Thursday, January 14, 2010

define blackness

This is a guest post for swpd by thesciencegirl, a 20something medical and graduate student living in Chicago, IL. She describes herself as biracial, having both black and Italian-American heritage. Although her professional focus is in science and medicine, she has a long-held personal interest in understanding and combating racism and other forms of prejudice.

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is in the news (again) for saying something wildly inappropriate. In an Esquire interview, he was quoted as saying,

I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up.

It’s clear what Blago’s conception of blackness is: poor, shoe-shinin’, not whatever Barack Obama is. So often the only view of blackness that whites have is only reflective of one segment of the black population, and even that segment has been reduced to a stereotype: poor, uneducated, inner-city, inarticulate, from broken families, criminal, etc. Rarely is there open white acknowledgment of the black middle class, of healthy black families, or of a wider range of interests and styles beyond hip-hop culture. And then there are all of the character traits (or lack thereof) assigned to blackness, and this is most telling in how white people react to black individuals who counteract their ideas of blackness. “You’re so articulate/clean/intelligent/pretty/educated/etc for a black person.” Or “you’re not really black.”

Remember VP Joe Biden’s comment during the 2008 presidential election about Obama?

I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.

It often seems as though whites are heavily invested in the idea of a black monolith. They can easily conceive of diversity within their own ranks, but not amongst black people.

So, my preliminary questions are these:

How is blackness defined by whites? By blacks? By others?

Why do you think that this narrow definition exists?

How is a limited definition of blackness damaging to black people?

How do you define blackness?


  1. Odd - many Black people exclude other Blacks for acting too white.
    None of us seems able to define what Black (or white) is.

  2. It really astounds me when white peolpe try to define blackness. According to this Blago dude I am not really black either because I have never did anything that he has listed above and I freakin African.

    He feels just be cause he may have had a few experience similar to SOME Black Americans (since over half of the Black American population is in middle class) he is "blacker than obama" but I doubt that he has had any other experiences that black people go through like having people be so surprised at how articulate he is, or face driving/shopping/sleeping in public while black

  3. You and I have related on this subject in threads before, as have a number of educated black women: most of my life I've had people telling me I'm "not really black." I've had white friends joke that they're blacker than me; one boy used to say that put together, he and I would make three-fourths of a black person, and he was bringing most of it. I think he meant, like, sass as blackness. Probably also his dancing skills and his knowledge of hip-hop and R&B. I've been called "Oreo" quite a lot -- "black on the outside, white on the inside" -- God, that one makes me really mad.

    Basically, this white-people-qualifying-blackness business has meant that when I am true to myself, I'm a source of amusement (the white people who do this have always thought "Oreos" are just hilarious -- like a dog walking on its hind legs and barking on command -- cleverer than they thought and always good for a laugh). The things I'm good at are attributed not to me or to my upbringing or education but to this "whiteness" I supposedly possess.

    If I'm so white, where's my fucking privilege? I can't even begin to express how mad this topic makes me. It's late and I'm just blithering, so I'll come back tomorrow and maybe have something more insightful to say. But tonight I'm an Angry Black Woman. Nobody's ever said I'm "not black enough" when I'm pissed at them. Looks like the ABW stereotype is universal.

  4. “How is blackness defined by whites? By blacks? By others? Why do you think that this narrow definition exists?.”

    Whites have been controlling our image since slavery, and they’ve never had a problem defining what black means to them. Just look at the imagery used by advertisers to sell everything from household products to literature. Using pickaninnies and little black sambo types with big red lips to sell material goods to white consumers.

    Think about Willie Horton, or the darkened images of OJ Simpson on the cover of Time magazine. Whites control and shape our image to suit their purpose. If we temper our blackness, learn to speak the King’s English effectively; harness our emotions, we can become tolerable to whites to a degree. With all of the opportunities whites have to know blacks in a more intimate way, it’s sad that most whites still rely on images gleaned from popular entertainment to supplant their knowledge of us. It why the ex-governor can call up what he believes to be a common black trait (shining shoes?) apply it to himself- effectively making him one of us. Wow!

    “I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up.”

    So let me get this straight- because I grew up with whites that lived like this. If I learn to play bridge, join a country club and move to an all-white community, does that in effect make me white?

    The constant presence of white culture can be suffocating at times. When I start from the lowest position on my cable box and surf up, rarely do I come across a black face. The images of whites I do come across will span the gamut of human interest. You are politicians- self-help gurus, talk-show hosts. You’re sitcom moms- desperate housewives; Gods, fairies- noblemen and knights. You’re the swaggering cowboys, war generals, damsels in distress; revered doctors or saintly priests.

    On the big screen and television you're the malevolent aliens or monsters; perverts and moralists, heroes or heroines. Who has time to befriend blacks when you’re so busy shaping the world to your liking?

