Thursday, July 30, 2009

describe east asian people as "yellow"

Here's a great moment from an old children's quiz show:

Go Jerry!

I've heard people of Asian descent, and especially people of various East Asian descents, referred to as "yellow." I also still hear such people referred to as "Orientals." In both cases, the speakers were older white Americans. Both usages should be at least as long gone and forgotten as the old TV show that this clip is from, but they're not yet.

I also found this exchange in the comments at YouTube interesting:

m4lvolio (2 days ago)

That asian kid is gonna go brucelee on his [sic] ass after the show.

rathrio (1 day ago)

you're as cliché-oriented as that little girl is.

m4lvolio (1 day ago)

The only difference being that I did it intentionally, as a joke. It kinda ruins the fun when you have to explain something like this.

"Ruins the fun"?

m4lvolio doesn't seem to realize that while acting racist in a joking, ironic manner may seem "fun," it's still racist. Not to mention, as rathrio points out, cliché oriented.

Some still wonder if "yellow" is a racist term. They should ask the Israeli Ambassador to Australia about it. In 2006, Naftali Tamir was "recalled" from his ambassadorship for making this loaded comment:

Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don't have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not -- we are basically the white race.

Speaking of quiz shows, here's a quiz for this blog's many smart readers -- why is referring to people in racial terms as "yellow" considered racist, and yet, doing so with the terms "black" or "white" is not considered racist?

h/t: Angry Asian Man; the YouTube commeters write that the program this clip is from was aired in New Zealand in the 1980s, and was called "W3."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

point out that "free speech" protects "hate speech"

What would you do if a neighbor of yours put up a sign like the one that this woman has prominently displayed on her house?

I know what I would do -- call CNN and have them send out a reporter!

Actually, although I meant that last sentence facetiously, alerting the local and national media does seem like a good idea. Maybe CNN's report will bring enough attention to this sign to get that woman to take it down.

(For anyone who can't see the video, it's a brief report about a woman in Texas who has a very visible sign on her house that reads "HISPANICS KEEP OUT.")

Aside from what you might do if this were your neighbor, what do you suppose your neighborhood in general would do? Would they, like this woman's neighbors, decline to make any official complaints, because putting up with her sign is their way of practicing "tolerance"?

Is practicing tolerance for such intolerant speech really "tolerance"? I guess it is, technically, but it's not my kind of tolerance. Anyway, I don't even care much for the notion of tolerance itself in these matters -- what are really you saying about someone when you say that you're willing to "tolerate" them?

In a situation like this, if you or your neighbors were not Hispanic, would you or they find ways to reach out to any Hispanic families in the neighborhood?

This incident also makes me wonder about the dividing line between protected "free speech" and unprotected "hate speech." "Speech" of this sort -- not only things people say, but also what they display on signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and so on -- often gets defended in the U.S. as "free speech." When Americans do that, they're basically saying, "Hey, you may not like it, but it's a free country. People can say whatever they want."

But if this kind of racist, hateful speech is protected by the United States' First Amendment, what kind of racist, hateful speech is not protected by it? I mean, how much worse than this woman's racist, highly visible sign does it have to get before such speech can be shut down?

My understanding is that for one thing, hate speech is not protected if it clearly and directly seeks to incite some sort of violence. But if that's the dividing line, isn't the definition of "violence" rather open to interpretation? If I saw such a sign in my neighborhood, telling Hispanics or any other group of people to "KEEP OUT," I'd consider my having to see it every time I go for a walk an act of violence. Not to mention the painful effects it would have on any non-white people driving by, or living in the neighborhood.

And surely this sign does encourage violence against any Hispanic families that might live in the neighborhood. But then, I suppose, it doesn't explicitly, directly encourage such violence. It just orders them to "KEEP OUT," as in, "stay off my property." It doesn't tell Hispanics to keep out of this neighborhood or town, although the "tolerance" of the neighbors for her sign may well do that.

Maybe the best cure for hate speech of this sort is, as they say, more speech. (Maybe that kind of cure should be called "love speech.") Should neighbors who find this woman's free speech a distressing, injurious disgrace find ways to drown hers out? Maybe by putting up signs of their own?


Maybe someone should print up a bunch of signs like that, and then go to that town at three in the morning, and stick one in everyone's yard (including this woman's, of course). Then come back in a day or two and see how many are still there.

That might also give a better idea of just how "tolerant" this neighborhood really is. And who knows, it might be even help to make it more tolerant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

use the word 'diversity' to avoid really dealing with 'race'

This is a guest post by The Witty Mulatto, who blogs at Madness To The Method. She writes of herself, "I'm a piano student and radical left-wing critical race theorist in Our Nation's Capital, which is a good place to be both those things. Also, I'm a drag king. It doesn't get much cooler than that."

What do you think of when you hear the word 'diversity'? Maybe some multi-colored hand-holding? Maybe a bunch of happy children of all races and colors cavorting in rainbow shirts?

I’ll tell you what I think of when I think of diversity: I think of white people. Which is funny, because that’s exactly what you’re not supposed to think of when you think of diversity. But it’s true.

‘Diversity’ should be number one on the list of White People’s Favorite Words. It’s a word that people bandy about when they’ve noticed that their organization is overwhelmingly white, but aren’t really sure why or what to do about it. In the words of a former teacher of mine (one of the few clued-in white people I know), “Diversity basically means ‘let’s talk about black people’.” He means that when people speak of ‘diversity’, they rarely get to the meat of things.

White people’s idea of diversity is skewed. Like the aforementioned kids in rainbow shirts. That’s a freaking melting pot, is what that is. Heads up, gentlemen: only white people talk about a melting pot like it’s a good thing. Though they don’t mean it to be, ‘melting pot’ is synonymous with ‘assimilation’.

In a white organization's eyes, no “diverse” place is complete without a white woman, a Latino, an Indian, an Asian person, a Muslim, some Black folks, a gay man, a person in a wheelchair, and an old person. Preferably in cultural garb where applicable. This “collect them all” mentality actually takes away from diversity. What impact is one Latina gonna have in a roomful of non-Latinos?

Inevitably, this is an unintentional form of an old white standby: divide and conquer. And the end result is that once again, white people get the largest representation. The organization is still overwhelmingly white, even when they are technically outnumbered by POC’s.

Not only that, but white people also think an organization can’t be diverse without white people. I know this because I go to Howard University, the top Black school in the nation. (The only time I hear anybody say ‘diversity’ there is in the context of the white students.) On at least three separate occasions, white acquaintances have asked me if it bothers me to go to a school where there’s so little diversity. I’m like, “Yeah, it would bother me if I actually went to a school like that.” I mean, Howard’s got people from all fifty states and at least a hundred countries. We have a sizable African community and a giant Caribbean community. We have Latino and Asian students. We have more lower-class students than white schools do. But, because most students have black skin, most white people think that cannot possibly be “diverse”.

But the thing that really gets me about 'diversity' is that it’s such a euphemistic word. I hate it when people scoot around race. If you weren’t raised or immersed in American culture and ways, you would have no idea that when people say diversity, they mean race. Yeah, they throw in gender (meaning white women) and orientation (meaning gay men) every so often, but really mostly it’s about race -- and yet the word of choice is diversity, not race, as if race is a dirty word. I am continually and completely amazed by the complicated dances Americans perform around racial issues without even knowing it. ‘Diversity’ is just a header -- there’s a whole list of vocabulary that’s required to perform those dances.

White organizations everywhere create entire commissions and councils surrounding diversity. Their mission statements usually say things like, “We believe the University environment is greatly enriched by the presence of people with diverse backgrounds and cultural perspectives.” They have a lot of pretty words. But what they really mean is, “How can we reach out to people of color and make them want to join our organization?”

