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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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124 Responses

  1. Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie)
    Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie) March 7, 2013 at 10:36 am |

    I think the point about racism being inside everyone not just ‘really bad’ people, nasty people on the internet and bigots. I’m sure were’ll glad that others can’t read our minds – because we all think things that are not politically correct etc – and we wouldn’t want anyone to know. I think that an important first step is acknowledgement that racism is not just reserved for the few – that it happens on a daily/hourly basis and often from the people you least expect.

    1. K
      K March 8, 2013 at 1:28 am |

      I have to agree with you on the importance of acknowledging that racism is not just a few, stereotypical bigots. In America (and other countries), we are raised in a racist culture and regardless of best efforts people still absorb a part of that. For example, I often hear mental health care providers talk as if white is the baseline against what everyone else should be compared. They don’t say this directly, of course, and these are well meaning people. Acknowledging that racism is not just an attitude of a few people is definitely a good beginning step.

  2. catfood
    catfood March 7, 2013 at 10:54 am |

    Racism isn’t an attitude. It’s a system of oppression. That’s what makes it so damn hard to fight.

    1. Niall
      Niall March 7, 2013 at 11:29 am |

      QFT

      People who don’t understand that don’t seem to make any distinction between racism, prejudice and outright hatred. They see those terms as all being the same thing, thus allowing them to keep living in denial about how deep the roots of racism are and fostering a false sense of complacency — “Well I know I’m not part of the problem!”

      1. James
        James March 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm |

        Its all in how you define racist. If you define any policy that has a ‘disparate impact’ as being racist – even if not motivated by bigotry – then I’m going to have to conclude that there’s nothing wrong with your definition of ‘racism’. Because I don’t view all policies which have disparate impacts as bad policies.

        So no, I wouldn’t view myself as ‘part of the problem’ under such a broad definition, because I would argue that there is no problem to start with.

        1. Thomas MacAulay Millar
          Thomas MacAulay Millar March 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm |

          But if no amount of disparate impact is racist absent ill intent, you can justify any degree of systematic oppression by saying, “they mean well.” Surely, you realize this is an intellectual dead end? Surely, you recognize that some things are unfair regardless of motive? (Or if you don’t, that itself makes you part of the problem.)

        2. LotusBecca
          LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 1:38 pm |

          If you support policies that disproportionately benefit whites to the detriment of people of color, then you’re supporting the continuation of white supremacy. You’re motivations for doing so are irrelevant. If this is the case, you are being racist, and yes, this is a very bad thing.

        3. Emolee
          Emolee March 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm |

          I would argue that there is no problem to start with.

          What, no racism? Are you joking? This is offensive.

        4. Niall
          Niall March 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm |

          So let me see if I understand you correctly,

          If we take, for example, the war on drugs and note the fact that illegal drug use is no more prevalent among POC than among whites, yet POC are much more likely to be arrested for mere possession than whites, also more likely to be charged and convicted, and that prisons are made up disproportionately of POC…am I to believe that this all just happenstance and coincidence and that POC are just unlucky, random casualties of the drug war?

          Although I personally don’t think you’re trolling, it’s obvious you still have a lot to learn regarding privilege 101

        5. IrishUp
          IrishUp March 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm |

          We need a Giraffe up in here.

          [Moderator note: thank you for sending this Giraffe Alert]

        6. roro80
          roro80 March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm |

          No racism, folks! We can all go home now! Whew!

        7. IrishUp
          IrishUp March 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm |

          Thanks, Jill

        8. yes
          yes March 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm |

          It looked to me like James was complaining about the overly broad definition of racism as being weak because it creates a dynamic where racism doesn’t exist as a problem. Everything is racist, so nothing is racist. That, by Niall’s definition, racism doesn’t exist as a systemic problem, and a more focused definition is needed.

          That’s quibbling and sort of missing the point, but I don’t see the massive, ban-worthy offense everyone is attributing through creative quote-editing.

  3. raspberrybucket
    raspberrybucket March 7, 2013 at 11:02 am |

    A lot of my issue with this is…what is racism? Not everyone was a race studies major and so might not understand what the academic definition is.

    There is also a difference between personal and systemic racism. Academics seem to mainly rely on some version of the latter when talking about specific policy proposals to combat what they perceive as racism. This often means they think different social outcomes, even without a specific racist intent on any individual person’s part, is a type of systemic racism that must be stopped. This is where academics clash with the popular understanding of racism, which focuses on individual intent. This also explains a lot of well-meaning disagreement with policies like affirmative action.

    1. matlun
      matlun March 7, 2013 at 11:42 am |

      Even those that understand the academic definition of racism may not agree with it, and as most dictionaries do not use the sociological definition of the word, it is far from clear that it should be seen as the established meaning of the word.

      That is still only semantics, though. If you know which definition the writer of a specific text is using, the discussion as to whether this is the “correct” definition is very seldom productive. (What does “correct” even mean in that sense?)

      It is probably better to try to engage with the actual substance of the argument rather than the form.

    2. James
      James March 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm |

      Keep in mind those ‘race studies’ professors have a vested interest in crafting a definition of racism which is as broad as possible. I think most people have a pretty good idea of what racism really is… and their definition doesn’t match the ‘academic’ one.

      Real racism is ugly. I have seen it (I am from the south but I suspect it also happens up north) in both the spoken words and unspoken actions of others. I’ve even been surprised to hear racist comments and jokes from people who I thought ought to know better.

      So I know racism isn’t ‘cured’ in this country and it still exists. But I do get very tired of hearing or reading about how I am somehow racist and don’t know it. I’m not. I know my own thoughts and emotions well enough to know better and I’m honest enough with myself that I could recognize if I was.

      Again, someone with a different definition of racism than mine might disagree – but if so I reject their definition as foolishness.

      1. Thomas MacAulay Millar
        Thomas MacAulay Millar March 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

        Okay, this discussion is not going to go well for you.

      2. EG
        EG March 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm |

        Keep in mind those ‘race studies’ professors have a vested interest in crafting a definition of racism which is as broad as possible.

        Oh yeah? What do you imagine that “vested interest” to be? Are you under the impression we get paid according to the broadness of our field or something?

      3. LotusBecca
        LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

        Real racism is the fact that so many people of color are in prison. Real racism is the fact that so many people of color are unemployed. Real racism is the fact that people of color have such a shorter life expectancy than whites. The biggest problem with the racist jokes you refer to is that they’re part of what justifies these horrible injustices. If these injustices didn’t exist, such jokes would likely not even be considered particularly offensive. The reason why most white people think they have a pretty good idea of what racism is is because most white people think they know everything about race. In fact, we white people know nothing about race because our white privilege blinds us to such information. And the overwhelming majority of us are racist, our cloying denials notwithstanding.