    It’s scary this privilege thing. Most whites can’t even admit to having one black friend. Not one black friend? In contrast to many blacks who can attest to having more than one white friend. It’s quite apparent to me the governor doesn’t have many black friends.

  5. To respond to what mgibson17 has said, whites have been defining blackness all these years--but mostly dead whites. The ways in which we think about race, and how we define the very concept of "black" or "white," have been handed down to us, virtually unchanged, since the days of slavery. In other words, we still blindly accept a way of thinking about race that was developed, long after slavery began in this country, in order to justify and maintain the institution of slavery.

    I think it's also worth noting that since "blackness," like race itself, is a social construct, these notions will always be subject to competing attempts at redefinition and refinement. We can lament whose ideas of blackness dominate our social discourse, but we shouldn't be surprised that anyone who can get the public's attention can influence even such basic social concepts.

  6. >> "How is blackness defined by whites...? Why do you think that this narrow definition exists?"

    As to the why, maybe it has something to do with WP's need for control and, what almost seems more important to us as a general group, to understand situations. A strict definition of blackness absolutely creates an idea that can be much more easily understood. Black people who break out of this box aren't stretching the boundaries, they are breaking them, because goodness forbid WP should have to understand blackness as an octagon rather than a square (wow, welcome to Bad Metaphor Alley).

    I think that also helps explain WP's quickness to shove Black people who are considered beyond/above blackness into stereotype roles at the *first* sign of anything threatening to white power.

    As to how white people define whiteness...I guess you mean, the ways in which they do it? I'm thinking the media has a lot to do with it. Specifically, the phrase "the black community" that TV newscasters love to throw around. I mean, (a) you never hear about the "white community" (b) for other races, it's usually the "Chinese immigrant community" or "Salvadoran community", and while those are also problematic my spidey sense tells me WP understand those on cultural rather than socio-economic *and* cultural levels.

    The reason I mention this is because, when "black community" comes up on the teleprompter at the local news stations, the white reports just breeze on through it like they're saying "the high temperature will be..." But you can see the black, and even some of the Latin@ anchors (I can't think of any POC of other races on the news here), slide down in their chairs when they say the words.

    Obviously, of course, they're not speaking for all BP/POC. But it's something to consider.

  7. Blackness definitely seems to be defined by whites as "likes hip-hop,lower class, uneducated, good at dancing, angry, terrible grammar, American, unintelligent." The "angry" part may apply to me (as a result of these assumptions, how ironic), but not much else. The "American" part just assumes that every black person is American and that is the beginning and end of what it means to be black on earth. I mean, I had a white American friend express to me that it surprises her any time a black man opens his mouth and speaks with a British accent. And why not? How shocking! A black person with a "posh" accent (it seems to me that a lot of Americans just associate a British accent with being more refined than an American, regardless of class) and speaking proper grammar and DOESN'T SOUND AMERICAN? What?

    Zara- Amen at the whole "being called an Oreo" thing. It is a large part of the reason you will never catch me residing in America again (that and I have no residency). The idea that I'm not black because I don't listen to hip-hop or know what an Escalade is (although I do know what that is now, after some white kid expressed shock and disbelief that I could be black and not know what an Escalade is...what?) or that I don't own six guns and am not an illiterate, high school drop-out single mother is just unfathomable, because finishing university, speaking proper English, being multi-lingual, and being well-traveled is just something that white people do, but not blacks.

    I'd say that 90% of this idea of what the monolithic blacks are like comes from the media, but I don't say that to absolve every-day, non-media white people of their culpability. I mean, despite examples on television, in movies, in books and in REAL LIFE of black people being well-rounded and respectable individuals rather than caricatures of some decades-old, inaccurate stereotype, they still want to say that blacks who don't fit that narrative are "acting white" or are Oreos.

    At its most benign, this idea is incredibly annoying. At its absolute worst, you have people being passed over for jobs and promotions on the assumption that we are intellectually inferior, people being denied home loans because we're seen as irresponsible, cops shooting unarmed black mencops because of course they're guilty! They're black! They're inherently criminal!

    And other, harder to prove things like teachers putting more effort into helping white and non-black students of color because of the idea that blacks aren't smart and aren't worth the trouble.

  8. James,

    I don't think most readers here are "surprised" by that. I think, and hope, that most readers here are interested in finding ways not to clarify "competing attempts at redefinition and refinement," but rather to combat de facto white supremacy. There's something, um, leveling about your comment that makes me wonder if you even think of the existing social order as white supremacist.


    I'd like to thank you for this especially effective and useful turning-of-the-tables:

    “I’m blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up.”

    So let me get this straight- because I grew up with whites that lived like this. If I learn to play bridge, join a country club and move to an all-white community, does that in effect make me white?

