a white man speaking black truths
March 21, 2001 8:18 AM   Subscribe

a white man speaking black truths After the California school shooting, ther had been a number of discussions and some links to the idea that blacks don't do school shootings. The article dealing with this issue elicited a huge response on-line by blacks to the piece, written by a whiteman. Here is how many blacks responded.
posted by Postroad (35 comments total)
Tim Wise received a flood of responses to the article, including one "from a guy on the Columbine SWAT team who said the reason they were slow off the mark there was precisely because the commanding officers had no clue how to deal with a situation like this (with white kids whose parents had money."

That's a good example of institutional racism, for those who have trouble seeing racism as more than an issue of individual prejudice. Also a good example of the costs of racism to white people, come to think of it.
posted by sudama at 8:25 AM on March 21, 2001

Well of course he has a valid point. It's silly to think that white people are somehow protected from violence by virtue of their skin color.

But I don't think the central issue is about race, I think it's about economics. It's not white-denial, it's affluent-suburban-denial. For the most part, these people thought they were immune from violence because they'd moved to the safe and friendly suburbs from the dirty, crime-ridden cities. I don't think they thought, "Ahhh, now that we're away from those black people, we're safe!"

Yes, a disproportionate number of affluent suburbanites are white, and a disproportionate number of poor urban folk are black, and obviously we could argue about whether that is a cause or an effect of racism (more likely, it's both), and maybe that's the unconscious subtext behind the thoughts and decisions of overly-white suburbanites who thought their schools were safer, but I don't think they thought they were protected because they were white!

I suppose it doesn't really matter what their conscious thoughts or motivations are, but I will guarantee you that it matters to them, and if you want to effectively communicate to them, you should be careful how you address the issue.
posted by daveadams at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2001

According to the article, Tim Wise has recieved so much email about his article (6,000+), that he now has an automated email response pointing to a site with his picture to prove that he's really white, because:

"we couldn't believe that a white man was writing something that most of us had been quietly thinking and surreptitiously discussing for years. We questioned if Mr. Wise was in fact white or even a real person. ...for in my and the collective experiences of my friends, white people don't talk about race -- and when they do, they certainly don't self-critique."

That's, I think, the most telling part of the entire essay.
posted by lia at 8:59 AM on March 21, 2001

lia, that portion of the essay stuck out for me as well, but perhaps for different reasons. Here at MeFi, several times each week (at least, since I've been here) the topic of race comes up. A good portion of the posters are white. Many, though certainly not all, of the participants in these discussions take a hard, extremely self-critical look at themselves and their views. The member who sticks out in my mind is sudama, as he tends to push the discussion into territory uncomfortable for some, but there are quite a few others. The point I'm getting at is that Tim Wise is not as great an aberration as he is made out to be in this piece. The perception that he is such an aberration is just one more indication that we need a much more open discussion on issues of race, no matter how painful and divisive that discussion turns out to be.
posted by gimli at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2001

at the small college i attended, there was once a day-long discussion of race, organized so that students met in small, racially-mixed groups and had structured discussions. college students being what they are, the discussion circled and hovered and fought itself, so that by the end of the day little was accomplished, but what i got out of it was this: at one point we discussed racial or ethnic identity, and the white students, without exception, claimed that they didn't identify with their race. that is, they felt that being white was some type of racial default, without any ethnic or cultural attachments.

i think this points up one of the major problems in the American discussion of race: white people often assume that the discussion of race refers to the discussion of other races, not to themselves.
posted by jasonsmall at 11:07 AM on March 21, 2001

White people aren't allowed to think of themselves as an ethnicity or race in our society, under any circumstances, except as the default. To even contemplate the idea makes you a David Duke, and you will not be allowed any room for argument.
posted by aaron at 11:32 AM on March 21, 2001

hmm, aaron. seems like a shoulder-shrugging argument.

"To even contemplate the idea makes you a David Duke"

is that meant to be tongue-in-cheek paranoia or the frustration of the "once bitten, twice shy" variety? let's try a little harder, shall we?

the more interesting question is why doesn't the white mainstream in America idenitify? (i don't think citing neo-Nazis or white supremacist groups as counter-evidence will be very helpful) isn't the notion of a "default" racist, or at least morally myopic, in itself?
posted by jasonsmall at 12:25 PM on March 21, 2001

Isn't 'default' implied by majority/minority thinking?
If a 'minority' group is a subset of the whole (human race), then whatever is not a 'minority' would be assumed to be the 'default.'
I wish I could draw pictures here, coz I'm not illustrating this thought too well.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:38 PM on March 21, 2001

White IS default by definition. There is no such thing as white that is OTHER than "default". It was invented, by faux-scientists with an agenda, to serve that purpose. So yes, to consider it otherwise is to take on the racialist and racist dogma of those who invented the concept. Prior to the 20th century (and well into it, in fact) people spoke of the English race, the French race, the Irish race in the same way that we use "white".

