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  1. jemand
    jemand July 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm |

    wow. I haven’t read the other comment thread yet, but I’m sorry. Being white I dunno if you really are wanting to listen to me *right now* but I want to say that as a female science major, I have surrounded myself by lots of male friends interested in the same things I am. And whatever ideal might be but isn’t– there are a lot more men than women in science right now. And yeah, sometimes when something comes up and I read or feel sexism, I miss, really miss, actually having a girl friend here. I talk to other women online but I really don’t have a girl friend in the area anymore.

    I don’t want to say “I know what you mean” because that can be a hurtful response from someone enjoying any type of privilege, as I really don’t, but I’m trying…

  2. annaham
    annaham July 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm |

    I haven’t commented on the other post at all (I feel that, as a white het cis woman, it would be extremely inappropriate of me to do so, because I am not all caught up on where the conflict actually started), but I feel compelled to comment here. Your post has given me a lot to think about, Bint, as your posts always do. Thanks.

  3. Cagey
    Cagey July 15, 2009 at 3:47 pm |

    Wow, hope you feel better, Bint.

    OT but what’s up with the I Blame The Patriarchy website? Every time I try to visit it, it shows this weird prompt to download something.

  4. amandaw
    amandaw July 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm |

    that thread (ad hominem) is going to take a long time to digest, for me… so much going on there…

    isn’t it amazing how you just lose contact and never realize it? life is complicated, managing so many things, and those connections you value, sometimes fall to the side bc something else is more important then. but then later, when you need those specific connections… they’re gone.
    i moved across the country two and a half years ago and i have lost all contact with “real-life” friends. i have no one. just online. and it’s hard to find new ppl, because this area is the oldest in the US and we’re not near the city enough to take advantage of any urban stuff going on

    even just on that level. i get that part, to what extent i can.

    it’s distressing, feeling disconnected like that.

    i’m looking forward to reading your posts these weeks.

  5. Kai
    Kai July 15, 2009 at 4:35 pm |

    Sorry to hear what you’ve been going through, Tulip. Hope you feel better. Maybe just writing it out and talking about it some will ease the pressure a bit.

    Sorry also to hear about what your daughter has been going through. We’ve all been through it, all of us POC who grew up in the US. Those experiences are seared into our memories of childhood trauma.

    Go Asian American kids at school! Hehe, maybe your daughter will fall in with them next year, ya never know. When I was in school, I felt most at home hanging with Asians but was always good at making friends across social barriers. I had friends of all races, including lots of white friends (mostly Jewish and Irish, though, maybe that’s a factor). But it’s interesting, as the years have gone by and I’m less of a party-hopper and more selective about how I spend time, I find myself increasingly surrounded almost-exclusively by POC. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But we just understand each other’s language and cues and jokes and annoyances and outlooks better. It’s so much easier. More relaxed. Because another truth is: hanging out with white folks, a little part of your mind is always braced for something just painful to come flying out of their mouth, whether you’re just watching TV or talking about the news or having a beer or whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever met a white person who doesn’t occasionally let slip a real doozy when it comes to race.

    I can’t imagine how hard it must be, with your POC friends driven out of the region by the hurricanes. And it’s infuriating because that’s exactly what the white establishment wanted: to fracture communities of color, pull the rug out from under one of the most important Black cultural centers in US history, scatter folks across the country into isolated pockets surrounded by whiteness. That’s why they let it happen. And in certain ways, it has worked.

    People of color need to make a point of sticking together and sticking up for each other. That’s just the way it is in our society, otherwise you just get hammered, as you say; flattened like roadkill on the superhighway of whiteness. I hope you find the connections and support you need. I don’t think any of us can do it alone. I know I couldn’t.


  6. Ursula L
    Ursula L July 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm |

    Being a different sort of mixed-race/ethnicity (my mother is from India, my father from Germany) I’ve noticed some of the things you have.

    I’ve generally resented the “pick one” ideas of race or ethnicity. It felt like lying, and denying one half of my heritage if I picked the other.

    I found that white people were generally more comfortable with my identifying as a mix than POC – they tended to identify as a “mix” themselves (e.g. Irish and German, Italian and French, etc.) rather than as “white” and saw my mix as just one more mix. But they also tended to not understand some of the trickier issues that can come with the darker-skinned half of my identity. (Things like wanting to wear a salwar kameez, which is comfortable and reasonably attractive on me, but being concerned that it looks too “ethnic” and might get me targeted as a “terrorist” post 9/11.)

    On the other hand, the Indians (not so much other POCs) had a much harder time accepting the “mix” – it was too close to being British/English and Indian, which has its own set of cultural and colonial problems, somewhat similar to the issues around being mixed white and black in the US, and the sexual exploitation related to slavery.

    Not much in the way of advice here, except to say that you aren’t alone with these sorts of problems.

    I do find that staying in touch with both halves of my background helps – even if it is just going out of my way to shop at the Indian grocery now and then, or put together a German style fruit torte-board. It’s superficial, but it can be grounding, and comforting. Just to get back in touch with whatever aspects of you’re culture you’re feeling strange about, in a way that you can do on your own, if necessary. Not a substitute for community, but a palliative. In my case, I tend to look to ethnic foods for this comfort-purpose, for you, it may be some other aspect of culture (music? books? poetry?)

  7. atlasien
    atlasien July 15, 2009 at 5:47 pm |

    You should come hang out more at Racialicious :-)

    I’m very much a proud feminist, and I like reading here, but I prefer to talk about women of color stuff where women of color are predominant… Racialicious is that place for me. I cannot stand getting caught up in a “yelling at white women” dynamic. It’s too much unproductive hostility for me. I would rather have friendlier debates. Other people may feel differently, but that’s just my perspective.

  8. The Czech
    The Czech July 15, 2009 at 6:17 pm |

    I hope we can create, and you can find, a safe space to be/talk/have community.

    Where did I read recently, that “a safe space for whites isn’t safe for POC.”?

    Some of that goes on… keeping the whites or the menz, who aren’t truly allies, happy is work that takes a lot away from what I believe is our real ‘objective’ (if you will) of being out and about online or in RL for justice and as we are.

