Wednesday, October 7, 2009

listen poorly during discussions of racism

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don't see ourselves that way.

I've been closely watching the comment thread for the most recent post here, in which guest writer RCVBard kindly explained her experience with the common white tendency to question non-white knowledge and authority. I don't remember another instance on this blog where some of the commenters have demonstrated so clearly the common white tendency that the post itself was about.

As several readers pointed out, it was as if some people had read RVCBard's post and thought they understood it, and yet completely missed her main point. After reading a post about the common white tendency to question the knowledge and authority of non-white people, many apparently white readers went on to challenge the expressed knowledge and authority of the post's non-white author.

I think the discussion there (which at this point is still going on) calls for some review, partly in order to emphasize that main point -- that white people often challenge non-white knowledge and authority. Basically, some readers still don't seem to get what the problem is. Also, a large gap between common white and non-white perspectives became evident in that thread, and I'm now trying to pin down just what that gap is -- exactly how, that is, the two sides see things differently. As a white person, I'm not sure I entirely get that, but I'll do my best to explain it here, as well as some of what happened in the comments. Please correct me as you see fit.

Very early in the thread, three readers in a row expressed doubt about the post. The first wrote,

Is this really a racial thing? Maybe they're just incurable know-it-alls, and wouldn't take advice regardless of who gives it. Or have you seen a pattern that they are more accepting of input from other white people?

I've seen this basic, common white response to non-white explanations of racism many times. The skeptical white listener basically says, "So far, I doubt what you're saying is true. Surely something else accounts for what you're saying is racism. Give me more evidence, or else I will remain unconvinced." This commenter's demand for a evidence of a "pattern" came despite the fact that the writer of the post, RVCBard, is a black woman -- and therefore likely to have encountered, analyzed, and understood racism many times in her life -- and also, despite the writer's explanation in the post that her encounters with this phenomenon have been "too many to count," and thus constitute a "pattern" of the sort that the commenter asked for.

Since I was raised as a white person in the U.S., I too used to think of black people as biased when it comes to race -- as ever anxious to "play the race card." I now understand that people of color tend to know that they're likely to be thought of that way when they point out instances of racism, so they do so sparingly.

Since I now understand this dynamic, I suspect that when people of color do decide to explain their experiences with racism to white listeners, they've usually made a careful decision to do so, despite the skepticism they're likely to encounter. This also suggests to me that I should listen carefully, instead of skeptically, because there's a good chance that I'm going to hear something insightful about my own unconscious white behavior.

This common white skepticism also appears in the next comment:

Not that I doubt that this is something white people do to POC's, but these two anecdotes also sound a lot like stuff men do to women. I would be more convinced of racial as opposed to gender bias if both parties were male.

Translation--"I don't doubt what you're saying, but really, I doubt what you're saying."

The next two commenters expressed their direct agreement with this one, and like many subsequent commenters, they repeated the rather obvious claim that the questioning of subordinated knowledge and authority by the privileged happens in terms of other categories, especially gender.

Here's how I read a familiar white opinion that was taking shape -- as I jumped in to summarize that opinion in a comment,

"Hmm, yeah, maybe that happens, but I HAVE seen something like that happen to me, in other ways. It may be true that white people do that to black people and other races, but ya know, men DO do it to women, young people do it to old people, and so on."

I also asked people of color reading the blog what they think and feel when they hear such responses to their efforts to explain racism. Many replied, including Rufus, who wrote,

I feel they're deflecting. I feel that by them providing those types of unrelated examples, they're trying to somehow dilute the situation... sort of like a "it happens to everyone, so suck it up."

As for what I think, usually it's "I'd like to jump off a roof right now..."

Later on, the author of the post, RVCBard, commented,

Quite a few posters here are illustrating the main point of my post.

As if I, as a queer woman of color, who's lived with this my whole life, cannot tell the difference between racism and sexism and need someone else to set me straight because I'm "confused." As if by some fluke, they're some sort of so-called neutral observer and not an active participant in the dynamic I'm talking about.

I find it quite intriguing how people decide that it's my job to convince you that the dynamic I'm talking about is real and that White people are overwhelmingly the main culprits.

I also find it interesting that my using an experience to illustrate my point is being critiqued as though I am drawing my point from these isolated incidents instead of picking my most recent examples from a lifetime of similar experiences.

You all seem incapable of believing that I actually know what I'm talking about.

It's hard to put into words how hurtful and irritating that is.

I think the entire comment thread contains a wealth of honest non-white reactions to a common white tendency, a tendency that most white people don't even know about on a conscious level, but one which they repeatedly exhibit, unconsciously. Habitually. It also contains many examples of common white habits, especially that of failing to listen well when someone non-white is talking about racism. Which, again, is exactly what the post itself was about.

Getting over bad habits can take a lot of practice. And a lot of repetition of a new form of behavior to replace the bad habit. I think that when it comes to listening to non-white explanations of racism, that right there is one new habit that most white people still need to develop -- listening, and doing so respectfully. As well as staying on topic. And resisting the urge to connect with the experiences of the explainer by saying that those experiences remind you of something else that you've been through (that, my white friends, is such a common form of derailment). And resisting the urge to basically argue that you somehow know more about non-white experience than non-white people themselves do. And resisting the urge to defend yourself (and other white people) when you get called out for doing such things, instead of trying to understand why you (and they) were called out.

So just what is that gap that I said I could see in that comment thread, the one between common white and non-white perspectives in such discussions? What is the basic difference here in the two sides' perspectives?

