Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Where the Real Conversations on Race Happen

Shhhh. If you’re polite and listen, you can hear black people talking honestly about racism on Twitter. Here’s part of one conversation that’s been happening since Hillary Clinton dared to use the word “deplorables” to describe some of Donald Trump’s fans (as demonstrated through their words and actions).

Robert L. Reece, @phuzzieslippers, a graduate student in sociology at Duke, started it off with this:

The most whitypical thing about the "deplorables" talk is the rush to demarcate "racists" vs. "non-racists" as if it's a useful distinction. Deciding who is and isn't "racist," as if it matters, is an exercise in white appeasement. They're always so excited to label other people as racist because it assures them that they're not.

It lets "regular" whites off the hook. It lets them vote for racist "tough on crime" and charter school policies while being sure that they, themselves, aren't "racist." You'll say my school is bad. You'll avoid "bad" neighborhoods. You'll use home search apps that ignore black neighborhoods. That's racist!
To which Gene Demby, ‏@GeeDee215, one of the journalists responsible for NPR’s Code Switch podcast, responded,
…one of the reasons I'm reluctant to use "racist" in writing is that it invariably becomes a quagmire. We have to then have a whole conversation about the contours of someone's soul and what their intentions were and then come to a consensus.

And the threshold for racism gets defined up to, like, "objectively monstrous." Nothing short of racial terrorism meets the standard. Cliven Bundy thought black people would be better off as slaves -- but was adamant that he wasn't a racist. Lots of "good liberals" [live] in places where black people are legally relegated to inferior schools and subjected to abusive policing. You don't need to call anyone "nigger" or burn a cross when housing policy can do that work for you.

You can see conversations become about individual actors every time one of these police abuse cases pops up. "Most cops good but some bad apples." And invariably, a Department of Justice report comes out like, "actually, this case rests against a whole pattern of targeted abuse of black people in Town X." And it always just so happens that the black people in Town X live far away from the white people in the same town, who think the police are dandy. And those white people have no idea what policing looks like on the black side of town but they feel confident in declaring it fair and just. And the black people on the other side of town, with their inferior schools and abusive policing, say: this is neither fair nor just. "Why, you might even call the thoroughly unequal distribution of resources and protections in our town...*racist.*"

And then the discussion becomes about how the local lawmakers are outraged at that characterization and have black friends or whatever. And now the people of Town X are trapped in this bog of inanity around "divisive language" and "playing the race card." Someone bizarrely invokes Martin Luther King in some ridiculous comment about bringing people together. And so on.
Catherine Young, ‏@battymamzelle, a black feminist pop culture writer, said,
If racism is internally motivated rather than a system we actively participate in, then it's binary. Either you’re racist or you're not. And racists are bad people, so if you're a good person you're not racist. Ta da! Not racist. But if we frame racism as a collection of actions, then it becomes something you DO or DON'T DO.

This is why I'm cool calling people who express racist ideas racists. They DID A THING and the thing was racist. Speech is also an action. It's a verb. A "doing word" as my primary school teacher used to say.

I dunno how or why but we let white people define "racism" as strictly "racially motivated physical violence" and nothing else. Because by that definition, very little is racist, and therefore very little require introspection about systemic effects. To me the key is in pointing out that racism is a thing you can NOT do. If you're not a racist then don't DO X things.
Then Presidente de China, ‏@RSGAT, a white public defender named Josh Michtom from Hartford, Conn., came back with this:
Thing is, you don't even need to say "racism" for people to shut down and stop listening. Most segregation discussions with white people boil down to two things: (1) they don't want to sacrifice what they have and (2) they need to believe they deserve what they have. "Racism" has become shorthand for "you don't deserve all this," which leads inexorably to "fairness demands that you give some of this up."
Finally, writer Mikki Kendall ‏@Karnythia took it in bit different direction:
I don't understand this weird argument that white racists are too fragile to be told they have fucked up. Black kids don't get that. Children of color are assumed to be old enough at birth to face racism. White adults can be told about their racist bullshit every day. The myth of white fragility is just more racism in action. You're racist enough to give cover to oppression? You can be told you're trash. White people don't have more sensitive feelings. Or thinner skin. Racism just taught them their feelings matter more than our lives.

1 comment:

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I find myself agreeing with everything you've posted. Sadly, I can't figure out what to do about any of it.