    Erg, I don’t think my thoughts are making sense, but maybe some people will be able to translate me.

  9. victoria
    victoria July 15, 2009 at 6:50 pm |

    Thank you for writing this.

  10. Emily
    Emily July 15, 2009 at 7:52 pm |

    I didn’t read the ad hominem thread, but I skimmed the post and thought it was weird. I can understand it bringing up a lot of issues, and wish you all the best in thinking, analyzing and healing. Thanks for the post and I look forward to your future posts here.

  11. Black Girl Anon
    Black Girl Anon July 15, 2009 at 7:54 pm |

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I struggle a lot too with how to identify myself. My parents identify (usually) as “just black”, but they’re both multiracial. I’m black, white, native, and asian but I almost always just say “black”. I think this is something a lot of US descendants of slaves feel insecure about. You’re treated like a sell-out if you show pride in or even acknowledge your non-black ethnicities.
    And some black folks might show disdain for mixed kids who “have it easier.” But, generally, the black community is waaaay more accepting than most racial groups.
    Natives rarely accept me or other black indians as “real” Indians. Even if you have the cultural AND blood connection. My family has both and I still can’t enroll in either of the 2 nations my family comes from.

    Sorry for my rambly comment. Just wanted to let you know I feel you on the whole looking black and being multiracial thing. It can be lonely sometimes even if you ARE surrounded by people of color.

  12. Kathy
    Kathy July 15, 2009 at 8:12 pm |

    Marhaba, Bint Alshamsa,

    I am a white woman (50 going on 29) who was raised in a multiracial family (my single mother was like a white Josephine Baker – I don’t know how else to describe her, except she didn’t have Ms. Baker’s awesome talent, in that she made a conscious decision to adopt a “rainbow” family). My brothers are Native American and African American, and mixed. My family was ostracized, bullied, beaten physically and emotionally (but our mother taught us to fight back). When I was a little girl I wished I wasn’t white, because I associated it with hate for no good reason. How can you hate someone who never did anything wrong or hurtful to you? My brothers were all gentle souls (I was a hellion, on the other hand.). It was really that simple. It made no sense to this 10 year old.

    The one I am closest to is half black and half indigenous, and because of the racism he (and my entire family), endured in my white working class town, he made a conscious decision to identify always as black, without denigrating or denying his indigenous heritage.

    I went on to study Arabic (like you!) and married an Arab (now divorced but still very close and will always be family, too), and still use his last name at times just to rub it in the face of Islamophobes and Arab haters (I leave it to them to get their knickers all twisted whether I am Arab/Muslim or not). My best friend is a muhajjiba, and I hear bigoted and misogynist things all the time about Muslim women. It just never fucking ends.

    I know it’s petty and cheap and using my privilege as a white woman against them, but it’s a tiny way of honoring them (and all others) and that part of my life, and to shame others stewed in their hate for Otherness. Or think just because you share their skin color they can somehow share their racism about blacks, in particular (the source of many physical altercations in the past, shouting matches, and awkward moments to this day – I don’t let it pass, ever. That’s my FAMILY you are talking trash about.).

    Yet I really find it ironic that my family background is now considered “cool” in some quarters with the election of President Obama. But believe me, it was anything but when I was growing up. I guess it is progress of a sort, and then stories like yours remind me how far we have to go. Post-racial, my big fat white middle-aged ass.

    I usually just lurk here (and at your site), but this post hit me hard in the gut, and just wanted you to know while I can never know you feel, I saw the soul searching you are now going through in my brother many years ago. Apologies for the long story, but it is, as you eloquently write here, a complicated and conflicted story.

    Salamaat wa saha tayib da’emaan, in sha’ Allah.

  13. Miranda
    Miranda July 15, 2009 at 8:19 pm |

    Thank you for this post.

  14. anna.licious
    anna.licious July 15, 2009 at 8:21 pm |

    Posts like this one help remind me how to keep my white privilege in check. Thank you for being so incredibly open.

  15. Kismet
    Kismet July 15, 2009 at 9:12 pm |


    Thank you for your post. I checked in over at ad hominem and nearly passed out from the deep, deep, DEEP hate and pain being spewed back and forth. Some of it legitimate, a lot of it not.

    I’m black and Puerto Rican and have been open on my old blog Waiting 2 Speak about the conflicts I’ve lived through. But I’ve seen more damage done to those around me who were also “mixed” but didn’t reconcile themselves with a sense of poc community. The reality is the reality–hammering is a way of life in the world we live in. And we’ve got to keep looking out for ourselves even as we push the boundaries of what is blackness, what is privilege, what is race, etc.

    So I wish your daughter the best and I hope she finds a loving, wholesome, inclusive poc community to thrive in at the school she goes to.

    (Brownfemipower’s blog was the first place I found too that validated my experiences! We need to keep writing blogs that do netroots like activism but also blogs that just relate how sucky our day was when this white woman pushed in front of us in line, you know? Or when that ad appeared on TV. Etc. )

    And if you are still in New Orleans, look me up. :) I’m here for a few weeks and love to shoot the sh*t about race, woc, media, all of that! kismetfour at gmail dot com.

  16. Just Sayin'
    Just Sayin' July 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm |

    My partner, who is the love of my life, has held me and tried to console me, but he can’t say he’s been there. He can’t say he understands what I’m going through. He can’t fulfill my need to have people around me who have experienced the effects of racism and white privilege in the ways that I have

    It is amazing that any het relationship survives, with the cultural forces telling men to hate women, and women to fear men in return. I am doubly amazed and bow to you for your strength in building such a strong boat in your family, and for carrying your daughter so far, so safely, in an ocean of hate. I know I admire you. And just reading this, I know you will make it through this storm as well.

  17. Ami
    Ami July 15, 2009 at 10:27 pm |

    @10 mostly I guess…why can’t any whites (or any “menz”) for that matter be real allies? I know that as someone who has enjoyed white privilege I will never really understand what it is like to be a WOC, but does that make me an enemy?