So far, I would say it's something like this -- white people don't have to think much about race; however, given the ongoing reality of racism, most non-white people do have to think about it, and analyze it, and figure out how it works. As a result, most white people know less about racism than most non-white people do. Nevertheless, a great, sad, and even tragic irony is that when non-white people take the time and effort to explain examples of racism, white people often doubt what they're hearing, they often think they know more about a phenomenon with which they've had less direct experience, and they often want to talk about something else instead. They also commonly fail to understand how dismissive they're being when they do those things.

If you participated in or read that other comment thread, do you think I'm missing anything here?


  1. I think that White People (myself included) do not know how to talk about Racism without playing the Oppression Olympics.

    That's why I read far more than I comment.

  2. Amen.

    My mom's a medical doctor. She's also a beautiful brown woman. Whenever she gives my white friends medical advice, they'll usually express doubt and end up taking their own parents' (most of whom can't tell their prostate from their perineum) quasi-superstitious medical advice. Needless to say, the fuckers are always sick. Now, I love them... but talk about (hopefully) subconscious disrespect.

  3. No, I think that about sums it up. I even caught myself going - though not commenting - "Dude, those guys are total dicks. Maybe they're all-around total dicks, not just racist."

    A smidgen of doubt. "Maybe they're all-over dicks and not 'just' racist."

    This is an excellent point to make, especially since it makes me think harder about my own subconscious expressions of racism.

  4. Right on. I find this a lot when I talk with people like my parents about racism (or sexism, which tends to come up more in conversation since I'm a while woman). My dad loves to go on and on about how it's not always about race and the ol' "people need to stop looking at themselves like the victim and realize that not everything is about their race" idea. Drives me crazy. But that is usually the part in the discussion where I decide it's not worth going on about because that is the hardest argument to get through for me. It's a discussion brick wall for me, but I'm also not a great verbal debater.

    And on the lines of sexism (which I know this blog isn't about BUT I'm trying to draw from personal experience about people from a privileged position listening poorly to people speaking about experiences with an -ism they face), my mom and I will share our experiences with sexism in the workplace, which you'd think people like my dad and boyfriend would get a little better since we are both speaking from experience (much like the last post's OP), but no. Often it's a lot of "that happens to everyone" and "I don't think it has to do with your gender" no matter how many examples you give. I know that it drives me crazy when people try to talk down my own damned experiences which I know I am fully capable of interpreting. I do not want to be a victim of an -ism so why would I make myself one if it wasn't true? I try my best to catch myself in my own privilege when I'm listening to people discuss their experiences with race or disability or whatever the case may be because I know that feeling of extreme anger and hurt when people seem more willing to disregard you than to try and learn from you. And I hope I achieve that goal more often than not.

  5. I think you're right on, Macon.

    I just want to respond to this: "And resisting the urge to connect with the experiences of the explainer by saying that those experiences remind you of something else that you've been through"

    It seems to me that the desire to relate to the explainer's experience is a very human one, and one that COULD serve whites very well if we used it to develop empathy and not to derail. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think that the "that reminds me of something that happened to me" response is a bad one, or necessarily, an avoidable one. BUt it's not one that needs to be shared, and it should never be used to derail/shift attention/"correct" an explainer's story.

    I guess I'm suggesting that when we non-POCs have such a reaction, we try to channel it in other ways--using it as an opportunity to reflect to ourselves (not say out loud, mind you) about how our analagous experience made us feel and what that might tell us about what the explainer feels. It can only give us a hint, obviously--nothing a white person experiences will ever be exactly like the experience of a POC and we should never assume otherwise. Still, it seems like, if we're going to have that reaction (which, it seems, many of us are), we might as well figure out a way to use it more productively.

    For whatever it's worth...

  6. I think one thing that happens when white people deflect or dismiss or challenge POC on their testimony surrounding racism is that we revert to thinking of that testimony as an allegation--almost giving it the weight of legal testimony--and start thinking that the "accused" are innocent until proven guilty. Of course, this is completely inappropriate in the case of most racial experience; racism hardly ever comes right out and identifies itself in an unambiguous way. In other words, we are quite aware when we question such accounts that no "proof" is forthcoming.

    And of course we don't apply this assumption of innocence when we are listening to the POC giving testimony. Instead we assume that they are telling a tired old tale to garner sympathy, completely ignoring the fact that they almost never get sympathy--ridicule and dismissal being the usual response.

    But we do generally still think of racism as a kind of crime, or at least a great moral failing, that one can be accused of or that we can establish guilt or innocence around. And it isn't. Racism is the whole backdrop of our society. We can't make a better world by keeping everything the way it is and somehow extracting the racism. Racism is basic to why everything is the way it is.

  7. You did a good job with that summary, Macon.

    Someone said, late in the comments, Hypothetically, if the OP had been about sexism instead of racism, and the OP has attributed the actions of the white men to sexism instead, do you think a bunch of people would have jumped on here and said, "hey, maybe it was racism instead, did you ever think about that?" Doubt it.

    It's funny how that never happens -- white people never bring up racism as an alternate explanation. So you trust me as a female to spot sexism, but not so much to spot racism.

    I noted another commenter mentioned that before she is white she is female and that is something I've heard lots of white women say. For me, it depends on the day though I feel most people see that I am black long before they see that I am female. One of my favorite sayings is "everyone looks out their own window..." what needs to happen is people need to start looking out other people's windows for a second, or at least understand that we don't all see the same things the same way.

