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Racism and the Myth of a "Victim Mentality"

Recently, I received an e-mail from a college professor who shows a video of one of my speeches in her classroom. She explained that she was in need of a citation for a claim I had made in the video, to the effect that although blacks and Latinos are far more likely than whites to be searched by police after a traffic stop, it is whites who are more likely--four times more likely in fact--to be found with drugs or other contraband on us, on the much less frequent occasions when we're the ones searched.

I happily obliged, sending her the web link for a 2005 Department of Justice report, in which the data can be found. Apparently, she was being challenged by one of her white male students, who was certain the claim must be wrong. Of course. Because everybody knows black and brown folks are the ones with all the drugs. Armed with his high school diploma, he felt confident challenging the person who is academically certified to teach him something, as if her years of experience and research counted for nothing, and as if mine (twenty-plus at this point) were irrelevant to the search for truth.

As a side note, and before continuing with the real focus of my remarks, it has always fascinated me how readily people without the slightest bit of knowledge on these subjects will challenge those of us who have spent our lives studying them. And this they do, in a way they would never think to challenge, say, the plumber who came to fix their toilet. In such a case as that, most anyone would recognize and defer to the plumber's specialized knowledge about their craft. But not with a subject that has ideological or political implications. The fact that everyone is entitled to their opinion leads millions to believe that their opinions are actually just as valuable as anyone else's, no matter the yawning chasm between their own expertise on a topic and that of someone else. Thus, we end up with Glenn Beck helping to shape public opinion: a guy who readily admits his lack of education, but whose views we are supposed to take seriously anyway. Or Sarah Palin, whose sub-mediocre academic record is viewed as a badge of honor by conservatives who consider those with substantial academic accomplishments to be elitist snobs.

But anyway, I digress.

What was actually more disturbing about the instructor's e-mail was the part after she asked for the data citation, where she noted that in addition to challenging the facts I'd presented in the video, the white guy had also insisted that even if the claim were true--in other words, even if police really are racially profiling people of color unfairly--we shouldn't talk about it, because to do so will discourage black people from trying hard to achieve. It will, presumably, turn them into permanent victims, whose expectations of mistreatment will make them essentially give up.

The Racist and Ignorant Underpinnings of the Victim Mentality Argument

It's a common argument, made by those who would rather ignore or finesse the problem of racism in America. If you can't argue the facts, never fear, just suggest that certain facts are too dangerous to be spoken. The possibility that persons of color might adopt a victim mentality once they learn the extent of racism, means we simply have to move on, and tell those who are, as a matter of fact, often the victims of injustice not to dwell on their experiences too much, lest their commitment to self-help be vitiated.

That such an argument as this is fundamentally racist should be obvious. First, it presumes that persons of color are too stupid to already know what it is they're experiencing. Those who bemoan the so-called victim mindset appear to believe that no one would think about racism were it not for the constant presence of liberals and leftists raising the issue. Secondly, the argument supposes that black and brown folks are so weak-willed that if they really understood the obstacles in their way, they would crumble like pie crust. As such, the fact that prominent black conservatives like Shelby Steele or Walter Williams are among the most outspoken proponents of this argument--that discussing racism risks the inculcation of a permanent victim mentality--suggests how little they think of their own racial group.

The truth is, folks of color (especially African Americans) are well aware of the negative stereotypes held about their racial group by an early age. Indeed, recent evidence indicates an awareness of these stereotypes by as soon as the third grade, and rarely later than the fifth: around the age of, say, eleven. This awareness--which is not due to liberals bringing it up, but rather, the result of black and brown folks living with the mistreatment that stems from the stereotypes and being exposed to them in media and elsewhere--has been found to dramatically impact academic performance. Even (and especially) among highly capable and motivated students of color, the fear of living down to a stereotype has been shown to generate such anxiety that it can suppress performance, relative to ability, thereby perpetuating the very performance gaps that feed the stereotypes about black intelligence in the first place. In other words, whether or not white racism is discussed, the knowledge of its existence is sufficient to negatively impact black and brown success. Talking about racism isn't the problem: racism itself is.

Are Some Victims are More Valid Than Others?

Naturally, none of the conservatives who worry about blacks adopting a debilitating mindset of victimhood ever fret about the same thing happening to others who have been victimized by injustice. They don't tell Jewish folks to get over the Holocaust, or not to talk about those unhappy matters so much, lest they cripple themselves under the weight of a victim syndrome. They don't warn crime victims against the adoption of a victim mindset. No indeed, the right even praises "victim's rights" groups, as if to suggest that, for these poor souls, victimhood is the highest station of human worth, and even provides special insights when it comes to proper crime control policy. And the right, even as they decry black and brown claims of victimization--all for the best interests of those folks of color, naturally--are quite skilled at proclaiming themselves the victims of all kinds of things: taxes, big government, immigrants, reverse discrimination, secular humanism, gay marriage, "radical Islam," you name it. The right loves victimhood, so long as they're the ones who get to choose which victims count, and so long as they don't have to actually deal with the history of injustice meted out to those who, by and large, are not them.

So why is it acceptable for these other groups' members to focus on their victimization, while it's somehow untoward or even self-destructive for blacks to do so? Keep in mind, there has been a steady push for curricula that addresses the destruction of European Jewry under Hitler, and no one has suggested that teaching the Diary of Anne Frank might be debilitating to Jewish children. Classes on, and special materials on the Jewish Holocaust are ubiquitous in American schools. Meanwhile, discussion of the Holocaust of America's indigenous populations remains largely off-limits, even to the point that the term Holocaust can't be used to describe it, lest we be seen as disrespecting the supposed uniqueness of Jewish suffering. As a Jew myself, I was raised on a steady diet of "never again" rhetoric, and not once was it suggested that such thinking was somehow going to diminish my willingness to work hard. Quite the contrary, it was intended to make damned sure I never allowed my people to be subordinated again. And that, it appears, is the real concern of conservatives. They aren't worried about blacks and other people of color adopting a crippling victim mentality. They are worried about such folks fighting back against the victimization that continues to happen on a daily basis.

Preparation is Not Capitulation to Victimhood

Logic suggests that there is a big difference between being prepared for potential injury of some sort (as those who challenge racism insist one must be) and wallowing in victimhood. When we buy insurance, for instance, we are preparing for the possibility of something bad happening to us--becoming sick, getting in a car accident, or having our house wiped out by a flood or tornado, or broken into by a burglar who then steals our valuables. Yet only the most cynical would say that by thinking about these possibilities (even to the point of paying money to insulate ourselves against them), we were somehow mired in a mentality of perpetual victimization. No indeed, such preparation, and the foresight that precedes it would be taken by most as signs of supreme rationality, level-headedness and maturity. And this is true despite the fact that, statistically speaking, the odds that a person of color will experience racism at some point are far greater than the odds of, say, a catastrophic weather related destruction of one's house, or the likelihood that one will be the victim of a home invasion. Research indicates that people of color will be discriminated against in about one out of every three job searches, as well as a third of the time when looking for housing. Though not clamoring for racism insurance, people of color logically think about the potential of racist injury, and given the possibility of such injury, doing so is no less rational than to contemplate other forms of ill-fortune. It is far more rational, for instance, than buying air traveler's insurance, in the event that one's plane were to crash, and yet many people purchase this kind of thing every year. Are they paranoid? Locked in a victim mentality? Neurotic? No, just cautious. Being prepared does not paralyze you, in these or any other cases.

To put this in terms that are especially easy to understand, let me offer a personal story, which illustrates the difference between being prepared for something and being paralyzed by fear of it. When I was quite a bit younger, I was an accomplished baseball player, especially when it came to hitting. As was my habit, during pre-game preparations, I would pay special attention to the opposing team's pitcher as he warmed up. I would watch to see how fast he threw, his motion, his delivery, and what kind of movement, if any, he was able to put on the ball. I did this even though I knew that sometimes these guys (who were almost always bigger than me and a bit older) were zipping balls into their catchers at over 85 miles an hour, which, to a 5'3" 14 year old, can be intimidating, to say the least. Several others on my team wouldn't watch the pitchers that intently. But I did, religiously. And not only did it not psyche me out or make me less confident of my ability to get on base. If anything, it prepared me for what I'd be facing, and made me more confident.

It's a logic that most any responsible parent would immediately understand. What kind of father would I be, for instance, if I never told my girls about the fact that there are some boys and men who think girls and women are less capable, and that there will be some among these who may treat them unfairly? The answer is, I'd be a damned pitiful one. To tell your kids that they can be anything they want to be if they try hard enough is nice, but unless you warn them about the obstacles in their path, which, unconquered, can derail them on the road to success, you are ill-suiting them for the real world. You are doing them no favors, but rather, are setting them up for a terrible fall, once they come upon the hurdles for which you had failed to prepare them, and as such, equip them to overcome. On the other hand, by discussing those obstacles honestly--and discussing individual and collective strategies of resistance to them--persons who are the targets of unjust treatment can steel themselves against the headwinds in their way, persevere, and accomplish in spite of those headwinds.

Victim Mentality Arguments Ignore History and Common Sense

Frankly, it's stunning that anyone would deny this basic truth, especially given the historic evidence at our disposal to prove its veracity. After all, if you ask most any black person over the age of forty what their parents told them about race when they were younger, you will hear one or another version of the following in reply: that they would have to work twice as hard as white folks. And this they were told, not as some free-floating, de-contextualized notion, but precisely because the system was so profoundly unjust and discrimination so deeply ingrained, that despite their best efforts and talent, they would too often be overlooked for the best jobs and opportunities solely because of the color of their skin.

But does anyone--including, especially the black conservatives who decry the so-called victim mentality--condemn the older African Americans (including, one can safely presume, their own parents) who previously prepared generations of blacks for hard work and success by telling them in no uncertain terms that things were unequal and unfair? Does any conservative suggest these blacks in prior eras were crippling their children with the message that they would need to work harder than whites because of racism? Better still, is there any evidence whatsoever that being told such a thing did in fact cripple black folks, or make them try less hard than they otherwise might have? Of course not. If anything, the exact opposite is true. Knowing the odds, black and brown folk tried even harder, because to do otherwise would all but guarantee defeat. In short, the claim that discussing racism and discrimination creates passive victims out of people of color flies in the face of every bit of empirical evidence on the subject, which suggests that the opposite is true: knowing the truth inspires perseverance and passionate resistance to victimization, not resignation to one's status as a target.

In fact, one could even argue that downplaying the reality of racism and discrimination so as to avoid the inculcation of a victim mindset, and so as to spur greater individual initiative, could backfire. After all, if a person is led to believe that there are no obstacles in their way, and that their hard work, intelligence and ability are all that will matter, they might slack up. They might coast on the assumption that surely all will recognize their potential, and that they won't have to go that extra mile to make a good impression. They may overestimate the extent to which whites will recognize their effort and hard work, or the extent to which that recognition will be sufficient to overcome the implicit (and even explicit) biases that years of research indicates are still very much ingrained in the minds of most white folks. So not only may a "see no evil, speak of no evil" mindset not help folks of color in a society where racism still functions, it could actually do substantial harm.

