Thursday, July 31, 2008
Corporations all over the United States use "Indian" names, and companies have logos and trademarks with "Indian" themes. From the blue-eyed woman in "Indian Princess" garb on the door of the trucks of the "Navajo" trucking company to the "Indian princess" depicted on the Land 'O Lakes butter packages, stereotypical images of Native Americans are everywhere.
Many corporations add insult to injury by not only appropriating Native images and traditions, but scrambling them in the process. Tuscarora Yarns, for example, has chosen to represent itself with a logo that is a stereotypical image of a Native American in a Northern Plains Indian eagle feather headdress, often misnamed a "war bonnet." My grandfather --a full blood Cherokee and Tuscarora -- was born and raised in North Carolina, the traditional homeland of both these Native peoples. Knowing this, I educated myself about everything I could that related to both nations. Anyone else who took the trouble to do so would know that Tuscarora people did not wear this type of regalia.
The above image, a seemingly warm, generous, and racially feminized offering of butter, has been emanating from Land O'Lakes products for over eighty years now. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I was a kid, I felt attracted to her.
My current embarrassment about that boyhood attraction arises in part from my adult understanding that this buttery "Indian maiden" is just one example of the white supremacy that permeates American life and culture, embedding itself into the most seemingly innocent practices and products. It's also part of a long, disgusting, and ongoing tradition of such advertising imagery, both here and in Europe.
The company that makes this butter, along with other dairy products, is now called Land O'Lakes, Inc., and it's been functioning with "Land O'Lakes" in its name since 1926. The "now-famous Indian maiden," as their web site continues to identify her, adorns all of their products.
I'd be willing to bet that this company has fended off numerous buyout attempts by food-giant conglomerates, and I'd also bet that the continuing and profitable appeal of this "Indian maiden" is a primary reason they've been able to afford staying independent. The trouble is, despite the wholesome, nostalgic aura that draws many consumers to buy Land O'Lakes products, the "appeal" of their "Indian maiden" is a racist one. To whom, exactly, does she appeal, and not appeal?
Like the hoary fantasies of "Indians" and "Pilgrims" sharing with quiet reverence the first "thanksgiving," the Land O'Lakes butter maiden helps white Americans sidestep and repress the horrific realities of what white Americans have done to Native Americans. It also invites continued white oblivion to contemporary Native American misery, by offering instead a warm, fuzzy image, an image that is also oddly sexist, in that it's both sexually alluring and warmly maternal (who knows, maybe that combination explains my pubescent attraction to her).
I'm considering a letter of protest about this to Land O'Lakes' headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota (letters are often tougher to dismiss than emails). I'm also wondering, though, if that would really do much good. After all, not many other consumers seem to object to her ongoing existence in the dairy section. And if most of those few who object are actual Native Americans, like H. Mathew Barkhausen III, Terri Andrews, Rob McDonald, or a blogger who calls himself the Pudgy Indian, well, that's still just a few, right? And they're just "Indians," right? Or so the white thinking seems to go on these matters. But maybe, adding my voice of protest, and yours, would help to send the butter maiden into the retirement that she's been deserving for a long, long time.
When I discovered on the Land O'Lakes web site that the "Prestigious Chef's Council" had endorsed their "Indian" butter, I thought for a second that the company had managed to find a willing council of Native American "Chiefs" somewhere. But, no, it's actually just a "chefs" council (and from what I can tell, all white ones).
And then when I read on another site that Land O'Lakes was announcing their first packaging change "in 86 years," I thought, "Finally! Another purveyor of commodity racism has seen the light." But no, I was wrong again--the only change is the shape of the package, to better conform with the different shapes in which butter has long been sold in some western American states.
"Commodity Racism," a useful term here, was coined by Anne McClintock (in her book Imperial Leather, which is named after a somewhat differently risible product--check out the cheesy, diversionary appeal going on here). McClintock charts the movement of racism during the Victorian era from the realms of science to those of manufacturing, particularly in advertising. The result was early ads like this one, which shows, as McClintock describes it, "an admiral decked in pure imperial white, washing his hands in his cabin as his steamship crosses the threshold into the realm of empire":
Or this one, which speaks for itself in terms of which race embodied connotations of cleanliness and purity, and which embodied the opposite (like you, I can't make out the words below the image):
Unlike Land O'Lakes butter, Pears Soap (which is still made by the British Company that first sold it in in 1789, a date that makes it the oldest brand-name in existence) is now sold in less objectionable ways. Their web site offers an interactive photo album that allows you to flip through examples of their previous advertisements; it's no surprise that the many racist, empire-boosting ads have been scrubbed, as it were, from the record.
As an American product, the obstinately old-fashioned Land O'Lakes butter maiden is part of a distinct tradition of commodity racism in the grocery store, a tradition that mostly consists of images that I'd rather leave in the dustbin of history than reproduce here. Still, a few are worth showing, by way of contextualizing not only the butter maiden, but also other racist images that still end up in today's grocery carts.
Such ads have appealed primarily to white people, by playing up to prevalent stereotypes about other people, as in this bizarre conjunction of text and imagery, for an oddly named brand of sweet potatoes:
Many other images of African Americans depicted them eating stereotypical foods, and sporting completely (and inaccurately) black skin and grotesquely exaggerated features. The latter are echoed in this ad* for American Apparel (click on it for a larger version):
But back to the particular kind of image that we still see in the butter maiden, that of iconic individuals who helped to sell food. There's Aunt Jemima, whose image still sells syrup, and who looked like this in 1899:
Like the butter maiden, Aunt Jemima has yet to be retired, though she has been "updated"; today she looks like this:
There's also the Frito Bandito. Fortunately, he has been retired:
So why am I filling up my white-folks blog with racist images of non-white folks?
Because such images are much more about white people, and especially white fantasies, than they are about actual non-white people. They conjure up thoughts and feelings of warmth, or humor, or security, but they do so by conjuring up racist thoughts, sensations, and even fears about subjugated people.
If we can afford to buy more food than the bare necessities to survive in terms of nutrition--if we're in a position to pick and choose--then we're also buying, and "consuming," the connotative aura that's added to the foods by the images placed on them. These images have much more to do with why we buy products than we often realize, and their effects in reinforcing racist ideas are also stronger than we often realize.
For me, the issue is quite simple--we should boycott these kinds of foods, and all such commodity racism should be retired.
And don't even get me started on the racist imagery that infests all levels of American sports.
(Contact info for companies listed above: American Apparel, Land O'Lakes, and Quaker Oats, the maker of Aunt Jemima products)
*As several readers of this post and this one have noted, this image isn't an "ad," but rather a magazine article; American Apparel's distancing of sorts from the image appears on their web site here.
UPDATE: The more things change . . .