    On another note, I saw some comments that also attempted to make the point that this is a way to show empathy. For some, maybe, but I really think it's truly, at it's heart, an attempt to remove the sting of feeling like maybe once or twice in their lives, they've done or said something racist. There's no way you can prevent yourself from doing something if you never acknowledge that you do it yourself.

  8. No I think you have it right or are at least on the right track. As a POC I used to think I wasn't explaining myself well. And as I got older I did become more and more selective about speaking out. But after I became extremely selective and only spoke out to those I felt were my friend or would be more open to hearing my side of a tale and was still misunderstood. It became clear my white friends just weren't listening. Sadly when race is the issue before you start speaking the white friend already has all their arguments prepared for why the situation wasn't racist or why I misunderstood the situation. And I think it comes back to the fear of being grouped as one of the oppressors/racists/bad people. Even if we are friends if I am black and you are white and I complain about something that happened to me because of another white person it's taken personally.

  9. There are a couple of minor things that I think you missed. I think you missed where men and women OC also pondered the inclusion of sexism - and that some people didn't indicate their race in their comments but it was or is assumed that they were white if they brought up sexism. I do realize that many comments indicated a disbelief or doubt of the poster's knowledge and her ability to decipher between sexism and racism and that that's really the most important part.

    The other thing I think you're missing is that the beginning of the post specifically mentioned RCVBard's gender. I think that if you had been able to foresee the responses that would follow, it would have strengthened this particular argument if her gender had been omitted. Giving her gender straight away actually made me think that that was information which was actually important and should be taken into account. I guess that's what bothered me when suddenly the fact that she is a woman wasn't just irrelevant but also somehow off-limits in factoring everything into a larger picture. In hindsight it has made for interesting observations, warranted a secondary post of its own, and concreted many perceptions. I think it's also something to keep in mind for the presentation in future posts. It was eye-opening on its own, but I would love to have seen the direction in which the comments would have turned had we not known RVCBard is a woman up front.

  10. Note: This is a derailment of the discussion. I acknowledge that and am asking it anyway because I do not know how to send you a message or anything. I am only asking Macon, no one else needs to respond and can just ignore it.

    You wrote most white people do not have to think about race, whereas most POC do. However, what about yourself? You think about race and "how it works" on a daily basis. Would you know more than the minority of POC who don't think about it on a daily basis? However, racism is not a concept, it is a reality. So would they be more knowledgeable on the subject if only because they were on the receiving end of racism?

    Basically, what I am asking is, when it comes to race and racism, is there any POC that you, as a self-aware white person, could conclude you know more about? Is there any dynamic where you are the speaker and they are the listener?

    Once again, sorry for taking the discussion another way. This is to Macon, and this is not related to this thread, but there is no general comment section for me to write this.

  11. I can say unequivocally that as a Black person, it pisses me off to no end, when a White person make them self the final arbiter as to whether or not a racist act occurred. Along with making them self the final judge, they imply that my observations are flawed, and saddle me with the burden of proof. No matter what I say, they have what they think is a reasonable explanation to discount my assertions, an ultimately try to make me the unreasonable person. And the final insult, they will claim that I'm playing the race card. Such is white privilege and racial oppression!

    For once, just once, I would like to hear a White person confess ignorance on the issue of racism, and subconscious racism and the subtleties as to how they are practiced. I get the impression from some white folks (the vast majority) that unless there is a burning cross on my front lawn, then no racist act took place.

    My "speculation" (no studies or research) is that deep down some white folks have fooled them self that racism is a thing of the past. They know how horrible that racist past was and they would rather not confront that past and the current benefits that have been derived from that hateful past. So, instead of confronting the past and their gains from it, they act like racism does not exist anymore, and any claims is purely a figment of a Black person's imagination. The past has not passed!

  12. Yeah, I have nothing to add.

    You are on point.

  13. victoria

    you're basically asking that her gender be denied just so some folks can possible overstand. really? why should she have her gender omitted for someone to recognize that she knows the difference in isms when confronting them, as well as, when they're combined

    i stated that i was curious how some of those people would react if it was a post from a man, knowing full well that some would have come with yet another series of why it 'wasn't racism'.

  14. I think part of the problem is guilt. I know that when I bring up racist things (which I do so sparingly for the exact same reasons you stated) I've experienced, the white people I know start acting uncomfortable and squirm. Like they were feeling guilty and somehow personally responsible for the event - and that's not what I want - I don't want them to feel like I am judging them and sentencing them for something some other white person did, but I DO want to them to honestly analyze their actions and their own subconscious tendencies to dismiss claims of racism.

    I think the ones who try to find an explanation, ANY explanation, that aliens must have done it or the moon was out, are being defensive. And that makes me think that they, in some way, know that these experiences POCs talk about ARE racist incidents and they just don't like the hard hit of the truth. No one likes getting their flaws exposed, so now, it's worse to admit racist tendencies and try to change that, than to be racist, but deny the label (which is so flimsy because their actions speak louder than any words of protest every could).

  15. I have to say, I don't think you're really equipped to talk about racism. You obviously don't have a clear understanding. It's probably because you're white and don't know what it's like to be a victim of racism.

  16. Note: This is a derailment of the discussion. I acknowledge that and am asking it anyway because I do not know how to send you a message or anything. I am only asking Macon, no one else needs to respond and can just ignore it.

