In the course of running this blog, I've come to understand at least two things much better than I did before -- common white tendencies and the broader context in which they occur. That alone has been worth the time and effort to me, but I sometimes wonder what other people get out of this blog.
Regarding the former understanding for myself, "common white tendencies," I've come to see that I myself am more likely to feel, think, and act in racist ways than I realized; I have a lot of common white tendencies, and in order to be a person whose actions are better aligned with his principles, I need to keep working on them. Regarding the latter understanding, "context," I've come to see that racism is so entrenched in my country (the U.S.) and in others, and so pervasive, that I now routinely describe the social order in a way that I didn't before -- I describe it as "de facto white supremacist."
Recently, my use of that phrase tripped up David “Oso” Sasaki, a blogger who linked approvingly to a guest post here. Here's what happened -- and I'm describing it all because I'd like to ask you about what happened. In that swpd post, "K" wrote about her annoyance with white travelers who pursue "authenticity," especially while traveling in non-white countries.
Oso's post, on his blog El Oso, is an interesting meditation on, as I read it, the folly of seeking "authenticity," especially in a world where a misleading sense of the authentic is increasingly manufactured and sold to us. Oso would know, it seems, as he's apparently a very seasoned traveler.
"I highly recommend the post," Oso writes of K's swpd piece, because it "does a great job of treating authenticity as a commodity, which increasingly it is."
So far so good. But then Oso wrote something that I felt compelled to respond to, and I'd really appreciate your response to my brief exchange with Oso, and especially to his final comment below, which includes a condemnation of swpd itself.
After praising K's discussion of white travelers, Oso wrote,
But, as per usual, I disagree that seeking authenticity in other cultures or treating it as a commodity is limited to only whites. One commenter on the post linked to a New York Times article [which] shows that the same search for authenticity in China is leading yuppie Han Chinese to amusement parks celebrating ethnic minorities like the Dai people.
I think a lot of readers here would describe this as an example of the Arab Trader Argument -- Abagond's useful term for the problematic pointing-out of other people who also do some of the things that white people do. I left a comment on Oso's post that said, more or less to that effect,
To say, as I do on my blog, that white people have some common tendencies is not to say that no one else has this or that said tendency as well. Rather, it’s worth pointing out that when white people do them, they do them within in an ongoing, de facto white supremacist context. That makes their doing them different from other people’s doing them.
Oso got tripped up on a phrase within that comment, and so he asked in return, "It’s been a while since I roamed the hallways of ivory tower ethnic studies so you’re gonna have to break that one down for me. What exactly does that mean? And how does it differ from what some future Chinese theorist might call 'an ongoing, de facto Han supremacist context'?"
If you're still reading, please hang in there -- I do have something to ask you about. Oso's comment below, especially, got me to thinking about just why I run this blog, and how it may or may not be valuable for various readers.
After explaining what I mean by "de facto white supremacy," I replied to Oso,
I’m just describing the West, including the U.S., as a place that in effect favors whites and disfavors, disregards, delegitimizes, and discriminates against non-whites, at systemic and individual levels. I raised the point [about your post] because I don’t see the value of pointing out that other people also do some of the objectionable things that white people do. In fact, when white people do that kind of pointing out, they’re often doing that in order to deflect attention being paid at the moment to white racism. “But he did it too!” is a playground excuse that should have no place in serious discussions of white racism (not that I necessarily think your pointing out that “other people do it too” was quite that kind of deflection -- or was it?)
Does that make sense?
So finally, here's Oso's comment in return, in which he ends up denouncing a blog (that is, swpd) to which he'd initially linked in a positive way.
What do you think?
Is Oso making an effective critique below of swpd?
If you're a regular reader of "stuff white people do," what brings you back?
And, does anything in Oso's critique point to ways that you think swpd could be improved (assuming you don't agree with him that it should be shut down)?
I take issue with the guest post on your blog -- and with most of the content on your blog in general -- because I don't think that focusing on a critical perspective of just one ethnicity is useful for shaping our thinking about how we can create a more just society.
From what I've read it seems to me that your blog often insinuates that only whites are maliciously discriminatory. If that is the case than those of us who are anti-discrimination should focus all of our efforts on promoting cultural change among the white community. But, throughout my travels I've found that urban, white americans are some of the least discriminatory people I have met. And I mean that both on the surface (panic attacks when deciding between saying "black" or "african american") and deep down (most likely to have close friends of other ethnicities and to think deeply -- as you do -- about legacies of ethnic relations).
I think that one of the illusions of urban, white America -- especially those who don't have many friends of other ethnicities -- is that other groups are not as discriminatory when they are often more discriminatory. It's complex. Dark skinned blacks discriminate against light skinned blacks, and vise versa. Mexicans in Los Angeles discriminate against Guatemalans. And people all over Latin America whisper in your ear "but don't blacks cause a lot of problems in your country?" And that's just ethnicity. When I was in India during 9/11 several hindus told me that the USA should not allow muslims to enter.
My real issue with the framing of your blog (again, at least what I've seen) is that ethnicity is just one of many variables that factor into how we discriminate. Class, religion, taste, geography, accent: depending on the person and situation these factors often transcend ethnicity when we shape our identity and when we discriminate. One of the things that bothers me with soundbites like "what white people like" or "what white people do" is that they are really discussing class and not race. They are describing a demographic that is upper-middle class, urban, and college educated. For whatever reason most of my friends are some ethnicity other than white and just about everything you and the "stuff white people like" guy write applies to them just as much as it applies to me. By claiming that these behaviors and tastes are "white" rather than "urban middle class" you're opening my friends up to criticisms from working class members of their ethnicity that they are "acting white."
Everyone is racist, and whites are surely included. And you're right, when whites are racist it is within a context of centuries of oppressive white racism, which is why it is less acceptable and why you obsess over it. But whites are told that they are racist all the time. You're not changing any minds with what you write. As you can see in the comments on your blog you are either preaching to the choir or you are making people more defensive, more entrenched. You are patient and explanatory in your responses, but I believe you're doing a disservice by only focusing on one small aspect of discrimination. So much social analysis in this country focuses on the "red state-blue state" divide or on race. And in doing so we lose track of just how increasingly divisive class can be. I have a hunch that, like me, you have a diverse group of friends in terms of ethnicity, but that all of them are middle class and almost all are college educated. That is increasingly common, and will become even more common, and it's where we should focus our attention.
I try to learn from criticism. As I told Oso at his blog, I appreciate his thoughtful critique -- even though I obviously disagree with his main point, since I do still run this blog, and I do still focus on white people and de facto white supremacy.
I'd appreciate any responses you might have, about whatever value swpd has for you, and, if you have any suggestions, about how you think it could be improved.