In the end, there is only one question we need ask: does the truth matter or not? If racism is a problem--and research makes clear that it is--then there is no responsible path forward but to discuss it, to call it out, and to address it directly. To ignore it, or minimize its importance will not make it go away, will not smooth the path for any person of color confronting it, and will only leave folks ill-prepared to deal with it, on those occasions when it rises up to smack them in the face. Surely, anyone who would leave millions of others so unprepared for the world as it is can't be taken seriously when they claim to be compassionate. The right doesn't care about people of color adopting a victim mentality. They simply wish to avoid a discussion of injustice, because such a discussion might lead us to do something about it. And they rather like things the way they are.

Tim Wise is the author of five books on race and racism, including his latest, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity, to be released in the Spring of 2010 from City Lights Books.

Comments
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Great Blog!

Hi Tim, I just had to comment and praise you on your blog on racism and the victim mentality discussion.Although I don't even come close to your thoughtful expressions and understanding of the racial divide that is evident in our country, I applaud you for your devotion to getting the word out. On my way to publication of "The Great American Novel,"I have worked in business for over 20 years. The company that employs me as an Offce Manager, also,employs about 90% black people. I was not aware of this statistic when I first came to the job.It certainly would not affected me either way because I wanted the job for specific reasons. Mainly because it involved working with mentally challenged individuals and the agency was doing a great job.Despite the fact that I had worked,went to school,and had friends that were black, there has been a whole evolutionary process to develop positive relationships. At first I felt that I had to make up for every rotten thing that a white person had done to a black person. Sometimes my words and actions were misunderstood.I was considered by some to be a white woman who wanted to be a hero and to gain adulation. Fortunately I met many black people who knew the truth, and began to see me as color blind. Although it has been a long proving ground,(over 20 years) I have arrived at a great place in both understanding and being understood by my black co-workers and friends. Iplan to research your books because your thoughts challenge minds. Also, I hope to read your thoughts some day about the election of Senator Brown in Mass. I really think there were some racial undertones in that election although it was played out as citizen discontent over the economy. (Given that it was not too long ago that racial problems were quite evident in Boston.) Also,recently there was a Red Room blog from a writer/member who expressed her feelings about Black History Month. She wrote that why should only February be devoted to Black History Month. I feel the same way,and I'm sure that you do, too. Again thanks for posting your great blog! Have a great day! Mary Walsh

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learning

Hey Tim,
Excellent points about the victim mentality argument. I do want to take issue with your side note at the beginning, though. I think it is absolutely vital for white folks to be able to challenge any argument about racism in this country that they wish to. Most likely, this kid will read the evidence about racial profiling, shrug, and walk away without any of his assumptions changed. But the next time the subject comes up, he won't be able to keep a straight face and say that racial profiling is fiction.
More importantly, I think that relying on experts' proclamations about race without entertaining and then disproving your own reflexive doubts and denial is just about the worst way to try to become an anti-racist. It makes your arguments and beliefs hollow. I might add that it comes off as lazy, and in the end, looks like you don't give enough of a shit about the topic. Essentially, its an exertion of white privilege.

The more indignant denial is met with rational explanation, the more white kids come to realize that our beliefs about meritocracy and equal opportunity are not reasonable, but kind of like a collective psychotic disassociation from reality. Precisely because everyone is entitled to an opinion, you should be willing to force them to re-evaluate their own, not adopt that of someone more knowledgeable, however tedious it is to hear the sounds of white whine.

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Sure...

And I should keep my eye out on my plumber to see if he's saying something that makes no sense even to a layperson, but that doesn't mean I don't respect the plumber's superior wisdom. The quickness with which mostly white students who will accept without challenge micro-economic assumptions that are bizarre or sociological theories that are clearly contentious will challenge evidence of racism is staggering and indicates white privilege.

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Let's be honest Philip. It

Let's be honest Philip. It is a distinct lack of knowledge of the facts which allows white kids to challenge any argument as it pertains to racism. That is white privilege.

Reason being, we are given a very white-supremacist and Euro-centric view of history through the twelfth grade. It isn't until higher education that we are even given the option of an alternate and much closer to reality view of history. Up until that point though, what white kid is going to take it upon himself to read Baldwin, DuBois, or any other author who shines a light on the reality of racism in this country? Very very few. I'm a white kid from a white suburb who was given a very white-washed (pun intended) version of history throughout school and it wasn't until I took it upon myself to research Columbus and slavery that I began to understand that what I was taught was far removed from history. As Dickipedia put it:

"Despite leading a life of racism, slavery, and barbaric acts against natives so heinous that he was arrested and jailed, the only thing American children are really taught about the man is that “in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” With similar historical airbrushing, schools could also accurately teach that “in nineteen hundred and forty two, Hitler gave free showers to lots of Jews.”"

The only book remotely associated with black reality I was given to read up to the twelfth grade was To Kill A Mockingbird.

And based on those facts, or should I say lack of them, when it comes time for these white kids to encounter the subject in college, questioning it is nothing more than interrupting the class from progress. Sure, questions should be raised about the depth of racism, specific incidents in our past, how racism has shaped modern society and other such things. But to simply question a statistic because it doesn't comply with a white kids ignorant opinion? The questions that needs to be raised is from the professor asking the kid, "On what grounds do you have basis for questioning this statistic?" That kids question could have been the perfect teaching opportunity to point out the concept of white privilege and how society has shaped much of white America's perception of blacks based on a complete lack of personal experience and knowledge but instead it was allowed to disrupt the class, and I would imagine the professor's inability to provide an answer on the spot raised doubt amongst the entire class not only to the merit of the video but to the teacher's knowledge of the subject.

Like you said, most likely this kid will read the evidence, shrug, and walk away. That's because all too often statistics are provided and people tend to ignore the ones that don't comply with their beliefs. It's not human nature for people to simply agree with things that render their previous beliefs as null and void and dismantle their entire perception on a subject. So their mentality needs to be questioned directly. Rather than playing defensive and constantly answering their questions, we need to play offense and constantly question their way of thinking.

"What experiences have led you to this perception?"

"What facts do you have which counter the ones I've presented you with?"

"What concepts have led you to think in this manner?"

By questioning the questioner who seeks to shed doubt on what we know as fact, the questioner - by answering our questions about his knowledge base - more often than not reveals that his or her knowledge on the subject is based purely on speculation and stereotypes. When shown their own ignorance and lack of knowledge on the subject, a domino effect occurs where the would-be questioner internally questions their own perception on the topic of racism.

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It's Funny...

That the one book you cite, as good as it is, is primarily from a WHITE perspective of the matter, so even that one window into the experience is a white version of events...

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Re: Daniel Brouchard

A white kid is just as qualified to talk about racism as anyone else.  He's also entitled, as is anyone else, to question anything at any time, especially when the information is specious at best and from a very biased source.  There's no white privilege in that, to say the least.  Tim Wise drew a conclusion that simply can not be drawn from the information in the report, so the kid was more than justified in questioning it.   As for people ignoring statistics that don't comply with their beliefs, that's what Tim Wise did, not his kid.  This whole report shows that there is not disparate treatment of blacks versus whites, especially when it comes to being stopped in the first place, yet Mr. Wise claims in his video, falsely, that white drivers just drive past road blocks (there are no road blocks for drugs) "with a trunk full of weed" while black and Latino drivers are pulled over.  It's nonsense.  Again, the kid was entirely justified in questioning it.

Regarding history and what is taught in school...  Very little history categorically is taught in school.  Kids are lucky if they learn who the first and 16th Presidents were and when World War 2 was fought.  Ask them what the significance of the battle of Tours was, or what Copernicus did, and you'll most likely get a blank stare.  Not much of even the most important events in history are covered.   The particulars of "black history" are just some of the things left out of the curriculum, and in fact, those "black history" items that are included are usually covered only because those involved were black.  Make WEB DuBois or Garret Morgan white, and their names would probably never be mentioned in any history class, but because they were black, they're given prominent attention.

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How Is That Not White Privilege

"A white kid is just as qualified to talk about racism as anyone else."

A white kid is just as qualified to talk about his own experiences with race and racism? Yes.

A white kid with no sociological experience on the topic is just as qualified as researchers who have worked on the topic for decades? No. (He can get there, but he has to do so by doing the work, not reflexively dismissing evidence he has no data to deny and then trolling message boards).

A white kid is just as qualified to talk about anti-black racism? Dear God no. Because he doesn't experience it. This is the offensive crap whites try to pull. Sorry, the oppressor group doesn't have the same consciousness as the oppressed group. If black voices tell you they experienced racism, you saying that you haven't seen it doesn't deny their experience. It doesn't do so logically, it doesn't do so sociologically, and yet whites like this kid do it all the time, because they can get away with it, because black voices don't matter. Get it?

"He's also entitled, as is anyone else, to question anything at any time, especially when the information is specious at best and from a very biased source.  There's no white privilege in that, to say the least."

He didn't know that. He didn't know that the data you think is wrong was, in your view, wrong. He simply reflexively thought it couldn't be true. Then, when he was called out on it, he moved on to make repellent arguments rather than saying, "Oh, okay, I was wrong". It is that readiness to dismiss thousands of pages of sociological data, the expertise and prestige of your professors (that I guarantee you this kid does NOT challenge when it comes to his econ class, or his postmodern philosophy class, or his chemistry class)

"Tim Wise drew a conclusion that simply can not be drawn from the information in the report, so the kid was more than justified in questioning it."

The report says exactly what Tim says in the blog post: Blacks are searched more often, whites have more contraband. You concede this, you just blame the victim. You've been called out on this score over and over again. Stop it.

"As for people ignoring statistics that don't comply with their beliefs, that's what Tim Wise did, not his kid.  This whole report shows that there is not disparate treatment of blacks versus whites, especially when it comes to being stopped in the first place, yet Mr. Wise claims in his video, falsely, that white drivers just drive past road blocks (there are no road blocks for drugs) "with a trunk full of weed" while black and Latino drivers are pulled over.  It's nonsense."

Brian, that's idiotic.

I say this with all the love, but you clearly can't separate out polemics and arguments to get yourself out of a paper bag.

The report DOES NOT say those things. It does say what Tim says it does. You conceded this.

