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Talking about race with white people

Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race

Quote:
So I throw it out there: Raise your hand if you're a racist.

As my students do that thing where they sort of just look at you, perplexed, I raise my own hand. I am deeply embarrassed, but I feel I have to be honest if I am asking them to be.

"You've never had a negative thought based on racial bias?" I ask.

Very slowly, arms begin to rise. I understand their confusion. Theirs is a generation in which we have elected a mixed-race president, but affirmative action has been struck down for being racist.

Quote:
Today the same argument is made under the precious neologism that laws intended to redress racial inequity are themselves racist. "Racist is the new nigger," says Riz Rollins, the writer, DJ, and KEXP personality. "For white people, the only word that begins to approximate the emotional violence a person of color experiences being called a nigger from a white person is 'racist.' It's a trigger for white people that immediately conjures pain, anger, defensiveness—even for white people who are clearly racist. 'Racist' is now a conversation stopper almost like that device where you can skew a conversation by comparing someone to Hitler. It's an automatic slur. And only the sickest racists will own up to the description."

Quote:
After the first meeting I go to, I describe to CARW member Esther Handy my sense that this is a conversion experience, that everything around me has begun in recent years to look different, with a totality that feels spiritual—waking up to white privilege. (For me, embarrassingly, the real awakening began late, with a 2008 story about transracial adoptees that I wrote in The Stranger, and it continues, propelled selfishly by the fact that I am marrying into a family of color. I come late, and I mean to come humbly.) Gently bringing me down to earth and shifting the focus away from me, Handy says, "Our coming around to figuring out that we should be thinking about and talking about and doing work around racial justice is great and it can be spiritual, as you mentioned. But it is in service and in honor to the awesome organizations and leaders of people of color who have been doing this work for decades... The truth is that communities of color are thinking about racial justice all the time. They're living it and breathing it, and there's a group of white folks supporting that work, but it's only a small fraction of the white community at this point."

I ask her how to talk about racism with people who don't want to see it. I'm not talking about Tea Partyers; I'm talking about people like some of my friends and family, lefties who care, people who are on my team. Attempts to bring up race in editorial meetings at The Stranger have been as klutzy as anywhere. Even for perfectly decent, well-meaning, progressive people, it can be hard to see the connection between unintended acts of racism and actual racial injustice.

"I start with the facts," Handy says. "It's clear these injustices exist. I say I'm trying to understand the systems that create these inequities, and what's my role in working to change things. Reaching out and sharing these concepts with families and friends is absolutely part of the work, it's just not all of the work. Getting our racist uncle to stop saying bigoted things is not going to change the system. But we're not going to change the system without talking to our friends and family about it. While it benefits us not to talk about race, let's look at these disparities that just don't seem right."

I ask how often she encounters resistance to conversations about race among white people in Seattle who consider themselves progressive.

"I'd say every day," she says. "We're confused about it and we've been taught to be defensive about it. I don't think we should be too surprised about that."


Comments

Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

In the context of white progressive thought toward socio-economic structural adjustments, the entire structure of society itself would eventually need to come under intense examination where it concerns the perpetuation of racism, in order to maintain a serious dialogue with respect to institutionalized racism.  It seems that many leftists would prefer that the existing institutions remain intact, but under new caretaker management.


Maysie
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Joined: Apr 21 2005

Let's Talk About the Kumbaya Myth

Quote:

In the Kumbayah Myth, racism will just stop if everyone just started acting nice to each other, and the only reason we still have racism is that people are silly.

Quote:

Now, let's talk about this picture I linked. It says, "Love is Blind" and has a blind black woman and a blind Klansman walking across the street holding hands....

Well, even the symbolism fails, because:

a) The black woman is basically minding her own business

b) The blind Klansman DRESSED UP AS A KLANSMAN- even blind he still HATES PEOPLE.

c) AND WE'VE JUST EQUATED A BLACK WOMAN, by nature of simply BEING A BLACK WOMAN as equivalent to a murderous terrorist.


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001

Quote:

Today the same argument is made under the precious neologism that laws intended to redress racial inequity are themselves racist. "Racist is the new nigger," says Riz Rollins, the writer, DJ, and KEXP personality. "For white people, the only word that begins to approximate the emotional violence a person of color experiences being called a nigger from a white person is 'racist.' It's a trigger for white people that immediately conjures pain, anger, defensiveness—even for white people who are clearly racist. 'Racist' is now a conversation stopper almost like that device where you can skew a conversation by comparing someone to Hitler. It's an automatic slur. And only the sickest racists will own up to the description."

Um, no. When a white person is called a racist, they're still white and still enjoy all the privilege that entails. I can't see how, in any way, that's comparable to the experiences of Black people, POC and racial epithets.  Besides, even the most progressive of us have been raised in a racist society.  As much as we're loathe to admit it, we've internalized all kinds of racist messaging, and by denying our racist thoughts we fail to analyse them and address them honestly.