        1. TomSims
          TomSims March 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm |

          “Real racism is the fact that so many people of color are in prison. ”

          There are more black men in prison than there are in college

      4. Emolee
        Emolee March 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm |

        I do get very tired of hearing or reading about how I am somehow racist and don’t know it.

        Have you never heard of implicit bias? Or you reject it? I mean, look, I don’t want to think of myself as racist either. But I am white, so I am sure that I contribute to racism, even though I try to actively work against it.

        This is why I objected to the idea (below) of defining racism by the idea of hate. I mean, yeah, some racism is based on hate, and some people do hate POC, but I do not, and many people who do and say racist things do not. But they still prop up a racist system- either out of ignorance, apathy, or simply by virtue of being oblivious of race due to white privilege (and I’m sure a bunch of other factors).

      5. Niall
        Niall March 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm |

        Agree with TMM on this one.

        James, what you’re doing here is akin to swimming in shark-infested water with a bleeding, open wound.

        1. TomSims
          TomSims March 9, 2013 at 1:07 pm |

          “James, what you’re doing here is akin to swimming in shark-infested water with a bleeding, open wound.”

          You got that right!

      6. Niall
        Niall March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |

        Real racism is ugly. I have seen it (I am from the south but I suspect it also happens up north)

        So only certain actions like lynching a black person, hanging them from a tree, burning a big cross on their front lawn, or beating the living shit out of them while screaming racial epithets count as “real” racism, while the less obvious and not as overt manifestations of it aren’t something to be concerned about?

        I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt in my post above and assume you were posting in good faith. No more. Please either shut up or fuck off.

        I forsee someone getting hit with the ol’ banhammer pretty soon.

      7. BH
        BH March 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm |

        If you’re really interested in ensuring you know your thoughts and emotions well enough to detect internalized racism, I recommend you take this quick, free, anonymous online test which checks for unconscious bias (there are lots of tests for biases related to gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. but you’ll want the race one). You may be surprised at the result.

        https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

        If you’re actually serious about treating others fairly, you won’t pass up an opportunity to quickly test whether your understanding of your own biases is accurate. I’m not asking for you to report to me or anyone what your results are, or even that you’ve done it, but I highly recommend you try it if you’re not just making claims to make yourself feel good.

    3. LotusBecca
      LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm |

      If you care about people of color, you will want to stop seeing them being unemployed, underpaid, dying young, stuck in prison, and so on. If you don’t support ending these injustices, then yes, you are racist. It’s not possible for a person to have a “well meaning” opposition to affirmative action (unless they are a person of color and have some sort of tactical reason to oppose said polices). But for white people, said oppositions is always racist, and they are harming people of color for the purpose of continuing white supremacy. . .and this is a disgusting, immoral thing. Just because such people are able to spout a bunch of bullshit about being “colorblind” and so on does not justify their heinous opinions.

    4. xenu01
      xenu01 March 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm |

      OK, so here’s the deal: it’s not really fair to say “what is racism?”-that’s sort of a derailing argument which actually is what Coates is addressing in this very article.

      Racism is kind of like sex: if it feels like racism, it is. And I don’t think I should have to, but I will be clear: I’m not talking about “reverse racism” or racism against caucasian people here.

      Racism is small and large actions specifically targeting oppressed groups. Sometimes it’s internal. Sometimes it’s one oppressed group against another. Sometimes it’s oppressor v. oppressed. Intent doesn’t matter. Scope doesn’t matter. And what makes the “be specific” type stuff, and what makes the “racism is only perpetuated by baaaad people” ideal untenable, is that racism itself is tenuous and variable and in actuality a very broad term to encompass a massive systemic failure.

      1. amblingalong
        amblingalong March 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm |

        I’m not talking about “reverse racism” or racism against caucasian people here.

        In the context of the US.

        I’m at least one brown person who’s pretty comfortable with the idea that there can be racism against white people in majority-not-white countries where white people don’t have access to the levers of power.

        Some people will tell you that because Europe was the major colonial power in world history, white people can never be oppressed. Those people are stupid or ignorant, with a profoundly Eurocentric misunderstanding of geography and world history. There are many parts of the world where the primary colonial oppressor wasn’t white, and there are some parts of the world where the white locals were never connected to colonial power structures.

        So, in the US context? Yes, white people can absolutely not be oppressed based on their race. Racism is strictly something that happens to other folk. But that’s not true everywhere.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm |

          I’m at least one brown person who’s pretty comfortable with the idea that there can be racism against white people in majority-not-white countries where white people don’t have access to the levers of power.

          Another brown person seconding the hell out of this statement.

          The Tumblr-style “AAAAAH WHITE PEOPLE they must all be racist and powerful” bullshit is something I can’t countenance, personally.

        2. tinkdnuos
          tinkdnuos March 14, 2013 at 8:33 am |

          I’m not asking to be smart, but in all seriousness…which places are these you’re talking about? I’m not aware of any but I’d be interested in learning about them and their histories.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune March 14, 2013 at 10:09 am |

          I’m not asking to be smart, but in all seriousness…which places are these you’re talking about?

          Well, to address this in particular:

          There are many parts of the world where the primary colonial oppressor wasn’t white

          If a reader’s willing to look at colonisation as a tactic/ideology rather than as “thing white people do to non-whites” (absurdly reductionist, yet actually common), India, for one, has a long and… achievement-filled history of colonisation. The Chola empire colonised some parts of south-east Asia, as well as Sri Lanka (thank you, Cholas, for that ongoing clusterfuck), the Mughals – of Iranian descent – colonised much of north India, the Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas pretty much took turns colonising each other on a small scale (it’s kind of hilarious when you see it in summary). Etc.

        4. tinkdnuos
          tinkdnuos March 14, 2013 at 10:45 am |

          Thanks, although I realize I should have been more specific…where in the world are white people, as a group, marginalized by, and the victims of racism from, people of color? Where are white people being systematically denied access to the levers of power, on account of their being white, by people of color?

        5. matlun
          matlun March 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |

          @tinkdnuos: Does Japan work as an answer for you? It is not a similar dynamic to the US, but I guess as you phrased the question it could count?

          This kind of connects back to one of the basic points of the OP. Racial prejudice is the behavior of normal humans and not just extreme monsters. So the only differentiating factor becomes which group is actually in power. Which is pretty much an accident of history.

        6. tinkdnuos
          tinkdnuos March 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm |

          …perhaps I misread your tone, but you seem to think I’m trying to play “gotcha” even though I’m most assuredly not.

          I’ve never lived in Japan, so I don’t know what the relationship is there between race, ethnicity, and power. I was also unaware that there was a significant population of marginalized white people in Japan. The only white people I know who have lived there for any extended period were all there in high level academic and professional roles, and most of them claimed they were shown excessive deference, to the point where it made some of them uncomfortable.