The arguments you cited above are about Tim's experiences (and mine). He's saying that white kids often learn that police won't search them even if they are clearly high. I've been in a van that had its side door open for hours with weed and paraphenalia prominently open. We were unafraid when we saw a cop looking at it, for good reason: He just wanted to make sure our van wasn't being broken into. The guy I was with who owned the stuff said that even if the pipe was found, he would say it wasn't ours or simply apologize, and the officer would let him off with a warning. Because it had happened before. Get it?

Tim isn't saying there's roadblocks for drugs. He doesn't imply it, and it evinces either a serious lack of reading comprehension or mendacious denial of racism and your own complicity that you tried to claim that he does. What he's saying is that blacks, contraband or no, view roadblocks with trepidation if not outright fear because police will search them at a moment's notice, using the capacity for a pretextual stop to their advantage. White folks don't care as much because their experience with cops is generally not as bad. That's white privilege.

Now, notice that THIS PART is me and Tim telling you about racism from our own experiences. Remember when you said that we were just as qualified as black folks to talk about racism? Put your money where your mouth is. Either our experiences prove racism, or your claim is false.

"Regarding history and what is taught in school...  Very little history categorically is taught in school.  Kids are lucky if they learn who the first and 16th Presidents were and when World War 2 was fought.  Ask them what the significance of the battle of Tours was, or what Copernicus did, and you'll most likely get a blank stare.  Not much of even the most important events in history are covered.   The particulars of "black history" are just some of the things left out of the curriculum, and in fact, those "black history" items that are included are usually covered only because those involved were black.  Make WEB DuBois or Garret Morgan white, and their names would probably never be mentioned in any history class, but because they were black, they're given prominent attention."

*sigh* This is racist pablum.

History books may not cover a lot, but they do usually prominently cover the string of white Presidents, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. They cover American white history quite well.

Ask kids about Copernicus and you'll generally get a black stare. Ask them about post-colonialism, Mossadeq, or the Mali and other African empires, and you almost always will. See, those are too radical to talk about and pass muster with conservative history text review boards.

W.E.B. DuBois and Garret Morgan were, aside from being brilliant philosophers in their own right, also leaders of their people. Ditto for Garvey and Washington.  Your argument is akin to saying that if Gandhi were white, he wouldn't make the history books. Um, no, he would have, his accomplishments were objectively important to understanding history.

The fact that these books, by your own admission, cover Presidents, World War II, etc. and yet don't cover the black history of this country, even though black folks have been around since its founding, went West on the wagon trains, produced the capital for the Industrial Revolution, and their slavery created a Civil War whose political ramifications still haunt us. You can't talk about the history of this country  without mentioning blacks, racism, Jim Crow, slavery, institutional racism, etc. But we don't, by your own admission. How is that not white privilege?

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Ok, I'll play again

I don't have boundless time to devote to posting on this message board, nor the inclination to do so if I had the time, and I really don't want to get bogged down answering every false assertion put forth about what I write, but I'll play this round.

 >A white kid is just as qualified to talk about anti-black racism? Dear God no.<

Dear God, yes.

>Because he doesn't experience it. <

The average physicist doens't experience space flight, but that doesn't mean he can't comment on it.   No one is limited to commenting only on those things he personally experiences.

>The report says exactly what Tim says in the blog post: Blacks are searched more often, whites have more contraband. You concede this, you just blame the victim. You've been called out on this score over and over again. Stop it.<

This is simple logic; that blacks are searched more often AFTER the stop is a statistic.  Saying that that happens because of racism on the parts of the cops is a conclusion that the statistic does not support.  Actually, it is a statement of prejudice against presumably white cops.  All that you, I or Tim Wise know from the data is that there's a disparity.  You two jump to a conclusion without evidence.  Stop it.

>This is the offensive crap whites try to pull. Sorry, the oppressor group doesn't have the same consciousness as the oppressed group.<

There's no "oppressor group" in this country; certainly no racial one.

>If black voices tell you they experienced racism, you saying that you haven't seen it doesn't deny their experience.<

Perhaps not, but personal anecdotes are not the stuff of valid arguments or broad categorizations.  

 >It doesn't do so logically, it doesn't do so sociologically, and yet whites like this kid do it all the time, because they can get away with it, because black voices don't matter. Get it?<

I get the fact that you think that, because he's white, this kid has no right to question something.  That's racist on your part.

 >Tim isn't saying there's roadblocks for drugs. He doesn't imply it, <

Here's a link to him saying it.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlqLijhxT_M&feature=related

Tim's exact words:  "while black and brown folk are having their wheel wells ripped apart... their trunks splayed open, their dash boards ripped apart in a search for drugs that aren't even there, white people... are DRIVING by the road block, with a trunk full of weed... and we're just waving."  Aside from the fact that the report shows that whites and Hispanics or "brown" folk as Tim like to call them, are almost statistically identical in this scenario, he invents a scenario involving "road blocks" that aren't even there.  The report details the causes for the stops, and the ONLY roadblocks are for drunk driving; there are none for drugs.   Then there's his hysterical hyperbole of "trunks splayed open" etc.  Rabble rousing nonsense.

 >and it evinces either a serious lack of reading comprehension or mendacious denial of racism and your own complicity that you tried to claim that he does. <

 Except for the bothersome fact that that's exactly what he said.  Go figure.

 >What he's saying is that blacks, contraband or no, view roadblocks with trepidation if not outright fear because police will search them at a moment's notice, using the capacity for a pretextual stop to their advantage. White folks don't care as much because their experience with cops is generally not as bad. That's white privilege.<

Except that's not what he said.  So here we have me me citing him correctly, and you falsely accusing me if misstating his position, and you misstating his position.  Again, go figure.

>*sigh* This is racist pablum.<

*Yawn.*  This is simple reality.  These are relatively obscure people - men of accomplishment, certainly, but there are many such people whose names are never mentioned in a history class.  Neither were philosophers and Morgan wasn't a leader.  He was an inventer.  You should read up more on black history.

>History books may not cover a lot, but they do usually prominently cover the string of white Presidents, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc. They cover American white history quite well.<

I didn't say history "books."  I said history class. History books cover damn near everything quite well, including even the most obscure history.  As for history classes covering this country, the overwhelming majority of people in this country were and are white.  The vast, overwhelming majority of deeds done that had an impact on this country were done by white guys.  You may not like it, but it's inescapable.

 >Ask them about post-colonialism, Mossadeq, or the Mali and other African empires, and you almost always will<

And for good reason.  They're obscure.  Again, there is only so much time and effort that can be - and is - devoted to the teaching of history.  There's a helluva lot to get to before one lands on the Mali empire if one were to sort historical events by their importance, especially their importance to the history of this country.

 >Your argument is akin to saying that if Gandhi were white, he wouldn't make the history books. Um, no, he would have, his accomplishments were objectively important to understanding history.<

Absolutely not, the difference being that Gandhi is not and was not famous simply because he was Indian, but because he accomplished something earth-shattering.  Not the same thing at ass as promoting someone's historical position simply because of the color of his skin.

 

 

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How Is That Not White Privilege?

"

Here's a link to him saying it.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlqLijhxT_M&feature=related

Tim's exact words:  "while black and brown folk are having their wheel wells ripped apart... their trunks splayed open, their dash boards ripped apart in a search for drugs that aren't even there, white people... are DRIVING by the road block, with a trunk full of weed... and we're just waving."  Aside from the fact that the report shows that whites and Hispanics or "brown" folk as Tim like to call them, are almost statistically identical in this scenario, he invents a scenario involving "road blocks" that aren't even there.  The report details the causes for the stops, and the ONLY roadblocks are for drunk driving; there are none for drugs.   Then there's his hysterical hyperbole of "trunks splayed open" etc.  Rabble rousing nonsense."

*sigh* Brian, Brian, Brian.

Let me repeat what I said, so it fully sinks in: Tim... does not say... that the police... put up roadblocks... for drugs.

What he DOES say is that black folks, once pulled over for drunk driving roadblocks or whatever else the roadblock is put up for, are afraid of having their tires slashed and so forth, because this happens. You don't deny that this happens and is racist. You call it rabble-rousing nonsense, but guess what, it happens. Like in all that evidence of racist stops I showed you? You know, which you didn't bother to check out so you can continue to make uninformed guesses on t3h Intarwebs?

He further says that whites will steamroll by or pass calmly through the roadblock, trunks full of weed. You don't deny that this happens, because it happened to Tim and it happened to me and the evidence supports it, and is racist.

Oh, and by the way, the police actually HAVE done so: http://www.forensic-evidence.com/site/Police/drugroadblock.html.

"Absolutely not, the difference being that Gandhi is not and was not famous simply because he was Indian, but because he accomplished something earth-shattering.  Not the same thing at ass as promoting someone's historical position simply because of the color of his skin."

More racist pablum. Independent of the color of their skin, Garvey, Washington and DuBois were leaders of their respective communities, created historical events like the Harlem Renaissance, and were respected philosophers and artists. King accomplished what Gandhi did: Overthrow a racist regime. Black leaders, artists and philosophers in this country are part of the history, whether or not you like it, and their sore underrepresentation in our history books has to do with white privilege, with the unconscious acceptance of the idea that the white national narrative matters.

Notice that, when people ask for textbooks to be multicultural, they're not asking for anything FALSE to be put in. Spend more time on Native Americans and their genocide. Spend more time on important black philosophers. Certainly folks like Howard Zinn and Larry Gonick think that those things, as well as multicultural scholars and quite a lot of black and brown students and teachers, think these are important and deserve mentioning.

"I didn't say history "books."  I said history class. History books cover damn near everything quite well, including even the most obscure history.  As for history classes covering this country, the overwhelming majority of people in this country were and are white.  The vast, overwhelming majority of deeds done that had an impact on this country were done by white guys.  You may not like it, but it's inescapable."

When you come to classes, it's even worse. You AMPLIFY my point here. At least the books will have a chapter on the Harlem Renaissance or Garvey, but the class will generally ignore it.

And, no, that isn't the case. Because you're defining "impact on this country" to exclude the black community, EXACTLY my point. I would argue that the black community, having been here for five hundred years, is important, and that what occurs to it is just as important as what occurred to immigrants under the Know Nothings and other hysterical nationalists. Even if nothing they did was huge on the truly national stage (which is, again, offensive and racist pablum: Frederick Douglass, black politicians in the South after the Civil War, etc.), what was happening in their community MATTERED. You can't understand King, Parks and Malcolm X without understanding what came before them: Zoot suits, Western migration, etc. So to understand things that mattered on a national stage in the 1960s, you have to understand things that might have passed under the white radar, too busy were they with imperialism and expanding the power of the rich.

You can say the same thing about the poor: Most of what has been done in the history of this country has been done by rich white males, period. That's no excuse to AMPLIFY the problem by not talking about the suffrage movement, the labor movements, etc. Just as it's no excuse to not talk about black history. The fact that we don't doesn't have to do with the importance of the history to the majority of the people in the country, it has to do with the fact that what is defined as important is the province of rich white males.