The question that logically comes next but is rarely asked is, “Why would people of color WANT to join our organization?”

If you asked THAT question, things would get interesting.

I had this experience when I first decided to get socially/politically active. I knew vaguely what I wanted to see happen, but I didn’t know the first thing about how to go about it. So I joined an organization I had read some about in my historical research: the National Organization for Women (NOW). (I didn’t know that they were once anti-dyke under Betty Friedan.)

NOW was thrilled, absolutely thrilled to have me. For a couple of months during my freshman year I went around campaigning for abortion rights. I carried signs. I even got to meet Hillary Clinton. (It was back when I still considered myself a Democrat, so I was elated.)

But something creeped me out. I knew it had something to do with the lack of POC’s, but that wasn’t all of it. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Now, as the radical analyst that I like to be, I can jam my finger straight into its fleshy white stomach: NOW only wants people of color on their terms. Sure, they wanna hear what we have to say, but when it comes to making policy, you better be on board with them. They used to ask me, you know, “Why aren’t other Howard students interested in NOW?”

Because NOW doesn’t represent us. White organizations don’t want to represent people of color; they just want to include them.

So in a way, ‘diversity’, like ‘melting pot’, is just another word for ‘assimilation’.

Whenever somebody says that word, you can bet white people are calling the shots.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

allow the label "white" to obscure their actual color

If you're a "white" person, what color are you really?

When I hold up my hand, or look into a mirror, I have to think beyond my fictional "whiteness" to see what color I really am.

My skin is not the color -- or lack of color -- of a piece of paper. I am not, literally, "white."

When I try to discern and label accurately the color of my skin, I come up with "pink, but then, kind of beige, too."

I'm a little darker in some places, a little lighter in others, but nowhere am I really "white."

I remember being in a used bookstore once and flipping through a book by Clarence Major called Black Slang: A Dictionary of Afro-American Talk. I was struck by the definition for the word "pink."

Now I can find this dictionary again on Google Books and easily look up that entry. So here it is:

Pink: (1900-40s) white person.

Major also included this, as the next definition:

Pink chasers: (1900-40s) black people who deliberately cultivate friendships with white people.

For several centuries now, "black" people have been pressed into daily contact with "white" people. As I've gradually come to understand, this proximity has afforded black people all sorts of secret knowledge about their supposed betters. That's obviously true of other groups excluded from whiteness as well, and I sometimes wonder whether different groups have gathered and shared among themselves differing examples of such subordinated knowledge.

Surely this usage of "pink" was something that black people carefully avoided uttering aloud whenever a white person might hear it. So what did its covert usage signal, or imply?

Maybe to call a white person a "pink" meant, in a deceptively simple way, "They may call themselves 'white,' but that's not what they are."

I like to think -- without actually knowing whether it's true -- that this common black term for white Americans signaled an oppressed people's collectively private recognition. This would have been the recognition of a singular, unwarranted, and really rather ridiculous arrogance among their self-appointed betters.

If the term "pink" was used to point out that those so-called white people are not actually "white," but closer instead to "pink," then racial whiteness itself was exposed as a fiction. And then, so were the presumptions of a people who had arrogated to themselves -- and thereby implied the opposite about others -- the pure, clean, unblemished, and uninfected connotations of the word "white." A word that falsely denotes a lack of something that the skin of so-called white people actually does not lack: color.

In other words, maybe black people called white people "pinks" because they knew that white people are delusional. I know that I am, because when I look in my bathroom mirror, I don't see my actual color as any particular, actual color. As I said above, I have to think about it, and then I'll think, and see, colors like "pink," or "beige," or during the summer, "tan."

And then when I step out into the world, if someone were to ask me what "color" or "race" I am, as various authority figures and official forms have asked me before, a false reality to which I normally subscribe would reassert itself.

I would say, in the usual, deluded manner of my tribe, "I'm white."

Friday, July 24, 2009

white movie friday : transformers: revenge of the fallen

This is a guest post by Gary Collins, a white male, 25 years old, who lives in Brooklyn, New York City and produces short films for The Department of Public Subversion.

Michael Bay presents . . .
The New Face of Black America

“If God made us in His image, who do you think made them?"

In the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the single black (human) male of the cast, USAF Master Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) utters that line by way of introducing the movie's towering title characters. It's a question that's perhaps more interesting than intended, given how unapologetically racist some of these new transformer personalities are. As for who made them, I blame the surrealistic but unwittingly white-minded director, Michael Bay, who presents throughout the movie a sort of minstrel laser light show.

Back in the summer of 2007 I decided that I would not be lured back for a second helping after my disappointment, as a fan and as a sentient human life form, over the first Transformers film.

Early reviews of the second installment promised more blacked-up robots, and after reading them I suddenly felt a responsibility to participate in the conversation. After all, discussion is a healthy step toward accountability. The reviews referenced the unnecessary racializing of superior alien beings traveling time and space to knuckle up on Earth. People talking about race is a good thing, but then, this is just a story about a space robot smackdown, right?

On opening day, a friend and I stood in a line stretching out of the theatre to the sidewalk in downtown New York City. Inside, an enthusiastic crowd of couples, families, and fanboys filled cinema four.

Throughout the show, the audience in the theatre was clearly satisfied, and I too was not above appreciating the entertainment objective of the filmmakers. My friend and I cheered along as Optimus Prime, the benevolent leader of the human-embracing Autobots, fought the good fight to save mankind from the Evil (capital E!) Decepticons.

But then, darkness (as it were) descended -- we became outnumbered in our section by laughs when the ridiculous twin Autobots, Mudflap and Skids, periodically rolled into the spotlight.

Think Jar Jar Bots. Remember the crows from Dumbo. Think Amos 'n’ Andy Meet R2D2 'n' C3PO. Picture an 11 foot, 1.2 metric ton, anthropomorphized Chevrolet with googly eyes, a protruding gold tooth, and an ape-like strut, spitting out "ghetto" slang. Now picture two of them, talkin’ that jive. By which I mean they 'gun on' one another, insulting their mutual inadequacy, their shared ignorance; it’s the incessant chattering of the monkey mind. The inflection is insulting to anyone with even a basic understanding of what a racist stereotype is. The attempt at humor is uncomfortable and not in any way suggestive of an enlightened wit on the part of its creators. These absurdly ghettoized characters add nothing to the story, except to provide some light moments between the 'splosions.

Director Michael Bay has defended Mudflap and Skids, claiming they "make the story more accessible to kids."

Yes, that’s right, he's coming for your kids. Did I mention that Tom Kenny provides the voice for Skids, the robot with a single gold tooth? He's Sponge Bob Squarepants.

A black couple in their early thirties to my left chuckled when the twins protest a human's suggestion that they even know how to read. Super-advanced alien robots with impossible amounts of moving parts and processing power. . . but they don't know how to read. Not that they can't, not that they're incapable, but they simply have not yet taken the opportunity to download that application. Because, you see, they're black-ish, which I guess means that when it comes to some important things, like say, reading, they’re too lazy to get that going for themselves. They talk black, they walk black, and they're even on CP Time -- they show up late for apocalyptic battles.

Mudflap and Skids mostly lope around behind the more important characters, mumbling constantly with unsubtle, "ass-bitch-shi-mutha" interjections.

Reno Wilson, the voice of Mudflap, suggests in his own interpretation of the characters, "It's an alien who uploaded information from the Internet and put together the conglomeration and formed this cadence, [this] way of speaking and body language that was accumulated... and that's what came out. If he had uploaded country music, he would have come out like that."

Wilson added, rather improbably, that he never imagined viewers might consider the twins to be objectionable racial caricatures. Nevertheless, Michael Bay unpacked his action figures and built some straight up hood rats. The result is a steady stream of ignorant, bickering, hateful epithets, puked out onto the audience in the name of comedy.

