Friday, May 13, 2011

Follow-Up Fridays

Ok folks, let's see how this is going to go. So many points to go over, and I am not really sure the best way to organize this.

We should start at the beginning. This entire post is going to be about this post that I wrote last week. I would suggest that you read that post, and the comments that people left before we get started here.

I am going to start with Andrea's comment. First, I want to say thanks to Andrea for being a long-time reader of my blog and also for deciding to comment on that post. I hope that if you read what I have to say in response to your comment and you have more to say, that you will leave me another comment. Then you can become part of my small commenting crew that I love (shout out to all my regular commenters :)

Andrea (like everyone,) said a lot of different things. I am not going to post the whole comment, just some highlights.

You said that racism has to involve a disadvantage, and I can tell from this blog that you have an educational advantage over many white people.

I do have an educational advantage over many white people. First, I was born with a certain level of intelligence. Then, I lived in neighborhoods that allowed me to go to very good schools my entire life. I had engaged teachers, and lots of educational resources at my disposal. I also had parents that had enough money for me to do extra-curricular activities, on top of the already great education I was receiving during school hours.

I was also the only black kid in my classes 98% percent of the time. We always hear this story about black kids going to college and it being some kind of culture shock. Not me. I was all, "Hey! More white people--this is just like high school!"

The reality is, my educational experience is not the educational experience of most black people. And I will be the first to admit that I have a lot of privileges that a broke, uneducated white person doesn't have. But I am wondering why seeing people that looked like me was so uncommon in my high school experience, yet so common when I watch these documentaries about our broken education system where kids don't even have books, or teachers that show up to teach them. The fact that I am such an anomaly is a sign of the institutional racism I am talking about.

This is a good segue into Chunk Hatzumomo's question:

would a white person with little money or power be considered a racist.

Great question, Chunk Hatzumomo. This person can be a racist under the hating people of color definition, but not in terms of exerting power over the life of a person of color definition. Except maybe through doing some sort of physical violence, because that is what I would be most afraid of if I came across a person like this.

You make a good point when you say this caricature is what most white people think of when they think of a racist. I think this idea of the uneducated, trailer-living, klan member is a convenient distraction because it allows other white people to say, "Well, I'm not like that guy, let me go along my merry way." Without ever having to look at the things that they are doing that do contribute to the problem of racism.

Okay, back to Andrea.

because of your skin color you don't believe that you could ever be racist. I think that other groups feel that they have a free pass to act in racist ways toward white people because of the same mom/dad thing you were writing about the other day.

I did not say that I could never be racist. If we're using the hating people of a different race definition, I said in my original post that all people are capable of being racist. And even in my mom/dad post, the whole point of that post was that if the tables were turned and the marginalized groups became the dominant groups, that they would have to make sure to fight the tendency to do the things that were done to them, out of some sort of retaliation. Like the guy who pledges the fraternity and gets hazed really badly, and becomes the most sadistic frat brother when it's his turn to do the hazing. I won't call it human nature, but there is definitely something that can happen with people who have been wronged. I first heard it on that show Beyond Scared Straight on A&E: Hurt people hurt people. I think it is probably just easier to inflict pain on others when you've been hurt, than it is to have compassion
for the people that hurt you, or just for people in general.

I have always found the highlighted part of your racish condescending and somewhat offensive. I can't imagine a situation where a white blogger could use the phrase "doesn't that make you happy black people?" without being thought of as racist.

I don't think it's racist, I think it's funny. It was meant as a joke. The reason that I wrote that part of the definition is because one one thing I have noticed about some white people is how upset they get about the idea that there are things that people of color are allowed to say that white people aren't allowed to say (we all know what I am talking about.)

I bet if you took a survey, this topic would be in the top three of things related to race that white people would want to discuss. It's like, "Really? Of everything, this is what you want to talk about?

Now, the phrase being condescending--I could see that. It wasn't my intention for it to be condesending or offensive, so that should settle that part of it. If a white blogger wrote something similar, I wouldn't think it was racist. Racish, maybe--but that just gives us an opportunity to talk about it further, because that's what it means for something to be racish.

Ok, JD is up next

People of color can be racist against other people of color

True. This is called internalized racism. Sorry JD, I could write more about this, but I still have a lot to cover and I am already getting tired of writing. I'm sure you understand.

what does it mean to be "white"?

I think this is an excellent question. I know when I think of white I think first of people who descended from Western and Northern Europeans, followed by people whose ancestors come from Eastern and Southern Europe. I would not consider people from the Middle East or Latinos white, even though the U.S. Census would.

I think the myriad of ways that one could answer this question just helps to support the idea that the entire concept of race is a social construct and doesn't have any "true" meaning. You can read more about my thoughts about what it means to be white by clicking here . There is also a book in my Read More Books sidebar called Learning to be White that talks about this. I also just checked out a book from the library called The History of White People that might give some info--maybe I'll write a blog post about it when I'm done reading.

And now: my mom. I know you are all jealous that your mom's don't comment on your blogs (and vociferously disagree with you to boot ;)

a black person's racism can be quantifiable and have a significant negative impact on a white person. If I don't like my white boss, I can sabotage his success. I can sue a company if I feel discriminated against and impact their bottom line. I can get myself in a position of power and perform reverse discrimination as deftly and shrewdly as the next white guy.

