Tuesday, December 15, 2009

passively accept racist commentary

This is a guest post for swpd by A. Smith, who writes of herself, "I write a blog that is hard to explain except to say I write what's on my mind. In the real world, I'm a recent college graduate who's had enough of DC and it's politics and is ready to go back to school, for a different, albeit familiar, kind of politics. I'm also a black woman with 22-almost-23 years of experience in this race thing..."

On some blogs, my favorite part is the comments. I like to see how many people had thoughts similar to mine after reading a blog post. I think people are honest on the internet in ways they would never be in a face-to-face conversation. In fact, people probably say things on blogs, in comments, on Twitter and even on Facebook (which is ironic) that you couldn't pay them to say to a close friend. They leave these thoughts and ideas out there for people to read -- people they will never, ever meet -- and they can be painfully honest. One thing I’ve noticed is that when apparently white people leave vile, racist comments, other white people who don’t feel that way almost never jump in to counter the vile racism.

One blog I love reading the comments for is Unsuck DC Metro (UDCM), a website dedicated to Washington, DC's transit system. Compared to, say, NYC's transit system, ours sucks. Majorly. So it's kind of comforting to know there are other people who ride DC Metro and have some of the same complaints I do.

I stumbled upon an old UDCM post that invited comments on the "Most Annoying Metro Behaviors." I was sorta excited to read through all 200 comments, because I know most metro veterans have some of the same annoyances: people who talk too loudly on their cell phones; folks who don't know that we walk left, stand right; tourists who are incapable of moving out of the way before they decide to shove their nose in a map, etc. I wasn't surprised by anything I read. It was what I didn't read that I took note of.

It doesn't matter what city you live in, whether you use public transportation or not, you can identify with this: annoying teenagers. We all know them, we cringe when we see (or hear) them coming. They're loud, obnoxious, aloof and bothersome. Typically, I remind myself that I was 15 once, and I and my friends probably liked being obnoxious, too. All teenagers think that they're cool because they're loud (or so it seems).

Here in DC, many metro riders will tell you that right before school and right after school, you can't help but be annoyed by the already overcrowded train cars filling up with teenage students who are rambunctious, loud and obnoxious. They play their music way too loud, use inappropriate language and act rude. Other riders agree that these behaviors are obnoxious, so it was no surprise that a lot of the commenters on UDCM's post did too. However, what the comments also revealed was that almost everyone seems to think it's only black teenagers who do this. What was even more striking is how they were referenced. There isn't any reference to "black kids." Instead, they’re all derogatory terms -- the rude, ignorant and racist kind.

One commenter referred to them as "Ghetto-ass bebe's kids," others called them the "Ghetto Fabulous Street Urchins," "section-8 welfare street urchins," and even "sewer ghetto rats." My favorite was probably from commenter Grrrrrr, who referred to them as "ghetto sewer rats with no upbringing or future." I won't lie, I laughed at the sheer ignorance of that comment. It wasn't enough to call them "ghetto sewer rats"; they also have no upbringing or future. I didn't know this, but apparently you can figure out everything about a person after less than 5 minutes of sharing the same space.

But like I said, it wasn't the comments that got me; rather it was that no one had anything to the contrary to say. No one came to the rescue of this maligned group to say, "hey, is there a reason you only refer to them with these racist terms? Is there a reason you don't reference white teenagers? They can be just as obnoxious."

The closest attempt to rescue this group was a comment from one person who pointed out that these obnoxious teens could have come from anywhere in DC, not just S.E. (Southeast is a predominantly black and poor area of D.C., though it is also being gentrified, so almost anyone could live there). But even that person didn't point out the extensive use of derogatory, hateful terms or the lack of anger pointed towards white teenagers.

All of this is in strong contrast to the treatment of other maligned groups, like the disabled. For example, plenty of commenters complained about people who "look normal," but make use of facilities that are supposed to be for the disabled. Many other commenters came to the rescue, stating that no one should be quick to think that a person who looks able-bodied can’t be disabled. Multiple commenters also came to the rescue of "men" who are often attacked for not giving up their seats.

No one, not one person, took issue with all of the hateful descriptions of loud and obnoxious black teenagers. No one said, for instance, that we should be careful about assuming who these teenagers are and where they're from. No one pointed out that many teens want to look like they're from the poorer and rougher parts of town, even though they’re actually from the more affluent parts, and furthermore, that this is a universal trait -- some black teens do it, just like some white teens do it.

There’s also the fact that most of these commenters probably don't ride the train to the parts of town where they seem to think these "street urchins" go -- so how would they know anything about where they're from and what they know? These are simple and basic corrections that anyone ought to be able to make, but no one did. Wondering why we would assume that only the truly disabled "look" disabled, and why we would be so quick to malign all men for the actions of a few, though, were corrections deemed plenty worth making.

I'd like to be clear: I’m not really taking issue with the obviously ignorant and racist commenters (in the sense that I know these people exist, and I personally don't waste a whole lot of breath or time on them). Rather, I take issue with the people who read the racist comments and didn't think enough to question their legitimacy or factuality. I take issue with the people who read those comments, knew better, but didn't think they should say so. Probably because, truth be told, they felt the same way.

Why is this? Why would people read these comments and not think enough of the absurdity to correct the original poster in the same way disparaging comments about the disabled, or women, or men are often corrected?

Even the commenter who pointed out that we can't assume all these kids are from poor neighborhoods didn't dare touch the horrible titles used to refer to them. I'm going to make a large assumption that I can't prove (but feel is true) that Unsuck DC Metro is frequented mostly by white people. If so, that would mean that white commenters feel a sense of security in expressing inflammatory views that I, as a black woman, might disagree with, but that another white person might readily agree with.

How white people speak to each other about minority groups when there are no minorities present is something I would never be privy to in "real life," but I have heard a lot about it. In an all-white environment, there’s an implicit assumption that because everyone looks the same, they have the same opinion about the "others." And so, it’s okay to spew vile racism about the “others.”

Not only was this assumption clearly made in this post’s comments, but no one refuted it. The simple failure to correct racist comments suggests that every person who read the comments agreed with the assertion that only Section-8 kids have no future or upbringing, and that they are street urchins, undeserving of the simple respect of at least being referenced as if they are human.

Of course, the other problem here is how all the obnoxious white teens get overlooked. No one mentions them, in either a derogatory or a straightforward manner. I guess they don't bother anyone when they run around train stations (like their black counterparts), act loud (like their black counterparts) and obnoxious (like their black counterparts), and generally make commuting just that much more annoying (like their black counterparts). Or, perhaps, it's actually that when they do these things they’re seen as normal, rambunctious teenagers, but when their black counterparts do it, it's seen as almost criminal...

I'm more interested in what the readers of this blog (swpd) think explains why white people do this, rather than affirmation that they do it. Is it because they don't think maligned minorities need someone to stand up for them, especially in their absence? Do they not think that's their job?

What about the commenter who wanted us to remember that these black teen subway riders could be from anywhere, but apparently didn't take issue with how they were referenced? Is there a fear that if they stand up for them, they will in turn be attacked?

One of my close friends was the first person to "hip" me to what happens in a room full of white people (read: the first person to make me consider what actually happens). She told me she's been attacked when she's tried to disagree, and that she always notices the difference in how she’s treated or spoken to after the fact (I told her that though I know it's hard, it's people like her who can make a real difference -- but that's another post for another day).

Is there, then, some fear that standing up to racism from other white people will make you less white?

I guess in the end I'm not so disturbed by what these teenagers were called because this is America in a supposedly post-racial society. However, it's the passive agreement in situations like these that furthers these ignorant and absurd ideas. These people are just like the police officer who forwarded that ignorant e-mail to his co-workers after the Dr. Gates' incident. He'd probably sent similar e-mails to a certain group and no one ever stood up to him. Or how about the TN state lawmaker's aid who did something similar? How many of us receive offensive e-mails everyday? Maybe it's not offensive to us, but it is to others, and yet we say nothing?