  9. Thesciencegirl -- great post. Thanks for pointing out what Biden said, as well. Everyone's all in arms about what Reid said forgetting that our VP said something similar (he just had the good sense not to say "Negro")

    Zara - "Oreo" pisses me off too. A friend of mine thinks it's funny to say. I've come to realize she says it because I make her feel insecure (I don't know why -- well, I have an inkling, but whatever) and that's her way of saying "yeah, you may be better than me in most things, but I'm more black..." It's absolutely ridiculous and I think it's how ridiculous it all is that pisses me off more.

    How is blackness defined by whites? By blacks? By others? It irritates me too much to try to think of how blackness is defined by any group. Why can't how I define it be all that matters?? Generally, though, (getting off my high horse of individuality) white people seem to (more) universally define blackness through a negative lens -- black people aren't much better but I think by virtue of being black, we have a harder time "justifying" ridiculous definitions. Truth be told, though it's usually WRONG I think white people have a better time articulating what is and isn't black, than black people. If you can easily say what's black, you're probably wrong...

    Why do you think that this narrow definition exists? Because humans like to put things in boxes. The added benefit for black people is then we can more easily exclude and include; the benefit for white people is... (oh you saw this coming) privilege.

    How is a limited definition of blackness damaging to black people? When said limited definitions comes from other black people, on the whole, we lose out on awesomeness; on an individual level we restrict growth. From white people, though, the damage is devastating. I don't need white people questioning my blackness. Why is that even funny to begin with? I'm black, you can see it, and that's all we need to talk about as far as I'm concerned. I wonder why white people think it's appropriate to suggest they have a definition of black...

    How do you define blackness? For the most part, I try not to. It gets murky. But I guess if I had to:

    If you look the part and define yourself as the part, you are the part. White people who think they're down like Blagostupid don't look the part; they're not black (and, even in his stereotyped world, his experience STILL doesn't count) and there are some folks (like Dominicans) who look the part but don't define themselves as black. Gotta have both.

  10. Macon, I certainly hope most of your readers aren't "surprised" to find that concepts such as blackness aren't defined only by powerful actors and institutions in our society, but also by such random blowhards as Blagojevich. I do think, though, that many people in our society tend to assume that powerful or even monolithic forces are behind the evolution of these concepts, and I believe an essential step in challenging racism is to thoroughly understand the dynamics at work in our society.

    As for your suggestion that I might not "even think of the existing social order as white supremacist," I'm sorry that I gave that impression. I was, after all, critiquing our society's entire foundation for thinking about race as established by an obviously white supremacist system, so I suppose I wasn't thinking too much about establishing my bona fides.

  11. Thanks for the response and for clearing that up, James. And I wholeheartedly agree that "an essential step in challenging racism is to thoroughly understand the dynamics at work in our society."

  12. for me, "blackness" is such a weird term to describe African Americans, when there are many more black people who are NOT African American or even have African heritage.

    India is full of black people-- very dark skinned Indians with black skin. but they're not "black" in the same sense of "BLACK" as defined by Americans.

    I've always felt that "African American" was more appropriate over "black." but that's just me and I know that many of my African American friends said that they prefer to be called black than be called African American.

  13. Doreen, what's funny is that is yet another stereotype. People forget (or aren't even aware of) "lower class" British accents.....liverpudlian,cockney etc.

  14. On the what is blackness question, an interesting post here:

  15. Hello, I'm Reese. This is my first comment. I definitely can relate to this. One of my friends (who is a white Hispanic male) told me I was not Black because I could not remember what Nike Dunks were and I did not act like a stereotypical Black women - aka rolling my neck, rolling my eyes, snapping my fingers, talking with an attitude. He kept saying it, so I had to tell him to stop.

    I hate when people automatically assume I have to act a certain way or do something in order to be Black. As long as I have this skin and these features, I am automatically that. Nothing else is needed to prove that.

  16. I've always felt that "African American" was more appropriate over "black." but that's just me and I know that many of my African American friends said that they prefer to be called black than be called African American.

    It varies a lot, but, yeah, I'm one of those black people who would rather not be called African-American because I don't identify at all as African. Both sides of my family came to America over 125 years ago. When we're talking nationalities, American is it for me.

  17. This happens in my school. The other day a white class mate asked me if i liked Lil Wayne. When I said no he replied" hmm are you sure your black??" Also this also happens to other POC in my school. Espcially asians. This guy named Lee- Change is failing math. All of a sudden white people went on his case. They were saying that he is a disgrace to his race because is not the sterotypical " smart asian".

  18. I feel like WP interpretation of blackness means one can be "too black" (by fitting into a stereotype in some way) or "not black enough" (by not fitting into one or more aspects of a stereotype). But never just "black". It is always qualified in some way.

    The only time a white person seems to have to qualify their whiteness is if they are multiracial or are not wealthy.

