I've been noticing another common white tendency lately. In fact, I've been noticing it so often that I feel compelled to write it down, so I can better see and deal with it.
How do you deal with this one when you hear it?
This common white tendency is to look forward to a supposedly race-free future, instead of focusing on the pervasive racism of today.
I was reminded of this tendency this morning, when I followed a link to "tv tropes." I decided to peruse this site's section on "Race Tropes," but then I got pulled up short by an introductory paragraph:
Ah, race. As much as the endlessly-optimistic sorts like to believe that race is no longer a discriminatory factor any more than eye color is, the fact remains that fiction is not quite "color-blind" yet. We're getting there (slowly but surely), and media today is far more racism-sensitive than in the days of the Ethnic Scrappy, but reflexive stereotypes still linger like a bad fart in a slow elevator.
Hmmm, I thought. Just who's being "endlessly optimistic" here? I mean, if we're slowly but surely approaching a color-blind future, then why bother contributing toward that effort? If it's already and "surely" happening, then I guess us white folks can just relax, right? The future's looking good, thanks to, um, someone's efforts. Or, thanks to something or other. . . but anyway, whew! The job of eradicating racism isn't up to me, because it's already happening.
I think the people at tv tropes do good work in this section of their site, by exposing pervasive and influential modes of media-generated racism. However, any anti-racism efforts that the site's writers might be making seem undercut by that introductory statement, which almost amounts to a disclaimer. It's as if they're saying they don't want to be labeled "race hustlers," the kind of people who go around claiming racism is a big deal, rudely inflicting their concerns on other people like, you know, a "bad fart in a slow elevator." Who needs that, right? Especially when racism is already (somehow) getting better on its own. In fact, if anyone is a "racist" anymore it's them. [/sarcasm]
I obviously do
I don't consider it useful or constructive to discuss racism in merely individual terms -- to label, that is, this or that individual as a "racist." If the person I'm talking to is willing (especially if it's a white person), I always try to work outward from whatever egregious example of racism is at hand. I try to talk about "racism," instead of "racists"; I try to discern whether a common white tendency is at hand; and then, usually later, I also try to see how that tendency resides within myself.
So as I said, lately I've noticed that when I move outward in a conversation like that -- from some supposed "racist" to the racist tendency that he or she displayed or enacted -- the white person or persons I'm talking to often become restless. They sometimes don't want to focus along with me in my effort to generalize the incident into a common white tendency. What they sometimes then say is, I think, another common white tendency itself.
"Okay, but don't you think this is all getting better?" one of my friends recently more or less said. "I mean, what is that they say about 2050 or so, that whites are going to be a minority, right? I mean, you talk about how white power is still with us, and I agree, but isn't it just, kind of, withering away on its own?"
Another example occurred when I was talking to a different white friend, a high school teacher, about whether "terrorism" is a useful term for describing the suicidal assault this week of an IRS office by John Stack. As I made the more general point that white people rarely label other white criminals "terrorists," and that they're much quicker to do that with non-white criminals, this person listened with a deeper and deeper frown, and then she said,
"Well yeah, I can see the racist double standard there. But really, that's going to get better, I think. People aren't going to always be fooled that way. I mean, look, Obama got elected, right? That's a pretty big deal! Because, I was talking to some students about his election, and they were mostly white, but also some of them weren't white. And I was thinking they'd be excited that a black man was finally elected president. But you know what their response was?"
"Um, not as excited as you?"
"Exactly! They were all like, 'meh.' And I think that's hopeful. Because kids aren't seeing race as much anymore, and they're the next generation."
This kind of white talk seems to be happening more than before. I suppose Obama's election has contributed to it. I wonder if it's also a kind of exhaustion, or maybe boredom, that a lot of white people feel with the issue of racism. Talking about that, letting alone working against it is so, like, 1990s. Or even, 1960s.
Are you also encountering this common white tendency? If so, how do you respond?
I think it's a sort of white tactic, and until I thought about it, I found it deflating -- it's a form of derailment. In response, I've now taken to simply asking people why they do that:
"Why did you go there? The future, I mean, when we were talking about right now. I hear that a lot, actually, from white people. What was it that made you go there, instead of staying right here?"
Sometimes this response leads to a useful discussion, and sometimes people look at me like I'm some sort of time-traveling alien. Like I've traveled here from the past, and definitely not from the future.