That passive agreement furthers the assumption people make that everyone who looks like them thinks like them. It's important to nip that thought process in the bud, even at the risk of losing some of your "whiteness." It's ironic, but I believe that if we're ever going to truly realize the post-racial society people seem to so want, it'll be white people who push us over the edge. That's why it's important to include them on topics of race, and that's also why it’s especially important to expect them to speak up.


  1. very good post. I feel like that in this time of so-called "post-racial age," many people (especially white folks, of course) feel that it's much safer to refer to black people as "ghetto" in a degoratory manner without actually using the word BLACK, so that they feel they can't be accused of being racist.

  2. I live in DC. For yeeeears, there have been complaints about the high school kids hitting the Metro trains around 3:00 p.m. on weekdays. The kids annoy the hell out of every passenger on a train (black, white, Latino etc). Just stay away from the Metro Red Line between 3:00-4:00 p.m.

    Anyway, it's easy for racists to hide behind an Internet account name and post grotesque messages. They would never say this garbage in front of a group of people.

    In the same vain, it's easy for me as a white person to be passive on the Internet. Words posted in a comments section of a blog do not carry the same currency as words written in a book, a newspaper, or a magazine. It's not worth my time to rebuke someone for an idiotic and bigoted comment posting.

  3. [Dear no slappz, you're still not getting it. This isn't a blog about stuff Asian people do. Sincerely, macon]

  4. Is there, then, some fear that standing up to racism from other white people will make you less white?

    No, I don't think standing up to racism from other white people makes you less white. It makes you confrontational and thus less liked, though. I think fear of confrontation (and fear of people disliking you) plays a huge part in whether or not someone stands up to someone else in regards to racism (or any hot button issue). Even on the internet.

  5. I'm a white person, and on blogs I often don't respond to hateful comments for several reasons.

    Firstly, because I feel if I focus too much on the comment it will make me more mad or frustrated. I try to ignore things that make me mad. Which I suppose is a privilege in itself because many people don't have the option to ignore people's hate.

    Also, I'm relatively new to anti-racism, so I don't feel articulate enough on the matter to rebuke someone for their racist commentary.

  6. I wish that for once this would happen in front of me. I don't think my friends are so enlightened, but I also haven't been in a room full of only white people for awhile...I want to hear them do it so I CAN have a conversation about it (well, and for the smackdown, but that's another issue).

    Caveat (because this will sound like a derail, whereas I want it to be an interesting tidbit, so please take it as one, and not as an argument): I have no doubt white people do this; interestingly, I've been in mixed groups where ppl do this ABOUT the group that's absent. So I imagine it's far far worse when it's just white folk.

  7. Another great post. I think there are ways to confront racism without being "confrontational". I often use humor as a way to get my point across without attacking the other person. I'll also say something like, "I don't think you're racist, so why use verbiage that makes you sound racist?" In my circle of (white) friends, I've heard them use phrases that they heard their grandparents and parents use and don't even realize they are rooted in racism. It usually just takes one person to gently point that out for them to think twice about saying it again.

  8. Yes, there are ways to address inappropriate commentary in a non-confrontational way. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. It depends entirely on who you're addressing, I think.

  9. I'm still wondering why White people do that, and what happens that makes them stop.

  10. When I don't know a lot about a situation, I have the tendency to look at what everybody else is doing, and stick to that pretty steadfastly. Right and wrong kind of vanish into "I sure hope I don't say/do the wrong thing!"
    Crowd psychology is very important! It is helpful to make 'not listening to criticism of racism' the thing people are afraid of doing for fear of being singled out, instead of the other way around.

  11. Is there, then, some fear that standing up to racism from other white people will make you less white?

    I have no fear of standing up to racism, racist comments, whatever. I've had my ass kicked, lost "friends", been threatened, and just had to put up with a lot of BS that racist whites do when you disagree with them and then make them look foolish on top of it. So facing someone on the internet is small fries compared to that. Face-to-face I wouldn't care either. I don't have any fear of appearing whatever I may appear to people. I don't mind what the repercussions are. Confrontation isn't something I'm afraid of. And appearing "less white" isn't a concern of mine.

    Now appearing to be a racist or one of the sheeple - I have a problem with that.

  12. Thanks to everyone who liked the read.

    As for tactics -- I think non-confrontational is always the way to go when it'll work, but you gotta know your friends. I call my friends to the carpet for stuff in a very confrontational manner, but that's because we have an understanding. In a group of people I don't know very well, I'd take the NC approach first.

    I'm not lost on how awkward it is to be to be the lone dissenter. I'm often put in that place by default of being the lone black kid (which I don't say to run a "shut up, your plight is no where near my plight" guilt trip, but to show I do get it) and what I've found is that just saying something, anything, can be surprisingly effective. Some folks are ignorant in the most basic sense of the word and just need to be told.

    But these people who made these comments -- they don't strike me as basically ignorant, they strike me as willfully ignorant and those people typically need confrontation, in my opinion.

    @to wit: It's easy for all of us to be passive on the internet. We can say what we want and what we don't want to and never have to be held accountable for it.

    @La Meep: I like the point you make. Crowd psychology is very important to note; however, of the 200 people who commented and those who read but didn't comment, somebody knew better and it's a shame they didn't feel like they could/should speak up.

    @RVCBard: Currently, my position is it takes making it personal. Generally speaking, you get a greater response from a person when they see how x effects them. As long as "street urchins" only refer to a distant group of people you'll never meet, you see no reason to stick up for them. The white friend I referenced -- well she's friends with me, for one and she gets it because she's watched stuff happen to me and others of our friends. It's very personal for her. I'm hoping some of the great readers here have some alternative explanations. I like the ones I've seen so far.

  13. Great post. I agree. Silence is complicity. Stopping racism will have to start with white people, much like stopping violence against women has to start with men. And no, I am not suggesting that white people are the ONLY perpetrators of racism. They are however, the main beneficiaries of larger systemic and institutionalized racism.

    One of the biggest obstacles in overcoming racism in America is that people lack an understanding of what racism truly is. Many believe that as long as you don't wear white sheets, burn crosses, or use the "n-word" (in public), you can't be racist. This simplistic view of racism actually enables it.

    Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist had a good point about how certain words have been adopted as "non-racist" substitutes in derogatory comments. It doesn't change the racist sentiment in the least. You see it in the media and pop culture all the time.

    Bottom line... we ALL need to speak up about hateful speech perpetuated against people of ANY group.

  14. Allow me to paraphrase a quote from Dr. Martin King, "He who accept evil without protest is really an accomplice"

    This idea that a person should not challenge another person's vile and repugnant statements, because it could be viewed as confrontational, is pure bullshit, and really an act of cowardice to not speak up.

    I don't think you have to get into a debate to defend your anti-racist position. Speak your piece and keep stepping, but don't let that evil, hateful bile stand unchecked, otherwise you're just and enabler.

    For christ sakes, if white people cannot challenge blatant racist comments by other whites on a blog, then there is no hope!

  15. [Dear no slappz, That's a somewhat better try, but then, not really -- you're still not writing about something that white people do. In fact, now you're not only writing about Asian subway riders, you're writing about the supposed and irrelevant habits of black ones. Again, this is a post about something white people tend to do. That topic is there, all over the post, and I'm sure you'll be able to see it if you really, really try. If a proverbial lightbulb goes off and you think you finally see that topic, you're welcome to submit another comment on it. Sincerely, macon]

  16. Imhotep,

    I'm with you! It seems that Whites REALLY do NOT want to challenge White supremacy at all, just want to LOOK like they do. And they're using blogs and the internet to find the right combo of words and non-action that'll hopefully fool us dumb culluds into thinking they're really doing shit. But some of us continue to hold their feet to the fire.