  18. Lukovka
    Lukovka July 15, 2009 at 10:47 pm |

    “why can’t any whites (or any “menz”) for that matter be real allies? I know that as someone who has enjoyed white privilege I will never really understand what it is like to be a WOC, but does that make me an enemy?”

    Ami: There are so many places, all over the internet, where people have attempted to educate others on that very issue. I think you’ll be able to feel a lot better about yourself, and your ability not to be taken for “an enemy,” if you spend a little time Googling for those existing discussions and tutorials, rather than bringing up the question on a post where a woman of color is writing about the weariness of being surrounded by white people who don’t understand this stuff.

    And, hey! Apart from how it’ll make *you* feel, maybe it’ll actually help keep you from doing things to make POC’s lives harder! Won’t that be nice.

  19. abby jean
    abby jean July 15, 2009 at 11:09 pm |

    @20 – Ami, let’s not derail this thread to center white women and their potential relationships with WOC. Bint has written beautifully about her need for connection with WOC in the original post and forcing the conversation to recenter on white women seems to be proving her point and underlining the inability of WOC to focus on themselves without having to answer to the questions of white women, however well intentioned. without speaking for The Czech, i’d suggest that’s what was meant by spaces with whites being unable to be safe spaces for WOC, as whites will generally shift attention back to themselves and their issues. which would mean that the scattering effects of katrina uniquely affect POC in yet another way, by breaking up the safe spaces created with a critical mass of POC.

    Bint, thank you for writing this. for me, it illustrated yet another way in which katrina and its aftermath are uniquely affecting POC.

  20. mimulus
    mimulus July 15, 2009 at 11:37 pm |

    I’d like to agree with Ami, and say that reading “the whites” in comment #10 is unnerving. And calling someone out on something doesn’t mean you’re re- “centering” the thread.

    I did very much appreciate Bint’s post, very brave and honest.

  21. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 15, 2009 at 11:45 pm |

    I’m sorry too, for your and your daughter’s pain. I know it’s a hard road, and I think you are feeling sad and tired and unappreciated. However I found myself thinking WTF? Even if well intended; were my spouse to tell my special, wonderful multiracial granddaughter that she should seek conformity, or expect to get “pounded down”, I’d do some pounding of my own. We are all different and special.

    Two thoughts: first, we cliquish white girls aren’t always the brightest at expressing differences and go for the lowest and easiest way to get a rise out of someone. Close friends can turn out to be really mean, whether there is a color difference or not. If that was the best they could do, they aren’t smart enough to be around your daughter. She has outgrown them.

    Secondly, let’s remind ourselves that how we relate to race, culture, and ethnicity are also seen through a lens of class. That is to say, common ideas about life hold people together as much as anything. If your daughter was attending a school in a working class environment, or one in an upper middle class area, for example, her life experience will conform in many ways to those around her, regardless of race.

    So in that respect, another school with different groups could be a growth experience, albeit, possibly a difficult one.

  22. Azalea
    Azalea July 15, 2009 at 11:54 pm |

    I too am a multicultural woman of color and certainly understand and appreciate your post!

  23. Napalm Nacey
    Napalm Nacey July 16, 2009 at 1:59 am |

    I was deeply, deeply uncomfortable about the Ad Hominem thread. Thank you for sharing your feelings in this post. I pray for the day you don’t have to remind people about their privilege anymore.

  24. Ami
    Ami July 16, 2009 at 3:30 am |


    I want to apologize. It was not my intent to undermine your post or to derail the discussion, but I realize that is what my comment did. It was insensitive of me to post so quickly in response to a comment that I found upsetting without considering the impact that it would have on the overall discussion and the people who identify closely with it.

    I found your post touching and insightful and I look forward to reading your posts in the future. I am the first to admit that I can’t understand what you are going through but I want to learn more and understand better.

    Please consider my prior comment a rude oversight and revoked.

  25. belledame222
    belledame222 July 16, 2009 at 6:28 am |

    Thank you for posting this, Bint. How painful and isolating it must be to have had so many friends and loved ones of color leave after the hurricanes. It’s awful to feel alone.

  26. cheshire
    cheshire July 16, 2009 at 7:09 am |

    Bint. Thankyou for this, I am white and I feel similar to the first commenter, being a math/com sci geek and hanging out mostly with straight guys. I know the feeling of missing those people who you don’t need to explain your scares to, who see what you have gone though and nod knowing, who understand without explaination. Who don’t need to be taught, or tiptoed around.

  27. transgenmom
    transgenmom July 16, 2009 at 7:27 am |

    I feel similarly about my transgendered status. Add on that being young, and a mom, and so on I’ve always felt like a safe place for me was more impossible than difficult.

    Similarly I am dark enough to be considered hispanic and so on, but my family is all white.

    I think though for me isolation is just second nature now and I only really feel safe isolated. The idea of feeling safe in a group of people is more or less a foreign concept to me.

  28. Vail
    Vail July 16, 2009 at 7:33 am |

    This was a wonderful post. Though I am white (and privileged) I too understand wanting people who share my experiences. I wish that I could find a group of women (or even one) who has adopted like me. I would love to be able to talk to someone who understands about infertility and the worries about raising my child so she’s strong and happy. My friends try but they don’t totally “get it” as they aren’t going through it themselves. I see it as needing someone who speaks the same language as you. Yes people can buy translation guides, they might speak a similar language and thus understand better. But sometimes you need someone who instantly speaks your language, with all the slang and metaphors.

  29. Holly
    Holly July 16, 2009 at 9:09 am |


    Thanks so much for writing this post. I’m sorry that it felt like a necessary catharsis from recent events, but please know — and I think the comments above show, too — that you’re actually reaching into some pretty deep and widely felt truths. The feeling of lacking people who share your experience and can actually understand what you go through with regards to racism, when it comes to being outside privilege or marginalized — it hurts like a physical hurt. It’s part of the “radar” that makes us painfully aware when we walk into a room and are the only PoCs there. Even in times of my life where that has become a routine experience, there’s part of my mind that always screams and feels like a disconnected tether. I have to say, these feelings are a very big part of why I moved to live in NYC, where I enjoy a lot of advantage of being able to look around and find people that I share many experiences with. I probably will never leave for somewhere that’s more mono-hued, or less queer, or less filled with people of many different trans experiences. The alienation and search for a respite from it (and I really relate to what transgenmom said as well) have always formed a huge and crucial, inescapable part of who I am and how I relate to everything. It’s painful.

