Monday, March 30, 2009

organize race-baiting bake sales

Last month, an "affirmative action bake sale" was organized by the Conservative Coalition for American Values, a student group "aimed at promoting conservative values on Purdue University's Campus." The point was to "raise awareness" about affirmative action, by selling baked items for different prices to people with different identities. The group posted the following video about the event at YouTube.

The largest recipients of affirmative action have actually been women, especially white women. The Conservative Coalition students do seem to acknowledge that fact, by offering differently priced goods for "Caucasian Men" and "Caucasian Women." But notice how in this video, the conservative students present the issue of affirmative action as if it's all about race, and nothing else.

This is another instance of white people doing what they often accuse non-white people of doing--"playing the race card." In fact, I would call this bake sale (and others like it) "race-baiting" events, because identity-based preference happens in terms of many other categories besides race or ethnicity.

When most white Americans hear the term "affirmative action," the one relevant identity category that immediately comes to mind is "race." These conservative students are promoting this oversimplified and divisive association between the two terms, and they're also diverting attention from other common forms of college-admissions and hiring preference (they're ignoring the ongoing legacy of de facto historical preferences for whites as well).

As I said above, most white Americans don't seem to realize that the primary recipients of affirmative action have been white women. The single-minded focus on preferences for racial minorities is the kind of false "common sense" that recently led many white American voters to suspect that race-based preference accounts for much of Barack Obama's success. A sad irony is that in the process, they often overlooked how gender-based preference clearly did account for Sarah Palin's presence at the side of John McCain.

Aside from the prevalence of gender preferences for women, and of de facto racial preferences for white Americans in general, another fact apparently unknown or ignored by this conservative student group is that in the realm of university admissions, a wide variety of applicants receive preference based on who they are. These include children of alumni (also known as "legacy admissions") and, ironically enough, men.

Applicants whose parents and/or grandparents attended a school are commonly favored, in the hopes that their parents will donate money to the school. Male applicants are sometimes favored as well, because female students tend to outnumber male students. Some schools also grant preference based on where students are from, because they seek "geographic diversity," and others grant preference to military veterans and people with disabilities.

The politically conservative students who organize such events believe that, as one student says in the video, "It's not the American way to help someone just because they're different." But if that's what they believe, then why are they so obsessed in these "affirmative action bake sales" with race, when many other forms of identity-based preference exist as well?

One thing's for sure--that obstinate obsession with race exemplifies the same delusional condition that's imposed on most white people by their racial status. This is a pathology, and it takes the form of a false, fantasized view of the social world, and of how it actually works.

Friday, March 27, 2009

ignore racism or stand up to it

When white people encounter racism, they usually have a choice. They can retreat and ignore it, or they can stand up and fight it.

In most cases, they have such a choice because the racism they're confronted with is directed not against them--after all, they're white--but against someone else, someone who isn't white. The well-meaning white person can either obey his or her conscience, by openly confronting racism, or else remain silent and walk away, seemingly unscathed.

The ABC television show "What Would You Do?" recently staged some racist shopping incidents for unsuspecting spectators. These stagings were an "experiment," according to the show's host, John Quiñones, an effort to see what the spectators would do in response to blatantly racist behavior.

I question the usage of that word here, "experiment,"* in part because "What Would You Do?" is corporate entertainment. That means it's actually a form of bait, an effort to draw in viewers for the real "programming," which is the commercials paid for by other corporations (which in turn means that we viewers are the real "product"--ABC sells our eyeballs to the advertisers, and the more eyeballs they can attract, the more money they can charge for the commercial slots).

Nevertheless, this "What Would You Do?" segment is well worth watching, in part because it goes beyond merely pointing out that black people are much more likely than white people to face harassment while shopping. It also asks, and demonstrates, what white shoppers tend to do when they witness the harassment of black shoppers: most ignore it, but some confront it.

What would you do, whether or not you're white? Would you go about your own business, ignoring the harassment, thereby remaining "ignorant"? Or would you go as far in an anti-racist direction as the white woman at the end of this segment does?

Personally, I've never seen this kind of in-your-face racism while shopping, but I have encountered more low-key examples. In such instances, I reject the perquisites and inducements of my white privilege, by confronting store-clerk racism.

For instance, I've asked why someone else's "further identification" was asked for, but not mine, and I've also asked why someone's change was placed on the counter, while mine was placed in my hand.

By refusing to "ignore" such incidents, I now notice them more often--I'm less "ignorant" about the racism that surrounds me, and more willing to do something about it. I spend less time pretending not to know what I actually do know.

Have you encountered racism while shopping? If so, what did you do?

*Update: For more on the dubious claim that what happened in this TV show is a viable "experiment"--and on the probability that it will increase racism as much or more as it challenges it--see Peter Herrick's post at Liberation in the Classroom.

Update II: For a great take on this TV show that illuminates the part of this show that I didn't know how to write about, see Chauncey DeVega's post at We Are Respectable Negroes. DeVega writes in part,

In my opinion, what is actually noteworthy and striking about the ABC News vignette is how the young white woman begins to cry when she witnesses the racist treatment of the black female shopper/victim. This is the real power of the "Shopping While Black" featurette. Here, the truth is not in the great reveal that black and brown folks are racially profiled. Rather, for those raised to believe in post-racial and colorblind politics, the cult that is multicultural America (where race no longer matters because hip hop is now "youth culture" and White kids can say "nigga" or that United Colors of Benetton ushered in the "cool" that is the marketing and corporatization of racial diversity in the 1990s), to actually see the ugliness of white supremacy is utterly shocking and painful.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

white quotation of the week (Daniel Cubias)

On occasion, I've worked with people for years who are surprised to find out that I'm a Latino. Perhaps we're making small talk and I'll mention that my grandmother speaks only Spanish or that my last name has its roots in El Salvador or that I know what "puta" means (hey, it comes up). Then I'll get this strange look as if I've been hiding a secret life or pulling an especially egregious fast one on them.

"Are you Hispanic?" they'll ask in perplexity. And when I confirm it, they'll frown or shrug or cluck their tongues with the peevishness of the mildly deceived. They appear to want to follow up with "And when were you going to tell me this?"

It's not that they're closet racists. It's that their worldview has been altered abruptly. What have they believed to that point? I can't say for sure, but the thinking seems to be, "He's sort of white, but not really. He's clearly not black. If he's not one of those, but still does white-collar work, he must be Asian. Probably Japanese."

I had one co-worker who wanted to know if I had any female relatives I could fix him up with because, as he stated, "I'm into Asian girls." He was heartbroken to find out I could not help with his cause, so I refrained from pointing out how painfully common his fetish is among white men.

In a previous post, I commented on people's frequent insistence that I'm really Asian (it's ranged from comical to combative). But for now, let me return to my original point, which is that very few Latinos read
Dilbert. That number is likely to go down even further in today's economic maelstrom.

