such that I'm not free to even interpret what's being said to me?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:00 PM on April 15, 2016


What I actually said was that "but ______ people are ______ist too" is a distraction that lets white people avoid dealing with our racism.

I don't like your read of my comments because they rely on words that were simply not there.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:01 PM on April 15, 2016


The seminar/inservice day approach to Addressing Racial Issues is -- a very problematic way to fix systemic racism and white supremacy, in my opinion.

The purpose of such things is not to "fix systemic racism and white supremacy" but to protect an organization from legal exposure should someone bring a lawsuit against the company or against an employee or other affiliated individual. The company or org can simply say: "his racism is his own fault! We sent him to a seminar!"

It's primarily legal ass-covering, not activism or actual education.
posted by theorique at 3:06 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Reading it I pictured a bunch of white office workers sitting in a training meeting.

Believe me, they don't want to be there anymore than you want them to be there.
posted by jpe at 3:06 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Your racism is not exceptional. Exceptionalism is what births racism in the first place. I have a hard time believing the path to not-racism goes through that same kind of exceptionalist thinking.


I mean if you want to get right down to it, no, racism isn't exceptional. Category-based divisions are how we think; power-seeking or maintaining, also universal. Don't you think there's value in looking at ways of interrogating particular expressions of racism, and especially, relative positions within a particular system? It's hard to say, "I'm a dick". I am reading this article as providing good info to people who are (systematically and unconsciously) acting like dicks on asking themselves the question, "how can I be less of a dick?" Which isn't a question everyone necessarily needs to ask themselves, all the time. (Because they are not in the position of being a dick.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:06 PM on April 15, 2016


What I actually said was that "but ______ people are ______ist too" is a distraction that lets white people avoid dealing with our racism.


Where did I say "and thus, since PoC can be racist, too - all y'all white people are off the hook."?

If you're going to take issue with what people didn't say, then don't presume that my participation in this thread remotely implies or says "and therefore, white people avoid dealing" - that's something you thought you heard. I didn't say that - you did.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:07 PM on April 15, 2016


What's interesting is that you (and others) read that it was an article for white people, about white people, that can only be discussed in white people terms

No, I said doing so was a little off topic. I mean, I suppose if POC wanted to have a discussion about whatever you feel their issue is with race, it could have happened. Doesn't seem to have, and arguing about whether it could or should seems even more removed from the subject of the thread.
posted by maxsparber at 3:11 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I never said that you said that, either.

"But ____ people do it too" is a distraction because what a lot of white people do at that point is shut down and go "well if they do it then w/e." It is a distraction because this is an article specifically targeted at white people and how to get white people to be less racist. It's like bringing cheating at marathons into a thread about how to end cheating in baseball. Yes, ok, there are some similarities. And at the same time, the way one addresses one situation is going to be largely ineffective at addressing the other.

And white people are responsible for more, and more pernicious, racism and colonialism in the Western (yes, that's a white-centric term too, I know) world than anyone else. Therefore we need to address it.

It is not saying that white racism is exceptional. It is not--absolutely not--saying that PoC voices are not welcome.

It is saying that this article is addressed at this group and how we need to fix what we're doing. Given the target audience, it would be inappropriate in the extreme for us white people to then start pontificating about how to address e.g. Japanese/Korean racism.

Consider if this were a thread about how men need to end our misogyny. Someone walks in and says "women can be misogynist to each other as well." Is that relevant or useful to the discussion? Of course not. I'm done with this derail.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:18 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not having to pay attention to the context and the implication of what you say is a luxury of privilege. As an upper-middle class white dude, it took me a long time to realize that having good intentions in my communication isn't enough if the other person can't know that I have good intentions. I was used to being the good boy, who people gave the benefit of the doubt. And I never questioned it because hey, I am a very empathetic and well intentioned person deep down.

But that didn't stop me from being very hurtful to my friends. And since I respected them I looked at their reactions, looked at my actions, and realized it was well within my power to do things differently and not be so hurtful next time. So consider before you speak, not just what you intend, but how your audience will react and feel. Because you are responsible for that, too.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:31 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Regarding one of the points in the article, I sometimes wonder if Original Sin might be a good metaphor for the for the non-explicit (i.e., not actually being a white supremacist KKK type) variety of racism. Even if (like me) you don't believe in Original Sin, you understand that no one is accusing you personally of stealing fruit from God's special tree, just that you're living with the consequences of it and you're still part of the problem and need to work on that.
Even better would be if someone could come up with separate words for "racist as in you've got a swastika tattoo and you're an embarrassment to your species" and "racist as in you were born into a society with deeply embedded racist structures, so you're going to unconsciously perpetuate that unless you work at becoming more aware and keep trying to change". (Likewise, if someone could come up with a word for "white privilege" that even Princeton students could understand.) Something to get past the defensive reflex.
But I don't see that happening, so basically we're going to need about a million more articles like this one, which I think is pretty good -- clearly written and pitched to a broad audience.
posted by uosuaq at 3:36 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I usually try to stay away from metaphors that take or have the potential to take other people's faiths lightly. I get you, but it's usually not a failure in communication that causes these problems, but a failure in actually providing good faith.
posted by kalessin at 3:48 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I sometimes wonder if Original Sin might be a good metaphor for the for the non-explicit (i.e., not actually being a white supremacist KKK type) variety of racism.

Alternatively, anti-racism.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:08 PM on April 15, 2016


kalessin: Because so many white folks are fragile, snowflakey, armchair sociologists in contexts where self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done.

Why are we so fragile, do you think?

I made my armchair sociology guess here. I'm interested in hearing your take because you've probably encountered a lot more explicit white fragility than I have.
posted by clawsoon at 4:20 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:23 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


"good school district" is always code for "mostly if not entirely white."

Absolutely not true. For example, the gold-standard school district in my surrounding area is Cupertino and, according to Wikipedia, Cupertino is 63% asian-american.
posted by w0mbat at 4:23 PM on April 15, 2016


feckless fecal fear mongering: self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done.

Yes. Why not, I wonder?
posted by clawsoon at 4:36 PM on April 15, 2016


Why are we so fragile, do you think?

self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done.