If anyone studies the historiography of race this is very clear, and there is very little dispute about it. When you read the texts when they invented "caucasian" it is very clear what is happening - not a blank conclusion based on observation and study, but cooked studies that aimed (and, no surprise, did) at "proving" the point. Most of it run through the American Museum of Natural History (on the West side of Central Park in NY), incidentally.

Interestingly, and shockingly to some, Italians, Irish, Spanish, and Greeks were expressly EXcluded from "white" originally.
posted by mikel at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2001

There is a simple solution - let's try dropping the concept of race. Instead of harping upon our differences - skin color, language, religion - why don't we decide we're going to concentrate on the ways in which we are the same? Perhaps because we'd bankrupt (morally and finacially) huge structures built upon the very core idea that we are different and therefore (why does these things always follow in people's minds?!) not equal? This is no less a utopian ideal than the arguably ludicrous desire outlined above and in other threads that 200 million white Americans should suddenly have mass amnesia and wake up not knowing what box to check on a census form, and yet it gets little or no attention. I think it's a question worth asking: who's benefiting from this continued persistent harping on our racial differences, perhaps at the expense of stressing instead our common attributes?
posted by m.polo at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2001

Who's benefiting? Anyone who needs an excuse.
posted by BGM at 1:58 PM on March 21, 2001

I think the confusion of the last few posts emphasizes my point. The entire concept of race relations has been so twisted over the years that it's become just a one-way discussion: What are "the default" (white people) doing to "the oppressed" (everyone else). Any attempt to look at it from any other angle get shouted down before the questions can even gets asked.
posted by aaron at 4:01 PM on March 21, 2001

I don't think so aaron. I personally see a level ground when it comes to "people." The fact that we feel that certain things automatically get shot down just adds to the confusion IMHO.
posted by samsara at 4:49 PM on March 21, 2001

I don't know what confusion you're referring to Aaron. Race is a social construct invented by people to justify and solidify the class system in the US and elsewhere. The chief way to address race issues is by addressing (and admitting) class issues. This is done by strengthening the school and medical insurance system, refusing to criminalize the receipt of state support, developing strong labour laws to prevent the egregious exploitation of manual/low-skill workers, and such.

Everywhere else in the "first world" is both further along on these tangents and further along in dealing with race issues, though there are still many problems. It's not a coincidence.
posted by mikel at 9:34 PM on March 21, 2001

Considering the fact that someone I know who tried to establish a so-called "White club", along the lines of the Latino, and Black clubs at his high school, and was totally and utterly blocked by the school, then, yes, I believe that whites view race very differently from "minorities" for good reason. White people aren't allowed to talk about their own race, because then they typically get the "oh, you're just white" attitude, and if whites talk about other races, well then they're obviously just racist =P.
posted by ookamaka at 11:53 PM on March 21, 2001

What purpose would a "white club" serve?
posted by sudama at 4:28 AM on March 22, 2001

What purpose would a "white club" serve?

Maybe it could be a place where white students could get together to discuss their race and their feelings about race and what they think about the problems caused by racism and what they might be able to do about it as white people.

Although I doubt that was the plan. :)

But I have to ask the parallel question: what purpose does a Latino or black club serve?
posted by daveadams at 6:55 AM on March 22, 2001

I'll speak on this from personal observation (since that is what most people do). I have a friend that works at Walmart's pharmacy and she encounters race quite frequently. There are people (usually elderly women) that refuse to have their prescriptions filled by a black woman. To give a bit of context to this, the Walmart is located in southern DE (note the southern adjective for a northern state). There is a point that I would like to make right now, those that perceive that racism exists are correct.

But what is racism anyway? The word itself gets that kneejerk response and is just as powerful to use as the most derogatory words in our english language. But the context is what is most meaningful....to be racism, the perception has to fall simply within the confines of preference of one ethnicity over the other, yet the word when written has almost always intended to infer extreme prejudice and unspeakable actions. We indeed have a problem with the context of this word. I find it very sad.

The great thing about discussions like these, is that everyone has a voice that can be referenced weeks from now. This type of communication is probably the best way we can settle our own differences, but moreover, find balance within our own lives as we perceive our surroundings.

What I'm about to say can be taken many ways, but I'm going to say it anyway. In no way whatsoever am I trying to force an opinion on anyone, as my intention is to spark introspective questions about our current beliefs (not to mention I could be wrong...we all observe things). The topic of white/black racism is the most heated solely due to the perceived impact slavery has had on our society. Granted, not all instances of slavery were what was depicted in Amistat as there were many variances on how African slaves were treated. For the most part, they were treated well and given a decent place to live. I am not downplaying the idea of slavery however. Slavery is very wrong. I would like the consideration, that humans, even though they were practicing an unjust tradition, in many cases still had common decency towards others (as many do and don't today)...the true injustices where done by individuals who were sick and ultimately cruel (we see those today too). When the Emancipation Proclamation was written during the Civil War, the purpose was to demoralize the southern states....everyone knew it was wrong to 'own' another human being, and it shifted the entire focal point on what the war was being fought for, which was originally money.