Boston.com: "A box of Obama Waffles is seen in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008. A vendor at a conservative political forum was selling boxes of waffle mix depicting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as a racial stereotype on its front and wearing Arab-like headdress on its top flap. The product was meant as political satire, said Mark Whitlock and Bob DeMoss, two writers from Franklin, Tenn., who created the mix and sold it for $10 a box at the Value Voters Summit sponsored by the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council."
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The nonbinding resolution, which passed on a voice vote, was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white lawmaker who represents a majority black district in Memphis, Tennessee.
While many states have apologized for slavery, it is the first time a branch of the federal government has done so, an aide to Cohen said.
In passing the resolution, the House also acknowledged the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow."
"Jim Crow," or Jim Crow laws, were state and local laws enacted mostly in the Southern and border states of the United States between the 1870s and 1965, when African-Americans were denied the right to vote and other civil liberties and were legally segregated from whites.
The name "Jim Crow" came from a character played by T.D. "Daddy" Rice who portrayed a slave while in blackface during the mid-1800s.
The resolution states that "the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day."
"African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow -- long after both systems were formally abolished -- through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity," the resolution states.
The House also committed itself to stopping "the occurrence of human rights violations in the future."
The resolution does not address the controversial issue of reparations. Some members of the African-American community have called on lawmakers to give cash payments or other financial benefits to descendents of slaves as compensation for the suffering caused by slavery. . . .
So what exactly does yesterday's Congressional vote mean in terms of anything really worthwhile? Anything, that is, beyond mere words?
First of all, a "resolution" is a mere statement of opinion or support by a political body. The word "nonbinding" underscores the lack of real action such resolutions tend to entail. As Wikipedia succinctly puts it,
A non-binding resolution is a written motion adopted by a deliberative body that cannot progress into a law. . . . An example would be a resolution of support for a nation's troops in battle, which carries no legal weight, but is adopted for moral support.
The issue that Congress totally sidestepped is, of course, that of reparations. Most white Americans think that the idea of offering financial compensation to today's African Americans for injustices suffered by their ancestors is nonsense, since, you know, "that was all in the past."
However, other Americans recognize that the effects of those past injustices live on--including members of Congress, as evinced by yesterday's Congressional resolution, in a sentence worth reading again:
African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow -- long after both systems were formally abolished -- through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity.
Right. So how about some compensation, then, for those who continue to "suffer from the consequences"? How long will it be before our federal servants--excuse me, our federal "politicians"--move to the next logical, ethical, moral step on this issue?
I'm not holding my breath. But I'm also not without hope that something can be done in the meantime. In this video, damali ayo demonstrates one way of redistributing income in racial terms--maybe ordinary, goodhearted white folks should follow her lead.
There's more information about damali ayo's conceptual art project, "Living Flag," here.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
White: adj. Descendents of European and some semitic peoples. Confusing due to the word’s association with all things good. Common dictionary definitions include, “the color of pure snow,” “angelic,” “clean,” and “without malice.” Despite these positive associations, when applied to a person, the term often raises discomfort among people belonging to this racial category. Many prefer to reject this label in favor of a less controversial ethnicity. The kind of response often heard from a person identified as white is, “I’m not white. I’m Irish.” . . .
Common Questions that You’ll Have to Answer
“White noise” is the term for sounds that are such a regular part of your environment that they blend into a dependable background hum. White noise is a subtle sound track for your daily life. It’s like living next to a freeway. At first, the sound of the cars may seem so loud you can barely hear yourself think. But after a while the drone becomes familiar, a standard part of your daily routine. In fact, some days you can’t imagine living without it. Just kidding.
You may have heard these statements so often that you’ve begun to tune them out. It’s time to splash some cold water on your face and listen again to what’s being said around you. . . .
• “Do black people get tan? What I mean is, does your skin get darker? And then do you call that ‘tan’ or ‘darker’? You get blacker, right? Or do you get lighter? Do you get lighter in the sun?”
• “You speak English very well. You’re so articulate. You can talk without even sounding black. But you could sound black if you wanted to, right? Do it now. Say something and sound really black.”
• “I used to try to make friends with black people, but black people just don’t want to be friends with white people. I try to talk to them and they look at me like I’m crazy. What am I doing wrong?”
• “I thought it would be really fascinating to meet you since you’re from the Caribbean. Oh, you’re not from the Caribbean? Well, you could be. Are you sure you’re not?”
• “I’ve met a few black people in my life. They were interesting, always wore the most colorful clothes. I don’t remember their names. I liked to look at them. But I didn’t make friends with any of them. We didn’t have anything in common.”
• “How come black people don’t come to our group? I invite them. I have food I think they will like, but they don’t come. Week after week we wait, and no people of color come. They just aren’t interested in our group. I guess we’re going to stay an all-white group. I don’t know how to change that. It’s not our fault. We want to talk about racism, but how can we do that without people of color there?’
• “Why do you call yourselves black? I mean you’re not really black, you’re more of a brown color. Though I did see this man once who was so black. He was actually black, like the color, like my shoes. Actually black. He was beautiful. I thought so.”
• “You have such an interesting name. Are you named after [insert name of geographical landmark] or [insert name of ethnic food] or maybe [insert rhyming name of impoverished country]? I’ve never met anyone with your name. Did you make it up yourself?”
• “Why are you always talking about racism? Can’t you just relax? I tell people not to talk about race around black people ‘cause you’ll get really angry and call them racist.”
• “I really don’t have very much experience with people of color. I don’t know what to say or do. I’m from an all-white town, remember? Don’t fault me for my circumstances. If I’m surrounded by white people, I’m going to know mostly white people and know about white people. What am I supposed to do? Yes, all of my friends are white, but I don’t know any other people. Am I supposed to seek out black people? You think they’re going to talk to me?”
• “My grandparents are the most racist people you’d ever meet. I sit at dinner sometimes and they say the most racist things. I can’t believe it. There’s nothing I can do about it. Let me tell you some of the things they say. They are so racist.”
• “Last year I read this book, I don’t remember the name, but a black person wrote it. You know the one they made into a movie? It was great. You’d like it. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever read. You’d probably understand it more than I would. It was really good. The main character was black and he killed a woman and he was running from the police. And I don’t want to spoil the ending or anything ‘cause you really should read it, but he gets killed. In the end. In prison. He was guilty. It was really good. Really realistic. A black person wrote it, so it was accurate. I think it was based on a true story. I bet it was true. You’d like it. You should read it. I’ll lend it to you.”
• “Where I went to school there was a lot of racism and the black kids were always protesting. I don’t really know much about it. I heard once that the campus police beat this kid up because he was black. But he must have done something wrong. Anyway, I didn’t really get involved with it. I had to concentrate on important things, like my schoolwork.”
• “All the black people I’ve met are so angry, it makes it hard to be friends with them. But you are easy to talk to. You don’t get mad every time I say something.”
• “You come from a big family. And you grew up in the ghetto, I mean, inner city. Right? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Did you have to share a bedroom with all of them? Do you know your father? And you were really poor and on welfare. Or did you have money? Then you aren’t really black. Like, you are black, but you are kind of white too. You kind of act white. I bet you can be black or white depending on who you’re talking to.”