    Honestly, I'm just waiting for the day when Whites get tired of the pantomime and just frustratingly admit that they're NOT going to do any more than what they've already done to ameliorate race relations. That they're really not going to get rid of racism as it stands now because they benefit like gangbusters out of it so why should they. That they really don't care if they're good or bad people because of it as long as they get their goodies.

    The longer I live, the more I'm on the net and on these types of sites, the more I believe that some of the PoC posters here who advocate PoC just LEAVING America to Whites (I wonder who they'll blame then for all their woes) or straight up armed conflict, because "good White folk" seem either utterly ineffectual or unwilling to REALLY do anything to majorly impact White supremacy in any way.

    /bitter frustration

  17. I have had several white friends described instances to me when they were in an all-white environment and racist things were said with ease. Sometimes, this was one-on-one, sometimes in groups, sometimes in person, or in e-mail chain messages. I have often asked what their response was, and most often, they admit that they didn't say anything. When I ask why, the reasons I get are things like, "I was too stunned to say anything," "It was my grandpa, and he's just old and set in his ways," "There's no point; he wouldn't listen anyway," or even "My words don't carry any weight because I'm white and they wouldn't accept it from me." Those who do report speaking up usually mention that their friendship with me and my openness in talking about prejudice influenced their decision to say something, and that it was difficult, scary, and usually not well-received.

  18. I'm thinking to wit is right: that it's easy to be passive on the internet. And I generally feel the same way: it just isn't worth my time, usually, to call out some anonymous a-hole for the garbage that they post.

    I think what frustrates me and stops me from saying anything, usually, is the fact that, on the internet, there is the illusion that all comments are created equal. It might be easy to drop an "uh, that's pretty damn racist" comment in response to the things someone else has said, but all you are is just another random commenter offering your opinion. It doesn't matter if you're right, or if you're more articulate, or if you could sit down one afternoon and write up a twelve-page analysis of the situation, citing statistics and history and critical theory--in that comments section, you're just a faceless offerer of opinion. And even if you do back up what you have to say, in a longer comment or series of comments, nobody has to listen.

    And I think that the being "faceless" thing makes this complicated for me. Because the easiest escape route from admitting one's own prejudice is detachment or abstraction or justification--all things that start to crack and crumble when confronted face-to-face. But when you could be anyone, and they could be anyone, there's little incentive for them to take your words to heart. You can challenge your friends, your colleagues, and hold them accountable to the things they say and do; you can't really do the same to jim random via the internet.

    And that's not really an excuse for refusing to say anything, I know. Yeah, it's fatigue of a sort--feeling as though, once the multi-day exchange of comments and explanations and arguments is finished, the best you'll get out of them is an "oh, it's just a difference of opinion"--but it also seems like a technique that has a pretty low limit for what it can accomplish.

    And I guess that that's what my struggle is when it comes to racism online--on the one hand, I want to grab the person by the shoulders and scream "Can't you see? This isn't some abstract thing, some parroted political or social opinion; the things you're saying and the underlying inequalities that they reinforce HURT PEOPLE--people that I know, people that I love, people that YOU know and love. They hurt me, and they hurt you, and godDAMMIT at the very least just stop saying that."

    On the other hand, I stare at the screen, stare at the cute username the person chose all those months or years ago when they first stumbled upon that bloghost, stare at the litany of ignorant and hateful i'm-so-clever comments, stare at my fingers poised above my keyboard--and I think to myself that it just won't make a difference for me to say anything there, as "jim" the faceless. And then I grind my palms into my eyes until they feel like they're going to bleed, and pray that that person stumbles into some sort of relationship that forces them to confront their own prejudice, and be accountable to what they say and do.

    Ugh. I'm getting worked up just talking about getting worked up.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's a struggle for me to handle situations like the UDCM one. Sometimes, I do step in and comment when I see stuff going on; other times, I don't. Maybe I should ignore less and comment more.

    Interaction over the internet is just so much different from real interaction. I just don't know what to do sometimes.

  19. A couple of comments to append, that don't wholly fit within the context of the above post:

    -Sometimes, depending on the locale of the discussion (blog, news site, etc.), being confrontational about the things another commenter said will get you moderated (it's happened to me a few times, at least). Other people have made the point that a nonconfrontational way of approaching things can be helpful, and I think that's definitely the case in situations like that.

    -The point about people saying things over the internet that you couldn't pay them to say even to a close friend is very true, and very astute. And it's because their honesty has very few consequences. I could confess my deepest anxieties and failures, right here and right now, and there's very little any of you could do to hold me accountable to confronting them. Confession and honesty without challenge and accountability (and, I suppose, without real healing or forgiveness). That cover, that distance, is what keeps people from being entirely vulnerable while being candid; it's also what keeps people immune to confrontation and correction. It's also what lets white people (like me) get away with NOT saying anything, too.

    -I'm not sure I know many white people who respond well to a)confrontation in general and b)confrontation by someone who has no apparent (in their mind) claim to authority. That's awkwardly worded, I know; let me see if I can clarify. Sometimes, point (b) manifests itself by white people denying the experiences and judgment of people who are not white (or men denying those of women, etc.; we've all seen this play out). Other times point (b) manifests itself as defiant independence; that is, an attitude of I'm the one in charge of my life so who are you to tell me what to say or do?. And this intensifies or lessens depending on the relationship of the person to the confronter. From a close friend, a comment like "that's racist" will go a lot further than it will from an internet stranger. Generally, I mean (as there are certainly exceptional occurrences). And I know for me that a lot of the frustration I was talking about earlier comes from feeling like because I'm not a part of some person's real life I have no influence over their words or behavior, so me making a comment on what they say via the internet is demanding some sort of ad hoc significance in their life that they haven't granted. Which immediately puts them on the defensive, and makes it easy for them to tune me out. Does that make sense? I don't know--I'm having a tough time articulating it.

    -Saying nothing at all in response to socially accepted racism is like giving it tacit support, for sure. I get frustrated, though, when it seems like going ahead and saying something just seems to reinforce the original opinion or assertion. (This happened on a blog I follow just last week.) It's not that saying nothing would be better, but that what you say falls on deaf ears. In personal interactions, I think you always just need to speak up, because at least the awkwardness forces everyone involved to pause for a moment. But on the internet--sometimes I just feel like it's worth it. Like I said, I get frustrated trying to decide whether I should post a comment or not.

    -I should probably be careful about filling in the virtual silence; that is, just like there might be people who found the racist comments to be offensive but didn't bother to say anything, there might also be plenty of people who see someone speak out against the racism and do respond to it, who are challenged and convicted, who do end up changing. And that means that it is worth it to comment, because the intractable people will continue to be intractable but the ones who want to listen will listen, even across such an impersonal, faceless medium as the internet.

    Like I said, complicated.

    Wow. Fantastic post, A.Smith--I'll be thinking about this for weeks.

  20. Excellent post... And I kind of winced reading it, because I know I'm guilty of this one a certain amount of the time. Ironically, I'm actually much more likely to be confrontational in person. It's very, very rare for me to let any sort of racist (or homophobic, sexist, etc.) remark pass unchallenged in face-to-face interaction. Especially if it's from a friend, because I like to think anyone I'd willingly spend time with ought to be better than that, so I am especially inclined to pretty much rip someone's head off under those circumstances.

    But on the Internet... Much less likely. I still do speak up sometimes, but not nearly as often. I think part of it is feeling overwhelmed - there is something about anonymous commenting forums on the net, especially on any relatively mainstream site like a newspaper or whatever, that just seems to bring hateful right-wing idiots out in droves. It's gotten to the point where I tend to avoid even reading the comments on a lot of sites, because I get so incredibly frustrated and angry -- and feel so helpless to do anything about it.

    The thing is, I know that's not logical. I'm not any more powerless in that situation than they are. We both have exactly the same power: the power to post a comment. No more, no less. I think where the feeling of helplessness comes from is the fact that it seems like there's an endless supply of them and only one of me and that anything I say will just be a lone voice in the wilderness.

