Saturday, February 27, 2010

force people of color to bring along racial baggage during vacations


This is a guest post for swpd by fromthetropics:

I went sandboarding with an Asian friend a few days ago in a little town 1.5 hours away from the Australian city that I live in. I’m Asian too. And I found it amusing how we reacted to some things while on the trip. It reminded me of an earlier post by macon entitled "swpd: go on racially trouble-free vacations." Of course, since he's white and I'm not, our vacationing experiences were very different. The opposite, to be precise.

As my friend and I drove into a car park at the foot of the sand dunes, I noticed that the people parked next to us were looking our way and saying stuff to each other. I got anxious, and I thought out loud, “Are they looking at us? Why? Are we parked in the wrong place? Is it my car? Is it because it's a sedan while everyone else's is a 4WD? Does it look out of place? But this is the only car I own. Or are they looking at the guys behind us?”

As my thoughts ran on like that, I had a flashback to the time when I went to a country town with my family, and we came across Asians tourists who were loud and seemed unaware of how out of place they or their white Mercedes looked in that small town. It made me wonder how out of place we may have looked (perhaps less than them, but still).

I think this sensation that I experienced in both situations is what W.E.B Dubois famously referred to as “double-consciousness”:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

Before I came across Dubois, I used to call it “split vision.” I made up that term because I needed words to describe how I felt. I would sometimes be with a group of Asians, but my consciousness would then step outside the group, and look at my group with a white person’s eyes. And I would then think, “Man, we must seem so weird and out of place.”

Then I would try to shake it off, and get my consciousness to step back into the group where my body was, and I would say to myself, “Forget about what people think, and just enjoy the moment.”

So my friend and I got out of the car and walked up the dunes for some sandboarding. We never did find out why or whether it was even us that those white people in the car were looking at. It was nice to know that there were at least two other Asian groups there (there were no other poc groups) who were enjoying themselves. I thought, if they’re enjoying it, surely we can too.

Later, we took a break and sat with our legs hanging off the edge of our open car boot. We were chatting and eating some grapes when we noticed a ‘ranger’ (security) pick-up driving slowly by. Then it stopped near our car. I became anxious again.

I said to my friend, “Why is he stopping? Is it because of us? Are we doing something wrong?” She said, “Maybe we’re not allowed to eat here?”

Not allowed to eat in an open air space like that sounded like an utterly ridiculous reason, but still, I echoed her concern as I wondered the same. I said, “Oh gosh, there was a sign at the entrance that told us to make sure we read the ‘important’ sign in the car park area. But I haven’t read it because I didn’t notice any such signs. Maybe it says there what we’re not supposed to do.”

As I said this, I scanned the car park area for signboards. I didn’t see any. I worried that maybe the signboard was on the other side and I had missed it on the way in. Then I had a few flashbacks, one of which was of the time when my family encountered an obviously racist incident during an out of town trip.

After a few minutes, I was relieved when the ranger left without a word. As we finished sandboarding and began leaving the area, I looked around again to check for the ‘important’ signboard. I saw none. I again felt relieved, because we apparently hadn't missed anything.

But then I wondered why I felt so insecure with the presence of a security car. Wasn’t I supposed to feel more secure, knowing that they were there to stop troublemakers? Surely, I should know that two (Asian) women eating grapes don’t look like troublemakers.

When writing about his very different sensations during a trip to Indonesia, Macon wrote, “I now see that having been trained into whiteness made me feel especially entitled to go wherever I liked, and to do pretty much whatever I pleased when I got there, as long I was willing to pay for it.” He also quoted Shannon Sullivan, who says about the different ways that whites feel about themselves in such situations, “As ontologically expansive, white people consider all spaces as rightfully available for their habitation of them.”

But for me, it was the opposite. I was well aware that I was in someone else’s ‘territory’, and that some people might not like my presence, or that I might have done things which were seen as different and conspicuous, just because of what I am. In my case, this different kind of self-awareness meant that I used to avoid out of town trips out of discomfort. But this time around I thought I’d take a plunge, overcome my fears, and so off we went to the dunes. Yet, I was still not free to feel fully at ease.

On the trip home, we bought a soft-serve cone at a park. We didn’t want too much, so we asked for two chocolate dipped baby cones. I hadn't had a chocolate dipped one in a long time, and it was my friend’s first. The elderly white man serving us noticed that my friend was Japanese from the way she spoke, and he started telling us a story about some previous Japanese customers.

He was very friendly, but my first thought was, “Oh no, did we do something embarrassing?” By ‘we,’ I mean everyone who I had never met but who looked ‘Asian’ (a big chunk of the world’s population).

He told us that when the Japanese tourists come in a big bus, they either all order the same thing, or none at all. “Fair enough,” I thought, “it’s kinda typical and it doesn’t offend anyone anyway. No sweat there.”

Then he went on, and told us how a group of Japanese youths ordered one cone and asked for six spoons. I wasn’t surprised but I thought, “Oh shit.” For some reason I put on a surprised look and said, “Noooo, sixxx???” to indicate that I didn’t ‘approve’ of such behavior (not that I cared too much about the behavior itself, though I did think six spoons for one cone was a bit much and embarrassing indeed, except that it has a tendency to give ‘us’ all a bad name). I did this in case he was sharing the story to indicate how cheap or weird Asians were; it wasn't the first time I had heard white people mention the exact same scenario with other food.

He wasn’t finished. He went on to share another story, but this time with a bunch of Chinese customers who shared a cone among the five or six of them. I did the same drill and showed disbelief.

Wide-eyed, I said, “Did they each order some after they tried it?”

“Nah,” he said.

“Are you serious?” I added, to make sure that I put enough of a distance between myself and them.

"They said they go around the world trying ice creams everywhere they go," he said, "and they said that ours is the best one they’ve tried so far."

The story had a positive spin to it, so I quickly took advantage of the positive note and said, “So we’re getting the world’s best ice cream, eh?”

We praised his ice cream, thanked him, and walked off, lest he had a whole stock of ‘Asian’ stories tucked away under his belt.

It turned out to be a trouble-free trip. We ran into quite a few extremely friendly and helpful (white) people. We had sand in our shoes, all over our bodies (even in our ears), and in the car. Plus, I have a ‘redneck’ where I forgot to put sunblock on. We had an awesome time.

But I was bemused at how the littlest thing would trigger a defense mechanism in me. And each time it was triggered, I would get flashbacks of the racially-troubled vacations I had had in the past. Also, it didn’t help that I read this once I got back home. Nor does it help to hear from a friend who recently moved to a small mining town that racism is rife there.

On the ride back, my friend had pointed out the kangaroo road signs warning us to be cautious in case our mascot pops onto the road out of nowhere. She hasn’t been in Australia long, so she asked me if I had ever seen a wild kangaroo on the road. I told her no.

“So why do they have these signs?” she asked.

“I dunno. I guess if you live out in the country for long enough you’ll see a wild one pop out onto the road every so often,” I answered. Otherwise it would be a waste of government money putting up and maintaining all those signs.

I wonder if the way POCs automatically analyze situations for racial overtones is similar to the function of those kangaroo road signs -- if, for those who have lived in that terrain long enough, racism and Othering does happen enough times to warrant a defense mechanism, for the sake of staying physically and emotionally safe?

Friday, February 26, 2010

overlook the inherently racist nature of pool (aka, billiards)

THere's a lot to be said about racism in sports.

But then, how well do we understand that certain sports themselves are inherently racist?

Just kidding, since it's Friday.

Let's Open Thread, shall we?

Is there, for instance, anything more we should know about the whiteness of the Winter Olympics? Or of other sporting events/sports?

What's on your mind, sports related or not (but still, please, "whiteness" related)?

h/t for the Boomerang clip: Damon @ Black & Bougie

Thursday, February 25, 2010

perpetuate the idea that "gay" or "lesbian" means "white"

This is a guest post by Josh Friedberg, a gay white male student at Earlham College. Josh is majoring in English and minoring in African & African American Studies, and he's currently researching racialized value judgments in music historiography and criticism.

When you think of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person, what race and class do you associate with that image?

In 2000, World War II historian Allan Bérubé published an essay examining the perception of gay men and the consequences thereof. Bérubé wrote that when asked the above question, his students invariably perceived "gay men" as "white and well-to-do."