Chicago Manual of Style formatted Citation:
DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.” Education, 2011. http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116 (17 pages).
posted by kalessin at 4:41 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure a single counterexample (Cupertino) is going to help the discussion.
This is a case of "structural racism", the racism that's embedded in society in many different ways (including geographically).
Any parent will want their kid to go to a good school. The good schools are going to tend to be in mostly white areas because of the way our country has herded black people into specific areas which are then going to be economically disadvantaged and have poorer (in both senses of the term) school systems.
I don't quite agree that "good school system" is *code for* "white" (and certainly not "always"), but in practice the white areas are going to be where the better schools are, and the parents who have the means to choose their school district (who will also be mostly white) are going to go there.
posted by uosuaq at 4:43 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: self-education is trivially easy, but almost universally not done.

Yes. Why not, I wonder?


Dude, last night in the MeTa there was a lot of "maybe don't noodle out loud." kalessin just spoke of self-educating (which is why I cnp'd). Can you maybe put those two things together?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:45 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Any person who feels I'm not providing enough free, uncredited, and unpaid emotional labor on antiracism topics may feel free to ask and I will happily provide my bibliography. Beyond that, I'm happy to help with antiracism briefings and education for a fee. The hourly rate is a sliding scale depending on how much of a beginner the student is and what the PITA factor is likely to be.
posted by kalessin at 4:52 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


That article kalessin linked to a few comments up is well worth a look. Thanks, kalessin.
posted by uosuaq at 5:21 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The two things that have made me become aware of my own inherent racism (Irish/German ancestry/suburban upbringing) are 1) my current job in a very diverse public agency that is based in downtown Oakland and 2) reading comments here on Metafilter. Every day, really, every day I am confronted with assumptions I have that are wrong and racist--things I've just "known" from childhood. Because of Metafilter, I have been making a real effort to practice a mindfulness with my racist thoughts/assumptions. (I'm not saying I'm unusually racist or that my thoughts/assumptions are particularly hateful--just your basic, dumb stuff--I'm just realizing I'm not the liberal, color-blind person I wanted to believe I was). When I become aware of a problematic assumption (or am made aware by my generous and awesome coworkers) I try to examine where it came from and own it and resolve to change my thinking. The Black Lives Matter folks have really helped me as well. From being confused and indignant initially at their actions, I've come to really appreciate that being indignant is an ignorant and insensitive response and that what they are doing is powerful, important, and necessary. I've got a long way to go, but just simply being more aware and asking questions and checking in with others is helping me to change.

Thanks for this comment, agatha_magatha. My relationship to racism and attempts to engage it in myself are really similar to yours, and you expressed it way more eloquently than I could have.
posted by threeants at 5:32 PM on April 15, 2016


Don't you think there's value in looking at ways of interrogating particular expressions of racism, and especially, relative positions within a particular system?
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:06 PM on April 15


Maybe? It depends on the position.

Should there be safe spaces for minorities to discuss this stuff? Sure. Should there be safe spaces for majorities? It depends. I know how MeFi in general reacts when stereotypical dudebros attempt to parse women's issues - that'd be derision, sarcasm, and "well, duh" as seen in How Men Treat Women On American Roads - though there are many other examples. Note that I was one of the few people in that thread contextualizing why that writer and that publication mattered.

So, let's say this discussion doesn't happen at MeFi, but rather on a BLM or the Angry Asian Man forum or something. White people talking to other white people about white people's racism? "Well, duh" would be among the most polite responses. Note that there's basically no version of "well, duh" in this thread, though. For minorities who think about this stuff, there's really not much difference between a dudebro who reads R&T talking about women drivers and MeFi's typical demographic and race.

And that links into my point previously - context matters, and context is often racist. Sure - talking about a particular behavior in groups other than the one in a single article is a distraction - for some people. Some white people. Your privilege might tell you otherwise, but I have bad news for you - you don't get to decide how that's read by all white people. You also absolutely do not get to decide whether or not I'm allowed to make my point.

I completely agree that "it would be inappropriate in the extreme for us white people to then start pontificating about how to address e.g. Japanese/Korean racism." As I'm not white, I have no interest in white people's version of racism because 1) I'm not white and 2) I know all about that shit, thanks. So what am I left with? Well, I could share my experience...except that's been cast as a derail. You might not get to pontificate - but can the PoC speak? Or is that too much of a fucking distraction?

FWIW if a woman wants to comment on misogyny, I thought we've arrived at a place where not only is that helpful, the best practice was to STFU and listen to her - in fact, the article seems to recommend listening in point #2. I would think by extension that PoC would be welcome to comment as opposed to lectured about how they're derailing or distracting the majority.

To use the supplied analogy: don't distract us, woman - the men are talking. Don't distract us PoC, white people are making decisions about how we want to interact with you. For real? You're lucky I've been even this civil.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:40 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


But the fairness of that judgement is not mine to determine.

I dunno, I think that this kind of acquiescence tends to lead one down the wrong path. I see this idea here on mefi a lot in various different contexts -- and sometimes it doesn't feel quite right and ends up leading towards accepted, untested dogma, rather than truth.

Depending on how aggressive his friends looked, I would of just said "Yea, you do look all alike" just piss to him off -- even if it were not true, because he was obviously being an ass.

And to take it even further, it is not even correct to say that if you have a hard time telling various people with certain morphological features apart, it is a sign of racism. Why would you apologize (other than to avoid an altercation, which I can understand)?
posted by smidgen at 5:43 PM on April 15, 2016


Don't distract us PoC, white people are making decisions about how we want to interact with you.

That is not even remotely close to anything I have said. Please stop.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:43 PM on April 15, 2016


That is not even remotely close to anything I have said. Please stop.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:43 PM


You're only clarifying because I'm putting in the time to call you out. My read is MY read. Maybe you should think more about what you say to people in the future.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:45 PM on April 15, 2016


Even better would be if someone could come up with separate words for "racist as in you've got a swastika tattoo and you're an embarrassment to your species" and "racist as in you were born into a society with deeply embedded racist structures, so you're going to unconsciously perpetuate that unless you work at becoming more aware and keep trying to change".

Sorry, but I loled at this, because I think it's emblematic of the sort of goalpost-moving that's so typical in white discussions about race (though personally I don't know what your race is and I won't assume).

"Racist" is an adjective that succinctly describes a specific quality of a potentially wide variety of things, much like most adjectives. For more detail, you can use more words-- it's great, they're usually free.
posted by threeants at 5:46 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


[Fffm, NoRelationtoLea, this back-and-forth between you need to end here. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:51 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Absolutely not true. For example, the gold-standard school district in my surrounding area is Cupertino and, according to Wikipedia, Cupertino is 63% asian-american.