    But ultimately that kind of thinking is self-defeating. Because really, it's highly unlikely that I am the only one who find their comments objectionable. What is far more likely is that all the other people who'd like to speak up are thinking variations of the same thing, with the end result that no one speaks up -- and that is exactly what gives the impression that the racists are an enormous horde and that anyone who challenges them will be on their own. If everyone who wanted to say something actually did, the overall tone of the discussion might be completely different.

    I think the point that Imhotep made is a very good one - that no matter what anyone's reasons for not speaking up in situation like that, the end result is that you're enabling it to continue. In a sense it doesn't matter whether you stay quiet because you agree with them, or because you're afraid of confrontation in general, or feel helplessly outnumbered, or what - someone reading that discussion and seeing the lack of opposing voices can't read your mind and know that you really wanted to say something but didn't. The impression given, even if it's a false one, is that no one disagrees with the racists enough to challenge them.

    And while I'm saying "you" above I'm really talking to myself as much as anyone. I succumb to that feeling of helplessness way too often, but I think it's time to start fighting it.

  21. I think some of the other posters have suggested a similar explanation (not justification, just explanation). I think that the white people who might challenge it just don't bother because they figure it's not going to change the offender's mind. Which is yet another example of whites seeing other whites as individuals, rather than seeing how systematic the attacks are. Furthermore, they don't appreciate that it's less about changing the offender's mind than it is about everyone else hearing/seeing that the offense is unacceptable and deterring future offenses by making the climate hostile to racist comments, however veiled they may be.

  22. One thing people keep saying in the comments is that it can be hard to engage in an online discussion with someone who doesn't wish to be educated. And I agree - that can be tiresome, and often it doesn't appear to lead anywhere if the person chooses to remain ignorant. But I want to offer some support as well. One thing people don't think about as they converse online - through, say, blog comments or an online forum - is that there are many, many lurking individuals listening to a discussion who don't comment at all, but love to read. Even if you can't educate the one person you're attempting to educate, you will inevitably educate passersby (lurkers and such) who are reading this discussion, but aren't engaging. In fact, it was through the Internet, and through PoC and white allies, that I learned about my own white privilege and sought out more information about race. Thank goodness for those white folks who didn't just remain silent, even though, looking back, they probably don't know they helped anyone at all. So even if you don't feel like you're getting anywhere, please know that your efforts do not go to waste. Other people are watching, and when you begin questioning racism, other people will, too.

  23. I agree with everything that's been said, and I'd like to add a couple more thoughts:

    1. It sounds like the original comments didn't actually specifically refer to the kids as "black." Now, of course everyone with half a brain knows that that's just a way to cover your own ass while making racist comments. But it tends to WORK that way, at least in the minds of the ignorant. Imagine an exchange wherein someone makes a racist comment about "ghetto" kids, someone else steps in to call the first person out on their racism, and the original commenter immediately comes back with "I never said anything about black kids! I said GHETTO kids. White kids can be ghetto too. If you saw "ghetto" and thought "black," then clearly YOU'RE the one who's racist." Blah blah blah. Of course, these tricks can be logically overridden too, but that takes time and energy. White people won't usually invest time and energy into fighting internet racism if they feel like it doesn't affect them directly.

    2. The same anonymity that makes people feel comfortable saying racist things on the internet also allows them to fight very viciously. In a face to face argument, people (usually) try to keep things somewhat civil. They don't want to completely insult or alienate their family, friends, or colleagues (for the most part.) On the internet, though, anything goes. White people, in calling other white people out on racist comments, open themselves up to attack. Many of them shy away from it because they don't want to put themselves in that position. Speaking out against racism, especially in an anonymous forum, is a way of giving up a little bit of white privilege, but we'll want to hold fast to every drop of privilege we can.

  24. Very good points Rynee. Each one teach one.

  25. I shut up a whole lot because a lot of the comments go so deep there's nothing I could say that would even begin to scratch the surface.

  26. >it's less about changing the offender's mind than it is about everyone else hearing/seeing that the offense is unacceptable and deterring future offenses by making the climate hostile to racist comments

    I like this. On the one hand, I worry that we/they will be merely labeled 'the PC police'. But on the other hand, I think it would help. It's like those TV commercials in Australia that say, "To violence against women, we say NO." It includes examples of what they mean by "violence". As a woman, I appreciate these ads. If the government is spending hordes of money on these ads, then maybe it's worth each one of us to say speak up when we see racism happening so as to, as Karen says, create a hostile environment for racist comments.

    Sometimes ppl need to hear an anti-racist comments a few times in their lives before they 'get it'. So even if you don't make a difference then and there, it may help some get one step closer to 'getting it'.

  27. Melissa said...

    "Even if you can't educate the one person you're attempting to educate, you will inevitably educate passersby (lurkers and such) who are reading this discussion, but aren't engaging."

    This is an excellent point and one that I really need to remember. Even if you don't change the mind of that person, others will see the rebuke and it might help them understand, too. Although, the internet can be a host for rampant douchebaggery, it can also be a host for allowing people a safe place to learn things in a non-intrusive way. I think people are much more open to accepting a point when it's not directed specifically at them.

  28. Hmm. I'm guilty of this when it comes to my grandmother. There are several reasons for this, which I'm sure everyone has heard before.

    These days I only hang around people who aren't usually stupid enough to say something really racist and who can be reasoned with if they do, but there was a time when I had somewhat racist white housemates. I called them out on it, but not in a very confrontational manner. I was pretty well outnumbered, so even though everyone knew I wasn't comfortable with racist comments, they didn't stop making them. In fact, in that kind of environment, expressing discomfort with racism is like painting a sign on your back saying, "Please tease me at every opportunity by expressing racism."

    Possibly I just wasn't being assertive enough about it. My style is more to disagree than to accuse people of racism. I don't know, maybe I need a better approach.

  29. "Even if you can't educate the one person you're attempting to educate, you will inevitably educate passersby (lurkers and such) who are reading this discussion, but aren't engaging."

    Yes. And, at least as important, I would think, is that some of these lurkers may be POC. And we might be cognizant of the message sent to those POC if no one puts up any resistance. EVEN IF the resistance is "ineffective."

  30. "Currently, my position is it takes making it personal. Generally speaking, you get a greater response from a person when they see how x effects them. As long as "street urchins" only refer to a distant group of people you'll never meet, you see no reason to stick up for them. The white friend I referenced -- well she's friends with me, for one and she gets it because she's watched stuff happen to me and others of our friends. It's very personal for her."

    I think this is very, very true. I've become much more conscientious about speaking out in these sorts of situations since I began the process to adopt my son, who is black. Now, it feels so much more personal and important, and that really empowers me to feel like I can wade in and start swinging.

    In answer to your question, RVCbard: "what happens that makes them stop", I think the other thing that really helped me was learning the concept of being an ally. Learning what it means to be an ally, and then having some concrete notions of what I could do was very empowering. Before that, it had felt very much like me vs. racism, which seemed so overwhelming and impossible as to be nearly paralyzing.

    I think it's hard not to come away from the post with your thought: "It seems that Whites REALLY do NOT want to challenge White supremacy at all, just want to LOOK like they do." I don't know if our feet can ever be held to the fire quite enough, but I hope some of us are here to do more than look like we want change. THanks to you and others for keeping us honest.

  31. FWIW, in terms of whether confronting racism online makes a difference, I believe that it can. I comment frequently on the Jezebel.com blog, and I am pretty vocal about confronting prejudice and privilege there, and I have had many, many people message me in private to say that they appreciated my comments, learned from them, had their eyes opened, etc. I have seen other commenters and writers receive similar feedback. Sometimes, this comes form the person I was directly engaging, and sometimes from lurkers. I also think that watching these discussions play out can be a great education for people who are learning about anti-racism, and need to learn the terminology and useful approaches to confronting racism. I know that watching others battle it out on blogs has taught me a lot.

