Friday, November 20, 2009

assume that other white people enjoy making fun of and trash-talking non-white people

This is a guest post for swpd by Victoria, who describes herself as "a south Florida native, a senior majoring in English Education planning to teach in public schools, and a mother of 2."

I used to work in finance/mortgage, and I often heard my white coworkers making jokes about people's credit reports. They assumed the people serving as the butt of their jokes were black . . . unless, of course, their last name indicated the possibility of being Latino. I've also heard random white people tell me they're "not racist -- BUT," only to follow that up with a comment that's definitely racist.

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

Up until recently (that is, until I put a stop to it), I received regular emails with pictures of POC behaving in stereotypical, supposedly humorous ways, or sometimes the opposite of stereotypical ways, with remarks attached to make sure that everyone knew that a stereotype was NOT being fulfilled here. Again, a kind of white solidarity was always being assumed, as if I would automatically agree with the racism that actually IS there, just because I'm white.

This sort of behavior seems fairly common among white people I have known. I always feel like they're insinuating that I'm like them, that my thoughts and feelings about non-white people are just like theirs. I grew up with white people constantly (I really do mean constantly) noting my differences from them, especially my abundance of non-white friends, which they clearly considered some sort of a rejection of my whiteness. But now it's assumed, by white adults who don't know me well, that I'm like them based on racial appearances. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Oh, white people who tell racist jokes and talk behind the backs of POC, please allow me to spare us both the disappointment!

I, and some other white people, do not think your jokes about POC are funny -- at all. Most of the time we're horrified. Contrary to what you believe, we don't all secretly think POC actually fall into the stereotypes that you think they do. We do not necessarily share some collective consciousness together bound by our whiteness. True, we are all lumped together in the white category, but that doesn't mean that we're all as blissfully oblivious as you are about it.

When you send us those emails, some of us are surprised and sorry to find out that you think that way. We want to tell you how ignorant what you've said is, and many times we do tell you. But deep down we know that it means the end of our friendship no matter what we do. Either you'll hate us for telling you that what you've just said, or forwarded, or laughed along with is racist, or we will simply be unable to bear the knowledge that your bigotry runs that deep.


  1. I'm not white, but similar situations have happened to me with other Muslims. Other Muslims (usually Middle Eastern/Arab) would make anti-Semitic jokes with me, but I don't respond to that too well.

    I've been called a "Jew-lover" every time I defend Jewish people.

  2. I posted this elsewhere, but it's apropos here, too:

    Tim Wisee describes in his book White Like Me a slightly different tactic from the typical "I find that offensive or racist" response to racist jokes. To make a longer story short, he asked one such joker, "You must not think very much of white people, huh? . . . I mean you must think all whites are racists, and not just racists, but the kind of racists who like hearing racist jokes. . . . So tell me, why do you think so little of whites, to say nothing of your views toward blacks?" This kind of reversal can't as easily be dismissed with the usual "Can't take a joke" brush-off. Wise says that when he used this tactic, the joker actually ended up talking with him about the question.

    Another focusing tactic is to talk about the racism in the joke or comment and not label it or the joker. "Can you see how that's racist?" leaves more room for discussion and raised awareness than "That's so racist" or "I loathe racist humor."

  3. Victoria: Do you think Obama becoming president made any difference in the frequency or nature of the racist jokes?

  4. What's even worse is when it's family that pulls this kind of crap -- even after you tell them how wrong it is many times over. Sometimes I wonder if putting my hand through a wall is the only way to get people to really listen to me when it comes to issues like this.

  5. I do appreciate your efforts to ask people to stop sending you racist emails and stuff.

    Unfortunately, I feel like it doesn't really change much, for them. Nothing will REALLY help until they understand how offensive they are being. I wonder how many people will actually take a long look at themselves and realize how much prejudice they carry. Or if they will just get mad, fume in private, and not make racist remarks, but still think them, letting them fester over time.

    It's like when we punish and restrain kids physically to make them stop doing a bad thing, but they really don't stop unless they understand the fundamental badness of their actions.

    It's depressing to think about because racists need to take the time to teach themselves and shed their ignorance and uh, I just don't see that happening.

    @ bloglogger: I meant to tell you before -I think that's actually a great response to racist jokes. I never really thought of spinning it like that.

  6. @DIMA,

    Been there, done that. Never get called "Jew-lover" but then I'm very passively critical- I feel it's more effective to be sneaky than to bring people's defenses up.

    "Oh, he stiffed me like a Jew!"


    "He stiffed me like a Jew!"

    "Who says that?"

    (Puzzled) "Everyone."

    (Non-chalant) "It doesn't make any sense."

    "Of course it makes sense!"

    ...You get the idea. I prefer to play dumb and let them try to justify what they say. This way they don't get defensive and shut it down right away. Also, it annoys them immensely- which pleases me immensely.

    Bonus Round! Many Arabs, especially those living in the Gulf, aren't too keen on Desis either. The worst part about of this one is how difficult it is to pin down. It's not frequently outright statements and jokes (there are those), just manifestation of attitudes and behaviors.