          …since you’re certainly more knowledgeable about Japanese culture than I am, could you recommend any scholarly or popular works that address Japan’s systemic marginalization of its white population?

  4. Emolee
    Emolee March 7, 2013 at 11:26 am |

    There has not been another president to my knowledge that has been disrespected as much as President Obama. And there have been plenty of other “polarizing” presidents (meaning presidents the other party really disliked). These other presidents still were not heckled by Congress while giving speeches and accused of not being “real Americans” etc. Somehow even though they were disagreed with they were respected. This difference is clearly racism in my opinion.

    1. James
      James March 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm |

      I would not classify the demonization of Bush as ‘respectful disagreement..’ In fact – it seems more to me that this ugly trend in politics is more just a carryover from the vitriol that began with all the Bush bashing. I think you are allowing your bias to color your perception if you think Obama is being treated more harshly.

      Politics didn’t seem as ugly during the Clinton years, but maybe I’ve just forgotten. In any case… the current level of political hostility is not new… its been seen before during different levels of political discord. (FDR was rabidly hated for his New Deal policies by some – although his war legacy has wiped most of that history out of collective memory.) So no – I disagree that Obama is being targeted for his race. Its just that ge has been fairly effective at pushing through an agenda that is far different than what some on the right want. The last decade or so will be remembered as an important period of political change through the prism of history.

      1. Past my expiration date
        Past my expiration date March 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm |

        Politics didn’t seem as ugly during the Clinton years, but maybe I’ve just forgotten.

        I’m speechless.

        1. Past my expiration date
          Past my expiration date March 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm |

          OK, I’ve got my speech back. The Clinton impeachment. Whitewater. Vince Foster.

          Also what Donna said at 1:28 pm.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune March 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm |

        In fact – it seems more to me that this ugly trend in politics is more just a carryover from the vitriol that began with all the Bush bashing. I think you are allowing your bias to color your perception if you think Obama is being treated more harshly.

        Yeah…I’m not an American, and my perception that Obama is being treated more harshly isn’t “coloured”, thanks.

        1. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl March 7, 2013 at 2:33 pm |

          Well, right there is your problem, James. Because the Kenyan Muslim traitor meme is all about racist panic over the President’s race. So either you are being willfuly obtuse in not recognizing that or you are so utterly used to that sort of racism that you have tuned it out as nothing more than background noise.

        2. Emolee
          Emolee March 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm |

          the Kenyan Muslim traitor meme is all about racist panic

          Lolagirl, exactly. The “Bush bashing” was disagreements with his actions (particluary the wars), not questioning his citizenship or stated religion. (Yes, some criticism of Obama is based on his actions, too, but a lot is also not.)

        3. Foxy
          Foxy March 10, 2013 at 3:11 am |

          Ofcourse there is a significant double standard.Obamas action are similar to bush but he rarely gets questioned

      3. Donna L
        Donna L March 7, 2013 at 1:28 pm |

        Politics didn’t seem as ugly during the Clinton years, but maybe I’ve just forgotten.

        You have. That’s an absurd statement. It was just as ugly then.

        But the difference between the hostility towards President Obama and the hostility towards previous Presidents like Bush and Clinton is that in addition to dealing with the kind of vitriol they had to deal with, he is continually bombarded with race-based hostility. From watermelons to Kenya, it’s been pervasive, and if you haven’t noticed it, you haven’t been paying attention.

        1. Donna L
          Donna L March 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm |

          One other example: do you seriously believe that a white President who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School would have had people like the loathsome Donald Trump continually demanding that he produce his transcripts, and asserting that he must have something to hide if he doesn’t? Or asserting, like Roger Ailes did just the other day, that he’s “lazy” and never worked a day in his life before he got into politics?

        2. Emolee
          Emolee March 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm |

          What Donna says above re kenya, etc. is what I was getting at. Yes, other presidents have been hated, such as Bush, and other presidents have been attacked, such as Clinton with the impeachment. But with Obama there is just a marked difference in how he is treated- not only by the people but by the other members of government and people in power. Has any other president been interrupted by a member of Congress yelling “liar” during an official speech?

        3. James
          James March 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm |

          Donna – do you not see what you just did?

          I claimed there was less ugliness directed toward Clinton, and you called that observation an ‘absurd statement.’

          And then, in the very next sentence, you begin describing exactly the ways in which the political theater against Obama is uglier than it was against Clinton….

          I never claimed that Ds and Rs sang kumbaya at Congressional campfires during the Clinton years. But in my perception, even an ol’ fashioned trumped up sex scandal impeachment hearing is less sickening to watch than the outright foam-at-mouth hatred that I’ve witnessed ever since the Bush years (especially his second term.)

          For the record… I pretty much feel both Bush and Obama are equally lousy presidents. I thought Clinton did pretty well.

          But I don’t see any real difference between the ‘rightwing fringe convinced Obama is a Muslim/Traitor/Kenyan who is planning to disarm us and impose martial law using drones’ or the ‘leftwing fringe convinced Bush orchestrated 9/11 to start a war for oil to enrich his buddies and boost Haliburtons stock.’

        4. EG
          EG March 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm |

          How about the fact that what you call the “right-wing fringe” is mainstream?

        5. Emolee
          Emolee March 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm |

          But I don’t see any real difference between the ‘rightwing fringe convinced Obama is a Muslim/Traitor/Kenyan who is planning to disarm us and impose martial law using drones’ or the ‘leftwing fringe convinced Bush orchestrated 9/11 to start a war for oil to enrich his buddies and boost Haliburtons stock.’

          The difference is that the first one about Obama I have heard on mainstream media outlets (looking for balance!) and from people at work, in the grocery store, etc. while the second about Bush (that he orchestrated 9/11? really?) I have not. And I have lived in very liberal (Los Angeles, NYC) and very conservative (Texas) places.

        6. Past my expiration date
          Past my expiration date March 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm |

          (or, at least, believes that it’s mainstream).

        7. (BFing) Sarah
          (BFing) Sarah March 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm |

          But I don’t see any real difference between the ‘rightwing fringe convinced Obama is a Muslim/Traitor/Kenyan who is planning to disarm us and impose martial law using drones’ or the ‘leftwing fringe convinced Bush orchestrated 9/11 to start a war for oil to enrich his buddies and boost Haliburtons stock.’

          Also…the difference? The difference is that in one case, they are questioning the man’s very identity as an American. They are questioning his honesty about his origins, which he has no reason to lie about at all. They are questioning FACTS like where he was born and where he graduated from school and his professed religion. In Bush’s case, they are questioning motives. Only one of them had to actually answer to people questioning their RIGHT to be here in this country and to run for office. Only one of them had to fend off claims of being something “other” than American. That’s a pretty big fucking difference. Asshole.

        8. Cactus Wren
          Cactus Wren March 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

          Oh, but it’s not about race. Not at all.