In fact, the only other Hispanics I usually see in an office building are the guys mopping the floor, and they often give me quick, embarrassed smiles as if to say, "Sorry I don't make you prouder" or "Aren't you afraid they'll catch you impersonating a white guy?" Otherwise, we avoid eye-contact, because the Latino janitor is probably thinking that I look down upon him, while I'm super-conscious of the fact that I don't want to appear like I'm looking down upon him.

Perhaps I should engage in a moment of solidarity with him, or I can emphasize the importance of education so his children can go farther than he has, or we can snicker and say, "How about those Anglos, huh?" But we do none of this, because the class difference between us is vaster than the racial similarities that bond us. I feel that I should say something to the guy, but no words of wisdom, in either English or Spanish, arrive. So I keep walking, and I hit my cube, and he keeps scrubbing, and I'm sure that no one thinks for a moment that he is Asian.

This is an excerpt from Daniel Cubias's Huffington Post article "White-Collar Blues: A Continuing Lack of Diversity." Cubias writes about himself at his blog, The Hispanic Fanatic, that "he has an IQ of 380, the strength of twelve men, and can change the seasons just by waving his hand. Despite these powers, however, he remains a struggling writer. . . . the Hispanic Fanatic is a Latino male in his late thirties. He lives in a Midwestern city, where he works as a business writer. He was raised in another Midwestern city, but he has also lived in New York and California. He and his wife own a house where two cats and a dog call the shots."

Monday, March 23, 2009

invoke strangely colored people

Look, over there! Aliens of Color!

Do the following statements about race sound familiar to you?

On neighborhood crime: I don’t think it’s a problem with racial profiling or economic disadvantage or whatever other PC nicety we wish to throw around. Someone assaults you, it’s wrong. Cops gotta step up and do their jobs. Communities — black, white, brown, yellow, green, purple, I don’t care… let’s quit making it someone else’s responsibility — gotta come together and step out against these crimes.

On Mozilla's Blackbird browser: I think the last thing the world needs is a browser that supports segregation .. I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, purple or green .. anything that promotes the concept that “I’m special simply because I’m (insert color here)” is just stupid.

On the election of Barack Obama: We're going to have a smart president!!! After eight years of Bush, we're going to actually have a smart president! I don't care if he's black, white, yellow, red, brown, or purple with green spots. Competence has returned to the White House. Everyone just be grateful and stop worrying about what color he is.

On "the race problem" in general: If parents now would raise their children with open minds and to accept everyone, no matter their color, religion etc, we could get past these problems. . . . All I’m saying is get over it everyone, black, white, purple, green, gold, brown, yellow, whoever. Martin Luther King is probably turning over in his grave at the way things are handled now, he didnt go about things like they are done today. He didnt show up everywhere someone said something racial and try to draw everyone in the country into it and make it more than what it was.

Who do you suppose is more likely to list groups of people like this--people of color, or white people?

Such multicolored people-listings are scattered all over the Internet, and it only took me a few minutes to Google the above examples. I've also heard this kind of "I don't care if a person is x, y, z or whatever!" statement in conversation many times, and in my experience, it's always white people who do that.

If this form of "colored-people" listing really is a white habit--a common white tendency--then why do a lot of white people do that?

I think the reasons vary, but that it's mostly an effort to avoid discussions of race, and sometimes to shut them down completely.

At her blog The Neon Season, Rachel M. Brown calls this list-making habit "the invocation of strangely colored people." She offers some speculation about why white people make these lists, describing it as an effort "to emphasize just how much they don't care about race."

Yes, these lists are a form of emphasis, aren't they? And again, what's being emphasized is the white person's dismissal of the topic of race.

This rhetorical tactic often functions like another common white expression: "Whatever!" I didn't care for the movie Lakeview Terrace, but there's a great moment where Samuel L. Jackson's character says to the young white neighbor that he's been harassing (and I'll have to paraphrase here), "Yeah, 'whatever, whatever.' You white guys are always saying that, 'whatever!'"

The utterance of "whatever" often accompanies a hand-waving gesture of dismissal, which can be insulting when a white person does it in response to something involving race. And that's one problem with these "x, y, z or whatever" lists of people of color. Not only do they usually include non-existent skin colors that compare identifiable human skin colors to those of space aliens (thereby basically relegating the people themselves to the non-human status of space aliens). They also dismiss both matters of race and the people to whom race actually matters, in part because it often causes them problems.

As Rachel Brown writes, "The invocation of purple, blue, green, or other alien people is offensive for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it's completely trivializing, turns a serious and painful topic into a joke, and compares people of color to fictional aliens."

When white people align actual non-white groups with purple and green aliens, they're often also making a claim about themselves, a claim that simply isn't true--that they're "colorblind." As the Internet commenter above wrote in the example about Barack Obama, "I don't care if he's black, white, yellow, red, brown, or purple with green spots. Everyone just be grateful and stop worrying about what color he is." That's pretty close to saying everyone should just ignore what color he is, but almost no one is going to do that.

And why should they? Is it so terrible for Obama to be the color he is, or for other people of color to be the colors they are?

Putting the issue this way brings up one more problem with these dismissive lists that usually include strangely colored people. They imply, paradoxically, that on the one hand there's no reason to even notice racial difference anymore, but then on the other, that there's also something bad about racial difference, which is also why the speaker wishes the whole topic would just disappear. It's often as if the white list-maker is trying to wave away a bad smell in the room, one that he or she thinks no one should be mentioning.

But again, what does that really imply about the racial status of the non-white people who almost always prompt such lists? The problem here is like the problem with telling a black person that you don't even notice that he or she is black. (Oh really? Then why did you mention it? And what's so bad about it, that makes you think it shouldn't even be noticed?)

These white list-makers should realize that, as the Angry Black Woman says more generally about people who claim they're colorblind, their words and actions basically translate to something like this:

I refuse to deal with how our culture and society treats people of color because it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to understand how having a different skin color or ethnicity affects other people because that means I would have to think and consider other points of view. What I want is to not have to think. I prefer to believe I live in a fantasy land where no one ever pays attention to skin color, ethnicity, culture, or religion.

In many cases, what white makers of "colored-people" lists are also saying is that the topic of race is getting under their skin, and that's just not necessary. "Since race doesn't matter at all to me," the thinking seems to go, "why are those annoying people making such a big deal about it?" Since most adults who encounter such thinking in children encourage them to learn how to take other people's thoughts and feelings into consideration, it's surprising how many white adults fail to do so when confronted with perspectives on race that differ from their own.

I'll leave the final word on this common white tendency to Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, who addressed such list-making in the context of the presidential election in her poem "Black, White, Whatever."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

struggle with diversity in advertising

I know very little about what goes on behind the scenes of advertising campaigns. I also don't know how diverse American advertising firms and departments have become these days.