    I suppose I also just can't allow myself to be so pessimistic as to think that there's no use "bothering." If I, who am affected directly by racism daily, can fight the good fight, why are so many white people throwing up their hands in futility? Or is that just an excuse?

  32. When I fail to speak up, I think there are two reasons for it:
    1) I didn't notice that the comment was racist. For example, in my head, "ghetto" refers to how someone dresses, not the color of their skin. I definitely see how it came out of black culture, and how most people would interpret it as racial, but until now it just wouldn't have occurred to me to object to it.
    2) I'm not confident that I can defend my claim that something was racist. After all, I'm white: it's not up to me to decide something's racist in the first place, and I could be wrong in thinking PoC will take offense at something. (Who am I to speak for them?) If whoever I'm talking to denies racism, I may just come off looking dumb and racist myself (+1 to Melissa). Anti-racist sites definitely help with that, by providing places to cite.

    On the other hand, as we've seen, it's really important that white people do point out racism to white audiences, since they're going to listen to us better. (Not perfectly, but still better.)

    And I want to second what Rynne said. It's not about the person who made the racist comment. It's about all the people listening.

  33. Witch wrote,

    "Honestly, I'm just waiting for the day when Whites get tired of the pantomime and just frustratingly admit that they're NOT going to do any more than what they've already done to ameliorate race relations. That they're really not going to get rid of racism as it stands now because they benefit like gangbusters out of it so why should they."

    I'm white and I can't "admit" that, because I hate racism, and I hate that I benefit from it.

    So what do you want us to DO? What specific actions do you think would help?

    I read here and learn about things I shouldn't "do." I appreciate that, and I know I'm less racist for it. But, yeah, what else should we who are white and care "do"?

  34. So what do you want us to DO? What specific actions do you think would help?

    Why do White people always ask POCs stuff like this? I just spent 30 minutes Googling "white allies" to find resources. Why the hell did I have to do that? Why does it never occur to White people to do that? Why is the onus always on POCs to make it easy for White people to learn to be less racist? Why do we always have to do the heavy lifting? Why is the footwork always left to us? Why are we always asking the hard questions? Why do we have to have it all figured out? Why is the burden always on us to go out of our way to make the world less racist?

    There is no one-size-fits-all approach to undoing racism. There is no simple list of Do's and Don'ts to apply to anti-racist efforts. There is no safe way to undermine White privilege. Each POC will give one or more very different answers because - surprise, surprise! - we're different! Our experiences of racism are different for a variety of psychological, social, economic, and political reasons.

    What I would suggest is that, instead of asking random POCs what to do about racism, you figure out how racism operates in your own life and how it affects the POCs you interact with, then work from there.

  35. @ special cornflake:

    This page from the Southern Poverty Law Center has some good resources. Most of them are geared towards teachers/classroom activities--that's the purpose of the site--but they are adaptable to wider life.

    A lot of what we who are peons can do is stuff like: when we vote, vote with the interests of POC foremost in our mind, even if that means voting against something in which we, personally, believe. (This is HARD, but I believe it is necessary). If we volunteer or donate to charity, only work for or give to groups that actively work for the rights of POC and, even better, are run by POC (b/c otherwise you run the risk of helping a White Male Savior organization that isn't actually working in the POCs' best interest). When other white people say or do racist things, call them on their shit. Always. When you catch yourself saying or doing something racist, (a) stop yourself (b) point it out to the people around you and explain why it is BAD (and don't make a joke out of it--I live for humor, but racism is not funny).

    And, uh, don't ask POC to tell us how to end racism. ;o) That, I believe, is one of the cues in RVCBard's drinking game.

  36. Oops, wasn't fast enough with that last post. Macon, have you done a "swpd:ask poc how to end racism" post yet? I know there was an "ask for suggestions" awhile ago, but that was focused on a specific topic (how to start discussions within a homogenous community), not dealing with "'End racism? But I don't know hooooow. Teach me teach me.'"

    (note: the following is a general commentary, not an attack on special cornflake, whose screenname is by the way awesome)

    I love the irony that WP expect POC to tell us how we can end racism...but of course, WP have a history of questioning and denying the authority of POC, and of taking racism more seriously when WP discuss it. So the question is, when WP ask POC how to end racism, are they really just looking for another excuse to put it off?

    (It is also problematic for WP only to turn to other WP for suggestions on how to fight racism. I don't mean to suggest otherwise. But I think it is appropriate for WP to *ask* other whites for suggestions, so long as they also listen when POC actively choose to speak).

  37. Willow wrote,

    Macon, have you done a "swpd: ask poc how to end racism" post yet?

    No, not yet, sounds very useful. It can be a pretty lazy-ass question, can't it?

    The comments here on the topic already give me a good start on such a post, so I very much welcome other thoughts on it (not to make my own lazy request!).

  38. What happened to Abagond's blog??? Wordpress took it down! I can't believe this!

  39. I hope this suggestion isn't too off-topic, but what about SWPD: Ask POC for "I'm not racist!" affirmation.

    I think that kind of gets at what some people mentioned (Kudos to Witchsista in particular): White people want to get their pats on the back for being "hip" and "enlightened" and "not a redneck" (their word, not mine), but don't really want to do the hard work, i.e., standing up to their friends, lovers, parents, grandparents, etc.

    I used to wonder why some White people seemed to work really hard for my approval. They'd do it passively, but it was like they would say things then give me a side glance, like "Did I say it right? Huh? Huh? Huh?" It was only after I read more about the "My best friend is Black!" trope that I realized this was a more subtle version of the same thing...like they want some Black cred?

    Side note: Jeffrey, I agree with what you wrote wrt people not having a reason to take other people's words as authoritative sources on the Internet. I think that's why it's important for the grunt of the leg-work to be done in the real world--it's harder to talk out of you ass face-to-face.

  40. @thesciencegirl:
    You wrote: "I suppose I also just can't allow myself to be so pessimistic as to think that there's no use "bothering." If I, who am affected directly by racism daily, can fight the good fight, why are so many white people throwing up their hands in futility? Or is that just an excuse?"

    Excellent point and excellent question. The answer, I fear, is yes. Why not fight the good fight, even if one doesn't "win"?

    I think your suggestion is such a good one. In general, I think the whole theme of white people seeking approval from POC needs more attention.

  41. Excellent post and sadly the norm on the Internet. That said, there's a happy exception going on right now in the comments responding to a mind-bogglingly racist post on the Huffington Post. Check it out: http://bit.ly/5Jfiqx

  42. >> "In general, I think the whole theme of white people seeking approval from POC needs more attention."

    And maybe if we (POC & WP allies) succeed in bringing this to WP's attention, WP will become aware of the paradox we have created for ourselves and stop being so quick to question the authority of POC.

    Hm. I guess it's more like, when POC offer their opinions freely, WP dismiss them. But when WP do the asking, then it's "okay" (in our minds) for POC to be the experts. Or do WP question POC's knowledge even then? (Like, "Phew, she said I'm not racist...but how do I know she's right?").

    Skipping a couple steps ahead in my mental logic train:
    Everyone (POC&WP), do you ever get the sense that many WP's "anti-racist" "efforts" are mostly designed to make them look good to other WP? That even though some WP seek approval from POC, it's really about then being able to tell your white friends, "See? I have the Stamp of POC Approval"?

    The follow-up question to that is: if so (I think yes, but I would like to hear opinions from others), how can we play off that knowledge to convince WP to actually fight racism for real?

  43. Everyone (POC&WP), do you ever get the sense that many WP's "anti-racist" "efforts" are mostly designed to make them look good to other WP? That even though some WP seek approval from POC, it's really about then being able to tell your white friends, "See? I have the Stamp of POC Approval"?

    I wish. Unfortunately, I tend to see White people use it against POCs when POCs point out problematic behaviors.

  44. @ Willow
    Yes, I do see that. I also see what RVCBard is saying as well. WP get the stamp of approval to get cool points with other WP, then they use the stamp to prove to POC that their monolith has given this stamp of approval and shut them down.