For otherwise "completely not racist, we swear!" White parents, high Asian enrollment is actually a very good proxy for "good school district" (anticipated high mean IQs, disciplined study habits). The main population that such parents try to avoid is so-called NAM (non-Asian minorities), mainly Black and Hispanic. But not in a racist way, they hasten to add. It's always just about the quality of the schools.
posted by theorique at 5:56 PM on April 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I dunno, I think that this kind of acquiescence tends to lead one down the wrong path.

What I got from your comment is that you think it's important enough to assert your dominance that you'll be a dick to do it, as long as you won't pay any price for the assertion. I'm not sure why you think this is the right path. You don't really explain.
posted by OmieWise at 6:07 PM on April 15, 2016


I don't disagree with your second sentence, threeants, although at the moment I don't quite get what you mean by "goalpost-moving" in the first sentence at the moment (but I'll ponder it). I was thinking about ways to bypass defensiveness; I think that it would be nice if we had a different vocabulary that helped with that, but as I said, I don't really see that happening, so I guess that was a waste of space.
posted by uosuaq at 6:14 PM on April 15, 2016


. I'm not sure why you think this is the right path. You don't really explain.

Yes I did.
posted by smidgen at 6:17 PM on April 15, 2016


Simply, evidence of racism contradicts the idea that this is a mostly good world.
posted by pfh at 6:26 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is actually a good primer for me to use with my family. Many of them reeeally don't like anyone darker than themselves, to the point of "if you're going to marry someone not Asian, at least marry a white person". Even Latino-Americans who are light skinned are looked down on. I know I get very defensive with them regarding who I bring home, and it's a very clear difference between when I bring home a black woman versus a white woman. This will go a long way to helping me discuss race with them. Thanks for the post!
posted by numaner at 6:58 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Should there be safe spaces for majorities? It depends.

Are this article and the discussion intended to be safe spaces? You're free to say what you like. I didn't read the thread you linked to at the time (I will, though). But going with that analogy, I'll say, as a woman, that although it is - yes - tiresome as fuck to see men (including ones I care about) not understand things again and again, and irritating that they don't, or that it takes a catcalling video or whatever to lift the scales from their eyes, I am glad when their vision is cleared. I'm into knowing more about what techniques help. Videos, ok, they can help, noted.

I can't escape symbolizing or instantiating my privilege any time I leave the house. Or, when I don't leave it, and rest upon benefits (or effects of benefits) I've accrued as a result of my privilege. It is there, fact. Not saying this is a "woe is me" dilemma - at all, christ - but it's a dilemma it'd be good to try to address. There are predictable defenses - I use defenses. Like, "I may do bad things, but I'm a good person". But it is a (maybe the, the key) visual aspect of my person that inextricably commits me - both from within, because of my history and learned everything - and without - to do bad things. How do I get around my defenses, if I can't get around my position? I want to at least try to minimize the ways my behaviour and thoughts (vs my facticity) perpetuate the racism embedded in me, and in which I'm embedded.

A few people have pointed out the potential helpfulness - as far as, "possibly useful technique in getting past an individual's defenses" (like, "I'm a good person", I mean who doesn't want to think that) - in distinguishing between noun and verb (being a racist, identifying as a racist, vs being/acting racist, incidentally). I think that dissociation offers room for action. One can then ask, "what is this thought/disease passing through me? Name it, put it under a microscope, fuck it, kill it with antibiotics", without putting up too much of a fight. Except this can (I imagine) only be unsatisfying in that it necessarily involves disavowing ownership of that thought/disease, and can't do a thing about the fact of the benefits accrued, the personal and collective history, the structural relations we're given. Idk.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:33 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


threeants: ""Racist" is an adjective that succinctly describes a specific quality of a potentially wide variety of things, much like most adjectives."

Does it though? I'm increasingly of the opinion that there is basically not that much consensus about what the word "racist" (or "racism") even mean. Like, maybe for some stuff you'll find a high (but not necessarily unanimous) level of agreement (e.g.: Nazism = racist, the planet Jupiter = not racist), but aside from those things at the very extreme ends of the spectrum, I'm not really sure that there is truly a common understanding. Which, of course, hampers discussion.

Sometimes it feels to me as if everyone were talking about "football" but some people were talking about the NFL but other people were talking about the Premier League. And still others were talking about NCAA Division I football. And others the CFL. And others Australian rules football. And others maybe also rubgy. And maybe also for some reason field hockey. Etc...
posted by mhum at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


kalessin: Chicago Manual of Style formatted Citation:
DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.” Education, 2011. http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116 (17 pages).


Thanks. I thought the the OP's article was a reasonably good summary of this paper, and then realized that what I'm looking for is something closer to a psychology of white fragility. The ultimate causes are obviously structural/systemic/cultural, but they're mediated through individual psychology, and at the most micro level through specific thoughts and feelings experienced during specific interactions, and that interests me. I found some interesting things said on the topic in a paper that starts with a restatement of "White Fragility" by DiAngelo, then discusses "white neurosis" in a section by Cheryl Matias. The paper is behind a paywall, but some public libraries (including Toronto Public Library) provide electronic access to the journal.

Beyond the Face of Race: Emo-Cognitive Explorations of White Neurosis and Racial Cray-Cray. Matias, Cheryl E; DiAngelo, Robin. The Journal of Educational Foundations. 27.3/4 (Summer/Fall 2013): 3-20.
For example theologian Thandeka (1999) argues that Whites have cultivated a deep shame about anything racial because since birth they have been reared to claim they do not see race when in fact they do. ... Therefore, not only is the White child forced to deny race despite seeing race, but she is also reminded that if she ever claims to see race, then she will be ostracized from the community for which she grows up in. If Whites are reared in this manner, then emotional and psychological damage on the White psyche results. The need to maintain that racial lie inculcates a kind of neurosis, akin to an abused child being told to never talk about or admit to the abuse, and having everyone around them complicit in this rule.

...Whites are aware of race yet are continually pressed to repress that awareness, lest [they] be ostracized from the White community; they must maintain the facade of colorblindness in ways that trap them in a false reality.

...We are concerned with the psyche of the White "abused child" - now grown - and how this condition forces upon People of Color the need to placate the irrationality of White neurosis, lest they be subject to unceasing displays of the guilt, shame, loss, and anger that stems from the original condition of abuse.
It looks like Matias has collected a number of her essays about white emotional responses to being made aware of white privilege in her book Feeling White. Thanks again for pointing me in the right direction.
posted by clawsoon at 8:51 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


You're making a good showing now, but my original point is that you didn't need the pointer. You used the phrase "fragility" and literally dozens, more likely hundreds, of antiracism activists and other social justice activists have put the Internet on blast about these topics for years if not decades.