  19. If white people talked about our own whiteness the way we think and talk about blackness or Asianness, we might realize how absurd it sounds. If a fellow white person doesn't like the same music as one's own circle, we don't say, "Are you sure you're white?" We allow other white people to be individuals, in other words, or even to be part of different white subcultures, but we are disoriented when those we see as "other" break into our received image of what they are; we don't want to grant them the same individuality.

  20. @bloglogger,

    swpd: fail to grant others the individualized identities that they themselves enjoy?

    Kind of unwieldy, but I appreciate how well you made that point. White people often really are "disoriented when those we see as 'other' break into our received image of what they are."

  21. {Thanks Willow, that's useful stuff. ~macon}

  22. How is blackness defined by whites?

    Historical Stuff White People Do post (retracted) by Macon D: get used to blackness. Key quote: "Maybe white people will get more used to blackness, and to markers of it--things like black music, and black gestures, and black words and phrases and names."

    This old post by Macon D follows the same pattern of white people mistaking racial stereotypes for racial authenticity, and white people defining blackness.

  23. I almost have to laugh at the quaintness of Blago's image of blackness. It's like something preserved in amber. The man was born in 1956.
    ...On the other hand, maybe I should be thanking the gods he didn't equate his giant pouf to an Afro or something. Heh.
    Okay. How do people define blackness? Depends who's defining, and why. I could go on ALL DAY on that subject. But I'm trying to be good. So I'll stick to "Western white people seeking to clothe themselves in the mantle of American blackness." Your Eminems, your Justin Timberlakes, your Blagojevich...i. I notice they tend to define blackness in a broad-and-shallow way: broad in that it's always that Greatest Hits Collection of gross stereotypes described by Doreen, and shallow, in that it's only the "fun bits"— the music, the slang, the sympathetic (when it's wp) circumstances. They never get anywhere near where those stereotypes comes from. Which sometimes results in brain-bending irony. It's like, not to rain on your totes fun fully-catered ghetto-themed frat party, guys, but why is a poor education, drug dealing, bad teeth, anger, apathy, etc. associated with blackness, again? (W'evz, pass the parent-subsidized Cristal!)

    For a while, Eminem was my prime example of this. (Why was NWA so pissed off, again?) Then it was J.Timbo; no explanation necessary. But Blago's looking like a contender. It's pretty. f'n. ballsy. for an (ex?) Chicago politician to be turning people's thoughts in that direction. (Why do you associate poverty with blackness, again?) But the infuriating truth is, it's perfectly safe for him to do so. In fact, it's a proven road to white success:
    1. Claim insultingly stereotypical blackness
    2. ???
    3. Profit!

  24. First off all, do we even have to accept that category? I used to think abot what would happend if I started to refer to people in their real colours, like "brown-reddish", "beige", "dark-brown" etc. By defining myself as black (which I do) I am not really defining myself..I'm just accepting the rules of the game and trying to define myself within the frame of the game.

    I sort think that one can be "blacker", in the sense that poor people will be effected by racism more than an upper middleclass black person.

  25. How do I define blackness, being a man with pink skin? Well I don't and why should anyone? The fact that a person has black skin and another pink is no more significant than the fact that a person has blonde hair and another red. You can no more define a person by the colour of their skin than you can any other single attribute, and so any definition of a person because of single attriibute is meaningless and fundamentaly flawed. Am I missing something here?

  26. Edward A, you're missing the greater context of skin color as the basis for the sociological concept of race and the discrimination and oppression based on that concept. One person claiming to be colorblid (which I gaurantee you are not) is sort of insignificant to the bigger picture. The fact of the matter is: people do define blackness. They associate certain characteristics and abilities with people who are black, and these associations are often negative. Pretending that this isn't true doesn't help anyone. I agree with you that this kind of thinking is flawed, but it is, alas, pervasive.

  27. @ Edward A.

    Yes. You're forgetting about racism.

    Your comparison ignores the fact that there's no widespread social discrimination, bigotry, or hatred attached to having blonde or red hair, and guess what? Racism exists, and impacts people's lives. (Though many people upthread have explained that they are constantly put in boxes by other people's definitions of blackness.) Since I can't imagine that you are unaware of that fact, your argument seems a little 'Oh, I'm colorblind!' disingenuous.

    Also, what's up with refusing to identify yourself as white (since that's what I assume 'pink' is standing in for...)?


  28. Or what thescience girl said while I was typing, much more eloquently.

  29. As a White person among Whites I have observed many examples of what Sciencegirl is describing. White students who are sure they know about Black culture because they like rap. Or talk about "welfare culture." One Black woman who is very religious and conservative in her social values told about shopping for a CD player and having the White salesman tell her that "this one will be good for you becuase it has a good bass for the hip hop music." She was offended, of course. The sad thing is that the White salesman wasn't trying to offend, he was trying to make a sale. He was suffering from ignorance, and the trouble with ignorance is that you don't know what you don't know.