    I’m glad that you have been able to find some anchor for that online, although it also sounds like there has been a lot of hurt recently from white people that you thought could be trusted. I find it very hard to trust almost anyone online in the ways that you’re talking about, and being able to meet and make a connection (hopefully offline too) is a great gift. That’s especially painful when we feel betrayed or let down by people that share our experience or our politics in some ways, but have huge divides in others, and the “ad hominems” thread, and everything around it, is a very good example of how that happens in multiple ways. I didn’t read that whole discussion, only in fragments. Your comments, and little light’s (who is probably the closest person I have to a “relative” when it comes to living at the same intersections of categorical experience) were ones that stuck out for me.

    I didn’t respond on that thread after the very beginning, because every time I started writing something I felt so angry and hurt that I had to step away — it brings up a lot of feelings about how difficult it is to trust even people who share experiences of oppression. But one thing I kept writing when I tried to write, and that I want to say now, is that I was grateful for the way you stepped in there and asked to focus on behaviors, not on people, and were striving for a more productive and positive outcome even in the midst of what felt to a lot of people involved like an ugly catharsis of hurt and reactions to abuse and bad feelings about one another. I don’t know all the details of what you are talking about when it comes to privileged people acting out and how people have betrayed you — I assume there are conversations happening to that I am not privy to or haven’t been able to look at at all. But I’m sorry for how much it hurt, and I hope that finding sisters, in real spaces or online ones, helps heal that hurt.

    I have another important thing to say about your post, but I’m going to split it off as a separate comment.

  30. prettyamiable
    prettyamiable July 16, 2009 at 9:35 am |

    Can I request then that someone post (not in comments but as an overall feministe post) about opening communication lines about race?

    As a note to Bint, I truly hope that there is some good that can come of her experiences. I hope she grows to be a strong individual in her adulthood.

    For my MBA program, I have to read a book called The Difference for a leadership class that I’m taking during orientation in two weeks. The Difference, if you haven’t heard of it, is a book on diversity. Written by a white man. From Ann Arbor. Who went to a slew of colleges that sound like a Who’s Who list of schools that are 90% white. Within the first few pages is written that “sometimes you have to sacrifice ability for the sake of diversity.” The implicit racism is not lost on me, and I am not excited for this class. (I am, however, excited to be “that girl” when raising this issue I have in a class that is also some obscene percentage white. Sigh.). I can’t imagine being a POC (because I’m not) having to read this book, let alone participate in class discussions when most people won’t even catch these not quite subtle comments.

  31. prettyamiable
    prettyamiable July 16, 2009 at 9:42 am |

    ugh. Second paragraph has an ambiguous her. I meant “I truly hope that there is some good that can come of [your daughter’s] experiences. I hope she grows to be a strong individual in her adulthood. “

  32. Holly
    Holly July 16, 2009 at 10:54 am |

    OK, I have a bunch of stuff I want to say about the infamous Japanese proverb “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down” that gives this post its title. And it is infamous — it’s one of those sayings that has spread throughout the English-speaking world as a way of characterizing Japanese culture. I’m curious about your partner’s interpretation, and what I understood him to mean was that if any of those Asian-American kids were to try to survive socially alone, they would be like a lone nail standing out, a target for the hammer of white privilege without support of other “nails.” In a group, they’re safer — maybe not from the hammer, but at least maybe it’s harder to get bashed down when you are amidst support and those like you.

    That’s actually a nice and positive spin on that saying — valuable, even, in that you were help to connect it with the need for community support from people of shared experience, and share your thoughts in this post. At the same time… it’s very radically different from my own experience of that saying, which (in English) has been used for decades to other (and denigrate, subtly) Japan as a culture of conformity and group-think where being different or special is punished. If you google “the nail that sticks up” you will see plenty of examples of English-speaking “discussion about Japan” that basically amount to that. Most of the people that talk about this saying are not Japanese — most of them are probably white. What I’m trying to say is, there’s a whole discourse about this “emblematic, characteristic of Japan” proverb that’s been foisted on Japan, in addition to and separate from what it actually originally meant. I understand that your partner had a different spin (and I actually kind of like it) but for personal as well as political reasons — since this “saying” and associated ideas had a big impact on me culturally, racially, individaully — I feel like it’s important to acknowledge those bigger contexts and history.

    So, it’s a complicated subject and I decided to call an expert — my mother, who has written on the topic in both languages and never gets tired of railing against American scholars and journalists who can’t stop essentializing Japan and using it as a bizzare opposite mirror to rationalize the Way That America Is. I talked to her for about an hour just now, as a sanity check because I know too many different, conflicting things about this saying. But she basically summed it up: “Japan ‘experts’ here use it to say that Japan is a conformist society, unlike America which is all about individualism and merit.”

    What too many American ‘experts’ think this means: Don’t be different. Conform to the ways of the group, don’t stick out. Otherwise you will be crushed, and rightfully so. This is the way of Japanese society.

    This is actually what I was taught it meant — how half of my cultural background was presented to me — by white people, including members of my own family. When my mother caught wind of this, she just told me that they didn’t understand what it really meant, but left it at that. She has always despaired of raising me and my sister in a way that would allow us to be anything but “Americans,” here in this soil and culture. She didn’t really try to explain it all to me until decades later, when I was reading more about it and she was writing more about it.

    There are 988,000 hits in Google for “the nail that sticks.” The original proverb was actually “the stake that sticks up” because there were no nails in Japan before the iron ships came. If you search on the actual Japanese phrases, 出る杭は打たれる or 出る釘は打たれる — you get less than half the results. This is partly because it’s become magnified, exaggerated, focused on, and partly because the expression has gone out of vogue in Japan (maybe especially online…) It’s associated with an “old way of thinking” and is something a stern schoolteacher or group-minded boss would say.