This is not a snarky "Let me Google that for you" remark. I am literally saying that white folks really just have to think and type into any search engine of their choice and they don't NEED pointers. You just formulate a question, you Google, you maybe use some advanced searching skills to do some trial and error reading, and, I'm estimating here, in about 20 minutes you will likely have an informed opinion instead of an armchair diagnosis. The effort is so fundamentally trivial that I think it's fair for me to say that not doing the effort is another strong indicator of privilege.

Also, when you were obviously begging the question? So not an indicator of good faith.
posted by kalessin at 9:10 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's also the problem that anytime someone says "let's have a conversation about race," what they mean is, "let me lecture you about race,"

I find this perception is overwhelmingly held by White people and driven by White fragility, and there really isn't any good way to bring up race without them feeling attacked and lectured.

--------

I grew up in primarily White social circles. To give you an idea, I only recently realized that one of my childhood hometowns was 32% not-White--I'd been operating under the assumption it was more like 95%. Despite being one of those well-meaning liberal types, I carried all the baggage with it that one would expect growing up in that environment. When I finally admitted my racism to myself it lifted a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. It made everything around the topic of race a thousand times easier: working on undoing the effects of White supremacy on my brain, talking about race in general, not doing the Awkward White Person thing around POC that's endemic to White people who don't grow up socializing with POC.

I think a lot of White people--certainly the well-meaning liberal types--get really hung up on Not Being Racist and constantly asking themselves "is this racist" and getting real anxious about it. Especially when they're around POC. Then they feel they're walking into a minefield and it discourages them from socializing normally and just making friends. Of course, the ironic thing about that is inevitably they're worried about all the wrong shit. They associate racism with the n-word and direct insults, and they're so hung up on making sure they don't say anything "bad" that they're not paying attention to the dumbass shit they are saying: "how does your hair do that", "it's great how your people are so good at math", or "can you recommend a good taco place". Or realizing the fact that the attitudes that lead to their anxious, hypersensitive, hyperaware behavior is in of itself othering and racist.

So, I think there is some freedom that comes with owning up to one's racism. You stop trying to prove to everybody how not-racist you are--you just accept it, and then work on picking out the racist shit and stopping it.
posted by schroedinger at 10:31 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Does it though? I'm increasingly of the opinion that there is basically not that much consensus about what the word "racist" (or "racism") even mean. Like, maybe for some stuff you'll find a high (but not necessarily unanimous) level of agreement (e.g.: Nazism = racist, the planet Jupiter = not racist), but aside from those things at the very extreme ends of the spectrum, I'm not really sure that there is truly a common understanding. Which, of course, hampers discussion.

Can you point out a few examples of a quality discussion about race being held back as a result of participants holding two divergent good-faith, sensible, mainstream definitions of the word "racist"?

I mean...just...I can't even with how interested people suddenly become in deriving a philosophy of language from the ground up when there's something they want to delay talking about
posted by threeants at 11:00 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


threeants, in this very thread we have some people using the word "racist" to mean prejudicial attitudes individual people hold toward people who are different and other people using "racist" to mean the social systems and historical consequences of past systems such as slavery and segregation that perpetuate inequality. There's some overlap in those two things, but I think they are sufficiently different that it would be helpful to have terms that would make it clear which of the two things someone is talking about.
posted by straight at 11:24 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


in this very thread we have some people using the word "racist" to mean prejudicial attitudes individual people hold toward people who are different and other people using "racist" to mean the social systems and historical consequences of past systems such as slavery and segregation that perpetuate inequality.

I disagree that these are different enough to require different words. Both are ultimately based in the oppression of a group of people based on their race. The latter form is fed by the former, the former is perpetuated by the latter, they are two sides of the same coin. I don't know how this discussion would be enhanced by inventing different words for these things, and I agree with threeants that when debates over semantics and what the definition of "is" is only serve to delay the actual conversation.
posted by schroedinger at 12:03 AM on April 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


I had lunch at the airport McDonald's the other day, and as I cleared my tray, a white male office worker said this, loudly enough that I overheard:

"Yeah, it all started in 1983. The first direct Cathay flight to [this city]. That's when the problems began."

It's been hard processing such a cruel moment. I'd like more people to work at understanding that, that cruelty, indignity, and the wanton psychological violence of such racist propaganda.
posted by polymodus at 4:02 AM on April 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Does it though? I'm increasingly of the opinion that there is basically not that much consensus about what the word "racist" (or "racism") even mean. Like, maybe for some stuff you'll find a high (but not necessarily unanimous) level of agreement (e.g.: Nazism = racist, the planet Jupiter = not racist), but aside from those things at the very extreme ends of the spectrum, I'm not really sure that there is truly a common understanding. Which, of course, hampers discussion.

I don't think this confusion really exists except in the minds of White people. It follows that scrambling to more precisely define terms is in reality an attempt to protect Whites from being confronted by the reality of racism, which is that it is, in fact, many different behaviors and expressed actions held together by the common core of prejudice.
posted by OmieWise at 4:33 AM on April 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't think this confusion really exists except in the minds of White people.

Perhaps. It seems to occur through a genuine desire to do the right thing (on the parts of many, not all), a miseducation about race and racism on the part of many, and a wariness about the subject because it's potentially uncomfortable.

I was educated in school and in culture that "racism" was a bad thing done by bad people (high points: slavery, apartheid) and don't do it. So at first I figured (as a child), "ok, that's not my problem, I don't and haven't done any of those things". That's a pretty naive understanding (like 001-level, not even 101), and I like to think I've moved beyond that through self-education and curiosity. A lot of White people don't bother because there are few tangible consequences for not bothering.
posted by theorique at 5:33 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't think this confusion really exists except in the minds of White people.

I don't know if there's really confusion over the terms per se. I tend to think of it as two groups of people (who don't want to have this conversation):

Group A: knows the dictionary definition of racism and has never heard the "power + prejudice" definition of racism and doesn't understand why some people insist that that only white people can be racist or practice racism (in the U.S. anyway).

Group B: is familiar with the P+P definition and rejects it out of hand as that definition ensures that white people and only white people can ever be racist or commit/participate in acts of racism.