However, it seem to me that if a product is not marketed to a specific non-white audience, then the advertisers still consistently place middle-class, heterosexual white people in the middle of things. Non-white characters still occupy the margins, occasionally entering center-stage to interact with the white characters, usually in order to spice up things a bit.

Sometimes, in these ads that are not overtly targeted to a specific racial demographic, the non-white characters do spend a lot of time on center-stage, fully interacting on a seemingly equal level with the white characters. These forced, ostensibly colorblind scenarios can easily become racially overloaded train wrecks, like the following Old Navy ad, which is part of their current "Supermodelquins" campaign.

Do you suppose the makers of this ad thought much at all about sexism and racism in advertising? Or about the history of hypersexualized representations of "aggressive" black women? Or about the "white male gaze," and the abusive, sexually charged power that white men long wielded, over white women, black women, and black men?

I imagine that at some point, someone working on this campaign may have said something like, "Okay, this is risky, kinda risqué, right? Attention getting! But, one thing we cannot do is have the white woman naked with the black guy looking at her!" That would have been different; but would it have been any worse?

For more clues about what was on the minds of the makers of this ad, and of the other ads in the Supermodelquin campaign, here's a sort of featurette that provides some backstory for each character:

What do you think? Is this enlightened, multiculturally aware marketing? Or more of the same old clueless recirculation of hoary racist and sexist stereotypes? Or something else?

[h/t: Nazeen Patel @]

Update: In a recent blog post and in a follow-up post, Harry Allen offers some insightful analysis of this Old Navy ad in the contexts of a history of white abuse of black women, and of ongoing manifestations of that history in Western media images. As Allen writes, "the line from the auction block to the display stand is unbroken." (Thank you Judith!) Also, see Tolu Olorunda's response at The Daily Voice.

Friday, March 20, 2009

struggle with chopsticks

According to the world-famous blog Stuff White People Like, "all white people love Sushi." Actually, I know a lot of white people who refuse to even try sushi, so that claim seems fallacious (and maybe even specious).

But then, the white people anatomized at Stuff White People Like are really a certain kind of white people--urban, pseudo-sophisticated, personally health-conscious, ironically individualistic, hypocritically worried about their carbon footprint, and so on. So I guess in that context, a general claim about white love for sushi is okay.

I'm a little surprised that SWPD doesn't mention chopsticks, nor chopstick usage. However, it does describe white love for "Asian Girls," and for "tea," and for "Asian Fusion Food"; with all that white love for Asian-ness, maybe it's just a given that this kind of white person knows how to eat with two pointed sticks.

However, a lot of other white people struggle with chopsticks. Not just with how to use them, but sometimes, even with whether to use them. Are there guidelines or standards for white people when it comes to proper chopstick usage?

If white people enter any sort of Asian restaurant, or otherwise encounter Asian food, should they use them? Would they look foolish using a fork and spoon, when everyone else is using chopsticks? What about when the server gives a white person Western utensils, and he or she asks for chopsticks instead? Does that seem, like, pretentious, or something?

And what if you point out that using those disposable wooden chopsticks uses up a lot of trees, and increases your carbon footprint? Would that seem, like, pretentious, or something?

What's a well-meaning, self-conscious white diner to do?

One thing it seems white diners should do is learn how to use chopsticks. You know, just in case. Maybe they could begin with this here starter-kit thingie, the "Chopsticks Aid." It's like chopstick training wheels!

The Chopsticks Aid,
via Serious Eats

The other thing white folks who encounter apparently Asian food could do is just learn how to drive chopsticks, without training wheels. It's really not that hard, and I've noticed that a lot of Asian restaurants have the directions printed right on the paper package that chopsticks often come in.

Or you could just use these directions, and practice at home. Go on--you can do it!

What about you? Do you and chopsticks get along okay?

laugh awkwardly when white comedians talk honestly about whiteness

[Not-safe-for-work language alert]

In this clip, comedian Louis CK makes some unusual jokes about whiteness. I think they're unusual because they're coming from a white male, and they're all about how relatively great it is to be a white male. His historical bit is messed-up, since whiteness hasn't actually been around nearly as long as he implies it has, but he makes some great points and gets the crowd to laugh.

The laughter seems awkward to me, though. If it is, maybe that's because the crowd isn't used to hearing jokes about whiteness that acknowledge and describe white male privilege.

Do you find the laughter awkward? And do you know of other white comedians who honestly describe and joke about white and/or male privilege? If anyone comes to mind, please let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

consider asians a threat?

Tasminn Shamma, a blogger for the Daily Princetonian, wrote yesterday about an incident that recently took place in a Princeton University classroom. It seems that someone left the following message in Chinese on a classroom blackboard:

Shamma provides an English translation:

Raphael Balsam '11, a Bloomberg Hall resident, was working on a computer in the third floor computer room when he noticed Chinese written on the blackboard last Sunday. He was surprised to learn that the writing translated to: "White people can't see this / White people can't read this / White people can't understand this" and immediately notified an RCA, Carrie Carpenter '10.

Was this a racially threatening message? A cause for alarm?

That much is suggested by the first lines of Shamma's post:

Discrimination is not new to Princeton's campus--regardless of which group is being targeted. Last week, discriminatory comments were found scrawled in Chinese in Bloomberg Hall.

But again, are these really discriminatory comments that "target" white people? If so, what exactly makes them threatening? The mere fact that they're about white people? Or perhaps, the fact that they're about white people, but written in--gasp--Chinese!

"White people can't see this / White people can't read this / White people can't understand this."

It seems to me that what those lines have to say about white people isn't threatening--it's more like a description, and a pretty innocuous one at that.

Nevertheless, according to Shamma, Princeton authorities are taking this incident quite seriously:

[RCA] Carpenter then notified the Butler College Office and RCA advisers. Director of Student Life Mindy Andino said that two students came forward to discuss the situation with Director of Studies Matthew Lazen and that there would be a meeting with the RCA's after Spring Break.

"The Director of Studies met with the students who reported the incident and addressed their immediate concerns," Andino said. "We will be meeting with the RCA’s at the start of next week to discuss the situation further. We are currently completing an investigation of the situation to learn more information."

Andino added that the College Office was trying to determine whether or not the message was a violation of the Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities (RRR).

Shamma provides the relevant part of the university's "RRR," which explains what students should do if they feel their "sensibilities" have been assailed:

Normally, an alleged infringement upon the rights or sensibilities of an individual, including complaints of discrimination, by an undergraduate or graduate student should first be discussed with that student. If this is not possible, or does not lead to a satisfactory resolution, the matter should be brought to the attention of the Dean or an Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students or the Dean of the Graduate School. If the matter is not resolved through discussion or through formal action by a dean, a complaint can be made in accordance with the normal disciplinary procedures.

What do you think? Are these lines cause for alarm? Or instead, is considering them a racist threat cause for alarm? And does it matter that these lines appeared in Chinese, instead of in English?

