Tuesday, July 1, 2008

sit quietly in movie theaters (part two)


Film audience at the New Egyptian Hall, London, 1907-08


Today’s post about movie audiences is a continuation of yesterday’s post about movie audiences. In particular, it’s about the comments that readers wrote in response to yesterday’s post, and I’ll also have more to say about the ostensible topic of both posts—expectations of silence by movie audiences.

I hope that at least some of my readers had fun guessing what I might have really meant by yesterday’s brief, rather enigmatic post. When I wrote it, I knew that its claim—that silence in movie theaters is a common form of behavior among white movie audiences—would cause a negative reaction from some readers of this blog. And sure enough, it did.

For the record, the claim in the one-sentence post is a paraphrase of a sentence in a fascinating book, Performing Whiteness: Re/Constructions in the Cinema. In that book, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster writes that proper movie “spectatorship is nonparticipatory, silent, and white.” At the end of this post, I’ll turn things over to Foster with an excerpt from her book and let her explain how that could be.

As I promised in the comments section of yesterday’s post, I will write about reader reactions to that post in this one, and I want to do so as a demonstration of something. I will then use that “something” to address how we tend to think about whiteness, and race more generally. I also think that the many negative reactions of readers’ to yesterday’s post have implications for the kind of white anti-racist writing that I’m doing on this blog, and perhaps for white anti-racist work more generally.

One interesting thing about negative reactions to the claim made by yesterday’s one-sentence post is that what the sentence says is actually true—sitting quietly in a theater and shushing others who aren’t behaving quietly IS a common form of behavior among white movie audiences. I don’t think that claim can be convincingly disputed, at least in an American context.

The second part of the post, which says that watching movies silently is more common among middle-class white audiences than among other white movie audiences, may be less true. However, the tenuous nature of that second claim, and the lack of any examples or references to audience research in the post to support it, was not what caused a negative reaction. I even entered the comments section yesterday and suggested that the post’s claim could be more about social class than about race, but from what I can see, no one else picked up on social class as a way to consider the post’s claim and its implications.

So why the focus on race, and why the negative reactions to a claim that’s actually true? Because, as many commenters wrote, claiming simply that white folks often do something implies that non-white folks don’t do it—even if the person making the claim actually says nothing at all about non-white folks.

What this whole charade of mine demonstrates, then, is that in our common conception of “race,” whiteness inevitably exists in relation to other categories. It’s very difficult to talk about whiteness in isolation. To talk about it, that is, without talking about other races.

In fact, whiteness has existed in relation to other racial categories from the very beginning of “race” as a concept—“white” folks wouldn’t call themselves that if their ancestors hadn’t decided to make a big deal out of racial differences in order to do things to people from other races.

So, for those of us who focus on whiteness, what do we really talk about when we try to talk about it? Can we actually talk about it without talking about other races? Or must we always talk about it in relation to other races? And if we do talk about other races as we do so, how should we do so?

I’ve noticed, for instance, that when I ask white individuals to talk about whiteness, about what their being white means for them, they usually have very little to say, and they eventually end up talking about non-white people instead. White Americans are usually unaccustomed to talking directly about their own whiteness, and when asked to do so, they often shift to discussing it in relation to other races, and then end up talking almost exclusively about those other people instead.

This kind of removal, or distancing, also happens among white writers on race—most of them write about people of color, instead of about white people. In 1990, bell hooks issued a plea about this tendency that I think still needs to be heard today:

One change in direction that would be real cool would be the production of a discourse on race that interrogates whiteness. It would just be so interesting for all those white folks who are giving blacks their take on blackness to let them know what’s going on with whiteness. In far too much contemporary writing—though there are some outstanding exceptions—race is always an issue of Otherness that is not white: it is black, brown, yellow, red, purple even.

Actually, I’ve also noticed a similar relational conception of whiteness in my own writing. I’ve often wondered if whiteness can be talked about in isolation, since talking about it in relation to other races raises problems about how to represent or describe those other races in my writing.

I too find it difficult to talk about whiteness and white folks without also talking about non-white folks. In the past three months or so that I’ve been writing this blog, I often call on the writings of non-white observers of whiteness for their take on the white thing currently under examination. As several commenters have pointed out, I sometimes run into trouble doing so (and for those who might think that I don’t listen to my detractors, I do—I’m working on these things).

It is important to talk about whiteness in relation to other races, because white supremacy still has so many deleterious effects on members of other races. But in order to examine whiteness, to better understand it, must one always do so in relation to other races? Can it not be isolated for close analysis?

After all, white people have, and still do, try to separate themselves from other people. Indeed, whiteness is all about separation from non-white people; that’s one of its fundamental points, perhaps its very raison d’être. And yet, paradoxically enough, it depends on conceptions of non-white others for its very existence. And as yesterday’s exercise of sorts demonstrates, saying much of anything at all about white people means saying something about non-white people too. Even if you don’t actually, literally claim that something is true about non-white people, if you claim something about white people, you still have, by implication.