As the size of Group A shrinks the size of Group B will grow since "racist" now pretty much ranks up there with "pedophile" as an insult. Not all of Group A will eventually end up in Group B but I would expect a large per percentage will. Languages change and grow but this redefinition isn't really an organic change but one being pushed from the top down to alter the language to conform to a socio-political agenda. The question being whether you agree with that agenda or not (or to what degree).

Can people really have a meaningful conversation if they can't even agree on basic terminology? I don't think so. I have no potential solution to offer as I really don't think there is one. The easy thing to say is "White people just need to get over themselves." but that's just being glib.
posted by MikeMc at 6:05 AM on April 16, 2016


No. The easy thing to say is that whites need to self educate and get on the same bus.
posted by kalessin at 6:15 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, MikeMc, the "easy thing" isn't the same for everyone and it doesn't affect everyone the same way. When we shape the conversation so that White people feel comfortable, it is frequently people of color who pay the price. And that's what's going on here when the responses are about how well meaning White people who just want to do the right thing, but who happen to be confused about what that is or what we're even talking about, really, are getting turned off of the conversation because no one will sit down and explain the landscape to them patiently, without malice, and without making them feel badly.*. To me, as a White person, it reads as transparently dismissive and coddling. It reads as an argument that White people feeling ok about the discussion is more important than the actual racism experienced by actual people of color.

As to your unsupported assertion that asking people to inform themselves about the basics before engaging in a conversation about a serious topic is "glib:" it's nothing of the sort. That expectation is a basic tenet of serious conversation. It's, frankly, weird that the glib objection gets trotted out only in these conversations about oppression. When someone says, "hey, I'm a doctor, and you don't seem to understand how the liver processes alcohol at all. I think you should read up on that before you start spouting your opinions," no one calls that "glib." When someone says, "well, I was part of that alliance, and not only is that not how that battle went down, that's not even how battles in EVE work. I'm not going to argue with you until you've done enough research to show you know what you're talking about," no one calls that "glib." Christ, when people start talking about books they haven't read or movies they haven't seen, they rightly get shut down. It's hard not to see the demand that conversations about oppression not only include but cater to the oppressors as disingenuous given what we know about how conversations about everything else in the world actually work.

*it's never really explained how these magical White people know they want to not be racist when they don't know, and apparently can't be bothered to find out, what racism is.
posted by OmieWise at 7:45 AM on April 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


The easy thing to say is "White people just need to get over themselves." but that's just being glib.

I'm a white person an I am not just being glib: we need to get the fuck over ourselves. We are responsible for a horrific system of abuse, and it is on us to fix it by listening to what people of colour have to say.

Men need to get over ourselves, straight people need to get the hell over themselves, and cis people, for God's sake, really need to get over ourselves.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:07 AM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


This thread is a compelling example of itself. Veritably dripping with fragile white tears. Ouroboros, eat your heart out.

I live in a dense loaf of white bread out in the country. Discussions about race, even among people who enjoy discussing TOPICS, is virtually impossible. The defensiveness sets in instantly -- and if it's not directed at you it's only because they mistook you for a white-blind ally.

What I hear most: "Nonsense" ideas like white privileges and systemic or institutional racism are "politically correct over-reactions from fragile snowflakes who are operating under the delusion that the world is their 'safe-space' and they therefore have the right to never perceive offensive stimuli, or to persecute relentlessly those who words they wish silenced."

Students of conservatism will note the confluence there of several disparate lines of familiar malarkey. It all serves to undermine PoC and to negate the idea that there's a white problem in the first place. If subtitled for a foreign film, the argument can be translated thus: "Waaaaahhhhhhhhhh!"

Thank you, reactionary whites, for providing such great examples of this topical defensiveness and fragility here for us today. Sometimes illustrations really do help.
posted by Construction Concern at 8:08 AM on April 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


one being pushed from the top down to alter the language to conform to a socio-political agenda.

You cannot honestly claim this without also acknowledging that there has also been a top-down push from Republicans and conservatives and the extensive media apparatus propagating their ideas to, at the very least, limit the definition of racism and racist to the most obvious extreme examples, and to cast people who want to expand those definitions as greedy and/or whiners.

I mean, that seems to be a point that's been ignored so far - why are white people so fragile? One reason is that there's been decades of propaganda aimed at making them frightened and distrustful of minorities.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:22 AM on April 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Or to put it another way, if you want to claim that there are two (or more) groups of elites attempting to further a socio-political agenda, that's one thing. If you're trying to claim that there's only one group (the people attempting to expand and refine the definitions of racism) pushing an agenda from the top down, while everyone pushing back is just a hapless innocent caught in the barrage, you're ignoring a mountain of evidence clearly demonstrating otherwise.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:44 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


fffm: We are responsible for a horrific system of abuse, and it is on us to fix it by listening to what people of colour have to say.

I want to expand on this.

I think it's helpful in discussions like this to make a distinction between culpability or blame on the one hand and responsibility on the other.

A lot of times, white people are like "Well, I don't own slaves, I can't change the fact that my ancestors did these horrible things", or what I like to call the Irish Defense: "Well, my ancestors were horribly oppressed in our country as well, and then they came to this country with nothing and there were signs about how our ethnic group need not apply and my family struggled through generations to reach this middle-class status," etc.

What's happening there is that a statement about a white person's responsibility to address an issue is being understood to be a statement of that individual's guilt, or blaming that person for institutionalized racism and white supremacy.

This is not a particularly tricky concept. Anyone who works in a professional or service job handles it fine -- we are paid to handle problems (whether the problem is as picayune as "this person has paid for a hamburger and now I as a McD's worker must produce the burger and give it to the customer", or as big as "this war is happening and now I as a general must plan out how to successfully win it.") It's not like the fast-food worker or the general is necessarily guilty for causing the problem / issue that needs to be addressed; but they are now, by virtue of their job, responsible for helping to fix the problem.

In the same way, individual white people don't necessarily need to feel guilty for the problem of the existence of white supremacy (although, ahem, some of them are pretty openly contributing to the problem); however, individual white people do exist in a situation of privilege and are morally responsible as members of a society that has a white supremacy problem to address the issue and to work to fix it insofar as they are able.

I can say similar things about my responsibility as a cis male: I didn't start the patriarchy and I don't want it to be a thing, but it is and regardless of any individual actions I have or have not done to perpetuate the patriarchy, I have benefited from it and have a particular responsibility as a privileged person in that system to understand it, to listen to people who are victims of it and learn from them, and to do what I can to smash it.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:47 AM on April 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


I don't think this confusion really exists except in the minds of White people. It follows that scrambling to more precisely define terms is in reality an attempt to protect Whites from being confronted by the reality of racism, which is that it is, in fact, many different behaviors and expressed actions held together by the common core of prejudice.