    I have a question that is off topic, so please just ignore if it is out of line. I'm late pulling together a course syllabus and recent threads have made me think about linking Black people's emotion-management and face work in dealing with Whites to some standard (White) readings on these topics. I know where to find literature on how Whites do face-saving talk about race (in the "I'm not a racist, but" form), but I'm sorry to say that I can't think of sources on emotion/face work by Black people or other people of color, preferably written by people of color. Can you recommend sources? Would it be creepy to locate blogs where people talk about this and ask students (who are mostly White) to read them?

  30. @Lia, *high five* Sometimes it helps to hear the same thing in different words; I hope Edward comes back to read our responses.

  31. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man."

    As compared to the functionally retarded dumbass who preceeded him, the philanderer who before him and the twelve years of bush sr, a known fascist who tried to have reagan murdered, funded oppressive right wing regimes all over the planet and was dining with shafiq bin laden on the morning of 09/11/2001. Biden, so far, seems to be loyal and supportive of his leader. He was stating that Obama stands in contrast to other politicians not other black folks.

  32. Another teaching-related thought, more relevant to this post. It takes a lot of work as a teacher not to replicate stereotypes. On the one hand, you want to teach about the reality of structural effects of racism and economic inequalities that have not gone away and are in some ways getting worse. But in doing this, it is very easy to end up reinforcing stereotypes that all Blacks are poor, etc. As much as I know this is an issue and am conscious of the need to convey the balance, in the flow of lecture I have sometimes failed to achieve the balance and have had students complain about stereotyping. It is an ongoing struggle.

  33. Thank you for responding to my comments. I have in a previous post acknowledged my inability to be without prejudice. I don't believe for a moment that I am capable of it without time and effort, but it is something I aspire to.

    If, in my ignorance, I have been offensive or evasive by using pink and not white, I appologise for making that statement. It was an attempt to focus on the colour of my skin rather than my assigned race due to the colour of my skin. I understand that you are saying skin colour is closly related to, if not defines, race but it's something I just can not agree with, faced with the relatity I see every day.

    I have not ignored or denited the fact that racism occurs. Neither have I ignored or denied the fact that prejudice is directed at people with red or blonde hair - my point is irrespective of if it happens or not. I have simply said that it shouldn't happen, and if I know it shouldn't happen why should I define millions of people together?

  34. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean..."

    Sounds like he's comparing him to other "African Americans" to me. Biden is known for sticking his foot in his mouth. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh..."

  35. Thesciencegirl,

    Great post! You go girl! I love hearing about high-achieving young Black students, and the fact that you are going to school in my hometown doesn't hurt. :-)

    Biden Booster,

    What you wrote makes no sense. If Biden was comparing Obama to other politicians, why did he mention his race? If Obama is the "first mainstream Af-Am to be . . . ", the implication is that other "mainstream" Af-Am's are none of those things. Replace "mainstream Af-Am" with "presidential candidate", then maybe you'd have a point.


    Last semester, I put together a "Race Forum" on campus where we discussed issues facing students of color with a panel of professors, and that spurred the idea this semester to have a "Part 2" (I'm currently organizing it), in which we'll have professors listen to students and hear the issues surrounding students of color in the classroom. It will be like a mini-workshop, and I think it will be more beneficial to our professors than a sensitivity workshop that lacks student input.

  36. @ Biden Booster: Biden can be loyal to Obama and still have said something racist, as he did. Would he have described a white male politician (say, Edwards) that way, especially the bright and articulate part? Even if that politician happed to be all of those things? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have. Biden didn't say what he did out of malice or ill-intent, but he still said something racist.

    To the questions posed: In my limited experience, it seems as though many whites (at least American whites) define (American) blackness as being descended from slaves, urban, poor, physical--good dancers, singers and athletes--speaks slang (which of course is then appropriated by white culture), etc. It seems to be diametrically opposed to whiteness, which is then defined as middle-class, suburban or rural, more intellectual, etc. The object of the narrow and stereotyped definition of blackness is to shove people into boxes, to justify continued oppression, and to justify the punishment of those who dare to step outside the box. It also permits whiteness to claim a lot of what blackness isn't, sort of expanding the white box while shrinking all others. E.g., "black" music is hip-hop and gospel, while "white" music is everything else that's not officially "ethnic"--classical, country, rock, pop, techno, etc.

    Narrow definitions of blackness are damaging because they are limiting, and because of the history of WP defining blackness in the U.S. and their reasons for doing so. (And elsewhere, really--can't imagine the British, say, working with a positive definition of blackness [or just plain non-whiteness] when they went to colonize parts of Africa and Australia and India and everyplace else.)