Ok, this is where our racism stems...we all know that...just for some reason don't like to hear it (me included). In the free society of today, in which everyone should have an equal opportunity, is seen somehow as not the case. The reason you ask? Because *everyone* in this country has been treated unfairly or let down at one point in their lives whether it is age/sex/sexual orientation/size/race/religion/appearance/etc, etc, etc. We could look back over a hundred years ago and still give ourselves a hard time (although I doubt a single person then is alive today). Or continue to figure out how we can put this nonsense behind us as no one 'should be' burdened with the guilt of our ancestors, let alone race...the recent case being the utter stupidity of segregation.

Yet, the issue of the present, as I have said before, is just ignorance and disrespect towards each other. We are getting crowded together, and will continue to, which makes it very difficult to trust and accept what we're not used to. Yes, racism still exists, and I also agree that it wasn't until the Civil Rights movement that we saw any real progress in this country...but from what I've personally noticed, hardly nothing has changed since then as far as viewpoints and institutionalized paranoias...as if the issue of racism is at it's heights, but in reality is at a dead standstill. That's why we shouldn't worry about it, as it's not really that bad right now. We have horrible acts in this country still, but they represent such a small percentage of our population and are expected...they won't go away as long as we're dealing with ignorance. Also, the reality is that people don't have to like each other, in the same manner that they don't have to like a particular flavor of ice-cream, or a certain presidential candidate. That goes without saying and shouldn't be overly offensive unless a certain previously mentioned guilt is involved. What we need to do, however, is to teach ourselves common decency towards individuals despite what was instilled in our beliefs, and strive to not instill such beliefs in our children (who are perfectly fine until we screw up their heads). We need to worry together about the things that are changing, such as violence in our schools, domestic violence (hmm...could that be the largest scale of unjust treatment we currently have?), meaningful education, managing limited resources, and just for kicks....dealing with ignorance, disrespect, and institutionalized prejudice in general. I perceive racism as looking through rose-tinted glasses, the larger problem is our knack of splitting the word, 'ourselves', into tiny mismanaged pieces....of course this my honest opinion. Really think about yours.
posted by samsara at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2001

For the most part, they were treated well and given a decent place to live.
From what I've read, this part is just plain wrong.

I do, however, agree very much with your main message.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2001

what purpose does a Latino or black club serve?

Beverly Tatum has written a book called "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" which does a great job of answering your question. For a brief answer, take a look at this interview.
posted by sudama at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2001

sonofsamiam: I can see that...it's just another one of those things in which we believe what we hear is true. That's another thing we need to work out....and you're probably right, "For the most part," no. But was it present? Indeed. Does that make it ok? Absolutely not.
posted by samsara at 8:39 AM on March 22, 2001

What purpose would a "white club" serve?

If you use this line of thinking most clubs wouldn't exist, and who are you to judge if a particular groups serves a "purpose"?
posted by gtr at 10:57 AM on March 22, 2001

It was just a question. Do you have any possible answers? Think about it for a while, you might be surprised at what you come up with.
posted by sudama at 11:21 AM on March 22, 2001

But why should I have to? Just so you can tell me those reasons don't make the cut?

If a group of white people, green people, whatever people, want to form a club for reasons other than hate, then they should be allowed. I don't think it should be up to them to prove to me their purpose is real or that it's important enough to form a club over.

I was in a bookstore recently and started reading a magazing dedicated to african american athletes. It's basically sports illustrated but with only black athletes and I'm guessing black journalist. I really don't see a need for a magazine specializing in one race of athlete, but if they think it serves a purpose good for them. I have no problem with it and I don't question it.
posted by gtr at 12:05 PM on March 22, 2001

No one said you have to. There's no cut. I'm interested in hearing what reasons you can think of.
posted by sudama at 12:46 PM on March 22, 2001

From what I've read, this part is just plain wrong.

I'd like to take that statement back altogether if I can although I'm aware that we are held accountable for what we say. I realize how important such statements are to working racism out of our culture. The recoil of slavery is a wound that will need ample time to fully heal. But I also know that will not fully happen until we stop picking at history to promote a directed sense of guilt towards whites and a sense of overall obligation towards blacks.

We should really feel sad as a whole that such a thing ever happened.