"In the United States today," Bérubé wrote, "the dominant image of the typical gay man is a white man who is financially better off than most everyone else."

Despite progress in LGBT rights, ten years after the publication of Bérubé's essay, “How Gay Stays White, and What Kind of White it Stays,” some things haven't changed. Regardless of exceptions, the majority of people, at least in the U.S., still perceive LGBT people as white and wealthy.

This image stays ingrained not only for overt homophobes, but within LGBT culture as well.

Bérubé examined how the image of gays as monolithically privileged manifested itself, in attempts to assimilate LGBT people into mainstream society and in the curtailing of LGBT rights. He also examined what he called the “selling” of gay whiteness in order to garner favor from corporate and governmental authorities, as well as the use of “race analogies” that compare sexual marginalization to racial marginalization.

In the 1990s, politicians voted against gay rights measures, including in the battle over gays in the military, and then defended their votes by claiming that gays already have privilege -- an idea which only makes sense if you conceive of LGBT people as homogeneously white and wealthy.

And today, organizations like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) still sell the image of assimilation to try to prove that LGBT people are “just like everybody else.” Such efforts include the HRC's Buying for Equality guide, which encourages consumers to support LGBT-friendly corporations.

To be sure, this sounds like a good idea, but the HRC has given awards to companies with documented histories of racist practices -- like Abercrombie -- thereby separating sexual oppression from racial or class-based oppression.

This example points to a larger problem: such an assimilationist ethic, which ignores the overlap between race, class, and sexuality, has resulted in the marginalization of LGBT people of color from activist discourse on LGBT rights.

To be fair, unprecedented numbers of LGBT professors of color have gained prominence in the academy over the last two decades, so that certainly is progress.

But before Proposition 8 passed in 2008, banning gay marriage in California, LGBT activists of color noted how racial discrimination within anti-prop 8 organizations silenced their ideas. As Kai Wright noted in an article for ColorLines magazine, these activists foresaw the passing of Prop 8 and tried to institute changes in the assimilationist strategies used to attempt to gain votes, but to no avail.

And yet the selling of gays as white and wealthy continues.

A few years ago Dwight A. McBride, a gay black professor who is currently a dean at University of Illinois-Chicago, published an essay on “the gay marketplace of desire.” McBride described how pornography, print media, online dating services, and other institutions largely cater to white male consumers, often by using racist stereotypes about various gay men of color.

This is undoubtedly still the case; one look through a mainstream LGBT publication or website will confirm that.

And egregious race analogies continue as well: after Prop 8, one such magazine, The Advocate, published a cover story declaring that “Gay is the New Black.” The story's author did not interview or mention a single gay black person and posed LGBT rights and black rights as comparable.

The problem is that only white people can compare any oppression to racial oppression; blacks, for example, can't say that their oppression is like racial oppression, because they already are racially oppressed.

In addition, the myth that LGBT people are homogeneously white and wealthy yields a number of other myths. One is that some people of color have called homosexuality “a white thing,” dismissing the idea that LGBT people are in their communities.

Another is the myth that LGBT people should be grateful for what they have—which could hold true if you're talking about race and class privilege among white and upper-class LGBT folks.

However, such a myth ignores the rights that LGBT people have long been denied, ones that heterosexuals can take for granted, including the rights to marry, to not face employment discrimination based around sexuality or gender identity, or to know that hate crimes against you can be treated as hate crimes.

So here's what I'm asking all of us to do -- challenge the stereotypes that are so prevalent, acknowledge race and class along with sexuality and gender identity, and help break down how gay stays white.

In his groundbreaking essay, Allan Bérubé asked, "How does the category 'gay man' become white? What are the whitening practices that perpetuate this stereotype, often without awareness or comment by gay white men?"

Bérubé’s death in 2007 should not leave such questions unexplored. We must educate ourselves, learning about racism and classism in addition to homophobia, sexism, and other types of oppression.

We must learn that ignoring or separating any type of oppression from another is a result of privileged ignorance, and it will remain so as long as gay stays white

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

seek authenticity

A reader who signed her email "K" writes,

I've been following your blog for a while, and I really appreciate your efforts to interrogate and deconstruct racism, racial identity and racial reflexes. Although a lot of the discussions in the comments are kind of over my head, I do diligently try to think about them in order to help me articulate racial incidents in my own everyday life. Just a bit of background -- I'm a mixed-race Asian who has lived in both America and the UK for the last nine years, and majored in English and related literatures as well as writing during university.

I have a white friend who I'm very fond of, and who is very interested in Arabic culture, as an evangelical Christian. As a Muslim myself, we're used to having clashes of opinion -- sometimes not pretty ones -- and so we are also used to working through these disagreements, agreeing to disagree, and doing so in a respectful manner (hopefully), although obviously the initial clash is always jarring and rife with emotion. She recently moved to Egypt, and this has brought to the forefront -- although I have always been aware of it -- the issue of authenticity, which always triggers a somewhat annoyed reaction in me. I was wondering if I was being too sensitive, or if I have other motivations for being annoyed, or if it genuinely is a reaction which others share.

While in America, I remember a time when she went to a Chinese restaurant and told me about it (she's always been interested in international cultures and cuisines), and mentioned, "It was so good, because it was 'authentic.'"

As someone who is half-Chinese (or of Chinese descent, if the "half" is too politically charged), I asked her, "What makes you think it was authentic?"

My own previous experience with Chinese food in America had led me to deduce, that, much like all franchises attempting to make international cuisines more appealing, said cuisine had been tweaked in order to suit local palates. Which didn't mean they were any less delicious, only that they were not necessarily traditionally Chinese.

She said, "Well, the waiters were all Asian, you know."

I attempted to interrogate this a little bit -- just because the waiters were all Asian, I argued, didn't mean that they were all Chinese, for one, or all from the same part of China, or had any more knowledge of Chinese cuisine than say a white chef who had trained in China under Chinese chefs. But she remained adamant that it was more authentic because "of course they would know more about it."

I left it at that, simply because I wasn't sure myself what I was trying to get at by that point. I suppose perhaps I was annoyed that she was passing judgement on authenticity when she simply didn't have the resources to determine that it WAS authentic?  (Not that I did, either.)

So she likes to travel, and something that has always been important to her is fitting in to the local culture (I remember her being fully pleased that someone had remarked that her Russian accent held no American), and part of what encompasses that for her is not seeing any other tourists. It occurs to me that this is something that has come up on, but it wasn't fully unpacked, I believe. Recently she went to Jordan, and remarked that she wanted to see something off the beaten track, and that the guide delivered -- they went to see Bedouins, etc., and "only saw one other tourist the entire time."

This drove me crazy! And I'm not sure why!

Am I justified? Is it that she's treating the experience and "authenticity" as a commodity? Is it a sense of infiltration,  of "ah, I have been accepted?"

Or am I being entirely ridiculous and simply seeing a smug obnoxiousness -- which, while irritating -- has no racial or imperial underpinnings (and which says more about my selfishness and pettiness than it does anything else)?

Commenting Guidelines

This is a revision in response to reader comments on an earlier version. This version will be subject to continual revision, whenever that seems called for. 

Commenting Guidelines

Comments on this blog are moderated by its proprietor, macon d (that would be me). Differences of opinion are welcome here, but I do refuse to publish some comments. I mainly try to balance two things: a general call for white people to learn -- about racism, de facto white supremacy, and common white ways -- and the need for people of color to feel comfortable and safe in discussions of those topics.

If I don't publish a comment, sometimes I explain in a posted comment of my own [in brackets] why I rejected it (or why I redacted just part of it), and sometimes I don't. If you submit a comment and wonder why it was rejected, you're welcome to write me an email, and I'm likely (but not guaranteed) to respond.

If you are new to serious discussions of such topics as racism, de facto white supremacy, and common white tendencies, you probably have some catching up to do -- please consult the list of online resources at the bottom of this page.

1. Please do not choose the "Anonymous" function for your name. If you do, your comment will be delayed, and I will also assign your comment a name. If you then comment after that happens to you, use that new name, or else chose another and stick with that one.

