Because I promised…

Way back when I was tagged to be a guest-blogger here, I said that I would write some race-relations 101 posts.

I have some ideas (and I’m hoping to flesh out at least one of them today), but I’d like to know what there’s an interest in too. I know there isn’t a race equivalent of tigtog’s brilliant Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, and this series is probably not going to get anywhere near that involved… but I’d like to see what we come up with nonetheless.

Are there any questions you’re just burning to have answered? They don’t actually have to be 101, they just have to be questions.

(Of course, I’m not claiming to speak for all Brown people when I write this. But I’m wicked good with a Google search, and I like research better than I like my job.)


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66 comments for “Because I promised…

  1. Anonymous
    August 15, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    Hi. I’m a little embarrassed to ask this question, but it seems like the right forum for it. So I’ll go for it –

    I like to think my social world is fairly diverse – I have friends from different economic backgrounds, varying levels of education, different personal beliefs (religious and political), from all corners of the USA, etc etc etc….but my friends are (like myself) mostly white people.

    I think this is something that reflects poorly on me (and poorly on what I and other people term as “diverse”), but going out and trying to make friends with Brown people to make friends with Brown people seems like another variant of the same problem, and well, counterproductive (if not insulting. Yeah, insulting.)

    Since my life so far has provided me with what I would term a fairly diverse set of white friends, something is wrong which is causing an entire group of people to be missing from my world – and clearly, whatever is causing this social segregation to take place, I’m a participant, albeit passively (as far as I know.)

    How does someone fight this in a meaningful, non-shallow way, and how does someone who is a passive participant in the systems keeping people apart identify themselves as an ally?

    God, I feel like I should know an answer having sent male friends successfully down the path of feminism, but I just don’t.

  2. August 15, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    What are the underpinnings and continuing reasons for the Hispanic-African American spats in so many big cities?

    How do race relations in the U.S. compare to, well, anywhere else?

    That’s all I got.

  3. August 15, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Actually, I’ve got a question for the White people out there:

    I’ve noticed that on progressive/liberal/however-you-wanna-label-it blogs, when the topic veers towards something that speaks to a predominately non-White audience – racism, immigration, affirmative action, gentrification – I’ve noticed so much ignorance and intolerance from the White liberal audience. (Note: I’m not saying that all White liberal are like this) One answer I heard was that “a person can only extend herself so much”. Was she supposed to take up this cause along with all of the other things she’s involved in? For other women of color and myself, we have no choice. I can’t choose to be Black one day and a “womyn” the next day.

    I want to know why people think this kind of attitude exists from the people who are (supposedly) standing by our sides?

  4. betina
    August 15, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    You know, I’m not the most scholarly elaborate or articulate of persons in terms of equality issues and all, but I needed a place to vent and this just might be it. Being Brazilian, the N-word seems hard to translate to my language, simply because there isn’t any word that alone compiles race+negativity in our language (which isn’t to say we aren’t racist). Either way, I’ve been told by Americans, black and white, that I shouldn’t use it because it’s amazingly offensive, and you know what? Even though I haven’t managed to fully grasp its meaning, I just don’t use it, because I’ve been told not to.

    So I go talk to a white Brazilian kid about this username on a service, namely “deadniggerstore” (created by a Brazilian), and tell him about how that’s an example that Brazilians really don’t get the meaning of it. White Brazilian kid vents to me about how it doesn’t matter, how rappers use it all the time, that it’s not important. I explain that it is still very offensive and should be avoided, and that its usage would pretty much be an excuse for someone to rightfully beat the crap outta you if you used it in the wrong context, and this kid goes “How can it be rightful for him to beat me up?”. I explained that an honest mistake on language would be understandable if you explained, but that you’d have to correct your attitude after being warned. Insisting on using an offensive term, however, would be a completely different thing. This kid still doesn’t want to know and the conversation proceeds to unveil gems such as “I don’t want to be bitched at everytime I use certain words”, “I’m not interest in knowing the implications..”, “The word isn’t offensive depending on the context”.. etc etc.

    It pissed me off, so much. So fucking much. And it surprised me, too.

  5. betina
    August 15, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Another gem of that conversation is “I’m just using self-reference, I would never beat the crap out of anyone because of an offensive term”.. I suppose there are several derogatory, repressive terms for “white boy” and they’ve extensively been used to denigrate them. I just don’t know any, unfortunately.

  6. August 15, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Is there a primer on hair and the experiences of black women? It’s one of those things that I understand as an issue in the abstract, but not much beyond.

  7. Magniloquence
    August 15, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    Ooh, this is a good start.

    So far, what I’m reading is the issue of ally/POC interaction. (Or just the issue of who is supposed to be ‘on our side’ in general), the issue of language boundaries, and the issue of hair.

    Well, I’ve got a couple of ideas for the first two, but they might take a while. But hair I can do, definitely. That’s a good place to start.

  8. August 15, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Evil Fizz, Pam Spaulding has an essay on her own experience of her hair:

    http://www.pamspaulding.com/Pam/pampix/hairhistory.htm

  9. betina
    August 15, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    My longer comment is still awaiting moderation what I added to it seems completely out of context, dammit.

  10. August 15, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    I am quite fond of when you free-form, but if you must… why do women (esp. white feminists) feel the need to consider themselves as the voice box for all women, yet only advocate on behalf of their own advancement yet lose sight of many other women.

    This is not meant to flame, only to open a conversation.

    (yes, I wrote this as a white woman, and often my own posts contain my individual experiences(even though feminist… it is worth noting a white feminist); which are different than WOC. It is up to them, not me; what my fights for justice means to them… as well as my own.)