In interest of groups to share the common goal of repairing the damage, I see a double edged sword when the focus is on race alone. There are plenty of people struggling right now both financially and spiritually....naturally many are going to get together to work towards escaping that struggle, which is good and works in many positive ways. The problem with race-based groups however is that they are not dealing with racism on the level of eliminating it (ie. that would involve not acknowledging race as a purpose). Instead they serve to provide a great sense of unity and protection against current racial attitudes, or on the negative side (in my view, groups such as the Black Panthers and KKK) serve to solely promote an agenda based on the need for superiority. It's the siding off that we see that makes this a difficult issue to fully address or comprehend, only because the end result would entail both black and whites sharing the same spots "in the cafeteria" (which I have actually seen and participated in quite often, btw). What I suggest, are campaigns to battle the idea of racism...a topic of which the mass media wouldn't touch presently even if it's survival depended on it.

posted by samsara at 1:02 PM on March 22, 2001

re: clubs based on ethnicity, or whatever...

Even if the purpose is hate, they still have the right, IMO, even though this is destructive.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to have a [insert race here] club, though. It seems the only result would be the reinforcement of artificial barriers.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:27 PM on March 22, 2001

There is a constitutional right to assemble, but constitutional rights don't apply to students in public schools.

There is a world of difference between a country club and a ghetto. What they have in common is that people of the same race are generally responsible for the barriers around both.
posted by sudama at 7:44 AM on March 23, 2001

I think you could word that better Sudama, unless you really mean to indict "generally" all white people.
posted by mblandi at 9:06 AM on March 23, 2001

While I have indicted all white people many times on metafilter, that's not what I said in my previous post. I would have said something like "all white people are responsible for" if that's what I had meant to say.

In general, though, I think there is a strong case to be made for indicting all white people who do not come to terms with their race-based privilege and work towards abolishing it.

(Oops! ...I did it again.)
posted by sudama at 9:33 AM on March 23, 2001

sudama: I really think that what you're talking about is purely demographic although I am not totally disagreeing. For the sake of arguement, if a black person is found within a white majority, then race-based privileges will tip in favor of whites solely because of ratio of blacks to whites. And vise-versa as well.

I'd like to avoid stereotyping if at all possible, but I know that is difficult to completely clear off one's mind. Maybe stereotyping is more of a direct issue?
posted by samsara at 12:03 PM on March 23, 2001

You say "purely demographic" as though segregation is just a natural (or neutral) phenomenon, when in fact it is racism that leads to and justifies segregation, and said segregation then reinforces racism.

Race-based privileges need not exist regardless of the ratio of whites to people of color, just as privileges are not conferred today based on eye color, shirt color, or favorite color. Race-based privilege is in fact a systematic function of racism.

To come back to the discussion, whites in this society generally have the privilege of socializing and to a lesser extent working in an environment which is overwhelmingly -- and not infrequently exclusively -- white, when people of color are accused of being divisive and unamerican for the same behavior. What's up with that?
posted by sudama at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2001

To come back to the discussion, whites in this society generally have the privilege of socializing and to a lesser extent working in an environment which is overwhelmingly -- and not infrequently exclusively -- white, when people of color are accused of being divisive and unamerican for the same behavior. What's up with that?

I think I've missed your point with this statement, although I agree that it does happen. Today's segregation, in my view, is mostly due to how comfortable people are to exploring outside the confines of what they know is familiar....but it is not based on race alone, it is based on the same reasons why people decide to stay close to their families, or close to their childhood memories. But aside from that, you're right in saying that people of the same ethnicity will group together, if only for familiarity (ie. It would seem in that case they have something in common to talk about, or by what you're saying, a reason to separate themselves from what is different).

But what about those that shatter your concept by stepping outside the boundaries their environment holds them to? And to compound that statement, what happens when our population is so great that we can no longer choose to completely isolate ourselves?
posted by samsara at 1:22 PM on March 23, 2001

The problem with race-based groups however is that they are not dealing with racism on the level of eliminating it (ie. that would involve not acknowledging race as a purpose).

But is that how we should try to fight racism? I think it's aided white people and hurt people of color to such an extent that just ignoring skin color isn't enough. Maybe whites should look at the privileges they enjoy because of their race and then try to work against the system that's aided them so unfairly. Incidentally, that would be a good reason for a "white club" to exist. That kind of club might be exclusive while in session, just by definition. But the hopeful goal of such a club would have positive and integrative effects outside the club.
posted by nedlog at 1:29 PM on March 23, 2001

no no. I meant that if we are to see an end result, we need to integrate ourselves (eventually) without having groups representing us and reminding us. The fact that you mention that people of color have been hurt, goes back that familiarity concept and the need to separate off. No, to fight racism we need to have groups that involve both races...and through that alone we can actually hear what each have to say, and get results on how to end segragation, IMHO.
posted by samsara at 1:43 PM on March 23, 2001

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