Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tips for Well-Intentioned White Liberals "Concerned" About Racism

So, since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was yesterday the topic of race has been coming up a lot in daily conversation with the middle class white liberals which make up the majority of people I interact with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, talking to white liberals about race is just about as fun as trying to juggle in a bee suit by the side of a busy street while wearing a giant yellow sign that says "SALE!" Silly and idealistic as I am, when I am talking to well-meaning people I usually try to give them the benefit of the doubt. You would think that I would stop doing this after a while, but no, the fire of my personal dream that people are not actually as ig'nant as they seem continues to soldier on. Anyway, this has been done before in other quarters, but I figured another little guide can't hurt.

1) Don't act as though racism is something Other BAAAAD people do. Guess what? YOU do it too! YES YOU! You've won the glamrous prize known as racist socialization, an all expense paid trip to a land where ignoring white privilege isn't just once in a while, it's a way of life! And what's more, all your friends get to come too! Why, it's as though racism is an all-pervasive part of our culture that we ALL have internalized and we ALL deal with on a daily basis although some of us are racist enough as to not even realize it! WOOOOOOO!!!!!!

2) Don't get defensive. As noted in the above tip, YOU are racist. The first step to healing is acknowledging that you've got a problem. Repeat after me, "Hi my name is __________ and I am a racist." Don't you feel better now? If you really want to get advanced, start listening to people who call you out on racist actions and thought patterns. Listening means, you stop. Your mouth ceases to move. You pause, like the gentle crane before the refreshing oasis, waiting to drink in the delicious icy cold beverage we call insight. THEN respond to what the other person has said.

3) You are not Mr. T. It is not your job to "save" or "protect" people of color from the vicious scourge that is racism and believe me, nobody is expecting you to do that. Most people of color have been dealing with that particular villain for their entire lives. Chances are, they've probably learned a thing or two about how to handle themselves when racism rears its ugly head. Start with changing your own attitudes and behaviors. Then progress to confronting others when you recognize attitudes and behaviors and doing anti-racist activism. Don't take on the mantle of savior because it is both patronizing to people of color and naive about the real character of racism and its multitudinous manifestations.

4) Avoid making assumptions about people of color and what they need as much as humanly possible. For one thing, people of color are not a gelatinous human blob of different flavored pudding all mixed together. Different groups have different struggles. Different individuals within groups have different struggles. Understanding the interplay of all of those differences is extraordinarily challenging to the point of straight up impossibility. People spend years studying a single group in ethnic studies departments and they STILL don't fully understand that ONE group they've been studying. Complexity like woooooaaaaahhhh!!! On the other hand, if you are wondering what people of color want and what they face there are tons of books and movies out there that can help you get a sense of what it means for some. If you are working on a specific community project, maybe it's a good idea to ask some people of color in your community.

5) Exoticising other cultures is not the same as understanding them or being anti-racist. You might notice that some of your ancestors also praised and enjoyed the cultures of non-white peoples. We now refer to those people as colonists. Please do not make references to Zen Buddhism or Native American legends or all the Salsa dancing lessons you have taken as though your knowledge of these things has made you one with the struggle. Chances are it hasn't done that anymore than Irish Step Dancing has made you REALLY understand the political situation in Ireland or what it means to be Irish American.

6) Guilt is a useless emotion unless it motivates you to act. And in my experience, guilt is usually not a very powerful motivator. Instead it often has a chilling effect that paralyzes people with doubt and self-pity. When I bring up my own experiences with racism in a conversation it is not because I am fishing for victim pity or that I want you to feel guilty. On the contrary, I want you to be angered by what I've experienced and what continues to happen in this country. I want you to be upset that the Martin Luther King Dream America that you were raised to believe i, does not yet exist. I want to build your drive to make this country a better place not just for me, or for people of color, but for all of us.