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

Calling a white person who is not a racist a racist is nothing but a personal insult. The collective privilege that us white people enjoy is systemic. We get it at birth and it is not a personal choice. There is no doubt that we all start on the lowest difficulty setting but with very different other advantages or disadvantages. White women are still on the lowest race difficulty setting. Those who are not amongst the temporarily able bodied are still on the white setting. It seems to me that when one transfers the systemic oppression onto the shoulders of specific individuals it becomes a form of collective guilt by association.

Given our racist commercial culture even if one keeps trying to unload the baggage from ones knapsack it is hard to get it all out.  Being compared as individuals to a skinhead with a white power T-sheet is not appropriate. I believe that it is important to understand the distinction between the systemic and the personal. Building bridges requires at least civil discourse.  If someone makes a racist statement then they need to be called on it. As an old white guy I too often have other white people presume I share their racism.  I always make sure they are dissuaded of that world view. Being a person of privilege it is to me a type of willful blindness to ignore racism.  The individuals who haven't unpacked their knapsacks need to be helped start the process.  The ones who refuse to unpack their knapsacks can be called racist but that is rather counter productive since many of them would take it as a badge of honour.

I Can Fix It wrote:

Part 1 - White People

5. Take action

Always confront racism, ignorance and inappropriate behavior/language when you see, hear, read, or experience it. If someone says something racist don't laugh awkwardly or ignore it. Use the power of your voice. Interrupt/address racism no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, no matter who you are required to confront. Do not make exceptions for your family, your friends, or in the workplace because you fear the consequences.

When speaking out against racism, be gentle but firm. Practice civility but also directness. Set that person straight. White people are more likely to listen to you than to the person that they are offending. Leave the over-niceness at home. Being overly-nice only makes a safe atmosphere for racism and an unsafe atmosphere for others (particularly people of color) to confront it head on.

Challenge white people to talk about racism. Learning “what not to say” is not the point. Understanding how racism works and how it can be dismantled is the point. Help fellow white people to learn not just react.

Part 2 - People of Color

2. Speak Out

Do not be fearful of speaking up if a white person, regardless of age or status, says a racist comment or joke. Your silence indicates you think find their racism appropriate. Talk to white people. Tell white people what to do to fight racism when they ask. Feel free to carry copies of this document with you for a handy and quick way to address racism and the white question of “What do I do?”

Listen to white people. It may be hard, but if you listen to them, then you can require them to listen to you.

http://www.damaliayo.com/pdfs/I%20CAN%20FIX%20IT_racism.pdf

Thx Maysie for the great articles you have linked to over the years.

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Trying to equate "racist" with a racial slur kind of hits the problem on the head. 

I tried to find the name of the author of that kumbaya piece, but unfortunately couldn't find it.

In any case, the illustration in the piece is telling, since one person is defined entirely by identity as female and as a person of colour. The other person is defined almost entirely by a single attitude which he (that gender is a safe assumption, but still an assumption) wears as a removable shell. We can tell the person is white only by his hands, and he is, somehow appropriately, faceless.

The author reaches two important conclusions that I can see, though I think that first excerpt is only partly correct. 

Racism would stop if people started acting nice to each other, if one takes "nice" to mean treating each other with respect. And the root causes are very silly, though they are also maddening, terrifying and soul-destroying. 

From the author's tone, I guess the article is directed at people who are naive enough to think ending discrimination is as easy as flipping a switch and remembering to love love love. Certainly anyone who has encountered it knows that is not the case.

And of course, there is the challenge to the completely false notion that racism involves two sides which are equally at fault and somehow need to meet in the middle. As the illustration points out, the objects of discrimination are completely static, and cannot change - nor should they. There is only one way to resolution and that is through changing values.

Personally, I think discrimination of all sorts will always be with us - that it is a battle and a process of education which will always have to be fought. 

I guess the only way I would qualify (since I am not sure if it is a disagreement) the author's message is that I do have some sympathy for people who are that naive, so long as it is honest naivete that takes the problem seriously, and not just a callous attempt to deflect and spread the blame around.

I figure if their hearts are right, they will learn soon enough. And like seeing children who are also not aware, but still untainted by hatred, it is a fire of hope that I think a lot of us could also learn from, and should be careful to protect. Speaking for myself, in any case.


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

how can white people be summarily stopped and detained with Racist! calls, with the only evidence present being "thoughts of pre-crime and/or belonging to a criminal organization"

I'd understand if the curious stayed far far far away from that percieved threat and never found an opportunity to hear another person's experience or have their presumptions found lacking.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Racism as an actual crime.... now there's a forward-thinking idea.