  11. Murgatroyd
    August 15, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    What’s a good primer for someone who has literally never met a Black person in their life and wants to understand things just a bit better?

  12. anonymous
    August 15, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    I am a white fiction writer. Do black people consider it disrespectful if I include black characters and make an issue of their race? Is there anything I can do to be more respectful with black characters?

  13. noen
    August 15, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Actually, I’ve got a question for the White people out there:

    I’ve noticed that on progressive/liberal/however-you-wanna-label-it blogs, when the topic veers towards something that speaks to a predominately non-White audience – racism, immigration, affirmative action, gentrification – I’ve noticed so much ignorance and intolerance from the White liberal audience.

    I understand where you’re coming from Angel. I’ve had a similar experience myself. Shortly after Katrina I posted a diary at DKos questioning the standard narrative. There were accounts circling in the black community that perhaps the levees had been deliberately breeched. I simply reported it but got immediately embroiled in a flame war in the comments.

    I don’t have much of an answer for you other than we need to hear your voices more. It is a very hard thing to confront one’s own prejudices. It takes a lot of work and a willingness to step outside of ones own narrow life and enter into the life of another. In difficult times like these it is harder still because the natural reaction for most people is to isolate and form cliques. It becomes a vicious circle. It’s sad, really.

  14. Nanette
    August 15, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    Cool, Mags.

    Hmmm… how to put this as a question.

    Okay, well fairly often I’ve seen young or youngish White people online say something to the effect of “Our generation views race differently and there are not all the tensions, we are color blind, we just all accept each other and no one thinks about it anymore.”

    I have yet to see *any* young person of color saying that (not that they don’t exist, just not within my experience) and, for me, that’s usually a red flag.

    So, I guess my question is… what is your experience with this, or that of your friends? Or with the whole general attitude, is this something that you, as a young person, have come across frequently?

  15. Edie
    August 15, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    “Wicked good”? By any chance are you from or live in New England?

    I’m so clueless I don’t even know what questions to ask; But I bet I’m going to learn a lot about race relations from reading this thread.

    In any case, I look forward to your posts, Mag. Glow-in-the-dark white feminist lesbian photographer still trying to understand race relations 40 years after the Civil Rights movement, and why my grandmother was so proud of me for having a “colored” (her word, not mine) friend in grade school.

    To me, Verna was the other smart girl in my class, and it made sense to hang out with someone who could understand my big words, and shared a love of books.

  16. August 15, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    I think a good one would be to go into white privilege a bit. IOW, just because white women feel the sting of oppression as females does not mean that we can ever begin to understand the oppression of being in a minority population, and that we can equate the one with the other, and that we don’t enjoy certain privilege by being white.

    Not the least of which is the idea that it is up to WOC to teach us, rather than we being responsible for teaching ourselves.

  17. kate
    August 15, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    May I offer my answer to Angel?:

    Although I am white I grew up in predominantly black communities and had individuals of the blck communhity as very close relatives in my family.

    From my perspective, I don’t have an answer either and I know exactly what you are talking about. I think its because most white people have been conditioned to reflexively think of people of color (especially my black) as outside their perimeters completely — allowable as a secondary consideration only.

    I can only speak for our culture, but from what I see, our culture is so divided by skin color and white culture demands that differentiation and discriminatory judgment be made at a very early age. The resulting socially imposed seperation disables white people to even see people of color as people entitled to the same consideration as themselves.

    THat’s my take at least.

  18. August 16, 2007 at 12:19 am

    The number one issue that’s come up when I’ve tried to explain anti-racism politics to my White friends is the unfamiliarity with any model of “racism” beyond deviating from color-blindness. They haven’t heard it, and they have a lot of trouble grasping alternatives. An explanation and evaluation of the difference between “anti-differentiation” (color-blind) and “anti-subordination” standpoints would be very helpful.

  19. noen
    August 16, 2007 at 12:24 am

    I can only speak for our culture, but from what I see, our culture is so divided by skin color and white culture demands that differentiation and discriminatory judgment be made at a very early age. The resulting socially imposed seperation disables white people to even see people of color as people entitled to the same consideration as themselves.

    No, I’m not buying it Kate. It lets too many people off the hook. I grew up in the 70’s and there was one black person in our high school and maybe 200 families in our city of 50,000. I was taught that racism is not ok and I have believed that all my life. It was a time when the activism of the 60’s was bearing fruit.

    Racism, along with homophobia, is a choice. The tenor of the times can make that choice relatively hard or like today, very easy but in the end it comes down to a choice.

  20. star
    August 16, 2007 at 1:00 am

    I feel awkward when trying to approach race relations. To understand white privilege I made lists of all the things I could think of that made my experience less difficult/significantly different than a black/Latina/Asian woman’s and then used blogs to see what I missed. I was completely astounded. I did quite a bit of research and spent two semesters arguing feminist points in class and on paper from the views I found. I feel that i know much more than ever before, but am still undereducated (I live in South-Central Texas, so it is especially hard to see first hand differences in experience for black and Asian women), but every time I attempt to approach the subject with non-Latina women (simply because most of the women who articulate feminist rethoric anywhere near me are Latina and very used to this type of conversation with white women) I seem to offend. What i see as a valid question (generally when the topic is brought up by others) is often bet with a blistering lambasting my unasked for privilege and and then I told that I am unqualified for any discussion on race, even if I am asking how I may become qualified.

    I know that it is a touchy subject, and that I /am/ under-qualified, but how am I to learn if all I am told is that I receive white privilege. I have even told that my efforts to help issues that face minority women are worthless b/c “I cannot possibly know.”