2. Remember that I and others here do not "hate white people."  As a white person, I also do not "hate myself," nor am I afflicted with "white guilt." This blog is not about claiming that "white people are bad." Instead, it's about the effects of racism, especially the habits induced in white people by being socially categorized as "white." Despite what white individuals tend to think, being classified that way does matter in white people's lives; if you're white and you read around in this blog's archives with an open mind, you're likely to realize that.

3. Keep in mind the subtitle of this blog ("The ways of white folks, I mean, some white folks . . ."), and don't complain about what you see as "white-bashing" here. Very few if any of the posts here are about stuff ALL white people do. If you're white and you don't do it, then it's not about you.

4. Address the topic in the post. Comments that are off-topic or derailing do not get published here. (This does not mean, however, that comment sections do not sometimes take a productive tangent away from the topic at hand.)

5. Focus on what people say, instead of whoever you think they are. Avoid ad hominem attacks, and if you refer to another commenter here, please do your best to retype their online name correctly.

6. Don't threaten anyone with violence (even if you think you're joking).

7. Don't espouse racial essentialism. In other words, please do not claim or suggest that members of any race are inherently anything other than that which members of any other races are as well. Race is understood here as a social construction, a categorical fiction (but also, one that continues to have major real-world effects), and not a socially significant biological reality.

8. Don't complain about the ways that other commenters here communicate. Different people communicate in different ways, some of which you may object to. I do not consider it my place as a middle-class, white resident of the United States to impose here one particular set of communication standards and rules.

9. Don't bother pointing out that "other people do that too." If you're ever tempted to make a parallel of this sort, please read this post on "The Arab Trader Argument." In a similar vein, avoid discussing sexism, classism, ablism, and so on in ways that overlook or dismiss racism. These factors do of course affect and intersect with racism, but the latter, as in "stuff white people [often] do," is the focus here.

10. If you are white and you want to interact here with people of color, please be sure that you're listening respectfully to their experiences. Many white people have a tendency to shift discussions of racism to their own concerns. Since the topic here is racism, please do not derail discussions by comparing the experiences of people of color to your own, supposedly similar experiences; or by offering your own ill-informed diagnoses of what they're feeling or thinking; or by sincerely offering in response to their experiences nothing more than your own shock, regret, or sympathy, however deeply heartfelt. If you're white, please remember that people of color usually know more about racism, and about your own whiteness, then you do.

11. Along with that, please do not ask people of color here to do work for you. If you have questions for people of color here about racism, remember that Google is your friend; finding information that you can find on your own is not their job. That said, if you are a person of color or a white person, feel free to relate, analyze, and otherwise share your own experiences with white racism, as long as what you're writing is more or less related to the topic at hand.

12. If you mess up in a comment and feel you should apologize, please do, but don't make the apology all about you. White people sometimes apologize in ways that are more about saving face, and less about demonstrating that they really understand and regret the effects of their mistakes. Here's a good resource on how to apologize better than most white people do.

13. If you write to express disagreement, please avoid strawman arguments. When addressing a post or prior comment, it's better to reference its specific language and points. If you do paraphrase the words of others, you will make a better contribution, and receive better responses, if you do so accurately.

14. In general, avoid lengthy, multi-comment, thread-hijacking, and/or nitpicking discussions. These kinds of discussions tend to drive away other commenters and distract from the topic at hand.

These guidelines are subject to change; if you have suggestions for changes, please write them in a comment here. If you have questions, please send them to me via email (suggestions of any sort are always welcome that way too): unmakingmacon at gmail dot com


Racism 101 for Clueless White People, Written by a Slightly Less Clueless White Person

Racism 101

Racism = Prejudice + Power

How to Be an Anti-racist Ally

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (PDF)

teach their children to act white

Why White Students Need to Learn about Their Own Race

A Primer for Whites

I Am Racist!

Talking about the Hard Stuff (Racism 101)

generously provide examples of problematic white behavior

How to Suppress Discussions of Racism

Uprooting Colorblind Racism

How to argue like a white racist

Baby-stepping Away from Racism: A Guide for White People

White Women's Tears

White Liberal Bingo

The Glosario

How to Tell People They Sound Racist

So You Think You're an Anti-racist?

We Have Feelings Too, or The Cost Of Being A POC in Race Discussions

The Dos and Don'ts of Being a Good Ally

When Allies Fail -- Part One

When Allies Fail -- Part Two

Systemic Racism and the White Racial Frame

How I Benefit from White Privilege

Monday, February 22, 2010

label things they refuse to understand "insane"

This is a guest post by Ankhesen Mié, who reads and comments at swpd as Moi, and who writes about herself, "I’m an Ambazonian-American author who digs the unusual. I blog a lot about race, I’m allergic to seafood, and I have a weird thing for really old men."

I just had a very interesting evening at a bar with two white guys.  For this post, we'll call them Jay and Tim; Jay in his mid-20s and Tim is in his late forties (at least) -- just FYI.

Our First Topic -- Stack

So we're having drinks and talking about Andrew Joseph Stack and the apparent hesitation to brand him a terrorist (which he was, by the way).  Jay, like most people, doesn't consider Stack's actions terrorism because they weren't on the same scale as 9/11 and didn't incite as much fear.  I argued the media and FBI were deliberately trying to avoid inciting fear, and Tim and I explained to him white denial, etc. in the face of a "white threat" in order to maintain that "us-vs-them" mentality. Tim and I also had to repeatedly explain terrorism, its basic definition, and how Stack's actions fit that definition to a T.

Jay maintained that anyone who would fly a plane into a building was merely crazy and immature, and he didn't see how Stack's actions intimidated anyone.  Jay apparently hasn't been paying attention to the news, because the intimidation is most definitely again, Tim and I had to explain the social and sociological factors which most people ignore in these situations (e.g., Americans regularly joke and criticize the IRS, so there's been no major outcry in its defense, even though 190 innocent people were almost murdered -- regular people just like them.  And yet folks can't seem to link our everyday sense of  IRS "humor" to the creation and maintenance of our insensitivity towards its employees' lives).

Tim and I quickly realized that all this wasn't sinking in for Jay, because Jay was hung up on the scale and aftermath of 9/11; with Stack, he couldn't see the idealogical aspect [read: religion], nor could he see the organizational/brotherhood aspect of McVeigh -- even though we explained repeatedly that a terrorist does not have to belong to an organization.

And so there sat Jay, doing that common white thing -- he stubbornly insisted that both Stack and the 19 men who took out the Twin Towers were simply "crazy and immature."

Our Second Topic -- What Caused 9/11

So I abandoned Stack and went with 9/11.  I asked Jay and Tim to honestly, seriously, tell me the root of terrorism, and why someone would resort to it.  Jay laughingly insisted on mental illness, while Tim solemnly talked about hatred, fear, and the desperate desire to change things.  Jay scoffed out how bringing down the Towers -- full of innocent civilians -- could never solve any problems.  I said the point was not to "solve" a problem -- those 19 men were not delusional.  Terrorists are not actually "crazy": they do what they do for a reason, but Jay couldn't divine it for the life of him.

So I dropped some words: social inequality (both domestic and global), exploitation, subjugation, and colonialism.

"See," Jay rolled his eyes, "this what bugs me about that -- 'imperialism,' ' colonialism' -- who cares?!"

"Bingo!" I pointed at him.  "That right there?  That is what makes America -- civilians especially -- a target for terrorists.

"Victims have long memories.  You 'don't care' because you have no clue what it's like to have nothing.  You may be poor by American standards, but you have no clue what real poverty is -- and neither do I.  You don't know what true, blatant, raw dehumanization is like.  I have African parents, I was born in Austin, TX and have spent most of my life in America.  For the brief period I lived in Cameroon, I had nannies.  I went to a private school.  My family is prominent in our home province.  So while I too could never see myself flying a plane into a building, I could see why my parents or grandparents -- who were born and raised under colonial rule -- would.

"My father sat me down when I was young to explain how such life was for an African child.  He went to a Christian, British-run boarding school, and didn't see his kin for months at a time.  When there, he could not go by his African name; he had to use his English one.  He couldn't speak his native dialect even if some of his classmates were members of the same tribe.  He could not practice any ancestral beliefs, but Catholicism instead.  And most people in America don't know this, but it was -- for a very long time -- colonial educational policy to teach African children that their ancestors who built the pyramids, temples, kingdoms, and palaces whose ruins still stand, and who featured heavily in the recited histories of griots and scholars (yes, Africans have always had their own historians) -- the children were taught these ancestors were white, and that they [the children] had neither history nor legacy."