Let us know when we get there, then we can start worrying about ideas borrowed from Steven Spielberg movies and false presumption of guilt. 

As far as I understand, hate crime is just that - incitement of hatred against a specific group. Unless you are doing that, you are free to be as racist as you want with no legal penalty.

 

 


NDPP
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Joined: Dec 27 2008

especially in a settler-state like ours...


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

6079_Smith_W wrote:

As far as I understand, hate crime is just that - incitement of hatred against a specific group. Unless you are doing that, you are free to be as racist as you want with no legal penalty.

Actually Human Rights Tribunals are designed to impose penalties for discrimination.  You are free to be as racist as you want to be as long as you do not incite hatred and do not discriminate in certain defined power relationships.  Hatred is also used as an aggravating factor in sentencing for crimes of violence so indulging in racist talk while beating on someone might to get you a longer sentence.

Unless of course you are a police officer and instructor of the proper use of force by police officers. In that case you can get drunk and beat the shit out of a "brown" person for not jumping fast enough when you demanded their attention. If that is your situation then you don't even lose a pay cheque let alone get sent to jail and you still get to teach other cops and fire fighters the acceptable use of force.

That brutal, violent, white cop instructor is the poster child for systemic discrimination.  When a system has educators who are racist it can never make progress against racism.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Yes, exactly, k. 

In short, unless it is a factor in relating to something which is actually considered criminal (and can be proven) people are free to be as racist as they want without having to worry about being detained, dealing with evidence, accusation or crime, or anything else.

... except maybe having their sensitive feelings hurt when they get called on stuff.

 

 

 


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

"stuff" being their existance

the white Trayvons of the world need to be called racist, it's a superior learning tool you see...

fun fact: 9/10 white people have improved listening skills after those words are pointed their way

the most direct path to "getting there" is by opening with "hey racist, listen up!"

irregardless of the situation of course, because the premeditation is there.

take a stroll to your local park, library or coffee shop and report back you successes

 


milo204
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Joined: Feb 3 2010

i find it's a lot easier to say "that's racist" as opposed to "you're racist!" to someone.  that way you are commenting on what they're saying as opposed to making assumptions about the person.  It's also a great way to lead into "see how ingrained this shit is in our culture?  you said something and you didn't even know it's racist precisely because it permeates our lives so completely that we do it without even thinking about it!"

also, admitting i'm racist even though i'm making a conscious effort not to be takes a lot of the heat off the discussion because i'm at least admitting that i'm just as fucked up as the person who i'm criticizing...


Maysie
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Joined: Apr 21 2005

Dear White People: The Trailer

Dear White People: The Blog

Quote:

Dear White Bartenders,

Assuming I won't tip you and ignoring me is the best way to not get a tip. #Cycles

.....

Dear Netflix,

So last week I watched The Color Purple and this week you recommend me Big Mama's House 2?

.....

Dear White People using Hipstamatic,

I get it. You have an iPhone and go on hikes. Jesus...

....

Dear Jim in Accounting,

This is awkward, but I think you might have me confused with the one other black person that works here.


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

milo204 wrote:

i find it's a lot easier to say "that's racist" as opposed to "you're racist!" to someone.  that way you are commenting on what they're saying as opposed to making assumptions about the person.  It's also a great way to lead into "see how ingrained this shit is in our culture?  you said something and you didn't even know it's racist precisely because it permeates our lives so completely that we do it without even thinking about it!"

also, admitting i'm racist even though i'm making a conscious effort not to be takes a lot of the heat off the discussion because i'm at least admitting that i'm just as fucked up as the person who i'm criticizing...

I agree.  A couple of months ago I had a discussion with a dentist who in conversation used the term "gyped."  This non white professional Canadian didn't have a clue she was calling Romani thieves. The very slur that has caused them to be harassed all across Europe for centuries.  She was horrified when I pointed it out to her and I am sure she will not use it again.  She commented later when she had her fingers in my mouth that she liked to have supper conversations with her two children and the Romani were going to make the agenda. I started the conversation by asking her whether she knew what the word meant.  After she said no it was a really easy conversation.

 


quizzical
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Joined: Dec 8 2011

any of you colonizers ever thought how it feels for First Peoples to sit in the audience of  any given public event and having to hear O Canada let alone be expected to stand up for it?

1 of the first things IMV  colonizers could do  to show serious intent to stop  racism against First Peoples in Canada is to stop the singing of O Canada at public events.

just sayin.....


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001

O Canada ... our home on native land ...


quizzical
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Joined: Dec 8 2011

that's right.

glorious and free for who? every settler no matter the ethnicity or race is wanting to keep our land.


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

I think you overestimate the historical freedoms possessed by other non white+Irish settlers, surely that Kumbaya song tells us to celebrate their shared experiences of injustice as a precursor to collective activism against those that would set the rules.

do race threads normally sit for a month without comments?


quizzical
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Joined: Dec 8 2011

historical freedoms?