    How do I breach that gap?

  21. August 16, 2007 at 1:09 am

    Angel: I (am ashamed to say that) I used to be kind of like that. I never thought POC issues were less important than “my” issues but when I started reading blogs, my blogroll was pretty much lilywhite. I felt like, well, POC issues don’t really affect me the way feminist-specific issues do (I’m cringing as I type this). In a small way I was right–my first foray into feminism was very literally self-centered, so I cared about things like beauty image issues, the pressures women face to reproduce, the struggles they face in the workforce, and not as much viscerally (though logically I knew they were important) about things like beauty image issues beyond “thin=better”, the difficulties parents, especially mothers, face, whether they work or stay at home, the way struggles might be amplified for non-white people.

    I think that’s a part of it: people are, sadly, less likely to get involved in something they feel doesn’t affect them directly. And I mean, of course I get upset when I see racist depictions of Black people on TV, but it doesn’t sting in quite the same way, emotionally, as when I see sexist depictions of women in general–who, sadly, on TV tend to be white women. I notice them more than I used to, and it hurts more than it used to, and I’m trying to open my field of vision and expand my capacity for empathy.

    It’s a process (and no one’s responsibility but my own), and it’s one that I think people find hard to start on because starting it means admitting you need to take it; actively confronting your privilege means you have more of it than you thought. Taking the time to say “hm, when I dismiss the concerns of WOC as valid but not relevant to me personally and therefore no big deal in my life, I am acting in much the same way as guys who are all for women’s equality but think feminists need to shut up and gain a sense of humor already” means accepting that you exist on a plane in the social heirarchy from which you could comfortably ignore issues that for other people are unavoidable from birth to death.

    Because you’re right–you don’t have a choice but to care about WOC issues. I thought I did. I thought it was something important that could be added to other people’s lists of pet issues–like they were abstract. Which is a way of thinking they mattered less. I wasn’t, and I think a lot of people (perhaps to a certain degree still myself included) aren’t, as ready to really deal with truly diverse points of view as they’d like to admit. They think, “Well, I know that beneath our differences, we are all the same” without thinking either a) that those differences still do exist because of the experiences we have, and still do matter, or b) that if we are all the same, that means we are all equally worth listening to, and all our experiences are equally valid. All issues are human issues that anyone who really professes to care about people can’t afford to ignore.

    Anyway, that was a longwinded way of saying, “because privilege & liberal guilt can be an unfortunate combination” which itself is an incomplete answer, but there you go. I hope that makes sense.

  22. malachi
    August 16, 2007 at 1:09 am

    If you don’t mind this rather self-centered question:

    I’m a homeschooled student from a sububran area; 95% of my friends are white or jewish (if you don’t count them as white). Most people in my community are racially progressive intellectually, but we don’t deal with race issues much in practice.

    When I start college in a few weeks, is there anything I should be doing to avoid any faux pas? Besides obvious things like exercising common decency and avoiding stereotypes.

  23. August 16, 2007 at 9:39 am

    I’d love to know a more about how race relations differ between the US and other countries with a significant “brown” immigrant population. I lived in the US until I was 22, during which time I had no awareness of race issues. Now I live in another city in another country, in a neighborhood with a major proportion of Middle-Eastern and North-African immigrants. I notice that race is treated quite differently here–there doesn’t seem to be quite the same tension involved in discussions on the subject as in the US. I’d like to hear perspectives on this question from the standpoint of people in the US who are racial minorities.

  24. Xana
    August 16, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Anything about racism within the GLBTQ community would be an interesting read.

  25. Jack D
    August 16, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Regardless of race, we should be allowed to say whatever we want about other races. The censorship that takes over when anyone talks about Jews (jailed in Europe) or blacks (loss of job in US). This is all about the First Amendment. Let’s not follow the gov’t down the path of censorship. After all, censorship is becoming America’s favorite past-time. The US gov’t (and their corporate friends), already detain protesters, ban books like “America Deceived” from Amazon and Wikipedia, shut down Imus and fire 21-year tenured, BYU physics professor Steven Jones because he proved explosives, thermite in particular, took down the WTC buildings. Free Speech forever.
    Last link (before Google Books caves to pressure and drops the title):
    http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?&isbn=0-595-38523-0

  26. Tek
    August 16, 2007 at 10:12 am
  27. Kristen
    August 16, 2007 at 10:19 am

    I want to know why people think this kind of attitude exists from the people who are (supposedly) standing by our sides?

    Well, for what its worth, I think the reason is that people are too turned inward to empathize with others. Unlike Christina* I don’t think that people who have experienced some (even mild) form of oppression cannot understand the experience of those who are more oppressed or, perhaps more carefully stated, I believe people can draw on their own experiences with oppression to empathize with those who have experienced a different sort and/or different degree of oppression.

    I’ve never experienced the level of oppression faced by women in Iran or African Americans in America, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a moment and reflect on what their experience might be, to understand any hurt, frustration, anger, depression, etc. they might be feeling as a result of oppression.

    Why don’t people do it? I don’t know. I would guess that at the root of it is that to accept that the world is unfair, that people suffer from no fault of their own, that is only by chance that you have lived a life relatively free of oppression, is to acknowledge that you have not earned all of the privileges to which you are accustomed. People feel like they have worked hard to achieve and generally don’t like hearing that they didn’t earn those achievements.

    *No criticism intended, just expressing a different world view.