One important thing that I left out of my definition of racism that I thought of in two minutes was the idea that the best examples highlight some kind of pattern. So mom, if there is a pattern of white bosses being sabotaged by their racist black employees, or qualified white males being denied opportunities at every turn because of "reverse discrimination," I would like to see them. And the idea that a black person suing for experiencing racism is itself racist--I don't have a response to that.

If your ancestors were guilty of some heinous act and you had to suffer for it today, would that feel good?

I don't think white people are suffering because of what their ancestors did (or didn't do.) They might feel some combination of gulity, confused, ashamed, angry, proud, neutral, defensive, concerned or any number of other emotions--but suffering is not how I would describe it.

Alas, I am not white, so if any of my white readers want to jump in and let me and my mom know how you feel about the "heinous acts" of your ancestors--leave me a comment.

Perhaps by having a belief that whites are the ones "doing all the racism" and you being a powerless person of color, you are hurting no one but yourself by having those beliefs.

This part of your comment really pissed me off. Do you really think that I believe I am powerless? I know you can't really think that. Right now I am just shaking my head at the computer screen.

The fact that I spend time writing about power and different ways that I, and other people are treated unfairly because of the different ways that we don't conform to the dominant culture is not an example of me being powerless, it is an example of me having power. You say that thinking that white people "do all the racism" makes me angry and defensive. No, having racism done to me is what makes me angry and defensive. It doesn't really matter what I think, it matters what I live and what I see other people living. This makes me angry. This makes me angry. This.

And this.And this.And this.And this.

These things happen whether I write about them or not. Coming here and writing about them makes me less angry, because it lets me feel like I am doing something to change this fucked up world we live in. Sorry mom, I know you don't like it when I curse, but sometimes curse words are the most appropriate words to use.

Okay, I am going to wrap it up. I have to admit, I was apprehensive about responding to my mom on the public forum that is my blog. But then I remembered that what I know about people tells me that the majority of you have complicated relationships with your moms too. This makes me feel less weird about it.

I also want to point out that I spent the bulk of my time talking about privileged black people, underprivileged white people, brown on brown racism, white Arabs with blond hair, and scheming and conniving black employees. What are the reasons for this? Who/what are we not talking about when we're talking about those people?

I'll leave you with a comment from my white friend John Ferguson:

Water flows downstream, and so water molecules flow downstream. Of course for a moment, because of an intervening event (like a rock thrown into the river causing a splash), some water molecules might go upstream. Not too informative about the way rivers work, or where the water is going to end up.

I would really love to hear your comments, so please--share them with me.


  1. I admit to double-checking to see if it was really your mom who pissed you off. :)

    Well one thing, since I am not as thorough a responder as you are, is that I really appreciate what a thorough responder you are.

    Another is that I appreciate your further ideas about institutional racism and how to spot it because exactly the questions you answered here are ones I find difficult to explain.

    And lastly, I feel embarrassed and ashamed by the heinous acts my ancestors committed against people of color, and like I want to distance myself from them or find some way to make it make sense. But I can't and it doesn't, that's just me trying to wriggle my way out of discomfort.


  2. Anonymous3:35 PM

    Hi again MyBlackFriend,

    Sorry for the delayed response to your post. They require a lot of thought (and sometimes research).

    You wrote: "One important thing that I left out of my definition of racism that I thought of in two minutes was the idea that the best examples highlight some kind of pattern. So mom, if there is a pattern of white bosses being sabotaged by their racist black employees, or qualified white males being denied opportunities at every turn because of "reverse discrimination," I would like to see them. And the idea that a black person suing for experiencing racism is itself racist--I don't have a response to that."

    Here are a few examples of whites suing for reverse discrimination, or white employees being discriminated against by black bosses. I couldn't find examples where black employees sabotaged their white bosses, but do you really think someone would confess that on the internet? Anyway, here they are: (see Wilfred comment)

    I do admit to playing devil's advocate somewhat in my previous post; I know racism is a real problem still in America. I sometimes wonder if it is an insurmountable one.

    While searching for the links above, I came across this really good article about subtle vs. overt racism and thought I'd share it with you and your readers:

    More later,

  3. both sides of the spectrum have been just as bad to each other in recent history, i'm afraid. a white person in a 'certain' group of black people can be made just as uncomfortable (or just as put down) as a black person in a 'certain' group of white people. like the 'white trash' argument, i think racism is mostly just a name people put on other people who they have convinced themselves are "less" than themselves. it's a way to make themselves feel "better" than someone else in a very quick fix a cigarette...does it solve the problems? no. but it feels good for a minute. my main concern is that there are people who think that they are non-disriminitory in all or most circumstances. i have news for them: you're not. EVERYONE discriminates ALL THE TIME. the next time you walk through the grocery store just try not to find yourself looking at someone who you automatically think is in some way not as good as you, (their hair, their body weight, skin color, height, ethnicity, rear-end, clothing, etc). the bottom line is we all discriminate all the time. we are, in fact, so simple at the core, that we don't even bother to find the root cause of why we don't like someone at first glance, or who they are. we only look at someone and decide immediately, "well, that's because they eat a lot"..."i'm not surprised their car is damaged-they're probably a terrible driver. and poor"..."what a slut"..."what a dumbass"..."what a ditz"..."whatever, grandpa"..."that's because you're a stupid bitch"...that's where you'll find the -ism.