You are, again, denying what black voices are saying about their own experience, hilariously enough for a denier of white privilege. Black voices, and brown voices, are telling you that they want to have their textbooks represent their community, their voice, that they feel alienated by the textbooks and by the classes. I've heard that refrain over and over again.

Also, isn't it funny that most of the deeds done by the government and corporations in this country, most of those big institutional deeds, were done by white men? And still are? But hey, no racism or sexism here! Nope.

"*Yawn.*  This is simple reality.  These are relatively obscure people - men of accomplishment, certainly, but there are many such people whose names are never mentioned in a history class.  Neither were philosophers and Morgan wasn't a leader.  He was an inventer.  You should read up more on black history."

I have. DuBois is well known for his philosophical work and Morgan, in his capacity as an inventor, was a leader of his community and honored by Negro associations of the time. Any other misconceptions you want to clear up?

"Perhaps not, but personal anecdotes are not the stuff of valid arguments or broad categorizations.  "

No, I agree. But you deny even the personal anecdotes. You can say, "Okay, that happened, but I still think..." Yet you don't even want to acknowledge the reality of those anecdotes.

"There's no "oppressor group" in this country; certainly no racial one."

Yes, there is. Not by evil, mind you, but by lack of awareness. That oppressor group has far more median wealth, far more net worth, far more representation in the halls of power (which even YOU admit but ascribe no importance to because you're an inconsistent, hypocritical mendicant), far better treatment in the criminal justice system, far greater likelihood of getting a loan irrespective of their creditworthiness, far greater educational attainment and treatment by educational institutions, etc.

 "This is simple logic; that blacks are searched more often AFTER the stop is a statistic.  Saying that that happens because of racism on the parts of the cops is a conclusion that the statistic does not support.  Actually, it is a statement of prejudice against presumably white cops.  All that you, I or Tim Wise know from the data is that there's a disparity.  You two jump to a conclusion without evidence.  Stop it."

First of all: You tried to deny the STATISTIC. Then you got called on it. Now you're backpedaling. Nice try.

Second: It is also simply logic that the conclusion, or "hypothesis", that we support, EXPLAINS the data. It explains this gap. You are correct that a hypothesis is not data. You are also correct that one can propose alterante hypotheses.

Your hypothesis? That black folks must be doing something so often as to increase their search rate by multiple times. That's not only not supported by the evidence EITHER, but also unsupported by the fact that searches yield less contraband and by other evidence in the report AND by decades of social research, AND happens to be racist. How unsurprising.

Oh, and by the way, we HAVE evidence for the claim of racism.

First: The fact that whites yield more contraband WHEN searched indicates that the claim that blacks just have more contraband is false. The disparity cannot be justified by any rational police strategy, and is thus ipso facto racist, even barring racist intent by ANY INDIVIDUAL OFFICER.

Second: Once again, the fact that this OCCURS is RACISM. You may not like it, but the fact that blacks are being systematically mistreated is racism. Always has been, always will be, under definitions going back decades. Again, see Blauner: For black and brown folks in this country, racism is not just discrimination or prejudice, but also institutionalized mistreatment, even when that mistreatment is not explicitly racist in intent, and often quite color-blind.

Third: All those studies, advocates, etc. I showed you. That you didn't reply to. The claim that this disparity in search rates must be racism in action is supported by decades of research. All other alternative hypotheses are not.

Nice try, game over.

"The average physicist doens't experience space flight, but that doesn't mean he can't comment on it.   No one is limited to commenting only on those things he personally experiences."

And yet, when someone else HAS personally experienced something, you'd think you'd proceed with some caution. So if I tell you how many people are scared to go to Africa because they think there's lots of violence, and you then tell me you've been there and you can understand why, I have less evidence than you to talk about the subject and should presumably shut up.

Also, comparing physics, which has rich and robust rules of evidence, to political science, which doesn't, is a joke and I suspect you know it.

Also, this kid isn't an average physicist. He's an average college student. In physics, if you get up and deny relativity, your Professor will tell you to sit down. You chose, specifically, an example that implies expertise. Nice deceptive analogy.

In this instance, someone without expertise, without evidence, without studies, make a kneejerk denial of data that they couldn't know is wrong even when their Professor is citing an expert on the topic (trust me, this is not that common in the social sciences), then continued to make an offensive argument that you, and Michael Edno, and Ken, have decided not to focus on because it was idiotic and racist and I suspect all of you know it. How in God's name is that not white privilege?

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Re: Daniel Brouchard

Daniel:

Tim had no basis, or so little it barely qualifies, for his assertion that white drivers drive through road blocks for drugs while black and brown drivers are pulled over. From a sample size of less than 10, and there's no knowing how few there actually were - 2,3, whatever, he found a statistical outlier that superficially showed a disparity in the percentage of white and Hispanic drivers being found with some kind of contraband when searched compared to black drivers.  The numbers were too few to support that as a trend or pattern, to say the least.  However, not only did Mr. Wise accept that as a fact and a trend, he then went on to proclaim it was a function of "white privilege," a conclusion not even hinted at had the data actually indicated an accurate trend.  The most one could say was that there was a disparity; to say that it was because of white privilege or racism would be completely unsupportable.  And Hispanic and white drivers were treated nearly identically even from this tiny sample size, yet he said that they were treated differently.   The questioning of motives should be directed at Mr. Wise, not this kid, who was entirely justified in questioning specious information produced by a very biased and unreliable source.   That said, these would be some hypothetical answers that that kid might have given to your questions...

 "What experiences have led you to this perception?"

--- A lifetime of observation that showed me that blacks and whites are not treated differently, and previous experience with Mr. Wise's statements which led me to question these.

 "What facts do you have which counter the ones I've presented you with?"

--- The facts weren't facts.  They were suppositions and conclusions not supported by the evidence.

 "What concepts have led you to think in this manner?"

--- My ability to reason.

 Additionally, regarding this kid's supposed assertion that even if such bad things were done to blacks that one shouldn't dare tell them lest they be overcome with "victim mentality," the chances are slim to none that this kid - or anyone else - ever said such a thing.  There IS a victim mentality among some blacks, to be sure, but I've never heard anyone, anywhere, ever, state that it was based on actual bad treatment and that they shouldn't be told about this supposed bad treatment.  Infinitely more likely is that this story was concocted.

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What Arrogance

Brian:

Wrong. The sample size that the report drew the conclusion from was NOT the one marked with an asterix. Read the table more closely and try again.

In any respect, that means that one data point of at WORST QUESTIONABLE provenance, published in a national study, supports Tim's point. NONE support yours. NONE support the students' claim. And yet, no white privilege here, right?

"A lifetime of observation that showed me that blacks and whites are not treated differently, and previous experience with Mr. Wise's statements which led me to question these."

How odd, since the lifetimes of black folks on this very forum are telling you something different, ditto with white observers. But hey, yours trumps theirs, right? Even though you're making a NEGATIVE claim ("X doesn't exist"), which is disproved by ANY of our claims being true. What unmitigated gall. What arrogance.

"The facts weren't facts.  They were suppositions and conclusions not supported by the evidence."

Answer: None. You have NOTHING. We have a study. (Oh, and by the way: I cited your fellow deniers dozens of studies that support the conclusions of widespread racial profiling in traffic stops. You never replied. How odd.)

" Additionally, regarding this kid's supposed assertion that even if such bad things were done to blacks that one shouldn't dare tell them lest they be overcome with "victim mentality," the chances are slim to none that this kid - or anyone else - ever said such a thing.  There IS a victim mentality among some blacks, to be sure, but I've never heard anyone, anywhere, ever, state that it was based on actual bad treatment and that they shouldn't be told about this supposed bad treatment.  Infinitely more likely is that this story was concocted."

Weird, since you have NO EVIDENCE to conclude that either Tim or the teacher is lying as regards this point, and I can tell you right now I have heard the EXACT same argument verbatim.

It's also really awesome that, out of hand, you reaffirm the racist claim that there is a victim mentality, while professing enlightened views and claiming that you don't see racism. So THEY'RE just whiners, you're enlightened, and there's no white privilege? Grow up.

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progress

Surely everyone here agrees that racism is vile.

But those of us old enough to remember the history of the last 50 years can see a **huge** amuont of progress. Where before police kept schools from desegregating by physically barring black children, now all public schools welcome everyone. Where before one could not go into certain restaurants or had to ride in the back of the bus, blacks can go into any public place or ride where ever they chose. Life is good. . .

I suspect the reason the student (who cares about their race/gender) challenged the assertion was twofold: 1) a healthy distrust of authority, coupled with the ability/inclination to manipulate statistics to "prove" (rightly or not) ones conclusions; and 2) the fact that today the vestiges of racism are in fact so subtle (even republicans have had black secretaries of state, etc).

The fight against racism has largely already been fought and won. While there are still some disparities, skin color / race simply does not matter much anymore. Perhaps if one were to acknowledge the massive progress that has been made it would be easier to convince folks (or any race/gender) that some fine tuning is still desirable? Of course, this is a very hard sell if the options are zero sum (that is, if one must discriminate against one group in order to "help" another, such as AA did in the past).

As an aside, i note that the cited article states (pg 11):
"However, while the survey data can
reveal these racial disparities, they cannot
answer the question of whether the
driver's race, rather than the driver's
conduct or other specific circumstances
surrounding the stop, was the reason
for the search. The survey asked few
questions about circumstances or driver
conduct. For example, having drugs in
plain view of police is a circumstance
that would normally warrant a legal
search of the vehicle. But since the survey
did not ask drivers whether any
drugs within plain view were in the vehicle,
the analysis is necessarily limited."

While certainly not wanting to "blame the victim" one might consider how the actions of the folks being stopped influence the data and conclusions. For instance, if someone behaved belligerently or suspiciously (by whatever metric) they might make a search more or less likely. (E.g., so if "whites" knew how to behave in such situations but "blacks" did not, this might lead to the apparent disparity, ala the "Gates incident".)

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*sigh*

Of course there's been major progress. But the quickness to question THIS issue, rather than others which are far more contentious and far less supported, is steeped in white privilege. Not skepticism (since students have plenty of time to show their skepticism about everything else and they don't) and not subtle racism (since it's only "subtle" to white folks; it's opaque and incredibly obvious to its victims).

"The fight against racism has largely already been fought and won. While there are still some disparities, skin color / race simply does not matter much anymore. Perhaps if one were to acknowledge the massive progress that has been made it would be easier to convince folks (or any race/gender) that some fine tuning is still desirable? Of course, this is a very hard sell if the options are zero sum (that is, if one must discriminate against one group in order to "help" another, such as AA did in the past)."