• “Were your great-grandparents slaves? I just found out that my great-great-grandparents were slave masters. They owned slaves. Of course I don’t think that’s good or anything. I’m glad that it’s all in the past now. I can’t be held responsible for something my ancestors did hundreds of years ago. It was a really long time ago. Everything is different now. People are equal. I can’t keep paying for things my ancestors did that I don’t even believe in. What am I supposed to do, pay a special tax? A white tax?”
• “People think that you, I mean black people, are uneducated. But you’re different. I mean, I don’t think of you that way. A lot of people I know think that way. You’re easy to talk to. Most black people aren’t as easy to talk to as you are. I can say whatever I want around you and I know you’re not going to call me a racist or something. Right? Because I’m not. I’m not a racist. You know that, right?”
• ‘I don’t even see race. When I look at someone I don’t see their race at all. I’m really beyond all of that.”
• “I don’t think of you as black.”
How to Rent a Negro (2005)
damali ayo's award-winning work has been shown at galleries across the world. She has spoken to Colleges, High Schools, Non-profits and communities in 20 U.S. states and Canada about race, diversity, art and eco-living. damali and her work have been featured in over 100 publications world-wide including Harpers, the Village Voice, Salon.com, the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, and CSPAN2's "Book TV." In 2008 damali folded her work fighting racism into a broader vision for holistic change and healing in her creation of CROW Clothing, a new kind of clothing company that uses sustainable fibers, supports social change and helps to inspire its customer base through educational tools and resources.
Monday, July 28, 2008
with mockups of Spaceship Two and White Knight Two
I am quite straight-faced as I ask soberly:
"But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?"
Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!
MOJAVE, California (AP, 7/28/08) -- Virgin Galactic is giving the world a glimpse of its secret space tourism program.
Sir Richard Branson's space company Monday trotted out the mothership aircraft that will launch a still-to-be-built spaceship out of the atmosphere.
The mothership is a white, four-engine plane with room in the middle where the spacecraft will go.
The early morning rollout in California's Mojave desert came four years after SpaceShipOne became the first private manned rocket to reach space.
Now the White Knight Two aircraft being shown today is due to undergo flight tests this fall.
More than 250 customers have paid $200,000 or put down a deposit for the chance to be one of Virgin Galactic's first space tourists.
A date for the first launch has yet to be announced.
That's a lot of "whiteness," Sir Richard. Its predominance probably also permeates, in a more overtly racial sense, White Knight Two's passenger list. All that whiteness certainly correlates in an odd, perhaps ironic way with the fundamental connection made so presciently by W.E.B. DuBois, between white racial ideology and the conquest of the earth.
It's as if, once the earth is more or less a "white" or "whitened" place, in that it's largely owned by white people, and largely operated under white presumptions, in many cases for white people . . . where else is there to go with such endless white expansion, except "up"?
DuBois wasn't the only non-white person to marvel at how incredibly acquisitive white people tend to be when it comes to land and space. In Linden Hills, Gloria Naylor's 1985 satire on the African American middle class, one of the fictional characters is the black owner of a piece of land located somewhere in the northern United States, sometime in the early 1900s. As this character, Luther Nedeed, contemplates what to do with the land, which will eventually become a wealthy, exclusively black suburb, he thinks:
Like his father, he saw where the future of Wayne County--the future of America--was heading. It was going to be white: white money backing white wars for white power because the very earth was white--look at it--white gold, white silver, white coal running white railroads and steamships, white oil fueling white automotives. Under the earth--across the earth--and one day, over the earth. Yes, the very sky would be white. He didn't know exactly how, but it was the only place left to go.
During the 1960s, America's largely black-and-white racial divide was reflected in differing communal opinions on "America's" effort to reach the moon, via NASA's Apollo program. Many black people knew that the whole "conquering outer space" thing was mostly a white thing, and not just because all the people they saw doing it on their televisions were white people.
As Lynn Spigel writes in her chapter on "Outer Space and Inner Cities,"
While many whites were critical of the space project, nationwide polls demonstrated significant racial differences. According to David Nye, from 1965 to 1969 the strongest supporters of Apollo tended to be Caucasian, male, young, affluent, and well educated. Meanwhile, "the strongest opposition lay within the Black community, where less than one in four supported the expenditure of $4 billion per year for the Apollo program." This opposition was not a rejection of science or even space exploration per se. Instead, African American criticism of NASA was articulated within the broader context of racial protest. . . .
Mainstream media targeted at whites typically presented the space race in the context of family life. In Life and Look, astronaut heroes were depicted as ideal suburban dads and their wives as perfect housewives. And while Hollywood science fiction films and television programs did sometimes present stories that dealt with prejudice and colonialism, these media spoke allegorically about race. In contrast, African American responses to the space race (whether positive or negative) were often explicitly tied to a critique of suburban segregation and the plight of blacks in the inner cities.
"Whitey on the Moon"
[Cross-posted by request from Know Good White People]
Calling a few adventurous anti-racists…
I am conducting an experiment, and I need the help of ten people of various ethnic backgrounds who are willing to participate.
The experiment will simply entail wearing a (free) t-shirt that features a photo of an abolitionist hero with the message “I’ll choose my own heroes, thank you.” Participants must agree to post about reactions to the shirt.
There are two different t-shirts in the experiment. Both feature white American abolitionists. One of the t-shirts features a picture of John Brown, the other a picture of James and Lucretia Mott. See samples of each shirt below.
Of course, the text on the shirt would indicate that the individual depicted there is indeed someone you would choose as a hero — if that is not the case, you would not be an appropriate candidate for this experiment. I am looking for participants who would choose John Brown and/or James and Lucretia Mott as individuals they would refer to as heroes.
The shirt is free to ten selected participants who write to "knowgoodwhitepeople" at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include a brief paragraph about your interest and/or involvement in anti-racist issues, indicate your ethnicity(ies), and tell me why you are interested in this experiment. Also please include a mailing address, and indicate which of the shirts you would prefer (and why).
These t-shirts (prior to decoration) are produced by American Apparel. To read about their committment to a sweat-shop free work environment and fair wages and benefits for their employees visit:
UPDATE: knowgoodwhitepeople adds:
Damn, I thought I was doing my homework when I found AA. :-( It is ridiculously difficult to find a clothing manufacturer that is not tied in some way to the abuse of human beings.
Does anyone know of a cruelty-free t-shirt manufacturer?
Saturday, July 26, 2008
So it's clear that nearly all white Americans know what that euphemism, "the n-word," means. However, if you instead said another phrase to them, "the g-word," few would know which word you're referring to. That's mainly because in most situations, if someone catches a white person using the word that "the g-word" refers to, it's far less embarrassing for that person than if he or she had been caught using the word referred to by that other phrase, "the n-word." Since white folks think that their use of the actual "g-word" isn't all that embarrassing, they've seen no reason to create and use that euphemism ("the g-word") for it.