    What I understand it really means in Japan, in my limited half-breed way: You should not emphasize your own individual excellence or difference over group harmony (wa, 和) to avoid resentment and dissension. Think about a sports team with a star player, one whose talent and skills stands out over everyone else. If that player were always trying to be the one to take the shot at basket, to score the goal, even if they statistically have the greatest likelihood of success, teamwork and the group dynamic suffers. The individual may be outstanding, but the group suffers. This is what’s trying to be expressed.

    In some ways it’s similar to the concept of “hubris,” but without the divine element. There’s actually a pretty good discussion here, with examples from different cultures. The “tall poppy” of New Zealand, the “high trees catch much wind” or “sticking your head above the mowing field” in Dutch, or “if you move you won’t be in the picture” in Spanish.

    All of these are a little different, of course. But I feel like none has been called out as an “essential descriptor” of a culture, at least in the US, as the Japanese example. And I believe that’s because of the “weird mirror” dynamic.

    Some of these carry more of a “warning” dynamic — hey be careful, you’re a target! And it can be used in Japanese that way too, which is maybe more popular now that the “prioritize the group above trumpeting your own merit” which is sort of an old fuddy-duddy thing. However, my mother wants me to say that in order to really understand what it means and the importance of this saying, you also need to grasp what wa (和, harmony) means in Japan (white guy tries to explain here) and also ‘sekken’ (sp?) a word I don’t know. She claims that some article she wrote about this might be online some time soon, but doesn’t know how to find it, because she gets irritated with Google.

    Atlasien and little mixed girl also commented on the dynamics around this proverb recently over at Racialicious on a post about the trans community in Japan, and the stereotypes of conformity.

    If you read this long comment about hammering, thank you. It’s a bit of a tangent, but since it’s the metaphor of the post and important to me, I thought I should write it. It’s also really related — for me at least — to the kinds of white/POC/mixed-race dynamics that bint talks about. The simple “conformist” interpretation of the saying was taught to me by hegemonic American (i.e. white-centric) culture and white relatives as what the OTHER culture I was part of would do to me for being different. Because I was always different, the white side of my family positions itself as being very “different” and me more than the rest of them for being queer and trans, even when I was tiny. The idea was that although “oh no we wouldn’t want to say Japan is BAD per se,” special people would be taken care of properly in this country. (Yeah, right.) This really influenced my own relationship to Japanese culture when I went to live there at the age of 11, which is when I was feeling at a new peak of intense difference around race and gender especially, and like nobody could understand me. (Oh, adolescence.) So it’s taken me a long time to learn more nuanced lessons about it.

    1. amandaw
      amandaw July 16, 2009 at 12:22 pm |

      Holly, that comment was amazing. I’ve never heard the phrase before bint’s use of it here, and her further explanation of it in comment 30 really connected with me. In that use, it’s not about “Don’t be yourself/be something unique, or else you’ll get smashed!” (as in the American interpretation of the Japanese phrase as you explain) — it’s not a command to the individual — it’s about the weight of whiteness coming down on you. It’s acknowledging the very real power in society that can bear down on you. And, I suspect, there is comfort in identifying that force (but I cannot speak for anyone else’s experience).

      You connect it more with hubris, and I think that is an element that is going to be largely missed in American interpretation. We do not want acknowledgement that (assumed) individual superiority can be anything but good and right. To admit that sometimes it makes sense to think of the group around you and not trust that individualism/achievement will win over all… that is a humility that American culture is largely lacking.

      You explained it in a very accessible way for me; I may be taking something slightly different out of it (just exploring one direction that appeared to me), but it makes sense, a lot of sense. Thank you for taking the time to write it all out.

  33. Persia
    Persia July 16, 2009 at 11:01 am |

    Bint, thanks for the post. I am sorry you have to negotiate this.

  34. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay July 16, 2009 at 11:04 am |

    @ Vail 34

    “My friends try but they don’t totally “get it” as they aren’t going through it themselves. I see it as needing someone who speaks the same language as you. Yes people can buy translation guides, they might speak a similar language and thus understand better. But sometimes you need someone who instantly speaks your language, with all the slang and metaphors.”

    I found this a really interesting way to describe this. I tried explaining to a male friend that he just can’t “get” experiences of sexism (or any significant experience I’ve had that he hasn’t) and he was offended. I told him I can’t “get” the experiences of racism or homophobia he’s had and that’s just the way things are. We can listen as well as possible to come close to “getting it”. We can try to empathize with similar experiences we’ve had.

    Anyway, it’s interesting that people assume white North Americans have a varied heritage while black people are welll, black. I’m kind of the opposite in that I identify as white (with a couple different heritages) but people look at me and some people see someone with a bit of native or possibly Asian. And people feel very comfortable asking people they’ve just met about their heritage.

  35. mixnmatch
    mixnmatch July 16, 2009 at 11:18 am |

    My experience as person whose ethnicity is a true mixed bag of eclectic varieties. Yet, non whites see do not accept me as “brown+-” (this is my way of saying a lot of brown to a little brown for anything from kenyan to asian). Whites label me as latina most often. But latinos label me as white. So I recognize all shades of brown+- as my heritage. I often say I am black!!! Why not? I feel black because nobody will accept my color, my outer appearance as matching theirs. I am angry that I cannot get acceptance by any group. I get to be perceived as white by those of color and discriminated against by whites for being of color.

  36. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 11:35 am |

    Bint-I understood your partner was concerned about her safety. Certainly there are times when the “safety in numbers” rule applies. Also, there are times when one just wants a rest, or a chance to be with someone they perceive to be like themselves, who has similar experiences, and understands the same; nuances, gestures, pain. Those times are golden and reinforce our own self identity, our souls.

    I thought about that word as I typed it. What are the strands of logic that follow he meaning of “Compliance to standards, or, following rules of law or society”? If we suggest to our children that they should keep their head down, find places where they don’t stick out so much, they might find such places in a multiracial group. They might find common experiences to share. Quietly then, unthinking, and without fuss, we have yet again succeeded in another form of segregation. All societal groups demand a certain loyalty and compliance to viewpoint. In a social group we isolate ourselves from the ”Other”, or we behave toward them in a way in that is in compliance to our group’s standards. How long we stay in the group to some degree dictates who we are when or if we come out.