Well see, this is where I wish somebody had done some science to find out whether this is true or not. I can only say that in my own experience as a white person, making this distinction between personal prejudices and systems past and present that perpetuate inequality feels like the key insight I needed to be able to begin to understand what people of color are talking about when they talk about racism. And it seems like the kinds of actions necessary to address the former are pretty different and distinct from what's necessary to correct the injustices of the latter.

Everyone has prejudices and stereotypes and the idea that we should have zero tolerance for such things is unrealistic and counterproductive in that it leads people to deny rather than confront their prejudices. But we absolutely should have zero tolerance for any social system that discriminates. We should never accept the poverty and incarceration that has resulted from racism in the past as an inevitable consequence that can never be eradicated.

So my hypothesis would be that you are incorrect, that conflating these topics into a single concept is a significant barrier to making progress in fighting either of them. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't tell whether you have good reason to think so or are just giving an opinion based on a few personal anecdotes of your own.
posted by straight at 10:07 AM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Your comment is confusing insofar as it doesn't address mine at all, yet seems to be addressed to it. The question isn't whether the distinction exists, or is useful, it's whether "confusion" about it is something that needs to be fixed by people of color. Your comment talks about why understanding the difference is important. Sure, it is. Your comment does not address why White people should expect people of color to explain the distinction to them in a way that doesn't ruffle their feathers. I ultimately, as a result, can't tell if your comment is meant to excuse racist White people or not.
posted by OmieWise at 10:49 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


You said: scrambling to more precisely define terms is in reality an attempt to protect Whites from being confronted by the reality of racism

But my hypothesis is that more precisely defining the terms would be among the most effective means to confront white people with the various realities about racism they need act on. And I thought that was the topic of this thread. What's the most effective way to do that?
posted by straight at 11:14 AM on April 16, 2016


We HAVE precisely defined the terms. And still they are debated.
posted by kalessin at 11:24 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


No, I said that given the fact that this confusion is mostly in the minds of Whites, it follows that... That's quite a bit different, and, basically, my point is borne out by your position. There will never be enough coddling to start the conversation, there will never be enough good faith engagement by people of color. There will always be the excuse that some poor white person didnt know, or misunderstood, or should have had things explained better.

In short, your position boils down to a No True Scotsman designed to insure that White people never have to talk or think about racism.
posted by OmieWise at 11:42 AM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Everyone has prejudices and stereotypes and the idea that we should have zero tolerance for such things is unrealistic and counterproductive in that it leads people to deny rather than confront their prejudices. But we absolutely should have zero tolerance for any social system that discriminates. We should never accept the poverty and incarceration that has resulted from racism in the past as an inevitable consequence that can never be eradicated.

But racism is not just in the past, and it's being continued by the prejudices and stereotypes that are generally held by whites. Those things are the same things.
posted by lazuli at 11:44 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, somehow I missed that part of straight's comment.

Yeah, straight, you don't seem to be arguing in good faith. No one has advocated "zero tolerance" and conflating saying that Whites should not put the burden of teaching about racism on people of color comes nowhere close.
posted by OmieWise at 12:06 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


For me, fragility is an artifact of having expected the wider world to have been in better shape than I expected, and then finding out there's a bunch of bad shit that's been invisible to me. it's like finding out you've been doing horrible things while you sleepwalk. And then you get all bent out of shape because what else don't you know you're doing? And folks are like 'wow now you're acting all weird around us, just chill' and you're like 'Dude when I chill is apparently when I do horrible things so I'm kind of afraid to do that now' and it's a ridiculous cycle and it takes a little while to acclimate and digest.

I read somewhere an article talking about white allies and white fragility. The (black I think) author was recounting how a white friend said something like 'I wish I had more friends who were white anti-racism activists' and the author was like 'Excuse me?' And their friend said, 'Because I have to process this white fragility shit, but I'm not gonna dump that on a person of color am I?' And the writer was like 'Good point.'
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:09 PM on April 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


On a couple of Slack servers I'm on (both politically progressive), there is a special channel for precisely that kind of processing. It's called #white-people-feelings. Because of how Slack works as a technology, these channels are opt-in for both white people processing feelings around antiracism "awakenings" and for minorities and people of color who might be inclined to help talk it out or process it. But no one gets forced into the role, and if white folks start processing in other channels they can be redirected to #white-people-feelings.

I feel like if there were a MeTa thread where that could happen and that just sort of stayed open for further commenting, and discussion, that would be a good thing for MetaFilter as a whole.
posted by kalessin at 12:22 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


There will never be enough coddling to start the conversation, there will never be enough good faith engagement by people of color. There will always be the excuse that some poor white person didnt know, or misunderstood, or should have had things explained better.

It appears to me that you're arguing that since attempts at better communication haven't lead to 100% of white people honestly confronting racism, attempts at better communication (and trying to test out feedback from people about what helped them understand racism better) are pointless.

I think it's perfectly valid if someone wants to say "I've tried explaining racism to people, many of whom weren't even engaging in good faith, it didn't work, I'm sick of it, and I'm not wasting my time with that anymore."

But I'm interested in the question of how all of us, not just people of color, who care about dismantling racism can more effectively get more white people on board with that project. The fact that some people have tried something that didn't work all the time doesn't mean we have exhausted every possible avenue in that direction.

What do you think are the most effective ways of getting white people to honestly confront racism and why do you think they are the most effective?
posted by straight at 12:31 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


No one has advocated "zero tolerance" and conflating saying that Whites should not put the burden of teaching about racism on people of color comes nowhere close.

I am the one saying that we should have a zero tolerance attitude toward some of the things that are called "racism" and that it's impossible to have a zero tolerance attitude toward some other things that get called "racism" so maybe it's confusing to use the word "racism" for all those things.
posted by straight at 12:34 PM on April 16, 2016


[One comment deleted. clawsoon, I appreciate you're working through this in your own mind, but here and in the other current thread, continually introducing examples of racism big and small, and insisting the threads grapple with the issues as you frame them, is disruptive. Please don't.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am the one saying that we should have a zero tolerance attitude toward some of the things that are called "racism" and that it's impossible to have a zero tolerance attitude toward some other things that get called "racism" so maybe it's confusing to use the word "racism" for all those things.