    I started out saying that I'd define blackness as whatever the person claiming that identity says it is to her/him. As a WP, I don't get to define blackness (or anything else) for another person. But then, I don't identify as black, even though I have a black ancestress on my mom's side. And I don't identify that way because I and my family have always been perceived as and given the privileges of being white. We didn't know we even had a black great-great-great-grandmother until very recently. So a lack of white privilege is part of that definition, too. (I have a fuzzy sense that the lack of white privilege is a major part of any non-white identity. Is that realistic or center-staging whiteness, I wonder?)

  37. Edward A said...
    "I understand that you are saying skin colour is closly related to, if not defines, race but it's something I just can not agree with, faced with the relatity I see every day."

    Most of us black folk would question your reality, as it is seen through privileged white eyes. And therefore in black minds... not to be trusted. Whites are just as occupied with skin color as we blacks are occupied about race. Whether you can accept it or not is irrelevant. The fact remains even during this crisis in Haiti, we blacks (even our President) are being defined- labeled, judged and categorized by whites.

    You admit that you haven’t fully conquered this race thing- but you come off as an expert on the matter. Just as someone else put it further up, “He was suffering from ignorance, and the trouble with ignorance is that you don't know what you don't know.” It has little bearing on your intelligence and everything to do with your perception.

    Your comment, "faced with the reality I see every day." Is quite telling coming from a white man.

  38. I do not wish to be arrogant or come over as if I think I know everything - I clearly don't. I started to post here a few days ago to challenge myself, to challenge any prejudice I might hold, to learn from a group who are talking openly and frankly. I am, to some degree, self aware and open to being fundamentaly wrong. If I am, then please, if you have the patience, assist me in understanding your point of view.

    I cannot disagree with you that white people are just as occupied with skin colour, I just don't want to be! - In the sense that it shouldn't be an issue in our world.

    You are right, my words: "I understand that you are saying skin colour is closly related to, if not defines, race but it's something I just can not agree with, faced with the reality I see every day" do not make sense. People clearly use skin colour to define race and that is of course evident in what I see in life. I have very badly articulated, perhaps entirely failed, to make the point I thought I was.

    I believe I was intending to say that any definition of race will entirely fail to describe the people I see and interact with in my life unless the definition is one word, human. I also intended to say that, through my experience of working with and for people of just about every colour of skin, I have seen people from a wide variety of countries around the world and each country appears to have those with pale skin and those with dark skin, and so I wonder can skin colour truely define a race when no skin colour is unique to a race?

    I'm sorry but now I'm here you may have to suffer me for some time! =0

  39. Edward A,

    It seems to me that what you're saying is, "Race is a fiction. The word 'white' doesn't accurately describe the skin color of those designated as 'white,' and 'black' doesn't do that for the people in that group either. Ergo, we shouldn't use those words, cuz we're all just humanz!"

    Is that what you're basically saying?

    If so, here's what I see you doing -- you're stating a Racism 101 truism that most readers of this blog already know. In addition, by focusing on that point, instead of other issues at hand here that are caused by the fiction of race, you're ignoring (and distracting from) the harsh realities of that which is caused by the fiction of race.

  40. @ Edward

    Your "pink" skin has afforded you certain perks that you benefit from every single day without even realizing it. One of those perks is that no matter what, even if someone doesn't know you well - you can be perceived to be an authority on something. In this comment section you seem to come off as an authority on race. You are probably able to go shopping without having to worry about what you're wearing, can walk into a bank and appear to be what other "pink" people think looks like an upstanding citizen. Of course you can't fathom how everyone else regards race as important or even real - because you personally have never been adversely affected by your own race. Your pinkness keeps you safe and dominant.

    Honestly, it doesn't matter what we call it - people's lives are dictated by their appearances. Your pink is another man's white. Do we who participate in anti-racism blogs and the like wish this wasn't the reality? Yes! That's what we keep coming back for. Some way of figuring out how to make it stop. Another sad reality is we'll probably all be dead by the time significant change is made. But on an individual basis - deciding that it shouldn't be a problem doesn't make it "not a problem" anymore.

    I hope that you'll read around on SWPD, the previous posts. If you read around enough - MANY points of view become very clear here. I'm not sure you're asking mgibson in particular for his point of view or if you're just stating it in general, but when you do that it sounds like you're asking for proof so you can decide if you agree or disagree. If you decide to read around some more, don't miss the comments. They're very much a part of the blog itself.

  41. @Edward A,
    Not only are you harping on something so obvious it hardly needs to be stated ("race" doesn't exist; it is a construct), you're treating it as some kind of full-stop conclusion and using that to check out. We see you, okay? My god, you are so obvious.

    To go with your environmentalism analogy, it's like looking around and seeing a blasted landscape and saying, "This should never have happened! people shouldn't treat the Earth like a toilet!" And never moving on from there. Talk about running when the going gets tough.

    Yes. That's very true. People shouldn't treat the Earth like a toilet. BUT THEY HAVE, AND THEY DO. Which is what we are talking about. So, resolved: we are all righteously indignant about it. Can we move on to talking about cleanup and reducing emissions, please?