          On the one hand we’ve got the first African American president. And on the other, we’ve got an overwhelmingly WASP contingent saying, “We just want to make sure he was born in this country. Also we want to see his college transcripts. And just hold on while we make a couple of remarks about his use of a teleprompter. And he has a funny name. And besides he’s not really one of us, is he?”

          Oh, but it’s not about race at all.

      4. LotusBecca
        LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm |

        Of course Obama is being targeted for his race. Every person of color is targeted for their race by racist white people every single day of their lives.

        1. bleh
          bleh March 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm |

          Ding ding ding.

      5. (BFing) Sarah
        (BFing) Sarah March 7, 2013 at 3:15 pm |

        **TRIGGER WARNING FOR OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE**

        I disagree that Obama is being targeted for his race.

        Oh? You don’t think? Hmm:

        http://deadspin.com/5968935/take-that-nigger-off-the-tv-we-wanna-watch-football-idiots-respond-to-nbc-pre+empting-sunday-night-football

        http://gawker.com/5959209/woman-who-called-for-nigger-obamas-assassination-in-viral-facebook-post-confronted-by-news-crew-is-officially-the-worst-person-in-the-world

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4ogOQ89kT0&noredirect=1

        http://newsone.com/2021269/barbara-espinosa-obama-monkey/

        That’s just a taste. I don’t think that there was an entire website dedicated to calling Pres. Bush a racial epithet, but rest assured, there are several for Pres. Obama. But, thanks for making me have to educate your stupid ass by looking all of that shit up. Please stop running your fucking mouth if you haven’t bothered to educate yourself. This thread is going to give me a goddamn heart attack.

      6. (BFing) Sarah
        (BFing) Sarah March 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm |

        Oh, and because my other reply is in mod b/c of the offensive language used in the links that I posted to show that you are an asshat for arguing that Pres. Obama was not targeted for his race, I have a bonus link for you:

        http://www.politicususa.com/republican-obama-boy.html

  5. Posima Simby
    Posima Simby March 7, 2013 at 11:40 am |

    Thank you for website. I believe racism takes place in all places, all peoples (maybe even academic peoples!) Is necessary to fight against racism in all times, all places. J’accuse!

    1. Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie)
      Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie) March 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

      You are right…so much of racism is internalised you would never know it was there until suddenly it comes bubbling to the surface.

  6. (BFing)Sarah
    (BFing)Sarah March 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm |

    It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

    Or like my spouse said he felt when he was growing up, “I’m garbage. People like me contribute nothing. It would better if we did not exist.” Its pretty obvious that that is a terrible message for a child to carry around with them. I mean, if the President of the U.S. is made to feel like he doesn’t belong in this country, like he’s an outsider, how does the average person of color feel?

    ALL of us have internalized the incessant racism that we are bombarded with. I would venture to say that 99% of us judge others based on race and, in order to begin to change that, we have to first admit it.

  7. a lawyer
    a lawyer March 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm |

    Almost everyone gets to judge on race; almost everyone gets to reach biased conclusions. Dislike of the “other” is pretty universal.

    But NOT everyone gets to enforce their conclusions. That’s why power matters.

    IOW: There are plenty of places where POC folks might want to harass Sean Penn, just as there are plenty of places where white folks might want to harass Forest Whittaker. There are plenty of cops of all races who want to harass based on race; there are plenty of politicians of all races who want to give favors based on race; etc. That’s the “universal” part.

    The difference is that POC folks DON’T ACTUALLY harass Sean Penn, because he’s part of the power elite, and it would be dangerous to do so. Neither do POC cops ACTUALLY go and selectively harass white kids, for the same reasons.

    So the end experience is radically different: Every group hates each other, but only the powerful group gets to act on it.

    Serious racists pretend that the power differentials don’t exist and try to sweep them under the rug. But many anti-racists focus solely on the power differentials and try to sweep the universal psychology under the rug, too. It would be nice if we could stop imagining that prejudice is selectively assigned to white people. It isn’t: POWER (and the resulting abuse of power) is selectively assigned to white people.

    1. Ash
      Ash March 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm |

      Thank you!

      Racism = predjudice + power.

      I took a race and gender class in college and when my (black) prof explained that a lot of students tried to disagree and cited that prof herself could exercise racism in the classroom. She said that while, yes, she could dictate classroom policies based on anything (including her own prejudices), as soon as she left the classroom this “power” didn’t exist.

      1. Barnacle Strumpet
        Barnacle Strumpet March 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm |

        I…don’t have any problem with that definition, but that example your professor made just boggles my mind. It’s not saying anything, it’s stating the obvious. No shit a person loses much of the power that accompanies their position when they leave their workplace. I just don’t get what your profesor thought they were proving with that.

        1. Miriam
          Miriam March 8, 2013 at 11:59 am |

          I’m pretty sure what the professor was trying to explain is that institutional power is about societal structures, not whether a single individual ever has power over another individual in a specific circumstance. Or put another way, in terms of statistical outcomes, what happens in her classroom is just noise.

    2. Emolee
      Emolee March 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm |

      I agree with you on the idea that power matters. But isn’t this is a little harsh?

      Every group hates each other

    3. IrishUp
      IrishUp March 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm |

      You might want to check that primary assumption there:

      “Every group hates each other.”

      That’s the assumption of someone who was taught to “other”.

      Othering is something that perhaps most or even every human being has the *capacity for*. However, that’s a different thing from growing into and being a human being who routinely *does* it. And it’s absolutely NOT an inevitable thing. Othering is cultural, and our USian culture is awash in it. But it’s far from universal across cultures, through human history, and within subgroups and subcultures.

      It’s certainly NOT how I was raised.

      1. tomek
        tomek March 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |

        maybe it is not how you were raised, but it is how the human race has a tendancy to be.

        it is for this reason why hundreds of thousands can suffer and die in other countries while we have relative comfort in life. if it was people of our own “tribe” dying, we would feel much different. and i say this not to judge people, but just that we should be aware of the facts of human psychlogy and not try to clean it falsely.

        1. Thomas MacAulay Millar
          Thomas MacAulay Millar March 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm |

          No, this is just wrong. People don’t have each other because of differences, as you’d see if you ever say contact between people with lots of difference, like, say, when AFS students live in another country. People hate the “other” when they are competing for resources; hate is the tool humans use to justify taking other people’s shit.

        2. tomek
          tomek March 7, 2013 at 6:16 pm |

          i’m not saying it is because of differences that there is the hate. but it is because we have constructed a certain tribe for ourself, and a certain tribe for others. we brain then has the ability to block us from caring about the other tribe. its an evolutionary survival thing. whom we select to be within the tribe is how these things such as racism come about.

          when we have nationalism, we choose those of our country to be in our tribe, and those of other countries to not.

          when we have racism, we choose those of our skin colour to be in our tribe, and the inverse.