I don't know that "zero tolerance" is a particularly helpful way of looking at any of this, though. It tends to make deciding that something's "really racist" too hard, since the consequences of being racist then become so horrible. People end up arguing that whatever they did can't be racist-racist, because that would make them bad people. It's what the article is getting at with:
In retrospect, you might realize that some of your learned behavior or speech has been pejorative, supporting a system of oppression, or exclusionary, but that’s not a definitive character judgement and recognizing that could be a really valuable moment. We’re building awareness here. Try to let go of the good/bad binary, and open yourself up to discussion and possibility that if you’re American, you almost definitely have racial biases, and if you’re white, add unearned access to privilege to that too. Still with us?
It's more important to understand that all these behaviors and beliefs and attitudes are on a spectrum, one that we're all on and therefore one that we can all help shift.
posted by lazuli at 1:10 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


What do you think are the most effective ways of getting white people to honestly confront racism and why do you think they are the most effective?

Individual 'awakenings', for want of a better term.

If racism is not viewed as a serious problem by a given (White) person, he's not going to be an ally, he's not going to see instances of it, he's not going to honestly confront racism (internal and external).

I don't think you can "get" someone to confront racism who prefers not to.
posted by theorique at 1:33 PM on April 16, 2016


Those awakenings aren't random events. Something causes them and it seems likely we could influence the incidence of that something.
posted by straight at 1:41 PM on April 16, 2016


How long have you been in activism, straight? How long have you been a minority? I get that you're trying to help, but you are talking over and lecturing folks with years, possibly decades in this work, and you are talking, basically, nonsense.

What causes awakenings? Mostly having skin in the game, knowing and loving people affected by or personally being affected by someone else's racism, prejudice, or bias, in a way that is incontrovertibly unfair. Folks seem to awaken if they somehow avoid lashing out, getting defensive, and derailing the process. It seems wholly organic to me. I've been in activism for about 40 years, give or take.

We've found that trying to cultivate these moments tends to be highly unethical and highly risky (though, notably, white antiracism allies and educators tend to have an easier time training other whites - see Tim White, Jane Elliott, and Peggy McIntosh). So generally activists who are also minorities avoid that work and stick with broader educational moments and resources hoping that folks will awaken and come to us.

If you want examples of why direct intervention generally doesn't work out well for minorities, you need only look at this thread, or the other 2 or 3 active threads on MetaFilter, or all of the old ones - it's because white folks generally dig in and get defensive and fighty and lash out when confronted with their own problematic behavior.

And then, if they get over that, they usually go into lecture mode and attempt to instruct us on how to do our work.
posted by kalessin at 1:48 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Lazuli, you've illustrated the confusion I was referring to because I wasn't talking about having zero tolerance toward any sort of attitude but toward things like restrictions on voter registration that have the demonstrable effect of disenfranchising people of color. Those restrictions may be driven entirely by political calculation rather than any sort of racist attitude (a computer that didn't understand race as anything but a predictor of voting habits might recommend the same strategy). And I'm not sure you need to change anyone's racist attitudes to effectively combat them.
posted by straight at 1:49 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Those restrictions may be driven entirely by political calculation rather than any sort of racist attitude (a computer that didn't understand race as anything but a predictor of voting habits might recommend the same strategy).

Oh God. Please don't do this.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:52 PM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


straight, I think you're creating an artificial distinction that does more harm than good, and which is often used to derail conversations about racism. I've explained myself as clearly as I can (which doesn't mean that I was clear, just that I'm out of ideas for explaining it better), so I'm going to drop it on my end.
posted by lazuli at 1:54 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


The whole thing up thread about how "good school districts" aren't explicitly code for "white school districts" is a perfect example of why these conversations always go off the rails. Because up until very recently, that was exactly what it was. It's a historically proven thing. To deny hundreds of years of history because a few wealthy school districts have shifted demographics is not a neutral act. It is specifically furthering this country's racist foundation.

See, the thing people keep saying about American racism not being exceptional. That's bullshit too. American Racism is exceptional. Our entire country was built on the concept of White Supremacy. I'm not talking about individual ideas of intolerance. I'm talking about actual laws, statutes, ordinances and constitutions. All built from the ground up with the idea that the White race is specifically superior to the Black race, and that The Native population of this land must be destroyed. It doesn't matter How many Hispanics there in this country, or what strides Asian Immigrants make.

The story of the United States of America is inextricably tied to the genocide of the Native American, and the enslavement of Africans. If you consider America's current military, economic, and cultural role in the world, I think it's safe to say that American Racism is indeed exceptional.

No amount of listening to POC, or being "allies" is going to fix that problem. It is not a liberal or conservative problem. It is not a class problem. Black People as a group are never going to convince White people as a group to give up White Supremacy. Just as Native Americans are going to convince the rest of us to give them their land back. There are no laws that are going to do it either. White America has to take it upon themselves to create a country in which we all live in true social equality. Maybe when we talk to Whites about racism we're not trying to heal them, we're just reminding them that despite all protestations to the contrary, they are indeed still sick.
posted by billyfleetwood at 1:59 PM on April 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


Those restrictions may be driven entirely by political calculation rather than any sort of racist attitude (a computer that didn't understand race as anything but a predictor of voting habits might recommend the same strategy). And I'm not sure you need to change anyone's racist attitudes to effectively combat them.

Most people of conscience consider the removal of racism as a motivating factor for racialized shitty behavior, as exhibited in your "what if", to be a racist move. If you didn't know that, or if you knew it and still thought it was ok, then you really probably should reconsider whether you have the basic understanding of the issues required for engaging in a conversation like this.
posted by OmieWise at 3:03 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


See, the thing people keep saying about American racism not being exceptional. That's bullshit too. American Racism is exceptional. Our entire country was built on the concept of White Supremacy. I'm not talking about individual ideas of intolerance. I'm talking about actual laws, statutes, ordinances and constitutions. All built from the ground up with the idea that the White race is specifically superior to the Black race, and that The Native population of this land must be destroyed. It doesn't matter How many Hispanics there in this country, or what strides Asian Immigrants make.

The story of the United States of America is inextricably tied to the genocide of the Native American, and the enslavement of Africans. If you consider America's current military, economic, and cultural role in the world, I think it's safe to say that American Racism is indeed exceptional.
posted by billyfleetwood An hour ago


Um, Australia and basically the entire post-colonial world would like a word. Don't take my word for it - what does Trevor Noah say (from here)?