And so we continue, in the wake of so many centuries of destruction and waste wrought by the bludgeon of race, with whiteness and its supposed opposites still going round and round, clutching each other in a mad, paradoxical dance of division and mutual dependency.

Can we step outside of the dance and become spectators? If we do, will we remain as silent as well-behaved movie audiences? How about instead, we get noisy, and try to stop the dance?


[And here, as promised, are some excerpts from Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s book, Performing Whiteness, explaining her claim that silent movie spectatorship is a white thing. As well as a gendered thing. Oh, and a class thing too. To explain how this all came about, she goes back to the early days of cinema, when silent spectatorship arose as a different way of behaving within a crowd that was being entertained. Notice as well that she doesn’t talk about white audiences without also talking about black audiences.

By the way, I don't necessarily endorse Foster's claims here--I offer them as a matter of interest in relation to "whiteness," and I wish she had more to say about the racial differences, if any, among contemporary movie audiences. Because this excerpt is fairly long, I will skip my usual use of italics for quoted material.]


If, as Mary Ann Doane suggests, “whiteness. . . is a form of masquerade which conceals an identity” (229), what does this masquerade suggest about white audiences and their constructions as good or bad? How do white audiences perform good whiteness or bad whiteness? Much has been written about cinema audiences in general, exploring the relationship between the construct of the film being witnessed and the gender and class of moviegoers, yet little reception theory has been written about white audience behavior.

White women were often constructed as bad audiences or bad moviegoers. As Shelley Stamp observes, “the recurring figure of a boisterous, talkative woman” (27) was popular in the silent era and “chatty women became one of the more familiar caricatures of the era” (26). Miriam Hansen notes in Babel and Babylon that the “'rule of the silence' had to be learned in the 1910s” (95).

The white woman was, then, largely constructed as a consumer of images. Consequently, there was much anxiety on the part of theatrical film exhibitors because of the class differences among women. Exhibitors wished to appeal to all classes while appearing to privilege the upper-class woman. Special seats were set aside for “ladies” in a Jim Crow-style arrangement; “ladies” of course, meant white women, and the seating separated them by class.

“Class-conscious women were thereby guaranteed that they would constitute a significant body of the audience and perhaps more important, that they would not have to rub elbows with less cultivated patrons who might also be in attendance” (Stamp 14). While the “[u]nreal unity the on-screen spectacle proclaims masks the class divisions on which real unity of the capitalist mode is based” (Debord 46), the off-screen space both encouraged white class prejudice and encouraged good (read silent) female behavior.

The “genteel culture of female moviegoing promoted by the industry accomplished much more than simply encouraging patronage among this desirable segment of the market. Such promotions also guided women's expectations, furnishing them with clues about how to conduct themselves in picture houses” (Stamp 15). White women were thus being used as colonized figures of commerce while simultaneously allowing themselves to be further colonized by social-conduct guides. They were mocked for being loud and praised for being poised, quiet, white, and genteel. Good-white women were, therefore, subject as spectators to the dualities usually associated with the Victorian age.

“Woman, Victorian society dictated, was to be chaste, delicate, and loving....She was seen, that is, as being both higher and lower, bother innocent and animal, pure yet quintessentially sexual” (Smith-Rosenberg 183). Performing good-white femininity meant shutting up and removing large hats, so it is perhaps contrary to expectations that many women filmgoers actually preferred action and spectacle.

“In fact, women were attracted to sexually explicit, action-oriented, and agitational films that encouraged alternative viewing modes and extra-textual engagement, at a time when filmmaking was increasingly standardized toward classical norms” (Stamp 198). Thus, despite exhibitor expectations, women who were privileged, white, and gentile were invited into cinemas to provide respectability to exhibition houses, yet they made a great deal of noise and liked action-adventure films, especially serials, which often featured female action heroines.

But to be a good audience in dominant white culture increasingly meant to be a quiet audience. Unfortunately, this call for silence meant that many black audiences, who had a propensity to interact with the films they viewed in a call-and-response mode, were coded by white people as poorly behaved: only in all-black theaters could African Americans or others feel free to respond to films as they wished. . .

[A] good audience remains defined as a silent, almost reverent audience, a construct that is deeply related to class, race, and gender. The quietest audiences are those that attend films in museums and retro houses, where all the comments during a film are met with a stern glance and admonitions to remain silent. Happily, there are exceptions to this rule of silence in the cathedral of cinema. These “exceptional screenings,” in which audiences are active and vocal participants during the viewing of a film, break the fourth wall of cinema reception. Audiences who are exiled from one another, silenced by the unseen panoptic presence, enact an agreed-upon definition of good-spectator behavior. Thus good spectatorship is nonparticipatory, silent, and white.

34 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of charades. People comment because we're interested in having a real discussion about the topic at hand, not so that we can be part of some scheme where you use our (expected) responses to prove some other point.

    I'm still not entirely sure what you're getting at here. There are some interesting ideas brought up in this more lengthy post, but these are overshadowed by the confusing and vaguely manipulative nature of this sequence of posts.

    I'm disappointed.

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  2. Fascinating.

    When you dismissed 911sajoke with "It may well be that you've stereotyped yourself, by reading something into the post that isn't there," was that also part of your experiment?

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  3. I even entered the comments section yesterday and suggested that the post’s claim could be more about social class than about race, but from what I can see, no one else picked up on social class as a way to consider the post’s claim and its implications.

    That's because the claim is not "Stuff Well-Off People Do: sit quietly in movie theaters, and shush those who don't".

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  4. Restructure, I didn't mean for that response to 911 to be dismissive, and 911, if you're still reading, I apologize for wording my response in such a way that it could be interpreted as a dismissal. My point there was just to underline what I deal with more fully in this post--that nothing in the first post says anything at all about non-white people.

    becca, yes, it was manipulative, but as I explained in this post, there were reasons for doing so. The "real discussion" you say people are looking for can continue here, in part two of a two-part post.

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  5. macon d,

    Generally, I like your blog, the posts that you have written. But, I've gotta tell ya' that I just don't get this post.

    Perhaps, you made a mistake about assuming that white people, white middle class people, are the only ones who like to watch a movie with the audience being silent. I am a black American woman, and I abhor all the chatter that some audience members engage in during a movie. Heck, I hate it when they talk during the previews, too!

    Actually, I wish that this stereotype were true about whites: that they shush talkers during the showing of a movie. I just don't see them doing that. Too often I find that I am the ONLY one who will tell a talker to shut up. To be brutally honest: I find most quiet white patrons in a theatre to be cowards about telling someone to stop talking. I can tell in the body language, from those people whom I see sitting in front of me that a talker is disturbing them. They will put out all kinds of signals, except the one that really counts, which is to tell that person to "shut up!" Frankly, I get tired of being the only person brave enough in a theatre to do the work to tell the talker (or talkers) to be quiet. So, you might want to write a post, if you have not already, about how most whites are cowards and how they always want someone else to do their dirty work for them.

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  6. Oh, and I want to add that (from my experience going to see movies in theatres here in San Francisco) it is pretty much nine times out of ten that the person whom I have to tell (or ask, depending upon my mood) to stop talking is a white middle class person.

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  7. I think what you write is really interesting-Good job! But, I just dont understand the need to go into explaining in such detail white female veiwers behavior to drive home a point about the behavior of races?

    ..I think that may be what is throwing people off. But hey, i give you props for writing about race, it is so touchy for so many people..not many would dare to tackle it!

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  8. redcatbiker, it's good to hear that you like this blog.

    I appreciate your observations about white cowardice. I think white people (especially middle-class ones) tend to fear non-white people in all sorts of ways, and they tend to fear social confrontation in general. I remember a book called, I think, The Moral Order of a Suburb (sorry, I'm too tired to look it up), that explained that conflict aversion was central to the (white) suburban social order. This is part of what I was trying to get at in a post on the common white refusal to engage with black anger, an effort that didn't gel very well.

    Just to be clear on one thing you wrote, "Perhaps, you made a mistake about assuming that white people, white middle class people, are the only ones who like to watch a movie with the audience being silent."

    I didn't assume that middle-class white people are the only ones who do that. The first part of this two-part post merely says that's "a common form of behavior" among middle-class people, which it is (bear with me for a sec, please--I'm not just splitting hairs here). And so, apparently, is being noisy in a theater. That doesn't mean other kinds of people aren't quiet too (and/or noisy). I was restating G. A. Foster's claim (That "good spectatorship is nonparticipatory, silent, and white") in that first post, for the reasons that I explained in this post. And in this post, before excerpting her book, I wrote, "By the way, I don't necessarily endorse Foster's claims here--I offer them as a matter of interest in relation to 'whiteness,' and I wish she had more to say about the racial differences, if any, among contemporary movie audiences."

    So anyway, I myself don't assume that white audiences are the only ones that watch movies quietly. I think it's interesting, though, to hear that as they watch them, they might be more cowardly.

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  9. "One change in direction that would be real cool would be the production of a discourse on race that interrogates whiteness. It would just be so interesting for all those white folks who are giving blacks their take on blackness to let them know what’s going on with whiteness." - bell hooks

    See, this is what attracted me to your blog initially...that you talked about examination of your whiteness. The previous post/headline veered in another direction though. It indirectly made a comment about non-whiteness.

    I also still don't see the evidence though that white middle class people are so quiet in movie theaters. You also imply in a quote you present that black people prefer to have a different (perhaps verbal) type of interaction with the film they are watching. That just leaves me thinking...wtf???

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  10. Macon, I meant it before when I said I think others on this blog should try to be supportive, rather than only angered, but in that spirit of support I can't play along with this clear attempt to disavow responsibility for the gaff you made with the first "part" of this post on whites in movie theaters.

    Macon, pretending it was all a big experiment (with you as puppet master, anticipating 911s outrage?) isn't going to help you get at the root of these problematic notions you have on race, anymore than avoiding the import of that thought you once had about Africans ("Maybe they should all just die") will help you.

    I know it's hard, Macon, but I think you can do better than this. You've got friends here who are rooting for you.

    Sandykin

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  11. Macon, eye-opening experiment! But I'm wondering if linguistically, people are correct to assume that when you say something about one group of people, it does imply something about non- mentioned groups of peope at least sometimes?

    For example, if I say boys are restless in classrooms, is there a legitimate linguistic reason to assume that it is at least implied that girls are less restless?

    I think this is a very important point your experiment is making, about assumptions we make in language, especially about race, and probably gender in a similar structure of assumption of difference.

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  12. Macon,
    if you wanted to write a blog about 'stuff men do', would you need the 'other' - women?
    Whiteness also includes Eurocentrism and to detect all the problematic attitudes of Eurocentrism, not only race and racism, you don't necessarily always need 'the other'. What you do is, you look from inside out.
    Anti-racists look from the out-side to see the great picture of white supremacy

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  13. "Macon, I meant it before when I said I think others on this blog should try to be supportive, rather than only angered..." - Sandykin


    Interesting... Interesting how you frame what "others" do on this blog when they don't try to be "supportive" because...?

    Because of what, Sandykin?

    Your thought here sounds a lot like what Restructure noted about how she excused a number of problematic things Macon said essentially because she wanted to be supportive of Macon because she just assumed Macon was new to this whole Whiteness/anti-racism thing (as problematic as that is).

    You sound like things Macon say should be "supported" no matter what he says and that, too, is based on some unspecified assumption you have about Macon and the reasons why you want to Macon to be treated with kit gloves and, by all means, spared the "anger" of people who won't just ignore his problematic and counterintuitive statements -- counterintuitive because one would expect Macon to at least get or approach some very basic things in an appropriate manner.

    And that's the preference you voiced: that people ignore the problematic things they see in things Macon says because, you feel they should be "supportive" because...?

    Because what, Sandykin?

    One of my favorite Alice Walker quotes is:

    “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”

    You want others to be silent as a way to be "supportive" because of what, Sandykin?

    I suppose one could say you have not been "supportive" of Macon because you LABELED his comment about conducting an experiment as "pretending." It's like you didn't take Macon at his word. Like you felt he was being dishonest as he "attempted to disavow responsibility for his gaffe."

    Hmmm.... Interesting how you allow yourself to have that privilege which when others have been LABELED by you as being "angry" when they respond, first, to a "gaffe" or problematic statement Macon made then witness Macon "disavowing responsibility" for whatever he said in one way or they other.

    Somehow, you critique Macon, classify things he say as "gaffes" but others don't have that privilege because you feel that they should be "supportive" no matter how they view (which is not to be confused with the way you view things) things Macon said that they find problematic.

    So, yes, why do you feel others should be "supportive" when this isn't the first time Macon has essentially disavowed making gaffes?

    What is the underlying assumption you're working with? (And much of what we say is based on often unspoken underlying assumptions - i.e. beliefs we value as important even when those beliefs are unrealistic or vague.)


    And you characterize what others do on this blog as "ONLY angered"... WHY??

    Because you can show how whatever they say is ONLY based on emotions and is devoid of any sound reasoning behind their critiques/criticisms of things Macon has said?

    Seriously, I'd like you to pick out some examples from those who have ONLY been "angered" (such a loaded term when it comes to race) and see if we can make an actual objective assessment if their reactions were ONLY "angered" as opposed to being based on reasons that are as sound, rational and logical as your own objection to Macon's "gaffe" on this issue.

    I'd like to see that because I know your characterization is wrong and is more about style than substance. I'd like to see that because I doubt seriously that the responses to Macon's gaffe on this topic are any different from, any less "angered" than the objections to his gaffes, etc. elsewhere (however you figure what is and is not an "angered" response).

    I don't know how 911sajoke's response was supportive of Macon (but I guess it's okay in this situation) and I also don't know how 911's initial response was any different than other responses in other threads.

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  14. Nquest, I admit that you're right when you say that I can't adopt a position to say whether Macon's "gaffe," as I called it, was just a gaffe (in other words, a mistake that doesn't reflect who he is and what he believes). You're also right that in focusing so much on the value of "being supportive" of Macon, I basically write off the serious critiques others have written in response to him. For these things, I concede your point, and offer my apology.