Now mind you, Jay's face was red through all this; he was not speaking, and he was avoiding eye contact as though his life depended on it.  So I just went on about how colonialism and chattel slavery will never be practiced against Africans again, and not because the Western world has become so evolved, but because Africans will die before they allow it to happen.  Same thing here: if white America decided to displace Native Americans from their reservations right now, Native Americans would not just sit back and let it happen.  What happened before will never be allowed to happen the same way again in this world.

Tim added how America has not evolved; it's young, and doesn't have the extensive the historical lengths of other nations.  It's going through its own attempts at imperialism right now, though it will neither recognize nor admit to it.  I then added that when the conflict between colonialists and Native Americans first became dead serious, the colonialists were no doubt being told, "This is not your country.  These are not your things.  Either deal with us like civilized people or go back to wherever you came from."

"Sound familiar?"  I asked Jay. "No?  Here's another hint."

I explained that Middle East Asians, when talking about their history of mistreatment by Westerners, don't start their story in the last 20-50 years.  They start it with the Crusades.  Since the time of the Crusades, the Mid East has endured cyclical invasions  --but Americans don't know that.  And like most countries today, the modern Middle East has spent years wrangling with arrogant American politicians and "diplomats" who basically show up to dictate how things will be done (even Western European politicians complain of this type of treatment).  The conflict we are witnessing now is no different from America's conflict from centuries ago: the Mid East will not back down.  The war drags on unsuccessfully because our previous administration erroneously assumed these broke, "backward", brown people could be brought to heel, as brown people have been before -- no.  They will die before they let that happen.  Listen to how they react to American presence on their soil: "This is not your country.  These are not your things.  Either deal with us like civilized people, or go back to wherever you came from" -- does this sound familiar now?

Jay could still not see why Arabs would target American civilians.  I explained it's because American civilians have not been listening for decades.  Oh, they know their government does some "exploiting" here and there (Jay actually said things along this line) but they don't know the gory details.

Americans don't understand how it feels to have heavily armed foreigners show up and order them around with slurs and threats.  They don't care to know.  Genocide was going on Rwanda long before America got involved.  Why?  Americans didn't care (once again; Americans have forgotten their initial negligence, but I can assure you Rwandans have not).  Americans put a dim-witted butcher in office and left him there for eight years to the detriment of themselves and the extreme detriment of others, but have already forgotten the "put him there" part and talk as though he just "became" President out of nowhere.  Americans knew he was being a bully to others, but didn't stop him.  He killed their children, disfigured some others, and massacred hundreds of thousands of humans on the other side of the world, and Americans paid him a fat salary all the while.  Americans don't know Arabic history, don't understand or respect Islam, don't pay attention to their crimes against the Middle East, feel entitled to the rewards they reap from beneath Eastern soil, don't care if their president is committing atrocities in their name...and yet Americans have the gall to wonder why 19 Arab men would go directly after them.

Jay, who'd become a lot less humorous and animated, still insisted on the "insanity" defense, causing Tim to shake his head at him.  Tim then used an example I hadn't thought of -- Appalachia itself.  All three of us have spent the bulk of our lives in Appalachia, and Jay is perhaps the most "Appalachian" of us three: he was born here, he's unable to stay away from it for too long, is currently working for the state researching and writing grants to help provide homes and jobs for the homeless population, and like most Appalachians, Jay refuses to leave in the foreseeable future.

Our Third Topic -- Appalachia

FYI, most Americans can't point out West Virginia on a map (don't ask me what they put down as the 50th state whenever they came up one state short in elementary school geography).  West Virginia, in case you're wondering, is the beating heart of Appalachia to some folks.  To "outsiders" who have some knowledge of its existence, West Virginia like a "Third World Country," populated solely by illiterate hicks who are often the stuff of horror films and the butt of incest jokes.  Most Americans don't know WV's history, nor why, how, or even that it separated from Virginia in the first place (it was an anti-slavery state, just so you know).

Appalachians have been poor and neglected for generations -- there has never been a "Golden Age" in this region.  Like Africa and the Mid East, WV is, ironically, brimming with natural resources: vast forests, huge coal mines, abundant natural gas, natural springs, and long rivers.  For generations, outside companies have come in, taken what they've wanted, and then moved on, leaving massive poverty in their wake.  Out of all Appalachians, West Virginians in particular have come to loathe "outsiders" (and in Southern WV, where poverty is severe, political officials and state employees are almost never greeted pleasantly).  And while their distrust continues to hinder their economy and education, it has kept their distinctive identity -- and historical memories -- intact.

'Cause again, kids, victims have long memories.


Our talk was finally starting to sink in a little for Jay, and I wasn't shocked that it took the only other white guy in the talk to finally break through to him (however, I was refreshed to see an older white guy schooling a younger one about the need to see things from the "Other Side."  I was also elated when Tim brought up John Brown and how his raid was -- and is still sometimes -- considered an act of terrorism).

Now, Tim and I had been vibing quite well this whole time, smoothly backing each other up with insights and historical tidbits, much to Jay's visible discomfort.  It was late, and the bar was getting too loud for us to keep talking, so I began to say my goodbyes.  Tim and I cheerfully thanked each other for the conversation, but Jay was deeply concerned I might be angry with him.  Needless to say, his worry baffled Tim and me, considering how I had not expressed any anger at all.  Why would I?  Tim demonstrated exemplary supportiveness, global historical knowledge, and astounding insight; our intertwining dialogue had been excellent...and all Jay had to say was he feared I may never speak to him again??!?

Jay uncomfortably insisted he still "just couldn't understand" how anyone would think terrorism was an answer, and that they'd have to be insane to actually fly a plane into a building.  Sighing and giving up, I simply assured him I wasn't angry in the least, but insisted on heading out (I figured Jay might talk to Tim more comfortably if I was absent).  I accepted Jay's hug, and let him walk me to my car.

Hope he and Tim are having a good talk.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

look forward to a race-free future, instead of focusing on racism today


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 think know that racism is still a big deal, and that it's not going away anytime soon. Which is why, for one thing, I make it a point to discuss racial issues with friends and co-workers. This common white tendency -- to look towards a rosy future, when racism will have finally withered away, as if it just got old and died a natural, inevitable death -- has come up in conversation twice this past week, and probably six, seven or more times in the past couple of months. We'll be talking about, say, John Mayer's loose lips, or those of Chris Matthews, or one time, the way that sportscasters still talk differently sometimes about players of different races.

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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

suddenly show tact when discussing white people who commit possible acts of terrorism

 This is a guest post by Big Man, who blogs at Raving Black Lunatic.

Real quick y'all.

I'm watching the coverage of this plane crash in Austin. The one where a dude flew a plane into the IRS building after burning his house.

And everybody is falling all over themselves not to call this cat a "terrorist."

It's "possible terrorist-related activity" but it's not terrorism and he's not a terrorist. What the hell?

How can you fly a plane into a building out of spite, and have folks call it "suicide by plane?" That's like calling it "suicide by portable chest bomb."

Why are media folks wondering if the FBI needs to be involved since it's a local crime? Really son? Trying to kill federal employees on federal property is just a "local problem" now?

I bet if he had a Muslim surname it would be terrorism. Yep, wouldn't be no question, just like the first thing you heard after the Fort Hood shooting was about how dude should be called a terrorist. But this white dude is heated at the federal government and attacks that same government by targeting innocents and he's not a terrorist?

Oh, hell naw. Just no. Stop it you hypocritical bastards. Just stop.

struggle to find their place in social justice efforts

This is a guest post by IzumiBayani, who blogs at Musings of a 20-some Year Old Multiracial Kid. He describes himself as "100% Japanese, 100% white, 25% deaf, oppressor and oppressed."

This blog does a pretty good job of opening discussions about "the ways of white folks, i mean, some white folks," basically by talking about stupid shit (fairly well-intentioned or not) that white people do in everyday life. That sort of discussion is necessary, but I believe that "some white folks" deserve particular consideration -- those straight, white males who participate in social justice efforts.