“I’ve always said America feels like a second home to me because the racism is familiar out here, which is really wonderful,” he said, laughing. “Because I understand it. It is very simple. You know, when you go to places, if you got to Europe, for instance, it’s very subtle, it’s a very different game that is being played. But in America I understand it. I understand the history of black people being oppressed. I understand young people now going, ‘But how is that our fault? The sins of our fathers, how do we pay for that?’

“I understand all of that, and so I’m very comfortable operating within this current atmosphere,” he added."


Unless America and South Africa and Australia and and and etc. are all exceptional in the same way. Again - even in racism, the American version has to stand apart. Yay?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:16 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Most people of conscience consider the removal of racism as a motivating factor for racialized shitty behavior, as exhibited in your "what if", to be a racist move. If you didn't know that, or if you knew it and still thought it was ok, then you really probably should reconsider whether you have the basic understanding of the issues required for engaging in a conversation like this.

I apologize because I've got some basic misunderstanding here. I thought I was following what I'd heard from activists and people of color, that it is important to recognize that a public policy could be racist in effect even if there were no racism in intent. And that therefore correcting people's attitudes was insufficient to address the injustices caused by racist social systems.
posted by straight at 3:41 PM on April 16, 2016


American Racism is exceptional. Our entire country was built on the concept of White Supremacy.

Um, as an Australian I should probably interject here.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:35 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, gonna have to point out that pretty much any country with a colonial history (the Commonwealth, probably heaps of other examples) is also built on the dispossession of whoever was living there first, followed by laws and an entire structure which assumes the superiority of White people. The USA is not unique in this regard.
posted by harriet vane at 5:57 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe a better example of what I was thinking of than voter suppression is this article about how debt collection lawsuits target black communities much more frequently than white ones.

The reporters initially assumed that the disparity was caused by the racial bias of lenders or debt collectors, but as they looked into it, that explanation seemed unlikely because the debt collectors didn't have information about the race of people whose debt they had bought.

The more likely explanation appears to be that the differences in debt default rate are caused by the huge wealth disparity between black and white communities. Poor white people are much more likely to have a relative or friend with some wealth reserve that can help bail them out if they get into debt trouble.

So this is a problem that's definitely racist in its impact but that isn't caused by the racial bias of debt collectors and wouldn't be fixed even if debt collectors had no racial biases. The cause is rooted in the historical racism that has created such huge wealth disparities.
posted by straight at 11:37 AM on April 17, 2016


straight, I feel you need to go back to the original article and master the concepts discussed therein. Your intellectualizing is off the mark and is making this PoC tired.
posted by oceanview at 12:30 PM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


and this White lady too.

I mean, you're trying to argue that a racist effect can come from an environment of no racial bias (for some reason that really does call your good faith into question), but your example undermines your point. Of course, the generational effects of racial bias in lending practices - such as the lack of access to collateral assets or familial assistance that could secure debt and prevent collections activity - and their continuing effects are part of a systematically racist system. Furthermore, when you look at potential solutions to the wealth disparity, the argument being made, particularly among some leading Black thinkers, is for some form of reparations in recognition of the intentional diversion of wealth from the Black community for centuries. In order to deliver that solution, you do need to reduce the racial biases that oppose that concept or refuse to even consider it on the grounds that the economic injustices produced by slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism for centuries are now "over." There is no solution, no bloodless, get-out-of-jail-free process by which the White majority will agree to discussing reparations without reducing present levels of bias.

I do find this whole discussion an unfortunate derail from what has been an interesting conversation. I'm coming to this late, but I share the critique of the article that there's no prescription in it for reducing White racism that doesn't rely on the willingness to engage the issues. That's the hard part. I've conducted a lot of volunteer training with mostly-White volunteer corps, trying to combat microaggressions based on privilege, and gotten some career-damaging pushback, so yes, it's pretty entrenched stuff. If you aren't willing to learn it, there are so many defenses and justifications that you can effectively prevent yourself from doing so. I appreciate the inventory of distraction tactics in the article and the thread ("I'm oppressed for XYZ too, what about class, etc.") and "The Irish Defense" (a succinct moniker I will definitely be using!). But I think kalessin's note that personal relationships are among the most important factors in beginning to reduce racism is extremely important. These days, we do work from a lot of sophisticated intellectual ground that bases analyses of racism in history, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics. We really get how it works.

But to get people into a position of wanting to change? It seems to me that continues to happen at the level of personal interaction and relationships. I found myself thinking in this thread that it's very important to balance intellectual considerations of anti-racism (things like reading articles and books and engaging in theoretical discussion) with on-the-ground work creating spaces for people to form real relationships across racial divides, as friends, co-workers, volunteers, community members, whatever relationships can be created. We've done a marvelous job polarizing and stratifying society so that many people find it hard even to meet other people like them. Changing that at a personal level would be a good place to start, in a "scientific" anti-racism process.
posted by Miko at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


Since people are splitting semantics over the godforsaken "prejudice vs prejudice+power" thing I thought I would share that (I am white and) the "prejudice + power" definition has been so obvious to me that I can't believe someone ever had to explain it.

If someone plain old doesn't like you, I mean, you can live with that - people of color do live with that, all the time. If someone doesn't like you and they can get away with murdering you without much consequence then you literally cannot live with that. And in between those extremes there are people with the power to hire and fire, the power to arrest people, to suspend students or expel them; the power to make TV shows and broadcast them, to take up space on the national stage; the power to influence the political process; the power that comes with ownership of property and capital, choosing who gets money under what terms -

And if someone plain old doesn't like you, and you have some elements of power like I've described, then you can insulate yourself from their rancor, in ways that range from simply "living well is the best revenge" to actually banning them from your life. I mean. One of the effects of segregation is that white people didn't ever have to see a black person if they didn't want to, such that if there were black people who hated them as a class, it didn't have any effect on their life. This was deliberate, this was a stated goal. (At the same time, Black people tried to band together to protect themselves, to build capital and wealth, and to lobby the political system, and were literally murdered for doing so.)

This isn't just the formal definition of racism, it's the practical definition. I mean, no one cares if some retired grandpa sits in his living room and yells racial slurs at the walls all day. They care when he goes to a town hall meeting and yells 'em there.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:30 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


also it seems rather obvious that if the power is there, it barely matters if the prejudice is there or not. Kind of how you can't be best friends with your boss.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:33 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older What is the process for getting a security...   |   "Hey! It's time to cause some mischief!" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments