Wednesday, July 15, 2009

describe white people who point out the problems with whiteness as "self-flagellating"

Since my state is home to several expensive universities, including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, there is never a shortage of privileged, self-flagellating white kids in Halloween-like clothing, willing to march behind any leftwing Pied Piper who rolls into town.

--Rocco DiPippo, The Autonomist

The more politically correct an organisation, the more likely it is to be staffed at the top exclusively by self-flagellating white liberals.

--Ron Liddle's "Law of Corporate Bigotry"

Leftwing race activist (and self-flagellating white male) Tim Wise is a piece of work.

--David Horowitz and John Perazzo, Front Page Magazine

Do white people who work against racism and whiteness, and who object to their trained adoption of common white habits and tendencies, hate themselves?

Are they really “flagellating” themselves when they do that?

Last week, a one-time commenter named Wesley left a comment here that I want to address in this post, because he used a term commonly flung at people like me, “self-flagellate.” Actually, the more common form of that term, as used by white people who object to other whites who object to racism, is “self-flagellating.”

Wesley commented on a recent post in which I pointed out the white-framed racial dynamics of a television commercial. The post included my acknowledgment that people sometimes don’t enjoy watching television with me because I can’t resist pointing such things out.

Wesley responded in part,

It amazes me that people have absolutely nothing better to do than to search for underlying "racist" motifs in advertising. Advertising has to be as broad and clear as possible so as to garner viewer retention. I get that you enjoy cultural self-loathing and the stereotypical white obsession with "awareness", but you're finding connections where there are none. . . .

I can imagine why people don't like watching television with you. It's not because they're ignorant white racists, it's purely because most people do not enjoy the company of those who racially self-flagellate at every opportunity. Especially if they're doing it to with the interest of taking [a] righteous stance at every possible opportunity.

You represent one of the worst kinds of modern man. The well-off "Awareness Crusader". I'm sorry, that was somewhat childish of me. The hordes of you people just get to me.

Wesley’s entire comment contains many parts I’d like to answer. However, I didn’t reply because (1) I doubted that Wesley would return to read the comment (those who leave such comments, usually under “Anonymous,” usually perform one-time drive bys), and (2) because I’ve been thinking of replying in a post instead. My response has narrowed to a focus on this one term he used, because I see it so often -- "self-flagellating white people."

I think this term has become a cliché among those who object to anti-racist white people. In fact, a Google search for “self-flagellating white” brings up 6,750 results.

But it’s really a nonsense term, isn’t it? At least by my way of thinking. But then, not by theirs.

Here’s what I think is the crucial difference in our ways of thinking.

Those who describe white anti-racists as “self-flagellating white people” basically see no separation between a white person and his or her whiteness. I, on the other hand, do make a distinction between myself (or, my self) and my being placed into the category of “white.”

To describe a white person who objects to common white tendencies as "self-flagellating" is to see his or her objections to whiteness as objections to his or her self. Objecting to racism, and thus to whiteness, is thereby characterized as the absurdity of beating up oneself. The supposition here, which I and others consider false, is that whiteness is inherent to a person -- and along with that, that white people are inherently different, and of course, “superior,” to other people.

But I do not consider myself "self-flagellating"; I would say that I’m actually the opposite. I'm against whiteness, including what it's done to me. The U.S. functions in part under the auspices of a 400-year-old system of whiteness, which categorizes me as white. Whiteness is not something intrinsic to me.

And so, to wake up to how I’ve been categorized within an artificial racial hierarchy, and then to work against its ongoing abuses, is not to “self-flagellate.” It's instead of way of freeing myself into becoming a more conscious (or yes, Wesley, "aware"), and thus fuller, human being.

Being categorized as "white" has rendered me delusional -- about how the world really works, about how I really got to where I am, and about how others got to where they are. Being categorized as "white" also holds back my full development as a human being, in part by withering my understanding of and empathy for others, because I’m falsely led to see them as fundamentally, intrinsically different from myself.

Waking up to that, and working against it, and doing what I can to work against the systemic racial abuses of others, is not a way of flagellating my self.

It’s a way of freeing my self.


  1. "self-flagellating" has become a dog whistle. That some of us white people work at trying to understand what "whiteness" means and get mad when Ads and such fuck it up, because we don't want to continue with the sins of our past & present.

    Not that we're ever gonna be perfect, not that we're ever gonna be even good at it, but, at least in my mind, the choice is grow up and fuck up or be a racist asshole. I chose the former.

  2. Exactly. I think I'm pretty awesome, but I'm afraid I can't extend that label to my fellow white folks of the more obtuse/racist persuasion. I'm definitely a self-loving, other-flagellating white person who feels no particular loyalty to strangers just because they share my skin tone. I'm not ashamed of being white—I'm ashamed of the crappy variety of white person.

  3. "It's a way of freeing myself"

    Right on! I want to add that the backlash from white people who do not recognize that their humanity is not linked to their racial identity and therefore not under attack when racism and "whiteness" are deconstructed and questionned, these people need compassion. Truth with compassion. The ego-based shaming and blaming does not help. In my experience.

  4. I think you should also take note of the part of his comment that reads, "Advertising has to be as broad and clear as possible..."
    What does this mean? Broad in what way? Clear to whom?
    There is definitely an assumption of white audience in his statement. I think if he were to re-examine that, he might understand where you're coming from a bit more.

  5. i've experienced a similar accusation, of "disgracing" my race for calling out racism, or i get the "friendly" reminder that i'm white--uh, yeah, but that doesn't mean i have to accept or participate in racism.

    my brother also gets this accusation, or people ask him why he "acts black" or if he's confused about what his race is based on how he dresses, who his friends are, and how he speaks. it's like the racism of other white people is trying to suck us back in by shaming us, accusing us of betrayal in a sort of othering technique that has been used to justify racism and whiteness in the first place.

    i think we should all take the time to free ourselves from this hate-filled thinking rather than unquestionably believe this shit.

  6. Great post. I think "self-flaggetating" has two important connotations. The first is sado-masochism. It implies that the white liberal is taking pleasure in his or her own pain. What is conveniently excluded is the pain caused to POC by the racism being called out by the white liberal. It assumes the devaluation of the lives of POC. It's like saying, "racism doesn't exist so the only people hurt by this "racism" are the white liberals who self inflicting it for their own pleasure."