I’d like to make one thing very clear to these white people: you should not use swpd and other social justice spaces as a source of self-validation. If you want to participate here, ask yourself why you want to be in a space that should really serve people of color (PoC) and some white women (WW). This is especially not a space to relate your experiences and sob stories about being ignored in these spaces.

I have a very good friend, and for the sake of this post, I'll name him Ecirb. He’s in his upper-thirties, and he self-identifies as a white heterosexual male. How he grew up is important to who he is and his current situation, but that doesn't matter in the context of this discussion because he looks like a white guy. Ecirb is an Ethnic Studies Major and I am glad to say that he’s a social justice advocate (not that I'm the end-all to determining who is and isn't an advocate).

He and I talk about many things, but recently our discussion has been centered on the perception of white people in general social justice spaces. Just a warning, this is a multi-layered, complex situation to deconstruct, but I am going to try. In addition, I'm not saying that Ecirb's situation applies to all white hetero males in social justice, but I think there are very important lessons to be drawn from his experience.

Here’s a small sampling of some of his experiences, as best as I can recall them, and since Ecrib claims that these are “facts,” I will try to be as objective as possible. These experiences should be helpful in clarifying the proper role of white hetero men in social justice efforts:

  • Ecrib and I use a lobby area for Ethnic Studies students. With a couch and some public computers, it’s a wonderful space to congregate and talk about social justice issues and our classes. Ecirb tells me that when he is alone with one of his friends (in this case it happens to be a woman of color), she is open and very interested in what he has to say. But when other's walk in, she becomes aloof, almost as if she doesn't know him.
  • One time, he walks into the room with a friend of his who appears to be a black hetero male, and the room suddenly goes quiet. Ecrib's friend points to him and says, "He's cool."
  • Ecrib feels ignored in class, and when he’s not, most of his comments are met with resistance or quick dismissal.
  • He’s very up-front with his opinions. If you’re being a bigot, he’ll say so to your face, because that's how he deals with it.

There is one thing that I make clear to Ecrib every time he complains about these things. No matter who he is, the fact that he appears to be a white male makes it difficult for him to operate in a social justice environment. I constantly tell him that his phenotype conjures up for most PoC an entire lifetime of negative experiences, and that is something he cannot help and must overcome. I think he gets that, but it’s also easy for him to forget the privilege he has to walk around and not have to worry about how his physical appearance itself is enough to incite painful experiences.

The consequence is that he must prove himself. He has to work harder to be taken as legit, and to make friends in this department. Now, Ecrib has no issue with the fact that he has to work harder, and neither do I. This is the consequence of centuries of oppression: that excellent people such as Ecirb must work hard to become basic friends with excellent people such as the PoC in our Ethnic Studies Department.

However, a problem I see is that some PoC and some WW don’t give him a chance to prove himself. I understand that it's safer to assume the worst with white people. It's a safety mechanism, and I do it too. But to shut out people like Ecirb, to suppress/ignore what he has to say because of who he is, is detrimental to everyone.

In fact, not giving Ecrib a chance goes against what we’re fighting for. Ending the isms will take every individual, and it’s counter-productive and ignorant to exclude anyone on the basis of what they look like. Take the hint people! He's majoring in Ethnic Studies in his late 30's. Maybe he knows more about bigotry then you do just from how much longer he's been alive? Maybe so, maybe not, but it’s difficult for me to ignore the wisdom of age.

This situation requires a careful balancing by everyone. It took me a long time to realize that I have to give white people a chance to prove themselves, and white people also have to understand that it’s an uphill battle to prove themselves. And just like some white people aren't worth talking to because they're so stupid and racist, some PoC and WW aren’t worth talking to either. You do not have to prove yourself to these people because there is nothing you could say or do to change their mind.

I don't tell Ecrib this often enough, but he needs to stay humble. No one is asking him to lead us out to the promise land. In fact, he can’t be a dominant leader in a social justice movement because of his identity. This space is for PoC and to some extent WW. He can support, but he can't lead. That invokes the White Savior Complex. White male arrogance can easily ruin his credibility and get him thrown off the boat.

In addition, people like Ecrib need to realize that their real work isn't with a community of PoC; their responsibility is among white people, men, and straight people. He has the advantage in those spaces, so that’s where his privilege of assumed credibility can be used to his/our advantage. These are spaces where he can effectively be a leader.

There is much work to be done by both groups. The social justice movement needs to get its shit together just as much as white people do. We all have room to learn and grow.

Again, I want to emphasize that even though I’m writing about people like Ecrib on swpd, and even though this conversation needs to include everyone involved, this is not a space for white people to tell PoC that they need to be more accepting of white people. A discussion of how dominant identities can better fit into the space of social justice would be more pertinent.

At the same time, what can we as PoC’s and women do to balance staying safe and giving dominant identities a chance?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

fail to see wolves in white sheep's clothing

A reader sent the following email, which includes thoughts on the murderous biology professor, Amy Bishop, that resemble my own. How often do white criminals slip past the detection of other whites, simply by being white? How much are white people in general harming themselves and others that way?

Dear Macon,

Over the last few days, I've been reading about “Amy Bishop” and her shooting rampage at Alabama University. As the press continues to release more information surrounding Bishop’s past, it becomes obvious that this woman had a history of instability. Bishop was responsible for the 1986 shooting death of her brother, and she was also a suspect in an unsuccessful 1993 bombing threat against a Harvard professor.

I cannot help but wonder whether white privilege played a role in allowing Bishop to continuously slip through the cracks without even a mere slap on the wrist. Or whether it was white privilege that groomed Bishop to feel so entitled that her challenged mind deemed it necessary to kill when she felt wronged or denied.

I've always considered circumstances like the Bishop case to be one of the grim realities resulting from white privilege. I do so, because if one would envision Bishop as a black woman while adding on statistics, a separate outcome emerges.

Had Bishop been a woman of color, would she have so easily re-absorbed back into society while having such a history? Or would she be still be imprisoned after the first offense? Was it whiteness that intervened against justice, and took away from Bishop from suffering consequences? Did a pass given due to whiteness cultivate a threat to society, creating a monster?

Now, the tragic reality is that she has left more carnage in her midst. If skin is to remain so powerful that it fails to recognize wolves as long as they're dressed in white-sheepish clothing, then aren't we all victims of this system of white privilege?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

subtly pass racism on to the next generation

Robin is a twenty-something white female who spends most of her time writing, and occasionally guest-blogging at swpd and elsewhere; her website: She hopes someday to stop showing her privileged butt on a regular basis, and in the meantime, she continually struggles to accept that she's very much a work in progress.

If being raised as a white person in a racist society means that white parents are inevitably racist, in ways that they may or may not know about, how do they pass that racism on to their children? How can they prevent themselves from passing it on?

I'm sure many of us who read this blog have seen the movie American History X. In a scene that shows the genesis of the young white protagonist's racial hatred, he and his brother, both children, are sitting around the dinner table while their father, a firefighter, rails about minorities: "I'll tell you one more thing. This 'affirmative blaction' shit is driving me up the fucking wall. Firefighters gettin' 99's on their tests while rappers who score a goddamn 62 walk away with the job. . . . we keep givin' niggers everything, there'll be nothing left for us."

And of course we hear about the egregious cases: parents who name their children Adolph Hitler and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation; parents who put swastikas on their children's arms with marker and send them to school; the Stormfront types who proudly talk about hanging swastikas above their baby's cribs; the mother who tried to turn her daughters into white-nationalist pop stars.

Those are the types of parents that most Caucasians will think of when they hear the term "racist parent." But I'm not here to talk about those people, as I believe they're in the minority; I'm here to talk about the many white parents who would back away in horror at the thought of using a racial epithet in front of their children, and yet they nevertheless pass racism on to the next generation.