And black minstrelsy isn't the only sort on display; there's a heavy load of brownface too. The twins take particular issue with the human protagonist's roommate and unhappy sidekick, Leo Spitz (Ramon Rodriguez), the film's representative Latino and Conspiracy Theorist. The Latino family in our section, two generations deep, roared as Skids suggests, in a moment of frustration, "Hey! Let's bust a cap in [Leo's] butt!" And the collective audience of the entire theatre released a wall of audible approval later in the story when Leo admits, ashamed, "I think I'm having a nervous breakdown. . ." In response Mudflap suggests, "That's cause you're a pussy!" and then, to Skids, reaches out for the unspoken bond of a knuckle five.

Following in an American cinematic tradition that just won't die, these two black characters are left for dead. Mudflap and Skids are simply tossed off after their usefulness has been consumed, much like the Mandingo Autobot Jazz of the first Transformers installment, a breakdancing black gangster robot, and subsequently the first to be ripped apart. It's suggested that they're merely unconscious with battle fatigue, but the storytellers give no definitive explanation. "Who cares?" the message seems to be, "they're just the black comic relief.”

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but notice that the packed, multicultural, multiracial opening-day audience seemed to enjoy the entire spectacle very much, spilling out of the theatre with an energetic buzz. Aside from the surprise my friend and I shared, there didn't seem to be any murmuring or confusion, no sort of indignant "did you catch that?!" that another friend of mine reported experiencing throughout the film when he saw it two weeks later at the same crowded theatre.

I was left to wonder, had I experienced a sort of opening-day audience solidarity? Had we seen it all before, too often, to expect better, and instead thoughtlessly appreciated what’s really a terribly pandering movie? Or worse, is it what we knowingly came and paid and gave our time to absorb, digest, and take home with us, in our brains, in our kids?

For me the answer is, "Certainly." It was what I had read about and what I was expecting. I still can’t really believe just how far they pushed these ideas without the studio, Paramount, putting a stop to it.

Most of the frame is dedicated to the relentless spectacle unfolding, really beating down on the audience with sensory over-stimulation. As viewers go along for the roller-coaster ride, they should keep in mind then that the storytellers garnish this beast with homophobic, racist, misogynistic, militaristic content, portrayed as comedic entertainment to benefit you, the audience.

They expect you to appreciate it, to laugh at it, in those moments when you come up for air. Especially if you're white.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Trailer)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

feel incomplete without a homie

If you've got a minute look closely at Homies & Honkies (it's just one page).

You're sure to smile once or twice, maybe even laugh.

Lots of memories there, too.

And I never noticed, but I guess Burt is lighter -- whiter? -- than Ernie.

h/t: The Last Electic Bohemian Griot

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

travel to exotic locations, meet adorable children, and shoot them

This is a guest post written for swpd by bookpenporch, who describes herself as a writer and graduate student based in the U.S. Midwest. She reads, writes and thinks about growing up in the rural U.S. South, and about race in literature and public discourse.

At my undergraduate institution in the U.S., 60% of the students “study abroad.” I was among this 60%, studying history in Prague and Shakespeare at Oxford. At some point, consciously or unconsciously, I did many of the things that make people in Europe annoyed with U.S. American college students: I made too much noise in my residential apartment building, refused to attempt more than a few words in the national language, and ate pizza and McDs instead of potato dumplings and blood sausages. I wasn’t the worst, though, and I knew that the less noise I made, the more I would learn, and the more respectful I would be of the people around me who happened to live in a popular tourist spot for privileged U.S. students.

Some of my college friends went to countries and cities in impoverished regions of the world on their international trips. Some had grants, some had Daddy’s Amex, some were conducting research, some were with NGOs, church missions groups, medically-focused non-profits, but almost all had a need for an interesting grad school essay or job interview topic.

And, like me, all of them returned to the U.S. with hundreds of pictures to post on Facebook. My pictures were of the ridiculously beautiful architecture in Prague and Oxford. Cultural appropriation, check. I was taking such photos from a position of privilege, but the friends and classmates I mentioned above came back with pictures that somehow grated on me much more than my 50 shots of the Charles Bridge.

You see, these pictures -- and there are hundreds of them on Facebook, and elsewhere on the net -- feature adorable children. Real children. Children that bear no relation to the owner of said picture. Children looking lost or reluctantly smiling at the beaming white person that, so this white person would like to imagine, Saved Them From The Jungles/Deserts of Africa/the Caribbean/South America/Southeast Asia. You know, for a week. And then left for a day of lounging on the country’s beautiful coast, and then for a cushioned airplane seat, and then for a comfortable desk in an air-conditioned home, where they uploaded the pictures of the poor, poor children whose lives they changed forever in just one day/week/month.

And it’s not just college students. I know many working adults who do this, too.

Wait a minute, you might say, that’s harsh. They were probably delivering medical supplies, building a school, delivering mosquito nets. Surely these photos are not evidence of a thinly veiled excuse for an “exotic” (ooh, there’s that word) vacation; this is philanthropy, global community service, not a tourism trend!

Don’t worry, I know that nonprofits sometimes perform wonders. My own husband is a medical professional engaged in public health research. Good people with good intentions often do good things for others. Got it.

But I sometimes want to say to such travelers, try to turn the tables for a moment. Imagine that a stranger that does not speak your language walks into your community and starts taking pictures of and with your cousins, the kids you babysit, and your own little ones. Also, imagine that this stranger is well dressed and the kids in your neighborhood do not have shoes. And then imagine that these pictures of your children will be posted online for everyone to see, but you don't have the internet. Nor a camera for that matter.

Then, imagine that these strangers taking pictures would feel some sense of nobility, of self-worth, of an earned knowledge about your community and life, just by owning and displaying said pictures.

To most if not all white folks reading this, and maybe even to most U.S. Americans, this reversed scenario is almost impossible to fathom, and even brings to mind the number for the local Neighborhood Watch and NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.”

Speaking of white folks, how many times have you seen a picture of a person of color with his/her arms around destitute white children in Eastern Europe? Hugging white kids at a free clinic in rural Kentucky? A white person holding a cute Parisian child she saw on the street during her business trip to the City of Love? If these pictures are out there, I haven’t seen them.

Why, faithful readers of this excellent blog, do white folks travel to exotic locations, meet adorable children, and shoot them? Is this trend, in fact, another example of the stuff white people do? I’ll offer a few reasons why I think it is, but I’m mostly interested in what you think.

Here are my thoughts:

Appropriation and exploitation -- As a white person living in the U.S., it is not only my privilege but my feel-good habit/hobby/vacation option to swoop into a country about which I know nothing, drop a few boxes of shoes, take pictures with children while their parents/aunts/cousins/grandparents watch, and to in the process somehow claim these children as my own. I vicariously experience their suffering, capture it in a still frame, and somehow feel more alive in my neoliberal, disconnected, consumerist living experience. I, the almighty white woman, have been to Africa and nursed her children out of the throes of malnutrition and disease. Her children are my children. Madonna, meet Malawi.

In these photographs, children are exploited to build social capital. It is so last year, so K-mart middle America to take a vacation; real liberals wouldn’t do that. I can’t help but think of the commercials for Sasha Cohen’s new movie, Bruno, in which he adopts an African baby because Angelina and Madonna have one, and in which he also states, “I’m really into issues. Darfur’s a big one. So what’s next, what’s Dar-five?” Your “experience” in South America can become just another item to check off the bucket list, a line on your resume, fodder for a great graduate school application.