    The second connotation is of medival religious practices of causing oneself physical pain as penance for sin. The further implications is that calling out racism involves an antiquated "medival" morality (as if racism were cured in 1964). Also, it implies that penance itself (or taking responsibility for one's actions) is antiquated. Which, in our contemporary narcassistic culture, may be the truth.

  7. check your privilege at the doorJuly 15, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    i really enjoy this blog. as a white person working against racism i find the posts really helpful to check myself and also to share with others. (my particular favorite is the one about hipster racism - which i come across on a daily basis).

    this post i found really interesting because there are two things that come to mind. the first is the obvious issue that you brought up of conservative white racists refering to white anti-racist allies as 'self-flagellating'. along the same lines of accusing people of being 'too politically correct' or the 'pc police' - all of which are inherently racist and oppressive accusations.

    however, i think something must be said about white guilt and the often paralyzing effect it has on white people. you know, those folks who are so caught in their own white guilt that they have apparently lost any ability to work against racism.

    or the white folks (particularly males) who are so keen on fighting racism they take up so much space and in doing so silence people of colour, women, people with disabilities, queer people, etc. (this happens all the time in anti-opression work, remember the 'white knight syndrome?')

    so, i think you do a great job pointing out the stuff white people do in mainstream society, but it think it would be cool to take the time and look inward to the stuff white people do in anti-racist organizing.

    good job, keep on writing!

  8. I think some of the "self-flagellation" meme is just a way for status-quo whites to feel equally educated/intelligent to anti-racist whites. The word has 5 syllables. It sounds clinical. So, part of what they're attempting to say is that they're just as, if not more so, aware and educated and "in touch" as you are.

    Also, part of the argument has to be that either whites don't have anything to apologize for and/or they can't do anything to change what's going on.

    Of course, neither are true, and to believe both is to deny both historical and current facts and research. But, hey! They get to use a 5-syllable, clinical-sounding word, so they must be right. :sarcasm:

  9. It also (not to get too 'academic-y') pathologizes the hell out of challenging white privilege and whiteness. When challenges to privilege (especially from white people, who ought to be 'objective') are marginalized and counted as crazy or delusional, it annihilates opportunities and the need for dialog. If whites are self-flagellating, they're too crazy to be rationally dealt with, right?

  10. You made an excellent point, and arguably a spiritual one, when you discussed seeing a distinction between your self and whiteness. Your "self," or your "soul" isn't a color. But it sounds as if the people you're dealing with are strictly seeing things from a materialistic/capitalistic framework. This is why they see you as self-hating or traitorous. They don't understand why a white person would risk challenging a structure that benefits them across the board. They view the world as a combination of haves and have-nots and don't want to tip the balance in anyone else's favor.

  11. I never had enough money, or enough privilege growing up to be considered white, if anything i am white trash. Now as I plan on going into education and teaching I really cannot see myself connecting with the typical middle/upper class white students that flood the halls. I most likely will be spending my career teaching in cities or urban centers in hopes of making a difference there.

  12. Anonymous, despite growing up in a different class, you are still white. You can't change that. So, I really don't understand what you mean by not financially growing up middle-class equates to white. Rich or poor, class doesn't change racial privilege.

    While teaching in urban schools are wonderful, be mindful that you can't assume that growing up poor alone will connect you with your students. You still had privilege with your white skin.

  13. I have to agree with honeybrown. Just because you're white and we're raised in a lower-income family doesn't mean we will accept you and see you as one of our own.

    you're still white born into white privilege and have no authority over cultures richer than your own of greed and enslavement of minorities. Sorry to say this but the truth is that your better off staying with the middle and upper class whites.

    No offense but we don't need you teaching our children your white views through your subconcious racism that you can't just live away due to your heritage.

  14. honeybrown - You're right. I just think anon is trying to relate. You know?

    So while I do commend you, anon, I also issue the same warning honeybrown. Just be open to whatever your students' lives are and you'll do fine.

  15. Interesting observations...interesting comments.

    I'm a member of a bi-racial family. This gives me a dual perspective on the subject of race and race relations.

    I'm usually very wary of the left-winger who practices anti-racist politics if they attempt to deny who they are as an individual. I have learned over the years that that type of anti-racist individual is more into guilt over the past than others.

    We are all supposed to learn from the past and present to help improve the future. I think that for White people that is a difficult challenge. The spoils of priviledge v. how the spoils were attained is one area that hangs a lot of people up.

    I also think that we all should be proud of who we are. With the understanding that there is always room for improvement.

  16. The quotes you list are all from folk very much on the right, I think (though its "Rod Liddle" not "Ron Liddle") and they are picking on a perceived weakness of their enemy in a very cynical way. I don't have any time for any of them, and I think you are right to reject the 'self flagellating' label.

    But...I still think these people are saying what they are, albeit for cynical and self-serving reasons, because they've noted a genuine vulnerability in the other side. That is, often the white people quickest to try and give up their race privileges are those who have class privilege to spare.

    Personally I think that's the sub-text to all these self-flagelation references. Rod Liddle, for example, though he's generally a right-winger, is from a markedly working class background, and works in a media absolutely dominated (and increasingly so) by the privately educated uber-class, and an awful lot of his political views have a clear tinge of class-resentment - he's not even consistently right-wing, being against selective and private schools). In a country that is 93% white (and only 2% black) I'm not sure he would regard his 'white privilege' as doing much to make up for class disadvantage.

    Did you not notice the "well-off" modifier in Wesley's post? I really don't pretend to understand US politics, but much of this stuff, it seems to me, is really coming from class resentment.

    I find it hard to know what to make of that in a US context, because class-politics seems totally different over there to what it is in Europe. Here, at least when I was younger (it's changed in a US direction sowmewhat) 'the left' could claim to be in favour of both 'the working class' and 'anti-racism' at the same time.

    It was fairly simple - you were on the side of the ordinary working people who made up a majority and were, supposedly, going to liberate themselves, and anti-racism and anti-imperialism was supposed to go along with that.

    Even if the left very often fell a very long way short in practice it wasn't an intellectually incoherent stance. But in the US all too many 'ordinary working Americans' vote Republican and see their interests as being with the status quo and there is no majority of 'ordinary working people' for the left to claim to represent. The most severe form of oppression has mostly been about race, and black people don't make up a majority.

    So you end up with the white 'left' being composed mostly of the more privileged amongst the white population - and then you get this kind of resentment.

    But again, I'm out of my depth because US politics is very different, race apparently being in many ways more important than class, so I apologise if I'm getting things wrong, but it seems so obvious to me that these outbursts of resentment are to do with class and that ought to be acknowledged.

    Depressingly it seems to have moved in the US direction in Europe now, you even hear the ridiculous phrase 'liberal elite' being used occasionally, when you never used to.

  17. omg.. are there ANY PoC here that actually don't automatically swarm like sharks around white people? you know, this might come as a shock to you... but not all of them are bad /snark

    @honeybrown1976 - you know full well what Anonymous meant, you're just being mean.

    @nestra2121 - when you say "we" - who are you speaking for? I will accept anyone and everyone who recognises their unearned privilege (whether it's race, gender, education, health etc) and does their part to better this rotten world.

    and please don't pull out the "you wanna be a whitey" bs because recognising people for their individual self worth regardless of what type of privilege they are born into isn't a trait owned by whiteness.

  18. I'd like to remind honeybrown of the people in appalachia where being white doesn't mean anything. There are more areas of the US like it but it is a "shining" example of true poverty and lack of hope for a large portion of those living there and white privilege plays no part in their lives.

  19. Alexis, while the poor white people of Appalachia lack economic privilege, they still have a touch of white privilege. They probably won't get followed in a store because a store employee thinks "their kind" steals, and they're not victims of racism. In this society, they still have a leg up over an African-American with a similar financial/educational standing.

  20. The white conservative: "I am white, and racism runs deep in my family and country, but I am not racist. Therefore, I declare myself and my associates, who also proclaim that they are not racist, immune to charges of racism. We also proclaim that racism in high places (what liberals call 'institutional racism') is finished in America."
    The white liberal: "I am white, and racism runs deep in my family and country, but I am not racist. However, institutional racism persists in my country, and I will expose it or speak against it. I would hope that I am immune to charges of racism because I have not only fought racism myself, but have freed myself from the very white power structure that nurtured me."
    I loved your post. You have made it abundantly clear that liberals may not, henceforth, be accused of racial self-flagellation. However, assuming I were a desperate conservative looking for brickbats to throw at a Supreme Court nominee, I would accuse you of reverse racism. "Reverse racism!" you say, "Against my (denied) race! Fuck you!"
    "Well," I would say, "you don't like white people. You dislike them so much, you deny your intrinsic whiteness."
    "I like a lot of white people. Some of my best friends are white." you say, chuckling to yourself, "But I do deny my whiteness because I dislike whiteness, not white people."
    "That's absurd." I say.
    "Your absurd." You say.
    You win. I am ashamed of myself and my intrinsic whiteness. Shame being too much for my small lizard brain, I murder-suicide myself and my secret gay lover, Tim. Tim survives.

  21. @gooblygob - I'm African American. We don't think all white people are bad. Personally, I think that unless a white person is actively anti-racist, s/he is complicit of racism.

    @p - Before the Civil Rights Movement, the left did claim to represent ordinary working/farming Americans. The South with pretty solidly Democratic, and while African Americans rejected the racism of the state parties, they approved of the economic policies. So during the 60s and 70s, the left became the place of civil rights (ie, racial equality). The 80s experienced a white backlash, and Southern white who previously voted Dem switched to Publicans. Nowadays, there's absolutely no way the right could openly say during campaigns that they want to undo all of the civil rights legislation, even though that's clearly what they want to do. So they campaign on God, guns, and gays, equate unions and the left with "snarking" blacks, and win ordinariy working white people.

    That make sense?

  22. From kjw66:

    To anyone who accuses me of being self-flagellating, I would say, "How is it that you miss that it's you I'm flagellating?" (It's not myself I want to beat on, pal, it's racists like you.)

    Honeybrown's comment to Anonymous is only partly true, and may speak to her experience, but not to Anonymous' or mine.

    I would turn her phrase a little, because it's also true that despite growing up white, Anonymous and I are still lower-class. You can't change that, even by earning a college degree. Among whites (and in my experience, among mid/upper class POC as well), education doesn't change class privilege (or lack of it). You can gain access and move among them, but the managing class and the owning class are always able to peg you as underclass and "manage" you.

    No way am I equating this to the injustices suffered on the basis of race. I can see how anyone who has suffered on the basis of race might not notice or care about this, but the reality still exists. I got myself plenty of education, and I work for and around middle and upper class folks of all colors, and they never for a moment let me forget my class. I'm not one of them and never can be. So I can relate to what Anonymous said. I'm never really comfortable in my position and wouldn't be comfortable trying to teach their kids.

    Thing is, lots of lower-class white lefties who want to work in areas of social justice find that they have to get a degree if they want to counsel rape victims or whatever. Then they are "too educated and too white" to help the downtrodden and "too lower-class" to mix with those who actually have leverage to donate money to causes, force policy change, etc. It's a strange place to be.

    So Nestra's advice to basically "stick with our color because POC don't need jerks like us" isn't very helpful.

  23. Gooblygob, I know what he is saying and that's why I responded appropriately. As a teacher in several urban American schools, I have seen and heard the same rhetoric. Don't speak for me or try to assume what I'm doing.

    Also, I don't "swarm" anyone. I'm speak from experience, especially as an American of color. I can't speak for you as an Australian of color. So don't dare attempt to do so.

    (So, put on your SuperGooblygob cape and save it for another day. Now that's being mean!)

  24. "you're still white born into white privilege and have no authority over cultures richer than your own of greed and enslavement of minorities."
    What's with this "richer culture" BS?

  25. "What's with this "richer culture" BS?"

    I'll explain it quickly Blue Mako. While your white ancestors were still living in caves inter-breeding with their family members my black ancestors were creating modern civilization on our own without the pollution of whiteness in our cultures. One good example is the ancient Egyptians. You whites have and always will have an empty culture. You've done nothing to further the world socially, culturally, economically nor technologically.

    Everything you whites have done can be traced back to being an idea stolen from or being achieved by minorities. You people just take credit for it.

  26. @anon - LOL! "you I'm flagellating" - I've wondered that same thing.

    And I think you and honeybrown are making the same point. As a white of lower social class, yeah, you may be disrespected by people of "higher" class of all colors, but your white skin still give you opportunities not granted African Americans. When it comes to helping the downtrodden, I think the mistake most whites make is assuming they know or understand what the person has experienced b/f the person has told them anything. I don't think anybody likes that; and, when it comes from a white person to a black person, it's rejected because it is so similar to the same know-it-all attitude most whites have regarding people of color whatever the situation. So, instead of assuming you what what the person thinks or how the person will react, you have to go into a situation just completely open to the others' experience, whatever it may be. Just be humble, whether it's teaching or counseling, and you'll do fine.

    @blue mako - I don't agree with everything nestra said, but in regards to a "richer" culture, I think I may in fact agree. What she's referring to is the materialistic nature of a capitalistic culture. White Americans seem to, to me anyway, base a person's value/worth on their income/networth. So, referring to poor whites as white trash is a way of saying, "Yeah, you're "superior" to black people, but you're not "equal" to us." Within the black community, there have also been intra-class based struggles. In particular, the attempt on the part of "upper" class blacks to "uplift" lower class blacks. Yeah, white America may not be aware of it considering the reaction to Cosby, but that sort of thing isn't uncommon within the community. The difference is that in the black community, everybody has intrinsic value. And what nestra may be responding to when it comes to white teachers in black classrooms is that the more we're "assimilated" in to white "mainstream" culture, the more we lose the qualities that made the black community historically so strong. ...Come to think about, I think I may actually agree with nestra more than I thought.

  27. no1kstate has it exactly right. Whites seem to be extremely materialistic and cultureless right now. Yet i also meant that whites are cultureless in a historic sense. Whites have never had true culture. We need to go back to more of our black roots and have only black teachers in our schools and, sorry to say, only black students to keep the meddling of the white man out of our culture. Don't get that confused with a form of segregation though. It should stay illegal to have all white schools because they stir up a culture of hate because, again, whites have no culture of their own to appreciate and feel the need to steal from other richer cultures.

  28. Wow, some of these comments are a bit disturbing: "Whites have never had true culture." According to whom? This feeds into the stereotype that whites are not ethnic, while everyone else is. Whites do have a culture: Italian, Irish, Germanic, whereever they have roots. And if they are a mixture of different cultures, say Irish and Italian, that has influenced them as well. Sometimes, I wish white people who feel as if they don't have a culture and, therefore, have to adopt "black" culture or an Asian culture, etc., would simply trace their family heritage.

    Also, you told Anonymous that he or she wasn't needed bringing sub-conscious racism into urban schools. Don't you think black teachers also bring white supremacist ideology into schools? Macon had a post a long time ago about how schools serve to make one white. Well, I think that goes for black schoolkids as well. In school, you learn black dialect is wrong, as are other facets of black culture. School serves to deprogram.

  29. Huh, when I think of the term "self-flagellating white person" it conjures up for me automatic memories of people I go to school with/went to school with who spend a lot of time publicly proclaiming their deep, deep, super personal feelings of guilt and responsibility for specific instances of historical racism, or colonialism. Like someone wasting a lot of discussion time in class talking about how sad she feels that people who look like her ancestors owned slaves.

    I associate "white self-flagellation" with histrionic public apology for events that you yourself did not touch, and that are usually not requested by members of the group that the person is apologizing for oppressing (if any are present). The person then sometimes gets into questioning others present as to why they aren't asking for lots of attention so that they can apologize and talk about how bad we feel. The person tends to give an impassioned speech about how much activist cred they have, how their perspective has changed and how homogenous and ignorant everyone in the room is and how because her audience hasn't read book x or travelled to country y and seen the poverty or oppression there we can't possibly understand. IME this person also tends to spend a lot of time policing other peoples behavior and offering vaguely offensive unsolicited opinions that rely on stereotypes about those "other people" whom she's so sorry for having oppressed.

    A particularly obnoxious manifestation of this in my chunk of the country is the appropriation of plains indian art, tacking it onto inuit art, and obsessing about having images of indians around while apologizing for having taken their land (but not doing things to move justice for remaining tribal groups forward). It tends to be connected to that particular type of white "liberal" racism that manifests in those who seek to pretend to do social justice or anti-racist activism to prove to themselves (and all others) that they aren't racist. And usually just ends up being patronizing.

  30. @honeybrown1976 - "(So, put on your SuperGooblygob cape and save it for another day. Now that's being mean!)"
    no, that's just being childish... seriously, if you can't spell my moniker off the top of your head at least copy and paste it

    @Nadra - I totally agree, there seems to be a lot of hate here. Whiteness may not have a culture, but actual individuals within this wholeness do. When we speak of "whiteness" we are speaking about a system of oppression, not about actual individual people or groups that are seen as white.

    @nestra2121 - interbreeding with family members? I think you need to go back to re-read your ancient European history (it's world history and is also rightfully yours in case you're thinking of giving me some pseudo-eurocentric bs). Ancient Europeans may have interbreed with Neanderthals but that's actually outbreeding and Neanderthals are probably the only other "human race" in existence but they are "extinct" now.

    @no1kstate - I am very glad to read your comments, they at least give me hope :)

    Dear People, you do not uplift an oppressed group by undermining another even if they are white and/or rich. That's just being backwards ok?

  31. Wow, these comments have gotten pretty intense.

    My two cents: I've talked to other, supposedly progressive white people who are theoretically against racism but at the same time have no interest in examining their own privilage and how it contributes to racism. Their reason is something like, "oh, if I spent all my time criticising whiteness, I would be too paralyzed with guilt to do anything productive." Completely overlooking the fact that criticising whiteness *is* productive. So they end up using this idea of white self-flagellation to avoid issues they don't want to deal with.

  32. First off, I am neither white nor conservative. Second off, Macon--I had planned on referring to you as (occassionally) self-flagellating in a future post that I had rolling around in my head. I guess I will have to come up with a new term now :P

    But I do have a question for you: If your whiteness is not an inherent part of who you are as a person, does that mean you can transcend it? Why or why not? If you can transcend your whiteness, what would that like look like?

    I guess that's three questions, but you know how I do.

  33. @gooblyglob - I only respond because I'm not sure I want to leave the impression that some blacks are rational, ie me, and others, honeybrown in this case are not. So . . . There's nothing to give you "hope." It's never been the case that all blacks thought all whites were evil. That's just another method, like the use of self-flagellation of ignoring the issue. The truth is, not every white person has to do anything that would deny persons of color equal opportunity. They just have to sit idly by and watch while the "real" racist white people do it. So, anti-racist pretty much lump the whole sum of you together. That doesn't mean we think you're all evil. It just means whether or not all white people are evil is besides that point. Enough of you are "evil" to cause the institutional racism that occurs everyday.

  34. No, myblackfriendsays, I don't think I can transcend my whiteness. People will always take me, consciously or unconsciously, as "white," and in many ways, treat me accordingly. And even if I did manage to "transcend" my "white" appearance through some Black Like Me transmogrification, I would still be "white" inside. I'm trying to learn about just how I learned to be white, just what I learned when I learned that, but I know I'll never learn, so that I can try to unlearn, all of that. Let alone even unlearn that which I have learned that I learned. Old habits die hard, as they say, and, much to my chagrin, some of those habits won't die until I die.

  35. Macon--I had planned on referring to you as (occassionally) self-flagellating in a future post that I had rolling around in my head.


    And why only occasionally?

    I'm curious -- please describe just how you think that term suits me.

  36. Gooblyglob, I didn't bother spelling your name correctly as you didn't bother to see my perspective on the same rhetoric from the same playbook that I constantly hear in my field. You just saw emotion, which is sad. But, I re-assert that I am fully aware of the meaning as I've heard it all too much.

    I must ask you why you felt the need to call my comments mean, instead of accepting them from my point of view. Were you compelled to become the apologist?

    No1skate, I am quite rational and passionate. However, I am not apologizing for how some people (i.e., Gooblyglob) choose to fathom my words or experiences. She (or he) took my words as a mean swarm against someone, instead of actually gaining perspective.

  37. @no1kstate - of course I know not all blacks are rational or irrational - I was mostly being snarky because only *some* here who self identify as black seem to hate ALL white people and sound like they want to practise self-segregation (not that it's required because white society does it just fine without any black people regulating the segregation).

    But... I like hope... are you going to deny me that?

  38. gooblyglob, I don't hate anyone. I don't have the energy nor the desire. But, I don't sit around and just allow groups of Americans the treatment of second-class citizenship from fellow Americans nor would I do the same for anyone globally.

    Besides, I'm related to too many to hate them (mainly my father - and no being related to one, doesn't mean I get the chance to overlook b.s. either).

  39. @honeybrown1976 - "Gooblyglob, I didn't bother spelling your name correctly"

    I guess your definition of respect is different to mine. I may not agree with you but at least I respect your individuality enough to respond to you with your name written properly. Perhaps you don't deserve that respect.

    "Were you compelled to become the apologist?" - um... W T F ? ? ?

    I imagined myself as Anonymous and your words sounded really hurtful and therefore mean (hey, I didn't say evil or idiotic because your words weren't... just mean)

    I am a she.

  40. oh and I like my high horse... it's vewy pwetty :)

  41. Wow, this got ugly fast. I thought this was a discussion about SELF-flagellating!

    Nestra2121, you're right about at least one thing: the ancient Egyptians are a perfect example - of a glorious civilization that was built on the broken backs of millions of slaves and force-assimilated "inferior" cultures. Ancient Egypt truly was a forerunner of enlightened modern society, complete with racism, sexism, intolerance and exploitation.

    You may look at the Pyramids and see a wondrous monument to a great civilization. I see a million tons of rock hauled by Jews and other inferior races under overseers' whips to glorify kings whose names we now hardly remember. Not to mention the thousands of servants murdered en masse and buried with the kings so that they could continue to be exploited in the kingdom of the dead.

    That's a really enlightened civilization, all right.

    Now about that idea that white people will not be accepted by people of color: honeybrown and no1kstate make valid points, that anonymous white person can't simply assume that being poor will help hir be accepted. You're right, being poor doesn't erase white privilege. *But* it erases just about every other privilege and goes quite a ways towards building bridges of empathy. Racism is a pervasive influence in the modern world, but it isn't the only form of inequity. That anonymous white person might have a lot more in common with you than you think. As long as s/he doesn't assume that being poor exonerates hir from white privilege (and, @ anonymous, it does kind of sound like you think that - you do need to understand that even the poorest white person has enjoyed white privilege. Even you, even me. It's kind of what "white privilege" means).

    Nestra, on the other hand, basically says flat out "go back to your white society because we will never accept you and your inborn racism". Nestra, who exactly do you think you speak for? There are literally millions of black people who accept white people. My wife's family tree has "accepted" a couple of white family members in every generation, including me. This doesn't mean we are all exactly the same, it doesn't magically erase my lifetime of white privilege, and it doesn't mean I automatically understand everything that they have gone through. We aren't, it didn't, and I don't. But if a black family living under the apartheid regime can adopt white individuals into the family on a regular basis, I think it's pretty clear that your idea of automatically excluding all the whites is far from a universal ideal. Nor is it an especially helpful approach to building a non-racist world.

    I was totally going to talk about how I feel about the "self-flagellating" thing, but I think I ran myself off the track....

  42. Dejamorgana, thanks, I hope that gets us back on track, and I really hope you do also talk about the self-flagellation thing ...

  43. Gooblyglob did not get this discussion "off track," because it's not off-track to challenge assumptions. And I think it is absolutely amazing that people who don't know anything about the life of that prior anonymous poster, the one who describes him- or herself as disconnected from economic privilege, now find themselves challenging the terms of his or her confession that "I never had enough money, or enough privilege growing up to be considered white, if anything i am white trash."

    The person is saying, people, that s/he has read this blog and found reasons, personal reasons, to refuse that old lure white supremacy offers to those whites who do not have an economic interest in helping to maintain the country's racist power-structure. Basically, the notion has been that hey, even if you're poor, you're still one of us whites. So if the idea behind this blog is that it's useful and right to be, as Macon says, "against whiteness," what is the use of then turning around and saying to this person, "hey, it's ok to feel deep regret over the ways whiteness has hurt OTHER people, but don't go challenging the ways the culture of whiteness has tried to hide your OWN disenfranchisement--bottom line, whatever it is you've been through: you're still white, so don't forget that.

    Pretty clearly, that's a response that has the effect of hardening racial identifications, not eroding them.

