Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This white American, who was recently caught on camera in Washington, D.C., probably doesn't realize that the opinion he's expressing with this t-shirt is racist. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that he's the sort of ordinary white American who swears up and down that he's not only not a racist himself, but also that the real racists are black people, because they keep "playing the race card." And also, if he himself does happen to be a tiny bit racist, well, that's only because they make him that way, by "constantly crying 'racism!'"
I snagged this photo from Wonkette, where it's accompanied by their usual, extra-hot Snark Sauce:
Wonkette operative “Rob J.” sends us this pic of a Real American he saw at L’Enfant Plaza today, making some point about the Blacks and their long history of enslaving others. What a horrible misspelling of that one country’s name! There are two g’s, idiot.
Wonkette's writer of this post set it up as a "caption contest," and if you're into clever snark, I recommend the comments (which is not to say that I recommend all of the comments). I can't resist reprinting the proposed caption that I'd pick as the winner -- commenter Patty Dumpling wrote, "The back says: 'Mustache Rides: 25 Cents (NO COLOREDS).'” (Sorry if that offends anyone; there's no accounting for what makes different people laugh.)
So here's the main reason I reproduced this sad, infuriating, and ultimately delusional t-shirt -- it's another iteration of a concept covered most ably by Abagond (in an swpd guest post, and at his own blog), "The Arab Trader Argument." Among his blog's many other ponderings, Abagond regularly explicates common white tendencies. In addition to explaining so clearly what these tendencies are and how they work, Abagond also provides convenient labels for them, labels that I think should be used again and again, so that they acquire common currency.
As for that man in DC and his racist t-shirt, it's hard to take seriously a public message from someone who can't even be bothered to spell correctly the names of the countries he's splayed across his chest (or maybe, there just wasn't quite enough room for all the letters in "Mauritania"?). Still, this t-shirt is worth noting, because its message, or argument, is such a common white mode of derailment, and oblivion. It's basically saying, "They did it too, so stop blaming us for doing it!" It's basically, that is, childish.
It's an example of The Arab Trader Argument, which, as Abagond explained,
goes like this: if white Americans do something evil and terrible it is all right -- or at least not all that bad -- so long as they can find at least one example from world history of someone else doing the same thing. Thus the Atlantic slave trade was not so bad because Arabs traders sold slaves too!
This argument isn't just childish and silly. It's also insidious, because white people so often use it, and variations of it, to justify their people's own past and present abuses of other people. It's also a way of shrugging off collective racial responsibility for such abuses, including one's own complicity in them.
The Arab Trader argument appears in many guises. Here, for instance, is another example that I heard recently --
Well, it may be true that white people continue to benefit from white privilege. And yes, institutional racism exists too. BUT, if the tables were turned, black people wouldn't do anything about it either.
And so, the logic goes, "Since they would enjoy the perks of racial privilege and ignore oppression that they've caused, why should white people do anything about all that? Get off our case, why don'tcha? We're really no one worse than anyone else would be in our position. They'd do it too!" (And something else -- it always seems to be "the blacks," doesn't it?)
So yes, I think "The Arab Trader Argument" is a mighty useful phrase, in part because it covers so many common white modes of racial deflection. In fact, these deflections are so common that they're even showing up on t-shirts.
Have you heard other forms or examples of The Arab Trader Argument?
Also, do you know of other race-cognizant terms or phrases that have gained common currency in this here Age of the Internetz? Actually, I'd like to see "common white tendencies" get some traction (not that I think I necessarily created it, nor that I want credit for it -- I just think that white people should realize that they have common tendencies -- that they're not all the free-floating individuals they tend to think they are).
Nezua has an extensive "Glossario" of such items -- I've read other people's usages of, for instance, "The Drowning Maestro" (though the common white tendency described by that term seems to be described more often as "the tone argument").
Other examples of recent Internet race-jargon that you've seen widely used? Or, are there others, like The Arab Trader Argument, that you think deserve wider use?