    You wrote most white people do not have to think about race, whereas most POC do. However, what about yourself? You think about race and "how it works" on a daily basis. Would you know more than the minority of POC who don't think about it on a daily basis? However, racism is not a concept, it is a reality. So would they be more knowledgeable on the subject if only because they were on the receiving end of racism?

    Basically, what I am asking is, when it comes to race and racism, is there any POC that you, as a self-aware white person, could conclude you know more about? Is there any dynamic where you are the speaker and they are the listener?

    Once again, sorry for taking the discussion another way. This is to Macon, and this is not related to this thread, but there is no general comment section for me to write this.

  17. I am a university student and female, as well as South Asian.

    And I'm pretty smart. I go to a state school where not a lot of people actually are that smart.

    In a lot of my classes, when grades come back, I (for the most part) get high A's on papers that people have failed miserably, or on exams that others struggled through.

    Yet I've noticed, despite my offers of, 'I can help you with that,' few non-minorities ever take me up on study sessions. I feel almost uncomfortable to show them a perfect score on an essay they received 30 points on, and yet, when I say it would be nice to organize a study session, I get hesitant smiles.

    I don't know why that is.
    It's like the example in the original post, of the roommate who has two masters in chemical this and that saying that bug spray is bad for your health-- and some dbags totally ignoring her.

    I do not like being labeled a minority model because I am naturally smart, and because I study and ACTUALLY GET GOOD GRADES.

    And I think it's horrible that minority children in grammar school would feel ashamed at their hard work due to the dismal glances of their peers.

    As that lady in the Simpsons always says, 'Will someone think of the children!?' Yes indeed, think of the children. As an adult, I can sigh and move on and smile in an oh-so-I-told-you-so kind of way when these students still get poor grades and I still get perfect scores. I can be frustrated, but I can articulate that frustration into something productive.

    Children are not so lucky. As a young adult I have often felt the need to hide my intelligence in order to avoid being a stereotype, especially in the eyes of non-minorities. I can rationalize it and still push myself forward, but young children cannot do that. They will see being smart as something to be ashamed of. Or they will have this unconscious inferiority complex all their life.

  18. I think there were a lot of things going on that thread, with one issue being common white denial of racism, and another being complete ignorance of the idea of intersectionality. The OP is always simultaneously a woman and a POC; she knows (as I do, as a WOC) that these 2 traits affects how other perceive her and treat her, and she probably often has an idea of which trait is taking precedence when someone is discriminating against her. Either way, people who were really quick to argue that it was sexism instead of racism miss the very obvious fact that WOC often experience sexualized racism or racialized sexism; the 2 are often difficult to separate.

    I will say this: just about EVERY time I have experienced racism and shared the story with a friends, someone (honestly, always a white person) will question whether it was really racism. The burden of proof is always on me. It is in many ways a worse offense than the racist act itself.

  19. frozen water, I think your comment is related to this thread, and it seems to me along the same lines as the more snarky comment from empty glass.

    Yes, of course it's possible that some white person could know more about some example or aspect of racism than some non-white person.

    For example, having thought a lot about how being raised as a white person tends to instill certain proclivities and such in people, I could probably explain to some POC some things they don't know about what's happening on the white side of some racist incidents or encounters.

    So, you asked, "Is there any dynamic where you are the speaker and [POC] are the listener?" If I speak about what's going on when white people do some of the things they commonly do, POC might be "the listener" because they didn't know that. That said, my experience has been that when I do that and POC do listen (or read), they usually already know what I'm talking about.

    Anyway, although you said your comment is not related to this post, let's keep the post in mind, especially the particular "dynamic" it's about -- non-white people explaining their own experience with, and understanding of, racism, to white people who listen poorly. Pointing out that dynamic, and trying to understand what a lot of white people do within it instead of listening, is not the same as saying that white people never have anything insightful to offer on the subject of racism.

  20. I'm not sure how coherent this is going to be, but I'll give it a try.

    I think that there was a related "stuff white people do" theme going on in the comments, which is "refuse to make a difference between being a racist and doing a racist thing." What was never mentioned was the direct motivation for what the white people in the examples said. The assumption is just, "Oh, you're claiming it was a racist obviously, their motive was To Oppress People of Color." But I honestly don't think that most white people--especially those involved in anti-racist discourse, as those of us at SWPD arguably are--consciously think of their actions as racist, or think of themselves as reacting the way they do because the other person is a POC. The people in the examples probably thought they knew better because they had X or Y experience. Now, there is an underlying racist factor at work, in that (as was demonstrated over and over ad nauseum in the thread) white people automatically assume *our* experiences have priority in determining the truth of a situation, even one in which we were not personally involved. But it's not *conscious*.

    I do not fault RVCBard, or any of the other POC in the discussion, or any of the white people who agreed with them (me being one of them, if I recall correctly) for not pointing this out. I think it's a have-a-cookie, 101-level idea that tends to be forgotten a little too often. There is a lot of emphasis, in anti-ism discourse, on apologizing if you mess up without saying "But I didn't mean to," and this is a good, good thing. But maybe we (in general) need to push that even harder? Work on acknowledging, to ourselves, that we (addressed to white people) do not have to be a a racist to think or do a racist thing. Because damnit, it *happens*. But since most of us here are not racists (noun), we have trouble seeing how we could ever possibly be racist (adjective)...and that leads to giant messes like the previous thread.

    So that was rambly, but maybe something got across.