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

you said "any/every".

I think theres a few settlers you could talk to that shared in missing the "glorious and free" boat


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

doublepost


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

ryanw

Yes, people of all kinds have suffered, but I think in this case there are a couple of things to remember - one being the fact that this is their land to begin with - something that is unresolved and in some cases still before the courts.

Secondly, you only have to look at the inequities right now - broken treaties, genocide, rampant racism, refusal of housing, food, water, education, basic legal protection,  and things that would shake this country to its foundation if it were happening to white people, but as it is, are all but ignored. 

Is anybody talking about Attawapiskat any more? no. But let's not forget that the potato famine evens the playing field. 

Sure it was horrific, and not to be denied, but what is your reason for bringing it up now, and how will it help change the things that are happening right now? 

 


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

all in hopes of get others to chime in... some people are very good listeners; but they also like to talk and feel as if they are making some contribution and be listened to themselves

there was hardly anything in the way of foundation shaking through the centuries when those things did happen in Canada to anyone who couldnt afford it, its only through todays modern convienience that the average person are able to have this (internet) conversation of sorts with anyone outside of a 10 mile walk in their lifetime.

its a mystery at all why this thread was started why unless to unravel new ways to get important messages across to other groups

forgive my inclusiveness by mentioning the historical treatment of Irish-Canadians I'll limit my examples to non-white canadians and revisit that less palatable subject another time, or maybe never: seeing aslthough  we were only talking for 30 seconds and already you've fast forwarded ahead to your own Potato conclusion.

my content can be 90% kumbaya lets all work together and the leftover 10% inclusive bait that I left for my own "awkward" ilk gets thrown through the paranoid wringer that I'm silencing, negating X, Y and Z'ing

if(intent is) in doubt you can always ask for more details; and of course that's asking before you frame things as you chose to.

theres plenty more recent injustice stories you could have construed from what I said, lets hear from the asian canadians, black canadians, quebecois, immigrant workers, the biracials, any charter group with a grievance

 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

I don't really understand what you're saying, ryanw. I don't see what the Irish have to do with anything here aside from a diversion from the way we talk about race in America -- indeed, bringing up historically oppressed "White" groups like the Irish or Slavic nations is routinely brought up to discredit the way persons of colour attempt to analyze racism in the West (rather than, say, to further elaborate the way whiteness operates as a power structure and to challenge those structures).

The salient point from the OP for me seems to  be the way that the label of "racist" -- even only to one's language or behaviour -- has become an insult, a personal attack, a reason to get one's back up, rather than an invitation to re-examine one's thought processes or assumptions. "It's the new nigger," indeed. I would like to ask why that is -- except, I think we know: it's far easier for hegemony to ignore race-based oppression if the very act of identifying it is inversely equated with it.


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

cool! you've done exactly what I asked the last person not to do. you "Irish...routinely...discredit" finished the conversation before we even had it. that's faster than 30 seconds. It's pretty easy to see why people avoid the topic when everyone else is done before even speaking to you.

I just thought it was counterproductive for any one group to be using "any/every" statements which really limit future collaborations where someone opens with that inflexibility. no one jumped into to redirect that back to the OP

as far as the OP (as an noun) which I commonly find is not the driving force in subsequent exchanges between people

for racism and other harrassment language/behavior to retain criminal status, the party has to state they are offended by their treatment unless the behavior is extreme. "read: out of the loop white people know its bad"

why does this warning system exist? how can the diversified justice officials overlook such a miscarriage of justice when those committing these crimes are so predisposed to cause harm as evidenced by hundreds of years of hegemonic precedence?

probably because the person doesn't know anything about anyone; and that pause is where people are want to explain why(historically) they don't just cart them off to jail by mindreading.

you're upset I called you a racist? ohhhh you're really really racist for not acknowledging 500 years of history before I even spoke to you


Jacob Two-Two
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Joined: Jan 16 2002

Your post is utterly incomprehensible. If you want to be understood, I suggest you try again. I can tell you have a beef but for the life of me, I can't figure what it is.


Maysie
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Joined: Apr 21 2005

Yo, ryan. Check out the forum topic you're in, buddy. Maybe you want to ask why there isn't a "Disgruntled White Guy" forum topic. Go ahead. Just not in this thread, eh?

Have a nice day.


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

yeah! what's not to like. thanks for the welcome

Ironically the only person who didn't give a scripted response to the question I never asked was the person I was actually talking to.


quizzical
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Joined: Dec 8 2011

me?


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

ryanw, I think you can tell by our responses that we're just not sure what it is that your saying, let alone asking, let alone who you're addressing. Could you please try to be a bit clearer and to feel a little less personally targeted? I assure you that most of the writing in this thread is not about you.


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