As with the actual "n-word," getting called out for using the actual "g-word" should provoke something worse than mere embarrassment for white folks. And that phrase, "the g-word," should become as much a part of the ordinary white American's vocabulary as the word that it refers to. And finally, of course, white usage of the actual word that it refers to should stop.
In this three-minute video, an author talks about his new book on this topic and, especially, about the repeated usage by one of our prominent politicians of the actual word that the phrase "the g-word" refers to.
[hat-tip for the video to no1kstate at momma, here come that girl again!; for more information on Irwin Tang's book, go here]
- "Friend of Mexican Immigrant Beaten to Death in Pennsylvania Gives Eyewitness Account of Attack" (Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now!)
Luis Ramirez, a twenty-five-year-old Mexican immigrant, was beaten to death last week by a group of teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. He was walking home last Saturday night when six white high school students brutally beat him while yelling racial slurs. Despite eyewitness testimony, no charges have been filed. We speak with Arielle Garcia, a friend of Ramirez who witnessed the attack.
- "Not Quite White: When Racial Ambiguity Meets Whiteness?" (Nadra Kareem @ Racialicious)
I grew up trying to spot the otherness in whites—such as Janet on “Three’s Company” or the star of “Wonder Woman,” who, it turns out, is half-Mexican—because I was hungry to see myself represented in a medium in which my kind was mostly invisible. But that’s not the only reason I make such connections. On a subconscious level, I believe that I respond to white society’s rejection of blackness by projecting blackness onto whites. The rationale is that, if whites are part-black themselves, their racism doesn’t just amount to hatred of people of color but to a sort of self-hatred. In this way, it is easy to see how racism isn’t just damaging to its so-called targets but to society collectively.
- "What if you (don’t) got white skin? (Consuming Whiteness part 2)" (the professor @ Professor, What if . . . ?)
Of course, milk is not pure (unless you consider growth hormones pure) and is neither healthy or curative for the majority of people. Nevertheless, the US still equates wholesomeness, purity, and good health with milk. Just last week my daughter stayed at her cousin’s house where she was only allowed milk as it is ‘good for you.’ Too shy to refuse to drink it, she has been suffering stomach pains as milk does not do her body good. And, today, my aunt reprimanded me when I told her my kids don’t drink milk. These relatives of mine are not unique I suspect — they, like many other Americans, have been misled by a very successful ad campaign into believing that a beverage that is unhealthy and damaging to the majority of the world’s populace ‘does a body good.’ Not only is it an unhealthy product for many, it is also promoted via a racist narrative that conveys a white supremacist paradigm.
- "Do Americans Expect Their Business Leaders to Be White? Study Says Yes" (Melissa Lafsky @ Discover Magazine)
In one example of how embedded racial biases can play out, researchers at Duke, the University of Toronto, and Northwestern business schools found that Americans still overwhelmingly expect business leaders to be white, and rank white leaders as more effective than their minority counterparts.
The study’s data came from 943 undergraduate and graduate students, nearly all of whom had experience working for a company or corporation. They were given fictitious news reports and performance reviews from a fake company and then asked to guess the race of a set of CEOs, project leaders, and other employees described in the materials.
The participants overwhelmingly (up to 72 percent) guessed that the people in power were white, even when the students were told that the company was predominantly African American, Hispanic American, or Asian American. The same “presumption of whiteness” didn’t occur when the subjects assessed the less powerful and accomplished employees.
- "Post-Racial = Assimilation, Folks" (Tennessee Slim @ . . . on whatever crosses my mind)
[B]lackness is such a drag. For White folks. They are tired of talking about it and they are tired of being reminded of it. Post-racial is about getting past all the things about "blackness" that makes White folks uncomfortable. It's not about getting past whiteness so that race takes on a meaning having nothing to do with a power dynamic (which would be truly post-racial). That would require the acknowledgment that there is a relationship of power between Black folks and White folks. And we still aren't there.
Obama makes does make White folks feel better in their whiteness. In this sense, we are at a place where some Black men aren't necessarily frightening, but this is not the same as redefining the image of blackness in the White imagination. In other words, Obama is the exception that proves the rule.
- "The End of White Flight: For the First Time in Decades, Cities' Black Populations Lose Ground, Stirring Clashes Over Class, Culture and Even Ice Cream" (Conor Dougherty @ The Wall Street Journal)
For much of the 20th century, the proportion of whites shrank in most U.S. cities. In recent years the decline has slowed considerably -- and in some significant cases has reversed. Between 2000 and 2006, eight of the 50 largest cities, including Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, saw the proportion of whites increase, according to Census figures. The previous decade, only three cities saw increases.
The changing racial mix is stirring up quarrels over class and culture. Beloved institutions in traditionally black communities -- minority-owned restaurants, book stores -- are losing the customers who supported them for decades. As neighborhoods grow more multicultural, conflicts over home prices, taxes and education are opening a new chapter in American race relations.
- "White Women Who Don't Get Racism" (Jesse @ Racism Review)
[Katie] Couric didn’t stop there, though. She went on to suggest that there is sexism in the news business and beyond in the larger society, but that “sexism is worse than racism.” . . . With this assessment, Couric joins a long and growing list of white-women-who-don’t-get-it, when it comes to racism, such as Geraldine Ferraro. As Adia Harvey wrote here back in March, “Making the case that sexism is worse than racism or even that it is the primary source of women’s oppression ignores the experiences of minority and working-class women (who simultaneously contend with racism and capitalist exploitation) and ultimately alienates these women from feminism and feminist causes.”
- "White privilege.. its everywhere I am not" (Blackgirlinmaine's weblog)
Imagine walking around in a large city when the urge to take a sudden and powerful bowel movement hits (I know this is sounding crazy but stick with me), well the spousal unit just looks for a nice hotel and wanders in and uses their facilities. The first time he shared this with many years ago, I looked at him like he was crazy, see when I used to live in Chicago and found myself in a similar predicament it never dawned on me to go to a hotel. Perhaps, because I have had experiences when traveling and staying at top notch hotels where just my appearance required showing a key card and proof I really belonged at the hotel and wasn’t loitering. Its a small thing but it was one of the first times I stopped to ponder how we, Black folks and White folks at times can inhabit different worlds.
In more recent days, a white girlfriend and I were discussing local beaches we take our kids, and my pal shared that she regularly uses one particular beach that is private… I knew the beach in question but was fascinated that she regularly just used it with no concerns, I even asked her aren’t you concerned that the organization that owns it might ask you to leave? She told me no; see white privilege allows you to go and do seemingly simple things like shit or use a beach with no concerns that someone might question you, hound you, or disturb you in any way. Damn, it must be nice. . .