By the way, as commenters at the Daily Princetonian blog note, these lines resemble those on a t-shirt sold online, which in turn resembles a shirt featured in a popular online video, "Yellow Fever." Also noted is the sloppiness of the handwriting, which suggests that whoever wrote the message is a beginner with the language.

white quotation of the week (Stew)

"Black Men Ski"

Stew's work includes Passing Strange, for which he wrote lyrics and music, and for which he received the 2008 Tony award for "Best Book of a Musical." Stew is a two-time Obie winner, a four-time Tony nominee, and along with collaborator Heidi Rodewald, a member of two bands: The Negro Problem and Stew. Their work includes Post Minstrel Syndrome, Joys and Concerns, Guest Host, The Naked Dutch Painter, Something Deeper Than These Changes, and the cast album of Passing Strange (2008).

h/t: The Atheist Pirate King

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

get too friendly with black people

"So, how long have you been growing...." a hand from a 50something man moves toward my hair.

I had plate in one hand, garden burger in another so as his hand reached, my body moved in tandem, with a kind of racial-aikido, away from his hand, keeping a distance enough so my hair remained out of his grasp.

"Ahh...ahh...rude." I muttered between garden burger chews. I was surprised at my present and very calm, yet clear reaction. It's taken decades to be this "in the moment" and I'm getting better at it. Probably because this response is strikingly similar to commands that I give when trying to train my dog away from bad or potentially dangerous behavior. " begging" is a common refrain around my house these days.

--damali ayo
@ Beautiful Vision of Joy

As I recently noted, a lot of white people have been reaching out to black people now that America has a black president. Sometimes though, they're reaching out too literally. White people often think they have some sort of right to touch black people, a right they don't seem to feel they have with others (unless they consider those others, such as children, somehow "below" themselves).

In the interests of helping to curtail some of this ostensibly friendly, but actually obnoxious behavior, I figured it was time to repost (below) something that I wrote back when I first started this blog, a post about the common white tendency to "pet" black people.

Is there a sudden, new rash of such presumptuous white behavior? I ask because I noticed that two African American bloggers, damali ayo and Brooke, just wrote about it, on the same day (that is, yesterday).

As Brooke writes,

I know this scenario all too well. It's happened to me several times. I braid my hair, some White person wants to touch it. A lot of times they just do it. I feel like I'm at the damn petting zoo or something. It's not until I slowly jerk my head away from them and give them a "you're about to draw back a nub" look that they get the hint.

Get a grip, white people! On yourselves, that is, and not on someone else.

As I said, in the interest of heightened civility and basic, common respect in this new era of white desire for racial love and such, here's that (slightly edited) repost, "pet black people"; the original appeared here.

This example of stuff white people do is something that only some white people do. The number of white people who pet black people is limited to those few willing to get close enough to black people to touch them. However, this annoying, condescending behavior happens often enough to merit comment.

George Bush, Jr. is one white person who exhibits this trait, particularly the peculiar habit of rubbing black people's heads:

Although Bush is a fake Texan who actually grew up and went to school in the Northeast, he may be adopting an old white Southern custom here, that of rubbing black heads for good luck, especially those of children.* And Bush is not the only politician who does so. The practice seems to have spread North, where aptly named President of the Ohio Senate, Doug White, has also been called out for it.

Being petted by white people doesn't only happen to black men or children. As Nichelle at Anovelista points out, it happens even more frequently to black women.

White women often admire the hair of Asian women, but there's something so fascinating about black women's hair that it sometimes makes white folks reach out and get personal. Too personal--notice, for instance, how hard it is for Brandy and Tanika Ray to keep their composure when Barbara Walters can't resist playing with their hair:

I think what's especially revealing here is that, like a lot of white people in these encounters, Barbara Walters doesn't even hesitate to play with black women's hair. But it's very likely something she would hesitate to do with another white woman's hair; chances are that she'd even ask for permission.

Where does this common behavior come from? Why do white people think they can do this to black people, when they would very likely not do it to other people, especially other white people?

*To be fair to Our Dearly Departed Leader, he seems to like touching not only black people; he has a more general bald-head fetish as well, and he has trouble keeping his hands off of people in other ways too. Also, he actually did spend a good deal of his early years in Texas (I still think he's a fake Texan, though).

UPDATE (9/2008): For a first-person account from an African American perspective, see "Can I Touch Your Hair? Black Women and The Petting Zoo," at Womanist Musings, where Renee writes,

As a black girl growing in a mostly Greek and Italian neighbourhood, my hair often became the subject of conversation. I was a curiosity. People would touch it, and ask questions about its care like my hair was some kind of pet dog. That they were being racist, or treating me like some kind of exotic creature, never once occurred to them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

think that white people in trouble matter more than other people in trouble

Late last year, the TV newsmagazine "Dateline NBC" did a segment that I found both sympathetic and voyeuristic. The cameras and the reporter got up close with people during one of the most painful moments of their lives, right when they were being evicted from their homes.

I noticed as I watched that NBC's people apparently tried to include a racial cross-section of evicted homeowners and tenants. I also noticed that although minorities are being hit much harder in the current housing crisis, the families focused on in this segment more intently, and thus more sympathetically, are the apparently white ones.

Last night, "Dateline NBC" did a shorter follow-up on some of these families, and the family that receives the most attention here is again an apparently white one:

What can be said about whiteness in this context? How about, "Hey, you've got it bad, but at least you're white!" That would go over just great, wouldn't it?

Still, one thing worth noting here in the interest of fairness is the implication made in these two "Dateline" segments by the disproportionate coverage granted to apparently white families. As with the Missing White Woman Syndrome, the implication is that white suffering matters more than the suffering of non-white people. An unstated message I get from these two segments goes something like this: "Minorities have always been poor, but when a lot of white people are suffering too, it's time to really start paying attention!"

Generally, sympathetic media attention to any victims of predatory housing practices seems like a good thing. However, framing white suffering as the suffering that matters most makes white people seem like the people who matter most. An underlying message of such disproportionate coverage is that white people are the ones who are most fully human, and thus, the ones who are least deserving of such degrading, humiliating treatment. And again, if a lot of white families are joining minority families on the street, well then, that's when it's time to sound the alarms.

This disproportionate attention to white financial hardship becomes especially galling in light of another fact, which is that white people in general are suffering less in this economy than other racial groups are:

As Algernon Austin, a leading researcher with the Economic Policy Institute, puts it: "When white America is in recession, black America is in an economic depression."

The same is true for Hispanic communities, said Austin, who directs the Washington, D.C.-based institute's program on race, ethnicity and the economy.

Typically, black people are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people. . . "The level of unemployment whites consider a high level is what blacks experience even in the good times," Austin said.

The reasons for an ongoing racial disparity in economic well-being are many, including different educational levels, job discrimination, wage gaps, differences in health-care access, discrimination against convicted felons who have already served their time, and on and on.