    The truth is that, while as a person I often err on the side of "being supportive" to people who might not always deserve it (believe me, I've got a line of abusive ex-partners who didn't deserve as much "support" as I offered ... guess my parents had something to do with this ... anyway, not your concern), I really find that a lot of Macon's posts bother me deeply because they reveal the opposite of what they profess. I think Macon's got problems with POC, in other words.

    If I offer him more tenderness than he actually deserves, I guess it's because I meant what I said when I said he seems like someone who might be able to make the turn out of his anxiety over and fear of POC. But I've sure been wrong about similar things before in my life. People can fake all kinds of things.

    With that said, I think I'll just sit back. Thanks for getting me to think this through, NQuest. I didn't mean to suggest that the people who picked up on the racism in Macon's post were just "angry." I actually think those people, especially 911, are the ones talking the most sense here.

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  15. For these things, I concede your point, and offer my apology.

    Sandykin, first, no apologies needed. Just acknowledging that other people have made serious critiques is enough, whether those other people include me or not.


    I think Macon's got problems with POC, in other words.

    I don't know if I've ever seriously viewed Macon's ideas in quite that way but there have been occasions from what I've noticed where he has respond like a White person who hasn't even attempted to examine Whiteness.

    I meant what I said when I said he seems like someone who might be able to make the turn out of his anxiety over and fear of POC.

    I don't know whether I've seen or picked up on some "fear of POC" Macon has (if I understand your point correctly) but I appreciate you being so open, Sandykin.

    Now I understand clearly why you'd prefer people be (more) supportive of Macon. I happen to think examining Whiteness and/or being anti-racist or supporting social justice should be contingent on anything but a person's interest in those things own their own merits.

    The same way I wouldn't expect Macon to be deterred by White posters who say he's a self-loathing White (liberal) viewing POC as "victims", etc., etc. is the same way I expect Macon to deal with any criticisms from POC he views as insulting or wrong-headed.


    Let me be clear: I noticed Macon's blog and immediately took an interest in what he had to say because he was examining Whiteness. I'm interested in the way Whites see race/racism perhaps more than ever before because of people like Tim Wise who have been some of the most articulate (as in illuminating) voices on the subject recently.

    I came expecting to see a different and interesting perspective on the whole race/racism thing. At first glance (and in a number of bits and pieces afterwards), I thought that's what Macon's project here offered but then I encountered a number of problematic things Macon said and not just about POC. I'm just more attune to those things.

    Regardless, I still appreciate Macon's attempt to examine Whiteness and nothing I've said in disagreements with him was ever meant to be a statement about his overall outlook and feelings about POC. My specific disagreements are just that: specific and relevant to the specific issue raised and not some statement about Macon's overall character or beliefs about POC, etc.

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  16. knowgoodwhitepeople.wordpress.comJuly 2, 2008 at 12:43 PM

    Come on people, despite its title, this blog is ALWAYS about “Stuff Some/Most White People Do” which means the individual anecdotes used to shoot down the white movie shusher hypothesis (though real for you) can only help us have the broader discussion when other readers offer (equally real) anecdotes that spark ideas/perspectives you haven’t been exposed to.

    The trouble with/beauty of (depending on whether you’re a fan or not) a blog entitled “stuff white people do” is that, barring empirical evidence to support each of Macon’s assertions, the depth of the discussion is going to rely heavily on anecdotal data (what I have done, what I was told, what I read, or what I’ve seen). I think it is the beauty of the blog, because in order to engage in these discussions, white folks have to contribute what they “know” and be willing to consider/absorb some of what others “know.”

    One topic I would add to “stuff white people do” is THINK DICHOTOMOUSLY. That is, there is a propensity to think in opposites (see Dr. Edwin Nicol’s work on AXIOLOGY for more on this idea) -- which might explain why so many of you are assuming that any of the topics presented as “stuff white people do” automatically imply that it is a commentary on stuff non-white people don’t do. It is faulty logic to assume that “what white people do” is synonymous with “what non-white people don’t do” since the group we’re calling “non-white” includes a myriad cultural norms and traditions.

    Having said that….

    On the subject of movie going habits, I think there’s an elephant in the room. WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT the shushing behavior of white folks compared with Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, etc.. Either no one’s experience prompts them to say it, or no one wants to say it --

    Predominately black movie audiences tend to be noisy.

    There, I said it. I don’t think Macon explicitly said it when he said white folks shush noisy movie goers. But, I think it needs to be said so we can have a broader/deeper conversation about what happens when cultures and their norms collide.

    Being ½ black and having lived in the black community most of my life, I have attended movies with predominately black audiences, and I have been to suburban (even rural) movie theaters where the audience is mostly or all white. My anecdotal data tells me white moviegoers tend to be very quiet in the theater and black audiences tend to be noisier. (Of course I’m not saying all black moviegoers are noisy or appreciate noise, so let’s not go there.)