And finally, a poem about white folks, by Dana Kaiser-Davidson (@ Everyday Whiteness)
My People: White People
My people: white people
Truth be told “we” never were a people, fragments of cultures that bought into privilege
called whiteness, the invisible word
I remember 10th grade family history project being more concerned about my place in the human race
Bypassed cultural legacy for oneness, WE are all one my white people said
Not a color thing, just people.
My people: white people, Land of independent nuclear families
Smothering ideals of perfection, Bottled up resentments, Blistering silences
No such thing as mistakes or getting messy
We keep quiet to our own addictions, then blame people of color for all things called bad
poverty, drugs abuse, domestic violence, molestation. . . perceived as isolated problems that white people are free from.
My people: white people
We say we are not racist, yet we are raised in a racist society
Pass on stereotypes of what we think people of color are really like to our children
We are fed half-truths and lies in history books
We sit silently while children are made into puppets on T.V color
White children learn diversity through Disney’s Pocahontas and Aladdin
Stereotypes that my grandparents taught me filtered my own perceptions
My people we have been hurt to think this separation does not chain our minds and hurt our souls
As I mind my mind with forgiveness, I let go of shame for my own people
I’ve deemed myself better than
I’ve acted out the lies I’ve been told, believing I was never racist
I sat in silence, guilt immobilized my mind
Held my own spirit captive
ego chatter categorized good and bad white people
Heaven on earth looks like oneness
With my own people
What is the use of pretending I am not like those white people
Who latch onto other cultures in order to cope with fragmented family histories
From Irish, Scottish, English, German and unknown descent
Carried legacies of hurts with them
Pulled up from bootstraps laced in shoes stained in blood of slavery and genocide
My people: white people
Let’s love the hurts of forgotten legacies into wholeness
Let’s forgive our forefathers and mothers as we forgive ourselves for the violence, silence, shame and separation that internalized racial superiority has caused
For living in comfortable bubbles of safety
For believing we were never racist
Lets educate ourselves and other white people to histories ignored instead of asking people of color to be our teachers or explain the hurts they have faced
My people: white people
I vow to love you arms wide open as I love my baby niece
All white people no matter what you’ve said,
done, kept silent in the name of privilege
You are good people
It’s time to mourn the hurts we’ve afflicted as a people
It’s time to grieve our separation from our own indigenous heritages
each cultural legacy dropped in the name of survival
It’s time to love our peoples, love ourselves
consciously awaken from our legacy of racial smog
Into awareness of our white privileges and culture
Let us create pride in our people
birthed in freedom, shared power, prosperity
and tangible oneness with all people
My people: white people,
the spiritual revolution is calling you
Friday, July 25, 2008
It's naive to think a few well intended musicians can do something about a problem so widespread and endemic.
From The Clash to Bob Dylan, from Bob Marley to U2, from NOFX to Saul Williams to Nas, and from many others to many others--a lot of music with an anti-racist message gets listened to by a lot of white people. But it seems that few of these white people--white Americans, at least--ever get inspired by that kind of music to go out and actually DO anything against racism.
Is music a viable venue for fighting racism? Is Toby Young's cynicism about fighting racism with music justified, or do some musical efforts of this sort result in a reduction of racism and/or white supremacy?
Two songs toward further cerebral stimulation on this matter:
Thursday, July 24, 2008
To put it as simply as I can: understanding white people has been a matter of life or death for non-white people, so many of them have come to understand a lot of things about white people, and about how race operates in society, that most white people don't know.
As I write about whiteness, and as I work against it in my daily life, I continuously draw on what amounts to an ongoing tradition, an especially African American tradition, of analyzing and recording the ways of white folks. In order to give some credit where credit is due, I added a subtitle to this blog from a favorite book of mine, The Ways of White Folks, by Langston Hughes. He's a writer whose work continues to receive accolades for his insightful and artful depictions of black feelings, thought, and behavior, but virtually no recognition for his equally penetrating insight into white feelings, thought, and behavior.
Today I'm also offering, much later than I should have in the course of writing this blog, the following list of materials that have especially informed my understanding. These writings generously offer non-white knowledge about the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of white folks, and about white supremacy and hegemony. White folks especially should read (or watch) some of them, and listen, and incorporate them into their understanding of themselves and their own racialized positions in the world.
There isn't room here for me to list all such works, nor to describe each of them, so I've added links to other online sources for each, when I could find them. This list is by no means complete. I'm sure it also fails to give enough credit to non-white writers on whiteness who are not African American. If you know of any more works that could appear on this list, please let me know, either in a comment or via email (unmakingmacon at gmail dot com), and if they clearly fit, I will add them. I'll also add any work that occurs to me later.
[Thanks to Tim Wise for suggesting a post of this sort. And by way of returning the favor: Tim is requesting help with a book he's writing, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and Whiteness in the Age of Obama. You can go here for more information, including how to point him to potentially useful materials.]
Damali Ayo, How to Rent a Negro (2005)
James Baldwin, "Stranger in the Village" (1955); The Fire Next Time (1963); "Going to Meet the Man" (short story, 1965); "The Price of the Ticket" (1985)
Valerie Babb, Whiteness Visible: The Meaning of Whiteness in American Literature and Culture (1998)
Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind African-American Ideas about White People, 1830-1925 (2000)
Octavia Butler, Kindred (novel, 1979)
Shakti Butler, Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible (film, 2006)
Charles W. Chesnutt, "The Passing of Grandison" (short story, 1899)
Eldridge Cleaver, "The White Race and Its Heroes" (1968)
Vine Deloria, Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact (1995)
W.E.B. DuBois, "The Souls of White Folks" (1920)
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)
Cheryl I. Harris, "Whiteness as Property" (1993)
bell hooks, "Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination" (1992)
Langston Hughes, The Ways of White Folks (short stories, 1933)
Zora Neale Hurston, Seraph on the Suwanee (novel, 1948)
Michelle T. Johnson, Working While Black: The Black Person's Guide to Success in the White Workplace (2004)
Chang-rae Lee, Aloft (novel, 2004)
Joseph Marshall III, "White Lore" (1998)
Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (1997)
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970); "Recitatif" (short story, 1983); Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992)
Adrian Piper, "Cornered" (art installation, 1988); "Passing for White/Passing for Black" (1992)
David Roediger, Black on White: Black Writers on What it Means to be White (anthology, 1999)
Danzy Senza, Caucasia (novel, 1998)
George Schuyler, Black No More (novel, 1931)
Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (1979)
Thandeka, Learning to Be White: Race, Money and God in America (2000)
Melvin Van Peebles, Watermelon Man (film, 1970)
Richard Wright, Savage Holiday (novel, 1954)
Frank H. Wu, Yellow (2002)
George Yancy, What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question (2004)
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The woman on the TV talk show looks white, is confident, unerring, and unashamed of herself; but the audience doesn't believe she is black, not the blacks or the whites, and they are all angry that she has dyed her hair blond. They accuse her of dating whites, though she says, and I believe, that she has never dated whites. Here attitude is tough: "I know I'm black, and I don't care what you think of me." She is definitely not sucking up to any of them.