        3. Donna L
          Donna L March 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm |

          This is way too simplistic. There have been an awful lot of hated groups of “others” throughout history — especially “others” who were tiny minorities — who weren’t competing for resources at all. Purely economic analyses of all human activity tend to be miserably inadequate, no matter how strenuously people claim that all other motivations are simply a cover for economic motivations.

      2. Miriam
        Miriam March 8, 2013 at 11:51 am |

        I agree that othering is not inevitable, but I also agree with the original poster that it is a universal tendency and common. I think it’s an important point that often gets lost. It’s the point that explains why institutional power is so important to understand.

  8. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar March 7, 2013 at 1:48 pm |

    The discussion has already started to coalesce around white people who want to push a definition of racism exclusive to animus. There is nowhere productive for this conversation to go if the dynamic is (1) white people asserting that they’re not racist; and (2) people reacting to white people asserting that they’re not racist.

    1. James
      James March 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm |

      Precisely!
      The whole argument is silly. I know I’m not a racist. At least not by any definition that I find worthy of the word. And no amount of others yelling “yes you are you’re just in denial about how bigotted you really are!” is going to persuade me otherwise, frankly.

      And people trying to expand the definition are just muddying issue.

      Hey feel free to believe that I’m a racist just because I don’t support most affirmative action policies if you want…

      Only a true liberal could call it racist to treat all races equally and fairly… :)

      1. EG
        EG March 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm |

        Hey feel free to believe that I’m a racist just because I don’t support most affirmative action policies if you want…

        How gracious of you to give permission. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to, otherwise.

        White people insisting that they’re not racist are always so pathetic. As if it’s our call to make.

        1. matlun
          matlun March 7, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

          White people insisting that they’re not racist are always so pathetic. As if it’s our call to make.

          Why shouldn’t it be?

          I will judge both myself and others and decide who I believe to be racist based on the information I have. How could it be otherwise?

        2. (BFing)Sarah
          (BFing)Sarah March 7, 2013 at 7:04 pm |

          @Matlun, look at it this way: If someone says something that hurts your feelings, do you let them be the one that decides whether their statements were hurtful? If they say, “No, that didn’t hurt your feelings.” Do you say “Oh, okay, I guess it didn’t.” Or if they say, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings” does that mean your feelings are automatically not hurt anymore? Now, take that example and multiply it by 1000. Lets say instead of hurting your feelings the person is depriving you of a livelihood or pointing the finger at your child to the police because they look “just like” another child that you are “pretty sure” committed a crime against you. Just because a person might not think they are being racist, doesn’t mean they aren’t being racist. The people that get to decide whether something is racist are people that are affected by the racism, NOT those that are perpetuating the racism. I think that’s pretty much anti-racism 101, so maybe you should go read up before commenting further.

        3. tmc
          tmc March 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm |

          @(BFing)Sarah:

          FYI, matlun is well below anti-racism 101, which is why it’s irking the fuck out of me that he’s popping up so much in this discussion. Ask him about the criminality of black children as opposed to white children sometime (spoiler alert: he thinks black kids are more delinquent than white kids and he doesn’t give a damn that research and common sense indicates otherwise; and he defended this view in a thread about Trayvon Martin’s murder, no less).

          If you ask me (and I realize that no one did, but I can’t let this go), he’s got no place in any discussion about racism or anti-racism, and I’m not going to keep my mouth shut and pretend otherwise. He’s a fucking wolf in sheep’s clothing.

        4. matlun
          matlun March 8, 2013 at 2:26 am |

          @Matlun, look at it this way: If someone says something that hurts your feelings, do you let them be the one that decides whether their statements were hurtful

          When I am saying that I will judge for myself I am not saying that everyone in the the world should accept that judgment as correct (which would be absurd).

          I expect everyone else to form their own opinions too.

          You could argue that in the public debate the voices of those affected should be counted for more than they are, because
          1. They see it more clearly, and
          2. They are and have already been ignored too much because of privilege and racism

          But that is a slightly different question about society and democracy as opposed to the individual.

      2. LotusBecca
        LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm |

        You are being racist, and you are my political opponent. I couldn’t care less about whether I can persuade you of this or not. I’m responding to you so that people reading your comments here who may be on the fence about these issues won’t wind up adopting aspects of your perspective.

      3. Niall
        Niall March 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm |

        I know I’m not a racist.

        Let me guess – don’t tell me…

        Next you’re going to tell us that some of your best friends are people of colour, right?

        There’s two so far. Only three more in a row for a racism bingo.

      4. (BFing) Sarah
        (BFing) Sarah March 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

        Oh, OF COURSE! Thank you, Great White Hope for telling me exactly what racism REALLY is! That’s excellent that you are such an expert on the topic. I mean you have “seen all kind of racism” because you’re from the South soooo, that means you know exactly how it feels to be black in the US, right? Please, pretty please, tell me more True Things. I just can’t wait!!

      5. Angel H.
        Angel H. March 7, 2013 at 3:12 pm |

        We need a giraffe here.

        Please and thank you!

        [Moderator note: thank you for sending this Giraffe Alert]

      6. Thomas MacAulay Millar
        Thomas MacAulay Millar March 7, 2013 at 3:21 pm |

        No, James, not precisely. You, white guy, starting from the proposition that you know you’re not racist so nothing you do can be called racist, is essentially declaring the discussion over before it has begun.

        If you’re going to take your ball and go home, actually take your ball and go home. Don’t stand here and expect a pat on the back and agreement from the readership. It is not forthcoming.

      7. Lisa
        Lisa March 10, 2013 at 11:13 am |

        Hey feel free to believe that I’m a racist just because I don’t support most affirmative action policies if you want…

        Only a true liberal could call it racist to treat all races equally and fairly… :)

        But what you’re missing is the intrinsic and systemic racism in our society which makes it so that blacks and whites aren’t treated equally and fairly.

        People are given untold advantages just for being born white. White babies are more likely to live, for one thing. Their parents are more likely to get and stay married, with all of the advantages that a stable home life brings. White people are less likely to develop drug addiction, less likely to experience poverty, less likely to face prison time, more likely to go to better schools, more likely to go to college. Affirmative action policies even out the already very uneven playing field. To ignore the disadvantages that people face just for having been born black is what it seen as racist, because what it’s really saying that black people can’t help themselves, they really are just lazy and drawn to vice.

    2. a lawyer
      a lawyer March 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm |

      I swear I’m not intentionally being obtuse, but what do you mean by “pushing a definition of racism exclusive to animus?” I thought the most common issue was that people insist that racism MUST CONTAIN animus (i.e. if it’s not motivated by direct race-hate it isn’t racism.) Since when is removing the animus component a big problem?