    I can already hear the response: If that person keeps talking like that, then s/he'll forget about all those advantages s/he's had, by virtue of his or her whiteness! And s/he'll forget that some of us can't disavow the racial affiliations the culture forces upon us. But to the first point, we all have to remember that we do NOT KNOW what it is like to be someone else. Honeybrown, you don't know whether that other anonymous has experienced any more "privilege" than you. You don't. If, as another poster has reminded us, anonymous lives in a certain section of impoverished white America, it's very possible that s/he less far less "privilege" than many people of color. You might not like it that that is a possibility, but I'm sorry, it's true.

    So that's one important point: you can't know what it is like to be someone else, even if you think you can. The second point is a pragmatic point, which I'll put in the form of a choice. Which is better: (1) to take someone like that anonymous poster and DRIVE HIM AWAY, maybe even back into the fold of some angry white resentment, by saying to him, "You're welcome among other anti-racists as long as you pretend that you've had it easier than every person of color," or (2) to say instead, this time to yourself, "This white person says that they don't identify with middle and upper class whites, and maybe for all I know they really have little reason to do so. So what I'm going to do here is to suspend judgement about something I know nothing about anyway (whether s/he really was hard up or whatever), because in the end, it is better for this person to be on my side."

    If you think that the first issue is the more important one--that the need to make sure that anonymous agrees with you that s/he has not really lived through what s/he thinks s/he has--then that to me means that you are not really as serious about fighting racism as you are with, yes, flagellating someone who has made some important realizations. If the first response is the one you think is more important, then I'm sorry, but you are imposing too many conditions on whites who think the word would be better off without racism and who want to join forces to see that happen.

    By the way, a google search for "spaghetti monster" came up with 899,000 results. So I don't think "self-flagellating white" has gone viral yet.

  44. Thirstdancer

    "backlash from white people who do not recognize that their humanity is not linked to their racial identity"

    Ya, I get this from POCs too all the time. Like an honest social critic -- say, 'Black people are loud' can't be handled and needs to be considered inherently racist. Oh, well. I guess low self esteem knows no colors.

  45. @honeybrown - No, no, no. I wasn't trying to say that I thought you were irrational. Just that I didn't like the dichotomy gooblyglob seemed to put between the two of us.

    @gooblyglob - In a way, yes. You don't have to hope the sun rises in the morning, just like you don't have to hope that note all black people hate all white people. Many times, it seems like white commenters think that other black commenters/bloggers hate all white people when that's not the case either. Anger at racism and hatred of white people are two separate things.

  46. The part that annoys me—as someone who has trained and worked in the visual arts, the arts of manipulation, i might say—is when people with no understanding of visual media try to talk about it as if they have some. "Advertising has to be as broad and clear as possible so as to garner viewer retention." This is psychobabble. It means nothing, and moreso, if it did, it would be false. The messaging in ads is not accidental. Marketing is far too precious and too expensive to just be casual. Furthermore, if we take it as meaning "you appeal to racist whites because that's the broadest pool of people," A: False. B: Gross.

    God I tire of internet smartassery. Especially when topped with a dollop of ignorance and racism. Sigh.

  47. Anonymous @ 10:20 p.m., first off, did you notice the request here that you come up with a name, because it gets confusing when several comments appear under "Anonymous"? I'm guessing so, but instead of taking the further hint that is the presence already of another Anonymous commenter, you chose to write as Anonymous too (2? II?), furthering confusion here. Why?

    Regarding your point about "spaghetti monster," who claimed here that "self-flagellating white" has gone viral? 6,750 hits for the latter seems enough to me to claim that it's an oft-used phrase among the limited sector of online writers who write about white anti-racists.

    I think your point, if I'm reading it right, that those white people who express an interest in anti-racist work should be welcomed into the white-privilege-aware fold instead of driven away is a good one. I think the following, however, is misguided:

    Honeybrown, you don't know whether that other anonymous has experienced any more "privilege" than you. You don't. If, as another poster has reminded us, anonymous lives in a certain section of impoverished white America, it's very possible that s/he less far less "privilege" than many people of color. You might not like it that that is a possibility, but I'm sorry, it's true.

    I think you're lumping all forms of privilege into a big bag labeled "privilege." You seem to be missing the point that no matter how little class privilege a white person has, that person still has white privilege that a black person doesn't have. Further, a white person is also quite likely to have adopted a variety of common white assumptions, habits, proclivities, and so on. Sauntering into an inner-city classroom without having examined those can lead to some racist teaching, no matter how well-meaning the white teacher.

    Do you understand, for instance, what's wrong in this regard with the cinematic glorification of such blithely unself-conscious heroes and saviors, as in "Dangerous Minds" or "Freedom Writers"?

  48. @no1kstate - oh great... did I just read that another person thinks I'm white... news flash! the world consists of more than just black people and white people! and I was actually starting to like you *sighs*

  49. I didn't say I thought you were white. I said that's a position many white commenters/bloggers seem to take. Whether or not you're white is beside the point.

  50. Erm... for Nestra? Gooblyglob? Modern homo sapiens have been the sole species of human for a relatively short time, and for most of our evolution there have been multiple periods of overlap besides just the one mentioned involving the Neadertals in Europe.

    @ Nestra specifically: your reading of history is profoundly shallow and simplistic and implies, among other things that there is an objective standard for measuring "cultural richness" (and of defining it!). As a history nerd, an ancient history nerd, I find your characterization of early human history to be ignorant and offensive. But whatever, its not like people tend to care much about facts when discussing history.

    The way in which modern observers of the past project their own personal expereinces, biases, preferences and buttons onto the past is striking, and too often seems to come at the cost of developing any actual understanding.

    (sorry to rant, some of it is pulled from my stock rant from a recent class)

    I don't doubt that you'll have some ugly personal accusations to toss at me for agreeing with you. Whatever, its not like any of them will be accurate.

  51. Hey Jules, care to provide some history that you consider more accurate and relevant, instead of just telling someone else that his or hers is wrong? After all, without doing so, your contribution here provides no more use or value than those you so offhandedly dismiss. Indeed, rather less, I'd say.