  21. There are so many steps that I go through in my mind before I bring up issues of race with White people, even those I consider good friends. I make sure that what I am saying is in no way phrased as a personal attack, I make sure I have specific instances readily available in my memory (sadly that step is not hard) if possibke I have statistics. Still, I am most offen met with the 'blank face' or some type of deflection.

    It's sad. I wrote on my own blog a while ago that I was tired of 'teachable moments' because it is wearing to have to reinforce your own humanity to other people. I feel that as a 30 year old Black woman I am if not an expert level than at the very least a reliable witness when it comes to issues of race. However each time I start or enter a discussion on the topic I am questioned as to the veracity of my claims.

    A lot of times I just walk away. I know that doesn't help the problem, but I am tired. How long can you beat your head against a brick wall- seeing no cracks but only your own blood before you just stop?

    Your advice to your White readers to try to actually listen is the best advice I can think of. It seems to be a skill that is lost. Listening is not just waiting for the other person to stop speaking. If you want to be sure you understand something try repeating back what the person just said to you as close to verbatim as you can. THEN think aboutwhat they said and formulate a response. It might take a little longer but it facilitates actual communication as opposed to simple conversation - and you might learn something.

  22. I teach classes on race--and have taught on whiteness specifically--and one can imagine the range of behavior I have seen as a black instructor trying to teach white students about their own identities--at least from a scholarly point of view.

    More to the point, some quick thoughts on why this deflection occurs so frequently.

    1. Epistemology and Ontology. I think the crux of this is how whiteness is related to the production of knowledge. Consider: "knowledge," "rationality," for lay people is rooted in an assumption about the West, dominance and power. Those other folk may know things--just maybe--but they are certainly Otherized. Part of that othering is diminishing their capacity to produce knowledge, to be intellectual, or to offer readings, interpretations, or insights that can count as legitimate data. That is the meta-level explanation. On a personal level these assumptions are still operative. Even subconsciously, part of white privilege is the right, ability, and capacity to question any person of color about the validity of their information or training. Whiteness makes white people de facto experts on all regimes of knowledge. And Whiteness gives White people the authority to validate or "prove" that which is knowable--and has been demonstrated by non-whites--as a fact to be respected.

    2. Personhood. The idea that a non-white person may have equivalent (or superior) knowledge is a comment on the personhood of whites and non-whites. Again, these relationships of power and dominance between Whites and non-Whites are not mere abstractions. As Foucalt said, power is about actions of one agent on another. The action here is the capacity to know, and in this case to have superior expertise on a given subject. Consequently, for the empowered group, the idea that someone else may have superior knowledge becomes a comment on the type of personhood that whiteness creates and is dependent upon. This personhood is not one of equals by definition. Whiteness games the system: Whites by definition have to know more and to have more knowledge of all things, thus the definitions of what constitutes knowledge is modified, changes, or placed into flux as non-Whites gain mastery over it. This sounds a bit abstract and reductionist but think about it in relationship to power/knowledge/race and systems of authority. Practically, I would suggest it explains why education, and access to it, (as well as what is taught) are such politicized questions. Moreover, it also speaks to the folk wisdom, anecdotes, and many other narratives by people of color who are professionals and experts in their field by virtue of titles earned in White institutions--the academy, sciences, and the like--yet, have to prove themselves over and over again, often to those with lesser designations. I always smile when thinking about black and brown professors who have to demonstrate to undergrads that they are qualified to lead a class, and to mentor them as undergraduates and graduate students. An utter joke, but a ritual that is played out over and over again.

  23. (continued)

    3. Empathy and Sympathy. Your comments touched on this a bit. The derailment and deflection of these types of conversations about identity (race, gender, sexuality) are often not conversations because to have a true exchange requires mutual respect and listening. Respect is not necessarily civility. Respect is accepting the legitimacy and authority of the person with whom you are speaking to and listening as an equal. Whiteness muddies and makes very difficult both of these things because to be a true peer is outside of how that power relationship is constructed. Notice, this is not about individuals per se, as I know some wonderful white folk who are great listeners and some black folk who are dense, narcissistic, and hard headed as can be. What it is about is group relationships. People of color have been listening to, studying, and have a deep understanding of White people--and in my polite opinion, have been too empathetic and sympathetic to them--as we have engaged in our collective freedom struggle. Some White folk have learned these lessons as they donned the mantle of race traitor and struggled to do the right thing at our side (but then again many whites are often too comfortable leading the black and brown struggle for freedom and equality as they play out the role of liberal paternalists). In total, too many White folk, because of Whiteness, have a gross inability to stand mute on issues which they cannot understand intimately, and even more troublesomely, are all too often unwilling to concede that the Other may have more insight, as well as moral authority, on a given issue.

    Just a series of thoughts.

  24. Well I don't know about you, but I question just about everyone. It's rare that I listen to someone with blind faith & believe everything they say---whether they're talking about matters of national importance or how best to mow the lawn. Yes, I often have to suppress my inner know it all.

    But may I offer up this...people tend to believe those who are charismatic speakers and those who are known to be highly educated. If you don't fall into one of those categories, people will usually challenge you. Now I'm sure there's plenty of good old fashioned racism involved in this, no doubt about it. Black people have not traditionally been in positions of authority, they have only recently (last 30 years or so) been given credibility in certain jobs, they haven't had national exposure or a huge platform on which to speak (with the exceptions of the well-known activists whom most white people can't stand). So of course white people are going to question & challenge what they say. White people have always had a feeling of superiority, whether they realize it or not. And then suddenly some black person out of nowhere is trying to tell them something they didn't know... The nerve! LOL.