Because of these multiple and entrenched inequities, minorities have more trouble than white people do accumulating wealth, which would cushion a fall during an economic downturn. In times like the present, minorities tend to find themselves on the edge, and literally in the street, sooner than white people do.

And speaking of literally being put outside and on the street--that's happening to a lot of people because the ticking time-bomb that was their adjustable-rate mortgage blew up, and that too is happening to minorities at a disproportionate rate. That fact makes the unstated white racial frame through which "Dateline NBC" covers the housing crisis in the above segments especially infuriating.

Just last week, the NAACP filed another lawsuit in an effort to rectify this racist disparity, this time against two of the biggest mortgage lenders, HSBC and Wells Fargo, for "systematic, institutionalized racism" in their subprime lending practices.

According to CNN,

Under subprime lending, people who don't qualify for lower interest rates can borrow money at higher rates. The NAACP argues that the companies gave subprime rates to African-Americans who qualified for better rates and gave better rates to white customers with similar credit histories.

The lawsuits note studies showing African-Americans have been disproportionately affected by subprime lending. But that's not solely because of intentional efforts to target African-Americans, according to the lawsuits.

"These statistical disparities are not mere happenstance, but instead result from the systematic and predatory targeting of African-Americans, as well as facially neutral lending policies and practices that have a disparate adverse impact on African-Americans," said the lawsuits, which were filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The corporate media's heightened focus on and empathy for white people with housing problems, as exemplified by the lopsided reporting of "Dateline NBC," does more than just perpetuate the notion that minorities somehow deserve harder lives. Such a whitened focus also ignores something that "Dateline" never even mentions, which is the greater likelihood that minority families are suffering this way.

Given that fact, minority emiseration deserves not only equal time and attention; the usual scenario, with the plight of minority families on the margins and those of white families at the center, should actually be reversed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

wish they could find a black friend

When it comes to race, things are definitely different in America now that Barack Obama is president.

For one thing, white folks are more anxious than ever to prove that things are different. And since they're such a paradoxically hyper-individualized group, white Americans are now trying to prove that when it comes to racial differences, they themselves are different. The best way to do that, it seems, is not to make some sort of collective, communal-minded effort, like fighting for social justice, or against systemic racism or the racist death penalty, or like, whatever.

No, the best way to prove that a New Day really has dawned is to find a black friend. And plenty of white folks are trying to do just that. In fact, as the Onion recently reported, America's black people are getting kind of "creeped out" by all the white people smiling at them:

A majority of African-Americans surveyed in a nationwide poll this week reported feeling "deeply disturbed" and "more than a little weirded out" by all the white people now smiling at them.

First witnessed shortly after President Obama's historic victory, the open and cheerful smiling has only continued in recent months, leaving members of the black community completely unnerved.

"On behalf of black people across this nation, I would like to say to our white brethren, 'Please stop looking at us like that,'" said Brown University psychology professor Dr. Stanley Carsons. "We're excited Barack is president, too, and we're glad you're happy for us. But giving us the thumbs up for no reason, or saying hello whenever we walk by, is really starting to freak us out."

In these increasingly hard times, with things even worse for most blacks than they are for most whites, it's a wonderful thing that some enterprising and helpful black folks have found a way to do two things at once: keep working, and help out with the white search for black pets. I mean, friends:

But then, if you're white and you happen to know Avril Lavigne, you could save some money by just asking her how she found her black friend:

Or better yet, you might just ask Sally and Johnny, a couple of "down" white folks who've been bragging about their black friends for years now, over at "Black People Love Us!"

Actually, come to think of it, if you're white, or even if you're not white, and you're thinking about the whole "black friends" thing? And you want to, like, make fun of white people for searching for black friends so they can use them, as like, dehumanized accessories? If you're looking to make a funny like that, maybe so you can like, make yourself feel superior to those other, clueless white people? Then you might stop and think about how that kind of satire is already passe. And then, not do it.

A lot of goodhearted white people have been latching onto special black friends for a long, long time. Just ask damali ayo. Or read her book on the topic, which came out almost four years ago.

damali can tell you all about How to Rent a Negro. And about how to humorously skewer the common, patronizing, self-serving, and self-making white desire for interracial harmony and absolution. Thing is, though, she did it a lot better than you ever could.

[Hey look, damali has a new book in the works--yay!]

Monday, March 9, 2009

white quotation of the week (Bruce A. Jacobs)

Bruce A. Jacobs

We expect recklessness, a blind lack of restraint, from the young. And with males committing the vast majority of crimes on earth, young males, of all of our potential seat-mates on buses and trains, seem most likely to be trouble.

But the young black male is special. He is our darling of personal deviance, our poster child of ill will and bad blood. For him, we reserve particular apprehension, even in the face of moderating facts. To be sure, black men commit crimes at a rate greater than their proportion of the population (we could debate the social reasons), and in many urban environments this adds a racial element to routine caution on the street.

But the fact remains that the vast majority of crimes in the United States, both violent and non-violent, are committed by white men. Which means that on any given day any American is far more likely to suffer at the hands of a white male criminal than a black criminal. Yet somehow we manage to resist a blanket fear of white males. The double standard is stark and ugly. Many Americans, regardless of race, harbor a fear of African-American males that is wildly, even hysterically, out of proportion with reality.

And sometimes the fear can boil down to an empty seat. I know how it feels to be targeted. I have had so many seats remain empty next to me on jam-packed buses and trains that at a certain point, like many in my position, I have gone numb to the experience. I have learned to override the impulse to be maddened by the daily insult because I simply can no longer stand to care. I can no longer endure seething through innumerable bus and train rides, striving in vain to make angry eye contact with people for whom avoiding black men has become routine. I can no longer stand the prickles of paranoia, the perception of even coincidental gestures as tiny racial slights, the feeling that my ego is as accessible as public transportation.

When we hear young black urban men speak reverently of “respect,” what they mean is that they are starving for the kind of casual, ordinary recognition that whites take for granted. They want what is freely given to most white strangers encountered in public: the benefits of being presumed intelligent, civilized unless shown to be otherwise, presumed decent unless demonstrably repellent. When this most basic of courtesies is consistently denied, the result, among legions of young black men, is an outright obsession with respect that seizes the only power available—aggression—and uses it as a weapon of self-esteem.

Can’t you see it on the street? The cocky walk, the expansive flinging of arms as if to claim the world, the (corporate-abetted) worship of competitive physical prowess, the idea of a gun, or the threat of one, as hair-trigger personal veto power. “I compel, therefore I am. Now try to squelch my existence, bitch.” All in pursuit of mere acknowledgment. Such an obsession with everyday acceptance can just as easily grip a black commuter sheathed in a suit and tie—except that, in his case, the violence coils inward. Whether by bus or by train, it makes for a mean, and sometimes brutally short, earthly journey.