    Because righteous indignation is the easy part. The easiest, in fact. And frankly, you are starting to piss me off. I mean, look at yourself. It's bad enough that you're so smug about your Unprecedented Philosophical Breakthrough that you can't move on to actually, you know, doing anything because— oh noez!!— it might reveal your feet o' clay... but what you are devoting your energy to is derailing the people who'd like to work on it? You're trying to "enlighten" other people with this there's-no-point philosophy?? How. Fuckin'. Dare you.

  42. I'm worried my desire to reply is an attempt to gain some kind of validation from others here. I will therefore bow out of this conversation and spend much more time reading.

  43. I just discovered I am the clueless white guy asking for someone to explain racism to me, as describe in the racism 101.

    I am sorry for being this person. I will no longer comment until I am far more versed and actually have something to contribute. I am sorry for any hijacking or dereailing that I have been the cause of.

  44. How can that which is lesser seek to define the Greater?...or the lower to compass that which is Higher? No, whites can never define Blackness; such an attempt is sad and disordered thinking, for the Black Man:the original Hue-man is of the same nature as the Sun, and his Heart is one with the great heart of Space-freedom and effulgence. By uniting with the fertile Earth of the Black Woman in the Holy Land of Ket, thus was created the original Human Race of Black People. THIS is the true, original, singular Great Race of Man; abiding in the Wisdom of Kemetic Science and Law, projecting Peace and Love, acting with Chastisement or with Blessing upon these lesser races, these melanin deficient peoples-as indicicated by their actions.

  45. ummmmm..... @AkonAMun77, what I gather you're saying, amidst all the flowery talk is that black people are better than other races. I disagree, and I'm not sure what this is adding to the conversation.

  46. thesciencegirl,

    Yes, by publishing AkonAmun77's comment, I actually broke my own tentative rule, as stated in a Comments Policy draft: "Do not espouse racial essentialism, by which I mean, do not suggest or claim that members of any race are inherently anything other than that which members of any other races are as well."

    My apologies -- perhaps AkonAmun77's "flowery" language threw me off.

    But then, what also threw me off was surmising that AkonAmun77 is black, and then the subsequent doubts that I still have about policing black expression here as a white moderator of comments. In addition, although AkonAmun77's definition of blackness is widely considered objectionable, the comment does address this post's topic, "define blackness."

    Perhaps your post's topic provides an opportunity to revisit this moderating concern?

    Personally, I find any expressed beliefs in the supposed significance of essential racial differences repugnant, and derailing -- thus my decision to forbid any such expression here.

    But then, who am I, as a white comment moderator, to disallow apparent POC from defining their own racial or ethnic group here however they please?

    My tentative Commenting rule against any expression of essentialism didn't provoke any objection in the Comments Policy draft's own comment thread (unless I'm missing it). However, when I earlier objected in another thread to what I read as an apparent expression of essentialism by a self-identified black commenter, Julian Real called me out for it:

    And wtf with calling out a WoC on being ESSENTIALIST. That's fucked up. Beyond fucked up. And I don't wanna hear about your logic or anything else. Not here, not now. . . . for Lorde's sake, check yourself when you're about to tell a WoC that her PoV is ESSENTIALIST. Dude. Really.

    So . . . is it okay for you, as a black person, to call out another apparently black commenter for saying, in an essentialist manner, that "black people are better than other races," but not okay for me to do that (which I would do by refusing to publish them)?

    Your post asks,

    How is blackness defined by whites? By blacks? By others?

    Some blacks define blackness the way AkonAmun77 did (some non-blacks do that too) -- do you think I should allow such comments? If so, should I allow essentialist comments only when the writer is apparently black, or otherwise non-white? (There's also the potential problem of people who aren't black writing comments in which they pretend to be black, but I suppose that one can be set aside for now.)

    [Btw, in case it's not obvious, I have long (and often) refused to publish essentialist comments from white commenters, about the supposed inherent inferiority of other races, and about the supposed inherent superiority of "the white race." Commenters submit those regularly, usually as "Anonymous."]

  47. Blagojevich is just one in a long line of corrupt and stupid Illinois politicians providing joke fodder to the state's citizens. He's way off base here, but I can't say that I expected much of him.

    How do I define blackness? If a person says that zie is black, believe zir, whatever zir looks like, if zir considers own kin to be black. (I think this would rule out dumb politicians, reincarnationists, and obnoxious white conservative college students). An art form or cultural practice (such as slang and dialect) can be "black" if performed by a significant percentage of blacks and rarely if ever performed by whites, or if blacks invented the art form or practice. Socioeconomic status, commercial goods (Escalade), and other items are not specific to or invented by a race, and it makes as much sense to call the left fourth toe "black" (ie, no sense whatsoever).