    But let me ask you this: How can you tell the difference between someone challenging or questioning a black person's knowledge based on real reasons vs. those based on racism?

  25. Pine -

    30 years of experience. All of my sense and everything I have learned every day of my life. That is not me being facetious. That is truth.

    I have a question for you: What proof would you need before you would accept the fact that her experiences, or anyone's were racially based? If you will go back and read the original post I think you will see thah in each case the "expert's" bona fides were firmly in place and were known to all players. So, what else do you need to rule out the 'real reasons'?

  26. I wanted to comment on something a poster said about why white people tend to dismiss it so easily when blacks cry "racism". Yes, it's the obvious answer. I am speaking generally here, even though I might use the terms "every" and "all", I'm just using hyperbole to get the point across.

    Every cry of racism says to the white person, "I am not going to examine any other possible reason as to why this event happened, it is through no fault of my own that this happened, and that is the end of the discussion. I am not at fault in any way."

    White people go through life trying to find the reason for things not going their way and if they are of an upstanding character, they will accept it as a personal failing and try to correct it. Were they sloppy? Unprepared? Didn't work hard enough? Too fat?Didn't present themselves properly? Didn't dress right? Didn't speak correctly? Etc etc.

    When white people are rejected, if they are interested in finding out why, they have to look within and make adjustments. When black people are rejected, they cry racism and that's the end of that. No inner reflection. No trying to figure out if it was a real failure. No trying to make themselves better. And there's nothing white people hate more than someone who refuses to accept responsibility for their own failings.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents worth but I feel I'm pretty much on target. I've heard these sentiments most of my life.


  27. Pinecone -

    Black people do none of those things and ask none of those questions of themselves. We just jump straight to racism, you know, for the fun.

  28. I try my best to catch myself in my own privilege when I'm listening to people discuss their experiences with race or disability or whatever the case may be because I know that feeling of extreme anger and hurt when people seem more willing to disregard you than to try and learn from you. And I hope I achieve that goal more often than not.

    See that bold part? I think that's the crux of it right there.

    I mentioned on another blog that, for Black women at least, our feelings don't seem to register as real to you. You treat even our infamous anger as more of an inconvenience than a clear indication that Something Wrong is happening to us.

    It's as though you are incapable of perceiving (let alone relating to) us as complete human beings and individuals with the same intellectual, emotional, and moral range you take for granted within yourself. This invisible seed takes root in every interaction I have with you, no matter how important or how trivial. It is impossible for me to express in words the corrosive resentment and crushing despair I have to suppress on a daily basis just to function around you.

  29. Disclaimer for reasons that will probably become obvious: I am writing only from my own perspective here, and do not speak for anyone else)

    @ Victoria:

    I agree that it would be interesting to see the difference. However, I sense an undercurrent in your post--whether or not you mean it--of, the experience of women of color is not as valid as that of men in racism discussions. You are suggesting, in a sense, that RVCBard cannot be herself and still participate fully. That we silence WOC's important and necessary voices.

    In this white woman's opinion, that lessens the humanity of women of color. That is unacceptable.

  30. Pinecone-
    What you have said does, to some people, outline some criticisms of the black community in terms of social progression. Not all AAs, mind you, but this is a criticism that exists.

    You are ultimately not correct.

    Because the white person has the ability to rectify the situation knowing that it is ultimately their own actions that caused their failure. They have a path to success and they have a lot of advantages ie white privilege in this path to success.

    But a POC does not. I agree that POCs should not cry racism every time they are rejected in a situation, and sometimes they should totally wait to play the race card, but you fail to see how INSTITUTIONALIZED and embedded and socially entrenched ideas of racism and racial superiority are. Thus while a white person's failure are totally their own failures, a POC's are not always totally their own. A big thing that contributes to the failure of the POC in whatever context is institutional prejudice or racism.
    Also, like I said, white people have white privilege, thus they enjoy reaping the fruits of whatever labor and they rest assured that there are no invisible barriers to their success...

    This idea is not sustained for POCs. The barriers are everywhere. And one of these barriers is the idea that white people or privileged people will openly reject the notion that racism plays a big role in the struggle of POCs in this society. And this breeds the mentality that POCs are lazy no goodniks.


  31. @Willow:

    I can see how that may be true. I will have to give it some more thought. I haven't commented here for long, but my first comment was basically about the way I was raised and how it lead me to not identify with my whiteness and to instead identify with "my" blackness. And now I've come to be in this place where I identify with no race. I don't feel I belong to any group...ever. Conversely, I don't feel like I don't belong either because of the levels of full cultural immersion I had as a child. So I can see how there's a very good chance I have negated points in RVCBard's post, perhaps not in the my whiteness but in my strong sense of feminism. It may also be my whiteness - that is the part I will think on later. You've raised a good point though.

    I just said it would have been interesting. I didn't say it should be done for every post made here. And in my very 1st comment on the OP, there was no denial that WP do exactly what the post said - so my point in suggesting omitting her gender was that it would have been interesting to see what WP would have turned it around to be instead of sexism. Would it have been because she's gay? Jewish? Who knows? It would have been something, though.

  32. I'm really sad to learn how often POCs don't feel heard/listened to/believed by white people, even when those white people are their friends. I knew that this happened, but I had no idea it happened with such frequency.