These are the parents who would never say "those wetbacks," probably not even among themselves with no children in the room; they almost certainly consider themselves non-racist. Yet they will talk about those Mexicans in front of their children. And "those Mexicans" is always said in a voice just above a whisper, leaving no doubt in the children's minds that Mexicans are something so unspeakable, you can't even say their ethnicity in a normal tone of voice (of course, another oft-despised minority group, black people, gets whispered about in similar ways as well). These parents will go on about how those Mexicans keep coming up here and stealing our jobs, using our resources, overcrowding our schools. . .*

These are the parents who will chat with other parents about things minorities (supposedly) do. One that I remember well from growing up was about how Mexicans would get one of their young-adolescent daughters knocked up, sneak up to America just in time for her to give birth, and then the baby would be a U.S. citizen. And of course nobody's going to deport the mother of a U.S. citizen. And if that mother happens to be a young adolescent, of course nobody's going to deport *her* mother! So just for having a baby, now THREE of them get to stay in the U.S.! [/exasperated sarcasm]

Of course nobody ever offers proof to back up this tale. When parents are calmly discussing this tale as if it's fact, why do they need to? The children overhearing it take it as gospel too. (And of course those parents aren't being racist -- after all, it's not like they're making judgments on those Mexicans -- they're just stating "facts" about things that minorities do!)

These are the parents who are appalled by the idea of sending their child to a school where the pupils are predominantly minorities. This is always phrased in terms of "the education there isn't as good" (even though they've done no research and have no idea whether it is or isn't) -- never in terms of "I don't want my child around those children."

These are the parents who, like some of my family members, will be cracking jokes about the supposed incompetence of the Mexican Army (in front of their children) and then snidely follow it up with, "Like that's a surprise, coming from Mexico." Yet these same people would be deeply offended if you said they were racist. They'll trot out their Mexican co-workers, the fact that they're fine with their kids being friends with that Mexican girl down the street... we know all the rationalizations already.

These are the parents who, with the best of intentions, expose their children to other cultures in a way that is profoundly Othering. They take their children to Chinatown and Little India and point out clothing and wares for sale as if they're at a zoo. They'll fawn over their child's new friend of color (often taking this as a sign that they're successfully raising an anti-racist child), leaving no doubt in their child's mind that there's something very different between their white friends and their friend of color. They'll take their children to "ethnic" restaurants and -- well, just see the post (and comments) from a few days ago about Othering in cuisine.

These are the parents who don't challenge racial humor when it's used in front of their children (or worse yet, don't see it as racist at all) ; who stay in all-white neighborhoods and send their kids to all-white schools and socialize with other white families; who raise their white children to believe that everything they accomplish is due solely to their own hard work; who raise their white children to be "colorblind"and "not see race"; who never discuss race with their kids because it's too uncomfortable, or they don't understand why it needs to be discussed; who are proud of themselves for having a token PoC come over to visit, because it's a "positive learning experience" for their children to be "exposed" to PoC (that is, parents who view PoC as a learning tool rather than as people).

These parents don't hang swastikas in their houses, they don't use epithets to refer to minorities, and they certainly don't consider themselves racist. Yet, with the best of intentions and completely unconsciously, and also because of their sheer numerical preponderance, such well-meaning, self-satisfied parents are doing more to keep systemized racism and white privilege alive than any Stormfront member could dream of.

These parents are raising a generation that believes racism is something obvious that has already been pretty much conquered; a generation that believes they themselves are non-racist, and therefore there is no work to be done; and a generation that continues to ignore (and thereby protect) systemized racism and white privilege.

Have you noticed other covert or indirect ways that white parents pass on their racism? 

Do you have memories of things your own parents did in these terms, and how it affected your perception of race? 

Could you suggest links to any good online resources about raising anti-racist children? 

Have you have noticed any successful ways that parents have dealt with racial situations?

* Note: Some of the examples above are specifically Mexican-related. Although the phenomena discussed in this post can be applied to any racial or ethnic minority, I cite racist sentiments toward Mexicans as examples because I grew up in Southern California, where anti-Mexican sentiment is as common as oxygen.

Friday, February 12, 2010

dismiss those who point out racism as "white guilt" mongers

I get mail -- oh boy, do I get mail. About half of the swpd-related emails I get are from readers who like what goes on here, and the other half are from people who very clearly don't. Among the latter, a few accuse me of pretending to be white. A LOT of them accuse the blog of being nothing but "typical white liberal guilt," and me of being such things as (and I quote) a "a purveyor of white guilt," a "white guilt monger," a "hopelessly guilty white liberal," "another guilty 'whitey,'" and "an ironically fascist white-guilt pusher." Another such reader sent me the above cartoon, assuming that I simply must be a "white liberal" who blindly adores Obama because he's black.

"White guilt." Please help me with this -- what is up with that term, anyway? And why does the phrase so often come from opponents of anti-racist efforts? What feelings are they expressing when they say that? And why is it a phrase I almost never hear from people who oppose racism? 

If you get accused of being a white-guilt pusher, how do you respond?

I have some tentative answers about those who use it a lot. Accusing others of "pushing white guilt" is a way of simply dismissing everything they're saying, instead of carefully listening and responding to the points they're making. There's also an assumption behind the use of the phrase that since "racism is in the past" ("we're post-racial now," etc.), whites have nothing to feel wrong or "guilty" about anymore.

Here's one more example to consider -- since it's Friday, some music, Kid Rock's "Amen." This song is apparently Kid Rock's attempt to provide his target demographic with an anthem. His audience is, clearly, very white, a segment, or maybe some segments, of the white population -- a mainstreamed, crossover appeal of "rock" mixed with overtones of "country."

The only time that whiteness is overtly marked in the lyrics and images occurs when, at 45 seconds,  Kid Rock asks, "how can we seek salvation when our nation's race relations got me feeling guilty of being white?"

And the totally implausible image that accompanies this moment? A group of scowling men carrying signs, one of which, carried by a black man at the center of the scene, says, "Race relations." (How's that for an anti-racist rallying cry? "Race Relations! Lemme hear ya now, RACE RELATIONS!") Presumably, these men are supposed to be hanging out on a corner somewhere, holding up vague, guilt-inducing signs, the same kind of people mentioned later in the song who "live off of handouts and favors." Aren't those code words for black people on welfare? (Never mind that the majority of welfare recipients are white.)

If you're not white, are you feeling guilty yet? For being, that is, one of those people who's always trying to make white people feel guilty, just because they're white?

I suppose I shouldn't be sarcastic. Especially on a Friday.

(If this video doesn't work for you, here's another version; transcribed lyrics below.)

by Kid Rock

It's another night in hell
Another child won't live to tell
Can you imagine what it's like to starve to death?

And as we sit free and well
Another soldier has to yell
"Tell my wife and children I love them" in his last breath

C'mon now amen, amen, amen

Habitual offenders, scumbag lawyers with agendas
I'll tell you sometimes people I don't know what's worse
Natural disasters, or these wolves in sheep clothes, pastors
Now Goddamn it I'm scared to send my children to church
And how can we seek salvation when our nation's race relations
Got me feeling guilty of being white?
But faith in human nature, our creator and our savior,
I'm no saint
But I believe in what is right

C'mon now amen, amen
I said amen, amen

Stop pointing fingers and take some blame,
Pull your future away from the flame
Open up your mind and start to live
Stop shortchanging your neighbors
Living off handouts and favors, and maybe
Give a little bit more than you got to give

Simplify, testify, identify, rectify
And if I get high stop being so uptight
It's only human nature
and I am not a stranger
So baby won't you stay with me tonight

When a calls away (?)
to break the sound (?)
I'm fadin down, I need someone
Oh to be someone
They just sinkin down, and holdin back
I hold the dawn and run
They don't save a child
Oh, to save a child

It's a matter of salvation from them
patience up above,
So don't give up so damn easy
on the one you love, one you love
Somewhere you got a brother, sister,
friend, grandmother, niece or nephew
Just dying to be with you
You know there's someone out there
who unconditionally, religiously, loves you
So just hold on 'cause you know it's true
And if you can take the pain
And you can withstand anything,
and one day
Stand hand in hand with the truth

I said amen, I said amen
I said amen, I said amen,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

carelessly exoticize and "other" food

This is a guest post by Johanna, who blogs at Vegans of Color: "This blog was started (by me, Johanna, with the encouragement of some friends) to give a voice to vegans of color. Many vegan spaces seem to be assumed (consciously or not) to be white by default, with the dialogue within often coming from a place of white privilege. We’re not single-issue here. All oppressions are connected."

Vegan Cookbooks: Helping Folks Eat the Other

I’ve written before about exotification in discussions around vegan food, but it’s something I’m always thinking about & that has come up a lot lately. This year I’ve set myself a goal to cook at least one recipe from the many cookbooks I own. Hence I’ve been scouring them more than usual.