  28. Janis
    August 16, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    What is the absolute, hands-down, gold medal winner Best Thing You Can Think Of about your own culture, the one thing that you adore about yourself and others like you? If I were to say that about my kind, it’d have to be our emotional expressiveness and love of music.

  29. August 16, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I’m not entirely sure how to phrase this into a question, but I guess what I have trouble with is white-black interactions. This comfortable low-middle class white girl has almost no experience with black culture, so I’ve got a lot of questions about the black expereince, but I don’t know where to start. For instance, I don’t have any black friends (they’re not exactly a majority around here in ND), and I wonder if I should try and foster some. But, then again, seeking friends out BECAUSE they are black seems wrong too, sort of treating them like tools of my own growth or something. But, then I end up with a lot white-liberal problems of ignorance. But then I think, that this isn’t the black communities problem.

    Yeah, if you can pull some 101 stuff out of that mess, I’d appreciate it.

  30. QLH
    August 16, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Anything about racism within the GLBTQ community would be an interesting read.

    I second that.

    I don’t know if this is something that you can tackle in a blog post, but I’d love to see a thread about WOC that doesn’t turn into a bunch of white women running in with, “Well, I’m white, but this affects me, too, because…”

    Yes, beauty standards (for example) affect everyone, but please learn to shut up and listen. Just be quiet and listen. Pay attention. Stop turning everything into one more post about you.

  31. Magniloquence
    August 16, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Wow, this thread has more comments than I usually have hits at my home blog!

    This is a really awesome discussion, and I hope you continue it. I will try to get to everything listed, if briefly… here or at FFS.

    I’m not a New Englander – I’m from SoCal – but I do hang out with a bunch of people from there, so I think it bleeds off.

    Please feel free to answer each other’s questions as they come up. If you have a story you’d like to share, but not a question (or something you’re not sure how to phrase as a question), please leave it in my Open Thread. That should make it a little easier for me to separate out the different strands of conversation.

    Thanks!

  32. ol'jb
    August 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    I agree with David Schraub, that it would be useful to talk about the problems that arise from differing understandings of the word “racism”. For many white people who have not been exposed to the ideas of white priviledge and intstitutionalized racism, this is a big problem. When you are working from a more sophisticated understanding of racism than “deviation from color-blindedness” and the person you are talking to is not, there is a high likelihood of the person rejecting what you say. Saying that an attitude is racist will be taken as an insult rather than a learning opportunity because the two people are not working from the same definitions, and it will sound like you are accusing them of believing that POC are inferior (rather than trying to explain unintended ramifications of actions within the framework of institutionalized racism)

  33. madeline
    August 16, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Antigone Says:
    August 16th, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I’m not entirely sure how to phrase this into a question, but I guess what I have trouble with is white-black interactions.

    I second this. How far can I actually participate in the discussion of POC rights without being overreaching? What, if anything, seems patronizing coming out of the mouth of a middle-class white girl? There are things I can’t possibly understand about being a member of a minority group, but sitting on the sidelines isn’t an attractive option either. It’s a lot like the ‘can men be feminists’ discussion that came out of an earlier thread (not to start that over), but how do WOC feel about others joining the cause?

  34. WishyWashy
    August 16, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I’m mixed-race (Latina and White, which is a stupid thing to say because many Latinos are a mixture of White and Native Central/South American to begin with, but that’s all I got) but since I was raised in white culture and “pass” (though I’m often asked if I’m everything from Jewish to Albanian…practically anything but Mexican) I suppose for the purposes of this thread I am white.

    My question is about some things that I personally believe shouldn’t be construed to represent “black culture” as a whole (from my outsider’s observation) but to a whole lot of ignorant white folk can look pretty darn scary:

    – “Stop Snitchin'”
    – “Acting White” (particularly vis-a-vis attitude about education)
    – The whole street culture thing in general, in particular how it intersects with feminism

    Is it acceptable for a white or not-African-American person to discuss the above? I for one would rather pull my toenails out than be present in a conversation where a white person brings up the above around an African-American person. Yet I think these are things that hurt people and need to be discussed. Every time I read an article by any African-American journalist that comes out against some of the more (to my eyes) destructive and self-defeating social ills endemic to street culture, I want to cheer, because I sure would never want to see a white journalist take this on.

    Also – these days, what *is* “black culture?” Who determines whether it is authentic? What is “black enough?” Would you say the notion floated by some African-Americans that a brown person can be “not black enough” i.e. Obama, strikes a chord with many people of color? Or do they just think it’s silly? Or somewhere in between?

    Forgive my total ignorance – that’s why I ask the questions. Thanks for actually volunteering to field these kind of questions.

  35. ekf
    August 16, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    It’s a process (and no one’s responsibility but my own), and it’s one that I think people find hard to start on because starting it means admitting you need to take it; actively confronting your privilege means you have more of it than you thought.

    Absolutely, and it’s a constantly incomplete process, too, because white people can never really appreciate how much privilege we have in a fundamentally and pervasively racist culture that reinforces both the privilege and its invisibility.

    What the incomplete nature of this process means, though, is that sometimes we white folk screw up unintentionally. For example, it was not until I read blogs by women of color (particularly during the Senate campaign by Tom Coburn of OK) that I ever heard of women in the U.S. in modern times being subjected to forced sterilization because they were poor and of color. I just didn’t know about it, because the MSM never reported on the issue.

    My reaction to hearing about it was that I needed to learn more, and I get that it’s up to me to teach myself. But part of how I’ve taught myself about other subjects is to ask people who know more about those subjects to, yanno, tell me more about what they know. Being an ignorant white woman, though, means that I can’t ask women of color, though, because that’s not acceptable. I do understand and appreciate that lack of acceptability — that’s not something I’m challenging here — but I myself have made the rookie mistake of asking a bunch of dumb shit before I understood/appreciated how dumb I was being, and I’ve seen it happen a lot of times from other white women.