  33. I did comment on the original posting and was called out for it. After I got over being hurt, because I really do try not to be a racist (and I'm not trying to elicit sympathy). Which btw I really did like the post about the difference between being a racist and doing a racist thing. Anyway, back on topic. After I put aside my defensiveness I have really thought A LOT about this thread. I also read the article on derailing which was referenced several times (Derailing for Dummies)because I'd never heard the term used in this context. Anyway, I found that I am guilty of some of those tactics and I was kinda shocked and ashamed. In particular (this is what I got in trouble for on the OP) trying to bring up a relatable experience. I always thought I was being empathetic, but I guess not. In the future, I do intend to try and listen more and talk less. I think my biggest revelation (and I'm truly not being a smart ass) is the fact that apparently I don't know much of anything about anyone other than white people. You see, I'm often sought out for advice by friends (who also happen to be white) and am often told that I'm a very insightful person and they can always count on me to give them an unbiased opinion on a situation. I internalized that as meaning I am a good student of the human condition and have apparently extrapolated my insight/experiences onto other groups. What I've come to realize is that my insight may only apply to other white people born and raised in my area of the country?? I guess I thought I was being 'progressive' by trying to see the commonness of the human experience. The old 'people are people' and basically the same once you get down to it argument. Now I am a little confused. It has given me a lot to think about. Not all of it particularly comfortable, but I'm sure I'll survive. I know this is kind of a ramble, but I'm still processing all this.

  34. The resistance of Middull Murkin whites to health care reform is absolutely TEXTBOOK classical "racism."

    Not the individual acts of bias, bigotry, intolerance; that's not "racism." That's pretty normal stuff amongst us humans. There are bigots in evey group.

    "Racism" is different. It's the system understandings, agreements, and arrangements that naturalizes and endorses those acts, to such an extent that, in the current situation, people actually needful of services which the improvement of conditions for all would entail would rather suffer than see the detested 'other' improve...

    In coming years, folks will study the dynnamics of this situation for examples of how, exactly, institutional racism (slightly redundant, given my prior formulation) actually works....

  35. While these comments threads can be seen as enlightening and illuminating, I am still left feeling completely and utterly heartbroken. As a WOC who recently felt like I was run out of my University job by three white women who constantly negated my authority with malice and vengeance, I am saddened that these sorts of discussions do not lead to significant and compassionate change in this world we live in. The issue that was stated in the original post has happened to me so many times that now that I am in my late thirties, I have retreated from the workplace and sit here jobless despite having completed a Ph.D. I really, really wish that the commentors would spend some time thinking about solutions rather than questioning the validity of the statements. Please, people, do something that will help create change...

  36. from plastiknoise:

    "Because the white person has the ability to rectify the situation knowing that it is ultimately their own actions that caused their failure."

    According to Peggy McIntosh, who is quoted at the beginning of Macon's original post, this is part of what constitutes white privilege. In her list of things she has noticed about how being white affects her life, she lists, "If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones." Some commenters have pointed to white people's tendency to examine themselves and search for their own responsibility as if it is a virtue of white people to do so. It is no virtue, but part of the privilege of being white that we are not accustomed to thinking of our experiences in racial terms.

  37. I can identify with how LolaAnn is feeling. I noticed that I, too, always thought I was being "progressive" by thinking these are human conditions, not just race conditions. I'm actually mixed (white/hispanic) but I look white which I suppose gives me white privelege.

    The more I read this blog, the more I find myself wondering... what is it going to take for racism to truly go away? Will it always be this way or can I hope for a utopia where people of whatever color no longer have to feel like they're being judged by their race?

  38. I just wanted to say to Imhotep that I am here because I know I don't understand racism fully and I feel it is my responsibility to do my best not to be hurtful toward other people.

    Also, lotus that my heart goes out to you over your job problems.

  39. thesciencegirl said: "WOC often experience sexualized racism or racialized sexism"

    Genuine question here to anyone who knows: Is there a difference between 'sexualized racism' and 'racialized sexism'? If so, what is the difference.

  40. This is somewhat irrelevant to the post topic, but I couldn't help but notice the use of "white" and "non-white." It implies that white is the normative, and everything else that is different is the same in the fact that they are not white.

  41. @Liz--

    I use non-white from time to time and even though I didn't use it in this conversation, I apologize if you find this term alienating or othering. I think that's another place where it is hard to figure out the right word to use. For me, I use non-white because it implies someone who does not have white privilege, not because I feel white is normative. At the same time, I see the issue.

    I struggle with terminology as a white person because it's one thing if I'm talking specifically about black people or East Asian or South Asian people and so on, but when I am talking about the nebulous group of people who are not white and therefore don't have white privilege, I am sometimes at a loss.

    Sure, there is PoC, but I also have a very close friend who is an Asian woman who detests the phrase PoC and feels that it lumps all people who are not white together as if they are one entity, and prefers non-white because she sees that as not saying "all you people who are not Caucasian are exactly the same." But then I have also talked to people who view "non-white" the way you do.

    I don't think there is a ready solution. The best I as an individual (and any individual) can promise is to be careful to use the terminology that the people with whom I am speaking prefer at any given time, but in a large public setting like this, different people will prefer different phrases.

    Is there a way you would like to see this sort of language issue resolved? White people should not be responsible for choosing the terms used to describe people of other races or ethnicities.

  42. Fromthetropics,

    Genuine question here to anyone who knows: Is there a difference between 'sexualized racism' and 'racialized sexism'? If so, what is the difference.