  7. bloblogger - Good tactics but I can imagine using "Can you see how that's racist?" and the other person just taking quick offense, "Are you saying I'm racist?", following an offended white tirade.

  8. @DIMA - I've been called all sorts of names which I think are more telling about the person who calls the name than me. I've had "n-- lover" shouted at me as I walked with my cousin in a predominately white neighborhood while we babysat a tiny little boy. I've been called "wigger" and "sellout" as well - and the best part about being called those things is when I ask them what they mean by that? "What's a wigger?" ..."Uhhh someone who acts black." "How do black people act?" *crickets*

    @Abagond - I really haven't noticed an increase or a decrease. I've experienced a steady flow since as far back as I can remember. Have you noticed a difference?

  9. Those emails are the worst...The latest round has been of the "people of WalMart" variety - and when I try to explain that, even though most of the people in the photos are white, it still bothers me - I get the "well, nothing makes you happy!" response. Uh, how about some photos of cute cats? That'd make me plenty happy.

  10. You have to wonder if these individuals are incredibly stupid to assume that this behavior is acceptable. But, then again, when you have more passive people "accepting" such behavior, can you honestly feel surprised?

  11. I'm just going to repost what I said in the white liberals thread.

    "I look white even though I'm a bit Korean and some days I just want to become a hermit. i can't tell you how many times I've been shocked to hear things about Asians (and other races) said to me because it's assumed that a) I'm white, and b) anti-racism is just a fake wink-wink,nudge-nudge act put on by whites. And when you reveal that you're biracial, they will argue with you until they're blue in the face about how you're not "really" what you say you are. You know, instead of just owning up to their mistake and changing their ways."

    The Chemist has the right idea, playing dumb about the sterotype is a great way to make people confront their racism in a non-confrontational way. They can't accuse you of being PC because you just don't know. They can't say you're being too touchy because you simply have never attributed the stereotype to that group. And it shows them that these stereotypes are far from "obvious".

  12. @ Victoria: I never get racist jokes in my email.

  13. i get so many racist jokes in my email and make me so angry. as a white/hispanic woman i find the racist jokes i get from both white and hispanic family members that are racist against blacks, muslims, immigrants (usually latinos) utterly disgusting.

    when i encounter racist comments from family members in person, i also respond in some way to let them know i consider their comments/attitude unacceptable.

    maybe i'm too cautious to not offend those who are continuously offending me, but for the life of me i can't figure out a way to handle the flood of obnoxious and hateful racist (and sexist) emails. any suggestions as to how to handle this?

  14. @j.p

    I don't really have any good advice for handling it in a way that allows you to maintain your friendships with the offenders. I'm accustomed to losing friends over it. Much of the time I do "play dumb" as suggested above, and I'll ask "What's so funny about Central American lawn maintenance men sitting in their wheelbarrows on a break from working?" And they reply with something evasive and slap an "LOL" on the end and I'm trumped. From that point I realize this person I thought I knew still drags his knuckles when he walks. I wish there was good advice to give. Right now it's tell them how it makes you feel and lose friendships or don't tell them and don't bother interacting anymore.

  15. >any suggestions as to how to handle this?

    ?? Uhm...just tell them that you don't like having emails like that clogging your inbox? That you feel uncomfortable with the jokes because they sound rude, racist, and sexist. Ask them to take you off their mailing list. You're part Hispanic and a woman. So you have every right to tell them that you find jokes about that offensive. If they can't respect you on this, then there is something deeply wrong with their attitudes. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. And if you have black, muslim, etc friends or co-workers, tell them that it's just not convenient to have jokes like that to pop up in your inbox (or, better yet, just tell them that it's offensive. Tell them that since you find the jokes about Hispanic ppl and women hurtful/offensive, you can imagine that black ppl and Muslims would find the other jokes offensive too). You can start by just saying, "I don't like these jokes, so can you please take me off your mailing list." If they still don't stop, then be more terse and clear about being offended and wanting them to stop.

  16. I get a special kick when people make comments about immigrants -- another way white people try to disguise their racism. Typically someone will make a remark about immigrants making our society worse, and I'll simply tell them I'm a child of immigrants (my parents are from Germany). The usual response is, "but you're different." So I'll ask, "In what way?" That usually stops them cold, and occasionally an enlightening conversation comes out of it.

    I don't know if I've actually made a difference or not, but it's always a pleasure to disrupt someone's conception of what an immigrant looks like.

  17. @A-no-no-miss - In a similar vein, sometimes when ppl ask me about my background/heritage, I ask them about their background/heritage. I usually do it because I'm genuinely interested (e.g. they have an interesting surname, etc). But I've noticed that I get amusing reactions. One was totally confused and stumbled through his answer. Another said, 'European', to which our friends (both Asian and White) laughed and said, "Uhm, yeah, that's kinda obvious".

  18. All these tactics to tell people that they've been racist. We all spend so much time thinking about it, while the racist's life is ignorant and literally care-free.