[Racial] rejection happens to white people on buses and trains, too. And it hurts. But there is a difference. Most white people do not shoulder their way through a lifetime of being singled out for hostile caricature. And in the absence of any society-wide bashing of the white self-image, they can more easily recover from being snubbed on a bus. Black Americans are not subjected to a media barrage of images of white citizens jacking up helpless yo boys (the dominant media messages, in fact, depict whiteness as a colorless, inert state of normalcy). The “home turf” nastiness some black passengers may show a white commuter can best be understood as a sort of revenge.

From the standpoint of many blacks, whites have done all but beg to be disliked. To those African Americans inclined to seek easy enemies, embracing a raft of malignant white stereotypes (they are dirty, they are ice-hearted, they have poor home training) can deliver the sweet rush of vindication. Black people who have fallen victim to this influence will seize the opportunity to make ruthlessly public their personal distaste for white people.

Such treatment may come as a shock to some whites. For many black Americans, however, the need for defense against micro-assaults has long since been ingrained into our consciousness. Years of being treated as lepers in close quarters have pushed many blacks, particularly young black males, into razor-wire zones of psychic self-protection. . . .

Bruce A. Jacobs is an author and speaker who blogs at "Alias Bruce." The above excerpt is from his recently revised book, Race Manners for the 21st Century. Jacobs has spoken at many universities, churches, and community gatherings, and appeared on C-SPAN, NPR, Pacifica, and other radio and television shows. He is a Harvard graduate, a widely-published poet, a drummer and "almost-competent saxophonist, and an irretrievably fanatical fisherman."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

struggle with weird feelings after interracial encounters

[Regular reader Jonathan wrote an email asking for my thoughts about a confusing day he recently had. Jonathan said I could share his story here, and I've added my response as well. We're both wondering what you think too . . .]

Howdy Macon D,

I stumbled upon your webpage a while ago on accident and have been returning occasionally since.

Something happened to me yesterday that I am hoping you could help me reflect on.

I (white male, age 25) live in a decent neighborhood, not good, not awful, which I would guess is 85% black, 5% white, and 10% Hispanic, with most of the white population being elderly shut-ins. I was helping a neighbor across a city park from me cut up and remove a tree limb that fell on his property recently. This entailed me first bringing my chain saw over to his place, cutting the branch, and then removing the wood by hand. So, I had to make five or six trips to finish the job.

From the very start of this activity, a group of 4-6 boys (maybe as old as Sophomores in high school or as young as 7th graders) began shouting racists remarks at me and following me at a distance. Because of my cart, I was moving mostly on the pavement around the park, while they stayed in the center area. The phrases would typically be honky, redneck, other terms I hadn't even heard of. And of course, all of those terms mixed with expletives. They even offered to sell me, "some of that shit white people like." I tried to tune it out and keep my head forward as best as I could, but my ears were also open to hear if they were getting closer or further, so I did hear most.

Each time I would make a trip through or around the park, they would find me. They began timidly, but by the end they were shouting these remarks so loudly that there is no doubt that most of the homes surrounding the park could have easily heard. I was making these trips for ~2.5 hours and they kept it up the entire time. The only time they took a break was on one pass, when they addressed me as "sir" and asked if I had any cigarettes to give them. Upon me informing them that I did not, they immediately resumed the name calling. And, one of the kids pronounced loudly that he had smoked some "big-ass" blunts (the other kids tried to hush him from saying that).

This is a neighborhood where I often hear people saying racist things (going both ways), but never in such a way that they were hoping I was listening. In passing is fine by me, maybe that person had a bad day, is just letting off some steam, or is from a time and place where those types of words may have been permissible. This is the first time anyone has been so persistent in antagonizing me. Even when I returned a piece of equipment to my neighbor (who is a retired black man that commands some respect in the neighborhood), they continued to yell at me in his presence. By then it was nightfall, and they could yell from the darkness.

I guess I just feel funny from the whole experience. I never feared for my safety, I am a tall and strong man. They were certainly individually weaker than I (but had the numbers and possibly a weapon). But, I am shaken and took steps to keep them from knowing with 100% certainty which house I live in (though if they had half a mind they would know). And, these children are young enough that they have no excuse for using racist terms and thinking it all right. They certainly knew they were being offensive by their tone and persistence.

I guess the feeling is just that there is nothing I could do to make them stop. I don't know who the head of their households are. I could not confront them about it. I don't think that I had a serious complaint to make to a legal authority. And the worst part is, I can think of no plan of action if the same thing happens in the future.

Just curious if you had any thoughts that could help me get over this weird feeling. Thanks for your time and have a great day.




Hello Jonathan,

Thank you for sharing your story, and for letting me share it with this blog's readers. I hope they'll have some input too.

First of all, although I think and write as much as I can about being white in America, I should not try to write to you from a position of expertise or lengthy experience, in some sort of advisory capacity. I live in a much whiter neighborhood, for one thing, and I've never had a day like that. I also don't know you, nor how much thinking and interacting you've done so far in terms of race, including your own race.

That said, I find it admirable that although you don't know what that "weird feeling" was, you are trying to articulate it. Unlike people of color, your white self could easily turn away from moments that bring on racial self-awareness. But you haven't done that.

So, what could that weirdness inside of you be? And what might you have done differently that day?

I imagine that part of you wants to complain and lash out at what seems like unfair and even potentially dangerous racism, which was aimed at you, when all you were doing was going about your life in that neighborhood, and on that day, even helping a neighbor. And yet, there's another part of you that feels differently. Maybe that's the part that compels you to do things like read this anti-racist blog, and to struggle against thoughts and feelings that you know are wrong. You may well know that white people, people who are like you in at least that sense, control this society--that we live in a de facto white supremacist society, which in most of its sectors privileges people like you over people who are not white. People like those boys who were giving you a hard time.

So what's a well-meaning white guy to do, and think, in a situation like that? You thought what they were doing was wrong--would it have been an unwarranted assertion of your white male privilege to somehow try to stop them?

In a way, I see a kind of white, male privilege reflected in how you didn't stop them. You kept your "head forward" as you went about your business, and you were able to do so because the "racism" coming at you basically seemed harmless. You pretty much knew they weren't really going to mess with you, at least not in open daylight.

That purposeful, onward movement of yours, that freedom to go about your business with relatively unimpeded confidence--doesn't that parallel our white male privilege more generally, the way it encourages us to operate in the world? I think it does, in the sense that we can almost always turn away from people or incidents that make us aware of our racial, and/or gendered, status. We can turn away and carry on with our business, relatively confident that no one's going to get in our way. Non-white people have a harder time doing that, and feeling that way while doing it, and so do women.

But then, as you also seem to know, and fear, those boys really could be dangerous. Maybe they do resent your white presence enough to harm you, or at least your house, or maybe it's not even your whiteness that could make you their target. Which is why you made sure they wouldn't know where you live. And then you felt "shaken" by those hours of taunting, perhaps with anger, but perhaps with fear as well. Although I think it's good to think about your white male self on that day as a relatively empowered self, it's also good to be realistic. A group of boys of any color, doing such a thing to me in any neighborhood, would make me worry about further attacks.