    All of which is, I guess, a long-winded way of saying that the 101 blog thingy might need to have something that says, “This is why it’s not up to women of color to teach you this stuff” and “This is why it’s not okay for you to ask us to teach you.” Many white women who are in early stages of trying to progress beyond the comfortable recesses of our reinforced privilege are just ignorant of both substantive issues that differently, disproportionately or exclusively face women of color AND how to get beyond being ignorant without being a patronizing and/or racist shithead about it.

    It would also be helpful if the 101 blog thingy could have a list of seminal writers of color whose writings touch on feminist issues (whether or not the writer is a feminist or a woman), as well as good feminist blogs by women of color. Such a list would at least give the white women a way to inform themselves so they won’t have to “out” themselves as ignorant or self-centered by clogging up comments sections when an issue on a mixed-race blog deals with the ally/WOC intersection. After all, even white feminist resources, which are what generally pass as the “mainstream,” rarely mention feminist writers of color (note: this doesn’t just frustrate women of color).

    Another angle of being ignorant of some of the substantive issues that differently, disproportionately or exclusively face women of color is that, even were I to be informed, or at least as informed as a white person can be through personal interaction and issues-oriented research, I would be extremely shy of writing anything either about the women-of-color-oriented issues themselves or about issues that affect me with additional information about how they differently, disproportionately or exclusively face women of color. I would feel like I was being patronizing and/or a fraud, because, not being a woman of color, who the hell would I be to talk about those experiences?

    Now, I can overcome that shyness when I know the women of color personally with whom I’m speaking, because I know their specific personal experiences. But were I to talk about forced sterilization of women on american indian reservations, even if I’d spent a lot of time looking into what’s been done, I would be very nervous that I’d get shot down and made to feel ignorant, because I don’t have personal experiences with the situation. This might make me more likely to avoid the issue altogether, because that I way I won’t be thought of as patronizing or claiming authority where I have none or the like. But by avoiding the issue I also open myself up to being dismissive or otherwise ignoring issues affecting women of color, especially if I write, for example, about sterilization in the context of how specific online women (who are white and privileged) want to be sterilized but are being denied their desired medical procedures by patronizing racist asshole doctors who would rather there be more white children out there.

    Such a situation took place on Feministing recently (initial post was about desired and denied sterilization — predominately a white woman’s issue, which was followed by an apologetic post and a separate discussion of the forced sterilization situation — predominantly a WOC issue), which is why it’s easy to use it as an example. I wasn’t a part of any of it (I don’t have a blog), but seeing it happen I can understand how it happened. And I’ll demonstrate the incompleteness of my ability to get beyond my white privilige a bit more here by saying that I’m not sure how whoever made the initial post could have done things differently. If there is a way to do it differently, and if this is the point where I become the white feminist version of a Nice Guy(tm), I would love to know what that way might be. If that’s a layup and can be on the 101 blog, then I think it might be helpful to more than just me.

    I also hope that my desires WRT the 101 blog are not seen as part of the “teach me, oh black ones” problem that’s out there — I’m only answering because the question was asked! Also, sorry for the overly long post — yeesh, I’m long-winded today!

  36. Roxie
    August 16, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    hrm…I know someone already brought up hair–it’s a huge thing to me. I’ve always been asked by horrorfied white classmates “you don’t wash your hair everyday?!” or when I was in college “Are dreadlocks made with mud?”

    somethings that bother is the dismal or something that is or could be racist by non-minorities..like, this whole thing with Resident Evil 5 game. A lot of people see it as the continuation of the stereotype of “Africa: the dark continent” inhabited by savages. When it’s been broached on the discussion boards I’m apart of, there is a rush of dismal and (predictable) gripe of black people seeing racism every where. I have also gained a reputation of being heavily biased towards African-Americans (to the point where they’ve created a false memory of me railing aganist the accused in the Duke case) and women…surprise.

    So something about not dismissing claims of racism would be good…(I guess that’s what I’m trying to say).

    I also have questions on how to ask people of other ethinicities and races about their culture without seeming like tourist (ex. not many Asian ppl where I live).

  37. Lorelei
    August 16, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    I want to second the suggestion made here by Nanette. i would be interested to see a review of why the ‘our generation (X or Y) doesn’t see race the same way, we are colourblind now’ thing is bullshit. because i know it is, but i can never put it into words. :\

  38. noen
    August 16, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    I second this. How far can I actually participate in the discussion of POC rights without being overreaching? What, if anything, seems patronizing coming out of the mouth of a middle-class white girl? There are things I can’t possibly understand about being a member of a minority group,
    It’s really quite simple, you ask. And of course you can understand, you already belong to one and you are human, others are human too. You are bound to make mistakes though. This is a good thing, it means you are learning.

    All you do is ask, be courteous, listen and validate. It can be hard work be that is all there is to it.

  39. galaxie
    August 16, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    (I’m a white female)

    Where’s the line between appropriation and learning about the cultures of people you care about?

    White Americans often expect that immigrants will adapt to American culture and assimilate to one degree or another. I don’t really think that’s fair. “Learn English”? Americans are spoiled if they never have to speak or get along in a foreign language & culture.

    So how can I, personally, grow to understand my South Asian boyfriend’s background in a respectful way? Can I sort of meet him & his family halfway? How much can I participate, and how much should I just accept that I’m pretty much an outsider? (I know that’ll be different for everybody.)