      1. matlun
        matlun March 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm |

        I thought the most common issue was that people insist that racism MUST CONTAIN animus

        This is not necessarily true

        1. In the OP, the author did not seem to ascribe any racial animus to the merchant in question.

        2. More generally, this is very common when discussing structural racism. Ie the idea that a disparate impact on different racial groups can be seen as racist even without any racial prejudice.

      2. Emolee
        Emolee March 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

        Because so much racism happens without animus ever entering into it. Maybe you are talking about the legal definition of racial discrimination… but social justice commentary is not just limited to the law.

        1. a lawyer
          a lawyer March 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm |

          We’re not disagreeing, I don’t think. E.g.

          John: That’s racist!
          Mary: No it wasn’t! There was no racial animus!
          John: Racism doesn’t require animus!

          John is “pushing a definition of racism which doesn’t require animus,” but I am certain that Thomas would not disagree with John.

          I was just pointing out that Thomas left a “not” out somewhere and appears to have said the opposite of what he means.

        2. Emolee
          Emolee March 7, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

          a lawyer:
          I misread your post; yes, I don’t think we disagree (and I think we both agree with Thomas and disagree with James).

          What Thomas said was: “white people who want to push a definition of racism exclusive to animus,” meaning these white people (who are wrong) want to require animus in order for it to be racism. (Thomas, obviously, correct me if I’m wrong).

        3. rhian
          rhian March 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm |

          @a lawyer, I think you’re confusing “exclusive to” (“requires”) with “exclusive of” (“excludes”). So what TMM said is correct.

        4. a lawyer
          a lawyer March 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm |

          Oy, you’re right, rhian! I’ve had a heck of a day and plain old misread. thx.

      3. Thomas MacAulay Millar
        Thomas MacAulay Millar March 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

        I mean what james is doing, insisting that if he doesn’t agree it’s hate-based then it can’t be racist. Anyone saying that here is undermining meaningful conversation. No amout of disproportionate impact will convince James, because he starts with the proposition that he’s right and every piece of inconsistent evidence will be rejected; so all we can accomplish by engaging with him is a shouting match.

        James needs to be banned.

        1. matlun
          matlun March 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm |

          You might be right – I do not know James.

          Still, there is a semantic question: Should “racism” by itself should mean just racial prejudice, racial prejudice coupled with privilege/power or should in fact prejudice not be a part of the basic definition itself.

          This is a very subjective question. Whether we refer to these indirect effects as just “racism”, “structural racism”, or by some other term is not the important discussion. The important discussion is about the fact that these effects exist and how we should relate to that fact.

    3. IrishUp
      IrishUp March 7, 2013 at 3:24 pm |

      Yep, I called for a Giraffe earlier. I think a Giraffe is definitely needed to weigh in on this conversation.

      [Moderator note: the Giraffe has now expressed xir disapproval.]

  9. Daniel
    Daniel March 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm |

    I strongly recommend Jim Flynn’s Where Have All the Liberals Gone? on this topic. He demonstrates how, even without anybody being personally and consciously racially biased, the fact that black skin is a highly visible badge which marks one as belonging to a non-privileged group creates a self-perpetuating cycle of privilege and repression. Which sounds waffly when I say it like that, which is why I recommend Flynn’s book, where he lays it out very clearly.

  10. tomek
    tomek March 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm |

    i think the question here is whether to support for equality of opportunity, or try to force equality of outcome. academics and anti-racist want to push for equality of outcome for black and white people. but i think most people agree that the equality of opportunity is better for liberty.

    1. Alexandra
      Alexandra March 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

      What does equality of outcome even mean? Versus equality of opportunity?

      I do not support any philosophy of “equality of opportunity” that thinks that all that is necessary for such equality to exist is a race-neutral legal code, rather than a true reformation of society.

      1. Niall
        Niall March 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm |

        What does equality of outcome even mean?

        As I understand it, the term ‘equality of outcome’ is one concocted by neo-cons, libertarians and various other reactionary folks to describe (in their view) what affirmative action policies do. AA, according to them, is a means of ‘rigging’ the game so that members of minorities and other marginalized groups get ahead only because of coddling and favouritism by bleeding heart liberals bent on disadvantaging those poor widdle oppressed white folks.

        In other words, if minorities rise in the ranks, they couldn’t possibly have earned it, you see. Unlike themselves of course, whose white privilege was legitimately and honestly earned! / snark

      2. a lawyer
        a lawyer March 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm |

        Equality of outcome means that you attempt to produce equal outcomes irrespective of differential inputs.

        It’s simple to illustrate with first grade: Equality of outcome means that you try to get everyone to read Cat in the Hat, even if that means that some kids (who are good at it) get 1 minute of teacher time, and other kids (who are bad at it) get 100 minutes of teacher time.

        It’s more complex to illustrate as things get more competitive, and the “right” to the thing gets more debatable. But it’s just math:

        If you start with differences and you use an neutral process, you’ll end with differences.

        If you start with differences and you want to end without them, you need to use a non-neutral process to “correct” for it.

    2. roro80
      roro80 March 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm |

      See, the problem with the argument that we should be striving for “equality of opportunity” instead of “equality of outcomes” is that it is so often used to do nothing by those who don’t actually care about equality of either.

      It’s relatively easy to measure outcomes. (What percentage of college grads are Latin@s compared to their overall representation in the population? What are the health outcomes for trans* people in comparison to cisgendered people? etc etc). It’s really hard to measure “opportunity”.

      So what you get is a bunch of privileged folks who see a stark inequality in outcomes declaring that there is obvious equality of opportunity, and it’s their own damned fault if they didn’t make that opportunity work for them. What’s wrong with those people, so the narrative goes, that they can’t succeed here in America?

      Whereas the correct way to look at this, in my opinion, is to see a large difference in outcomes, and wonder — what is wrong with the opportunity for that group such that they are not succeeding where white/cis/hetero/etc people are succeeding? And how can we fix that?

      So frankly tomek, every single time I’ve heard someone talk about equality of opportunity vs “forcing” equality of outcomes, it’s been coded language to mean that those people just aren’t as good as us, and hell, ain’t nothin’ we can do about that.

      1. Emolee
        Emolee March 7, 2013 at 7:54 pm |

        every single time I’ve heard someone talk about equality of opportunity vs “forcing” equality of outcomes, it’s been coded language to mean that those people just aren’t as good as us, and hell, ain’t nothin’ we can do about that.

        cosign.

      2. LotusBecca
        LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm |

        Exactly. Human beings are 99% genetically identical. If our outcomes aren’t equal, it’s because our opportunities aren’t equal. The inequality of outcome that exists in our society is the smoking gun that proves there is an inequality of opportunity. Not that it really matters anyway. The thing that’s important is whether people are getting their basic human needs met. “Opportunity” is worthless without results.