    I just keep thinking about the part of the original post addressed to people who tell these kinds of jokes and so on. I wish that there was a way for people like the OP to actually just say that to those people, just like that. Obviously, they'd never get to the end of the first sentence. But really, that needs to be said. No positive reinforcement. And I always wonder if it would matter to those people to know that they're diminishing themselves in the eyes of people who (just a second ago) they considered peers worthy of ingratiating themselves with. Can't we just make racism unbearably tacky once and for all? Sometimes I feel like that might be faster.

  19. @fromthetropics

    The startled looks and stuttered answers you must get. My name is unusual so I get that question sometimes when I introduce myself, and I always like to ask it in return. I get to watch some people fumble twice: once over the pronunciation of my name, and a second time over the unexpected question.

    More often than not, though, I get the opposite -- that detailed listing of what fraction of which ethnic groups they are from, and often their parents and grandparents as well. It's bizaare.

  20. What's really hurtful is when those racist emails come from your own parents. I really had to put my foot down with my parents - conservative Republicans these days, though not when I was growing up -- to stop the emails. With other people, if I lose their "friendship" over that, OK. Don't want to surround myself with people who condone or participate in racist behavior or thoughts. But when it's your own parents ... I almost wish I never knew what they're capable of thinking.

  21. @morecowbell

    yep, i'm with ya. Visiting the husband's relatives for the first time this thanksgiving was rough - people we love, but people who are ignorant and say racist crap, in socially awkward ways that makes a response nearly impossible. and then i fail myself and people i love by not forcing a response.

    it is way different with family than friends. you just become the jerk that no one wants to be with because you are no fun...or the crazy liberal that no one gives any credit to or listens to.



    check out resistracism's post on this -

  22. thanks to those of you who responded to my comment/question.

    the sticky part for me is that in these situations i'm dealing with family members who are a generation older than me -- so i feel stuck between treating them respectfully and kindly while feeling so much anger at the disgustingly racist and sexist emails i get so frequently. if they weren't older family members, it'd be much easier for me to let them know how i feel, but it seems like anything i say is taken as my being oversensitive, rude, disrespectful, etc.

    i'm at least glad to know i'm not the only one struggling to figure out how to respond well to such racism from family members.

  23. I encounter this racism myself. Even with people who I am close to. I've given up on saying anything because they just call me a " "lover or some other comments. Trying to say anything doesn't seem to accomplish much. I wish it weren't this way.

  24. Whenever I read or hear about stuff like this I think it's an example of someone trying to prove to themselves how good they are. People who say racist jokes and say they aren't racist are basically telling a half truth. I have several black friends that I tell black jokes to, and they tell white jokes to me. It's a sort of camaraderie. That doesn't mean I hate black people, or think I am superior to them or any race (which is the definition of racism). Maybe a joke is just a joke, and you should leave it at that.

  25. Dear outspoken,

    There's a really awesome web site out there you should visit. Especially the part labeled "Well I Know Another Person From Your Group Who Disagrees!"

    And btw, racist jokes are racist. Period. If you want to go on telling them, then why not just admit that you're being racist when you do so?

  26. Did we just get a "my Black friend says it's okay so NYAH?"


  27. Macon,

    I hope you know you're responsible for providing the means for my liver transplant.

  28. Sorry, no can do, too busted from paying for mine.

  29. @outspoken

    I somehow missed your oh-so intelligent response to my post. You are in the land of the clueless.

    #1 I do not need a pat on the back for being a decent human being. I don't tell racist jokes and I don't laugh at them because it's rude and demeaning.

    #2 You and I are both white, but there is NO camaraderie between us based on our skin color. That's like saying that your friends are your friends because they have cool hair.

    #3 Please do NOT confuse the stuff your friends have allowed you to do and say in their presence as a pass to do it in the rest of the world and think you won't piss someone off or completely demean them.

    Racist jokes are simply immature and ignorant jokes - they're for people who aren't clever enough to come up with something that doesn't belittle and dehumanize other human beings. Point blank.

    You'd better believe that you have at LEAST one white friend out there who thinks you're a knuckle dragging moron every time you tell one of those jokes, and two black friends who love you too much to tell you what an ass you are being. And if you've ever wondered why they stopped talking to you out of the blue or over something seemingly very simple - now you know.

  30. I think I agree the most with what SONIC is saying, but most of the comments here are very wise, insightful, openminded & accurate of how hurtful & narrowminded & common racism is. I agree fully with sonics comment though, many racists simply dont understand how wrong or senseless their actions & remarks are. These same ppl who make racist jokes also cant take jokes about their own ethnicity yet make them frequently & habitually which doesnt make much sense.

  31. Lol, I'm glad that you actually said that VIctoria, but alas, sadly it is in vain since morons like him usually dont change & never do have or get enough brains to figure out such simple things which u have stated. I do applaud you for your effort but sadly as is the case with so many others, it is just wasted as it doesnt really teach these racist idiots anything as they are too stupid to comprehend even such simple things as these.


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