Has anyone else noticed that a staple of many a vegan cookbook is a recipe for African Peanut Stew or African Yam Stew or something similar? I’ve also seen (though less frequently) recipes for, say, Asian-Style Tofu or whatever. I cannot recall ever seeing a cookbook featuring anything like European Bean Soup. Is it because to most vegan cookbook authors/food bloggers, it would be preposterous to assume that there is anything universal or overarching about the many countries that make up Europe, or their cuisines? And yet we don’t often see the same distinction granted to countries in Africa.

"African" stew? Is the recipe from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa? Is that tofu done Chinese-style, Japanese, Filipino? Never mind the many variations even within those categories (just to preclude comments along the lines of “But hey, lots of countries in Africa do that kind of stew / lots of Asian countries use tofu!”).

Another thing I’ve seen not infrequently in vegan cookbooks & food blogs is the following construction:

“[Non-English ingredient or recipe name] must be [non-English language] for ‘delicious’!”

I also spotted this recently at Food Fight, who guess that "Mahalo is Hawaiian for ‘fake Almond Joy."

Oh, how cutesy. How patronizing. We don’t know what those funny foreign languages mean but we sure do love their grub!

The obsession with authenticity is another thing. This, like all the food othering in this post, is not limited to vegans, of course. My white boss (a one-time vegetarian turned omnivore due to happy meat, I might add) once praised my lunchtime curry because it “smelled really authentic.” She then went on to bemoan how she couldn’t manage to cook Indian food “authentically.” I squirmed, & said something about how surely what mattered most was whether she liked what she cooked. This only served to encourage her to rattle on about how important it was to get food “authentic.”

Anyway, there are countless examples of vegan recipes that stress their authentic nature. One I stumbled upon recently was in The Urban Vegan, in a recipe for “Blue Mosque Ayran,” which apparently is a drink you can find “at any cafe or from any street vendor in Istanbul.” I’ve never been to Istanbul, so perhaps I’m missing something in how this drink would be connected specifically to mosques (whose architecture are often held up as images of the exotic & dangerously foreign, I note), much less how the recipe in the cookbook is “so refreshingly good that the imam would definitely approve.” I dunno — has anyone ever seen an Italian recipe touted as being so delicious that the priest would approve?

I did some Googling & found that a common Turkish recipe is Imam Bayildi — which apparently means “The imam fainted” (when he tasted the recipe). I didn’t really see any other references to the imam having a lock on what is authentic Turkish food or not, but if someone knows differently, please let me know. I wonder if the Urban Vegan knew of this particular recipe & made a deliberate reference to it, or if it was just an example of throwing in something seen as “exotic.”

On the same page of that cookbook, by the way, is a recipe for “Political Biscotti.” The recipe notes that cafe culture frequently features both biscotti and political discussion. The biscotti are political because they contain both carob & chocolate, two flavors about which “people tend to be very ‘either/or’”:

They are always considered separately, as two distinctive flavors that were never meant to come together, sort of like Palestine and Israel. … The dates [in the recipe] act as a sort of sticky-sweet peacemaker, a culinary UN if you will.

Yeah. She went there. The bloody oppression of Palestinians reduced to a clever comment about biscotti.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

wonder how to combat racist jokes

An swpd reader's email includes the following questions:

Dear macon d,

I have seen on your blog a few posts or links about how to combat particular issues. As karinova says, it is easy for me to talk and learn, but it's meaningless if I don't do anything.

I've tried searching but with limited success at the moment.  Do you happen to have a link to something like a guide to an effective way to deal with the racist jokes my friends often make?  Within these jokes they seem to obtain a great deal of pleasure from using the word ni**er.  Whilst I can find a lot of essays written about it's use, I have not found a statement which I can use that sums up why it should not be used.  I currently say that the word encompasses all of the racial hatred and oppression suffered by millions and that it's use is an acceptance of this, but it seems to fall a little limply on their ears.

Kind regards,

I more or less wrote back the following -- do you have other suggestions for effectively combating racist jokes? Do you even bother to combat them?

Dear _________,

I admire your determination to do something against racism.

I don't think there's a panacea for racist jokes; various strategies work for some joke-tellers, but not for others. I like your method for combating jokes with the n-word, but I can see how it wouldn't work for some people.

I don't have a particular place to send you, but I can suggest methods that I've used with some success against racist jokers. Racist jokes have always bothered me, but I used to let them slide on by. Now I always make a point of saying something, since I recognize the role of such jokes in perpetuating damaging stereotypes. I've also come around to hating the kind of racist white solidarity that such joke tellers expect me join them in. It's like they suddenly think we're in some kind of club, taking potshots together at the other people we've excluded.

As Victoria wrote in a post here last year about racist emails she receives,

I've noticed in these situations that they expect me to give them the old wink and nod -- "I hear ya, buddy" -- tacitly indicating that we're a part of the same special whiteness clique.

So what to do?

Sometimes I simply say something abrupt and shocked, such as, "You know, that is simply disgusting," and then turn around and walk away. Depending on the situation, this method can lead people to really reflect on what they did, and to ask you about it later (though of course, it might not work that way with some people -- no method is going to work with everyone).

I've also tried asking about the joke later, which again lets the person know that I found the offense a serious one. I just ask them to explain the joke, as if I didn't get it. In the course of their doing that, what's wrong with the joke often becomes apparent.

I have also asked how they think a black person (or a Chinese person, or a Jewish person, etc.) would feel hearing such a joke. No matter what the response is, I lead the conversation toward forcing the person to say either that they do or do not consider black (etc.) people lesser than white people. If they really do think that, then I tell them that they're acting and thinking like retrograde racists, and that in the future, I'll be avoiding them.

That may be drastic, but then, I'm serious about racism. I have a better sense then I used to have of just how very damaging it still is for people of color, and I want as little part in inflicting that damage as possible. I also want to actively fight its presence in, and enactment by, other white people.

You said that your words "seem to fall a little limply" on the ears of others; what I guess I'm mostly saying is that what often works is to not be limp yourself -- to demonstrate actively a staunch moral and ethical disgust when faced with any form of racism, in whatever ways one can.

I hope this helps,


As I asked above, do you have other suggestions for this reader? 

Do you even bother to combat racist jokes?

One other question -- I recently heard racist jokes described as "old fashioned." This (teenage white) person claimed they were dying out. Do you think that's true? Or do they seem about as commonplace as ever?

Monday, February 8, 2010

think of "hot" women as white women (take two)

I need to offer a white apology, or actually, a male one. I'll do my best not to offer instead mere apologetics.

Thanks to some patient swpd commenters, I now see that yesterday's post, in which I examined the whiteness of Super Bowl commercials, trivialized our patriarchal culture's sexist depictions of women as objectified targets for male conquest. I took some liberal observers of the "Guyland" depicted in these ads to task for overlooking the whiteness of the sexism they were decrying. However, as several readers took the time to point out in that post's comments, I ended up doing something like the reverse -- I lost sight of the real problem with these ads, by downplaying their rampant and ultimately dangerous sexism. My apologies to those who were offended and insulted by that post.

In the course of trying to focus on the unmarked, "hegemonic" whiteness of sexist Super Bowl ads, I failed to keep an eye on both forms of power at work -- both racism and sexism; both whiteness and masculinity. I especially erred by implying, despite several disclaimers in the post to the contrary, that women of color should be upset that they rarely appear in sexist beer ads, and also by tying that to self-esteem issues struggled with by black women.

fromthetropics offered the most clarifying correction in this comment:

This is an example where the intersection of race and gender is more complicated than it appears.

What we have here is male desire for women. This is obvious. Specifically, white male desire for white women. This is also obvious. But it is not merely a desire, it is a desire to (sexually) conquer and subjugate (white) women (in order to appear masculine). Still obvious.

What is less obvious is that it invites all men to express their masculinity by conquering, so to speak, white women. Conquering WOC is easy. But to conquer white women? – now that’s the pinnacle of masculinity for all men in a white dominated society. The emphasis is on masculinity and men. It is not about women striving to be on top of the food chain, hence it is not about whether or not WOC feel as though their beauty is being (de)valued. It is about the male struggle to be at the top of the food chain, and whether or not their masculinity is being (de)valued.