Assuagement of our dear friend, White Guilt -- Sometimes I think this phenomenon is another one of those things we white folks do to feel better about our privilege, a visual reminder that, though we might not be able to do much about the fact that we like our Nikes and we like them cheap, we can sleep in the only concrete room in a village for a week, drop a few boxes of malaria meds, and call it even. And even come home with invaluable souvenirs to remind us of just how much those sweet little children looked up to us! I have four cars while a billion people (most of whom don’t happen to be white) on the planet are starving, but I went on a missions trip, and look how happy I made this malnutritioned little boy!

All of the above reminds me of the quote that macon borrowed about a year ago for a rather similar post, from bell hooks’ essay “Eating the Other”:

The desire to make contact with those bodies deemed Other, with no apparent will to dominate, assuages the guilt of the past, and even takes the form of a defiant gesture where one denies accountability and historical connection. Most importantly, it establishes a contemporary narrative where the suffering imposed by structures of domination on those designated Other is deflected by an emphasis on seduction and longing where the desire is not to make the Other over in one’s image but to become the Other.

And yet, in these photographs one doesn’t just become the Other; s/he becomes in a sense the source of the Other, the womb from which the life of the Other springs, the nurturer, protector, guardian and savior of the Other. A white woman holding a Honduran child like she conceived, birthed, and nursed him assuages white guilt. It also exploits the Other by reestablishing the hierarchy in which white people are the source of all that is good in life, including both the poor, suffering, adorable Other-child, and the aid that will end his/her suffering.

Maybe that’s a stretch; more likely, it’s not.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

think they can put themselves in the shoes of black people

I'm sure that by now, most of my readers have heard about the arrest (and subsequent dropped charges) of the most famous black professor in America, and perhaps the whole world, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Given my blog's topic, what interests me as much as the question (which to me is not a question) of whether his arrest was racist, are the reactions to it that I'm hearing and reading from white people. Those who seem to know a thing or two about how racism really works in America are mostly either as outraged as I am, or withholding complete judgment until more facts come in.

Many others, though, seem to lack the understanding that because they're white, they'll simply never know what it's like to be black in America. To have to be aware of that, so much of the time, while navigating largely white spaces. Like say, a wealthy neighborhood near Harvard University. Even if it's your own damn neighborhood.

So, you finally pull up to your house after a fifteen-hour flight from China, and then your front door is stuck. Damn! Then you ask the man who drove you home for assistance in getting it open, aware as you do so that your white neighbors' eyes are probably on you, feeling physically exhausted from your travels and now suddenly tense about this damn door. Eventually you manage to get inside, and then a police officer is knocking on the door and expressing doubts that you're the real resident of your own house! When you go to get the ID that he demands, he follows you inside, and when you show it to him, he turns around to leave with nary a word, let alone a respectful or regretful one. And then when you get to your front door, you see a whole bunch of other police on your doorstep!

Well then, after all that, who wouldn't start yelling things about what so often happens to black people in America? (Assuming he actually did start yelling -- it does look like he was yelling after getting handcuffed for being "loud and tumultuous.")

But here I am as I write this, imagining what it must've been like for Professor Gates that day. I think I should stop right there, and I probably should've stopped sooner. I should stop because I'm white, and he's black, and I'll just never know what such moments are like for black people.

So I shouldn't say, as a lot of white people are saying, that Gates should've shown some restraint, and then everything would've been all right. Or that the actions of the police had nothing to do with his being black, and that he should've instead been "grateful that somebody was investigating a possible break-in at his home." Or that his acting in any other way than completely calm and obedient was what caused his arrest for "disorderly conduct." Or that he probably made a ruckus because he knew it would get national attention, and so he "played the race card."

Because I'm white, I shouldn't say things like what this white columnist says, in a completely white-framed discussion of the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

This doesn't appear to be racism. It sounds to me like a colossal case of extraordinarily bad judgment on the part of a distinguished African American historian who happens to teach at Harvard, and who certainly should've known better.

That right there. That too is so white, isn't it? Talking about a black man with a PhD, a Harvard professorship and a mile-long list of accomplishments about how he "should've known better." Talking about him like he's little more than a child.

To think that if I were in a black man's shoes in a moment like that, I would act differently, more "sensibly," seems ridiculous. To think that my perspective is basically the same as his. To think that I could really have much of any idea at all what it's like to be black in such all-too-familiar (for black people) moments. And yet, I think we white people do that all the time.

Having read the police report and a lot of insightful discussions of this event, it seems very likely to me that the police did act in racist ways, whether consciously or unconsciously. And then, so did a lot of white people when they heard about this event, as they also do when they hear about others like it.

I think that the moment when their racism kicks in, and causes them to say naive, foolish things, is right when they think they know what that would be like, because they're basically imagining themselves in that moment. But then, because they're white, they really have no clue about what it's like to be on the wrong side in such moments. And so, they should stop thinking and talking as if they do.

Monday, July 20, 2009

insist that barack obama wasn't born in the united states

This example of a thing that white people do is not something that all that many white people do (at least, I hope not). However, I do think that to doubt that President Barack Obama was born outside the U.S. is more of a white thing than it is a non-white thing.

Surely Obama's being black, and his having lived in foreign places (like, you know, Hawaii, and some other island-y country), and his being named in a seemingly un-American way, not once, but twice -- "Barack" and "Obama" -- oh wait, and Hussein! -- surely all those seemingly un-American (read: non-white) characteristics make it easier for some white people to believe this Missing Birth Certificate Myth That Will Not Die.

Here we have Congressional Representative Mike Castle (R-DE) trying to hold a town hall event, but then losing control when a woman demands! her! country! back! Back from these foreign whatevers trying to run us all out of town, or out of town hall meetings, or or out of wherever.

Notice, too, how much support this woman, who seems just plain crazy to me, gets from the audience.

Sometimes I think that most white Americans will eventually get used to having a black president. But other times, I really wonder . . .

What kind of vindication are people like this woman and her supporters going to feel if Obama doesn't get re-elected in 2012, and if a white person wins instead?

"Yes! We FINALLY got our country back!"

Will it be like that, for these people? And who's the "we" in that "our country," anyway?

I think very few of these folks would say this, or even consciously think this, but I think for a lot of them, that "we" is basically "white people." Republicans, yes, but white people too.

By the way, I find a credible go-to for these kinds of things. I've read a lot of other sources on these "Where's Obama Birth Certificate?" rumors too, and the debunking at Snopes works for me.

It says in part (and the rest is here),

when the Obama campaign made a copy of his Certification of Live Birth from the State of Hawaii available on the Internet in June 2008, it validated none of those rumors: The certificate shows his full name to be "Barack Hussein Obama II,"it lists his father's race as "African" and his mother's as "Caucasian," it contains no information about religion, and it reports his birthplace as being Honolulu, Hawaii.

A number of self-proclaimed experts immediately seized the opportunity to pronounce the certificate a forgery (even though none of them had actually seen the original, just a scanned image of it), picking on such specious details as minor variations from other Hawaii-issued certificates and the lack of an embossed seal and signature. (Some forgery claimants even maintained that the certificate was actually an altered version of one issued to Barack Obama's half-sister, Maya.)

Aside from the inherent absurdity of such claims (i.e., that a major party presidential nominee would risk his entire candidacy on a fraud that could be uncovered simply by a check of state health records), the supposedly incriminating details don't pan out: the certificate is consistent with others issued in the same time and place, and the embossed seal and signature don't show through very well on the scanned front image made available on the Internet because they were applied to the back of the original document, not the front. Those who have actually touched and examined the original certificate have verified and documented that it bears all the elements of a valid certificate of live birth.

What do you think -- are these rumors growing, or fading? Will this "Missing Birth Certificate" story ever die? Or will it live to fuel those who support whoever becomes Obama's opposition in 2012?