  52. Macon: Well ... yes. If anonymous is white, then that means that s/he is told repeatedly in this culture that s/he is entitled to a certain privilege, or at least, that s/he will have access to certain privileges that nonwhites don't. Is that what you mean when you say that s/he "still has white privilege that a black person doesn't have"? My point is that for certain whites, that promise (that don't worry, you're one of us; you are always a wrung or two up from the nonwhites) is absolute bullshit; they AREN'T privileged in any meaningful way (unless you consider the ability to walk through a klan rally unscathed some kind of important capital!), and in fact, they are among the least privileged people in the country, having it every bit as bad as anyone else, black or white. I'm not "lumping everything into one big lump called privilege" or whatever you tried to say. I'm thinking of privilege in much more concrete terms than you are. Privilege is the ability to get access to health care, to attend a school that is safe and effective, to be nourished, to have the chance to imagine possibilities for your life ... do I really have to explain this?

    There are plenty of people in the US who have none of these things. Raising their awareness of how bereft they really are is absolutely fundamental to changing things--until that group realizes how much they have to gain by taking over the system, a hundred thousand blogs like this one will do nothing to bring about actual change. So taking some of them aside and saying, "Don't forget that you've always had this 'white privilege' on your side" makes no sense to me. In fact, it's exactly what right-wingers have always done, precisely in order to prevent those people from revolting. But in THEIR case, at least they know what they're doing. What exactly do you and Honeybrown believe you are accomplishing in telling the other anonymous that he is mistaken about his experience as a poor white?

  53. Anonymous, let's work with this part of what I wrote to you above, since from what I can tell, you left it unaddressed and unanswered:

    [A] white person is also quite likely to have adopted a variety of common white assumptions, habits, proclivities, and so on. Sauntering into an inner-city classroom without having examined those can lead to some racist teaching, no matter how well-meaning the white teacher.

    Do you understand, for instance, what's wrong in this regard with the cinematic glorification of such blithely unself-conscious heroes and saviors, as in "Dangerous Minds" or "Freedom Writers"?

    Address and answer what I'm saying here, please. I see no reason to basically repeat myself by restating it. I won't speak for honeybrown1976, but that's a big part of what I think I'm accomplishing in telling the other anonymous that he or she is mistaken about hir experience as a poor white, IF, that is, he or she is going to saunter into an inner-city classroom without having examined hir own life-long training into often-unconscious white feelings and attitudes about non-white people.

  54. @Macon_d

    While I agree that anonymous was being naive and optimistic, I don't believe you are fair with your reference to those movies. Seems to me Anonymous was less indulging in 'white saviour' fantasies, than simply grossly over-estimating the power of a presumed class-identity to over-come racial division. The poster seemed to me to be, probably hopelessly optimistically, hoping their sharing a class identity with their students would be more important than their having a racial advantage over them.

    Sorry to keep banging on about class, but it seems to me you repeatedly ignore its existence, as you do here, where you consequently seem to be accusing Anonymous of a different mistake to the one they are actually making.

  55. @no1kstate

    Your explanation certainly makes sense, though I am not sure reality does. We've just seen the (mostly white) rich wreck the economy while carting off wheel-barrows full of loot, and now they are shoveling money (that they wouldn't have if not for the bail-out) into their own pockets as millions lose jobs and homes, and _still_ non-hispanic whites in the US, most of them far from rich (and getting further from it all the time), apparently continue to vote mostly Republican. I'm not sure that makes sense.

  56. p, I don't know what could be fair or unfair about referencing some movies and asking if Anonymous The Third understands how they relate to this discussion. Those sorts of movies are one site, if you will, for a lot of previous discussion (some of it from me) about what's wrong with anyone who is white, no matter their class, going into a largely non-white educational setting without first understanding the largely unconscious biases and so on of their own racialized/whitened perspective.

    As I read honeybrown1976 and nestra2121 upthread -- the commenters to whom Anonymous The Third responded, and with whom I agree on this point -- that's what seems to be missing in that other Anonymous's expression of pedagogical desire. And yet, it's something that Anonymous The Third seems uninterested in acknowledging and dealing with, in favor, it seems, of an argument that the Anonymous Who Wants To Teach, "in cities or urban centers in hopes of making a difference there," has it just as bad (or worse?) than inner-city non-white people because s/he is poor.

    While a white person's class position certainly does affect how that person's whiteness plays out, attention to the social class of a white person who wants to teach in an inner-city school is really beside the point that being classified as a white person (of whatever social class) can make a person oblivious to the whiteness of one's own perspective, as well as the whiteness of the social and educational Order of Things, of how one is likely to be received and regarded by non-white students, staff, and parents, and so on.

    A poor white teacher can certainly understand some things about poor inner-city non-white students that a middle-class white person would be less likely to understand. But both of these hypothetical white teachers are unlikely to understand, or even know about, that which I described above -- the insidious, pervasive workings of whiteness -- if they haven't examined it.

  57. @p - You're right, their voting habits don't make sense.

  58. OK, so you make my point, Macon. It's more important to you that you put Anonymous who wants to teach in his place than it is that he's finding points of identification (possibly naively? Here again I think others should careful not to overstep the bounds of what they know) between himself and those he wants to help. Then yes, there's flagellation going on here. Whether anonymous is a substitute for the self I have no idea. I do notice he seems to have disengaged, though, so well done.

    Anon III

  59. I make your point? Whatevs. I'm not denying the nobility in an idealistic sense of Anon's "reaching out," just some likely consequences of doing so in the naive sense that I've been pointing out. Actually, in a way that you probably don't intend, I am trying to put Anon in hir place, by calling attention to hir racial positioning, and especially to its likely effects. I wonder what has you so obstinately set against acknowledging the significance of that.

    Oh, wait, of course--you're white.

  60. Agh, that should say "just trying to identify some likely..."

    As for Anon's "disengagement," I wouldn't call leaving one anonymous comment being "engaged."

  61. I say "occasionally" because sometimes you use this blog for good and sometimes you use it for something else. You rarely/never talk about "stuff white people do" in any sort of positive way. The only post that comes to mind (and I haven't read all of them,) is right after Obama got elected--something about them "getting used to blackness." But then some black people got mad at you, and then you retracted your statements in that post. I also think that your tendency to label everything that is race-related as "racist" (like the David Arquette video) really weakens the power of the word.

    I get that you are trying to enlighten people or whatever, but I think to come at it from such a one-sided white guilt view of things can be detrimental. Like when people come and post about how white people have no civilization and stole everything that they have from other cultures--would you let a comment like that stay on your blog if it had been written by a white person about people of color? Hell to the no. Letting it stay because a person of color wrote it comes off as paternalistic and patronizing to me.