    They're "fair weather anti-racists." When it's easy to tell someone they're being racist, they'll do it. Just as long as the consequences of their actions or words will either not have any long-lasting negative effects on THEM, or if it will garner a pat on the back from either WP or POC in the process. But if it's someone they think they can't "take" they hang back like Boo Radley.

  45. I think that sometimes when these racist comments are made among Whites, the reason people don't speak up is because they don't consider racism to be their problem.

    I don't know a lot of White people who are in situations where they are in the minority. Non-White folks are expected to assimilate, but White people don't typically do the same. So they aren't in a position to have to consider how racism towards non-Whites might affect them.

  46. I broke up with a boyfriend once almost entirely because of his racism. To my shame, I never told him that was the reason. He was the 'but I have black friends' type of racist.

    I didn't have the anti-racist skills at the time to even explain why the things he did and said were wrong. I knew that the whole conversation would be inarticulate on my part. He would have ended up defending himself and entrenching his racism further.

    So to answer the 'why do white people do this' question, at least in more subtle situations, I suspect it could be just not knowing what argument to make. Not defending it mind you.

    That experience may have been one of the reasons I started educating myself.

  47. Okay, a lot of you have given reasons and excuses as to why you and other Whites aren't more active (re- and pro-) against racism.

    But understand this. Your inaction HURTS PoC (and I don't just mean our widdle fee-fees either. You make it more difficult for us to LIVE) and gives us even MORE of a burden to bear in fighting racism. It also reifies racism as something that's solely our problem (if we wanted to be treated better, we should have left the house White).

    I'm feeling more and more that put-up-or-shut-up time is coming for so-called White anti-racist "allies." PoC are getting tired of hearing or really reading [on the internet] all this anti-racist discourse and seeing damn little of any actions or the result of said actions going on in real life. You all are starting to get the bad rep of White liberals, the rep of self-serving, egotistical hypocrites.

    Because let's face it, if Whites really wanted an end to White supremacist racism in America it would happen, if not overnight, then in a much shorter time span than it's taking now.

    And I wish I could say it's mostly old heads like me. Nope, I hear more calling out from young PoC. I guess us older ones aren't on the net as much or we just didn't have much faith in you in the first place or our faith in you has waned over the years so that we don't expect much good out of White people anymore.

  48. "I'm feeling more and more that put-up-or-shut-up time is coming for so-called White anti-racist "allies."

    Totally agreed.

    I'm still working out whether I'm the angry white bitch or the conciliatory-effect-change-subtly negotiator. In practice it seems like AWB is where I lean these days.

  49. I don't think it's a matter of "losing" whiteness or being less white. I think it's just that when someone starts spewing racist remarks, it is easy to assume that this is a hateful person, who may be violent, who may react violently to any sort of confrontation.

    It's not like arguing with a vegetarian, or Buddhist, or car salesman, where the danger of physical violence is low.

    The average person, when encountering the possibility of violence, chooses not to speak up out of a desire for self-preservation. The desire for physical safety trumps the desire for ethical intervention.

  50. @westervelt: That's a pretty long stretch, going from racist to hateful (against white people) to violent (against you). If you're white, and the person has just said white people are better than people of color, it's really unlikely that the speaker's going to attack you for contradicting them. If you're a person of color, there may be something to worry about, which means it's even more important for white folks to speak up.

    Not that it's easy, but physical violence isn't one of the risks.

  51. I'm going way out on a limb to second @westervelt's violence sentiment for some people. I'm white and I've actually heard very few racist remarks in person (thanks to my white privilege, no doubt) and I must not frequent the kinds of blogs where they're spewed. But I've been raised a bit paranoid (which is why I rarely post anywhere--I am one of those who learns via lurking) and I am honestly scared about the sanity and potential for violence by those who make the kind of racist, vitriolic remarks described by this post. I fear people, even anonymous internet poster kinds, who would post such nasty comments about other human beings. That being said, I hope I'd have the balls to comment against racist remarks on the internet if I ever encounter it, and posts like this one (with all these great comments) are great reminders to help stiffen my spine about delurking and commenting. I'd assume that fear of violence may not be a huge concern, however, for most people who comment freely already.

  52. @ Jeffrey Yasskin
    No, some people actually were physically attacked for a lot less. I've been spit on for not hanging around with enough white people, for hanging around particularly with black people. And when I stood up for myself (and against racism) I was actually physically attacked...by a guy twice my size. He didn't hesitate. Yes, this is not the normal response but there are still those backward thinking people who think that if they kick the shit out of you they'll get you to understand what they want. To say white people won't be physically attacked is simply a misguided assumption. But some white people aren't afraid of such reactions.

    Which leads me to....

    @ westervelt
    Sometimes we have to take a few punches or put up with serious bullshit to stand up for something that is important. PoC didn't have a choice like we/WP do. They HAD to stand up for themselves because it was THEY who were being brutalized and oppressed, not "someone else" like it is for us/WP. I didn't particularly care for getting my ass beat, but it's not a deterrent to me when I stand up for something. I learned at a young age that I could take a punch and I wasn't scared off by threats. It's never too late for other people, though. Maybe that newfangled actually having "a pair" will catch on.

  53. Sorry to ask this, but I need advice.

    By accident, I MAJORLY started something on another board. (I pointed out that the SAT/GRE is racist. How is this controversial?!)

    This board has been ridiculously helpful for pretty much everyone there, and I'm worried the hateful rhetoric that is being spewed on this thread will drive away POC posters who need and deserve the place as much as the white ones.

    Have ANY of you ever had an affirmative action discussion not get overheated? Is there any way for me *not* accept this passively, but try to cool down the WP's tempers? Obviously these are people lacking Racism 101, and they are people who are convinced they know everything.

    This is not about appeasing WP/giving in to WWT; I don't care if they're pissed. I want them to take their drama to their respective mamas.

    It is unacceptable that POC lose this place of support.

    What can I do?

  54. Willow, I had a similar thing happen on a pre-medical forum I frequented several years ago. Any and every discussion on affirmative action was ugly, and every discussion about race turned into one about affirmative action. I'm not sure what you can do to make it a safe or welcoming space for POC b/c it probably never will be. That may sound pessimistic, but if anyone else has good ideas, I'd like to hear them as well.

  55. willow, you wrote:

    "(I pointed out that the SAT/GRE is racist. How is this controversial?!)"

    The SAT and GRE are obviously NOT racist.

    First, with respect to the Math portion of the SAT, it is impossible for insert race into mathematical reasoning and understanding. Asian success dispels all nonsense about claims of racism.

    With respect to the Verbal section, the same basic curriculum is the core of learning for every student in America.

    Meanwhile, the long list of available review books and review courses for these standardized exams show students exactly what they need to know to score well. In other words, anyone can successfully study and prepare for these exams.

    That's about as fair as testing can get.

  56. Willow-
    It has been my experience that all you can do is state facts and keep yourself from becoming emotionally involved. One thing being apart of the swpd community has shown me is that the people who's minds are changed are more often than not people who are, what I call, genuinely ignorant and therefore open to the thought that what they've always assumed to be true is, in fact, not. The rest of the people aren't looking to be educated, they're looking for co-signs and affirmations that their misguided thoughts are correct. I think you should just state the facts, back them up if you can (and want to) and let those who are "genuinely ignorant" feast on it and let the rest continue to be ignorant.

    I interact with people via phone concerning legislative issues -- I'm sure many of them assume I'm white by my voice and the office I work in. I recently had a conversation on Affirmative Action with a white man who accepted a lot of what I said (which was true and counter to what he thought) pretty easily; I think it was mostly because he assumed I was white (and thus knew what I was talking about) but also because I remained calm (even though I wanted to call him an ignorant racist bastard, and I would've been justified).

    I also agree with thesciencegirl that places like those are rarely going to be a "welcoming space" for POC, but I believe many of us know that and we don't go looking for a haven, we go looking for info and we take it as it is.