And is it fair to say that the fervid belief in these rumors is more of a white thing, fueled by common white fears and fantasies about Dark, Foreign Others?

h/t: publius @ Obsidian Wings

Saturday, July 18, 2009

adversely affect the identities of non-white people all over the world

This is a guest post for swpd by fromthetropics, who writes about herself, "I am mixed cultured, and always feel in-between -- both here and there, but neither fully here nor there."

I am, technically, “Asian.” I grew up mostly in Asia, but I went to international schools (with a North American-based system) for most of my life. This meant that I grew up thinking I was American or Westernized. I spoke English as my first language. I grew up feeling the subtle and not-so-subtle arrogance of Westerners (English speakers in particular) and of other expats (e.g. Japanese) in general towards the locals, and I didn't like it. But that dislike for the arrogance of others did not exempt me from thinking that I'm better than other Asians who don't speak English (which means that I carried internalized racism).

This was an ugly attitude.

My mother dealt with it at one point by threatening to pull me out of school, since that's what school was doing to me -- a lesson I am forever grateful for. But while her threat went a long way in making me more aware that I should avoid using English or the Westernized aspects of myself to take the upper hand while relating to others (because Asians can often feel intimidated when faced with this kind of attitude), somewhere inside I still felt as though white people/Westerners were better. (Quite ridiculous of me, huh.)

This means that somewhere deep inside, I still think that those who are less Westernized than me are not as good as me, even though I don't act on this, and even though I try to act the opposite way.

A while back, a comment from an ex-student hinted that I may still harbor this attitude, and that it comes out unintentionally, and subtly. This student, who is also Asian, said to me, 'I was standing next to John (white, not real name) just now. and you said Hi to him but you didn't say Hi to me. You didn't notice I was there. It's because he's white isn't it?'

I think I might have responded by denying that I only noticed John because he was white, and explaining that John is physically much bigger, that he was closer to me as they passed me by in the hallway, and that he's just generally more talkative and loud, and hence noticeable.

All of this was indeed very true. But it made me think that just maybe, racism was also a factor. Now I think it was a factor, and I don't like having that inside me. It's ugly and damaging to myself.

So one way that internalized racism manifests itself is in a simple 'lack of interest' in people who we deem as 'uncool' or not interesting enough to talk to, simply on the basis of their racial, ethnic or cultural origin. (And I'd even include class, gender, etc.) I'm in the midst of unlearning this attitude myself.

Recently, I also learned that one of the most damaging parts of all this is that deep inside, I seem to believe that I'm not as good as Caucasians. (I don't consciously believe this, of course! No way!) I knew that these thoughts weren't good, but until recently, I didn't know that internalized racism can actually hurt you inside. It makes sense, though, since it basically means that you think negatively of yourself, and that can bring about all sorts of symptoms.

I've experienced the effects of this attitude in a lack of self-confidence when faced with white Australians who harbor stereotypes or prejudices (even those who are very nice otherwise. Yes, I'm of the camp that believes most of us, white or poc. . . even the nice ones, harbor some prejudice or another towards others). I succumb to their stereotypes and turn into a quiet, docile Asian in their presence, even though I don't want to. (Maybe that's why Chuck, an swpd commenter, thinks that Asians are “quiet.”)

Sometimes I stumble with my words. Or when white people do put on a bad attitude with me, I don't know how to stand up to it. I think it's because in a racial way, I don't know who I am or what I'm worth.

It's different with the rest of my family (all of whom did not grow up with white people, as I did). They're pretty sure of who they are and do not in any way think of Asians as any less than Caucasians. So if it's necessary, they can stand up to it. If it's not necessary, they may keep quiet, but white racism doesn't seem to affect them as deeply. (Well, at least that's how I see it. And of course, personality might play a part in this too.)

The process of unlearning all of this, for me, also calls for an understanding of systemic racism, and finding the words and ways to deal with it. Living in Australia has made me very angry at the subtleness of racism. In the past, I didn't dare mention the 'r' word outside our home. As my friend says, one of white Australia's national pastimes is to talk about how multicultural and tolerant they are. This self-congratulatory talk basically hushes up anyone who thinks otherwise. I often think that the situation in Canada is way better, and even the US is still better (but then again, I’ve never lived in the US). At least quite a number of people talk about it in North America. And at least (based on my impression), there are more people there who aren't that great at hiding their racial prejudices, making them easier to point out.

And then one day, I came across a white lecturer who said out loud that (institutionalized) racism is still an issue in Australia and that we need to do more about it. I gasped. She used the ‘r’ word. I was shocked, thinking the white audience in the room were gonna stage a walkout. They didn't. That's when I realized that it's okay to talk about it. Then I came across Homi Bhabha, Fanon, Peggy McIntosh, etc. For the first time my experience (systemic & internalized racism) were put into words.

But I was still a novice at it. I had a fallout with a close white friend of mine because I didn't know how to talk about racism. I also had a racist encounter with a couple of people who kept pushing my buttons till I lost it, while they just kept smirking and didn't take me seriously. I wonder if it's a common white tendency to push a POC's buttons while staying calm themselves, so that in the end the POC is made to look emotional and over-reactive (and a little bit 'coo coo')? I suppose it's like trying to pick a fight, but getting the other person to punch first. Or perhaps it's the POC's fault for not being able to handle the situation wisely? Probably both, huh?

These incidents impacted me deeply, particularly the fallout with my friend. Reading swpd is helping me get over this saga. Helping me understand what happened, and digesting it. It's amazing how those incidents contained so many of the themes raised in swpd and other blogs.

I think white privilege works on a global scale because in much of Asia you can get instant celebrity-like status if you're white, thanks to the aftereffects of colonialism. As POCs, it's our responsibility to stop acting as though someone is better because they're white. It does no one any good.

It’s important for both whites and POCs to acknowledge our own prejudices and unlearn racism, whether it’s towards others or ourselves. For myself, learning to know my worth (‘race’ wise) without turning bitter is the first step.

gradually realize that race is actually a significant factor in their lives

Stephen Colbert offers his own satiric take on something that bubbled up from Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, something that most white Americans still have trouble seeing, let alone wrapping their heads around -- their commonsensical, yet nonsensical assumption that minorities are "biased" and white people are "neutral."

The Colbert ReportMon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Neutral Man’s Burden

What I think distinguishes "satire" from other forms of humor is that satire includes serious social commentary. As is so often the case, Stephen Colbert makes a great point here. I wonder, though, how much his point really hits home for the white members of his audience.

Do you think many white Americans heard and understood the week-long revelations -- which was discussed in many public spaces by many pundits -- about common white presumptions regarding their own supposed neutrality?

Is there any hope that as more and more non-white people become significant figures in white people's lives, such contact will render commonsensical the truth that we are ALL influenced by our various social positionings, including that of race?

Will we ever reach a point where a majority of white Americans realize that in terms of race, they're not just free-floating individuals? And that instead, being categorized as "white" has a lot to do with who they are, and with how they think and feel, and act and react?

h/t: lisa @ sociological images

(And for those who can't watch the video, here are the relevant parts of the show's transcript.)

Stephen Colbert’s THE WORD segment from THE COLBERT REPORT for July 16, 2009:

Nation, I have never let past life experience get in the way of how I approach a situation. For instance, I don’t prejudge if a hot stove will burn my hand….who knows what will happen next time? [Shows burned hand to camera] But listen to what Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor believes.

[Tape of Sotomayor hearing]

“I can state very simply what I believe, life experiences help the process in the listening and understanding of an argument. . .”

[Cut back to Colbert]

Because of Sotomayor's obvious "things I have learned" bias, the Supreme Court's neutrality is in danger! Which brings us to tonight’s “WORD”: NEUTRAL MAN’S BURDEN

Folks, over the past 220 years the vast majority of our Supreme Court judges have been neutral, like Samuel Alito.