Even this narrative is steeped in white privilege, because that's certainly NOT how black and brown folks by and large see it. Black males see frequent and constant discrimination before they've even reached puberty. People trapped in inner cities don't see "finetuning", they see systemic lack of opportunity. How many rap songs do you hear saying, "MLK got most of it done, we just have a bit more to go?" Rather, you hear very specific and deep critiques of police, capitalism, racism, poverty...

Malcolm X put it thusly: "You can't drive a knife into a man's back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress".White folks can afford to talk about "progress". It's not our communities for whom the gulf between what should be and what is means starvation, humiliation and death.

Black folks around the Civil War owned .5% of the nation's wealth. They own 1% of it now. That's progress. But the same progress needs to happen about 24 times over. At this rate, it'll be, charitably, 2860 years until justice has been achieved in terms of equal wealth.

The options ARE zero sum. If my community gets more money than we deserve, yours has to get less. There is no getting around this sell, which is why it's so unsurprising that so few discuss it in this manner: It's hard to say to white people, "Your community is too rich. Justice would distribute things differently".

Progress is real, but we don't use this discussion in any other arena. We don't say, "Well, Afghanistan was enough 'progress' against terrorists, we don't need to worry about Iraq that much." Serious social problems like drugs, terror, etc. get wars declared on them. Racism? Not so much.

It's rather like Achilles and the tortoise. Achilles keeps crossing the remaining distance by half. He can't ever win the race. White folks keep on insisting that progress is done, but they never seem to be that keen on finishing the race.

"While certainly not wanting to "blame the victim" one might consider how the actions of the folks being stopped influence the data and conclusions. For instance, if someone behaved belligerently or suspiciously (by whatever metric) they might make a search more or less likely. (E.g., so if "whites" knew how to behave in such situations but "blacks" did not, this might lead to the apparent disparity, ala the "Gates incident".)"

Which is repellent if the people pulled over had less contraband but were treated as if they had more. You'd think cops would get over themselves and start targeting the people who had more contraband. Apparently not. Black folks need to be stoic while we catch up on "progress", but we white folks don't need to even acknowledge our own errors: Those uppity black drivers made us do it!

Not only is all the evidence pointing the opposite way (black folks know to not bullshit cops the way whites frequently do since the dangers of doing so are so real), but even if it were true, maybe the fact that whites are better at managing themselves with cops might have SOMETHING to do with the way constant humiliation gets to a person? In short, like the sociologists Steinberg has been destroying the fallacies of for decades, you stop your sociological analysis exactly where it should start: WHY might there be this difference in behavior? But that'd mean engaging with another community and not just having a lame excuse for racist police work.

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It's Especially Galling Because...

That student apparently thinks nothing of determining, for himself, what would be best for an entire other community. Never mind the gross contempt for truth, never mind that he's being taught at a college that presumably teaches that good scholars research the truth no matter how convenient or inconvenient, never mind what black folks might think about what this material means. Hide the information from them for their own good! The fact that this was his immediate thought is the most interesting part. It's just reflexive to dismiss what black folks think.

Let's flip it for a second. What if white folks got pulled over more often, or taxed more? Would we appreciate having this hidden from us so we can have a Polyanna-esque view of the world?

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Yes, progress, but...

Not to think about racism is a luxury (a ‘white’ one) of those who can live comfortably with the illusion that it doesn't exist, or that it's confined to overt actions that make the newspapers. I believe it's a maladaptive consequence of white shame over slavery and the jim crow era. Blaming the victim assuages the guilt of the perpetrator.

But are we perpetrators? There has been progress, obviously. Racism has, if you will, moved underground to an extent. Today’s is a complicated world. And racism is a legacy issue as much as a contemporary matter of social justice, and for white people to see the racism that persists today requires a commitment to see the world from the point of view of someone we American whites have (perhaps unconsciously) been conditioned to view as VERY “OTHER.” White people reason that because a certain event wouldn’t strike them as racially motivated against them, that black people ‘should’ respond as they do.

I believe that any and all information, argument, patient laying out of the facts, etc. etc., is valid when it comes to educating people, especially notoriously judgmental college kids. –And yes, questioning the questioner. Absolutely.

Who knows what will reach someone? It’s all rooted in the heart, and for me, acknowledging my own racism came from a willingness to see life from someone else’s point of view.

…Tim makes a very good point—no one but a kook would dare suggest that discussing the Holocaust encourages Jews to feel ‘victimized.’ Perhaps our clarity about this, as a nation, comes from the luxury of ‘otherizing’ the Nazis. Bad guys, good guys. Simple.

Owning the racism in our own hearts, in our families, in our neighborhoods, is not so simple. We’ll only take facts as far as our hearts will allow. Blacks and whites have lived intertwined here for more than two hundred years, yet we have inhabited worlds of radical difference.

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Again...

Underground to who? It sure ain't underground to black and brown folks, for whom it's obvious and constant. And now that I've had some training in white privilege and sociology, it's obvious to me too. Your comments are right on the money, but I think sometimes even in our LANGUAGE about white privilege we replicate white views of the world. Was Kristallnacht more "underground" than the concentration camps? (Not to invoke Godwin's law, of course).

I think also that understanding racism doesn't HAVE to be about understanding the Other. Like Tim points out in White Like Me, sometimes white anti-racist activists will act as if, were a white person never to meet a black or brown or Asian person in their life,  they would never have an experience with race. But we do have an experience with race, every day: OUR experience. Recognizing what's going on in our own communities doesn't necessarily mean learning Ebonics, or visiting the ghetto. It means being able to look around. Now, of course it helps to have a reference point to show you how privileged you really are, but a lot of people have those reference points and will instead say shit like "Oh, how lucky we are! We should count our blessings in America" instead of getting to the core of the issue.

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Hi, Frederic. I did say

Hi, Frederic. I did say "underground to an extent" for the reason you mention. Yeah, good reminder that even our language can reflect white privilege... The kind of understatement I'm familiar with is part of the language of WASP culture. Intriguing to consider the political nature of diction.

By 'underground' I was thinking of the kind of racist speech/attitudes that white people practice while sincerely believing themselves to be actively anti-racist. I grew up in such a household. It persists despite real progress--goes with the mentaltiy that Obama's election 'proves' that racism is no longer an issue. Obviously I didn't make that clear. Thanks for challenging me.

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practical matters

Given the nature of the bb, it is no surprise that most here see race and racism as a (or even the) major issue in the US and possibly elsewhere(?). However, i see the world in terms of class with race being a very small but not wholly insignificant player in the overall scheme of things. In my own life, i treat people according to how they behave; race simply is not relevant to me.

That said i wonder: for those who see race and racism as important and significant issues, how do they reflect this in their day to day lives? Do they try to compensate for the racism they perceive by donating to charities that benefit a particular racial group over the next (i personally do and would not donate to any group that preferentially benefits blue people over green people, but do donate to groups that help those in need, regardless of race)? Do they try to proselytize the folks around them, hoping that others will see the light (for those who do, it would be interesting to know how your intended audiences react)? Perhaps some make their livings off of attempting to "right the wrong" (by writing books, some types of teaching, etc). Or put more plainly: what personal actions does one take to "fight racism"?

As a side issue, do the folks here see or acknowledge racism by groups other than white folks (for instance, are blacks who are stridently anti-white or anti-asian also considered racist?)?

Anyway, it would be interesting to see how the fervently "anti-racists" differ in behaviour from the simply non-racists. Any and all comments are welcome!

Comment Bubble Tip

"Given the nature of the bb,

"Given the nature of the bb, it is no surprise that most here see race and racism as a (or even the) major issue in the US and possibly elsewhere(?). However, i see the world in terms of class with race being a very small but not wholly insignificant player in the overall scheme of things. In my own life, i treat people according to how they behave; race simply is not relevant to me."

If you do that, then you're deluded. Race matters, not only in how it changes how people behave due to different access to opportunity structures but also the material conditions of people's lives.

Notice how you, being white, can make that declaration. Black women, like Bell Hooks, have to be far more sensitive to the variety of oppressions and talk about their intersections. It's unfortunate, but when white leftists declare that race is a minor issue, they're actually denying what black and brown folks and women say about their own experiences...

Being an anarchist, of all people I'd be the one to prioritize class and state over race. Indeed, as I've said frequently here, class is arguably the #1 issue because we've done so little to deal with it compared to race or gender. But to deny or downplay the ongoing salience and importance of race and white privilege is to make a serious tactical and theoretical error.

"That said i wonder: for those who see race and racism as important and significant issues, how do they reflect this in their day to day lives? Do they try to compensate for the racism they perceive by donating to charities that benefit a particular racial group over the next (i personally do and would not donate to any group that preferentially benefits blue people over green people, but do donate to groups that help those in need, regardless of race)?"

Primarily, I try to get whites to recognize the importance of white privilege, try to be sensitive to the real network of concerns of women and racial minorities in terms of language, etc.

Comment Bubble Tip

Interesting question you raise, Ken:

As a side issue, do the folks here see or acknowledge racism by groups other than white folks (for instance, are blacks who are stridently anti-white or anti-asian also considered racist?)?

There is, IMO, a difference between racism (which is institutionalized) and prejudice (which is individual). I have experienced anti-white prejudice at the hands of a black supervisor -- and when I filed a complaint with our EEO, I was told that there was nothing they could do about it, even though if I substituted the N-word for some of the things she called me, she would have a case. Racism, under the law, is something that only majority populations can have against minority populations.

OTOH, any damned fool can be prejudiced.

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Of Course...

But it's sort of a non-starter, for some pretty obvious reasons.

The racism, prejudice and privilege white folks have in America is qualitatively different from black-to-Asian or Asian-to-black or Latina/o-to-black or whatever other permutation you can come up with, because those groups don't control the opportunity structures.

White folks generally bring up other types of racism to deflect the conversation and make it into a "We're all bigoted so we all need to work on it". It turns the conversation from privilege and towards theory, which is where white folks tend to be very comfortable (particularly white intellectuals).

And since Tim is white (as am I), he (and I) focus our work as regards race/culture/ethnicity on white privilege since that's our community's work to do.

Also, numbers matter. It's not black folks who don't want to live in integrated communities, it's white folks. I'd argue that, on average, the magnitude and pervasiveness of prejudice is much higher among whites (since they can be isolated, that prejudice actually advances their cause in some sense, etc.)

It's also important to note that other groups' racism tend to be subordinate to and work within the framework and taxonomies of the dominant racial caste system. So Asians, when they express racism about blacks, often do so because of competition for limited resources or because Asians adopt the white perspective about blacks. Internalized racism is the best example: Black folks, Latina/os, Asians, Arabs, etc. often internalize stereotypes about their own community (see stereotype threat).

Comment Bubble Tip

great point

Hi Sharon -

I see the distinction between racism and prejudice you lay out above. From that, i would imagine that individuals are not racist, rather they are prejudiced (well, not all of us of course!).

