When I started writing this weekly essay, the idea was to travel around the “diversosphere” and catch interesting items so that we could bring those voices here. I’ve focused mainly on blogs written by people of color and hoped that we could highlight some of the excellent stuff that’s going on, whether it was a news story about people of color that the msm had missed, or a challenge to the dynamics of racism in our culture.
But we’ve had an interesting week on that issue right here in our little corner of the world. I know there’s been a lot of heat related to the topic and the personalities involved. But in the midst of it all, there was some amazing wisdom shared and … change happened.
So, this week, I’d like to congratulate everyone for hanging in there. To do so, I thought I’d stay right here this week and bring you a few of the kernels of wisdom that were shared by some of our own dharmaniacs.*
Lets start with da boss who, despite being sleep-deprived and weary from playing referee, was able to contribute more than a few nuggets of his own.
White people…IN GENERAL….are the undoubted oppressors and beneficiaries when it comes to issues of race. We never can experience racism (in this country) because we are ‘the majority’ and have lived in a racially blind culture all of our lives.
Due to that cultural fact…..We simply cannot judge ourselves objectively enough to determine whether we have engaged in racist behavior or not. We can try our absolute best, but imo, we must ALWAYS take that sort of observation of our behavior VERY seriously and never assume that we are in the right.
The culture conditions us to racism, and it is our individual responsibility to make sure we haven’t and don’t fall into the cultural traps. No matter how good our intentions and no matter how much we have done in the past to combat it within ourselves.
And besides…why is sitting down and taking a good hard look at yourself vis a vis racism such an odious task that it should be avoided?
Now, I’ll travel around to a few of the pertinent essays and give you some more gems.
It’s not that I’m cynical about racism, it’s that racism may be a natural consequence of living in a society with a large “default” culture. When the power, money, and influence rest predominantly with one group of people, mainstream culture begins to reflect that to the exclusion of other people. You don’t even have to be conscious of it to recognize it happening, because if you belong to the dominant subset it isn’t striking to you that the majority of movies are about your people or the majority of tv shows have your face, etc. It’s actually really easy for white people in this country to be colorblind: it’s impossible for anyone non-white.
By way of illustration, I can only use my own experience as a gay man. Anywhere from 2 to 20% of the population is gay (and a heckuva lot more are bisexual or sexually fluid). But think about the stories we read our children: we expect, without thinking about it, that the prince will try to rescue a princess. It’s not that we’re heterosexually fixated, it’s that our history and the dominance of a particular worldview are so deeply embedded that we don’t even realize it when it’s happening around us.
It’s not just our feelings of shame and disgust about alternative sexualities: it’s a default expectation about the way things ‘should’ be. As anyone, even a gay man or lesbian, to improvise a fairy tale and odds are good it will involve a prince and a princess, but not a same-sex loving pair of either.
It takes a lot of hard work simply to become conscious of the process – but I’d argue it’s far to Quixotic to suggest that we can free ourselves from it entirely. If you asked me, “why can’t we just drop our assumptions about sexuality?”, I’d say, “Because it’s on my mind everywhere, in ways that straight people don’t even recognize. Anytime I’m walking down the street and see a straight couple holding hands, it’s an immediate reminder that I don’t enjoy that kind of social freedom.” Little things that straight people don’t consider sexualized are persistently, necessarily sexualized for me.
I can’t speak for people of color, but I’d assume that the dynamics are somewhat the same there: colorblindness isn’t really an option.
Colorblindness used to mean one thing, and now I’m afraid the rightwing has successfully re-framed it into an offensive notion, into an excuse for continued racism.
It used to mean that when somebody wanted to use a public accommodation, like a railroad or a public park, race wouldn’t be used to exclude that person. The service in a restaurant would be colorblind. That was a good and righteous goal. When affirmative action began, the reactionary claims about “special rights” and “special treatment” abounded, and all of a sudden the rightwing was claiming that everything (college admissions, hiring, etc) had to be colorblind, because that way the status quo could likely be extended and disenfranchisement of African Americans could continue a pace. So now, imo it’s just more code. It’s code for the status quo of power relations and the disenfranchisement and marginalization of blacks, latinos, etc. So I don’t think the goal is colorblindness. I think we should discard the concept.