        1. tomek
          tomek March 7, 2013 at 8:35 pm |

          this is the nonsense!! because we are 99% genetically identical we will all have equal outcomes? humans share 99% of genes with dolphins… is there the same outcome as dolphins? thankfully no.

          look at two children whom are twins. grow up in same household, do all the same childhood things, have 100% genetic identicality. but then in grown up, they go and have different jobs and do different things with there life. the outcome is not equal, because they decide to do different things.

          same is true in other instances. when i grew up, i lived in the section of my town in which the children there all had very poor result in school and were on drugs and having problems with the police. now these children in this section of town had no big genetic difference from the children in the more rich section of town. they went to the same school as the children in more rich section of town. they had equality of opportunity. but because they did not have strength and willpower to say not the drugs thank you, and not get in trouble with the police, and to try hard and succeed in school, most of them did not equality of outcome.

          some here will probably say that is systemic issue. well that is rubbish. if you tell people they are victim of systemic issue they will not try to fight it and use there strength. i took it as my responsibility to do well for myself even when those in my section of town did not. i had equality of opportunity with children from rich section of town, and i was going to take responsibility and use it to obtain equality of outcome for myself too. other children in my section of town had the possibility to do this. but they chose not to. that is there own fault.

        2. Ledasmom
          Ledasmom March 11, 2013 at 9:20 am |

          Just to address a couple points, and without implying that there are not other, equally important points to be made with regard to Tomek’s comment:
          Tomek, I do not know where you got your numbers re: human genetic similarity to dolphins, but people are far more genetically similar to each other than to any cetacean. I am certain you did not mean to imply otherwise, but it is important when comparing numbers from different sources to be careful to ensure that the numbers are directly comparable.
          No, the kids from the poor section of town did not have equality of opportunity with those from the richer section. Rich section? Enrichment outside of schools, less detrimental social pressure. Makes a difference.
          I believe that, in this sense, “equality of outcome” is more commonly used to refer to averages across populations rather than outcomes for individuals – that is, one poor kid making good doesn’t prove anything, whereas, say, equal percentages of poor and rich kids attending college and getting good jobs thereafter would be more meaningful.
          Equality of outcome is what should be expected if opportunities are actually equal, barring actual inequalities in ability – for which there is no credible evidence whatsoever – between groups. That bit between the dashes should not have to be said, but I am saying it to, I hope, forestall any of the dangerous nonsense about inherent differences that tends to show up in these discussions.
          What’s that phrase? “Born on third base, thinks he hit a triple”?

        3. Alara Rogers
          Alara Rogers March 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm |

          Tomek, just because one exceptional person overcomes large structural barriers to become a high achiever, does not mean the large structural barriers don’t exist or that they are not a problem.

          I’m going to present you with a silly example. Let us say that in Smallville, children are required to be in school at 7 am. There is no bus, and school is at the bottom of a giant meteor crater that no car can safely drive down. Lex Luthor’s dad has him helicoptered in. Clark Kent flies to school. No one else ever gets to school on time, because they have to rappel down the crater. However, anytime the citizens of Smallville point out that it is unfair for their children to be penalzed for not being able to rappel down a crater quickly in the dark to get to school on time, the school says that the policy is perfectly fair, because Lex Luthor and Clark Kent have no trouble getting to school on time.

          If you can get out of a problem by being rich or by having fantastic genes or by being unbelievably stubborn or by having a family that gives you a great support network, good for you, but this doesn’t mean the barriers don’t exist or that they should not be removed. And human beings are remarkably similar, on average. So if 90% of the humans in one geographic location, or belonging to one gender, or with one specific racial/ethnic grouping, can do a task, and only 10% of a different location or gender or grouping can, it is almost certainly not because there is a huge biological difference between those two groups. Unless the task in question is *specific* to human biological reproduction, male and female differences are only about 5-10% at most, as nearly as we can tell, and no other type of grouping has any real biological significance at all. If everyone fails at a task except one guy, but in another town half the people who try that task succeed, it’s not going to be because people are just better in the second town. It’s going to be that there are barriers in the first town that don’t exist in the second.

  11. chava
    chava March 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm |

    I loved this piece by TNC. For me it was the perfect antidote to the hateful “Being White in Philadelphia” piece that my city saw fit to give front page coverage this week.

    But I love, LOVE his final line–

    “And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.”

    Damn straight.

  12. Alexandra
    Alexandra March 7, 2013 at 3:51 pm |

    Oomph. Ta Nehisi Coates is awesome as usual. I remember being 19, working as a cashier at a boating supply shop. I’m white, as were all of my managers and coworkers. The store’s clientele ranged from “working-class white folks” to “extraordinarily wealthy white foks”, with little in between.

    One day some Filipino kids (they had to be like 14) came into the store. I was instructed by my manager to follow them around and make sure they didn’t take anything. I said I didn’t see why (I did, of course, see why), and he told me that yeah, he was racially profiling them and he would be happy to “go Jack Bauer” on anyone he thought was going to steal. I wish I had been brave enough to do anything past tacitly refusing to harass those kids myself; all I ended up doing was watching my manager do the job I wouldn’t do myself – I kept my hands clean without actually doing anything concrete to help.

    If I have learned anything about racism in America, it’s that any time I try to initiate a conversation about racism with my fellow white friends, family, classmates, and coworkers, an enormous explosion of racist diarrhea is sure to follow.

  13. DAS
    DAS March 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm |

    “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.”

    This statement, in (almost purposefully yet somehow without any self-awareness of the irony involved) claiming the complete opposite of what is actually being done, reminds me of some of my colleagues who will say things in meetings like “in order to preserve departmental unity and collegiality, we need to strictly follow the bylaws”, which they will inevitably follow with behavior, motions and proposals that are divisive, demonstrate a complete lack of collegiality and which only selectively follow the bylaws.

    Did I mention that these particular individuals have already gotten our university sued (the case was settled) for gender discrimination? Now one of them is claiming that the chair (brought in to rebuild our department) is engaged in a campaign of “harassment” against him.

  14. karak
    karak March 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm |

    This is something I see a lot that worries me–oh, she’s a great mother with black friends, so that means she can’t be racist. Oh, he really loves his girlfriend, and always has, so what he does isn’t abuse.

    Fact is, someone can have, and love, their black friends and still be a fucking racist. Someone can truly, deeply love and be loved by their partner, and still be an abuser.

    Black people aren’t welcome in the middle and upper class, and when they are, they’re greeted with such suspicion. It’s not right.

    I never thought I was a racist. Until my dad took me to a comedy show, and there were 5 white people and 300 black people and I was taken aback and alarmed. And my dad looked at me and said, “this is you being racist, right now, and it is also how every black person you’ve ever met always feels.”

    I don’t want a cookie, but yeah, I have some race issues I need to get over, and it’s not the job of black people to patiently convince me that black people are people and to be okay with that. I think I’m a good person, I think I’m a racist person, and I think I could be a better person.