The blacks and the whites are allied in their hatred. Perhaps the whites are mad because they don't want to think that anyone who looks as white as they do could be black. They don't want the lines to be fuzzy. If somebody who could be one of them doesn't want to be, maybe being white isn't as great as they thought. And many blacks have worked hard not to want to be that woman. The irritant might creep under the door. Some of us, without thinking, may still refer to her "good" hair.
Several young men at an all-black college recently told me that in their dreams they saw themselves as colorless or white. Sometimes a sin in thought, even if uncommitted, is just as stinking. When we look at her we remember that somebody made somebody else feel like shit and then preferred the world that way.
If she had been white, her self-possession under attack may have been admirable. But for a black woman--and a light-skinned black woman at that, who should at least be sorry for her color--to be so imperturbable, to have gotten away with her own self-worth . . . well, it seemed totally wrong, as if she had gotten away with murder.
She shows photographs of relatives from several generations back, all of whom look like the most middle-class people from Iowa--men in business suits, educators, lawyers, doctors, ministers, and women with fluffy soft hair and a sense of security in their eyes. It is as if the family built a city around her heart which had protected her from what we are all supposed to suffer, as if she hadn't yet heard the news.
The Black Notebooks
Toi Derricote's books include The Empress of the Death House, Natural Birth, Captivity, and Tender, winner of the 1998 Patterson Poetry prize, and a memoir, The Black Notebooks. The Black Notebooks was a recipient of the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association of Nonfiction Award, and was nominated for the PEN Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is Co-Founder of Cave Canem, the historic first workshop/retreat for African American poets.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Hasselbeck's behavior got me thinking about another mixed-race discussion, Lee Mun Wah's 1994 film, The Color of Fear, where a group of men spend a weekend together, discussing racial matters with even more apparent sincerity than the women of The View. I watched the film again to see if the white men in the group enact the same phenomenon; one of the two did, and the other didn't. And that seems to have everything to do with how far along the road they are toward self-awareness in racial terms.
The group of men who share their normally hidden feelings about race throughout The Color of Fear consists of eight North Americans of various races, and two of them are white. One of the latter, Gordon Clay, begins his self-introduction by stating, "I am a racist," and the other, David Christensen, well, he's a lot like Elisabeth Hasselbeck. For him, matters of race are mostly about non-white people, since being white pretty much doesn't mean a damn thing to him. At least not at first.
All of the eight men get a good deal of camera time in this emotionally wrenching film, but David seems to get the most. It's not so much that he insists as much as Elisabeth does on occupying center stage. It's more that, as the discussion goes on, it becomes clear to the rest of the group that not only is David the most obstinately unenlightened member of the group. He also perfectly embodies the kind of blithe, complacent white supremacy that the rest of them (including the other white guy, Gordon) are struggling to articulate their difficulties with. So the other men spend a lot of time trying to get David to understand their reality, and his own.
The member of the group most willing to confront David with his own racial blindness and unwitting arrogance is Victor Lewis, an African American man (who has gone on to widespread renown as a anti-racist educator, trainer, and activist).
In this two-minute clip from the film, which I very, very much recommend seeing and sharing, Victor confronts two other common white tendencies enacted by David--the white-individualist claim that all people "stand on their own" in this world, and the forgetfulness buried within that claim that the ground white Americans stand on is stolen land.
If you can get a group of people to watch it with you, this film remains a fantastic generator for discussion. And like other films that I've featured on this blog, I recommend asking your local library to order a copy if it doesn't have one yet.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
- "What if whiteness doesn’t do a body good? (Consuming Whiteness part 1)" (the professor @ Professor, What if . . .?)
In a series of pieces slated to post to this blog over the next few weeks, I will consider how advertisements continue to promote ideas of white supremacy and induce the US public to consume the idea that whiteness (in food, bodies, clothing, etc) is ideal. . . . From white t-shirts to white bread to white picket fences to white women to white teeth to white socks to white skin to white undergarments to white paper, ads (and the commodities they aim to sell) invest in (and perpetuate) white as good, white as superior, and white as pure.
However, as recent findings have revealed, white is not so good or healthy when it comes to food. The no-carb craze has shown white carbs to be the worst for the body while milk’s ‘goodness’ has been made questionable due to all the growth hormones pumped into cows as well as to studies showing that milk is not all that good for the body after all. Yet, to replace these outmoded investments in whiteness, we have turned to other white pursuits, such as teeth whitening and (gasp) anal bleaching. Who knew that having a white anus was so important?
- "I Don’t Have a Racist Bone in My Body" (knowgoodwhitepeople)
Although there were many tense moments in our conversation, during which I had to struggle to maintain my calm, by far the most excruciating subject for me to endure was the one we spent over two hours entrenched in—slavery. I was astounded by Jason’s ignorance of the institution itself. Not only did he reiterate my elementary school teacher’s beliefs about slaves being relatively happy family members, he went so far as to repeat a joke he’d recently heard on a talk radio show which callously declared that American blacks shouldn’t be worrying about reparations, but “ought to be happy we aren’t charging them for their ancestors’ cruise over here.”
- "White Privilege in Fantasy Fiction and Gaming" (saxifrage00 @ Whatever: The Examined Life) ; h-t to Jack Stephens @ Alas! A Blog)
As a GM I'm responsible for portraying entire cultures and worlds, and it's hard to overturn the "everyone is white" default without either being ham-fisted about it or Orientalising a culture. One way of overturning the invisibility of Whiteness (part of how it establishes itself as the default) that I've considered is just to describe the skin colour of all my characters regardless of whether they are the invisible White or a marked Other. The problem there is how to describe White characters then: do I just say White? What about actual white skin that a moon elf has? The White race isn't even homogeneous, since it's a modern construction for political and power reasons: real White skin colours range from pale pink, to tan, to olive, to yellow, and more I'm sure I'm missing.
What do you think about portrayals of race in your shared fiction?
- "Black and White Twins & Perils of Colored Admixture" (Razib @ Gene Expression)
At this point I just want to put a slight spotlight about what the doctor said. The "black" baby pops out, and the doctor isn't surprised, the "white" baby pops out the doctor is totally shocked. Why? The father is white. But we know why: black is dominant to white, black + white → black. I'm generally not one to think that racism is the greatest of all evils, so I don't want anyone to take what I'm going to say next as if there's a major value judgment...but I suspect this expectation that many white people have that blackness dominates over whiteness has two roots; a psychological and sociocultural one.
- "Who Admits to Race Bias?" (Shana Burg)
So the majority of whites claim to hold more positive views of race relations? I hate to be cynical, but I have to wonder what the gap is between one’s professed views and his or her actual views, especially after the telephone conversation I had about two months ago with RJ (not his real name), who told me he’s absolutely not prejudiced and there’s no race problem in his state
RJ is a white man in his seventies who lives in the Mississippi Delta. He does church-related work and has lived and worked in the Deep South all his life.