[Tape of Samuel Alito’s confirmation hearing. Justice Alito says:]

“When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”

[Cut back to Colbert]

Yes, he takes his life experiences into account, but he does it neutrally! So why is he neutral, and not Sotomayor? It’s because Alito is white.

In America, white is neutral.

Now for years, band-aids only came in only one color…white person. It’s standard “person” color. In fact it is so standard, that when I was a kid, in crayola boxes, it was the color called “flesh.” Now most Americans accept this [points at his own hand] as “neutral” without thinking about it.

And that is why the decisions made by all those white justices were not affected by their experiences; because their life experiences were “neutral.” That led to “neutral” decisions.

For instance, take the Dredd Scott Case. Those justice’s life experience, being white men in pre-Civil War America, some of whom owned slaves, in no way influenced their decision that black people were property. And the personal backgrounds had nothing to do with the all neutral court’s decision that it was legal to send Japanese-Americans to internment camps in 1942. Imagine how the life experience of an Asian judge would have sullied that neutrality!

Now, I am sure that Asians are neutral in Asia, and Africans are neutral in Africa, and Hispanics are neutral in Hispania. But folks, it doesn’t work here!

Now I am not saying, I am not saying that Sotomayor’s life story isn’t compelling. Everyone say how compelling her life story is.

[Run clip of three GOP senators saying how admirable her life story is.]

[Cut to Colbert]

It’s just if that if that compelling, humble, strong and admirable life story in ANY way informs her judgment, she will destroy our nation!

But folks, the thing is, she’s probably going to be confirmed anyway. So the best we can hope is to neutralize her personal background. The way Band-aids did when they reached out to minorities. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “After hearing calls to make Band-Aides more inclusive of various skin tones, the company released its shear Band-Aid.”

So in addition to white band-aids, WE NOW HAVE INVISIBLE BAND-AIDS. Problem solved.

The same goes for the court. If you’re a white male like Sam Alito, naturally, everything that happened in your life just helps make you a completely neutral objective person.

But if you’re Sonia Sotomayor…. everything that happened in your life ….SHOULD BE INVISIBLE.

And that’s THE WORD!

Friday, July 17, 2009

preface racist statements with "I'm not a racist, but . . . "


Help me out with something, please:

What are white people thinking and feeling when they say, as white people so often say, "I'm not racist, but . . . "? And what are they thinking and feeling when they then go on and say something that is racist, and that they know is racist, which is why they began with that almost reflexive prefix in the first place?

The kinds of people who say racist things knowingly are the kinds of people that most of us would quickly label racists.

So, why do so many seemingly goodhearted white people -- people who definitely do not want to be labeled a "racist" -- say things that they clearly know are racist? And why do they feel that they have to announce that they're not racists, even though they're about to say something that they know is racist?

This is such a common phrase that it's the title of a book -- I’m Not Racist, But. . ., by Anita Heiss. (Has anyone here read it?)

In my copy of Racism without Racists (which is falling apart because I use it so much), Eduardo Bonilla-Silva labels this common phrase and others "discursive buffers." They often appear "before or after someone states something that is or could be interpreted as racist." People use them, Bonilla-Silva says, in part because "post-Civil Rights norms disallow the open expression of racial views."

In other words, whites often know that they're not supposed to say anything racist, but they still just have to say this thing, so they use such discursive buffers to identify themselves, bizarrely enough, as the kind of person who would definitely not say the thing that they're about to go ahead and say.

"Some of my best friends are black" is another classic example, and the kind of distancing laughter that David Arquette demonstrates in yesterday's post seems like another (it may be debatable whether laughter should be considered "discourse," but I think it should).

Finally, since it's Friday, here's a brief video on the topic -- seems to me that Lincoln Trudeau pretty much gets it right here. Is he missing anything?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

try to use humor to distance themselves from racism

So did you catch David Arquette's "hilarious" assessment of Sonia Sotomayor? That one-minute drive-by he did on "Fox and Friends"?

You know it was funny -- racist, true, but hey, funny too! -- because that "Fox and Friends" technician reacted right on cue.

He's the guy (or gal) who sits there with a finger poised over some button, waiting to release a whistle-and-rimshot sound effect, which I guess says something like, "Wow, THAT was pretty nuts, wasn't it folks?! But it's all good, har har har!"

The transcript of Arquette's idiotic remarks appear below. They're so stupid and disrespectful that they hardly merit comment (though if you want to comment on them, by all means, please do).

What interests me more is that whistle-and-rimshot sound effect. Or maybe, whistle-and-cymbal? What IS that second sound? And more to the point, what exactly is the whole sound effect supposed to indicate?

I think it's another among many examples of something more general, a common white tendency. That common tendency is to think that it's okay to say or do something racist, if you turn it into a joke somehow.

If you're worried about being labeled a racist, just start grinning and somehow suggest that the racism isn't a reflection on you. Act in a way that more or less says, "hey, I know this here is racist, but I'm just joking! So don't worry, I myself am certainly not a racist!"

"Never mind," you also seem to be saying at such moments, "that I do just somehow have to say this racist thing, because, like, you know, it's just true, right?"

In this case, I think it's "Fox and Friends" that wants to distance itself from Arquette's racist commentary (although he's doing a lot of his own Distancing Laughter too), by using that sound effect. And it's not the first time Fox has used it. Just last week, I noticed that they used that sound for the same distancing effect when Brian Kilmeade started prattling outrageously about how pure-blooded people shouldn't marry "ethnics" and "other species."

This use of such a sound effect on live programs, to blunt or counteract someone's objectionable words, is new to me.

Does Fox use it on other shows? Are there other networks that use anything like it?

At any rate, it's certainly a common "white" thing, isn't it, when it's used to deflect serious attention from someone's racism, with something that's supposed to elicit laughter, instead of anger.

Here's the transcript of David Arquette's remarks:

Can I mention something about Sotomayor since we're like, you know, it's politics? I think Latino women are -- it depends on the woman -- but I think they are very, they have great judgment, but there are some that are just nuts.


I would just say it. I mean, it's -- you can't -- (laughs)

[distancing sound effect]

Personal history?

Now your wife, Courtney Cox, is not Latino, is she?

No, she's not Latino, but I'm from Los Angeles so we know all about the Latino women.

I get it! Now we're getting into your personal history.

I don't know what I'm talking about but --

But she's qualified?

Oh yeah, she's qualified. But who knows if she's nuts or not! No, I'm just kidding.

Well you know what, David? Sometimes you're a little nuts.

That's right. I love Latina women!

h/t: Vanessa @ feministing

Update (7/17/09): David Arquette has apologized; he really was just trying to be "humorous." And hey, give the guy a break, some of his best friends are Latinas!

I would like to issue an apology for the comments I made on Fox and Friends. My intent was to be humorous and not offensive. I have nothing but love and respect for Latina women and women in general of all cultural backgrounds. What saddens me most is that it took away from the issue of Hunger in America, for which I was on the show to begin with. I work and [sic] a pantry in Venice California with a hispanic women named Delpia (who has been feeding people at St. Joseph's Center for 29 years) and she is my personal hero. Having been raised in Los Angeles I have grown up with a deep and profound love for the Latino culture.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

describe white people who point out the problems with whiteness as "self-flagellating"

Since my state is home to several expensive universities, including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, there is never a shortage of privileged, self-flagellating white kids in Halloween-like clothing, willing to march behind any leftwing Pied Piper who rolls into town.

--Rocco DiPippo, The Autonomist

The more politically correct an organisation, the more likely it is to be staffed at the top exclusively by self-flagellating white liberals.

--Ron Liddle's "Law of Corporate Bigotry"

Leftwing race activist (and self-flagellating white male) Tim Wise is a piece of work.