    1. theLaplaceDemon
      theLaplaceDemon March 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm |

      I think I’m a good person, I think I’m a racist person, and I think I could be a better person.

      (emphasis added)

      That. It’s not about staying on the right side of some arbitrary bright line separating The Bad Racist People and the Good Non-Racist People. It is about trying to be a better, less-racist person every damn day.

      1. theLaplaceDemon
        theLaplaceDemon March 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm |

        Whoops, I meant to bold the opposite part of the quote…

    2. Lisa
      Lisa March 10, 2013 at 11:17 am |

      It sounds like you have a pretty great dad.

      And I keep finding myself verbalizing agreement with these comments, it sounds like I’m talking to myself. I love your last sentence.

  15. mxe354
    mxe354 March 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm |

    Having seen the terrible non-argument from James, I want to drop by and share this.

  16. tedthefed
    tedthefed March 7, 2013 at 7:09 pm |

    Here’s the thing. Racism, for many people, is much more nebulous than it used to be. It’s ambiguous exactly what counts as racism and what doesn’t.

    Given this ambiguity, everyone has their own idiosyncratic definition of racism. And everyone’s own personal definition is this: “If I can imagine myself doing it, it’s not racist.”

    This is a brilliant strategy, since it keeps every individual from actually ever being racist. Which means, if someone’s out there criticizing behavior that I find plausible that I’d do, then I get all upset because dude that stuff isn’t RACIST it’s totally REASONABLE!

    the end result is, we live in a society where so many people have this clever armor against ever being racist, and everyone pointing out racism must be obsessed with the issue.

    1. trees
      trees March 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm |

      @tedthefed

      Who is everyone? How do you talk about racism without talking about race?

    2. Niall
      Niall March 8, 2013 at 12:13 am |

      I was going to link to that piece over at Shakesville that debunks the “consensus – matter of opinion”, but it looks like mxe354 beat me to it.

      Here’s the thing. Racism, for many people, is much more nebulous than it used to be. It’s ambiguous exactly what counts as racism and what doesn’t

      The only ones who see it as ambiguous (or not racist) are those clueless privileged white folk who think they can be arbiters of what’s racist and what isn’t. Because people of colour can’t be objective or are too sensitive unlike those logical, rational white people!

      Hmm…for some reason, the poem “White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling came to mind. Can’t imagine why!

      1. Niall
        Niall March 8, 2013 at 12:20 am |

        Sorry to tedthefed and others. I didn’t read hir post carefully enough and misunderstood. Guess that’s what happens when you post late at night. My apologies

  17. tedthefed
    tedthefed March 7, 2013 at 7:15 pm |

    Oh sorry, one more thing: It always fascinates me how people superimpose RACISM MEANS YOU’RE BAD with RACISM IS INSTITUTIONAL and conflate them.

    Like, the idea that supporting the War On Drugs is racist. No one thinks that most people in that situation have racial hatred in their hearts. But people hear this, understand what institutional prejudice is, and still totally freak out about the idea that they could be (that kind of) racist for supporting the war on drugs.

    So, given that everyone understands that KKK-Hate-In-Heart racism and institutional racism are different, why do people have this huge emotional reaction against the idea that they support the latter? Where’s the emotional threat?

    1. LotusBecca
      LotusBecca March 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm |

      Based off what I can observe, it seems to me that a very large majority of white people have a deeply ingrained sense of superiority toward people of color. This sense of superiority is covered up by a more superficial belief in “equality” of some type. So I think a large part of why many white people support the War on Drugs, for example, IS because of racial prejudice. Not in the sense that these white people vitriolically “hate” people of color, but rather that they simply consider people of color losing their lives to prison less important than maintaining some other benefit that accrues to white-dominated institutions. Because these white people believe that white people are superior to and matter more than people of color, even if they hide this belief (even to themselves).

      So I believe that when white people have a intense negative emotional reaction to being called out for supporting institutional racism, it’s largely because this call-out is pushing them to become aware of their own “shadow,” so to speak. The only way that most white people can reconcile a self-image of themselves as supporters of “equality” with their own deeply felt and only partially conscious sense of racial superiority is by denying the racist nature of their political opinions. So I think most white people exist in a state of being deeply racist while only have minimal awareness of the degree of their own racism.

      As a white person, I think most of this analysis applies to me personally as well, although I’ve worked hard to unlearn a lot of the racist ideas I was indoctrinated with. The work is never finished, though–which is why even anti-racist white people need to be constantly listening to people of color and remaining vigilant that we aren’t spinning things to our own selfish benefit.

      1. Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie)
        Raging Leftie (@ragingleftie) March 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

        I think you are right when you say that a lot of people have deeply ingrained racist ideas – you wouldn’t even know they were there except when they suddenly bubble to the surface.

    2. Henry
      Henry March 7, 2013 at 9:57 pm |

      Ted, because common parlance uses one word for both – racism. I can see a point to doing so though, from a victim’s perspective do they really care if the person pulling the trigger on them is a card carrying National Socialist or a group of someones who aren’t really paying attention to the way they think/behave (institutional racism
      -> unemployment -> high violent crime rate should not equal more cops slamming entire neighborhoods as the solution). Maybe we should be having a huge emotional reaction.

    3. Niall
      Niall March 8, 2013 at 12:03 am |

      So, given that everyone understands that KKK-Hate-In-Heart racism and institutional racism are different, why do people have this huge emotional reaction against the idea that they support the latter?

      t

      Because many people DON’T make that distinction. The concepts may be related, but they’re not all the same thing. That was the point of my OP in this thread

  18. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers March 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm |

    Regarding the concept of animus: I think it is pretty damn obvious that racism doesn’t require animus, because wow, you’re Asian? I bet you got really good grades, huh! I always prefer Asian girlfriends because they’re just prettier than white girls. Black people make better athletes than white people, so you, smart tall black little boy, come listen to me talk to you about basketball, while I talk to smart tall white little boy about medicine because you, black little boy, will be a much better athlete than the white boy will! Those Mexican guys are such hard workers. Oh, and hey, none of this is racist because I’m *complimenting* all these people! The fact that all my “compliments” reinforce stereotypes that are used to do things like push black kids toward athletics rather than academics, or underpay and overwork Hispanic people or claim they’re “stealing our jobs”, or exoticise Asian people so that women are seen even more as sex objects and men are pushed out of any sphere *but* academics even if that’s not where their interests lie… none of that matters because obviously I don’t hate black people, Asian people, Mexican people, or why would I be complimenting them?

    No. Racism doesn’t require animus. You can genuinely and absolutely believe that black people are inherently born to be better musicians than you, because you’re white, and feel great love for black musicians because of the greatness of their work, and you’re still being racist, and you’re still part of the problem.

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