7) Be honest, especially with yourself. I remain undecided about when safe space is an important, valuable thing for disempowered groups and when it allows people to avoid the realities of our culture and their own opinions in a way that slows down progress. Within certain general playground guidelines such as don't call anyone a name and don't pull anyone's pig tails, I would always rather someone be honest with me if they disagree with what I'm saying or even if they just don't understand. Censoring yourself through the politically correct machine is sometimes about simple politeness, but it can also be about ignoring your real thought patterns and cultural practices. Michael Richards and Mel Gibson are not the only ones with racist thoughts, they're just dumb enough to have been caught saying them. Which brings me to another tip:

8) No you are not colorblind. Stop pretending like you are. Acting as though you don't see race is a slippery slope that often leads people to conclude that race does not exist. News flash, race still carries a heap of meaning and baggage in America. To act as though it doesn't is to ignore the daily realities that many people of color must face and to, again, obscure your own racist thoughts and actions.

If any of you guys have other suggestions that you can think of, go ahead and post them in the comments.


Blogger RachelsTavern said...

Lovely, sounds like about 6 or 7 of my posts all put together.

You really finessed it.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Edith said...

hell's yeah.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Great post!! Here's what I have to add:

I would really like white liberals to stop talking about "reverse racism." I would like people to stop viewing racism as the Montagues and Capulets. This isn't about groups of people that hate each other "Just because." It's a whole system of invisible oppressions and privileges. It's not about individual grudges. A person of color commenting on whiteness is *not the same* as a white person making a racist joke. And yet white folks often act appalled and oppressed when they're told they can't say anything they want. As soon as one of those invisible privileges is restrained, the people with power feel like victims.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I came here via Rachael's Tavern -- great post!!!!

4:18 PM  
Blogger spotted elephant said...

I finally remembered what I wanted to add: accept the fact that sometimes, you will say something clueless/hurtful/stupid. This is NOT a reason to keep your mouth shut and not get involved. It just means you have to pay attention, apologize when necessary, and work hard to learn from your mistakes.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Mr. Morgan said...

Blast! I was going to bring up the dire need for White Liberals to shut up about 'reverse racism', but I was beaten to the punch. Yarr.

I haven't seen this put so well in a long time though. Spectacular.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Thank you for all of your nice comments and good suggestions!

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Nikki P. said...

Preach Girl! Say it again. Nice post!

11:09 AM  
Anonymous April said...

Bwahaha, very entertaining... chicken soup for my soul. :)

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Lara said...

That was a very eloquent post that I think hit the nail on the head about racism. And excellent that you people just brought up the whole thing with "reverse racism." Just as women's oppression is not the result of the so-called "Battle of the Sexes" so the oppression of "minorities" and Blacks is not the result of "bickering" and "misunderstanding" between different races. Well said Lauren! I am going to add one more thing: recognize that racism would not exist without sexism, classism, etc. and vice-versa. People think they can divide "women's issues" from "race issues" when in actuality all these systems of oppressions are completely interconnected and rely on each other. I love this blog, yeay!

12:55 PM  
Anonymous white illiberal said...

I wonder if I'm a racist, too... Let's see, I don't give a damn about the 'plight' of 'minorities' - let them solve their own problems. If there is such a thing as 'white privilege' then I'm certainly entitled to it and don't feel guilty about it in the least - I deserve only the best. I'm not interested in listening to members of any 'oppressed group' bitch at me, call me names, or tell me what an asshole I am by not agreeing with all their hateful rhetoric - I'm not interested in their problems or in taking the blame for them. Oh yes, I also don't care for white liberals who tell me all of the above is somehow bad - I'm not ashamed to have been born white, even if they are. So what do you think, am I a terrible racist? Should I be ashamed of myself? I'm not.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Rion said...

I read Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and it was amazing.

I was pissed.
I went on the offensive.
I covered my ears and sang "la la la".

But it didn't go away.