  48. I have written on this before.

    The stereotypical monolithic black [hip hop] culture is pushed as much by blacks as it is by whites. Whites can only understand blacks through a defined lens, yes.

    However, I have heard many blacks call people who don't identify as African-American (ex. Nigerian) and people who don't confine themselves to stereotypical black lifestyles, speech patterns, dress, etc, as being "white washed" or "sellouts."

    Case in point: Bryant Gumbel, Tiger Woods, Condeleeza Rice, etc.

    Until blacks stop doing this to other blacks, it won't stop.

  49. This isn't hard to prove. Take it from one of only three blacks in the gifted program in high school. Whenever I misspoke, white teachers ignored me. Whenever a white kid mispoke, they corrected them politely. I say politely because I once had the unfortunate experience of a white kid yelling, "why can't you people speak English properly?"

    I've also had white people accuse me of speaking in Hip Hop slang, except I don't care for Hip Hop slangs and would never speak using them. I speak English fluently. I sometimes wonder if they hear what they want to hear as opposed to what is true. Troubling.

    The benefit of the doubt that blacks can legitimately misspeak is never granted. They assumed I mispronounce words because that's the way black people speak. I've had white suburban kids ask me about Hip Hop and basketball. I had another tell me to "act my culture."

    "And other, harder to prove things like teachers putting more effort into helping white and non-black students of color because of the idea that blacks aren't smart and aren't worth the trouble."

  50. "If I'm so white, where's my fucking privilege?"

    this sentiment drives me crazy.

    i'm white. wheres MY fucking privilege?

    i would challenge anyone to go over my life history with a fine tooth comb and try to find some example of a privilege i was given for being white. i've honestly tried to find one. i grew up in the same neighborhoods, went to the same schools, had similar family circumstances and income levels as most of the black people in my community. and i know black people who are much more privileged than me. I admit that white privilege does exist. but just being white doesn't mean you are privileged.

  51. @jas0nburns, start reading:

  52. @thesciencegirl thank you for the link. it was a good read. some if it makes sense. however,
    as someone who endured frequent and random beatings as a child growing up in a black neighborhood I am not inclined to feel i was particularly blessed by being born white. seeing white people on tv and represented in history books just doesn't balance that out.

  53. I think we're off-topic but ...

    @jas0nburns. Yes, being white does mean you're privileged. very privileged. You have more racial privilege than anyone else because you're white. Nobody said that's all you need in life to be living the life, so to speak. No, it's not the only kind of privilege, but white privilege goes a really long way. I think you need to do some more thinking about how privilege works in your life. Unfortunately, one of the very privileges of being white is the option not to notice being privileged and also not to notice the oppression of others and their own part in it.

    Some hints: Are you routinely followed while shopping? Have you had generally genial dealings with the police? Are you frequently told that you are being too sensitive when you object to something offensive? Do you ever actually feel the need to speak out against something offensive? Have you ever worried that a prospective employer will be turned off when Jas0n Burns shows up for an interview and, surprise, he's white? Have you ever worried that you're playing into a stereotype?

  54. basically your saying i don't have to endure the forms of bias perpetrated by other wp on poc. i agree with that but i don't feel responsible or guilty for it.

  55. @jas0nburns, Yeah that's the gist of the examples I chose but I guess that wasn't a great sample because the concept of white privilege is not just freedom from bias/prejudice/oppression. It's not just that POC are disadvantaged; it's that WP are actually advantaged. And guilt isn't the point. You can find lots of stuff to read about white guilt and white privilege but I think you might appreciate this article at Racialicious called Dear America: A Few Things This Black Woman Would Like You To Know About Race (even if you're not American.)

    Also, now that you know that white privilege does exist (even if you have reservations/questions about it) maybe you could consider how it feels to POC when they hear a WP demand to know, "where's MY fucking privilege?"

  56. i've heard it said that it's supposed to be privilege instead of disadvantage. but the only explanation was white people cant face the truth cause we're assholes bla bla bla,

    if being treated with fairness and dignity is supposed to be the norm ideally. than not having those things is a dis advantage. because your taking away basic rights. it's not a gift to be treated fairly, it's the baseline. a privilege is something you get on top of that. which is why i was wondering where my privileges were. im treated fairly, it sucks if other people arn't. i know that wont fly here but...

    by your definition if racism vanished completely than everyone would be privileged. that would be impossible but by my definition everyone would just be back at the baseline. but the idea is that by being privileged your saying we're getting something we don't deserve. but we do. everyone deserves it. it's called basic human rights.

  57. Honestly? I'm black and even I don't think Blackness can be given a definition. I've been mulling it over this whole past month - the stereotypes versus the actual diversity (in terms of personalities, language, features, etc.), and have found that we're far too different to be given a definition. We aren't even united on the most basic level of skin color; skin color varies drastically among all black people.


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