This makes me wonder if, from that pov, would it matter if the company you worked from was 90% black, effectively making *you* a minority there? It would seem so to me, expecially if the company had a known (or documented) built in prejudice against white (or non-black) employees.

It surprises me that under your circumstances the EEOC did not act. So much for equal protection.

In any case, i feel it would be optimal to enforce rules that are fair to all regardless of the group they happen to be (or not be) a member of. Hmmm, i have a dream. . . :)

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Wholeheartedly concur that rules should be applied equally ...

I worked for the Dept. of Defense at the time of the incident.  The EEO representative told me that his hands were effectively tied in the matter, although he personally agreed with me that the supervisor's behavior was inappropriate at a minimum.

 I don't care what color someone's skin is, what their sexual orientation, religion, or any of those other sorts of things happen to be.  I care about how they treat others (including me, obviously).  I therefore find myself constantly surprised at the bigotry and prejudice that other people show so readily, because it mystifies me.

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Racism or prejudice?

I would recommend that you read Beverly Tatum's book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Tatum is an educator and psychologist who has written a very thoughtful study of the development of racial identity, among whites as well as people of color.

On p. 10, she tackles the question of whether non-white people can be racist. She states clearly, "Hateful behavior is hateful behavior no matter who does it" i.e. white, black, or brown. "But when I am asked,'Can people of color be racist?' I reply "'The answer depends on your definition of racism.' If one defines racism as racial prejudice, the answer is yes.'".."However...people of color do not systematically benefit from racism" (which Tatum defines as a system of advantage based on race). "There is no systematic cultural and institutional support...for the racial bigotry of people of color."

The reason I as a white woman am passionate about this issue is that I grew up in a privileged, liberal, left-leaning, progressive home that was permeated by subtle racism. My father gave to the United Negro College Fund, we lived in one of the earliest integrated neighborhoods in the region, my private school had a well run program to include inner city kids (at the time I didn't even know which kids were in that program). Yet in my family, black people were 'other' --they were either 'not remaining in their place' or 'surprisingly articulate' etc. Once my eyes were opened to this hypocrisy--and my own, I add--I began seeing signs of white privilege everywhere and wanting to do something about it. I realized that I viewed blacks as slightly dangerous, unapproachable. That is changing, and while I can't say the black people ought to congratulate me, I have found that it enriches my own life deeply.

I write about it and I talk about racism in a low key way. I probably could do a lot more. But consider this: Who gets to think that race is a non-issue? How many black or asian or hispanic people do you know who would say that? Not to think about race at all is an aspect of white privilege that is little recognized. So kudos to both Ken and Sharon for being open to this topic. And thanks for your questions.

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  Helen, thanks for sharing

 

Helen, thanks for sharing the reasons you think what you do. Our experiences obviously shape who we become and what we think.

While i do not doubt that your family (father) had some subtle racist tendencies, i wonder how he might have perceived someone like myself in my teens. Coming from a poor family who lived in a shack, i began working at 14 and bought a motorcycle at 15 (gas and insurance are cheap for motorcycles). Perhaps he would have seen me as "white trash" - certainly this was a common enough stereotype that i saw it frequently in my teens. 

My experiences as a teen led me to believe that class is the dominant factor in how one is treated and perceived (poor white kids are harassed by cops of all colors and i personally have been physically threatened more than once, for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time). From my pov, then and now, the golden rule is well defined as "those who have the gold make the rules". Privilege thus seems to me to be tied to wealth/class, i certainly had none growing up.

 So my focus now, as a middle class adult, is to help those who need help. Regardless of superficial factors, such as race, sexual orientation, whatever.  

 Again thanks for sharing. Perhaps with exchanges such as these we can all learn and grow. . .  

 

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Not Superficial

"While i do not doubt that your family (father) had some subtle racist tendencies, i wonder how he might have perceived someone like myself in my teens. Coming from a poor family who lived in a shack, i began working at 14 and bought a motorcycle at 15 (gas and insurance are cheap for motorcycles). Perhaps he would have seen me as "white trash" - certainly this was a common enough stereotype that i saw it frequently in my teens. "

So, because classism, elitism and ageism are real factors, racism is not?

"My experiences as a teen led me to believe that class is the dominant factor in how one is treated and perceived (poor white kids are harassed by cops of all colors and i personally have been physically threatened more than once, for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time)."

And yet I know dozens of poor whites who are almost never harassed. But how many poor whites do you know who have been shot? ACTUALLY beaten, not merely "threatened"? The statistics are clear: Whites are not pulled over or harassed as often, EVEN controlling for class.

And isn't it surprising that even rich and middle-class blacks report this behavior? Oprah was racially profiled in a jewelry store. Middle-class blacks are profiled by security guards at malls. So by your own maxim, class CAN'T be the only thing that matters, since class didn't buy Oprah good treatment.

"From my pov, then and now, the golden rule is well defined as "those who have the gold make the rules". Privilege thus seems to me to be tied to wealth/class, i certainly had none growing up."

But even by your OWN rules, race matters, because race is deeply formative of class in terms of allowing equal access to good education, allowing equal access to jobs, securing access to loans, having amassed family wealth, etc. So even middle-class blacks more closely emulate the working white poor in terms of assets, health, etc. 12% of missing national wealth not in the hands of whites. It honestly baffles me how deep white intransigence on this issue is, especially among leftists.

And, again, this is a poor white telling blacks, poor and rich, that their experiences are wrong. THAT is white privilege. The very act of denouncing its existence is affirming it. It's denying discrimination in employment, provision of medicine and health care, housing (which in turn leads to middle-class blacks being lumped into poorer neighborhoods), the criminal justice system...

" So my focus now, as a middle class adult, is to help those who need help. Regardless of superficial factors, such as race, sexual orientation, whatever.  "

'Superficial' except to those who tell you it's not superficial and tell you it oppresses them.

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  OK. against my better

 

OK. against my better judgment i will play one more time. . . 

 Last i looked Oprah had entire jewelry stores open solely for her personal shopping experience. Surely that does not happen for people of middle class or lower, regardless of race. And hell, the real missing wealth is more like 90% and it is in the hands of the top 1%, including Oprah. Those of us clustered in the bottom 90% are of all races and creeds.

 We have people on this bb who assert they have been harassed by their management, but due to race issues the harassment was ignored. I am familiar with other similar cases personally as well. So much for their "white privilege".

Furthermore since i do not oppress anyone, i have no control over their oppression (or lack of thereof), whether it is due to class or race (though i continue to believe that class is by far the dominant force). In my life i can only control so much. Thus i choose to help those in need, not those who happen to be a member of a particular arbitrary group (race). Perhaps you have some point that you are trying to express, but it baffles me what you are trying to get at (sorta like the fundamentalists that try to convert everyone to their version of the "Truth"). 

SO we now have a middle class (?) white guy telling me that my experiences are wrong. Kinda funny when you think about it. :) 

 

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Right...

"Last i looked Oprah had entire jewelry stores open solely for her personal shopping experience. Surely that does not happen for people of middle class or lower, regardless of race. And hell, the real missing wealth is more like 90% and it is in the hands of the top 1%, including Oprah. Those of us clustered in the bottom 90% are of all races and creeds."

And yet, despite her ostentatious and excessive wealth, she can STILL receive inferior service to both you and I. If class were everything, that simply wouldn't be the case. This example indicates it's not, virtually by definition, handwaves aside. And it is a sign that race not only matters, but is VERY determinative, since IMMENSE class wealth and status did not purchase substantial respect for  a black woman...

"We have people on this bb who assert they have been harassed by their management, but due to race issues the harassment was ignored. I am familiar with other similar cases personally as well. So much for their "white privilege"."

So because some white folks SAY that they were harassed, and CLAIM that it wasn't dealt with because SUPPOSEDLY that's not how the law works, thousands of pages of sociological data and the cumulative life experience of black America is wrong? I didn't know white folks' voices counted for so much in your book. But hey, white privilege is meaningless.

"Furthermore since i do not oppress anyone, i have no control over their oppression (or lack of thereof), whether it is due to class or race (though i continue to believe that class is by far the dominant force)."

Oh, come on. Even Chomsky doesn't buy that lame handwaving. He makes pretty clear that even poor Americans, let alone middle-class or white or male Americans, have a responsibility to confront the actions of their government, here and abroad. Your tax dollars go to killing Iraqis. I fail to see how you (and I) don't oppress people.

"In my life i can only control so much. Thus i choose to help those in need, not those who happen to be a member of a particular arbitrary group (race)."

Fallacy: False dilemma.

There is a third choice. Help people of need, CONTROLLING for the fact that race puts people into that "needy" category. Or help people of all races by confronting racism and white privilege (since it hurts your community too).

These "discussions" we have here sound great until it's transparently clear not one iota of it has sunk in, even at the level of disputing it.

"Perhaps you have some point that you are trying to express, but it baffles me what you are trying to get at (sorta like the fundamentalists that try to convert everyone to their version of the "Truth")"

Funny, since black folks here seem to get it and accept it as truism. But hey, race doesn't matter. Except insofar as you get to tell other people that it doesn't matter even when they say it does. Just like Bill Gates tells you that class doesn't matter. He just wants to help people, not just those who happen to be a member of a particular arbitrary group (the poor). And rich folks get mugged by poor folks. So much for "class privilege".

It's simple: Whites are privileged in our society. Blacks are not. This statement obviously is one factor of many. Just like how a rich, famous, powerful person can be a rape victim, or become crippled like Christopher Reeve, or suffer a debilitating ailment, or be mentally or physically ill, or be beaten by their husband, and have that not obviate the average class privilege one iota. But it's a powerful and quite determinative factor, certainly on par with other forces like gender, class and state.

Whites therefore have a duty to confront that privilege and their prejudice, EVEN when they themselves are quite poor.

"SO we now have a middle class (?) white guy telling me that my experiences are wrong. Kinda funny when you think about it. :) "

I grew up poor. My parents rented a broken down house with virtually no heating, so I went cold in the mornings. I've taken the bus. They became middle-class only later in my life.

And I've never once said your experiences are wrong, or obviated them. Indeed, I've affirmed that your arguments and intutions about class are spot on.

I've said to you, "Racism is real." You've said, "No, it's not." I say, "It's funny that a white man is denying what black folks say about their own experience while he claims there's no racism." How in God's name did you leap from that to me denying YOUR experience?

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we agree

Here, i will do it your way. . . :)

 "So because some white folks SAY that they were harassed, and CLAIM that it wasn't dealt with because SUPPOSEDLY that's not how the law works"

 What's up with the capital letters? Is that on purpose? :)

 "I fail to see how you (and I) don't oppress people."

Be easy on yourself, we all fail from time to time. Just be quiet and try to do better in the future.