  57. Willow,

    The best advice I can think of (and this would likely be next to impossible in blogspace) would be to somehow explain AA in beyond a reasonably deniable fashion. What I mean is, I used to try to argue against affirmative action because I just really didn't understand it. Then I read Paul Kivel's explaination in "Uprooting Racism". I only had to read it one time to finally get what it's all about, and have never had a contrary word about AA since. Of course, that was a whole chapter in a book and you only get so much space in a blog comment section, but...

    I can imagine you rolling your eyes right now thinking, "If I knew how to do that, don't you think I would have already?"

    That's the best I got for ya.

  58. "Obviously these are people lacking Racism 101, and they are people who are convinced they know everything."

    Of course, when I read that I had some 101 and was reading it BECAUSE I knew I didn't know everything. Oh well, nevermind.

  59. Oh, sweet heavens, now it's the male incarnation of WWT.

    /sigh I linked to Tim Wise's article on AA and told everyone it was written by a white male, so they shouldn't feel threatened. I don't think this is the kind of good idea you're looking for.

    >> "That may sound pessimistic"

    No, you're probably right, unfortunately. It has often been pointed out that ANY space dominated by white people, even/especially WIWL or white anti-racists, is not safe for POC.

  60. @ A. Smith,

    You bring up an interesting area of privilege--WP's ability to display our anger/frustration yet still be listened to. I would not be surprised if, if you get angry on the phone with a WP who assumes you are white, it would not affect zir treatment of you nearly as much.

    (Although, uh, "ignorant racist bastard" might ^_^).

    @ Lutsen:
    Thank you.

  61. Willow,

    I'm guessing that board doesn't have a moderator? If not, is it possible to suggest one?

    It sounds like you're looking more for some way to douse a flame war than new or other arguments to present, but if the latter, have you brought up the idea of various forms of de facto affirmative action for whites?

    no slappz, you've got some catching up to do.

  62. Willow,

    I experienced this in the Ethics class I took last semester (my prof is a big supporter of AA, which is a bit surprising on a private, predominantly White-Catholic campus)--surprise, surprise I was the only Black person. (AA always focuses on Blacks and Latinos, but the only Hispanic person was an international student, so I guess she got a pass). My professor (I would highly recommend his book "Affirmative Action and Racial Preference", a debate with Carl Cohen) got my class especially when he talked about legacy preferences (the school I attend is 20% legacy) and how they don't receive the same flack, athletic preference (debatable), and "prestigious school" name preference (I go to an elite school, and most of us expect to use the school name to get ahead at some point). We focused more of the SAT/GRE as useless (it correlates with wealth, not academic success), than biased (it is, but the fact that the score means nothing in terms of future academics hits harder).

    The final hard-hitting point (my professor actually wrote a second book on this), was the purpose of AA, what he calls "Diversity AA." The basic premise is that minority students bring a diversity to the classroom that benefits both minority and White students, and these educational benefits are too important to pass up. The purpose of AA (per his plan) isn't retribution or necessarily opportunity (in the sense that the biggest beneficiaries of AA, White women, get increased opportunities in the workplace). I was in a classroom debate on AA, and my final points that were most effective were these:

    1. Academic admissions is not a zero-sum game (i.e., my admission does not necessitate someone else's rejection).

    2. Since the numbers of minority students at elite colleges are so low, if a student "lost out" to anyone, it's more likely to be a White student. The university I go to has less than 200 Black students, so the odds of any one White student being merited one of those spots (as opposed to the 7000 spots occupied by White students) are too miniscule to even consider.

    3. Similarly, the anti-AA sentiment makes no sense in comparison to the lack of anti-legacy sentiment, since statistically half of accepted legacies (at my school) wouldn't be accepted without legacy preference. That fact makes it difficult to argue that anti-AA sentiment is without a racially biased component.

    There's more, but I'll leave it at that. :-)

  63. PREACH! Great post.

    This reminds me of a comment I read at the end of a post about Survivor. The original poster wrote: "I like [the black male contestant]. That boy sure can swim!"

    Someone immediately commented afterwards that "boy" is a racially derogatory term. Why couldn't he refer to [the black male contestant] as a man?

    About 10 people jumped in to defend the original poster by calling the corrector out on "being too sensitive".

    Well, I commented underneath to co-sign with the corrector. This MAN is 26 years old. Why are you calling him a boy? It doesn't matter if the original comment was meant to be complimentary, it still reveals the thinking...that this MAN is a boy to you.

    This post highlighted to me that dominant groups:

    1. Don't recognize their own offensive behavior
    2. Don't apologize for their offensive behavior unless there's social pressure
    3. Diminish the feelings of the non-dominant groups

    The responsibility for improving race relations in the U.S., for example, falls on white people's shoulders because they are the privileged group.

  64. I've seen similar comments on another DC-centric message board I frequent. I often chime in to object and occasionally will find allies (who either rally in support or are already present), but generally it is an echo chamber. Some folks may defend the students more generally, with a "kids will be kids" defense, but they are usually eerily silent on the racial issues at play. It comes up with regards to other scenarios as well, such as discussions of the Adams Morgan neighborhood at night. It is always the same, vile, loaded language. I try to call it out where I can, but rarely seem to succeed.

  65. Jara-

    Very interesting! I had an almost opposite experience one time. In discussing the Democratic primary for Mayor between Vincent Gray (AA) and Adrian Fenty (biracial AA and white), I used the term 'boy' in the affectionate way as is often common amongst today's youth (can I still consider myself among the youth? I hope so...) in referring to the candidate I was supporting. While I understand the very different ways in which this word has been used within and in reference to black men, I was (I feel) quite clear in the context in which I used it to designate how I was using it. Of course, my opponent immediately insisted I was being the racist one, even though I A) had a reputation on the boards for being virulently anti-racist, B) she was supporting a candidate who demonstrated a pretty intense disregard for the black community of DC, and C) insisted that Vincent Gray was not "really black" because he was fair skinned.

    Now, in hindsight, I probably shouldn't have used the term as I did, because of the easy confusion without the tone demonstrated in speaking. However, I found it interesting that suddenly folks were ready to call out racism when A) it didn't exist and B) it suited their needs. These people were all silent any other times racist language emerged but, when it suited their need, suddenly they were allies. Of course, when I and another poster demonstrated how this language could be used int he way that I did, she insisted we were ignorant and racist and eventually just ceased posting. Ugh. Damned if do, damned if don't.

  66. To answer the question of "why" white people do this, I think the answer is obvious: inherently, white people identify with other white people, in a way that we don't identify with other races despite other commonalities.

    When a white adult sees a white teen act obnoxious, he thinks, "I was that way once." He sees someone who looks like him so the behavior is recognizable and familiar. Often times, I've even seen older white folks nostalgic for such times and such behaviors.

    But when a white adult sees a black teen act that very same way, he does not identify with him. He sees different... other... outsider. Suddenly, the very same behavior is unrelatable and alien. As such, there is no positive or familiar connection to it and, as such, it is seen as wholly negative.

    Now, if your question is why don't white people speak up on the boards, I think there are multiple reasons.
    1.) Odds are that people who are actively anti-racist are unlikely to frequent such boards. I used to post on some boards (e.g., ESPN) when issues of race, class, gender, etc. came up. Unfortunately, while there was often some support, it ultimately became shouting into the wind and fruitless. The anonymity of the internet led folks to express their innermost hatred and no amount of reasoned discourse that I could offer would make a difference. I'm sure my comments had positive impact on some, but the emotional toll it took on me of battling the trolls was too much and I essentially stopped.
    Another reason is that when some white people act in absurdly racist ways, it provides a bit of comfort to other, less racist whites. "Well, it's not like I'm in the KKK," they say, "So how can I be racist?" As long as those "real" racists exist, the quite ones can act in the shadows.
    Third, many people are afraid of confrontation. Even I struggle with this. As I have become more actively anti-racist, I struggle when long time friends make racist jokes. Jokes I was once silent during or okay with. Do I risk the friendship to hold my principals? Ideally, yes. But this is easier said than done and I think often leads to a certain paralysis. Clearly, it means there is more work to be done at an individual level as an anti-racist and by no means excuses the silence, but it justifies it. Now, the interweb doesn't necessarily carry the same risks, because of the anonymity and lack of personal connection with our fellow posters; we have less to lose from confrontation. But still, we are inherently trained to avoid it.