So, I wonder if you could have defused the situation somehow. When you kept your head "forward" like that, and basically ignored those boys, could they have interpreted that as arrogance? As a familiar, particularly white disrespect and disregard for who they are, as young black men? I of course have no idea what they were thinking, but I wonder, could your apparent attitude be a reason that they called you "sir" at one point, to point out what seems to them a typically white aloofness?

I wonder what might've happened had you tried to talk to them, in a respectful, friendly way. You said you didn't feel particularly endangered physically, because even though they might've had weapons, you're a big guy. What if you had stopped what you were doing and walked over them and asked, "Can we talk? Who are you guys? [which sounds very white, but hey, you are white] Anyone interested in helping me with this job I'm doing? What are your names? Do you live around here?" And so on.

You said that "the worst part is, I can think of no plan of action if the same thing happens in the future." Could that be a plan of action? Or am I just fantasizing about interracial harmony, because such actions would only place you in even more danger?

Thank you for sharing your story, Jonathan, and your confusion. I wish I had something more wise and concrete to say. I hope you'll write back with more of your thoughts and feelings, and good luck to you if this kind of thing happens again. As I said, I applaud your efforts to understand this incident and your place in it, instead of just acting on common, knee-jerk responses.

And finally, dear readers, what do you think of all this? Any thoughts or advice?

Have you ever been involved in similar incidents? What did you do?

Friday, March 6, 2009

fess up (sometimes) when they've done something wrong

Chauncey DeVega, one of the eminently estimable proprietors of We Are Respectable Negroes, wrote to alert me (and, through the conduit of me, you readers) to a contest.

Guilty white liberals only need apply.

In the post, Chauncey writes,

I had a vision, a shimmering image which came to me in the twilight of my waking hours. As Saint James Brown departed us, he sent a messenger. I did not know HIS name, but his energy was powerful--yet it possessed a great sadness. HE, the great White ambassador, spoke to me and the Earth shook. This messenger sent by Saint James communicated in the most clear and melodic voice: What of your White allies? What of the White masses? We too have great guilt...especially the most "liberal" and "progressive" of us. You, Chauncey, must build us a temple, a place where we can confess our guilt and shame. I looked to Brother James and he said go forth and help our White allies, for it is the special burden We Respectable Negroes must at times suffer as an act of love. . . .

Go on over and start confessing. They built a special temple for you! Go on, you can do it, you can do it . . .

Oh, and by the way, there's bait too--a free book for each of the two best confessionals!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

hope that racially mixed areas inspire a new paradigm

[This post, by guest contributor Jessie, was originally published at Duke City Fix, a community website about Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to the US Census Bureau, New Mexico's population is about 44% Hispanic or Latino, 42% white, 10% American Indian, and 3% black. Jessie works as a paramedic. She grew up in rural southwest Virginia, and she recently spent two months in a walking cast.]

Red and yellow, black and white

In all that time off my feet, I did a lot of reading, even for me. As I've gotten my fingers in more pies, my internet time has fallen off, most days amounting to a quick update from my core favorite sites, a peek at my email, and not much else. Being confined to a seated position gave me plenty of time to catch up.

One evening in the midst of all this doing-nothing-on-my-feet, I read most of the archives of stuff white people do (not to be confused with stuff white people like--one is far more giggle-inducing than the other). I don't know much about this Macon character, but his blog gives me the sense that he's young, earnest, and tends toward self-flagellation in the guise of academic inquiry. I went to college with a couple hundred Macons. Nonetheless, he's generally got some fine points to make and/or link to. I can forgive the occasional reach, like when he frames an appreciation of deadpan humor as latent racism or suggests that the Obama jack-o-lanterns that populated my neighborhood last October are symptomatic of racism and not a simple convergence of enthusiasm and a squash billboard.

I'm about as white as they come, and I grew up in an overtly, unapologetically racist environment. We're talking a county with an active KKK membership, where people seriously used "War of Northern Aggression" when referring to the American Civil War, where there was a photo of a lynching still hanging in the courthouse, where "nigger" was a term used unflinchingly and without embarrassment in any company.

I also grew up poor, and that complicates any discussion I have about race. I can't separate the two. The older I get, the more anti-capitalist and anarcho-socialist my politics become, and the more I think about race within this framework. Marketing taught us to equate diamonds with love for corporate benefit; marketing also created the white race for corporate benefit. Tossing the Irish and Italian and German under the same umbrella and calling it White, calling it clean and good, was capitalist evil-genius at its finest. Were the working poor to unite, we might have been a force for considerable change. But as long as the "white" poor can be kept fighting for scraps with the nonwhite poor, the real opponent escapes with reputation intact (he's white, so he must be on our side, right?) and profits still roll in.

Any discussion of race is also a discussion of class, for me. The upper-middle class black folks I encountered when I changed high schools were, to me, as much from another planet as their white socioeconomic counterparts. Certainly, I missed nuances of privilege, but to my perception at the time, class trumped race. Money and parents with letters behind their names gave those kids something (many, many things, actually) that my white skin alone never brought me. I felt a considerably more distinct kinship with poor classmates of any race or ethnicity than I did with rich kids of any heritage. Still do, come to that. I don't pretend to know how many more barriers my nonwhite peers have faced, but I do know that we as the multicolored poor are all pissed upon by those who profit from our labor. The Man and his machine may be the closest we'll come to that beloved American myth of the colorblind society--we're all green to him.

But I still do know that white privilege exists. I see the preponderance of white faces in the media and the corner offices and the history books. I know that I'll probably never be asked where I'm "really from." My color lends me a certain amount of automatic credibility within the dominant society.

I know this.

So now what?

Here's my biggest stumbling block when it comes to race: When an accident of genetics makes me part of a group that has perpetuated inequality and hatred, is there really anything I can do about it? However much I'm able to cull insidious racism from my psyche, my skin will always make me an unwilling participant in the racism of other people. And what in the world am I supposed to do about that?

You know I can't stand feeling impotent. Show me a problem, I want to fix it, or at least believe that I'm not making things any worse. But walking around with white skin in a world that punishes others for not also having it makes me the conspirator I never asked to be. What's a white gal to do about white privilege?

And let's not forget that living in New Mexico adds an interesting dimension to this issue. Living in this state, I don't see only my own skin color reflected back at me everywhere I turn. I would love to say that the experience of having a preponderance of nonwhite bosses and neighbors and coworkers means that white privilege is slipping a little here. But the problem is that New Mexico, as multi-cultural as we are, is still part of an always-on America. I don't know that seeing so many brown faces in positions of respect and authority here in our little town can compete with the sea of white faces that barrage us from television and film and billboards and book covers. My technically minority status here might not make one lick of difference.