    At the same time, while we are in our group, the “Other” is deprived of understanding, perceives that we stick to ourselves, and that it’s easier that way. When we build our own fence, we just save the “Other” a lot of work. I think President Clinton was right when he recently discussed the “Balkanization of America”. If we keep hiding behind our gated communities and don’t talk to the neighbors that are “different” we will not advance as a people, as a nation.

    Rather than staying behind, my family moved every two years. Each move was a grief and a loss. Friends, neighborhood, personal trees and hiding places, teachers and schools were all left behind. Eventually though, I came to anticipate moving also as a kind of rebirth.

    You are the heroine of your own epic. Grief, loss and pain are what take you to the next stage of your epic. They are the promise of a great new adventure in your life’s saga.

    Your daughter sounds smashing! I’ll bet she was the cutest thing ever in those red velvet pants.

  37. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 11:55 am |

    38. Holly – well discussed!!

  38. peanutbutter
    peanutbutter July 16, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    I think we all need a good grounding, a foundation, we can draw strength from at different times in our lives. The problem with whiteness is that it provides this such thing with little to no effort at all so that ppl don’t even realize it’s there or somehow feel bad for looking for their own proper grounding when it differs from the enforced norm.

  39. shah8
    shah8 July 16, 2009 at 12:54 pm |

    Whiteness is there for that purpose, to blot out the sense of individuality. Without whiteness, families and clans would ally with one another at purposes contrary to core governing groups. Poor white people uniting with black people is one of the fundamental deep fears of US elites from the founding, and to a modified extent, this fear still exists today.

    Without whiteness, english settlers would have gotten along with the native americans, much as the old french settlements deep in continental US have, and resisted central control. Without whiteness, slavery would not have been a viable enterprise, and the agricultural productivity of the South would not have been able to support an industrializing North.

    Whiteness is a means of supporting elites, not a means of getting a sense of self, which is why only idiotic white supremacist groups think that the explicit concept is great. Thus, it’s really not always about the buck (well, not immediately) when Hollywood insists on an almost all white Avatar or DragonballZ. Getting white people to do things like settle the Great Plains (even in dramatically unsuitable areas) and clear out Plains Tribes allows corporations like railway and mining interests to safely exploit those areas. Of course, most would be small time farmers and miners in such areas never had much of a chance, and many become destitute, like the Okies. In the modern era, whiteness is used mostly to prevent social reforms that businessmen do not like.

    Whiteness is like the ultimate conforming mechanism which uses economic insecurity (like denying services to areas that are too brown) to crush any defectors. This has pretty negative effects for the future prospects of white children with too many associations with nonwhites (especially around NO). Of course, the absolute worst part of the hammering (especially minorities in white families/areas) is just how much of the race (and other) narratives that white people uses are rank projections to cover the extra hypocrisy.

  40. squirrely
    squirrely July 16, 2009 at 1:39 pm |

    Growing up white in NOLA, in a multi-racial household (latino stepfather), I didn’t know anything until I started learning the history of the city, mostly as an adult. Looking back on my childhood in that city, I wish I could reclaim some moments that are forever lost. I went to integrated, public schools throughout my education, but things slide into the racial patterns our parents and their parents laid down for us, and I wish I could go back and cross more of those invisible lines. But at the age of twelve, who really knows what’s what?

    I’m glad you and your partner are thinking about these things with your daughter. I wish my parents had done more of that.

  41. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 1:50 pm |

    lol -Shah8- a “Whiteout” rant! Your comments touch elements of Black Liberation Theology, where the color white might represent evil.

  42. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm |

    By the way Bint- You mentioned Lupus and that you were throwing up. Did you ever get tested for Celiac? They sometimes occur together.

  43. shah8
    shah8 July 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm |

    I suppose I should expect a comment like yours, roofingbird, it’s not like I haven’t always gotten this sort of reaction from white people when I’m on this topic.


    is presented for your enlightenment.

  44. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm |

    Shah8- I’m not sure what you mean, since, although your points could have quite complex arguments, I think I agree with your sentiment. In substituting the word “evil for “whiteness”, your statement is still clear.

    In BLT God is proposed to be be black, and why not? It’s not a far reach to the conclusion, as Malcolm X thought, that the Devil was white.

    Here are his words:
    “We have as much right biblically and otherwise to believe that God is a Negroe, as you buckra or white people have to believe that God is a fine looking, symmetrical and ornamented white man. For the bulk of you and all the fool Negroes of the country believe that God is white-skinned, blue eyed, straight-haired, projected nosed, compressed lipped and finely robed white gentleman, sitting upon a throne somewhere in the heavens. Every race of people who have attempted to describe their God by words, or by paintings, or by carvings, or any other form or figure, have conveyed the idea that the God who made them and shaped their destinies was symbolized in themselves, and why should not the Negroe believe that he resembles God.”

  45. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 2:40 pm |

    Hoover Institute fellow Stanley Kurtz, in a political commentary in National Review, wrote that
    Cone defines it as “complete emancipation of black people from white oppression by whatever means black people deem necessary.” For Cone, the deeply racist structure of American society leaves blacks with no alternative but radical transformation or social withdrawal. So-called Christianity, as commonly practiced in the United States, is actually the racist Antichrist. “Theologically,” Cone affirms, “Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man ‘the devil.'” The false Christianity of the white-devil oppressor must be replaced by an authentic Christianity fully identified with the poor and oppressed.[14]

  46. shah8
    shah8 July 16, 2009 at 2:51 pm |

    I use the term “whiteness” because it’s an actual term useful in social theory. I use it appropriately. What is actually controversial about what I said is that the practical and financial disadvantages of whiteness outweigh the privileges accorded to whites. We only see otherwise because humans are not very sensitives to opportunity costs. And we can all see the tragic state of the overt victims of white supremacy. Watch the one hand, don’t see the other, if you will.

    The part on race traitor is pretty germaine to the thread, btw.