    I’ve only ever seen white people shushing others, so that’s my “real” experience whether it’s universally real or not. I’m not mad at the shushers. They are trying to achieve their “standard” of a silent movie watching experience the best way they know how.

    I think the issue here is really about NEGATIVELY JUDGING people's behavior as “less than” and COMPARING cultural norms to a WHITE so-called STANDARD. If the standard is SILENCE IN THE MOVIE THEATER, then noisy blacks DEVIATE from what is “RIGHT” and they are WRONG (there’s that dichotomous thinking again).

    That same standard applied in a black church would result in a negative judgment of the behavior of black churchgoers. (A white woman I know said she learned it was devilish to clap your hands during a song in church) Whoo Lord, whoever taught her that would be calling most of the black churchgoers I know Satan’s spawn.

    There is a call-and-response tradition in African culture that is alive in contemporary black folks, and it rears its beautiful/ugly (depending on what standard you’re judging with) in community gatherings (one of which is the movie theater)

    I purposely go to the theater in the hood for certain films, because I know the audience is going to enhance my experience with hilarious commentary. If there is a film for which I’d prefer a quieter venue, I go to a white suburb where, in my 46 years of movie going experience no one ever talks to the screen, and anyone talking to their partner will be shushed.

    This subject reminds me of a story I often tell about a white woman I knew who was married to a black man and learned how to play bid wist in the black community. (If you’ve never had the experience, it can be an extremely loud, lively card game that (can) include cleverly “insulting” the skills of your opponents and “cheating” (creatively letting your partner know what cards you have without letting your opponents know – but since everyone in the game is doing and enjoyingit, of course it’s not cheating).

    I personally prefer playing card and dominoes with black folks because to me it’s just FUN/FUNNY AS HELL. There was a Cosby Show episode about this once, but I digress.

    My white card playing friend later divorced her black husband and remarried a white man. The first time they played cards with friends, she behaved the way she always had in a card game and the other couple put their cards down on the table and asked her what her problem seemed to be and why was she being so rude and competitive.

    As with the majority of the posts on Stuff White People Do, I thought this one asked us to examine and dissect white supremacy/privilege against a backdrop of racial/cultural norms.

    I never felt tricked.

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  17. Perhaps I am just displaying more of what has been noted as stereotypical white dichotomy thinking, but when some one says, "stuff [fill in the blank] people do", I usually understand it as pertaining to [fill in the blank] people, and not to those outside that demographic. Of course there could be exceptions, but it would be understood as a general rule.

    I mean, statements like these are generally understood to mean that demographic 'X' does something that is particular or distinctive for that group.

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  18. Macon D,

    According to you, you have been working on topics related to race and whiteness for some n years, where n > 12. At the beginning of those n years, did you start off as a Republican or political conservative?

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  19. Macon D... you have been working on topics related to race and whiteness for some n years, where n > 12

    I wonder what, "according to Macon" other people, like yourself, have been doing and the value of how long you, e.g., "have been working" and dealing with these issues have in terms of the weight of your credibility.

    Then too, I wonder if the chalkboard rhetoric about POC knowing more about Whites and Whiteness than Whites themselves is just parroted lip service to an idea that's comforting in theory but hard to accept in practice.

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  20. In the past three months or so that I’ve been writing this blog, I often call on the writings of non-white observers of whiteness for their take on the white thing currently under examination. As several commenters have pointed out, I sometimes run into trouble doing so (and for those who might think that I don’t listen to my detractors, I do—I’m working on these things).

    Macon, to be clear, you've "run into trouble" with me when you tried to interpret what "non-white" observers have said about blackness or just went out on your own (mis)interpreting blackness.


    Anyway, it's interesting that you just find it "difficult" to talk about whiteness and white folks without also talking about non-white folks.

    In terms of responding to your "detractors" (lol), I wonder how you view the charge made against you that you try to speak "for" POC in light of this self-reflection of yours.

    I mean, it's one thing to be accused to being self-loathing but it says something completely different about what you're saying and how you're being perceived when someone assumes you're trying to speak "for" non-whites when your expressed purpose is to speak to and about Whiteness and, in so doing (I presume), speak for Whites.

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  21. At the beginning of those n years, did you start off as a Republican or political conservative?

    No, Restructure. Why do you ask?

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  22. I understand why a lot of people are confused by these posts. However, I felt that the second one did clarify Macon's intentions and raised interesting issues.

    Knowgoodwhitepeople added, "One topic I would add to “stuff white people do” is THINK DICHOTOMOUSLY. That is, there is a propensity to think in opposites."

    I definitely agree. This world view (I think it is frequently called a Manichean world view) is extremely limited and destructive, and I believe it is at the root of basically all of the humanity's problems.

    I think many people (especially racists) are uncomfortable with complexity and ambiguity and want to define the world in a very simplistic "black and white" manner. In a world defined by absolutes and stark contrasts, a person doesn't have to think about what they are doing or who they are. They themselves are predefined in such terms.