 "But hey, white privilege is meaningless"

We agree. 

" it's transparently clear not one iota of it has sunk in"

 Read my responses more carefully and ask questions. Perhaps it can get through if you work hard enough. If not, it ok, just try as best as you can.

" I grew up poor."

 Well, just because some WHITE guy SAYS he grew up poor doesn't mean that he did.

I don't see how this is getting us anywhere, but i wanted to give your style a try. Fun, but unlikely to be productive. 

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You Don't Get The Model

" What's up with the capital letters? Is that on purpose? :)"

Yes, as a form of emphasis. It indicates that you have no objective reason to believe the event happened the way it did (not that I'd take a different stance, mind you). You respect their story and assume it's probably true. Then, extrapolating from their story in ways the person themselves didn't intend, you use that to declare that there's no white privilege.

Meanwhile, when black voices tell you that discrimination is real, all over this bulletin board, you say that it's not. You don't buy their story, and you certainly don't believe there's any broader meaning to the story.

That's the double standard. That's the white privilege talking.

"Be easy on yourself, we all fail from time to time. Just be quiet and try to do better in the future."

That's a great attitude. If you had that attitude when it came to white privilege, stepped up and accepted it and said that you'd work on it, we'd have no problem.

"We agree."

I know you know this was sarcastic, but more importantly, you cut out the context that showed how inconsistent you were. You tried to turn a devastating indictment into a silly rejoinder. Nice try.

" Read my responses more carefully and ask questions. Perhaps it can get through if you work hard enough. If not, it ok, just try as best as you can."

You can't reply to even the basics of white privilege theory. You make distorted strawmen either completely unrelated to or actually diametrically opposed to the basic argument. That's why there's no need to "ask questions" or "read... carefully": There's nothing there. You haven't said anything because you're not engaging. We're staying at the second level of the conversation.

"Well, just because some WHITE guy SAYS he grew up poor doesn't mean that he did."

Precisely. This is totally true. 

"I don't see how this is getting us anywhere, but i wanted to give your style a try. Fun, but unlikely to be productive. "

Nice try. I quote your entire post and whole arguments. You make random cut and pastes. But hey, unsurprising that white guys would engage in distortion to protect their self-esteem, right? ;)

Try reading the basics and asking some questions about the model. Maybe then you can make productive replies.

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Also...

"And hell, the real missing wealth is more like 90% and it is in the hands of the top 1%, including Oprah. Those of us clustered in the bottom 90% are of all races and creeds."

No, the missing RACIAL wealth is 12%. The missing CLASS wealth is 90%.

Now, notice that if you distribute 1% of 10 trillion yearly GDP evenly among an approximate black population of 40 million, you get 100 billion divided by 40 million, equalling $2500. Meanwhile, their proper distribution is $32,500. One is middle-class, the other is desperately poor. (Obviously, yearly GDP isn't the right measure for a variety of reasons, but it illustrates the point). The difference between those two figures? $1,200,000,000,000 yearly that white folks get in their pocket. That figure has high prima facia plausibility, given that that's an estimate for how much wealth white communities got from the FHA loans.

And we still have to debate whether white privilege is real.

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By the way

Sharon, I am sorry about the shabby treatment you received. It's really unfortunate that no means existed to deal with the situation.

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Thanks, Helen

I was really bitter about it for a long time.  I was also very puzzled about why there seemed to be two sets of rules. 

Then, I realized that this woman had been *taught* to hate -- just like anyone else who displays bigotry and prejudice.  I feel sorry for her; it must be horrible to live that way.  I let go of the bitterness pretty quickly, because that bitterness was hurting no one but me.

 I am one of those people who will call someone out on a racist, sexist or anti-gay comment or joke in a heartbeat. Those behaviors have no place in modern society whatsoever.  What was taught can be unlearned and changed.

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There Should Be...

...rules against what happened to you, Sharon, and I also express condolences.

At the same time, they ARE different, as you admit. So the law would have to acknowledge the difference between dominant and subordinate group prejudice.

As of now, civil rights jurisprudence DOES prevent, at least facially, ANY discrimination on the base of race, gender, etc. It's not black only. Of course, as any black man or woman can tell you in this country, the gap between law and practice is as big as eight years of work history...

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Thanks for your statement, Frederic

I'm grateful for your statement, Frederic. Discrimination on the base of race, gender, religion, orientation etc. it's not Black only. What a powerful statement. I as an author wouldn't be where I am today, if my books weren't published in United States. I wouldn't get the same opportunities in Denmark, but you just realize that you can do your thing somewhere else. In Denmark, other foreign Whites also go through discrimination, when they look for jobs there. I goal is just to get prepared so that I can leave the country. The other problem in Scandinavian countries is the use of the N-word.

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I like your optimism!

Hi Sharon - Thanks for your thoughtful posts.

"What was taught can be unlearned and changed."

I agree, each act can be an act of improvement.

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Great piece, Tim

And thank you for bringing up the fact that "certain" kinds of victimhood are acceptable while others are just told to "get on with it." When I raised this point many years ago at my north-east university campus, I was accused of anti-Semitism. So it comes as a particularly fresh breath of air to hear it stated reasonably and knowledgeably.

Also great discussion although I am slightly discomfitted by the lack of nonwhite voices in it.

Frederic: you make a really important point, of experience. As a brown woman, I live with racism on a daily basis: of the subtly offensive kinds - in shops, offices, restaurants, clubs, but also of the "kindly" patronising kind from perfectly well meaning "liberals" who think that treating me nicely scores them brownie pints.

I am also grateful that you differentiated between prejudice (which all humans have) vs racism with its institutionalised balance of economic/social/political even narrative and linguistic power. Yet for some reason debate on racism seems to often turn into "black/brown people are racist too" diatribe, with the person dredging up specific incidents as evidence.

Sharon: sorry for the experience you had but I was left wondering just what your supervisor had endured that had "taught" her to hate? Just what level of daily humiliation on personal, institutional, historic levels had she experienced that made her use her tiny modicum of power in "racist" ways?

Cheers...

Sunny Singh
www.sunnysingh.net

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That Having Been Said...

Structural factors also are at play for why whites are racist. If we're going to take whites to task for racism and ask them to challenge their prejudice, we have to, as a MORAL fact, take black and brown people to task too. Of course it's less important, in America, due to the balance of power, but the excuse isn't that much more compelling on the part of Sharon's abuser, IMHO.

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Frederic, I agree

And I am not excusing Sharon's abuser or minimizing the suffering she faced. I just wonder about what got the abuser there in the first place.

When I lived in the US, a lot of African-American friends and colleagues would say that I didn't understand, that I didn't have slavery as the backdrop. And even when I faced overt racism it wasn't the same thing. They would say the same thing to black African friends who appeared to understand their views better. It took a long time for me to understand. Let me try to articulate it as best as possible.

Even as a brown woman in US or Europe, the racism I face is not nearly as devastating to my sense of self which draws on a very clear cultural and historical bank of self-worth. Africans, even in face of poverty and violence have a similar advantage.

As an aside: I lived in South Africa in the last days of apartheid and most people in the shanty towns would draw very clear differences between African Americans and Africans. It was about locating one's racial and cultural identity, and that stood people in good stead despite the horrors of apartheid, colonialism, etc.

African Americans don't have that, and the scars of slavery, historical lack of civil rights, and the lack of a sense of culturally moored self (which btw has had to be constructed from scratch in the US) is devastating in a way that goes far beyond what I - and perhaps you - can imagine.

PS: some of the worst predudice I faced in the US came from African Americans, including one very aggressive woman in NYC who asked me why I "dressed like a white person." Took a long time for me to realise the depth of bitterness and inadequacy that African Americans face (and how its impossible me to even imagine it). Sunny Singh www.sunnysingh.net

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I cannot say for certain ...

Hi, Sunny.  Thanks to you and Frederic for your comments.

 You asked what happened to make my supervisor the way she was.  I can't say for certain.  I wound up working for her from 1995 to 1998 through an unusual circumstance.  The base where I had been employed was closing, and the DoD has what they call the "Priority Placement System."  Those of us who experienced it called it the "we found you a job so shut up system."  In simple terms, it meant that they looked at your entire career and, if there was a job within a 50 mile range (what they called a "reasonable commute") that you had ever held in your entire  history, you were plugged into it.

 In my case, that meant going from being a newspaper editor in chief to this woman's secretary.  The first words she said to me were not "hello" or "welcome," but "I'm accustomed to picking the people who come to work for me."  Except it wasn't that grammatically perfect.

 My response was to smile and say, "Well, I'm accustomed to choosing the jobs for which I apply, so I guess we're in the same boat."  I thought she was trying to inject some levity into the situation, you see, except she wasn't.

Her speech was always littered with malapropisms and bizarre idiom, such that when she was asked to be interviewed for an article on African American women, I wrote out her responses so that she would not appear ignorant in print -- at her insistence.  The "uppity cracker with the big whitey education" was valuable when she wanted me to be.

What another AA man who worked there said to me (he was a frequent witness to her abuse) about the matter was this:  "Look.  I know you're not prejudiced, and you know you're not prejudiced.  What you *are* is better educated than she is, and she knows that.  Every time you open your mouth to speak, she is reminded that to a whole lot of folks she's just another ignorant ... you know.  None of this makes her behavior toward you right.  I've been watching her do this to any white person who wouldn't kiss her butt for years.  She's ashamed of herself."

 That's the best insight I have, I'm afraid. 

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Yeah...

It's good that your story includes a positive African-American figure. Overwhelmingly, our white racial commentary on supposed black abuse on our part is what I call the "Falling Down" narrative. In the Michael Douglas movie "Falling Down" (which I think is just a fantastic film, especially for the Nazi pummeling scene), he keeps on encountering Latina/os, Asians, etc. and keeps on having a bad time with them. But every time, unbeknownst to him, below the threshold of perception that his hate has put, there's a positive figure. Like the cop he asks to translate the shopkeeper who says, "Dude, I don't speak Korean". Whenever we encounter a black or brown person who abuses us or annoys us, we almost always forget, sometimes in the SAME incident or closely related, a positive figure who we like or helped us out.

Now, notice something about this story. This woman has a language. It communicates things to her coworkers, to her community. And yet, just saying it to someone of the dominant group or to a newspaper makes her feel ignorant, like some kind of Jim Crow stereotype. How awful is that? How awful is it that black folks can't speak in their own language?

But yeah, constant humiliation, stereotype threat, etc. will do that. I will note, though, that there are similar, justifiable or understandable psychological reasons for white folks to hold onto racism so strongly. It's not just a lack of education on the topic (and not just among the poor: I've seen Engineering Majors with black boyfriends who had their mind blown by concepts like "white privilege"), not just disconnection from communities. Whiteness, as Tim has pointed out, is a valuable asset, unlike most white people's class status. It pays dividends. So to be invested in protecting it is both psychologically and rationally understandable, if not justifiable. 