--David Horowitz and John Perazzo, Front Page Magazine

Do white people who work against racism and whiteness, and who object to their trained adoption of common white habits and tendencies, hate themselves?

Are they really “flagellating” themselves when they do that?

Last week, a one-time commenter named Wesley left a comment here that I want to address in this post, because he used a term commonly flung at people like me, “self-flagellate.” Actually, the more common form of that term, as used by white people who object to other whites who object to racism, is “self-flagellating.”

Wesley commented on a recent post in which I pointed out the white-framed racial dynamics of a television commercial. The post included my acknowledgment that people sometimes don’t enjoy watching television with me because I can’t resist pointing such things out.

Wesley responded in part,

It amazes me that people have absolutely nothing better to do than to search for underlying "racist" motifs in advertising. Advertising has to be as broad and clear as possible so as to garner viewer retention. I get that you enjoy cultural self-loathing and the stereotypical white obsession with "awareness", but you're finding connections where there are none. . . .

I can imagine why people don't like watching television with you. It's not because they're ignorant white racists, it's purely because most people do not enjoy the company of those who racially self-flagellate at every opportunity. Especially if they're doing it to with the interest of taking [a] righteous stance at every possible opportunity.

You represent one of the worst kinds of modern man. The well-off "Awareness Crusader". I'm sorry, that was somewhat childish of me. The hordes of you people just get to me.

Wesley’s entire comment contains many parts I’d like to answer. However, I didn’t reply because (1) I doubted that Wesley would return to read the comment (those who leave such comments, usually under “Anonymous,” usually perform one-time drive bys), and (2) because I’ve been thinking of replying in a post instead. My response has narrowed to a focus on this one term he used, because I see it so often -- "self-flagellating white people."

I think this term has become a cliché among those who object to anti-racist white people. In fact, a Google search for “self-flagellating white” brings up 6,750 results.

But it’s really a nonsense term, isn’t it? At least by my way of thinking. But then, not by theirs.

Here’s what I think is the crucial difference in our ways of thinking.

Those who describe white anti-racists as “self-flagellating white people” basically see no separation between a white person and his or her whiteness. I, on the other hand, do make a distinction between myself (or, my self) and my being placed into the category of “white.”

To describe a white person who objects to common white tendencies as "self-flagellating" is to see his or her objections to whiteness as objections to his or her self. Objecting to racism, and thus to whiteness, is thereby characterized as the absurdity of beating up oneself. The supposition here, which I and others consider false, is that whiteness is inherent to a person -- and along with that, that white people are inherently different, and of course, “superior,” to other people.

But I do not consider myself "self-flagellating"; I would say that I’m actually the opposite. I'm against whiteness, including what it's done to me. The U.S. functions in part under the auspices of a 400-year-old system of whiteness, which categorizes me as white. Whiteness is not something intrinsic to me.

And so, to wake up to how I’ve been categorized within an artificial racial hierarchy, and then to work against its ongoing abuses, is not to “self-flagellate.” It's instead of way of freeing myself into becoming a more conscious (or yes, Wesley, "aware"), and thus fuller, human being.

Being categorized as "white" has rendered me delusional -- about how the world really works, about how I really got to where I am, and about how others got to where they are. Being categorized as "white" also holds back my full development as a human being, in part by withering my understanding of and empathy for others, because I’m falsely led to see them as fundamentally, intrinsically different from myself.

Waking up to that, and working against it, and doing what I can to work against the systemic racial abuses of others, is not a way of flagellating my self.

It’s a way of freeing my self.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

see "white" and "male" as neutral conditions

I think it's always worth noting when someone in the corporate media points out the following:

The raced and gendered identities of white men tend to go unnoticed in our white-framed society, allowing white men to pass under the banners of such adjectives as "objective," "neutral," "unbiased," and so on. Who they are supposedly has little or nothing to do with how they think.

You need to read today's Washington Post column (excerpted below) by Eugene Robinson.

It's been my understanding for awhile now that this white-male identity charade is much more visible as the farce that it is to people who are not white and male. It's no surprise to me, then, that Eugene Robinson is black.

Non-white people have a lot to teach white people, not necessarily about non-white people, but about ourselves. As Richard Wright said decades ago, "White Man, Listen!" Maybe Sonia Sotomayor's hearings will in part serve that purpose, forcing white men to listen to someone who understands that everyone's social positionings affect how they view and "judge" the world.

White men often simply don't see how they're fooling themselves this way. In many cases, and probably most, it's not that white men are pretending to be more objective and neutral and so on than say, a black civil rights leader, or a Latina Supreme Court nominee. They just assume that they are, without even consciously thinking they are. And yet, to assume that women and people of color are subjective, biased, and so on is, nevertheless, to assume and imply the opposite about oneself.

As a white man who's still trying to keep this common white tendency up in the more conscious realms of my own psyche, I'm grateful to Eugene Robinson for calling out so clearly its most recent public display. Maybe some of those important white men will read his column and really listen, especially to such bits as these (and again, I strongly recommend the whole thing):

Whose Identity Politics?

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The only real suspense in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is whether the Republican Party will persist in tying its fortunes to an anachronistic claim of white male exceptionalism and privilege.

Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.

Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings -- as he did at his confirmation hearings -- but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work. Thus it is possible for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to say with a straight face that heritage and experience can have no bearing on a judge's work, as he posited in his opening remarks yesterday, apparently believing that the white male justices he has voted to confirm were somehow devoid of heritage and bereft of experience.

The whole point of Sotomayor's much-maligned "wise Latina" speech was that everyone has a unique personal history -- and that this history has to be acknowledged before it can be overcome. Denying the fact of identity makes us vulnerable to its most pernicious effects. This seems self-evident. I don't see how a political party that refuses to accept this basic principle of diversity can hope to prosper, given that soon there will be no racial or ethnic majority in this country.

Yet the Republican Party line assumes a white male neutrality against which Sotomayor's "difference" will be judged. . . .

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was more temperate in his remarks than most of his colleagues, noting that Obama's election victory ought to have consequences and hinting that he might vote to confirm Sotomayor. But when he brought up the "wise Latina" remark, as the GOP playbook apparently required, Graham said that "if I had said anything remotely like that, my career would have been over."

That's true. But if Latinas had run the world for the last millennium, Sotomayor's career would be over, too. Pretending that the historical context doesn't exist -- pretending that white men haven't enjoyed a privileged position in this society -- doesn't make that context go away. . . .

(read the rest)

h/t: resistance at Resist Racism

Monday, July 13, 2009

hate to admit that they've done something racist

Protestors outside the Valley Club
in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

This post is a follow-up to one from last week on the swimming-club debacle in surburban Pennsylvania. CNN reported yesterday that after rejecting a group of inner-city children, the Valley Club has offered an "olive branch after racism allegations."

After reviewing these most recent reported reactions of the club's representatives, I think there's a common white tendency at work.

Most white Americans do not think of themselves as "racists." Indeed, that label, as commonly understood, is not a fair and accurate description of most white Americans. However, given the ongoing, de facto white supremacy of American society and its institutions, most white Americans do have racist tendencies. And as a result, these tendencies do sometimes result in racist actions.

When these racist actions happen, most white Americans will do almost anything to deny that what they did, and/or the effects of what they did, were "racist." After all, they seem to think and more or less say, "that would mean that I myself am a racist. And let me assure you, I am not."

Although the Valley Club has offered an "olive branch," as if to admit that it did something wrong, it seems to me that what its representatives remain reluctant to admit is that what it did was wrong precisely because it was racist.

Here's part of the CNN follow-up:

A suburban Philadelphia swim club has invited children from a largely minority day-care center to come back after a June reversal that fueled allegations of racism against the club, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

The development came during a hastily called Sunday afternoon meeting of the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Club members voted overwhelmingly to try to work things out with the day-care center, which accused some swim club members of making racist comments to black and Hispanic children contracted to use the pool, said Bernice Duesler, the club director's wife.