But when do we get to do something besides calling ourselves racist? It is easy to be on the offensive when you get lumped in a great big amorphous pudding of racism-benefitting-whiteness. I know, boo hoo. But really.

"Middle class white liberal" gets thrown around like dirty words, but even in our foolishness, many of us are asking to be educated and to improve and to do good works. Getting preached at the entire time we are trying to do that is hardly an effective motivator.

Just saying.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous SC said...

Awesome, so if I'm a white male, I'm automatically part of the problem then? OK then, I'll just ignore racism since I'm a racist bigot and am hurting black people by just existing. I'm so very sorry. I'll just kill myself then and maybe it'll make you feel better.

On second thought, no, I'll just f'ing ignore this "racism" and "sexism" and just go on with my successful life, enjoying what I've earned, having fun and enjoying life with my friends. (Who happen to all be black, as well as successful businessmen, who would've thought)

You lose.

9:40 PM  
Blogger liyanat said...

Hi, this sounds funny coming from an Asian who reads too much 'white'. But I do notice and I do feel it, sometimes, not that often, that the world is seen through the colour of white. White couples, one white spouse, half white celebrities of Southeast Asia and East Asia, which believe me are effing plentiful. I'm not sure who to blame because white presence in Asia is not actually that pervasive, but doing several courses concerning Asia and knowing from my own Malay culture myself, fair skin is a prized commodity. Not as fair as white, but possibly half white? I live through life not noticing the colour of my skin but this is possibly because I surround myself with people who have no concern for the colour or fairness/darkness of my skin. But living in some 'white' countries, I do occasionally from time to time get harassed for being a Malay that looks like a Chinese/Japanese/Korean, from both Asians themselves, aborigines and whites. First off because I was born a Muslim (note 'born') and people are just one hundred percent idiots that they have to assume I'm some sort of Asian looking terrorist from Afghanistan. Racism is pervasive, but it is also pervasive in our own ethnic communities, coming from Brunei in Borneo with its different ethnic communities, everyone's got something racist to say, the best part at least is, as a Malay, if one of us marries 'out' we accept, therefore I would like see more research to clarify the term 'racism', what is racism?

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

I think you essentially got to the bottom of what every privileged person needs to know regardless of what their privilege is.

Though to eight, I think you could have perhaps addressed the difference between equal treatment and equality/equity in more detail, as well as the ignoring of privilege via that argument. Colorblind or any form of "blind" equality is not really equality.

As I say, giving everyone a printed brochure is treating them "equally" but blind people still can't read it therefore they are being treated unequally.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Demimondaine Libertine said...

In my humble ('white liberal middle-class opinion......what foolish close range foot shooting this homogenized generalization of laziness, surely is!) your fundamental assertion hidden deep beneath the, at times, dense layer of subjective, emotional hysteria, is partly of merit and could be the catalyst for a refreshing thread of discussion and pontification from all sides of 'the fence'. Rather than systematically enriching your line of argument with measured, evidence based, objective examples, facts and theories, you actually succeed in unravelling before the readers very eyes, both; linguistically, intellectually, emotionally, morally and credibly.

Never before has one been so literally spoilt and overwhelmed for choice in offering here some examples of the glaring hypocrisy, contradiction, short-sightedness, ignorance, bigotry, self delusion, narcissism, prejudice, dripping from every word of your piece. I shall leave you with an example, that if to be denied, surely implies any lack of rational, pragmatic thought?


2) "Don't get defensive. As noted in the above tip, YOU are racist. The first step to healing is acknowledging that you've got a problem. Repeat after me, "Hi my name is __________ and I am a racist." Don't you feel better now?"


4) Avoid making assumptions about people of color and what they need as much as humanly possible. For one thing, people of color are not a gelatinous human blob of different flavored pudding all mixed together. Different groups have different struggles. Different individuals within groups have different struggles. Understanding the interplay of all of those differences is extraordinarily challenging to the point of straight up impossibility.

10:08 AM  

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