  47. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 16, 2009 at 4:08 pm |

    Yep I see – And I don’t think your statement about practical and financial disadvantage is controversial. Take a bunch of cats, black ones, white ones, spotted and brown ones. Tie them up in a bag and throw them in the river. Some of those yowling, screaming biting cats might survive and claw their way out of the bag. Course, the ones that don’t survive won’t have just drowned; they’ll be bitten, clawed and torn apart as well. Are the survivors going to mount an attack on the hand or run away?.

    If the hand opens the bag at last minute and picks one or two cats up, those cats are no better off, unless they bite their liberator and run away.

    The hand that ties the bag is the the creator of this sad scenario. The cats are forced to fight for their lives against each other. The hand doesn’t have to work so hard to kill them all individually.

    Apply the same to feminist-womanist theory. It doesn’t matter whether you are Morrison’s lavender or purple; all women have suffered discrimination. It’s the hand with the bag, or the pearls or the stick or the whip that is in charge.

    Your comment about race traitors is another example. It had a shock value once. Now however, why do we allow that term for use under any circumstance? Much less in a positive way? When we stand up against injustice we are not selling out our race, we are changing the constructs of societal wrongs. We are altruistically ( I shudder to use that word in anticipation of reprisal) and hopefully, advancing all humanity.

    By the way, is anyone involved with Wikipedia editing? I was horrified to see the criticisms section, in which the likes of Horowitz and Kay were allowed to flourish.

  48. shah8
    shah8 July 16, 2009 at 11:36 pm |

    Thinking about Holly‘s comment, I’d say the much of this is a mix of intentional and unintential confusion between xenophobia, conformism, and nationalism. In many ways, the phrase that Holly ranted about isn’t all that much different than people citing the “ancient Chinese ideogram” of danger and opportunity. It’s not applied to Chinese so much as it’s a mirror of our “Fu Manchu” concept of the opportunist yellow threat. There are US phrases for most of the significant nationalities, though I suspect that the French will want something better than “cheese eating surrender monkeys”.

    As for Holly’s mom, I think it’s a losing war. Fun to rant against and maybe fly off the handle like I do whenever people advocate population control measures, but most people believe in this crap because they want to. Essentializing the japanese in such a way gives plenty of people a non-threatening schema to understanding and/or controlling them. Much as some would start understanding Irish or Russians by comparing them with drunkards. Measure by weakness, or strengths.

  49. sarah
    sarah July 17, 2009 at 5:21 am |

    Holly, thank you so much for making such a comprehensive and interesting comment about the nail aphorism. i’m not a frequent commenter, here or at any of the sites i read regularly, but the one thing that usually drives me to comment is seeing the same tired stereotypes about Japan tossed around. that’s not what was happening here, but, as your google search proves, this saying is one of the things i hear invoked most often to back up the kind of smirking, self-congratulatory dismissals of Japan-the-managed-society that westerners often doggedly cling to.

    i was actually reading through the posts, planning to comment on it myself, and checking that it hadn’t already been covered; how nice it was to find that the dark side of the way this phrase has been used could be brought up without becoming a derailment of an already complex and interesting discussion. speaking of which, please let me make it clear that i definitely wasn’t planning to criticize you, Bint, or your partner or sister’s usage of it here – as Holly said i think you put an interesting and positive spin on a phrase that’s too often invoked to snark on a very skewed image of Japanese culture. it’s nice to be able to see the saying in a different light. thanks also to Bint for a powerful post that’s given me a lot of think about in terms of my own relationships.

    (also i don’t know how useful this is, but if i had to hazard a guess of what ‘sekken’ is, i’d say maybe it’s ‘seken’, no hard consonant, or 世間, i.e. society? just a guess, since i’m no language superstar myself)

  50. Kai
    Kai July 17, 2009 at 10:09 am |

    Holly, what an amazing comment. It deserves to be its own post, no? Well, unless you’re trying to avoid being a stake sticking up. ;-)

    I remember when I was maybe 8 or 9, my father sat me down at the kitchen table in front of a bunch of (cheapo) chopsticks. He picked up one chopstick and said, “A person alone can be broken”, and he easily snapped the chopstick in half. Then he picked up a thick fistful of chopsticks and said, “But together, people are strong” and he tried to break the bundle but obviously couldn’t. Maybe that was the Chinese version of the lesson. As Bint used the proverb, it was about safety and strength in unity. Although, your description of it as being about hubris without the divine element is perhaps an even more compelling way to think of it.

    In my introductory guest-post here at Feministe I mentioned discovering the racism of the liberal blogosphere. One of the posts that really drove this home for me was actually about Japan and this saying. Exactly as you describe, it used the proverb to stereotype and ridicule Japanese culture and glorify American exceptionalism. I was like, “So this is the progressive blogosphere, huh?”

  51. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 17, 2009 at 12:45 pm |

    Yes- shah8 – A “pitch, or sell phrase”; a jingle if you will, that reminds us at every turn, Oh, this is how the Japanese think!

    Holly’s comments reflect another point. That is we, as USAns’ cannot fully engage in the group dynamic of which she speaks. it requires that everyone, or most in the group, have an understanding of Japanese culture. Following this scenario, we could do the anthropological tour perhaps, and involve ourselves in such a group, as an individual. However, we could not easily, untrained, transfer the Japanese group dynamics there. ( I believe we did attempt this commercially in late 80’s.)

    Whether Japanese group behavior is in fact different, or not, I don’t know. We do have many examples where group behavior attempts to rule over individualism.

    Think of how group behavior in gangs, like the Nortenos, operate in the US. The needs of the individual are subsumed for the good of the group.

    The Mennonites also come to mind, as do the group activities of the Warren Jeffs enclave.

    Another simple example of group dynamics is Bint’s. Two young women, through jealousy, fear, ignorance, pressure or whatever, feel the need to act out against another member. Do the the rest of the group come to the victim’s defense? Does the victim subsume her needs for the good of the group? what would be the Japanese answer and would it differ?

  52. Chelsea
    Chelsea July 17, 2009 at 1:18 pm |

    Bint, this post has given me a lot to think about (as has your Oppressor Within post). Thanks for your writing.