Hence, all women lose out in such portrayals of ‘beauty’ (read: sexual objectification). So, to emphasize that these ads are dismissive of non-white female beauty, I think, misses the point by far. The emphasis, I repeat, should be on the racism inherent in what is defined as masculine, and not feminine. Otherwise, you’re playing racism against sexism, and we all lose out.

I see now that I should have emphasized objectifying, conquering white masculinity in these ads, instead of pervasive white, and excluded non-white, femininity. The objectification promulgated in "Guyland" trivializes all women, and it helps to endanger them as well, by encouraging men to think of them as sexual targets and conquests. Ironically, my post seems to have done the same, by implying, despite its disclaimers to the contrary, that all women, whether they're white or not, should envy the women depicted in Super Bowl ads, for being thought of as "hot." I didn't set out believing that, but I can see now how I ended up implying it, and how I overlooked as well the more deserving target of critique.

As Rosa wrote in a comment to that post,

By trying to separate sexism from racism here, you're doing neither justice. Trying to take them both on in the way you've done, juxtaposing self-esteem issues of black girls growing up in a racist society with the racism and sexism inherent in Superbowl advertisements, is just wrong-headed.

My thanks again to those who took the time to point out what I was overlooking and what I was egregiously implying, especially fromthetropics, Rosa, and honeybrown1976.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

think of "hot" women as white women (take one)

UPDATE: Please see "take two" of this post, in which I address problems I hadn't seen in this one, until some commenters pointed them out.

Here's one way not to get drunk during today's Super Bowl -- take a drink every time one of the "hot" women depicted in a commercial is a woman of color, instead of a white woman. I don't mean to say that more women of color should appear in these leering, sexist ads; I do think, though, that their pervasive whiteness, including that of the presumed, targeted viewers, is worth pointing out.*

I got to thinking about this disparity -- the way that "hot" in Super Bowl advertising mostly means "white hot," and the way that the whole commercial context during the Super Bowl is mostly projected through a white racial frame -- when I read two recent articles on Super Bowl commercials at the liberal web site "Alternet."

Vanessa Richmond's "Half-Naked Hot Chicks and Beer: The Sexist Guyland of the Super Bowl Beer Commercial" spends a couple thousand words on the obvious point that the commercials are sexist, while Robert Lipsyte's "The Commercial Super Bowl: Voyeuristic Horndogs, Hot Babes, Flatulent Slackers, and God's Quarterback Star in the Big Game" reads like a meandering paean to especially bad Super Bowl commercials of the past.** Lipsyte seems to be hoping another especially racist, homophobic or over-the-top crude commercial will air this year, so he can add it to his "so bad they're good!" collection.

Richmond doesn't seem to see any racism in the "Guyland" of Super Bowl commercials (and I'll explain in a moment how I think that itself seems kinda racist), while Lipsyte describes just one racist commercial, which he recalls, again with an odd fondness, this way:

For sheer prescience when it came to American foreign policy, nothing has beaten “Kenyan Runner,” a Super Bowl commercial that ran just before Team W led us to eight losing seasons in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at home.

Imagine a black African runner in a singlet, loping barefoot across an arid plain. White men in a Humvee are hunting him down as if he were wild game. They drug him and, after he collapses, jam running shoes on his feet. When he wakes up, he lurches around screaming, trying to kick off the shoes.

This was 1999, two years before the 9/11 attacks and the invasions that followed. The sponsor was Just For Feet, a retailer with 140 shoe and sportswear super stores that blamed its advertising agency for the spot -- before it collapsed in an accounting fraud and disappeared.

Colonialism anyone? Racism? Forcing our values on developing countries? Mission accomplished.

Yes, that really is a racist commercial. But why is the only commercial racism Lipsyte notices (and again, Vanessa Richmond apparently didn't notice any) such an obvious example? And, why is it such an old example?

A more pervasive mode of racism that I see in this commercialized Guyland is the vaunting of "white beauty" as the default for "beauty." Now, I certainly agree with what I understand as a common white-feminist perspective -- that these idealized Guyland women perpetuate sexist reductions of womanhood to little more than objectified and vulnerable body parts -- and I'm not saying that I think women of color should be clamoring for demographic equity in such ads.

However, I'm not sure how to square that with my realization that these ads nevertheless participate in, and greatly help to perpetuate, mainstream standards of "beauty," of heterosexual feminine desirability. Doesn't the pervasive whiteness of such fantasized women, on such a centralized cultural stage as the Super Bowl, help to detrimentally affect such things as the identities and life-chances of women of color?

Here, for example, is an exploration of the damaging effects that unspoken white beauty standards continue to have on black children and young women, a videotaped experiment (which I've posted before) by Kiri Smith Davis. As Jennifer, a young black woman here, says, "Ever since I was younger, I also considered being lighter as a form of beauty, or you know, more beautiful, than being dark skinned. So, I used to think of myself as being ugly, because I was dark skinned."

Again, I think that liberal critics of the "Guyland" of Super Bowl ads are right to point out how obviously and obnoxiously sexist, obstinately adolescent, homophobic, crude, and violent this fantasyland is. However, the more subtle racism of Guyland's pervasive whiteness deserves critical attention as well.

This photo appears at Alternet with Richmond's article; when I first saw it, my mind immediately registered (among other things), "five white women" -- why didn't Richmond see that as well?

Again, I'm not saying it would be better to recast such a group, and all beer and other Guyland commericialism, with a more racially representative array of women -- I'd rather see the rampant sexism and homophobia itself toned down instead.

But what if Richmond had inserted a few words in her analysis that mark the pervasive whiteness? Below are a few paragraphs from her Alternet piece, with my additions of that sort in capital letters, just to see what difference that would make.

When things are this pervasively white, don't liberal/progressive critics play into the unmarked power of de facto white supremacy when they don't identify and name (let alone analyze) that pervasive whiteness?

After watching dozens of beer ads over the last few days, I can report that the land of beer is a fun and raucous AND VERY WHITE place. It’s a land where THE drunkenness, laughing, burping, irresponsibility, pranks and rule-breaking OF ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY WHITE GUYS reign supreme. There are no awkward silences, no need to speak in words, no need to remember to say or do anything in particular or face the consequences. Heck, there are no consequences. It’s a world where WHITE women have fun entertaining WHITE men. It’s an escape from the tyranny of work and manners, from the ill-fitting harnesses of the digital age on our WHITE GUYS' inner human cave animal. Can’t you just hear the whole nation WHITE POPULATION sighing in relief?

I understand the merits of the golden liquid, with its bubbles on a quest for freedom. But beer ads don’t really bother with that. They sell an escape to fantasy WHITE masculinity. And WHITE? boy, while there might be more WHITE women drinking beer and watching the Super Bowl than ever, and more ads directed to them in some ways, most beer ads -- especially the sexy ones -- are like WHITE masculinity on steroids.

Beer MOST BEER ads have always been about WHITE sex. In the beer ads of my WHITE youth, long-haired WHITE women in skimpy outfits danced to rock music, while WHITE guys stood around holding beers. MOSTLY WHITE Women smiled at MOSTLY WHITE men, and the men grinned at each other. (When I went to my first parties, as a teenager, I actually wondered if I was going to have to behave like that.)

Those ads look pretty tame today. In last year’s Miller Lite Cat Fight, which got over six million views afterward, WHITE women leave a lunch table to rip off their clothes and fight in their undies, mud-wrestle, then make out. “The first beer commercial that starred actual WHITE soft-core porn actresses," is how the TV Munchies blog hailed it. “Bravo Miller Lite! We’ve never been thirstier!” The follow-up Cat Fight ad features a scantily clad Pamela Anderson joining in a pillow fight. 

Again, when liberals/progressives analyze a social or cultural phenomenon that's pervasively white, why play into the invisibility that buttresses white hegemony by not marking and analyzing that whiteness? Why take for granted a system of oppression that gains so much of its power by being widely taken for granted?

And by the way, if you watched the Super Bowl and/or the ads, did you see racism in any other ways?

* I added this paragraph's second sentence in response to comments by Rosa and fromthetropics, beginning here.

** Lipsyte's piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.
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