    That’s a specific example of the general question, which I’m not quite sure how to ask.

  40. Janis
    August 16, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    IMO, the whole colorblind thing just means “Racism has gone a bit underground nowdays, and so I can get by in life pretending that it doesn’t exist since I’m white and hence it doesn’t smack me in the face terribly often.”

    And I have heard young black people use the term — in that case, speaking as an admittedly darker-than-usual-but-still-white woman, I think it means, “I prefer to imagine that I’ll be judged on my character than to face the really shitty and absolutely intolerable truth that I’m still just seen as a walking bag of pigment most days.”

    Hell, I’ve heard professional women of all colors say, “There’s no more sexism in the workplace” plenty of times, too. Truth is that confronting the sheer overwhelming magnitude of what’s wrong, and that it will not be fixed before get the first spadeful of dirt on our heads while lying in a pine boxi, sucks. It is a hard, hard thing to confront, and kids are both naive and inexperienced.

    In general, it’s such an ugly, ugly thing to face full-on that I can forgive a child for not wanting to face it, particularly since they haven’t yet had the experience of seeing the faces on their interviewers fall when they walk into the room. Same with women. And it hurts like hell to watch it much less go through it.

  41. Jess
    August 16, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    I’d love to know how to call people on racist bull without coming across as a whiny liberal, particularly to the people who claim that the broad strokes they’re painting aren’t really racist, but they’re true.

  42. napthia9
    August 16, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    I’d like to hear about some race stuff that isn’t all black-white interactions. The black/Hispanic thing somebody mentioned upthread, but also Asian/Hispanic or Native American/white. What’s the same, what’s different, and what makes

    Or an explanation of what white identity is, and how it expanded to include European immigrant groups that previously lacked white privilege.

    How the law can be used to harass groups of people without actually being used in an illegal manner. (More examples of things like Driving While Black).

    Talking about casual, unintentional racism too, or just being unable to recognize stereotypes and racist images- For example, in high school we had these group book report projects where we had to decorate the entire room and lecture the class on the book. The group reading Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club decorated the room with very stereotypical Chinese things, like a cardboard Wall of China, a Chinese dragon, cheapo lanterns, a big brass gong, and they all dressed in red silk shirts with little flowers and bamboo embroidery. When the teacher pointed out that Tan’s book was criticized for being stereotypical and asked what everybody thought, one of the girls presenting quickly said she disagreed, and said something along the lines of “that’s just what China is/was like!” But when I pointed out that they’d decorated the room like a Chinese restaurant and probably most normal Chinese people didn’t tack up cardboard dragons or wear fancy red shirts on a daily basis, I got dirty looks and a snippy retort. But how they could seriously think China was “just like that” is beyond me.

    Also-How does one deal with racism in pop culture stuff? Does one forswear all interaction with racist books/films/etc, ignore the racist subtext, qualify one’s enjoyment of the thing (i.e., ‘I like it, but the racist parts make me uncomfortable.’ Or, ‘It’s racist, but it’s got a great plot!’), or take pleasure in the act of analyzing and criticizing the work? How is this process the same/different for whites and POC? And how do you express this to someone who wants to know what you think of the movie/book/etc?

    And of course, there’s the eternal, obnoxious question: “[POC group] call themselves [racist word], why can’t I?” Or “I’m white, why should I care?”

  43. ekf
    August 16, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I do usually point out racist stuff from pop culture, because I think it’s weird when no one mentions it. I mean, I heard for years about how romantic/fun/cute/whatever “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was, and then I saw it and couldn’t see beyond how utterly fucking insane it was that Mickey Rooney plays this disgusting caricature of a Japanese man with buckteeth and an accent that made me want to pull an Elvis on my TV. It made me wonder about everyone I’d ever heard praise the movie, whether in person or as part of some AFI list or whatever. How could they not say, at least, “It’s a cute little movie, even if you have to look past that weird Mickey Rooney thing”? And if I noticed it as a white person, think of how many Japanese people saw it, heard no one comment on something so hideously racist, and thought, “This is what all white people think of us.” If you don’t say anything, then their perception is truer than it ought to be.

  44. Janis
    August 16, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    There’s also the point that BaT is hideously sexist as well — I cannot fucing tolerate movies that glamourize and WAY oversimplify sex work. The only reason they do that is for the men who use women sex workers to have a clear conscience doing so.

  45. August 16, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Wowee, Mags. I hope you are planning on this being a continuing series ;)

    Antigone:

    But, then again, seeking friends out BECAUSE they are black seems wrong too, sort of treating them like tools of my own growth or something. But, then I end up with a lot white-liberal problems of ignorance. But then I think, that this isn’t the black communities problem.

    Me, I don’t think there is any problem with seeking out people *because* they are of a different culture/color/ whatever than you are, as long as you are respectful. Just think of it as Affirmative Interaction :D

    Whether you will gain friends or not is a different story. One doesn’t usually choose friends on the basis of how they look (at least, I don’t), but more on compatibility, shared or maybe just complementary interests and all that, no? I would seek out the interests, in a multi-racial space (if there any in ND, I have no idea), and go from there.

    Gotta remember tho… no matter how well you get to know one (or two or three) Black or whatever persons, you still won’t know anything at all about the next person of color you meet.

  46. Magniloquence
    August 16, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Hee. I think I just might make it a continuing series, Nanette. Though I’ll have to find more weeks when my boss takes a long vacation to do it right. ;)

    And I love that term: “affirmative interaction.” I’m totally stealing it!