  53. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 17, 2009 at 1:26 pm |

    I think it’s a sliding scale of good to bad in group dynamics, no matter what culture, or nationality. Individuals will always opt in or out of the group based on their own cost, versus benefit tabulation.

    If, as shah8 suggests, the “hammering” phrase is an essentialization, it is also a key, or a bread crumb on a trail into the Japanese culture. Even if it’s wrong, it has a use- to remind us that Japanese are a strong nation with a strong culture.

  54. Holly
    Holly July 17, 2009 at 3:04 pm |

    Hey Bint — you can totally quote or do whatever you want with my comment. Sorry, tried to post this from my phone yesterday when I was sick in bed, but I guess it didn’t go through. OK… still sick, so going back to bed.

  55. Holly
    Holly July 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm |

    Also, Kai: ugh, that post. Talk about a case in point — full of well-meaning tourist aphorisms about how scary and conformist Japan is, plus a Japanese friend complimenting him and denigrating Japan (“oh we don’t have creative people” — and of course he takes it literally) and then he congratulates himself for being from a culture that prizes uniqueness. Man, I am going to barf, and not just because I am sick. Oh extra bonus prize: there’s never been any women’s movement in Japan! That’s awesome. Erasing decades upon decades of Japanese feminism is TOTALLY AWESOME.

  56. roofingbird
    roofingbird July 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm |

    So, I guess to elucidate; there are different levels of isolation.

    Red Shafted Flickers live in different parts of the country than Yellow Shafted Flickers. Geography separates them, but when they get together they produce more Flickers.

    You chose, bint, out of love and an open heart, to produce the equivalent of a beautiful new Orange Shafted Flicker. My family did the same. You choose now, to mingle amongst all the fine plumage, as I, for the same reasons.

    Having chosen that another’s physicality did not matter, would we then racially separate ourselves from our neighbors? Some might hate another’s face in the neighborhood. You did not. I did not. Why then retrench and complain about it?

    I watched TV for more than fifty years. If there was ever a mission to be admired it is that of “The Black Agenda’s” clarion leadership regarding the FCC and our current system of media ownership. This not just because of how 14% of the population is omitted, or displayed as stereotypes, but the 51% and the 30%, and the 5% and the others. It is also because of the 60%-70% of the population that is sequestered due to the inability to receive anything more than local news or dial up internet? Is it still “whiteness”? Or is it Big Brother arrived and masquerading as an old enemy?

    TV currently represents oligarchy unhinged and triumphant.

    The Great Melting Pot does change cultures. However, it is we that choose to share. When we offer up ourselves to our new friends we are transformed as are the elements of our cultures, our food, music and bodies. All these things must change. We find the difference between us is far smaller than the commonality. Our reasons are not the same as those who rape and plunder. Yet the same permutation is accomplished. We can’t have it both ways, except as a memory of what was.

    Injustice abounds everywhere. if African American men are still incarcerated at a rate of six time to that of white and three times that of Hispanic men, we must do something about it. What we do might depend on how clearly we identify the elements of classism as well as racism. Making sure previously incarcerated men get their voting voice back might be part of that.

    White is not “whiteness”.

    Whiteness is a euphemism born out of a need to understand and classify. As long as we continue to use this shorthand term, we fail to trumpet the real evil’s names: institutional discrimination, classism, sexism, wealth disparity, injustice, unemployment, under-education, Balkanization and loss of social networking, ignorance, fear, and most of all, greed and power.

    What to do?

    [Zetzer also specifies the type of changes necessary to make progressive steps in dealing with white privilege and its implications. She notes that most people who become educated on white privilege undergo a first-order change in which they gain increased awareness, knowledge and skills. However, for progress to be made in equalizing problems such as white privilege, individuals need to undergo second-order change. Second-order change is characterized by a paradigm shift in which people use their awareness, knowledge and skills to take action. Zetzer believes the first, and easiest, way to initiate this transformation is through dialogue. Honest and multicultural dialogue is the first way to build alliances which can then “transform people and systems and turn intention into action,”[58] thus slowly changing the persistence of white privilege.]

    How, then, can “white privilege” be surrendered, and human equality gained, if not by access to each other? If we get tired in this dialogue, and need a little rest or reinforcement, so be it. There are other enemies far greater than you or I could ever be. We need our strength for those battles. However, we cannot stay in our safe little groups. Their safety is only an illusion anyway- a puff of time. Eventually we must walk next door and introduce ourselves our new neighbor, and start a dialogue.

  57. Bint Alshamsa Guest Posting at Feministe « Questioning Transphobia

    […] think both of these posts (and another she’s planning to write) are important. First this: I’m may end up regretting this, but I’ve come to feel that there’s really no way around it. […]

  58. Mixed Chicks Chat
    Mixed Chicks Chat July 19, 2009 at 11:23 pm |

    Hey there – we are obviously are coming into this conversation late & apologize for repeating something that may have already been commented. We just wanted to let you know we’ve created a forum to discuss these kinds of feeling – i.e. our consistently changing attitudes, as mixed race women, towards all that makes up who we are. We don’t know all that went into bringing you to the place you are for this particular situation, but we certainly can say that we have ‘been there’ through different circumstances. Would love to talk more about it if you’re up for it. Perhaps you’d be a guest on our podcast? – let us know & we’ll make it happen!

  59. Quoted: Holly on Interpretation of Culture at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    […] —”The Hammering,” Feministe […]

  60. The Abyss
    The Abyss July 25, 2009 at 8:34 am |

    I don’t care what people say: race issues have not and will never go away. It’s what built America. Some people have managed to get past the injustices of slavery, but the mentality of privilege is a hard thing to escape. And maybe they dont even know it. Or don’t even care. I went to grad school with this white girl whose initials were KKK, mind you. She feigned to be the most inclusive, nonjudgmental person ever, but after about four or five months, her true colors came out and she started making little side comments about blacks and hispanics. She’d always follow it up with “but I have black friends”. White people always try to make themselves feel justified in saying what they say, or doing what they do, by having black friends. Whatever. White people need to wake up and realize that the world is bigger than just them.

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