I decided to send RJ my new book for young readers, because I heard he had contacts with a large network of private schools in the South. My book A Thousand Never Evers is set in 1963 Mississippi and recounts a 12-year-old African American girl’s personal struggle to come to terms with her racist society. I was hoping that RJ might introduce the book to educators he knows.
“So how did you like it?” I asked.
“We come from two different opinions on this stuff,” RJ told me. Then he drew in a breath. A really big breath. And from there, he spoke his mind—seven single-spaced pages worth.
- "Why Do White People Dislike Michelle Obama?" (Cenk Uygur @ The Young Turks)
In the latest NY Times/CBS News poll, I think one number has been over looked. Michelle Obama has a stunningly low approval rating with white people. Only 24% of white Americans have a favorable view of her.
That's George Bush like numbers. That's almost in Dick Cheney territory. I don't get it. What did she ever do to anybody?
She seems like an exemplary wife and mother. She is a hard working and accomplished American. What is it about her that is so off-putting to white Americans? I am sincerely puzzled.
I have a terrible answer. It's an answer I can't quite believe is true - and I don't want to believe is true. But I don't see a reasonable alternative explanation. Racism.
And finally (thanks to Kit from Keep It Trill), a video that raises an old question for me--how long is the West's entrenched re-racialization of Jesus as "white" going to continue?
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I first saw it at All about Race, and I was struck less by any original insights offered by The View crew into the use of that contentious word than by the interactions between these black and white women as they discussed the issue. Despite the persistent efforts of Whoopi Goldberg to add some substance to the conversation, Elisabeth insists on being the center of attention. As she does so, she demonstrates very well a common white pathology that often emerges in such discussions, something I call "center-stage sickness."
I've reprinted below this video-clip the comment that I left on this phenomenon at All about Race. What do you all think of Elisabeth's performance here? Did it seem especially "white" to you? And aside from her dominance of the discussion, what do you think of the points she makes, or that Whoopi and the others make?
At All about Race, Carmen D writes, "My perpetually unanswered question to all of the white people who make this complaint ["Why can't we use it too?"] is why in the world would any racially sensitive white person want to use the ‘n-word’? Why does this particular double standard tick you off so much?"
I'm reposting my comment on this (which will make a lot more sense if you first watch the six-minute video) from Carmen's site to provoke discussion here about a common white mode of behavior. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on an apparently sincere white woman who's at least trying to grapple with racial issues, but Elisabeth's paradoxical combination here, of white dominance and something like victimhood, really gnaws at me:
I think it’s pretty damn presumptuous of Elisabeth, or of any other non-black person, to say anything at all about whether blacks should use that word, or about how they use it. What the hell business is that of white people?
I also think Elisabeth’s performance here, though probably not staged, is a perfect instance of white center-stage sickness. When it comes to racial discussions, our tendency is to jump in and dominate the discussion, all while talking, paradoxically, about OTHER people in terms of race, instead of about ourselves in terms of race–about what being “white” actually means for us, about what being trained as white has done TO us.
That latter proposed move wouldn’t be so appropriate on Elisabeth’s part in this particular discussion, since the topic IS the n-word, but dominating the discussion in the way she does is such a common white form of behavior in these kinds of mixed race discussions. The basic message, again a terribly presumptuous one, is “I need to tell you how you should live your life. And if you try to complain or explain what race means in your life, I’m going to tell you how you’re wrong about that too, because somehow, I just know more about what it is to be you than you yourself do.”
How sad that the other women there (Whoopi excluded) let that discussion, on THAT WORD no less, be all about poor widdle white Elisabeth.
[The View crew also discussed the n-word, with far less drama, in February. I'd also like to add that the term and concept of "center-stage sickness" is not original on my part. I remember the term "center-stage phenomenon" from another writer's book on whiteness, but the title and author escape me. If anyone else knows of it, I'd be grateful for the information.]
Friday, July 18, 2008
Silence about whiteness lets everyone continue to harbor prejudices and misconceptions, beginning with the notion that “white” equals normal. Whiteness oppresses when it operates as the invisible regime of normality, and thus making whiteness visible is a principal goal of anti-racist pedagogy.
"Teaching about Whiteness"
As we all probably know, the "blogosphere" is growing at an exponential pace these days. Writing a blog, and reading more and more blogs by other writers, has certainly changed my reading and writing habits (though in ways I can't really quantify or qualify just yet). I just read somewhere that 175,000 new blogs appear everyday. But I'm not sure where I read that--losing track of my sources more often is certainly one change in my reading and writing habits, brought about by the increased time I spend online.
A tiny sector of the blogosphere focuses on matters of race. Of course, "tiny" is a relative term. The number of blogs that focus explicitly on matters of race must be far less than one percent of the blogs out there. On the other hand, there are already far more blogs that focus on race than any one person could possibly read, probably in his or her entire lifetime.
So far, the racially oriented sector of the blogosphere is incredibly diverse, but it also seems limited in some ways. I would bet, for instance, that the vast majority of the bloggers who focus on race are located in the United States (but that might just be my US-centric, English-oriented view of things). Also, if it were possible to select a truly representative sampling of blogs from the race-oriented sector of the blogosphere, I imagine that the selector would be hard pressed to find many at all that focus explicitly on racial whiteness.
If the Internet in general is an extension of American society and culture, then it's likely that the oppressive "whiteness-as-unmarked-norm" phenomenon that Gregory Jay describes above holds true in most of the blogosphere as well. If so, then what's wrong with a space of sorts within another murky sea of whiteness for exclusively non-white discussions? Should white folks really try to elbow their way into that conversation, as if seeking center-stage all over again? Why should discussion of "whiteness" be a part of the online discussion of "race"?
I think it should, if white discussants of the topic remain respectful and unobtrusive. And if they remain accountable to those who suffer from the white supremacy that benefits themselves. They can do so in part by also acknowledging and referencing non-white work on the topic responsibly, and by listening attentively to non-white critiques (which doesn't mean, of course, that a white participant in anti-racist discussions has to agree with all non-white critiques of his or her work, just because the critic is non-white--how racist would THAT be?).
I say such things with confidence because I have found a few blogs that offer extensive, effectively anti-racist analysis of the ways of white folks, from both white and non-white perspectives. "Know Good White People," for instance, offers repeatedly inspiring and often fascinating takes on whiteness from a black perspective. Renowned author, speaker, and activist Tim Wise runs a blog with whiteness-related content at Red Room. There's also "Beyond White Guilt," a LiveJournal community that functions as a blog of sorts. "Wigger Lover" features posts on a particular mode of white identity, including a wide array of rare video clips (which is all part of an effort on the blogger's part to get a film made on the topic). Although the blog "Too Sense" isn't directly focused on whiteness, a white writer there, One Drop, often addresses whiteness with remarkable perspicacity. And there are, of course, overtly "white" web sites that handle whiteness in a way quite the opposite from that of those blogs that I'm talking about here, which actually make up "the anti-racist race-oriented sector of the blogosphere."