    Moving on. I am confused by some of the things that you have said so far in this post. First you say that being white is not an inherent nor intrinsic part of who you are. But then you go onto say that you cannot transcend your whiteness. This seems like a contradiction. Because to me, it seems the only things that people cannot transcend are things that are an inherent part of who they are. Can you help me understand better what you mean?

  62. myblackfriendsays wrote,

    sometimes you use this blog for good and sometimes you use it for something else. You rarely/never talk about "stuff white people do" in any sort of positive way.

    So identifying what many of them do -- common tendencies among them -- as negative is not using this blog "for good"? I obviously disagree.

    I think whiteness is a problem, and that most white people don't realize that. As you probably know, white people's racial status was raised to prominence in their identities by elite land, slave, and resource owners, who sought to divide so-called white people from so-called non-white people, and so elevated the status of some of them by emphasizing the fiction that they "were white." This artificial division of people who actually have (now subsumed) commonalities is itself entirely negative, as was the common white belief, still prevalent in, also, a subsumed sense, that white people are inherently superior. There's nothing I can think of that's "good" about the fiction of racial whiteness, and I now know that negative effects of this artificial designation remain, deeply implanted in me and other so-called white people. You say this blog does little "good" in continually trying to point that out, but I disagree. I think coming to understand that about ourselves, so that we can stop enacting common and deleterious white tendencies, is in itself "good."

    So it sounds like you would prefer that I talk about good things that white people do. I have mentioned various examples, such as a white activist who got arrested for leaving bottles of water in the desert for people crossing the U.S./Mexico border. But then, it wasn't his whiteness that prompted him to do that, was it? In fact, he had to resist urgings implanted in him by an ongoing white supremacist culture to think of people who cross that border as less than human -- as people out to "steal the jobs" of people like himself.

    So yes, of course some of the stuff white people do is good stuff, but I can't think of anything that white people do because they're white, that comes from their having been place in the artificial category of "white," that's "good."

    Can you?

    I also think that your tendency to label everything that is race-related as "racist" (like the David Arquette video) really weakens the power of the word.

    Again I disagree. I think that a lot of white Americans think that we live in a "post-racial" society now, where "racism" has faded to near nothingness. Pointing out that racism is alive and well, even in small incidents like this one -- incidents that they themselves might re-enact -- will get some people to realize just that, that "racism" is alive and well. I think it's mainstream culture itself that "weakens the power of the word," by pretending that except for extremely rare and totally isolated incidents, racism is a thing of the past.

  63. Regarding your ongoing confusion about my claim that I cannot transcend my whiteness, even though it's socially imposed on me rather than inherent, I can only repeat what I wrote above, when you first asked about this. What part of the following don't you understand? It basically says that I've been trained to feel, think, and act "white" in more ways than I'll ever fully know (so some of them I cannot unlearn, and thus "transcend"), and also that unless I transform my appearance, it will always register for other people as "white." And so, even though whiteness is imposed on me rather than inherent, I cannot transcend it.

    I don't think I can transcend my whiteness. People will always take me, consciously or unconsciously, as "white," and in many ways, treat me accordingly. And even if I did manage to "transcend" my "white" appearance through some Black Like Me transmogrification, I would still be "white" inside. I'm trying to learn about just how I learned to be white, just what I learned when I learned that, but I know I'll never learn, so that I can try to unlearn, all of that. Let alone even unlearn that which I have learned that I learned. Old habits die hard, as they say, and, much to my chagrin, some of those habits won't die until I die.

  64. As you undoubtably are aware, there are no "white" or "black" people, only various shades of brown. Sure in some folks it gets pretty close, but the fact remains that we all appear to be very closely related and the skin tone thing does not, in my opinion, fit well with a technologically advanced civilization.

    For that matter, neither does "meat" eating. As long as peoples continue to treat less technilogically advanced animals with disrespect there will continue to be racism. So if you're serious about the race of beings called "human" getting past this whole racism issue eventually you'll figure out to omit animal products from your lifestyle.

  65. Is there anything that you think is good about the fiction of "people of color-ness?" Because if whiteness is a fiction, then being a person of color is a fiction too, yes?

    Can you think of something that a person of color does that is good _because_ they are a person of color?

    Also, I challenge the idea that people will always see you as a "white person." It seems reasonable to think that the world could progress to a point where people's skin color gets as much recognition as say, the shape of their eyebrows or the size of their feet. It is something that is recognized, but not the basis of some major categorical designation.

  66. Can I pay you to sit with my white "friends" who called my husband a "race traitor" and told me I needed "therapy for my white-people hatred"? Maybe YOU could get through to them. I'm certainly saving this post for the future.

  67. This could be fixed if we didn't have labels for people (good or bad) because us humans can take anything good and say that the lack of said good quality is bad. If we didn't have these words (labels) to carry on to further generations, no one would be able to attatch a description to a person so indirectly. "She has white skin". Believe it or not, those words have a lot less behind them than "she's white". The latter is vague, whereas the former is a direct comment about her skin color. Yes, you could say it snootily but then that would obviously be racist and so unacceptable. Saying "she's white" for some reason isn't considered racist, rather an sterile observation like in the medical field (though deep down we all know that labels segregate; that's their purpose, hence why we should rid of them). The label white now has so much shit attatched to it (just like the labels mexican, black, asian, etc.)its no wonder people get offeneded. Why there's so much confusion... I'd like to just say FUCK WORDS except we'd never be able to function efficiently and plus, it'll never happen.

    *Not all these thoughts are "politically correct" or whatever so I'll probably get chewewd but that's okay.

    As for self-flagellating, I think the person is right who said that it's just a word for people to use to make their choices seem more acceptable. Kind of like the term "meatatarian" used jokingly by opposers of vegetarianism.

    Once you can put a name to something, it can have a negative or positive connotation. And if it doesn't end up negative, we'll make sure there's a word to describe it so that we can understand each other. Thus the word (and the feelings for which the word stands) spreads. I'm most interested in our need to define and analyze everything. Often, people talk about "discovering themselves". I think our real frustrations in life are trying to DEFINE ourselves. With words. Cause I understand my potential, I can guess how I'll react to any given situation, and by all means I know the alighment of my body, but I have NO FREAKING CLUE how I could ever accurately describe myself without labels. And then things get sketchy...

    Is it possible to define ourselves without labels?


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