  47. August 16, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    WishyWashy, I wanted to answer this one, from my perspective:

    – “Acting White” (particularly vis-a-vis attitude about education)

    Realize that I am from a different generation than say, Mags, or some others – but I do recall one Black blogger, Prometheus6, doing a sort of informal poll of his (primarily Black) readers of different ages and from different regions of the country after this nonsense grew legs in the media, as to whether they’d ever heard a parent… their own, or anyone else’s tell their child that getting an education equaled “acting White”.

    To the best of my recall, none did.

    As for children saying it to other children – when I was young, the term was not “acting White” … it was “acting as if you think you’re White” – which was another way of saying, “acting like you are not one of us, are better than us, don’t know us, etc”. And again, this is what the informal poll, as well as questioning from time of readers, friends and all sorts of peole, also has shown to be the memory of those asked.

    It’s certainly my memory. Here, ptcruiser puts it better than I can, for all my blathering:

    I’m old and things may have changed but ordinary black folks (Drylongso) back in the day did not resent blacks who were seeking success outside the black community. They resented black people who acted as if they were white, i.e., as if they were better than other black folk. Hell, there has always been black folks who found success outside of the black community. They were applauded and celebrated. Folks who looked down their noses at other people were not regardless of where they found their success.

    Far as I know, just about every culture (at least in the US) has some version of this sort of thing (acting like you aren’t one of us, and all that) although, naturally, they call it something else.

    Also, it is my belief that there is no such thing as “Black culture”.

  48. August 16, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    lol, Mags, steal away! I thought it a fun play on words and themes.

  49. Roxie
    August 16, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    when I was 9 I moved from a perdominately white area to a perdominately black area. I was, almost daily, told by my shcool mates that I was “acting white”…b/c I spoke properly and read books.

    Not acting as if white, but “acting white“. This didn’t stop until I started saying “ain’t”. But, I never stopped reading books! :D

  50. ks
    August 16, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    I’m a middle class, middle of the road, glow in the dark white woman. Basically, I’d like to echo everything ekf said in #36. I try to educate myself about, and I try to be respectful to everyone I meet/know in life, but I almost never participate in conversations about race, especially in predominantly minority/POC places and among people I don’t know personally. Because I don’t want to come across as an asshole, even if I sometimes unintentionally am. I’d love to know how to participate/help/whatever, while acknowledging my privilege, and still come across as an ally.

    As to this:

    Far as I know, just about every culture (at least in the US) has some version of this sort of thing (acting like you aren’t one of us, and all that) although, naturally, they call it something else.

    Again, I can’t speak for any POC community, but this is a very prominent thing in Appalachian culture. I grew up in southern WV, and most of my family is still there. I’ve noticed that people I haven’t seen in a long time are very wary of me whenever I go back home. And it isn’t until they see that I haven’t really made any effort to lose the accent and that I still enjoy the same things I did before that I’m accepted again. It’s like they’re afraid that you’re going to look down on them because now you don’t live that reality anymore. I would imagine that it’s a very common phenomenon, especially among marginalized groups.

  51. Janis
    August 16, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Hell, point at your forehead and then circle your index finger forward in front of your mouth and point at someone. That’s ASL for “He thinks he’s hearing.” *sigh* It’s like calling a career woman “mannish.” These epithets are ruinous.

  52. betina
    August 16, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Hey, I think it was Sarah who asked about race relations in different countries.. Well, I live in Brazil, we used to pride ourselves in how we’re not racist, totally democratic, etc.

    Utter BS. It’s different from the US, racism isn’t about going WTF N**** GO BACK TO AFRICA!!! It’s more condescending and it’s also more classist. Having a specific skin hue doesn’t give you a particular identity, which is something that happens in the US and sort of weirds me out.. African/European traditions became pretty mixed in our culture, and we’re still collectively “Brazilians”.. your token Brazilian can be pretty much be of any race, you don’t have anything similar, to say, the All-American cliché. There isn’t “acting white”, “acting black”. Also we’re a very diverse mix, so you can’t just identify people’s ethnicity by, say, a simple measure of color hue. STILL, there is racism, considering the social condition of blacks (which I must say is a hard ethnicity to pinpoint, though).

    Whatever, rambling again. There’s been studies written about us Brazilians and our race relations, but I don’t think you can just simplify it to statistical data – although it indicates that there is clearly an issue to be solved.

  53. August 16, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Aha, Roxie, thanks. It may be a regional/generational thing then, I guess. Although what you are describing sounds more like some sort of initiation type thing, overall, but you would know best.

    Me, I always had my head in a book as well, and spoke “properly” – I still am unable to code switch – my mom is visually White (although she is Black), and we also moved frequently, so I started a few new schools in my time. There was, of course, the initial “new kid” suspicion and also the “acting/thinking she’s White” suspicion but I had no problems at all once we got past the “do you think you are better than us” aspect. Nobody minded my grades or my books (and there were plenty of other Black kids who got very good grades, and some who were geeks and stuff – same with them).

    ks:

    It’s like they’re afraid that you’re going to look down on them because now you don’t live that reality anymore. I would imagine that it’s a very common phenomenon, especially among marginalized groups.

    Yep, exactly that same sort of thing.

  54. Pockysmama
    August 16, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Also – these days, what *is* “black culture?” Who determines whether it is authentic? What is “black enough?” Would you say the notion floated by some African-Americans that a brown person can be “not black enough” i.e. Obama, strikes a chord with many people of color? Or do they just think it’s silly? Or somewhere in between?