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equality

 

Being non-racist, to me, means NOT making excuses for other people's behaviour, regardless of race. Everyone of all races/colors has reasons they might act out - everyone has been treated shabbily by someone at some time or other.

Our challenge - as humans, as members of society - is to overcome the adversity in our lives. To merely excuse someone because they are of a particular group as not being responsible for their actions is insulting to the group they belong to. And is antithetical to ending racism and racist ideas.

 The woman you worked for was obviously in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. Sad. It is a shame that she was not replaced with a competent worker and even more that she used her insecurity to abuse you and other folks.

 

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No, Not Really

"Being non-racist, to me, means NOT making excuses for other people's behaviour, regardless of race. Everyone of all races/colors has reasons they might act out - everyone has been treated shabbily by someone at some time or other."

I agree, responsibility is responsibility.

At the same time, it would be absurd to say that a celebrity shoplifting $500 purses is morally the same as a starving family taking some bananas from the grocery. So you seem to be saying that social inequality, discrimination, etc. play no role in motives, or judging the morality of decisions. And that makes no sense.

It is also absurd to say that everyone is EQUALLY treated shabbily. Jews were not treated as shabbily as Nazis. Bill Gates is not treated as shabbily as a Third World peasant. There are victims and there are victimizers. You are very clear on this when it comes to where you are weak, class. You are very unclear about it when it comes to where you are not, race and gender. Why do you think that is?

"Our challenge - as humans, as members of society - is to overcome the adversity in our lives. To merely excuse someone because they are of a particular group as not being responsible for their actions is insulting to the group they belong to. And is antithetical to ending racism and racist ideas."

This is a strawman. No one said that.

Look at what the fellow African-American man said. He didn't excuse her actions. But he pointed out that she felt less educated. Her ability to be educated was not equal. That's political. That's connected to her racial status. And that self-esteem issue over having advanced far (notice how she was a SUPERIOR and yet STILL had to have a subordinate with some skills she didn't have and with respect she couldn't get) yet still not having gone far enough is common in the black community. It's connected to stereotype threat,  a sociological model with extensive support.

This is what we mean when we say "the personal is political". There are commonalities to our experiences, our self-esteem problems, our psychologies.

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funny

 

Folks here wonder about what caused this lady to be ignorant and mean. But if the shoe were on the other foot - you were a black lady who had to work for a white prejudiced redneck, they would probably feel free to condemn the redneck. No talk of what caused him to become what he was, no talk of him using his own "language", just the unvarnished truth - that he was a mean prejudiced man and should not be allowed to behave so badly.

 Surely if we really are  anti-racist (or non-racist for that matter), we should be consistent here. Easiest way is to simply reverse the races of the folks involved and see how it might change our pov's. . .  

(Can one even imagine the response HR would have had if one simply changes the racial slurs of "uppity cracker with the big whitey education" to their black equivalents? How utterly offensive!)

 

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Not sure

I think perhaps you do us a disservice, Ken.  People who spend time thinking about race, white or black, do consider what causes people to become racist--What you're assuming is that in this forum, a white person would be automatically judged for certain remarks, but that sympathy would be extended toward a black person for the same kinds of remarks.  I think this forum exists precisely to try to understand people's racial motivations.

 Of course people do make harsh snap judgments all the time--about all kinds of 'types' of people, be they owners of aggressive-looking dogs, mothers who work outside the home, mothers who don't work outside the home, whatever.  I knew someone who used to be offended by the comic strip Dennis the Menace because the obnoxious character Margaret wore glasses, and he thought the comic sneered at intellectuals.  (I'm not kidding!) The list is endless.

If the history of blacks and whites in this country had been a history of peer groups developing side by side,  the mirror image scenario you're advocating could be the first and last word on the subject.  Yes, a white racist deserves to be understood in the context of his prior history, etc.  But the hell of slavery (which had a dehumanizing effect on white slaveholding society as well as on blacks) cast a long shadow which still informs racial interaction. If someone taunted me by calling me a particular kind of animal, it would hurt, but not in a deep way.  

I will quote Sunny here, because I think she said it very well. She's referring to the  destruction of self and culture which was a legacy that slavery inflicted on blacks, but not on whites : Even as a brown woman in US or Europe, the racism I face is not nearly as devastating to my sense of self which draws on a very clear cultural and historical bank of self-worth. Africans, even in face of poverty and violence have a similar advantage.  

Again, I'm not excusing what Sharon's boss did.  But history and self-identity, history and psychology, are deeply intertwined.  Every single racist remark one hears should be evaluated in the context of the history of this country--because the shadow  of that history is still upon us.  A racial insult against a white person  does not draw its poison from the same toxic well as the exact remark levied against a black person.  Does that make it right? Does that make it less than hateful? Of course not.  But it doesn't bring in the torrent of a murderous history on its stinging words.  

 (And yes, my father had classist tendencies, but it was much milder than the racism, which I don't believe he recognized in himself). 

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thoughtful reply

 

Thank you for your thoughtful reply Helen. 

 I apologize if i am doing a disservice here and will try to refrain from making inappropriate comments. It is clear to me that you already understand that everyone has a unique history that leads them to behave however they do, but from what i can tell most people (here and other places) would simply vilify the white racist while attempting to explain and understand the black racist. I would find it preferable if both were treated similarly; after all, a priori we do not know what caused either of the individuals in question to evolve into who they are now (and regardless of that, it seems at the least we should declare their inappropriate behaviour as such). 

I think my biggest obstacle to really getting on board with the group here is that i continue to see people as individuals as opposed to members of a unchangable super-group. The amount of diversity in, say, whites is huge as is the amount of diversity in blacks. Using that single metric (race) as the primary way to categorize  individuals does not seem a productive approach to me (as opposed to class, which is both more descriptive and malleable, imho). 

Again, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I will continue to ponder on it along with other material here.

 

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Good observations...just

Good observations...just remember this forum is ABOUT the question of white privilege, so that's what's on the agenda.  I don't think anyone is making the discussion about an "unchanging super group"--we're here to discuss, not 'what is a human being?" but "what is racism?" ...and, yeah, white people tend to be blind about it.   Obviously there's more to life than this one issue.  

Re: Generalizations.  I feel pretty comfortable making statements like "white people often think..." or even "when it comes to issue of race, white people  have a limited sense of history"  BECAUSE of what I have experienced in my own varied  white communities for  53 years of life.   Rhetorically, intelligent readers will understand that i don't mean "every white person who ever breathed air."  

It's the same way that people talk about 'gay' or 'straight' knowing there are many gradations in between.

Argh, enough hair splitting. I have work to do.  

 

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Good point re "white privilege"

 On my way home from work this evening, I encountered precisely the kind of situation I had hoped to avoid by living in London. 

I live close to the Chelsea stadium and there is a match tonight between Chelsea and Inter Milan. In our carriage was a group of girls wearing Chelsea shirts and going to the game (a mixed race group as tends to be normal in London). Further down was a group of Italian fans - all male, all white, mixed age groups. 

 Now chanting and singing is normal for most football matches and some banter is taken for granted. Yet the Italian fans would constantly and frequently break into monkey noises, especially as taunts to the girls and other Chelsea fans on the platform.  Its a particularly nasty form of football racism (and at F1) to be found in southern Europe and directed at black players (even though some of their own teams have black players). 

 It was something that got most people in the carriage horrified and upset. And as is the case in London, suddenly everyone starts to make eye contact, smile and chitchat with each other in solidarity.  Worse of course was when these guys chose to make the same noises at the tube staff on the platforms (who are a mix bunch but on my particular line at evening rush hour tend to be generally South Asians and black). 

 Now yes, that is a case of ignorance on part of the Italian fans (possibly although they knew the noises were offensive). Its also a case of generalised "white privilege" because they knew they could cause offence.  And that slurs were a lot more awful than anything directed at them.

Final twist to the story: as we were leaving the carriage, a very properly dressed little old English lady told the girls in Chelsea shirts: "I hope we beat them tonight. And I hope some of our lads beat them up too." 

 My point - despite the sick feeling in my stomach - is that "individuals" may or may not be racist/prejudiced etc. However, to talk of individuals when certain power structures are heavily biased against one (or more) racial group is the worst sort of prevarication. 

Cheers all! I am off to support Chelsea and hope that InterMilan get their b***s  handed to them on a plate tonight.

 

 

Sunny Singh www.sunnysingh.net

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hi Sunny

I am trying to better understand these concepts, but am left with a few questions. . .

 In the case in point, was the power stucture the folks on the carriage, the city of London, white folks in general or something else?

If a white person is on a carriage along with a group of black male teens, and the white person is verbally threatened (been there, had that done to me more than once)  by members of that group, is that also a case of the "power structure" being heavily biased against that individual (felt that way to me at the time)? Happily for all of us, the threats were merely meant to intimidate, no actual violence ensued.

 Hope your team did well and you had a good time. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

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Re white privilege and football

Hi Ken,

I travel a lot so apologies first of all. 

A bit of background: Spanish and Italian footballs fans are notorious in Europe for racist chants.  It tends to get dismissed by the press, governments and even football associations in those countries, in part because in general there is greater tolerance for racially (as well as sexually) offensive stuff in the public domain. 

 The situation in the tube carriage demonstrated (at least to me) the complexity of situation: the Italians felt that they "could" make monkey noises and chant racist stuff because as Europeans, they were on the "right" side of the racial divide.  Of course if you can afford to travel (even with budget airlines) from Italy to UK to watch a football match, you are definitely economically more powerful than the tube workers on the platform (of all racial origins). 

 At the same time,  London is a very mixed city.  Moreover you tend to see more mixed groups of friends, mixed race families and couples - far more than any other major city I know.  Racial tolerance is in general very high. Also there is less tolerance for football related racism because UK went through that in the 1970s and 1980s. So the reaction in the carriage was of horror - a fact that Italian fans know and are quite happy to comment on (generally to point out that England is now "diluted"). 

What made the situation so interesting (and frankly, much better) for me was that the English were aligning themselves AGAINST the Italian concept of white privilege, and instead with those (like me) who were being insulted. It was a really fascinating moment where national identity, race, culture and language collide. It was also an enlightening moment to realise that even as old and traditional a country as the British (and without the US history of immigration) can turn into a mixed race society.

If I remember correctly, Tim Wise wrote a piece on white privilege here on his blog. Its specific to the US but may help clarify some of the ideas. 

Btw: Chelsea lost to InterMilan so not much to celebrate on the field. On the other hand, the horror and solidarity shown by the English in the tube carriage made up for our loss. 

 Cheers,

S

 

 

 

Sunny Singh www.sunnysingh.net