I know that folks like Macon criticize white people for only examining race with nonwhites. I know that people of color don't have to be the canvas upon which white folks work out their problems with race and privilege. My logic tells me that Vermont could just as easily be the incubator in which we foster a new paradigm. But might New Mexico not have a special advantage? With so much of what makes this state special coming from its non-white history, couldn't this be the place to change how historically minority populations are acknowledged and celebrated? Could a new sort of America start here?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

consult the google answer machine

Sometimes I wonder who I'm talking to when I post on this blog.

Who are you folks?

I imagine that although you all have Internet access of some sort, you're all kinds of people. I struggle at times with deciding how much to explain about what I'm saying, how much I can assume my audience already knows about whiteness and racism. It's good to have a wide array of readers, and I want to reach white people, especially, because they're the ones who should be more mindful of their racial status.

Sometimes I lose myself for awhile by digging into this blog's statistics (and by the way, the site counter below will probably reach 200,000 hits today--a milestone, of some sort). As I've noted before, the most interesting set of stats is a log of search phrases that brought readers here. For me, the especially bracing examples resemble those below, which are from the last month or so.

These "search phrases" suggest not only how many different kinds of people end up here, but also just how wide the gaps in racial understanding still are, 400 years or so after the creation of the fiction of "race." Some of these search phrases also radiate frustration and anger, and others read like simmering ingredients for violence and pain.

Our moment is anything but "post-racial," and in terms of race, things are going to get worse. As the current economic collapse worsens, racial resentment will surely serve as an ever-ready distraction from the real causes of chaos. That renowned, divisive and racist hatemonger, Rush Limbaugh, could have no greater gift than two black leaders heading up our two major political parties.

Is sorting through Google tea leaves like this an effective method for monitoring the pulse of the racial zeitgeist?

What do these blips of brain energy say to you?

>>white people need to teach their children to hate those who hate us

>>why are all pretty white girls going for black guys?

>>white daughter black boyfriend


>>what white people really think of black people, even though they are nice

>>why do white people smell like spit?

>>why do white people say a black person is defensive?

>>why does tim wise bitch so much?

>>why do white people look better than other people?

>>why do black people think they are better then white?

>>why do white girls date ni**ers?

>>why do people comment when white guys and black women are together?

>>why do black people say ma'am?

>>why black people have white hands?

>>whites won't admit they came from blacks

>>whites teach their children to be racist

>>when i say bro i mean it the way black people use it

>>why do people think racism is fun?

>>why do people think americans are only white people?

>>do white people ask for hook-ups?

>>how many people admit to telling people they like their shirt when they really don't?

>>when do you bury a dead white person?

>>white comedian who can't make anyone laugh

>>why do white people think about tibet?

>>black and white mixed baby my baby looks more white is that normal?

>>what animal are white people like?

>>what do innocent people think about racism?

>>can children be racist or sexist?

>>what do asians call white people?

>>should someone dress up in another ethnicity?

>>so many non-whites in medicine

>>youtube white supremacy has made white folks insane

>>it is ridiculous to celebrate columbus

>>is wearing an afro wig racist?

>>how to act like a white person

>>how did white people become white?

>>how can you tell if white people don't like black people?

>>why is white race giving in to black race?

>>when is the next civil war?

>>black people talk shit about white people and it's not racist

>>do you think people's prejudices can be overcome?

>>what makes people do what they do?

>>i'm white, what do i do?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

white quotation of the week (tony hoagland)

Tony Hoagland

The Story of White People

After so long seeming right, as in
true, as in clean as in smart,
being smart enough at least
not to be born some other color

after so long being visitors
from the galaxy Caucasia
now they are starting to seem a little

deficient, leached out, spent, colorless
thin-blooded, indefinite—
as in being too far and too long
removed from the original source
of whiteness

suffering from a slight amnesia,
in the way that skim milk can barely
remember the cow.

And this change in status is
mysterious, objective, and indifferent
as at the beginning of winter
when the light shifts its angle of attention

from the mulberry tree to the cottonwood;
just another change of season
not that dramatic or perceptible
but to all of us, it feels different.

Tony Hoagland teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. His books of poems and essays include Donkey Gospel (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1998), winner of the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets; What Narcissism Means to Me (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 2003), poems; Hard Rain (Venice: Hollyridge Press, 2005), winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry; and Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 2006). The above poem appears in the Winter, 2009 issue of Callaloo.

Monday, March 2, 2009

lack empathy for non-white victims of abuse

[Update: See the end of this post for an interview with the victim of police abuse described below, Malika Calhoun, and her father.]

Police officers may well be more abusive with lower-income white people than with other white people. However, they're generally much more abusive to those who are not white, and especially to those who are black. And that's true whether the victims are black men, or black women, or even black children.

Why is that?

I think one reason is that some part of white people often responds to black people as if they're dangerously subhuman and in need of control. Even black women, and even black children. As Paul Kivel puts it, "As white people, we have been trained to see danger in the very presence of people of color."

So when non-white people suffer police abuse, there's very little outrage on the part of white people. As Resistance puts it at the blog Resist Racism, "Racism harms white people by stripping them of their ability to feel." Feel for other, non-white people, that is. White Americans can feel bad about other white people's problems and pain, such as their missing children. They can see their own children in those missing young white people, and they can see themselves in those grief-stricken white parents.

White people can readily empathize with white pain, but why can't they seem to see themselves in the beaten faces and bodies of black men, women, and children, many of whom are punched, kicked, pistol-whipped, tasered, and shot by overzealous police officers?

How much sustained, mainstream-media attention is the case of a fifteen-year old black girl beaten by a white police officer going to get, now that a video of the beating has been released? How much more attention would would this abuse get if the girl were instead white?

Why do white people lack empathy for other people, just because they're not white? Even goodhearted, good-willed white people? How can they nourish and grow this atrophied part of themselves?

A King County sheriff's deputy accused of kicking a 15-year-old girl in the stomach pleaded not guilty Thursday to the fourth-degree assault charge he faces.

Deputy Paul Schene, who appeared in King County Superior Court to enter the plea, was charged in the incident last week following an investigation by the department. The gross misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

In court documents, Schene is accused of kicking the girl after she flipped her shoe at him.

At the time of the Nov. 29 incident, prosecutors say, the girl was in a holding cell at SeaTac City Hall.

Schene, an eight-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office, was involved in a 2006 shooting in which he killed a mentally ill man during a struggle on Interstate 5. That shooting was deemed justified by the department.

Later Thursday, Schene's attorney appeared before Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer to request that video of the incident not be released to the media. Opposing the motion on behalf of the King County Sheriff's Office, Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Cobb argued that the state public records act requires the video be released.

"This is a public record," Cobb told the judge. "It's of legitimate public interest, and it's not exempt (from release) under the record's act."

Shaffer ruled that the video should be released.


Update: An interview with this victim of police abuse, Malika Calhoun, and her father:

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