    I think “black culture” is singularly defined by both blacks and whites but no one is working off the same definition. I’ve noticed that both groups make certain assumptions. I have always been THAT black woman who “isn’t like the rest of them”, “didn’t sound black”, etc. In my experience it made WMWP (well-meaning white people (anyone remember that from the late 80’s early 90’s?)), more comfortable and able to say “I’m not racist, I have a black friend!” Conversely, lots of black people are clearly uncomfortable with me, I can’t be defined according to their “standards” and the standards shift depending on who it is (this holds true for whites as well) and their perceived socio-economical level. I have been called “oreo” all my life, asked why I “act and/or speak white”, I am never “authentic” enough. There seems to be a widely held belief that there is a monolithic “black community”, that all blacks have the same exact experiences and that blacks who exist outside of these beliefs are not “black enough” or are trying to portray themselves as better than other blacks, a belief I think speaks profoundly to the deeply ingrained racism present in this country by all colors.

    For instance, when the Cosby Show first aired, I was ecstatic. Their lives in many ways mirrored my own. I was floored when I learned that many people, black and white, thought the show was unrealistic because they were middle-upper class, professional, well-educated people who didn’t live in a ghetto. To me, they looked and acted much like my parents. People actually thought that a show like Good Times was more representative of how ALL blacks lived.

    I think Obama makes many blacks uncomfortable because he does not come from the usual sources for a black politician (i.e., churches) and this makes many blacks, especially older ones, nervous. They aren’t sure that he will represent their interests because he appears as though he comes from the “elite” class, which again, would mean white, and is viewed with suspicion.

    But I have some questions for white posters and in no way am I saying that all white people believe or think these things but I have noticed a common thread that runs through questions people feel they can ask a black person they feel comfortable with.

    I don’t mind questions about my hair because I would rather you ask that just assume weird things. My father had a funny/sad story about his time at Cornell University. He had been at college for about 2 weeks (this is about 1967 or so) and a white guy nervously approached him in the bathroom and offered him $100 if he would show him his tail. So, my dad’s thinking, wtf? Turns out the young man had always been told that blacks were the spawn of Satan and all had hidden tails and he BELIEVED it. They ended up being good friends for years but can any white person imagine someone asking you something so silly?

    I have a couple of things to add for the record: neither I nor any other individual black person is the Representive for the Black Community and sometimes, I have no idea why THAT black person did what they did, said what they said, acted the way they did, I am just as mystified as you are, it’s not a BLACK thing.

    And, at the end of the day we are simply human beings, there are not different “races” of human beings. It doesn’t exist, we have different ethnicities, cultures, languages and experiences but at the end of the day, we are all human. “Race” is a social construct, and is easily deconstructed. Just take me as I am, let me be me and I’ll let you be you and we can work from THAT premise and not preconceived ideas. There, that ends my rant.

    *Just an aside, this really irks me because most of these “black” names are really Arabic and/or middle eastern names (hello? Keisha?) and even most blacks think they are African names.

  55. Pockysmama
    August 16, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    I apparently edited out the questions I had and now don’t remember them so just ignore that completely confusing part of my post. If I remember, I’ll post them.

  56. August 16, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Late to the thread, and maybe somebody already asked, but as a mixed-0race person myself, it would be interesting if you’d comment on that some?

  57. August 17, 2007 at 1:25 am

    Here’s a decent link from Blog Against Racism week for anyone who wants to learn about racism.

  58. August 17, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I just wanted to pop in right quick (Shh! I’m supposed to be working! ^_~) and thank everyone for their responses!

    Magniloquence: This was a great idea! I’m glad that we could all open up this conversation.

  59. Bach-us
    August 17, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    And of course, there’s the eternal, obnoxious question: “[POC group] call themselves [racist word], why can’t I?” Or “I’m white, why should I care?”

    “Of course, you just wouldn’t want to be rude.”

    Also, a useful reply to people who say, “I’m not politically correct,” is “Of course, no one here expects you to be ridiculous. You just wouldn’t want to be rude, right? You’re not the type to try to hurt other people’s feelings, are you?”

    I’ve found that invoking people’s desire to appear well-mannered (whether or not they actually are) is effective in most situations with a person who is truly open-minded but merely repeating talk radio drivel. It’s also fun to turn civility around and use it on them for a change. Also, starting off with “Of course,” removes some of their defensiveness. One caveat: The above doesn’t work on truly closed-minded people, and is profoundly ineffective with those who display their lack of manners as if it were a badge of honor in a war against elitists.

  60. David Thompson
    August 18, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Are there any questions you’re just burning to have answered? They don’t actually have to be 101, they just have to be questions.

    Okay, what’s the deal with the deliberately bad Engrish and layout in Chinese restaurant menus? It’s not like people will refuse to patronize a place that spells everything correctly and prints all the pictures right-side-up, so why the false ignorance?

  61. August 18, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    It’s not deliberate. Running a small business is a lot of work. If it’s a family that runs the business, they’re probably already working overtime.

    But there’s something about the names of restaurants that’s deliberately exotic and orientalizing. Maybe restaurants should cut that out.

  62. August 18, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    For example, the use Peking and Canton in names of restaurants when no Chinese or Chinese American person uses these names any more.

  63. David Thompson
    August 19, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    It’s not deliberate. Running a small business is a lot of work. If it’s a family that runs the business, they’re probably already working overtime.

    I’ve seen enough similarity in menus (same fonts, same layouts, same descriptions) from ostensibly unrelated places to presume that the menus are all jobbed out, probably to the same outfit that does the food prep.

  64. August 19, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    You should inquire nicely the next time you eat where they get their menus then contact the manufacturer to say their menus exotify and Orientalize Asian people and cultures.

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