I would prefer it tremendously if we could acknowledge and accept the differences we all have, recognize that there is not a particular combination of characteristics that is more desirable than any other, and get on with the difficult business of treating each other like fellow human beings.
I hope that’s not unbearably idealistic.
Many people are not even aware that they have subconscious opinions which give rise to making associations/assumptions. As an example: my parents, when seeing interviews of black politicians, movie stars or athletes would always comment on whether or not the person was articulate.
The first assumption was that it was “bad” if the person “sounded black” and “good” if the person “sounded white.” The second assumption was that they needed to comment – as if it were a surprise that a black person could be, in their estimate, articulate. A third assumption was that they thought their comments were compliments.
And you know what? I’m sure there are even more assumptions that I’m missing. Which is, of course, my point.
It’s not just racism – this embodies all forms of discrimination, which in turn makes discrimination so hard to eradicate. Because even people who try to not discriminate and work to increase their awareness are probably still, at some level, discriminating.
My guiding principle in life is to always be learning and to always increase my awareness of other people and the world around me. I think this is what separates progressives from others. We tend to see multiple sides to every story and can try to extract from experiences that which will help us learn and increase our awareness. Many people, I think, are afraid to do that, because it can mean admitting that you were wrong.
I think basically everything you said in this essay is true. But I also think it misses something important, in that being marginalized fucks you up. Makes you crazy. Breaks your heart. So when someone says “could you please pick up that pencil” the response is “fuck you”. I agree with the observations about history and implicit priviledge, but in the end it’s always a real person right there.
And when someone who has been driven over the freakin’ edge of “proper” behavior by their lives steps outside the bounds, there is no one specific response which will suffice. Because everyone, everyone, has to learn to manage the chip on their own shoulder. And if one is a decent human being, one will help them do that — right then, as a person. By being present. By being clear about where one is acting as a representative of an organization or a set of rules, and where one is acting as a human being.
Maybe this is just an angry tranny thing — I see people destroyed by their anger, their just, earned, suffered for anger. So that’s the issue that shouts to me, reading this, as much as the specifics of racism (though I agree with Armando, here). As things go further to hell, we are all going to be increasingly on the outside, looking in. Misery and rage will catch in all our throats. And then what do we do with it? How do we treat each other? Ourselves?
Again, the more we discuss this the more I am asking the question of why we respond the way we do when we are called racists. What it is that enables some folks to see past the hurt of it and others to not be able to get past it.
I think if we understood that better, we’d also be able to deal better with fighting racism both in ourselves and others.
I wrote last Friday’s essay about this, how being the victim of racism entails far more concrete damage than being accused of racism. I’ll have to think more about this.
If I had thought that I might be shunned ostracized and ridiculed for admitting that I have had inherent racist thoughts, feelings, and perhaps have made racist comments, I doubt I would have said anything. The context that I felt comfortable discussing my feelings was not the highly charged diary where there was name calling and yelling. It was a conversation that started out civil. That’s not to say it didn’t delve into more difficult feelings and emotions but the approach was a tone in which one could feel comfortable exploring this topic. Maybe true learning (Change?) is a bit like the grieving process; steps and stages.
I think it’s most difficult for those of us who consider ourselves liberal, progressive, democrats to accept our cultural biases, certain pre-judgments, or ethnocentric views as potentially problematic. It seemed to me that I wanted to jump ahead of the curve and forego the painful growth process that self examination can be and just be a “WE’RE ALL ONE” believer. It takes courage, support and maturity to get there, not just slogans, demonstrations, and boycotts. I wish I knew in my young adulthood what I am coming to know now.
*I edited at times to leave out references to other comments in the threads so these words could stand alone.
Thanks to all you great dharmaniacs!! Now lets all get funkalicious with a man who’s been fighting this good fight for many years and continues to find the higher ground.