    In this world view, people are not individually responsible for anything because who they are and what they do are defined by their race. This is how whites were able to justify slavery. It wasn't something they choose to do to non-whites. To them, it was just a metaphysical fact, a part of the natural order of the universe, that dark people were less human than whites and could be treated like beasts of burden.

    I know people can be taught to think of the world more expansively and accept that, in many situations, there is no "black and white" explanation or answer. Children can be taught to have curiosity about the world rather than blindly react to it.

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  23. Restructure, I didn't mean for that response to 911 to be dismissive, and 911, if you're still reading, I apologize for wording my response in such a way that it could be interpreted as a dismissal.

    How was that not a dismissal? When you told 911sajoke that s/he read something into the post that wasn't there, knowing full well that something was there which you purposely hid, what kind of point were you making? Were you trying to teach him/her something about race?

    My point there was just to underline what I deal with more fully in this post--that nothing in the first post says anything at all about non-white people.

    Yes, it does. Saying that "white people do x" does imply that non-whites don't do x. This is true for other categories that are not about race. "Stuff Men Do" implies that women don't do it; "Stuff Americans Do" implies that non-Americans don't do it.

    You seem to be contradicting yourself, because right now you say that "nothing in the first post says anything at all about non-white people," but on the other hand, you said, "our common conception of “race,” whiteness inevitably exists in relation to other categories. It’s very difficult to talk about whiteness in isolation. To talk about it, that is, without talking about other races."

    Now you may be saying that the "common conception" is the wrong interpretation and your personal interpretation is the correct one, but I strongly disagree. (I already gave some reasons above.) If you mention some property about a person or thing when communicating, it is assumed that the property is somehow relevant. There are infinitely many ways to describe people who shush others in movie theatres, but if you're mentioning race, then it should be relevant, i.e., people would expect that you are making a point about race.

    Claims like:

    Stuff White People Do: breathe
    Stuff White People Do: bleed
    Stuff White People Do: have feelings
    Stuff White People Do: grow

    are useless pieces information if you interpret it your way (where the adjective 'white' is irrelevant), since "Stuff People Do" would make more sense (to contrast with robots, for example). However, if you interpret it the common way (where the adjective 'white' is relevant), these claims would be dehumanizing non-whites.

    Now let's talk about the real issue here. Your blog is about "Stuff White People Do", but you are often making claims about non-whites because you talk about whites. It seems like this problem just occurred to you after you started your blog, when it should have been obvious from reading Stuff White People Like. Christian Lander's blog is a bit problematic to begin with (since it can be reasonably interpreted that when non-white people like those things, they are acting 'white'), and I thought that you made your own blog because you were aware of this problem and were sensitive to it, and were trying to avoid the pitfalls of SWPL. Apparently, I expected too much and gave you too much credit for a racial awareness that wasn't there.

    (Actually, at this point, I think Stuff White People Like is better and less problematic than your blog. Christian Lander (from Toronto, where I live) obviously interacts with POCs more than you do and writes from personal experience, while you are writing from reading (and interpreting) what others have written. He has a larger knowledge base from which to draw his conclusions, which is probably why the conclusions you draw are so relatively skewed, because you have a smaller knowledge base (on the differences between white and non-white behaviour).)

    Man, write about what you know, and the quality of your writing will be better. If you don't interact that much with non-whites, then you shouldn't be writing about white culture, in the general sense. There's a bit more promise when you write about white racism and white privilege, but right now, from what you've done so far, I am distrustful of your ability to do it properly.

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  24. About 18 months ago, redcatbiker wrote:

    "Oh, and I want to add that (from my experience going to see movies in theatres here in San Francisco) it is pretty much nine times out of ten that the person whom I have to tell (or ask, depending upon my mood) to stop talking is a white middle class person."

    And my first thought was: guilty as charged, and then I remembered, hey, there was even a TV show that celebrated this tradition of white guys talking back to movies while sitting in a theater.

    Mystery Science Theater 3000. Which apart from being very funny, was very much how me and many of my friends acted in high school and college.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery_Science_Theater_3000

    I dislike these "all about race" blogs. Mainly they seem to serve the need of the blogowner, Macon D, or Carmen Van Kerckhove to feel good about themselves and superior to others.

    So yeah, Macon, we can all tell you're a real mensch.

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  25. I dislike these "all about race" blogs. Mainly they seem to serve the need of the blogowner, Macon D, or Carmen Van Kerckhove to feel good about themselves and superior to others.

    Then what the hell are you doing here? Seriously? You went out of your way to come to a blog with a topic you hate just to say THAT?

    Damnit, if you're gonna troll, do it right!

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  26. RVC,

    Dang, slow up. Why can't this person say what he/she wishes to? Obnoxious, much?