    The way I understand it, sexualized racism is akin to fetishism because of a perceived sexual stereotype ("Black Brute" stereotype, "Latin Lover" stereotype, "Geisha Girl" stereotype, etc.) I think that racialized sexism would be more of a societal stereotype like the "Black Welfare Queen" stereotype or the "Submissive Asian Housewife" stereotype.

    Please let me know if I'm making any sense! ^_^

  43. I'm delurking here just to say to the people who run and contribute to this website: thank you.

    Thank you for clearly and thoughtfully laying out in detail the [sad to say, often rather jerk-face-like] things that white people sometimes do.

    I'm a college-aged white woman, and I've spent my whole life walking around, thinking I'm such a nice and great person, and until a year or so ago, pretty much never thinking about racism. Somehow I stumbled across this blog and other blogs and I find that scarily often- as with this post- I think to myself, Holy cow, I can't believe my first gut reaction was this typical white jerk-face response, and I am sorry to say that I recognize myself too often in the unconscious racism that is so well described on this site.

    Now I catch myself, and am actively working to unlearn my behaviors and thoughts that contribute in any way to the general level of racism in the U.S. And I sometimes politely and respectfully point out to a close friend or family member why something they said was racist or disrespectful- and often times they listen, and I listen to them, and we have an effective discussion about race. How about that for a change.

    Sites like this have a wider effect that just on the people who follow them- they bring their knowledge to their social interactions too, and on and on.

    Anyways, I just wanted to interject this little thank you here, and to say keep up the good work. It is helping.

  44. Also, a large gap between common white and non-white perspectives became evident in that thread, and I'm now trying to pin down just what that gap is -- exactly how, that is, the two sides see things differently.

    Well, I've thought about it, and I have a theory about what the disconnect is.

    All, or most, POC in the thread "got it," right? And some white people did, but others did not. I think this may have something to do with the ability of commenters to immediately understand the emotional nuances of the post.

    As I just explained in response to RVCBard's post, I think part of the problem was that some people, including me, responded as if the discussion were meant to be a rigorous debate over whether white people commonly question the knowledge and authority of POC, in which case quibbles over the example given seem perfectly appropriate. Whereas, judging by your response and RVCBard's, the post was instead meant as an expression of RVCBard's feelings on the subject. In which case, quibbling is kind of an asshole thing to do.

    I figure, since POC tend to face the exact kind of thing RVCBard was talking about, POC commenters could immediately pick up on the emotional nuances of the post and empathize regardless of their social adeptness. Whereas only the particularly socially adept white people picked up on these nuances.

    Personally, I'm of no more than average social adeptness. I've always been taught to ask questions and apply critical thinking in just about all situations. I can all too easily imagine that the white guys didn't mean to be racist, but I can't easily imagine RVCBard's feelings because I have no equivalent experiences. And this is the internet - I don't know anyone here and I'm used to having extremely quibbly discussions on the internet. It would not shock me if one or several of these things applied to other whites in the thread as well.

    So my guess is that only those with similar experiences, or those with high EQ, as it were, were able to immediately empathize with RVCBard's perspective or even recognized that that's what was called for. For the rest of us, it's not so easy.

  45. Bluey512,

    I can all too easily imagine that the white guys didn't mean to be racist, but I can't easily imagine RVCBard's feelings because I have no equivalent experiences.

    ...So my guess is that only those with similar experiences, or those with high EQ, as it were, were able to immediately empathize with RVCBard's perspective or even recognized that that's what was called for. For the rest of us, it's not so easy.

    I would agree with you if it weren't for one thing: The experiences that RVCBard wrote about is not a new phenomenon; it's been happening for centuries. The experiences shared by the POC on this blog isn't even the tip of the iceberg. There are books, articles, anecdotes, socialogical and psychological studies on how and why people view POC as being less experienced than whites. I'm not going to buy that "I think analytically and ask a lot of questions so it takes more for me to empathize." It's not about whether or not a person has actually had a similar experiences or if a person has a high EQ; it's about the fact that, despite all of the evidence contributed by POC all over, it took a white man saying it would be a good idea for you to take into the account the experiences of POC, for you to sit back and listen.

  46. If I read you right (and please correct me if I'm wrong), it seems you're saying that it's my own racism that made me react the way I did, not an analytical/argumentative frame of mind.

    I agree and disagree with that. I am analytical, and argumentative, and I do think that had a lot to do with it. There's a difference between knowing something intellectually and having experience of it. If you go back to my original response to RVCBard, I actually basically said I agreed with her intellectually, and then I reacted to the example she gave as if the hurt she was feeling were hypothetical, or irrelevant to the discussion.

    But you may be right that there was some element of racism as well. I don't think I changed my mind because Macon's opinion as a white man means more to me than that of a POC. But honestly, it's hard for me to determine.

    However, I can definitely say I have an unfortunate tendency to be a bit more antagonistic with POC on issues of race than I should be. I'm sorry. I'll try and work on that.

  47. macon, "Vikings were not white. The concept of a white race simply came into being far later than Vikings did."

    We can argue about that if you want, but it's missing my point.

    My point is that most people in the USA 2009 see vikings as white. Yes, I'm revising that down from "everyone" to "most" because of macon and the few others like him.

    Do you want to debate this?

  48. [Dear Cutie Bootie,

    I'm not going to publishing your snarling rant because it really has nothing to do with what this blog is all about. If you really want to become a published comment author here someday, read and comment more closely and carefully. Good luck! ~macon]


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