There's also, of course, the famous (and infamous) "Stuff White People Like," and the whiteness blog that you're reading now, which I initially began as a disgruntled response to SWPL. I'm always on the lookout for other blogs that focus on whiteness in an anti-racist manner, and I've actually been spending a lot of time recently at a new one. The SWPL-to- SWPD spinoff machine continues, it seems, as this new whiteness blog is named "Stuff White People Say."
Actually, the connection of SWPS to this blog, SWPD, is closer than mere moniker resemblance. The posts at "Stuff White People Say" are so far entirely focused on stuff "said," or written, at this blog. By me.
An originator of the new blog, veteran writer Restructure!, explains her motivations in starting "Stuff White People Say" this way:
Macon D really doesn’t understand how problematic his blog and his comments are, and when we are resisting racism, he sees it as a personal attack on his status or something. In many ways, commenting on his blog is of limited use, because our criticism is perceived as destructive or negative criticism existing merely to negate his blog. If we create our own blog, then it will reframe our resistance as antiracist content itself. (I think.)
On the other hand, I think I shouldn’t waste my time with him, because it’s useless.Then again, there are so many people reading that blog, especially naive white people, and they might come away with the impression that his blog is ‘antiracist’. I mean yes, it is antiracist in a way because he is resisting some racism, but he consistently makes completely screwed up comments . . . .
[W]e shouldn’t hold our breath for Macon D suddenly having an epiphany and finally understanding why his blog is so screwed up.
As I said, I've been spending a lot of time recently at this new blog, looking for insights that I can transfer to my work here. Though I am, as Restructure points out, a "slow learner," I do appreciate the efforts of her and others there. Although we all get frustrated at times, and sometimes we let that frustration show, I do believe we share a general goal, and that progress toward it is taking place. I encourage you to check out that progress (and maybe even contribute to it).
Finally, here's hoping that more anti-racist blogs focused on white supremacy will appear soon. If you know of others that I've missed here, please let us know.
A larger presence of such blogs can only help to raise white folks' awareness of their own racial status, thereby helping to dispel their common fantasy that race has nothing to do with themselves.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Here's a short film by Christopher J. Rock in which he asks white Americans what being "white" means to them. Like most white Americans, his interviewees find this a difficult task.
Rock has posted this film on YouTube, where he asks for comments because he's thinking of expanding it into a full-length film. If you have ideas or suggestions for him in that regard, you can go here.
One topic you might address in the comments here: Why do you suppose white people often find it so difficult, and even uncomfortable, to talk about their own racial membership?
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
We're on our way back to school from gymnastics class.
And only in Boulder, Colorado,
the kids are singing John Lennon's "Imagine"
at the back of the bus, when
Jesse stops herself mid-verse,
stretches her arm across the aisle like a sunbeam,
tugs at the edge of my shirt and asks,
"What does hatred mean?"
Jesse's five years old.
Anything I say, she's gonna believe.
But I realize, I don't know the answer.
I'm not sure what hatred means.
I could guess and say it's the opposite of love.
I could guess and say,
"Jesse, hatred is why there are nothing but white faces
on our private-school bus."
But Jesse isn't white yet.
Go ahead and ask her.
"What color are you, Jesse?"
"Well, it looks like I'm pink."
Shane thinks he's orange.
Skylar says she's tan.
Rhett says he's see-through.
"See, you can see how my veins are blue
but they're red when I bleed."
And I wish there was no such thing as springtime.
'Cause I don't trust the machines
that will one day be planting seeds in these gardens
teaching them that some people are flowers
some people are weeds,
rip the weeds by their roots
ignore their screams
tilt your own face to the sun
take what you want,
you are the chosen ones.
Sitting Bull said white people are liars and thieves.
I wanna tell Jesse he was wrong.
I wanna tell her we didn't come like a time bomb,
gunpowder on our breath,
teeth built like bullets,
that this land didn't weep when our feet
first mercilessly hit the ground.
I don't want to say we drowned and maimed the children,
sliced long strips of their skin for bridle reins,
I don't wanna say the moon was slain,
the constellations dispersed like shrapnel.
Mothers killed their babies, then killed themselves
when they saw our faces on the horizon
and all that we left was a trail of tears.
But if I have to say that,
I wanna say our boats stopped there.
I wanna say the waves never saw the sails of slave ships,
never heard the sound of chain links,
but Jesse, think slaughterhouse.
Think people branded, suffocating, foaming at the mouth.
Can you imagine what kind of pain you would have to endure,
to throw yourself overboard 2000 miles out to sea?
Lungs gratefully exchanging breath for saltwater,
gratefully trading life for death.
Can you imagine being chained to your dead daughter?
How many days would it take you to stop
searching her hands for lifelines?
To stop searching her fingertips for remnants of sunshine?
To stop searching her wrists for a pulse,
for just some sign of time turning backwards
to when you knew
people could never do things like this?
And Jesse this
is not just a picture of our history,
not just a picture of our past.
We've been hundreds of years
measuring the size of our hearts
by the size of our fists,
erecting our bliss on the broken backs of dark skin.
The present is far from gift-wrapped.
Ask New Orleans,
Ask mothers in the Bronx,
chasing rats out of their babies' cribs.
Ask the fathers of the kids
whose lives we exchange for cheap gas.
Ask our prisons why jail bars always come in black.
Ask Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq.
Ask the woman in Thailand whose cancer builds our laptops.
Ask the Mexican man working in a field fertilized
by nerve gas.
Ask his daughter when she's born without fingers
or hands to pray with.
Ask me how long I could keep going with this list.
God might be watching,
but we are not.
You are white, Jesse.
There are bodies dangling
from the limbs of your family tree.
Our people pull people from the soil like weeds.
Breathe in our story.
Force yourself to hold in your lungs
'til you can hear our hymns sung beneath white sheets.
'til your can feel your own finger on the trigger of the gun.
Feel yourself fire as they shout.
Do not look away as bullet enters heartbeat.
Now breathe out.
This is where we come from.
This is still where we are.
Now where will we go from here?
I don't believe we're hateful.
I think mostly we're just asleep.
But the math adds up the same.
You can't call up the dead and say,
"Sorry, we were looking the other way."
There are names and faces behind our apathy,
eulogies beneath our choices.
There are voices deep as roots
thundering unquestionable truth
through the white noise that pacifies our ears.
Don't tell me we don't hear.
Don't tell me we don't hear.
When the moon is slain,
when the constellations disperse like shrapnel,
don't you think it's time,
Andrea Gibson is "a queer poet/activist whose work deconstructs the foundations of the current political machine, highlighting issues such as patriarchy, gender norms, white supremacy, and capitalist culture." A performance poet who has won multiple slam contests, headlined at major venues, and appeared on Free Speech TV, Dyke TV, the BBC, and in the film Slam Planet, Gibson has also self-released three CDs and three books.