Duesler said the club canceled its contract with the Creative Steps day-care because of safety, crowding and noise concerns, not racism.

"As long as we can work out safety issues, we'd like to have them back," she told CNN.

She said the club has been subpoenaed by the state Human Rights Commission, which has begun a fact-finding investigation, "and the legal advice was to try to get together with these camps, " Duesler added.

Alethea Wright, Creative Steps' director, said, "They should have done that before."

Wright has repeatedly lambasted the club for its tepid response to the charges and said the children in her care were "emotionally damaged" by the incident.

"These children are scarred. How can I take those children back there?" she said. . . .

Swimming privileges for about 65 children from Creative Steps were revoked after their first visit June 29. Some children said white members of the club made racist comments to the children, asking why "black children were there" and raising concerns that "they might steal from us."

Days later, the day-care center's $1,950 check was returned, Wright said.

Club director John Duesler told CNN that he had underestimated the amount of children who would participate, and the club was unable to supervise that many kids. He called his club "very diverse," and said it had offered to let day camps in the Philadelphia area use his facility after budget cuts forced some pools in the area to close.

Wright has rejected the camp's contention that the swim club's pool was overcrowded. The club had accepted a 10-to-1 ratio of children to adults and was considering adding up to three lifeguards, according to e-mails obtained by CNN.

But John Duesler said last week that the Valley Club also canceled contracts with two other day-care centers because of safety and overcrowding issues.

The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission launched an investigation last week after allegations of racism at the Valley Club. The commission said that as part of any investigation, the two sides eventually could be asked to sit down face-to-face with its investigators.

"We always encourage opposing parties to communicate with one another if they feel they can resolve these issues amicably," Commission Chairman Stephen Glassman said.

Bernice Duesler said she wasn't yet sure how the club will "reach out" to Creative Steps and the other two camps. . . .

(The entire story is here)

What do you think of the Valley Club's response?

Do you think they'll ever admit to racist actions, on the part of the club or the members?

Have you encountered white folks who bend over backwards to explain that something they've done, which was clearly racist, was anything but?

Update: Abagond points out in a comment:

That CNN story is pretty troubling in its own right: they left out the most damning piece of racism in the whole affair: that the swim club president at first was not concerned about safety at all but the "complexion" of the club!

Not only do they leave that out, but CNN prints the club's claim that it is "very diverse" without challenge.

Abagond has since expanded these observations into "How the press is soft on racism," a solid critique of the white-framed corporate press.

Friday, July 10, 2009

forget that Jesus was a racist

Here's a clip from an eye-opening, paradigm-shifting BBC documentary on the real life of Jesus:

Note to any offended fans of Jesus: this portrait of Jesus is not an attempt to depict an actual Jesus. And really, how could it be ? Jesus wasn't even white. Let alone British.

h/t: Missives from Marx & That Mitchell and Webb Look

Thursday, July 9, 2009

keep their jobs on fox news no matter what they say

Has anyone ever been fired from Fox News for going too far? Has anyone there who's pulled an Imus been justifiably fired for it?

I mean, people go too far by my standards on that "news" outlet almost every time I happen to watch it. But sometimes this or that Fox pundit or commentator goes too far for just about everyone -- and yet, far as I can tell, they still keep their jobs.

That's likely to happen with the most recent example, yesterday's racist, eugenicist outburst on America's mixed, "impure" bloodlines, as vomited forth by Brian Kilmeade. You might remember him as the guy who stormed off the set recently when Jesse Ventura insisted on talking straight about torture and other American war crimes.

Kilmeade, along with his partners in the fine art of "talking-to-adults-as-if-they're-children," was discussing a study's claims that people in Finland and Sweden who stay married are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s. Kilmeade thinks that has something to do with how "pure" the blood is in those countries, compared to American blood, which he thinks suffers from intermixing with different "ethnics" and . . . "species"?!

This Air America segment, with Cenk Uygur of "The Young Turks," contains a somewhat fuller clip of Kilmeade's comments than the one that's been making the blogosphere rounds. If you want to skip ahead, the Fox clip begins at about 40 seconds here (and what's up with the whistle-and-rimshot sound effect at one point? That's a Fox insertion, not Air America's).

In her post on this racist outburst, Jessie at racism review provides some useful background on the roots of Kilmeade's claims:

The argument Kilmeade is making, and to their credit that his co-workers at Fox News seem appalled to hear, is one that’s rooted in the discredited racial pseudo-science of eugenics.

Eugenics, which reached ascendancy in the U.S. and Europe in the 1930s, advocated social progress through encouraging those deemed “fit” to reproduce to have children and discouraging, even coercing through forced sterilization, those thought to be “unfit.” One of the intellectual factories producing knowledge steeped in eugenics was at Cold Spring Harbor Lab on Long Island, just outside New York. While claims about “fitness” and “unfitness” were sometimes tied to inherited disease, just as often these designations were linked to poverty and race. Thus, people who are poor or not considered white are designated “unfit.” Indeed, in the extreme version of eugenics, some people were considered “less than human” or of “another species.” This kind of thinking is part of what fueled the Third Reich’s calculated extermination of six million Jews. Following the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of the camps, the theory of eugenics fell into disfavor.

What do you think? Should Kilmeade be given a pass for his white supremacist comments?

Have you encountered other instances of this kind of thinking, on the dangers of race-mixing, in other ordinary, everyday situations?

If Kilmeade's blatherings bother you enough, you might even consider it worthwhile to go this far, in response to this and other Fox outrages:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Complaints
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

File a Complaint

The completed complaint form can also be faxed to: 1-866-418-0232

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

treat working people of color like they're less than human

This is a guest post by Angry Black-White Girl. She's based in Oakland, California and runs an eponymous blog (where this post also appears). About herself, Angry Black-White Girl writes that she's "Clean and articulate. Young, hip and belligerent. I am Black, Lebanese, Hungarian and queer as a three dollar bill." She started blogging "primarily to call out racism and to center the experiences of women and queer people color with a focus on the personal, the political and the absurd."

An episode in white privilege

Lately, few events in my life have merited an internet ranting sesh. However, today provided an exception.

I was waiting for a commuter rail to take me from Boston back to suburbs, with a number of drunken Red Sox fans. My people. One girl, who I read as white and about my age, had taken a broom from the janitor's closet and was using it to sweep the platform. Her friends and family appeared to be egging her on as she got up in waiting passengers' space to sweep by our feet. Eventually the janitor came to collect his broom, but she refused to give it back. In a turn of events that struck me as bizarre, two separate groups of people, one which appeared to be related to her and one that didn't, came to her defense, claiming that the broom was hers, when they knew otherwise. "She's doing a good job," they said," why don't you just let her sweep?"

That's where things started to get ugly. "I work for my money," she said, still sweeping. Then, loud enough for him to hear, "I take care of my kids", thus implying that he, a working class man of color, did not take care of his kids. In front of a platform of spectators she had stolen his supplies, refused to give them back and humiliated him. I can't explain how I know that this situation would not have been allowed to carry on for so long if she had not been white and he had not been a man of color, but I know that is why he could not simply take the broom back from her, but stood outside her circle of friends of family and patiently gestured that he needed his broom back. When his polite attempts failed, he went upstairs to get his boss, a white man, who came down and said little more than, "Jose needs his broom back," and then gently took it out of her hands, meeting little resistance from her or the crowd that had come to her defense.

On the train home, she started ranting about how that job should belong to an "American" anyway (as if she could have known whether he was a citizen or not,) and that the janitor should be deported. At this point, I moved to another car in the interest of her safety.
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