    At least, those are a few thoughts. None of them are original and my hunch is other commenters have already weighed in (I haven't read the comments here yet), but I will now. Great post!

  67. Something I increasingly think about is how we label the person who speaks up to racism (or some other form of ugly behavior) as the troublemaker. If I'm with a group of (white) friends and someone says something racist and I say, "Hey, what the hell?" suddenly I'm causing a situation. If I'm at the dinner table and an older relative pipes in with bigotry and I speak up, suddenly I'm creating an issue.


    Isn't the person spewing the racism or hatred or bigotry of whatever it may be the one who's creating the issue? Is this response simply because we want to avoid the confrontation? Or is it evidence that the ugly behavior is the norm and deviating from that is the creation of a problem? It boils my blood. I've been in bars where I've overheard something ugly (not from my group) and I've considered saying something. I'm also told that I shouldn't make a scene or risk a fight or whatever. All this does is reinforce the idea that this behavior is okay. And it ignores the great (and silent) discomfort it causes people. And not just myself, as a white anti-racist, but more importantly, the person or people targeted by their ugliness.

  68. (Sorry for all the posts, but I'm really intrigued with the dialogue going on here.)

    "I'm feeling more and more that put-up-or-shut-up time is coming for so-called White anti-racist "allies."

    I am a bit bothered by this sentiment. Doesn't it risk making the good the enemy of the perfect? Racial identity and, consequently, anti-racist activism is not a flip that gets switched. It is a long, complicated, often slow process. If you want to eject people who are not ready to throw blows over a racist comment from the movement, all you are going to do is winnow the numbers. Now, is someone with hesitancy to action an ideal ally? Are they someone who truly and honestly "gets it"? No. But they are an ally nonetheless and need support, not derision. There is a lot to learn about being an ally. I have taken action that I thought was support of PoC's only to find out it was exactly the opposite. My heart was in the right place, but I didn't understand the complexity of the situation in question. So, yes, if you are one of the folks who can stand up and take blows and not think twice about what you risk, my hat is off to you. That is an admirable place to be and one I hope to achieve one day. But I'm not there yet. I'm working on it. But I have a lot of work to do on my self before I can take on the whole world. If you want to tell me that means I'm not a true ally, so be it. But all you are going to do is harm the work.

  69. (Didn't realize this post was over a year old. Sorry. Linked here from somewhere else. Ugh.)

  70. This blog entry is really great. As it happens, I just came across a racist post in another blog a few hours before I wrote this, and I had a moment when I read the blog where I thought, "Should I say something?" I'm white, but I have family, through my sister's marriage, who are black, and her kids are bi-racial. Since my extended family became mixed race, I think about these things so much more than I ever did, even though I've always considered myself anti-racist.

    Well, I didn't comment, and so this blog made me think about why. I think the biggest problem is that white people don't take other white people as "experts" on race as much as they will a black person or another person of color. They're not going to give your criticism the same weight, and probably will say, oh you're just being PC or self-righteous to make yourself feel superior. Honestly, I do think this is the attitude.

    But I think that this attitude springs from something that only as I have gotten older have I come to believe -- that whether we admit it or not, white people (and I'm thinking about American white people here in particular) are ashamed of race. We're ashamed that slavery ever happened, we're ashamed that the whole American ideal of liberty and equality for all was a lie and is still in the process of becoming true, we're ashamed that we have more privilege than other Americans. We. Are. Ashamed. And we all deal with this shame in different ways - some through pure denial and repression that basically becomes racist action, but others through ignoring racism when we see it, passively. It's too shameful to think about. Yes, as one poster above said, that's a kind of privilege in itself, to be able to ignore. But the more I'm aware of myself, as I gain in years, the more I realize that what I'm feeling is a kind of shared shame. And I hope this doesn't sound like "White people are hurting!" here. What I mean is -- all of us, of all races, have inherited a broken world, and I think we inherit the shame of what our cultural ancestors did. Slavery and its legacy is some heavy shit and white people can't deal with it, so most of us choose not to, suppress it, deny that shame. I just wanted to put that out there.

  71. This SO hits home right now! I finally brought something up at work to the head boss after having discussed it with my supervisor. A couple of out of the office sort-of superiors had been making comments to me (I'm white) and treating me differently than they were my coworkers (all but the head boss are black). It upset me because (and I still have a hard time figuring out how to express myself about it) in part it felt like these two people were each, separately by the way, trying to get me in on something I didn't want part of at all. I didn't want to be part of their inner circle o racism and classism! I didn't want to be the one they could confide in and who, "understood them," or to whom they felt they could be candid.

    They already have those patterns that people who want to make sure people of color don't think they're a racist have- you know- the more complex versions of the, "Some of my best friends are black." Say we're having a discussion (the rare times that they lower themselves to speak with we members of lower classes than their almighty selves...) well, they pull out a very loosely related kind of random stretch of something that involves them interacting with a person of color. I know what they're doing, the people of color know what they're doing- ug!

    My mother hates it but has gotten used to it (or determined that it could get ugly if she addresses it) when at family functions I totally call out family members who say things, make remarks, etc. that are racist, classist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. I do it in as non-condescending way that I can, stay on point and keep the discussion where it is most effective if possible. But I will get a little more...harsh? in my statements. One Thanksgiving there was some discussion about re-naming so many roads after people of color in our area. I said that streets all over the place have been re-named for all kinds of people and some were for our family members! It was a bit over the top but I surely did bring a little print out for everyone at Christmas that year...

    I try to be sure that I call people out or, better really- engage in discussion- on these sorts of things as much as possible. I can think of a few times that I've utilized this white privilege I have (like it or not it is a reality) to argue with police and other officials who try to strong arm crowds of mostly people of color at an assortment of events. I always feel better about a situation/ encounter when I've done that- I know that I've at least tried to make someone see what is going on and not let it slide. But I don't always do it. For whatever reason- and those moments usually make me feel bad, make me regret not saying something. Sometimes it hits me later- why something someone said was eating at me. One of the times I don't say something- or don't tend to say something is when doing so would lend itself towards putting my job in jeopardy. And I HATE that. It makes my stomach turn, my heart hurt, muscles tense and I get so ANGRY!

    Another time I tend to not respond is online. Other than my friend's blog I don't usually comment on things. Sure, on Facebook I may say something like, "Cute!" or "I really didn't like that movie," but rarely something less trivial/ light hearted. I usually don't read responses/ comments either because many times (especially on newspaper-y sites) it is all so ignorant and full of nonsense. I don't know what to make of that- should we start holding people accountable on their comments? Is that something that would be effective? That is at least something to think about...

    One thing that I LOVE is the video Jay Smooth did- How to tell people they sound Racist. I think it has some good ideas about how to try and talk to people.


  72. Why is this? Why would people read these comments and not think enough of the absurdity to correct the original poster in the same way disparaging comments about the disabled, or women, or men are often corrected?

    I am a white person and I have spoken up before, but not on every occasion, and its almost always been with friends face to face encounters. On the internet, when I see stuff like that, 99 times out of a 100, I'll walk on by. I am not saying its right to walk, and I agree that one should speak up, but the reason I do is because I feel a kind of tired resignation confronting anonymous racists. You can't change em, arguing with them is depressing and feels hopeless, but I also know changing them's not the point - the point is that someone says something (and that's how I approach it in real life). I am not offering this as an excuse or justification, but an explanation. I guess it comes down to not wanting to waste time interacting with anon internet idiots. So that is the why for at least one of us.


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