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  27. @honeybrown:

    Look, I don't go to Stormfront.org and tell them how much I hate what they do. They are free to do and say whatever they want in their space. But the minute they (and I'm not equating "mensch spotter" with them) step into a space I'm in with that shit, I can say whatever the fuck I want about it. Basically, if you hate my neighborhood, don't come here.

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  28. RVCBard,

    You can't preach tolerance without practicing it. As far as I know, this is everyone's neighborhood - not just yours! This is a democracy, not a fascist blog. This is my neighborhood too.

    Quite frankly, I'd rather hear from everyone - not just from the select few who have made it upon themselves to decide who or who can't speak, despite it not being their blog.

    Besides I'd have a hell of a lot of respect if you did go to Stormfront.org and tell them off. It's easy to talk smack in a safe environment. But I give kudos to those who don't cover themselves in bubble wrap and spit game.

    To tell you the truth, the first time I read this blog, I didn't know how to figure Macon D. up as, to this day, I'm working out my feelings toward anti-racists. Do they honestly practice what they preach? Or, do they wear their anti-racism like a jacket that they can take off while enjoying the privilege that they claim to hate? I'm still weary and taking baby steps with them. So, maybe he had some insight we could veer into.

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  29. I dislike these "all about race" blogs. Mainly they seem to serve the need of the blogowner, Macon D, or Carmen Van Kerckhove to feel good about themselves and superior to others.

    So yeah, Macon, we can all tell you're a real mensch.


    "WE" being you and your wanking right hand, hey? I'll thank you not to purport to speak for all of us skerry colerrred folk and our antiracist white allies.

    You projecting your own "mensch" neuroses onto the latter is ubermensch-y (oh-ho), you white privilege apologist. If you want to rationalize your bigotry and be complacent about oppression, then at least have the dad-blamed spine to do so upfront and not reduce the efforts of people who are actually making worthwhile contributions into a pretentious cesspool of your own solipsism.

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  30. RVC,

    Well, Sista, I don't know what to tell you. Since I know we have a long way before we actually attain justice, while I'm certainly settling for it, tolerance is the first step. Without it, we'll fight for nothing.

    Also, there's something that irks me about Tim Wise. Maybe it's the "I'm White So I'm Clearly the Expert Here" vibe that I get from him. Or, maybe it's the fact that being a Jewish man predicates his straight, white male privilege.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

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  31. To tell you the truth, the first time I read this blog, I didn't know how to figure Macon D. up as, to this day, I'm working out my feelings toward anti-racists. Do they honestly practice what they preach? Or, do they wear their anti-racism like a jacket that they can take off while enjoying the privilege that they claim to hate? I'm still weary and taking baby steps with them. So, maybe he had some insight we could veer into.

    This rings true and is a pressing, valid concern for people of color in dealing with white anti-racists. Finely articulated!

    The beef with whatshirmenschface though is that s/he lumped the antiracist efforts of both whites and PoC together, ye olde white privileged complacency manifesting as "omg you're by identifying and analyzing the problem you're adding to it!" Whoever the hell this person is, s/he has NO business denigrating Carmen Van Kerckhove, a woman of color, as some sanctimonious attention whore for daring to speak out against racism.

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  32. honeybrown1976 said: "to this day, I'm working out my feelings toward anti-racists. Do they honestly practice what they preach? Or, do they wear their anti-racism like a jacket that they can take off while enjoying the privilege that they claim to hate? I'm still weary and taking baby steps with them."

    I've been reading bell hooks and Paul Kivel and Ward Churchill for years, having conversations with peers about "safe-spaces" for PoC and about our legacy as white Americans, calling peers out on "priveledge-checks", and most recently reading SWPD daily (which has resulted in most of my growth as an "anti-racist" that I've noticed). I honestly am trying to 1. genuinely understand what I preach and 2. actually practice it.

    But, last week I visited a friend's house for the first time and met his housemate. My friend is Japanese and his housemate is Black. I spent many awkward minutes trying really hard to be friendly with the housemate, so that he wouldn't think I was racist towards him and I didn't relax until I could see that he was accussing me of no such thing. Since then I've felt comfortable around him, but have also been aware that I went through no similar process when I first met my Japanese friend (asian-Americans being more "white" than african-americans).

    Also, I don't hate my white priveledge. I'm really glad I was born white in America. Not because it is better but because it is easier. I don't for a moment envy the life of a PoC (very generally speaking), and I thank my lucky stars that I don't have to go through that. I am trying to learn how to cash in that priveledge in exchange for accountability, respect and justice.

    I THINK that sometimes we anti-racists keep the jacket on, I KNOW we take it off alot, and sometimes the emperors wear no clothse, so to speak. But then, I'm probably preaching to the choir with that last statement.

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  33. [mensch spotter, I'm not going to publish your new comment because this is a blog about stuff white people do, and not a blog for speculating about the background and motivations of Carmen Van Kerckhove. ~macon]

    ReplyDelete

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